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To save honey bees we need to redesign the hive


I only read part of it. What an interesting read, after what has been talked about recently on the thread “Upper entrance on flow hive - preparing for winter”.

There has been a decline in hive numbers, however I think that could be more to do with the number of beekeepers dwindling. No one seems to have any trouble accessing a new colony of bees at the start of the season - as far as I can see.

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I find the discussion on the decline of honey bees a little misleading. There are certainly issues in some strong hold countries but not world wide and certainly not in Australia. We had a interesting talk from a researcher who presented some data.

From the UN FAOSTAT 2019 2017 Global hive numbers were estimated at 91 million. That is up from the 1960, 70 , 80, 90 and 00s where numbers where in the 50, 55, 62, 70, 75 million ranges. The graph shows that there has been a steady increasing number of hives globally since the 1960s. Using the same stats and average bee numbers per hive the number of bees has increased x1.5 to ~3.0trillion bees.

Having said that there has been a decline below the 1960 bee numbers in Europe and significant declines in America.

Here in WA registered Beekeepers have increased from 425 in 2008 to nearly 3200 to date in 2019.


Over here on the East Coast I am sure there is massive increase in bee keepers with from 1 to 6 hives but I suspect there is a decline in the number of big commercial bee keepers, maybe due to the increases in costs. I used to move hives chasing the flow with a 6 ton lorry and I was only in a small way but it seems those days are gone. It has been ages since I have seen a truck load of hives.
I wonder what is the average number of hives per bee keeper in Australia these days??

I’m not sure we need to redesign the bee hive. The issue I think is the lack of knowledge of some bee keepers in how to manage the hives they have. Just my thoughts Alan.


Depends on how you define “redesign”. I think the current design has shortcomings (i.e. heat loss, passive temperature control etc) so improving those aspects would arguably involve some aspects of a redesign (maybe renovation is a better word?).

From a management perspective I think the basic Langstroth or top-bar design is a good solution but it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. However, I haven’t done enough reading of the available research and literature to provide more substantial comments beyond my own opinion on most aspects.

edit: I’d hazard to suggest the possibility that actua ideal l hive design might be best tailored to local environments in some respects based on peoples experiences and comments I’ve seen on this forum (i.e. @JeffH comment and link about top entrances). Horse for courses…

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Jeff is a wealth of experience and his advice is well thought out.
My feelings about a Flow Hive is that it is a well thought out piece of kit for most climates but needs ‘fine tuning’ for the extremes of climate, but it is an excellent starting point for the average bee keepers climate.
The ‘weak point’ is sometimes the bee keeper who thinks that regular inspection don’t apply to their hives.


It depends on how you are planning to redesign the bee hive.

Don’t keep it all to yourself as a secret Pollard. Let us know what your bee hives are and In what way can your hives be improved. :thinking::thinking:

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I started reading the article and got to " Natural nests inside tree cavities create high humidity levels in which honey bees thrive and which prevent Varroa from breeding." Now: is that true? I was under the impression that when Varroa arrive in the US it decimated wild hives? Any US beeks care to chime in?

As far as the idea that we need to redesign beehives: here in South Australia we had a talk from a commercial beekeeper with 1500 hives. he said that he felt he was going to need to change his hive configurations to deal with increased heat and decreased wintering sites through bushfires and land clearing. He said they would need to look look at painting hives white more - feeding in winter- and possibly shading hives. He did report that recent years were bad compared to the past…

After thousands of hives were completely destroyed by record heatwave here last year (including two of mine)- I too think that I need to change the configuration of my hives during extreme weather events. For me this year that means : no single brood boxes exposed to full sun. Either I will add supers whether the hives are ready for them or not- and/or I will place large shade cloth apparatus over hives and where possible use evaporative cooling with wet sheets/towels. I am also considering insulating all my hive lids.

It seems ab ansolute no brainer in cold weather that hives with more insulation will thrive better. bees need to stay warm and whenever the temp is under 30C they will be working to do that. Any help we can give them to prevent heat loss should in theory benefit them.

One thing about that article that i question is the notion of high humidity- as in the past I have heard that bees cope better with cold than they do with damp. And that makes sense to me. Damp creates mold, fungus, etc. I have also read that natural tree hollows help control moisture levels as the structure of the wood inside such spaces have a very high surface area and the wood effectively wicks away the moisture the bees create constantly.


I think adding more space isn’t such a good idea, more area to manage for the bees just means more cooling required on hot days. I’ve spent too much time in roof spaces. It would be nice if they were air conditioned but would we waste the energy? (And I wouldn’t be in the roof space if the air conditioning was working either. :weary:)
I’m in the process of designing a hive cover to insulate a hive, thinking that in very cold areas wrapping hives for insulating purposes during winter has been common practice, why not during extreme heat or year round for that matter, we do it in our own homes. It would be interesting to see how the poly hives coped during your heatwave Jack. The trick is to see what has worked in the past and use that information.
Redesigning, nah, modifying perhaps.


The issue isn’t so much just adding more space- the issue is that in temps of 46C in full sun the lid of the hive is BAKING hot. In a single brood hive with bees densely packed inside the brood combs melt and collapse at their tops- setting off a chain reaction that kills the entire hive. “The trick is to see what has worked in the past and use that information.” Agreed- and that’s why I will add the supers: Last year I had 13 hives. 11 of them had supers and all survived the 46C day with no major problems. The two hives that were just single broods were completely annihilated. So that was very clear to me: the supers saved the hives- I have NO doubt about that at all. I also saw a beekeeper who lost around 100 hives that day- an entire apiary wiped out and I noticed they were all Nucs or single broods.

I have a feeling that humidity may play a role- the bees desperately bring in water to cool the hive- however evaporative cooling becomes ineffective if humidity is too high. In a small single brood box perhaps the humidity hits a critical level. Without additional space to move into the bees are clustered too tightly- or if they try to beard they must do so in the baking hot sun… Insulation in the roof will also help during these heat waves to block some of the heat from the lid cooking the hive below.

I believe that quilt boxes, and slatted racks will both help- the quilt boxes will shield the combs from the heat at the roof- whilst also allowing excess moisture to wick out of the hive- and even create a kind of evaporative cooler in the roof… and the slatted rack will give the bees more space in the dark and cool to spread into so they are not clustered too tightly. Anytime the temps are over 43C I believe that shade cloth will also help a lot.

there is ZERO doubt that beekeepers here in SA are going to need to adapt and change what they do if we continue to get these record high temps- and especially if they increase. Many commercial beekeepers with decades of experience lost 1000’s of hives last year. It was a wake up call- no doubt at all.

Hi Jack, it sounds like you’re using a super as insulation. Painting everything white certainly helps. Even if you have white lids, like mine they might need a fresh coat of paint. I have some lids that have fibro under the tin, they seem to keep cool. I know because the bees readily build comb under them. While lids with masonite, that actually buckled because of heat didn’t get any comb built under them. That was also on account, the paint was just about gone, exposing the galvanizing which gets very hot.

I think rather than use a super as insulation, a better idea would be to paint the lids white, or freshen the paint, plus add some insulation to them.

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On the subject of redesigning the hive: We have the langstroth hive. We have a top bar hive. We also have a warre hive. Then there’s the hex hive, that’s supposed to be as natural as they come. There’s more, I’m sure.

Keeping heat loss to a minimum, which wont be helped with sbb’s in use, is a major thing we can do with any designed bee hive.

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the two hives that died were brand new- painted pure white- 1 inch thick, wax dipped with very thick heavy migratory lids- covered in metal that is also painted white. Basically they cooked in the sun. We are talking 46C+ in the shade. All hives survived a week of 43+ temps- but once temps went over 46C thousands of hives over the entire state died- all on that one day. Thousands of Fruit bats also died- and were left hanging in the trees where they perished. I truly think 46C pushes bees (and many other animals including humans) right to the edge of their ability to cope. And yes- the super acts as a kind of barrier to give the bees more room so they are not too tightly clustered together- and overheat- and the worst of the radiant heat is not just 2 inches above the brood chamber.

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Your points make sense Jack, and Jeff’s tips are very valid as well. Evaporative cooling fails badly in humid weather, tht is a well proven fact.
I am changing my roofs to add a vent at each end of the migratory roof so that any outside breeze will help to take away a buildup of heat in the hive. Bees will propolize the vents in the cooler months if they need to so I have fitted ‘pop out vents’ that can be put in a saucepan of near boiling water to clean up the vents. Over last Summer the bees left the vents so I guess they liked the idea of a cooler hive. I am also going to make some ‘false roofs’ ( basically a roof open on all sides that will sit with a 20mm air gap above the migratory roof). So that any absorbed heat will be not radiated into the hive.
Last Summer I made up a solar powered exhaust fan that was thermostatically controlled so that when the roof area got over 36C the fan would cut in and discharge to hot air out of the roof area. It worked but too expensive to make more of them.
Last Summer was really bad and Australia wide, the BOM forecast is that isn’t going to be a once off event so we need to come up with ways to protect our hives from excessive heat. I feel sad for the bees that belong to people who still deny that our climate is changing to hotter weather.


I agree with you Jack, it sounds like your strategy will be the best one. 46C in the shade IS hot. I hope you don’t have a repeat of that. Probably the best strategy would be a continuous line of wet towels, or a sprinkler going over the hives. Water availability permitting.

PS @Semaphore Jack, just an after thought. I’ve been thinking that well insulated floors would help keep heat in during cold weather. I’m thinking that well insulated floors would also contribute at keeping heat out during hot weather.

Another thought came to mind. I’m also wondering if removing one frame, then evenly spacing the remainder as a temporary measure would also help.


Great thread guys, you have opened my eyes to possible things I can do to help my bees. A few things I do in summer is rotate my hives so the sun is not on their entrance in the afternoon or hottest part of the day. Full open entrance with the hive tilted forward, bottom board clean and made of smooth easy to clean material. I don’t like the idea of ventilated lids best thing is if you think they need ventilation lift the lid and put a couple of match sticks in the gap if they fill the gap with wax they don’t want yr help :slight_smile: