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Is Status Quo Setting Bees up for Failure?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Bees are so critical in our food system and we are loosing millions of colonies a year due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This is in part to a few major factors, such as the Varroa Destructor mite, loss of foraging habitat, pesticide use, monocultures, among others. The EPA in the U.S. has stated:

"There have been many theories about the cause of CCD, but the researchers who are leading the effort to find out why are now focused on these factors: 1. Increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honey bees). 2. New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema. 3. Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control. 4. Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services. 5. Changes to the habitat where bees forage. 6. Inadequate forage/poor nutrition. 7. Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above."

This is being amplified by climate change in some areas, due to longer periods pests like the Varroa mite can breed and infect colonies, and with poor nutrition, which is the direct result of habitat loss, these colonies are further weakened. With pollinators like the bee responsible for 1/3 of the food on our plate, we likely cannot live without these critical food chain critters. And beekeepers need to continue to adapt to help colonies thrive and not just survive.

Status Quo

The beekeeping industry has mostly been keeping bees in hives that are based around the original Langstroth hive which was patent in 1885. This design solved so many issues with scaling beekeeping and harvesting honey as well as taking care of the brood and Queen. And it is the reason it is the most widely used hive design today, however there is a significant problem with the hive design, it lacks the fundamental evolutionary component that Apis mellifera (EU & Western Honey Bee) has relied on to survive.

The honey bee has mostly survived in the natural environment for 10,000+ years within tree cavities. These tree cavities, often Oak trees, provide several inches of protection around the colony, as well as several feet above them. The industries current status quo, is to put the bee colonies in 3/4" pine boxes providing far less protection than nature provides them.

Building Science

If we apply what we know from building science to bee hives, beekeepers can achieve the similarity of insulation values a tree provides for bee colonies, right in the beekeepers hive. To achieve this the HyperHyve™ with its patent pending technology, has added insulation value where it is needed and at a level that has maximum efficacy. Insulation is rated in a format called "R", the standard 3/4" pine, cedar, or similar hive has a ~0.75 R insulation rating. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:

"The function of insulation is to provide resistance to the flow of heat, and R-value is the measure of exactly this attribute for a given material.  A higher R-value equates to higher resistance to heat flow and greater effectiveness in insulating."

Depending on your location, the recommended R value for your home varies, but there is no where in the world that it is recommended to live in a home with a 0.75 R insulated home.

But, they're bees! They're suppose to live outside! Right?!

Well, its not that simple. As stated above bees have evolved to survive in tree trunks. These tree trunks are most often quite thick. And if you look at an Oak tree, each inch of wood equates to approximately 1 R, and according the Energy.Gov:

"A material’s thermal resistance or resistance to heat flow is measured by its R-value. In a solid log wall, the logs provide both structure and insulation. The R-value for wood ranges between 1.41 per inch (2.54 cm) for most softwoods and 0.71 for most hardwoods. Ignoring the benefits of the thermal mass, a 6-inch (15.24 cm) softwood log wall has a clear-wall (a wall without windows or doors) R-value of just over 8."

Bees do not hibernate, so they need to be positioned to survive all types of weather. And a hollowed out tree has served them well for thousands of years, and most of these trees have 3-12" of wood surrounding the colony, giving them approximately anywhere from a 2.5-12.0 R insulation rating. This is not far off the insulation ratings from standard homes built pre 1990. And if you consider the tree provides a theoretical infinite R value for above the colony in a tree, it may have a higher R value than your home, and the "cap" of a building is where most your heat loss comes from. We are likely dooming bees in a box at 0.75 R that has 10% or even less then that of the insulation value of a tree. Many beekeepers have modified hives for many years to protect bees from the cold and heat. But this is only a bandaid for the problem, we must start by providing a beehive that provides the colonies the foundation to thrive, and that is an insulated hive.

Moisture & Air Infiltration

One of the quickest way to lose a colony is by getting them damp or wet in cold temperatures. A standard hive can create a dangerous situation for any colony with such low R values. When the warm moist air from the colony hits the colder walls or ceiling of the interior of a standard hive, condensation occurs. That condensation can then drip onto the colony greatly decreasing their ability to stay warm, and likely resulting in their death. And if the colony is already struggling with disease such as those from Varroa mites, then there is likely a 0% chance they survive.

To combat these issues, beekeepers have deployed many kinds of "winter" tactics, such as;

  1. Using a hive add on to wrap the hives with a thin layer of insulation around the hives

  2. Inserting foam insulation under the cover of the hive

  3. Using a Moisture Box on top of the hive

  4. Increasing brood box management

These are all better than just letting the bees fend for themselves over winter, but they are all just identifiers that the bees need a better home. A well insulated hive will keep the diffusion zone, where the moist warm air meets the cold area and condenses, away from the bees keeping them warm and dry. A dry warm hive will also help the bees conserve energy and therefore food reserves.

Another topic is air infiltration and if you have ever opened up a seasoned hive, the bees are constantly letting the beekeeper know, their not always keen on air flowing through the cracks of the hive sections. They do this by sealing them up with propolis, a very sticky substance known for its medicinal characteristics. In winter, air infiltration during cold windy days can really cut through the cluster, and can also affect their survivability. A well sealed hive, will often have zero propolis between hive sections because there is no airflow that the bees want to block.

Solving a Problem

I didn't write this blog to sell you on a product, I wrote this to help show you the problem we are solving and some of the science, observations, and studies we used to get us to this solution. We know with absolute certainty that bees did not evolve to live in 3/4" pine boxes, and when given a home that represents the needs of the bees, as well as what the beekeeper needs, that a Langstroth hive provides. The bees will thrive, and with less effort from the keeper.

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