Research Proposal - Polystyrene versus Wooden Beehives

on 11 October 2015

Research Proposal – EPS Versus Wooden Beehives

We first established our Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) beehives in our beekeeping operation in Australia in the spring of 2012. We started with 100 EPS 10 frame Langstroth beehives which we ran alongside our 160 traditional 10 frame Langstroth wooden beehives. To our surprise, the EPS colonies expanded quickly and by the end of the first season had produced 35% more honey than our wooden beehives.  After more than three years of positive experience with operating EPS beehives in Australia, we are compelled to conduct this research.

 HYPOTHESIS

The hypothesis this research will address is that a thermally superior beehive will result in healthier and more productive colonies. This hypothesis is based on the premise that a colony of honeybees is a pool of resources that are allocated to activities including hive hygiene, foraging, security, scouting, feeding brood, hive construction and climate control inside the beehive. The theory upon which this hypothesis is based is that a honeybee colony housed in a thermally superior beehive will required a lower percentage of their workforce to be assigned to climate control activities therefore, a larger percentage will be assigned to more productive activities including foraging and maintaining hive hygiene. With less honeybees required to huddle around the brood in the colder periods and be engaged in fanning and water collection activities in the hotter months, the colony will be more productive, hygienic and healthier overall.

Further, condensation inside the beehive during the cold period will be significantly reduced or eliminated in beehive designs that offer superior insulation, leading to healthier colonies especially in wet and/or cold conditions.

METHODOLOGY

The methodology is to establish and operate an apiary of 100 colonies over the 2015 and 2015 beekeeping seasons in NSW, Australia. The Apiary will be made up of two sample groups of beehives:

  • Group A – 10 Frame Langstroth Wooden – 50 x 10 frame Langstroth wooden beehives and
  • Group B – 10 Frame Langstroth Expanded Polystyrene (EPS100) – 50 x 10 frame Langstroth polystyrene beehives by Paradise Honey.

The apiary will be managed in the same migratory manner as our production colonies meaning they will be periodically relocated to honeyflows throughout the season to maximise production will be fitted with a queen excluder above the lower box. Each beehive will be uniquely identified so that data can be directly mapped to each individual colony.

Beehive Design

Group A - Wooden (50 Colonies)

The wooden beehive will be a 10 frame Langstroth wooden beehive configured to replicate the beehive design most commonly used by commercial beekeepers in Australia. This will include a brood box with a fixed hive bottom, a queen excluder above the brood box, one or two additional honey supers depending on the time of year and colony strength and a hive top constructed with a 45mm timber frame and a Weathertex cover. The frames will be standard commercial grade Langstroth hoop pine frames with plastic foundation inserts. The beehive will be fitted with a mesh floor that is 33cm x 33cm and the hive top will be insulated with a sheet of 20mm polystyrene insulation cut to the exact size of the internal dimensions of the hive top. Each beehive in Group A will be given a unique identifier from 1A to 50A.

Group B - Polystyrene (50 Colonies)

The 10 frame polystyrene beehives will be the standard Paradise Honey BeeBox hive system which is constructed with Expanded Polystyrene with a density of 100kg per cubic metre (EPS100). The hive wall thickness will be 40mm and the hive top will be 65mm. The hive bottom also constructed of EPS100 will include a mesh floor that is 33cm x 33cm. Each beehive in Group B will be given a unique identifier from 1B to 50B.

Apiary Establishment

The apiary will be established using queen bees raised from a single breeder queen and grafted on the same day to ensure consistency of blood line and the conditions they are raised on. To cater for an expected loss of 20% of the new queen bees, the colonies will commence as nucleous hives split off our production colonies using the Paradise Honey 6 frame EPS 100 Nuc&Mate beehive. To cater for an expected loss of 20% of the new queen bees either because of failed mating
Once the colonies are at a suitable bee population, they will be transferred into the Group A and Group B beehives. The beehives will be gamma radiated prior to the introduction of the colonies to ensure they are free of any diseases or parasites that could affect the colonies productivity or health.

Study Duration

The study will be conducted over a minimum of two years commencing in the 2015 season. As every season is different, this will provide data across differing conditions and seasons.

Data Collection

The study will capture a broad set of data relating to the productivity and wellbeing of the study group colonies including:

Productivity - All honey harvested will be weighed and documented against each colonies unique identifier. Near real-time weight changes will be recorded and published using the Hive Mind system (refer to http://hivemind.co.nz/). The Hive Mind system will be installed on a smaller sub group of 4 colonies from Group A and 4 colonies from Group B and will be configured to record the weight

Weather Conditions - A portable weather station will be installed with the research apiary to collect data on ambient temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, and wind speed and wind direction. This data will be mapped against the productivity and health of the colonies with the aim of measuring the impacts of weather against the productivity of Sample Group A and B.

Colony Operating Temperature – It is our intension to install temperature probes in many, if not all of the sample group A & B colonies. The colony temperature will be documented for analysis.

Colony Health - The colonies will be monitored for a variety of health conditions including Chalk Brood, European Foul Brood, American Foul Brood, Nosema and the general overall colony health. All data relating to observations and diagnosis of health conditions will be logged against the respective colonies unique identification number.

Chalk Brood - A chalk brood count will be conducted three time per year. This will be the process of counting the number of chalk brood affected cells per .04m2 (20cm x 20cm). To achieve this, a template will be made to overlay the brood frames with a 20cm x 20cm section exposed (framed). A count of the Chalk Brood affected cells within the framed section will be counted and documented. This will be conducted on the two most centre frames from each colony.

American Foul Brood (AFB) and European Foul Brood (EFB) - All 100 colonies will be visually inspected twice per year for AFB and EFB and any visual diagnosis will be validated using approved testing kits.

Nosema - Samples from 20 colonies from each sample group will be collected and laboratory tested for Nosema in August of each year.

Colony Losses - All colony losses and the reason for the loss will be documented throughout the study. This will include colonies diagnoses as drone layers, failed queens who are simply stopped laying or are not laying at the capacity required to maintain a healthy honeybee population and colonies that are euthanized because of a diagnosis of AFB.

Colony Attrition - The colonies will not be manually re-queened during the study unless there is a colony loss. This study will focus on understanding the attrition behaviours of the colonies from Group A and Group B including swarming and supersedure rates.

Photographic – We will be collecting a considerable volume of photographic data throughout the study to provide a visual view of many of the observations made. For example, photographing the Chalk Brood discarded outside the colony entrances would provide visual evidence of the level of chalk brood infestation. We will also shoot short videos that show the techniques used and observations made throughout the study.

ONGOING DATA PUBLISHING

The intention is to publish the data as close to real-time as possible to enable interested parties to view, scrutinise, analyse and provide feedback throughout the study period. The data will be published at http://australianhoneybee.com/EPSversusWooden.

RESEARCH VOLUNTEERS WELCOME

We acknowledge that this project will be resource intensive and as such, we welcome any volunteer assistance with any of the requisite activities including:

  • Establishment and management of the research apiary
  • Data collection and data entry
  • Data analysis

FEEDBACK

All constructive feedback on this research proposal will be greatly apreciated.  Please email your feedback to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..