Cleaning / Sterilization
I'm very interested in setting up my apiary with polystyrene hives, but I have heard objections about ventilation issues and that there is a build up of condensation in poly hives. Please could you explain?
EFB / AFB
Trying on Clothing / Visiting Us
The Langstroth brood and super hive bodies all take 10 hoffman pattern frames. If Manley type frames are being used in the supers they take 9.
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 also commonly known as Dadant Shallow in the UK. Our Medium hive bodies DO NOT take 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 castellations.
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 floors 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 financial outlay and effort. National users are sometimes encouraged 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 as a National full depth frame and running the bees on two boxes of these shallow frames means you will have 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 a 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.
Changing over to Langstroth is not difficult. Our conversion kit is ideal for introducing a nucleus on National frames to a Langstroth hive but for an established colony on any sort of frame we strongly recommend a shook swarm carried out in the Spring.
There is growing recognition of the advantages of a shook swarm as a way of drastically reducing the levels of varroa on bees and for the general good health of the colony. Previously, a shook swarm was only known as a treatment for European Foul Brood (EFB) but it has found wider application.
Here in South Devon we can carry out a shook swarm in late March but elsewhere you may wish to leave it until later. The trick is to time it so the queen has already built up the colony to about 5 or 6 frames of brood. At this point remove the hive to one side of the site and replace with a clean new hive body and floor for which you have 10 new frames of foundation, or in the case of our plastic frames 10 newly waxed frames. Put 5 frames in the hive body but split so 3 are at one side and 2 at the other with a wide gap between them. to ensure the colony stays in the new hive insert a queen excluder between the floor and hive body. This will prevent the queen escaping and the bees swarming. You should later remove this queen excluder as soon as the queen starts to lay and in any event not later than 7 days after the transfer. We also advise inserting the varroa tray at this point in order to make the interior of the hive as dark as posible, this also aids settling down the colony. The tray should be removed at the same time as the queen excluder.
Ideally, find the queen and place her in a queen cage, she will not need any attendants for the short time she is going to be there. Then simply take each frame in turn from the old hive and shake the bees into the new hive body. If you see the queen on a frame of young unsealed brood simply put her and the frame straight into the new hive. Do not shake her or her accompanying bees off the frame. This frame will become your "bait frame" for a second mopping up operation on the varroa. If you did not see the queen do not worry but after you have gone through all the old frames select one of unsealed brood (eggs and larva) and put this in the middle of the new hive and replace the remaining new frames, 2 to each side of the old frame, which will leave you with one new frame left over. Put this somewhere safe as you will need it later.
If you did not find and cage the queen check the old hive very carefully to ensure the queen is not still there. She may be on the floor or climbing up the inside of the old hive. Brush her into the new hive but avoid shaking too much debris from the old hive floor into the new hive. One of the benefits of this method is the bees start in new clean quarters so to speak and the levels of harmful bacteria will be much lower in the new hive - so try hard not to re-introduce any.
If you found and caged the queen introduce her back to the hive, letting her onto the bait frame. If there were any supers on the old hive these can simply be transferred across now providing there is no brood in them. Ensure a queen excluder is used to prevent the queen laying in the supers and then replace the roof, with one of our full width feeders under the roof unless there is a strong local flow of nectar on.
The remaining brood you must now destroy. Either by melting if you have a wax steamer or simply cut out the comb and bury it in the compost heap. Something like 80% or more of the varroa in the hive would have been in the sealed brood so by destroying the brood you set back the varroa population significantly.
The new colony needs to be fed 1:1 sugar syrup until they have drawn out atleast half the new comb unless there is a srong flow and good weather. One of the advatages of doing this in the Spring is you may be able to take avantage of any Oil Seed Rape locally so saving on sugar and effort.
Assuming there was no sealed brood on the bait frame you put in the new hive leave it for about 7 days or until at least half of it sealed and then remove and destroy it. Under no circumstances leave it until sealed brood starts to emerge - about 12 days after the first cell is sealed. This manipulation mops up many of the phoretic (from the Greek for "carrying") mites which were physically on the bees and therefore were transferred across to the new hive. As the new brood reaches the point when it is going to be sealed by the bees the mites jump into the cells in preparation for completing their life cycle by breeding.
As a final hit for the varroa you can apply a varroa treatment such as oxalic acid or formic acid. For maximum effectiveness these must be completed before there is any sealed brood - so within the first couple of weeks of the shook swarm.
Do not carry out shook swarms on weak colonies although if essential because of severe varroa levels shake the bees into a polystyrene nucleus box which will ensure they stay warm.
Also, do not destroy the bees which are going to bring in your main honey crop. If this is in July then around the middle of May is about as late as you can leave a shook swarm. After this you risk a severe depletion of foragers at the critical nectar gathering time.
Colony numbers will dip at first due to the break in brood rearing but after that expect colonies which have been shook swarmed to outperform those which were not given the treatment. This happens due to the combined effect of low varroa levels, low pathogen levels and perhaps most importantly the manipulation triggers the "swarm reflex" which is the reflex newly swarmed bee have to establish their colony quickly. The bees will work all hours of daylight to bring in forage to allow the comb to be drawn and thereafter expect the queen to go into egg laying overdrive. Within 6 weeks expect the bees to have filled all 10 frames in the brood chamber at which point you may wish to give them a second.
A total of about 25 grams of wax is about right for a Medium frame, which is just under 1 oz. A full depth frame will take about 35 grams. This is the combined amount for both sides. The wax should be melted in a stainless steel bowl resting inside another bowl of water. The temperature of the wax should be quite hot, about 80 to 85C which can be achieved if the water is just starting to simmer. The trick is to apply the wax quickly and thinly, each frame should only take minute or so at most. If you take too long or apply too much wax the frames can be twisted by the heat. It is not necessary to fill all the hexagons with wax. If you dip a 4” fleece roller in the molten wax, lift it out for a few moments for the excess wax to drain away (keeping the roller pointing upwards otherwise it can fall of the handle) you can then run the roller up and down one face of the frame. Don’t go too quickly otherwise liquid wax will be sprayed everywhere. As the wax cools keep going until the roller actually becomes “hairy” again. This is difficult to describe but at a certain point, and it is only after a minute or so, the fleece roller will start to look like it did originally and not something soaked in wax. At this point the roller is very effective at putting a thing coat on the tops of the embossed hexagons, which is all the cue the bees need to start drawing it out. It is not essential but helps keep the frame flat if the embossed surface of the frame is supported underneath by a suitable sized block of wood while the hot wax is being applied. A few lengths of 2” * 1” PSE laid side by side will also work. Leave the frames to cool hanging in a hive body. If you find a twisted frame gently warm the outside of the frame (the bits which would be wood in a conventional frame) with an electric hot air paint stripper while the frame is resting flat on a bench. Take care not to overheat it. This annealing process will remove any strains set up by the application of the hot wax.
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 the hive components. Domestic sinks are too small and this will also allow you to do the cleaning outside. A Plasterer's 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 the 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 stong 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 simliar beekeepers.
A newer guide from Fera on sterilisation is available here. This contains the same advice as above but with a bit more detail.
Contact your local bee inspector at once and follow their advice but be aware they may not be familiar with polystyrene hives. Draw their attention to the CSL leaflet reference on page 30 of the Foul Broods publication on chemical sterilisation. A strong bleach solution will kill AFB spores.
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 their 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 consume 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 the 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.
All orders are despatched within 48 hours of being placed.
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 recommend 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 ½" brush for the fiddly bits. We have found Dulux Weathershield Smooth Masonry paint is an excellent choice. This paint contains an acrylic resin and gives 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 it is not very hard wearing and we feel the extra durability and better coverage of the Dulux paint is worth the extra cost. One litre will be sufficient for two hives with supers although 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 sanding paper after the last coat. Alternatively, apply an extra coat to this surface only and sprinkle dry sand on it. You do not need to paint the interior surface the bees ascend - it would be pretty hard to reach in any case.
More information on hive care can be found here
You can put the bees in more or less straight away in our experience (using our recommended paint) but probably best to wait 24 hours to let the paint fully harden as it can still be a little soft even when touch dry and may be more easily damaged from knocks.
The entrance reducers are mouse proof as the slot is too low for a mouse to squeeze under. The same concept of a low entrance is used by other manufacturers of polystyrene hives and it has been proven to work.
it the escape diagonally across the clearer board underneath a hole about 60mm diameter cut in the centre of the board. The rim around the board needs to be sufficiently thick the rhombus clears the top bars of the frames beneath by at least 6mm - a bee space. The corners of the escape should point into the corners of the board.
The consensus of opinion is not to use all the holes for fixing the escape, just use alternate ones.
The escape should only be used overnight as a maximum period and as little as 4 hours can also work although we have heard of them working in only 2.
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.
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. As it is the largest supplier of beekeeping equipment in Germany no longer even sells wooden hives anymore, so complete has the change over to expanded polystyrene hives been.
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.
Apilife Var will melt plastic if it comes into contact with it. The way to prevent this is to use part of the packet the strips come in by placing square of it above the strip and if using plastic frames do the same underneath. The manufacturers have approved this method. It is only direct contact with the strip, which can cause melting. The vapours given off by the tablet do not cause any problems.
Firstly, like queen excluders it may be necessary to sand off a little wood from the corners of the board so the hive body above the board fits
properly - as the internal corners of the hive body at the overlap are rounded.
As the hives are top bee space there is a risk of some brace comb being built above the frames but as these boards are not normally left on the hive permanently this should not be a major issue. However, the simplest solution would simply be to turn the board upside down - this will create the correct bee space above and below it.
If you need to return an item for exchange please contact us first for instructions then return it to our warehouse which is at this address:
Please note we do not operate a shop and it is not possible to view our products except at certain beekeeping exhibitions we attend. However, you can return any goods purchased and ask for a full refund within 7 days of receiving the goods and of course we will exchange any garments for a different size if required.
We do not currently sell a National Nuc, however our Langstroth nucleus in high density polystyrene also take BS National frames when used with our conversion kit.
We now sell a top feeder that is the same design as our full width hive feeder, with one big difference, it has two feeding stations for the bees so that if you have split the hive into two three frame nucs you can feed both colonies syrup at the same time with ease. We find that because our floors are deeper then standard that fondant fits easily below the frames. We also sell 3kg frame feeders which are made from a strong plastic with rigged inside walls for the bees to walk up.
We do not stock Dadant Blatt in our warehouse, however please contact us if you would like to use Dadant Blatt as we can order them in for you which takes just a few days.
At Modern Beekeeping we specialize in polystyrene beehives, polystyrene hives have been used in Europe for 30 years where they have proven to be effective and durable. We do not stock wooden hives as we believe that polystyrene hives are much more superior to the wooden hives.
We send orders worldwide, if you are based outside of the UK add your items to the basket and the website will then ask for the country in which you are based, select the country and complete your details we will then call / email you with a quote for the postage.
If you would like to collect your order from our warehouse this is not a pronlem please contact us to arrange a time and day.
Your normal national frames will fit into our hives as normal so you have nothing to worry about there, the only thing is that if you have wooden brood and supers these will not fit together with our poly components very well as ours have an overlapping bottom rather then falt edges in order to make the hives easier to transport and more weather proof.