Hives & Tree Cavities
Conventional beehives have emerged over the last 180 years, designed for beekeepers to be able to easily manage a colony of bees, often with the aim of harvesting honey or other hive products such as wax & propolis.
Most hives however offer little in the way of ideal living conditions when compared with something like a natural tree cavity, which honey bees have evolved in over millions of years.
The thin walls provide little or no insulation. The square box shape and large volumes associated with these hives make them very inefficient to keep warm, which in turn causes a whole heap of stress on the bees.
It’s a widely accepted fact that in winter bees form a tight cluster to keep warm, often vibrating their wings to generate much needed heat. This increases their metabolic rate considerably, which requires vast amounts of stores to replenish their lost energy.
Conversely, in a tree cavity, things are very different. In this type of habitat, bees rarely have to form a tight cluster (below -20) and are free to move around the nest at will. This reduces the risk of the bees becoming isolated from their stores and enables them to maintain their nest properly. They do not suffer from problems like damp, mouldy comb or chalkbrood either, issues often associated with managed hives.
Even the frames within a hive do not help the cause on a number of levels :
In a tree cavity the combs form long continuous structures that span both sides of the cavity. This enclosed structure of narrow corridors together with the insulation p the trunks thick walls provide, traps the warmth of the nest, creating the optimum climate conditions for the bees to thrive in.
In modern hives, frames are used as a way of practical of managing the bees and harvesting honey. However the bee space that surrounds these frames causes heat loss. The warm air created by the bees disperses to the outer regions of the hive much of which is lost through its relatively thin walls.
Bees use vibration as one of their main forms of communication. These communication signals resonate through the nest structure. However, frames break up this line of communication, putting the bees at a disadvantage. (maybe that’s one of the reasons why they try and build brace comb between frames??)
The enclosed structure of a tree cavity also helps create an antibiotic atmosphere, similarly found in skeps. This process seems to get lost in framed hives and it’s no coincidence that when they were introduced as an alternative to skeps, there was a significant rise in bee associated diseases. This topic was highlighted in literature by Johann Thur in 1946 and modern day experiments by scientists like Torben Schiffeur also demonstrate this.