Does size matter?

Head of baby groot from Guardians of the Galaxy

I recently had my 54th birthday, which was a pleasant affair spent with family doing what walruses do best, eating and basking. Well, actually we ate tapas then laid about watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which is like basking but without the sun. I don’t know how Marvel Studios did it, but I reckon “Baby Groot” is the cutest most lovable character to ever appear in a movie. He is even cute when being sick, which is not an easy thing to pull off. I have seen many loved ones puke and none of them looked, or sounded, very cute at the time.

If I stay fit I’d certainly love to live for another 50 years but the odds of that are not favourable. Apparently on average I should live to 82, but hopefully I’m not average. Earlier this year I had a full heart check up just to make sure I’m ok, and thankfully I am, which means I can push myself at the gym without fear of damaging the old ticker. Some of the cardio machines I use ask personal questions like “weight?” and “age?” so that they can calculate calories burned and ideal heart rate ranges. Lying in this situation is counter-productive, so now I sadly have to type in 54 instead of 53. I don’t think I’m the oldest walrus at the gym, but I must be one of them.

As I mentioned in another blog post hefting bee boxes around is actually pretty hard work, and if I worked as a bee farmer I certainly wouldn’t have the energy or time to go to the gym. One thing people on beekeeping forums get excited about is the best type of bee hive to use. Answer: the bees don’t care, so choose what is best for you. Bigger boxes are heavier, which becomes an issue as one ages. The act of lifting a box off a hive then twisting to place it on an upturned roof on the ground is a movement perfectly designed to induce lower back pain. The real killer is a big brood box full of honey frames; those things need two people to lift safely in my opinion. It’s a nice problem to have though, because lots of weight means lots of honey.

There are so many types of hive, each with their advocates, and as with many facets of beekeeping people get hot under the collar when challenged about the type of house they use for their bees. I was asked about hive sizes recently by a beginner, and it always ends up being a more complicated conversation than it should. Bees work together for the good of the colony; humans find tiny differences between each other and then have fights about them. Which species is the clever one again?

Most beekeepers in the world use a Langstroth hive, which is a type of hive invented by an American graduate of Yale called Lorenzo Langstroth. This is the one I now use, because I like it. I like the size and weight of the frames and boxes, they are a simple design and easy to make, and they are relatively cheap to buy. However, one downside for a resident of the British Isles choosing Langstroth is that most other beekeepers here use a hive of different dimensions, namely the “National” hive, or sometimes the “Smith” hive in Scotland, which has the same internal size as the National. This means that nearly all nucleus colonies sold in the UK are on National sized frames, which don’t fit a Langstroth box. It all gets very technical, and what’s worse, there is also the question of wood or polystyrene? Furthermore, what type of wood, cedar or pine? Madness.
There is good info on hive types here:
Probably the best thing for any beginner to do is to join their local beekeeping association, attend some classes, then take it from there.

Most beekeepers seem to use a large box or two for the brood nest – the place where the queen lays eggs and larvae develop into pupae and then emerge as young bees – and smaller boxes on top for the storage of honey, called “supers”. The smaller boxes are lighter and don’t wreck your back. This is a good idea, and as I age I’m coming round to think I might adopt it, but for now I just use the same sized box throughout, and get help when I need to lift a heavy one. Long term though, I’m going to have to switch over to smaller honey boxes. I find it very handy having everything the same size; it means I can move frames around between boxes, for example moving a honey frame out of the brood area and up into the honey area. Oh dear, decisions decisions…

I am happy to report that the bees I gave to a new beekeeper a month ago, which were under attack by wasps, seem to be doing very well. They are good bees. I just hope the boxes they live in don’t cause too many headaches, or back aches.

One thought on “Does size matter?

  1. […] what type of bee to keep (Buckfast, hybrids, black bees, Italians…) – what type of box to keep them in (wood, poly, National, Langstroth, Dadant…) – treatments for varroa (thymol, oxalic acid […]

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