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How long do the hives last?
Plastic beehives have been used in Europe for at least 30 years, where they have proved both durable and effective, so much so that today in Denmark virtually 99% of all new hives sold are made of plastic, either expanded polystyrene or polyurethane. The position is similar in many northern European countries, particularly Germany where one of the largest equipment suppliers no longer even lists wooden hives in their catalogue. The Finnish designer of our hives who runs approximately 3,000 colonies claims he does not even know any beekeepers in Finland still using wooden hives. In total there are over half a million plastic hives in use in Europe today which is testament to their effectiveness and durability, the oldest polystyrene hives that we know of are 30 years plus and still in everyday use.
Why should I change to Langstroth if I already use National?
From a financial perspective the answer is to take advantage of the economies of scale and range of equipment available in Langstroth. Polystyrene hives in National size are rare and current models available lack some of the features of our hives such as hard plastic frame runners, near full width varroa and removable varroa trays.
A factor of particular interest to National users is the Langstroth has larger frames and this means the same colony can be kept on fewer frames and in fewer hive bodies - reducing the financial outlay and effort. National users are sometimes encourages to change to "brood and a half" as the single brood chamber is too small for modern strains of honey bee, However, this arrangement is far from satisfactory as the different sized frames make artificial swarms confusing and difficult to execute and swapping frames between the brood boxes impossible. A single Langstroth brood box is usually sufficient for any type of bee, although you may also like to consider running your colony on Medium or 3.4 frames throughout. Each of these frames is about the same size frames throughout the hive. This brings some significant advantages and the extra effort of inspections is less than you might think. Two small frames do not take twice as much time to inspect as one large frame. On a small frame, queen cells and the queen herself are much easier to spot as your eye can take in almost all the frame at once.
Do I need to paint my hive?
Before being taken into use it is essential the hive components are painted. This prevents the growth of algae on the outside of the hive, deterioration by UV and in the case of the feeder is required for sealing and ease of cleaning. We recommend the floor and roof are fully painted on all surfaces but the brood chamber and supers need only be painted on the outside. Ideally two coats of paint should be applied, though one will suffice. The feeder requires additional painting on the inside, where the syrup sits. At least 3 coats are required otherwise the syrup will soak into the feeder and mould etc., will continue to grow even after you have washed it out. The interior "walk-way" the bees climb up through does not need painting but the surface the bees walk down to reach the syrup benefits from a light roughening with fine sandpaper to help the bees grip. If you have strong fingers the hard plastic edges can be slid off prior to painting for a neater finish. Water based exterior smooth masonry paint is recommended for all surfaces other than the inside of the feeder. This is quick drying and easily applied with a 4" wide fleece roller and a 1/2" brush for fiddly bits. We have found Dulux Weathershield Smooth Masonry paint is an excellent choice. This paint contains an acrylic resin and gives an excellent coverage and wear characteristics. Woodland Pearl No 1 in the Tailor Made range of this paint is an excellent matt green that suits the hives well. We used to recommend Cuprinol Garden Shades but is not very hard wearing and we feel you will find you probably have to buy 2.5 litres. There is a school of thought that supports painting the hive components different colours so the bees can recognize their own hive better, but unless you have a large number of hives in the apiary this would not be economic. For the interior of the feeder we recommend four coats of interior gloss white paint. Roughen the surface down which the bees climb to reach the syrup with fine sand paper after the last coat. Alternatively, apply an extra coat to this surface the bees ascend - it would be pretty hard to reach in any case.
More information on hive care can be found here.
How do I clean and sterilize a polystyrene bee hive?
The hives are best cleaned with a solution of washing soda, made up as directed on the packet. This will dissolve propolis and clean off any dirt etc. Use the hive tool very carefully to remove any propolis which is reluctant to dissolve being careful not to damage the hive itself and any wax. We recommend purchasing one of the large plastic double handled buckets obtainable from builders' merchants and some DIY stores for washing hive components. Domestic sinks are too small and this will also allow you to do the cleaning outside. A plasterers bucket is even better as it is much larger but these take up more storage space and are more expensive.
Sterilisation of the hive can be carried out with a solution of household bleach, again made up as directed on the bottle. However, the best general sterilisation treatment is Virkon S, obtainable from farm suppliers. The 50g sachet is sufficient. Wear suitable protective equipment, including eye protection. You can also obtain elbow length rubber gloves from farm suppliers which are an excellent way of protecting your arms. We advise against using a brush due to the danger of flicking bleach towards your face. A disposable washing up cloth is best. Thoroughly wash the hive after cleaning or sterilisation with cold water and preferably with a hose fitted with a spray or sprinkler - not a jet. Do not use a power washer as it will damage the surface of the plastic, although a power washer can be used to clean the plastic queen excluder. Virkon S will not kill AFB spores but a strong solution of bleach will. However, AFB is thankfully extremely rare so for general cleaning we recommend Virkon S over bleach as it is easier and safer to use.
Chemical sterilisation is also covered on the CSL publication "Foul Brood Diseases". The advice given in this document is what is reproduced above, augmented by our own experience of keeping bees in polystyrene hives for a number of years and talking to other similar beekeepers.
A newer guide from Fera on sterilisation is available here. This contains the same advice as above but with a bit more detail.
Is there any out gassing from the polystyrene as it is an oil based product?
Our hives are made from food grade expanded polystyrene. Expanded polystyrene is made from hollow beads which are filled with air and then fused together under pressure and temperature. The polystyrene itself is chemically inert and only steam is used in the manufacture of the hives. Therefore, you need have no concerns over any gasses escaping from the material. These type of hives are widely used around the World and are very well established in Scandinavia and Germany - which has some of the toughest laws in Europe on food quality and if there was any concern there about contamination they would take action. If you click here and then scroll down to the section on expanded polystyrene and the environment you can find some links to further information about this material.
How long do you leave the hive before putting bees in (not painted inside)?
You can put the bees more or less straight in our experience but probably best to wait 24 hours to lets the paint fully harden as it can still be a little soft even when touch dry and may be more easily damaged from knocks.
I have put my hive together and have a piece left over, where does it go?
Usually when we are asked this question the piece you have left over is the entrance reducer, which slides into the grooves at the front of the floor.
If I buy supers from you will they be compatible with my wooden hives?
Hive components are not compatible with other Langstroth hives due to the unique way the hive bodies fit together.
A hive is supplied empty, which frames do I need to buy?
Langstroth hives are supplied empty, for standard depth brood chambers you can choose between plastic or wooden, for Jumbo we only sell wooden and we do not advise using plastic frames from another supplier in Jumbo depth, this is because once the comb has been built out the top bar cannot cope with the weight of the jumbo frame and tend to twist and bow. All our boxes hold 10 frames.
Plastic frames should be waxed prior to use, melted foundation works well for these. Our wooden frames are slightly different to what you may have seen before but are used widely worldwide. The main difference being is that the frame itself is wired rather than the foundation, once they are put together they are much easier to re-use than traditional frames. You will also need wire, eyelets, embedder and a crimper to put these together.
What is the size of the frames that go into each box?
Our hives take 3 different sizes of frames. All the frames use a 19" (483mm) long top bar.
The largest are Jumbo Langstroth, 10 frames of which will fit into our Jumbo Langstroth hive body or 6 in the Jumbo Langstroth nuc box. Jumbo Langstroth frames are also known as Dadant (or MD) frames and are 11.25" (286mm) deep.
The next sized box is the standard Langstroth frame, often called a Langstroth brood frame. These are 9.125" (232mm) deep and again are 10 per hive body. Our medium or 3/4 Langstroth hive bodies take 6.25" (159mm) deep frames which are commonly known as Dadant Shallow in the UK. Our medium hive bodies DO NOT take British Langstroth shallow frames. These are only 5.375" (137mm) deep and would be too shallow.
The type of frame is largely a matter of personal choice. Hoffman frames are almost exclusively used in the brood area and can also be used for the honey crop, but Manley frames can also be used in the supers, which some beekeepers find easier to use and uncap. If Hoffman frames are used for the supers they can be spaced out to increase the honey yield per frame by using our plastic castellation’s.
Do you sell frame spacers?
We sell frame spacers that fit our Langstroth hives in sizes for 8, 9 or 10 frames. They can be found in Langstroth hive bodies and components.
Is a shallow frame half the size of a standard frame in depth?
Our medium bodies for hives are manufactured to the US and European Langstroth Standard for frames 6.25" (157mm) deep.
I have bought shallow Langstroth frames from another supplier and they do not fit in your supers, why is this?
You have more than likely purchased British Langstroth frames which are for supers measuring 146mm and ours are 168mm. Our supers are known in the rest of the World as Mediums, US Langstroth or 3/4 Langstroth. In the UK they are known as Dadant Shallow or Modified Dadant Shallow, which you would be able to ask other suppliers for. The frames are 6.25 inches deep.
Your wooden frames are different to what I usually use, how do I put them together?
This type of frame design is now very common in some European countries. The frames require wiring before use, using the wire, eyelets and crimper available through us. Once the frames are wired they are much easier to use than the more traditional UK frame - no more faffing about with nails. There is a very good description of putting them together here.
Do I need to wax plastic frames?
Having used these frames ourselves we have experimented with using unwaxed frames and frames which have had sugar syrup sprayed onto them instead of waxing. We have found that a swarm put straight onto plastic unwaxed frames draws them out very quickly and just as quick as waxed frames.
In full hives we have found unwaxed frames have more success in supers then in brood chambers, some hives draw them out perfectly and others build uneven comb and brace come. As we have had more success in some hives over we recommend waxing them.
How do I wax plastic frames?
We now have a video on using and waxing these frames which can be seen here. The full format version of the video is now included as a bonus video on our BeeBox DVD which you can find here.
They come unwaxed and require to be given a good coating of wax using a 4" roller with a fleece type roller fitted. The wax needs to be very hot 85 - 90C before it is applied to ensure a good coverage. The face of the frame will buckle as it expands with the heat but it will return to normal shape as it cools. We recommend either hanging the frames to cool in an empty hive body or balance them upside down on their top bars on a smooth surface. Keeping the frame vertical while it cools will help ensure it returns to the correct shape.
To melt the wax simply place sheets of foundation in a small bowl (your local pet shop is a good source of small stainless steel bowls) and stand it in a pan of gently simmering water. To heat the water a small electric single hob is ideal - just Google "single table top hob" for suppliers and prices.
I'm very interested in setting up my apiary with polystyrene hives, but I have heard objection about ventilation issues and that there is a build-up of condensation in poly hives. I'm sure that they've not managed to build up with popularity on the continent and given you so much cause for enthusiasm without this issue being addressed, so I wondered if there was a ventilation design feature or a working practice that addresses it?
No poly hives have any facility for ventilation at the top of the hive as this would result in a loss of heat. The conservation of heat is why poly hives are so effective - during a year the majority of nectar gathered by the bees is used to heat the hive and the poorer the insulation, the more nectar they must consumer to retain the brood nest temperature.
Ventilation is needed in wooden hives as the material of construction is inherently damp due to moisture in the wood, Poly hives are used with varroa mesh open all year apart from short periods of varroa monitoring or early in the spring in very cold areas. The open mesh floor gives more than adequate ventilation to the hive and being at the bottom and with warm air rising, does not chill the brood nest. In Finland we have seen poly hives buried under a metre of snow for several months at a time with the only ventilation through the floor and into the air space under the hives - which were on pallets.