Vertical Beehives and The Lord of the Rings OR How Horizontal Beehives Minimize Disturbing the Honeybees

This is the 2nd part of the series. The 1st part is here: Vertical Beehives and a Crazy Landlord

In Summer we gradually fully fill our horizontal hives with frames – up to 20 frames as the bee colonies expand.

In late Fall, as the bee colony size dwindles in preparation for winter, we narrow down the inner hive to 7-8 frames separated by divider boards and with wool-filled pillows for warmth and moisture control to give our bees the best chances to survive cold Maine winters.

Conventional commercial vertical beehives consist of stackable non-insulated boxes typically build with cheap MDF plywood that uses formaldehyde as glue. Formaldehyde is a known toxin and carcinogen that can adversely affect both the bees and the humans.

Our horizontal beehives have double-walls insulated with natural sheep wool. The double walls are built with more expensive ECO plywood that uses natural soy-based glue instead of toxic formaldehyde.

As opposed to stationary horizontal hives, the modular vertical beehives are very well suited for conventional commercial-style beekeeping and are frequently used for easy transportation and renting of beehives to pollinate agricultural crops.

In the US the bees in conventional vertical beehives get transported by the truckloads all over the country. Unfortunately, conventional agricultural crops are usually replete with pesticides and herbicides affecting both the bees and their honey.

Why rent & transport beehives? According to USDA, “Pollinators are essential to the production of food, and in the United States, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion of crops each year, ranging from almonds to zucchinis”

There are significant downsides to renting & transportation of honeybees. In nature, honeybees tend to live in tree hollows of big trees. And the bees stay in the same vicinity gradually adapting to the nectar flows of local plants and developing resilience by coping with mostly familiar challenges in their local environment such as the weather, the predators, and any local diseases.

As we don’t live in the world of the Lord of the Rings, our real trees are stationary and they don’t walk. And trucking beehives all over the country has to be a worse nightmare for the honeybees than living in a hollow of a walking tree from the Lord of the Rings.

In addition to unhealthy extreme proximity to hundreds of other beehives during transportation to pollination sites and back, the transported bees struggle to adapt to each new location’s climate, pests and nectar flows.

Typically, transported bees are heavily treated with medications to help them cope with immediate challenges but in the long run such treatment is a double-edged sword: Treatment interferes with natural selection. Medicated bees start relying on continuous human intervention and keep getting weaker while their parasites keep adapting and keep getting stronger.

When heavily treated bees get transported and they swarm and escape and try to become feral, they can turn out to be a real mite bomb endangering all other bees all over the country with their stronger adapted mite-parasites; such bees can also adversely affect the common gene pool with their weakened immunity.

We do not rent or transport our bees. Our stationary single-box horizontal beehives allow beekeeping with minimum disturbances to the bees In our single-box horizontal hives the bees don’t have to travel vertically between the boxes, which makes it possible to keep the tops of the frames positioned contiguously without cracks in between such that the light does not penetrate into the hive even with the lid open.

As a result, when we open the lid of our horizontal hive during inspections or management, no extra light or air penetrates the closed combs and we almost never see disturbed bees flying around as is the case with conventional vertical hives.

After opening a lid of a typical vertical hive, in addition to disturbed bees a very frequent sight is a messy comb all around the non-contiguous frames. It’s called Burr comb and it appears when the bees are trying to connect excessive space present between the conventional frames.Usually beekeepers try to clean burr comb right in the middle of inspections, further aggravating the bees.

If I were a honeybee scout searching for a new place for my bee colony, I would have definitely preferred a clean and spacious insulated horizontal hive far away from neighboring bee colonies, pesticides and overbearing human landlords.

As far as a beekeeper is concerned, horizontal hive management is also much easier on the beekeeper’s back as no continuous heavy lifting of separate heavy boxes is needed as with supers of conventional vertical Langstroth hives. Only 1 frame needs to be handled at a time.