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Honeybees require very specific conditions for them to stay in a beehive. The materials used to make a beehive determine whether it is hospitable to bees or not. Advances in technology have given beekeepers choice in the materials they use for their beehives. Traditionally, wood has been the preferred material in the construction of beehives. Bees take to wood with ease because it is natural and it is great for organic beekeepers who want nothing to do with synthetic materials. On the other hand, plastic has been demonstrated to be applicable in beekeeping including in the making of beehives. This is in addition to the many beehive parts that are today available in plastic. In this article we’ll discuss the breakdown of plastic beehives vs wooden beehives.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Beehive Material
Before settling on the material for your beehive, there are a number of factors you must consider. You should also research and look around for the upsides of your choice. You may choose to go with the material that is abundant around you when you are building your beehive. It is also important to take into consideration the cost of buying these materials. This also applies to buying beehives that are already made. Here are major factors you should take into account.
Your choice of beehive material should be one that does not conduct heat away from or into the hive. Temperature variations cause honeybees to behave differently. Hot temperatures in the beehive lead to bees working to lower them while cold temperatures cause bees to cluster together. Forming a cluster means less work gets done in the beehive. Bees will cluster to protect brood, as the cold kills brood and causes development problems. This id the reason why metal is not a material used in making beehives.
The weather too is best kept out of the beehive. Water from rain and melting snow leads to dampness inside the hive. The material you use in your beehives should be waterproof on the outside and help regulate humidity on the inside of your beehives. In traditional beekeeping, wood is valued for its ability to absorb moisture and preventing condensation.
Long-term Beehive Integrity
Strong honeybee colonies are reared in well constructed beehives. Warping and beehives going out of shape leads to bees drawing comb where they should not. Wood that has been properly dried and used in the beehive does not often warp. Even when it does, it is easy to replace a warped piece of wood with one that is straight. Wood is also easy to waterproof on the outside. There are various methods available to waterproof beehives, and these include painting with oil-based paints on the exterior surfaces of the beehive. The same cannot be said for plastic. Most plastic used in making beehives comes molded into a specific shape. This means that replacing a part that has gone out of shape requires replacing an entire beehive box.
Pests, Diseases and Parasite Control
Threats to beekeeping are something beekeepers have to contend with. Pests, diseases and parasites of bees can turn a thriving colony into one that needs nursing. In worst cases, the honeybee colony leaves the beehive in search of a better place to live. The beehive material you go with must not harbor the eggs of honeybee pests and parasites. Additionally, the material should not hold vegetative spores of bacteria and fungi that cause diseases of honeybees.
You may have to control pests and parasites of honeybees using chemicals. These chemicals persist for some time even after treatment is over. The material you use should not absorb and retain these chemicals in the beehive. Even if they do not hurt bees, the chemicals are often not safe for human consumption. Finding them in honey and other beehive products lowers the value of your honey and can render an entire crop of honey useless.
Is it Food-Safe?
Food safety is very important in beekeeping. All beehive products end up being consumed by people. Honey is especially required to be safe for human consumption. Beehive materials must be food-safe. They must not be found in beehive products in any quantity. Beekeepers and honey consumers too have raised concerns about the safety of honey that has been in contact with plastic material. The composition of plastic is such that it can be degraded very slowly with compounds of carbon splitting off. Heat is especially notorious for making plastics degrade. If these plastics are found in your honey even in small amounts, your honey is no longer safe for consumption.
Acceptance by Bees
Honeybees are very particular about where they live. They are known to love wood and wooden structures. In the wild, bees are often found in trees and other hollow wooden spaces. Getting bees into a space built from materials they like helps them get down to business quickly. They draw comb, raise brood and store up honey in good time. The use of other materials brings into question their acceptability by bees. If bees do not like the material, they will leave the beehive. This can be very frustrating for beekeepers that are starting a new honeybee colony.
Materials that are not readily accepted by bees may be used in constructing a beehive. As seen on many beehive components that are not made of wood, using a coat of beeswax helps with acceptability. This can also be tried with non-wood materials used to make beehives. It may however encourage bees to draw comb on wrong places in the beehive.
Expansion of Beehive Space
Space for bees to rear brood and store honey is regulated by the beekeeper. It is added and reduced based on colony strength, the time of the year and the beehive products that a beekeeper is aiming at. Adding additional space is possible with Langstroth beehives. You can add more boxes for brood or honey storage.
Wooden beehive boxes are easy to work with in adding and reducing available space in a beehive. Using other materials in a beehive is only good if the beehive can be expanded or reduced at will. The compartments in the beehive must align well to all other beehive compartments and come together in a tight waterproof fit. Molded plastic beehives come complete or in boxes. Making sure that the boxes fit together is left to the beekeeper. You can reshape and make changes to wood, but not to plastic.
Long life for beehives is an achievement every beekeeper wants. A complete beehive is an investment for every beekeeper. They want as much service out of the beehive as they can. The material used to make your beehives has a direct effect on the longevity of the beehive. Properly maintained and handled beehives last for years. The average wooden beehive should give you not less than 15 years of service. Top quality wooden beehives remain intact and useful for very many years. Older beehives also attract beehives and make them feel at home faster than new beehives. Plastic has exceptional durability when used properly. A plastic beehive will last for long if it is not exposed to the elements.
Adaptability to Various Beekeeping Needs
Beehives have the primary role of housing honeybees. In beekeeping you need the beehives to be adaptable to other uses. At times, a beehive box may be needed to double up as a swarm trap or anything else. The beekeeper may need to make minor alterations and modifications to beehives. Such changes are necessary to suit the beekeeping practices that you follow. The material should also be easy to brand and install security devices. Beekeepers should use materials that allow the beehive and its compartments to be adaptable to varying uses as needed. It should also be safe to work with the material in making modifications and removing them later.
Features of Plastic Beehives
Plastic beehives are available to beekeepers to house honeybees. These beehives often come molded. Some plastic beehive manufacturers have beehive boxes on offer in place of full beehives. The boxes are built to the various Langstroth beehive specifications. This gives beekeepers plastic 10-frame and 8-frame beehives available with deep, medium and shallow boxes. Plastic beehives promise a life of approximately 30 years.
The best plastic beehives come molded with slots to allow for feeders, entrance reducers and screened bottoms. They also have allowances for pollen traps. The beehives are made using polypropylene material. These plastic beehives also come in varying colors that suit your individual preference. Well constructed plastic beehives also feature advanced ventilation systems. They lock into place using varying mechanisms and are relatively resistant to efforts by large predators trying to get into the beehive. A number of plastic beehive manufacturers use food grade recyclable plastic.
- Low maintenance costs are realized when you use a plastic beehive.
- Alignment dowels for wooden parts may be found on some plastic beehives by some manufacturers.
- Predator resistance – plastic beehives with hive connectors show greater resistance to the efforts of large and small predators trying to get into the beehive.
- Double thin walls found on some plastic beehives give better insulation properties.
- Plastic beehives are not very suitable for use in cold climates.
- Flimsy plastic beehives fall apart and may cause you to lose your honeybee colony. Others are made by inexperienced beekeeping equipment manufacturers and are not molded to exact measurements. As a result, some parts and components of the plastic beehive may not fit together.
- Condensation forms easily in plastic beehives.
- Does not work well with most other equipment you have for wooden beehives and general beekeeping.
- No or low resale value – plastic beehives are relatively new in the beekeeping industry and many beekeepers do not want them. If you want to sell your plastic beehive, you may have a difficult time finding a buyer.
Features of Wooden Beehives
Wooden beehives have been in use for a very long time. They are available in different sizes and configurations to suit beekeeper preferences. Beehives made using wood are readily accepted by bees. Moreover, they can be re-purposed easily in beekeeping. Wooden beehives are long-lasting when handled well. These beehives are easy to construct and repair and they work well with your other equipment and beehive parts. Furthermore, they keep out the weather very well.
Wood is a poor conductor of heat. It is able to keep bees warm while temperatures outside the hive are a lot cooler. Beekeepers may build a shelter or have some cover over wooden beehives to prevent rain and snow falling directly onto the beehive. In very cold winters, you may use additional insulation on your wooden beehives to keep honeybees warm. Many different types of wood are used to make beehives. Sometimes, it is availability of the wood that determines if it will be used on the beehive. The cost of wood from different tree species also determines the wood used to make your beehive.
- Beekeepers with experience working with wood can easily make their own strong and durable beehives. You can also buy great wooden beehives at reasonable pricing.
- The durability of wooden beehives can be made better. Beekeepers sheltering and painting their wooden beehives get unexpectedly long life and excellent service from their wooden beehives.
- Weight is not a big problem with wooden beehives.
- Can be modified easily.
- Helps with humidity control in hive. Can absorb and release moisture to help bees live in dry conditions.
- Works with the other beekeeping stuff you have.
- Wood is the single material that is naturally attractive to bees.
- Allows for easy repairs and replacement of worn out, damaged or broken sections/pieces.
- Can get rotten and weak over time if not well maintained.
- Can be used by pests and parasites to hide eggs in joints and seams.
A Final Word
Beekeeping requires the beekeeper to decide at some point what material they will have on their beehives. Plastic is making a move against wood in beekeeping. However, the use of plastic in making beehives will have to address the issues of food safety and condensation before it is accepted in beekeeping. Additionally, plastic beehives must be strong and work with interchangeable parts and beehive compartments.
For years, wood has dominated the beehive construction. It is a natural material that bees love. Wood remains the favored material to make beehives to date. While plastic beats wood at durability, it cannot match the advantages that wood has when used to make a beehive. Use this analysis of plastic beehives vs wooden beehives to help you settle on the material you will go for in your beehives.
Do you prefer plastic or wooden beehives? Leave a comment below and let us know.