We recently acquired two new styrofoam hives. As a result, we are assessing if they are worth investing in and transitioning more of our bees from timber hives over to these Finnish made bee palaces.
A while back we looked at getting some styrofoam hives to trial and even convert over to entirely. We stuck with timber hives, but have always wanted to ‘scratch the itch’ and see if the styrofoam hives really are as good as people say they are (or as bad as some people say).
So, while browsing the Facebooks one day we came across a local bloke selling a couple of used Paradise Honey styrofoam beehives. The price was right, so we figured we’d give them a go!
Being that we don’t normally buy second-hand beekeeping gear, (for quarantine reasons) these hives will have to be kept in isolation from the rest of our apiaries, at least until we can ascertain that they are clear of anything nasty. The seller was a genuine enough fella and we believe him when he says he runs a clean operation, so I’m sure they’ll be fine. Nonetheless, quarantine first!
We will put these hives into operation shortly and plan to update y’all as to how we go with them, but for now, we’ll offer you a review on our first impressions of these styrofoam hives.
First impressions of the Paradise Honey Bee Box
This segment will be a discussion on our hands-on observations of the hive, with some comparison to the timber hives we normally use.
Considering that we paid half the standard retail value, and they came assembled and painted, we couldn’t really go wrong. The equivalent timber gear would have cost us more than that to get into use anyway, so love them or hate them, their purchase was a sound business decision for us anyway.
Second-hand scores aside, these hives normally retail for between $220-$250 here in Australia. This makes them marginally more costly than your standard timber hives. That said, they can be bought cheaper when purchased in bulk, making the cost closer to that of timber hives.
To break it down, the equivalent timber gear costs us the following:
3 x 8 frame timber boxes assembled $90Timber framed base, vented $30Migratory lids, timber frame with galvanised cover $30Steel queen excluder $15
The total comes to about $165 or thereabouts, give or take, plus or minus, roughly. Timber gear can be made more cheaply if one has the time and equipment to make their own or assemble everything themselves. Like a lot of people we are time-poor, so as much as we’d love to make our timber gear cheaper, our time is spread too thinly and it’s simply not viable for us to be part-time woodworkers at the moment.
When it comes to anything beekeeping related, one should not base their purchasing decisions solely on cost. We prefer to talk in terms of value. For any given cost, what will we actually be getting?
The two hives we picked up each came with a vented base, three full depth boxes, a lid, queen excluder and entrance reducer. As far as hive components go, these are pretty much all you ‘need’ in a hive. Sure, you may want to add a syrup feeder, pollen trap, propolis mats or the like, but as a barebones kit, this is most of what a beekeeper needs.
Compare this with timber hive setups that you can buy, often sold as ‘beginner kits’ that only come with a base, two full-depth boxes a lid and maybe a queen excluder, then this makes the Paradise Bee Box a fairly handy package.
While we didn’t need to do this, assembly of the hive requires less tools and skills than your traditional timber hives. Simply applying some glue and making sure you put everything together as per the instructions is all that is required. A lick of paint to protect the exterior of the hive from the elements, and away you go.
Having not handled these hives before, the next most obvious thing we noticed was the weight difference. Coming in at just over 8kg, even this guy here, little ol’ weak spined me, could lift the entire hive complete and transport it on his own.
We weighed one of our 8 frame timber hives with three boxes, and it came in at over 16kg. Won’t find me lugging that around too easily. Okay, while 8kg per hive might not sound like much for you strong people out there, when you multiply that weight out across a whole trailer load of hives, it sure would add up.
For reference, our 8 frame timber boxes weigh 3.7 to 3.9kg, and the Paradise Honey boxes weigh in just under 2kg. That means that an 8 frame timber box with frames of honey will weigh almost exactly the same as a Paradise Honey box with 9 frames of honey.
A game-changer in itself? Hardly, but it’s definitely pointing in favour of the styrofoam hives for the weight category.
The handholds of the Paradise Honey Bee Boxes are significantly deeper than those on standard timber boxes. This should make it easier to carry heavy boxes around, placing less strain on our weak little fingers and puny forearms.
We can’t speak for this too much just yet, seeing as we haven’t had them out in the field ourselves, however the previous owner has had them in operation for 12 months, so we can comment on how they have held up.
There are a few dings and dents in the boxes that are worse than what you’d get with a timber box after one year of use. That said though, they are only quite superficial and would not detract from the performance of the hive.
The actual strength of the hives feels fine. I dare say we’ll have to be a bit more careful of how we treat the boxes to avoid damaging them, but the foam does feel much
more strong than it looks.
We were warned by the previous owner about resting smokers on top of the hives. Needless to say, the styrofoam does not hold up to a hot smoker the same as a metal lid would, so if we want to avoid to any more burn marks on the hive lids, we’ll have to be careful of where we put our smoker down!
This remains one of our main concerns with these hives. Wax moths will burrow into almost anything and can destroy equipment quickly. While these hives have been well looked after, there was still a couple of (very minor) chewed out holes in the base of the hive.
If these holes detracted from the performance of the hive, I am sure they could be plugged with propolis, wax or some kind of putty. I still believe the hives may be susceptible to bees chewing them as well as rats or other animals. At least white ants won’t be a problem like they are for timber hives, so that is a plus.
This is definitely a negative to these boxes, and one of the major reasons we hadn’t purchased the Paradise Bee Boxes earlier. What we are referring to here is that these hives are shaped in a way that makes them lock in well with their own parts, however, they are not readily useable with other brands of hives.
When using timber hardware, the vast majority of boxes, lids, bases and the like are all made to very similar dimensions. This means that you can buy a base from one supplier, boxes from another and then a lid from any other supplier. These parts will all be within a few millimetres of each other and should all work together seamlessly.
Having been made to their own special dimensions, the Paradise Bee Boxes will not line up directly with wooden boxes, lids or bases. Should a beekeeper need to use other equipment to supplement their existing gear, they won’t be able to. They’ll be restricted to using whichever brand of styrofoam hive they already have.
Playing around with them a little, it appears that some of our 8 frame timber boxes may be able to be used with the styrofoam boxes. They could possibly be mixed and used together, however, they don’t match up ideally and it would be a little impractical in our opinion.
Considering the above, we’d definitely say that interoperability is a negative aspect to these hives.
This is an aspect of these hives that we see discussed regularly. Many people are of the view that because the hives are made of styrofoam, that they are not great for the environment.
While we do not wish to delve into a debate on the environmental implications of styrofoam, we do acknowledge that on the whole, styrofoam does have significant negative implications for our planet. That said, it is important to distinguish between single-use styrofoam products such as takeaway cups and an item that is manufactured and designed to be used for many years.
As these hives are designed to last and be used for up to several decades, this significantly reduces the environmental impact that the hives will have. We have seen it argued that the weight reduction these hives have on the overall weight of a beekeepers haulage load, in itself offsets some environmental impact simply due to fuel consumption savings.
We can understand why some people are opposed to styrofoam hives as opposed to timber. While the timber used for wooden hives does not come without its own environmental impacts, many feel timber is a more environmentally sustainable material for hive construction.
For us moving forward, part of the decision to go ahead with purchasing more of these hives will hinge on whether we feel the environmental impact of styrofoam, both from production and eventual disposal aspects, is adequately justifiable in relation to the performance, longevity and bee-raising benefits of the hives.
So, what do we think overall?
Well, we are impressed. They fit the description and physical expectations we had. The individual components seem to be of excellent quality and they combine together well to make what seems to be a great package.
We feel that they will be durable enough to provide many years of service. Whether we will transfer all our hives over to the Paradise Honey Bee Boxes is yet to be seen.
For now, though, we certainly are open to the idea and look forward to seeing how these two secondhand hives go!
If you’ve used polystyrene hives before or have a question about them, feel free to comment below.