Why use wood walls for hives

I’ve been discussing hive insulation with an architect/beekeeper. We were pondering EPS (expanded polystyrene) which would make a better insulator than wood – the same thickness is a better insulator and much lighter, though I know bees like a wood surface on the inside. We were considering a thin wood / thick EPS / thin wood sandwich. (Wood on the outside just looks nicer, and can hold a coat of paint.)

My question is, do hive walls need to breathe? If so why?

Another problem with EPS I’m aware of is that if you have to blowtorch the inside of the hive you may melt the EPS, but that’s not the question.

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5 Responses to Why use wood walls for hives

  1. itsonlyausername says:

    EPS as you call it emits a gas. Whether this harms bees I don’t know for sure but its not worth risking.
    How long this emission continues for I don’t know. Hives do need to breath though.
    Think of a hollow tree. Bees make a nest inside because it is staable in terms of temperature and humidity and the rotting wood is able to absorb moisture that is driven off the nectar by the bees before it is stored as honey. EPS will not breath and condensation will build up. This will lead to fungal growths just as a tree would if it gets flooded out with rainwater constantly.
    Stick with wood. Its natural and your supposed to be a Natural Beekeeper. Not a modern plastic fantastic beekeeper. Can’t understand why anyone would want one of those plastic hive that are on the market.
    Besides the bees will thank you for the wood. So will I. Plastic is nasty stuff and should be banned. Seriously though plastic fragments in the natural world are causing all manner of issues with animal and ecosystem health. Even we are being affected by the toxic nature of the stuff as secondary consumers of fish and other animal proteins where the animals have ingested microscopically small fragments of plastic.
    Wood just adds nutrients to the soil etc. Hardly polluting.
    You may find the first part of this link of interest. If you are inclined to look further then you will see it is not exactly the best substance to use in the great outdoors. Especially as there are organic critters around. You’ll understand what I mean if you read the bit about degredation of the polystyrene. 🙂 http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene

  2. Paul says:

    Er, well, EPS doesn’t emit a gas. From your own link, it’s very inert and does not degrade for centuries. Some other plastics are more problematic, but polystyrene is safe stuff.
    There may be a slight odour on very new sheets from release agents used to ensure it doesn’t stick to the manufacturing machines, but that dissipates quickly. (I’ve helped design plastic things and know a bit about the technology.)
    It’s not poisonous, that’s why we use it for food packaging.
    The nectar etc can be evaporated by ventilation through the hive entrance.
    Mould grows more easily on porous surfaces like wood, if the surfaces are of equal dampness.
    I was suggesting putting the EPS behind a wood panel so the bees have wood facing them.
    So I’m still puzzled why people are anti-plastic insulation for beehives.

  3. Julia says:

    “Nature can never be understood or improved upon by human effort.”

    I always enjoy reading Mr. Masanobu Fukuoka’s “do-nothing” approach to agricultural methods as described in his book, The One-Straw Revolution. He explains that people often bring to agriculture (substitute “Beekeeping”) the questions, “”How about trying this?” or “How about trying that?”, bringing in a variety of techniques one upon the other. …My way was opposite…”How about NOT doing this? How about NOT doing that?” –that was my way of thinking”

    He goes on the explain, “The reason that man’s improved techniques see to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land has become dependent on them.”

    Mr. Fukuoka wrote about a natural way of farming, farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.

    I believe Natural Beekeeping follows the same path, and this path is a personal choice, It is more than a beekeeping method choice – I believe it is ultimately a-way-to-live-one’s-life-choice.

    “Nature can never be understood or improved upon by human effort.”

  4. Heather says:

    Well I would suggest you could then feel free to call yourself the most unnatural beekeeper.
    I believe using such materials will only lead to some other level of stress. Bees are incredibly sensitive on so many levels, some we are only beginning to understand. This morning on The Today programme on bbc4 it was being acknowledged by the general scientific field that bees suffer stress with the subsequent failure of colonys. This stress is created from many factors but taking away natural breathing materials will only add further complications for them. It isn’t just about leaving the walls natural on the inside, the walls need to breathe.
    Smell is a very significant part of their sensitivity and this material does have a smell, it may appear small to certain people but for a bee it will be magnified.
    Keep it as natural as possible at all times,

  5. simplebees says:

    One might consider the matter from the perspective of the utility of expanded polystyrene and its impact on the environment in general. If one did this one might conclude that it is a good heat insulator. I am also told that it is porous to water vapour, so allows a hive to breath. On the other hand one might place weight on the fact that it is made from oil, consumes energy in its manufacture and is not generally recyclable, so ends up in landfill.

    One must then take into account the perspective of the bee, the creature with which we are concerned. Bees are not ants, they do not live in the earth but are creatures of the air. They travel through the air and, left to themselves, generally choose to live in a hollow tree at some height above the ground. To make EPS one takes oil from deep within the ground and subjects it to heat and pressure in various chemical processes. This is about as far removed from the world of the bee, surrounded by wood and wax in a hollow tree high in the air, as it is possible to get.

    Putting all of this together, I conclude that EPS is not natural in the context of the bee and I do not use it in my hives. I use other plastic and metal only sparingly and with reluctance for the same reason.

    Gareth, Cotswolds

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