Simon here - I've had a couple of people mail me about my polystyrene beehives shown in various pictures throughout this blog - No they are not wooden and yes we think they are better for us and the bees. Like most of my contemporaries, I started with wooden hives made from Cedar, but as the number of hives grew, I found the expense, weight and delicate nature of the wood (the corners get damaged after regular use of a hive tool over time) was causing me an issue. In addition, I found it difficult to store the various hive parts over winter and rapidly started running out of room in my garage as the number of hives expanded.
I originally bought a couple of Nucleus boxes made of polystyrene to house some late swarms and unusually managed to get them through the winter intact without any problems. After that I bought four full-size Langstroth Poly hives made by Sweinty in Denmark and the bees in these hives did much better than their counterparts in the wooden hives, especially coming out of winter where the poly bees seemed to come out of winter about 4 weeks ahead of the others.
After this, I decided to switch away from wood to polystyrene hives, especially as they were priced about about half the cost of a decent Red Cedar hive. However, I still had the storage problem as the individual hive sections such as the brood chamber and supers on the Swienty hives are all made in one part.
I then saw some of these hives made in Finland by Paradise (where winters reach -30C) and sold by Modern Beekeeping in Devon. These arrive like flat-pack furniture where the individual sections can be pushed together (with or without glue) to make up supers or brood boxes when required. This allows me to store the unused parts flat on the shelf saving a huge amount of storage space.
All polystyrene hives usually come bare and need painting to protect the structure from UV light, I chose a water-based exterior paint in dark green in order for them to be as unobtrusive as possible, having had several hives stolen in the past. Unfortunately the hard plastic sections come in yellow and can't be painted easily, so the overall effect of hiding the hives is diminished somewhat. The hive in the picture above is about 5 years old and has never been repainted. I'm gradually replacing the Swienty's with the Paradise hives over time. They all seem holding up to the elements extremely well and the bees seem to be happy and so am I!
Some people question my "green" credentials regarding the use of polystyrene beehives over wood. Yes, polystyrene may not be a natural home for bees, but then neither is a wooden box with thin wooden walls and my focus is on providing the best environment for the bees. Keeping the bees in a highly insulated environment means they don't have to expend energy unnecessarily and can concentrate on gathering stores for winter and evaporating the water off those collected stores to convert them into honey.
In the wild, they would be warm and dry preferably within a hollow tree with walls several inches thick providing a super-insulated environment. I'm simply trying to replicate that in a practical way and feel that whilst polystyrene beehives are warmer and dryer than a single walled wooden hive, they are still not warm enough. More on that later....