Poly Hives in UK Beekeeping
Whilst using polystyrene bee hives is not as new as you may think, they have certainly become more popular in recent years, particularly now Paynes have introduced their own new model to the market. This means there are now 3 main suppliers of different national poly hives for sale in the UK, Paynes, Modern Beekeeping and Beehive Supplies, some already do 14×12 too.
Poly hives have probably been around for over 20 years now, however they have typically been used further north in Scandinavia and Canada, their colder climate had forced them to try out new techniques to help them overwinter their honeybees. I suspect the only reason they did not catch on so quickly here was that they tend to not use national, the British standard hive. Whilst a few do use Langstroth and other types of hives the vast majority use British Nationals, so changing over could cause complications, as if you only have a couple of hives, it’s much easier to use the same as other local people. (it makes buying and selling nucs much easier or someone may even give you a frame of brood in an emergency)
Just in case you have never seen one, the poly hives which are available in the UK today are not made of the type of polystyrene you would find a new TV packaged in, they are made of a much denser material, typically 100g per litre or more, this is about 10-15 times the strength of that used for packing and they have a much smoother finish.
There are a few key benefits in using Polystyrene instead of traditional cedar hives, these are (in no particular order)
- They are much better insulated
- They are completely waterproof
- Polystyrene does not rot
- They are cheaper than Cedar
- Easy to clean
- Lighter than wood (although not by as much as you would expect)
- Some are compatible with original wooden hive parts
So, again in no particular order, these are the hives which are available:
Paynes Polystyrene Bee Hive
The poly hives from Paynes are my personal favourite, partly due to price, partly because they aren’t white and don’t have to be painted, I like the design, but they are also made in the UK . They have a wide alighting board built in and are very easy to handle, they are also not much thicker than a traditional wooden hive, there is a handy slope at the top of the boxes too, so if you use wooden supers on top of the poly brood or supers, any water would hit the outside of the wood and run down onto the poly and be kept on the outside of the hive.
They have both standard national and 14X12 in both hive bodies and a well fitting eke for extending their nucs too, this is ideal for me as I have both. Another neat feature is that the brood box slightly locks into the floor, making it easier to put back together accurately and may give it a little more stability in the wind.
Modern Beekeeping Poly Hives
Whilst I don’t have one of these myself, I know people who do and they are all happy with them. The hive from Modern Beekeeping differs slightly from the others because they have top bee space as opposed to bottom as with traditional nationals, this means that they are not compatible with old hive parts as standard, but they could be adapted. However they have probably been around for longer than the others mentioned on this page and are manufactured by a company in Finland, so you can be sure they have already been used in winters much more harsh than those we see in the UK.
These hives need to be painted to protect them from UV light which can damage the polystyrene over long periods of exposure. They are also smaller than other hives, because the poly is thicker than wood and they have kept the external dimensions about the same as a standard national, the inside will only fit 10 hoffman frames, this need not be a problem though as the bees will raise brood on all frames, even the outside of the outer frames in a polystyrene bee hive.
Bee Hive Supplies Polystyrene Bee Hives
The first poly hive I bought was from Bee Hive Supplies. These are thicker than the other two, so theoretically should provide better insulation for the bees in winter (or summer for that matter, as polystyrene keeps the heat out in summer just as well as it does the cold in winter). They do need painting and being white I found they needed 3 good coats of masonry paint to get a good even finish. It will also fit 12 Hoffman frames so if you have 14X12 you really can fit a lot of brood in them, as bees will use the outside of the end frames for brood rearing in polystyrene bee hives. I also like the roof design on these as it has the benefit of being sloped so water runs off, but can also be placed on the ground upside down to put supers on. That being said, my roof doesn’t actually fit very well, the inner surface which is in contact with the brood box or super isn’t quite flat, so there is a small air gap at the top, this stops the hive from being air tight. I contacted the manufacturer about it and they said they know it’s a problem and are trying to resolve it and have since heard that it has been fixed, so the newer ones don’t have this problem.
As you can see from this video, assembling polystyrene bee hives is much easier than timber hives, but they do also need painting to protect the polystyrene from UV.
All the suppliers sell them as complete hives, with and without frames, or as individual components. I’m not going to talk about pricing here because I’m sure they will change over time or during their winter or spring sale, but if you follow the links to their websites all the pricing is available.
If you provide another line of polystyrene bee hives please let me know and I would be pleased to give you a mention too.