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Polystyrene (Poly) Hives

Information relevant to the U.K. and Ireland

An index for Poly Hives

Polystyrene (poly) hives are becoming so popular in the U.K. that I have asked John Laidler, who has great experience of poly hives, to write about them. I believe that John has given a fair appraisal of them and I encourage all beekeepers, even those who have a preference for the traditional wooden hives to read all the pages that John has written.

Poly hives have been used in other countries for many years, with popularity in colder areas such as Scandinavia, where they out-sell wooden hives. I don't think they are popular everywhere and in Switzerland, where I would have thought they would have been of benefit, on a visit in 2013, I was told by several beekeepers, even younger ones, they don't use them much because of woodpeckers and mice. This surprised me, as they are both a problem with wooden hives as well.

Although I have never owned poly hives, I have handled bees in them on many occasions and I know beekeepers who use them successfully. I have some concerns about them and I won't be changing from wood myself. It may be my concerns aren't valid, or they may be easily overcome. I certainly don't want to put anybody off using them.

There are claims that bees are warmer in the winter. If so, I assume there is more brood, with possibly no brood break. Although this may appear an advantage, I wonder if it means that oxalic acid isn't as effective as it would be if there was no brood.

It is my strongly held view that bees are very much softer than they were when I started beekeeping. I believe there may be several reasons for this, including the importation of the very soft yellow bees and the mollycoddling of them by beekeepers, allowing them to survive when natural selection would soon sort them out. I suspect that keeping them warmer may make the situation worse.

I have seen some poly hives that have been of rather poor quality and in my view too soft. As an engineer, I don't think they would last very long and I have been very careful with the hive tool when inspecting them. John Laidler offers advice on reducing hive tool damage, so there are ways around problems

I have been the auctioneer at the West Sussex BKA annual auction since the 1980s, where there has been an increase in the number of polyhives in the sale, which is consistent with their availability and use. In the 2015 sale, there were several lots of polyhives that the seller had owned for about 4 years. I knew the seller well and I know they had been well looked after and were painted when he bought them new. I was very surprised at the condition of them, as the surfaces were crumbling and there was damage where the hive tool was used. They fetched about a quarter of new price.

Some are clearly not compatible with wooden or other makes of poly hive. This I think will be a problem, especially if a manufacturer ceases trading, or changes design.

Some poly National hives have handholds like the old style wooden Nationals. I think most people would find this a disadvantage, as the weight of a full box is on the fingertips.

I have a positive attitude to most things and I have no problem with other beekeepers using these hives. It is up to the individual to use whatever suits them. It is the management and care of bees that I think is important, not what they are kept in.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 06/03/2013

Page updated 08/12/2022