Recent years have got me to thinking that anything plastic is a bad thing and I’ve been doing my best to stop buying anything that contains this unsustainable product. I could write a whole piece on this but I want to focus on the dilemma we face when actually plastic solves a problem, and is least likely to end up washed up on a desert island.
I had dismissed plastic and polystyrene nucs hives a long while ago, but had my decision challenged firstly with the Flowhive. I soon learned that many commercial beekeepers use plastic foundation in their hives as it makes the extraction of the honey easier. These plastic foundations last many years and require less lost production time as they don’t buckle inside machinery during the extraction process.
The Flowhive designers also questioned the use of plastic inside their revolutionary supers but to comply with food hygiene as well as just making the system work, nothing came close to matching the workability of plastic.
There is of course the question about the difference plastic foundation makes to the bees ability to communicate within the hive, but for another time…
Then last year I met a Turkish bee expert who manufactures a hugely successful hive called ‘Apimaye‘. I had quickly dismissed his hives for my own use, but was repeatedly hearing from bee researchers and keepers around the world that these hives really were excellent for bees. Emre and I were both judging at the London International Honey awards and so with a room full of bee and honey people we had lots to discuss!
Now, of course we’d all prefer to see bees living wild in tree trunks, but in many parts of the world there simply are no longer enough suitable trees for bees to be living in due to deforestation and natural habitat loss. Emre told me how he had developed the hives particularly for use in parts of China, where trees and wood had become so protected that it is forbidden to make anything non essential from this now precious commodity.
Bees in trees
Humans have been keeping bees in hives since at least the Egyptians and the synergy between bees and humans has worked well, and continues to do so for many communities.
The problem we have is when it is no longer working well, when the bees are declining and their colonies are suffering with disease, lack of suitable year round forage and chemical agricultural practices.
It is therefore important that where bees are doing well, we continue to support them, enabling them to make honey, where and when the sun shines.
Where they aren’t doing well, but are needed for pollination, as well as an indication of the health of our environment, then we need to support them, re balancing nature, which is what bees do so perfectly.
In colder climates the Apimaye hives have been scientifically proven to provide superior insulation for colonies. In Serbia Dr Sladjan Rasic has been trialing and recording the results of using these hives for a number of years and he can’t praise them enough. His findings show that bees in the Apimaye hives come through the winter stronger and healthier, where bees in wooden hives often don’t make it through at all.
I was still reluctant to use these for myself, despite the impressive clip handles and locks making the hives easy to relocate and handle when necessary.
Indian Ocean bee paradise
I was quite surprised to find on my visit to Cocos Keeling islands, more Apimaye hives. This time in a tropical environment. Although the islands are covered in coconut palms, bees are not native to this remote coral atoll, being introduced at least a hundred years ago, the details lost in time.
There is therefore no romantic history of indigenous native islanders keeping bees in palm logs ( as in the Middle East) or even woven baskets. The bees would have been brought here by colonists in wooden boxes.
The constant humidity does not work well with wood. The hives have to be regularly painted to protect the wood, and with the heat and humidity produced by the bees, the insides of beehives rot quickly. The bees however are extremely happy here.
They’ve adapted well from their British introducers, and I even was taken to see a wild nest high in a Calophyllum tree in a wild part of the West Island. The nest was currently not inhabited by bees, but the large open tree cavity clearly had long wax combs and plenty of propolis lining it. It looked like the combs had grown too large, and perhaps the recent rain and wind , or even the heat of the sun, had caused the heavy combs to collapse and the bees to move onto a new home, as yet unfound by humans.
So, in summary, I am becoming a convert. Cocos plastic beehives is also interesting when the islands suffer with much of the globes plastic waste ( thousands of flip flops and even fridges and televisions) get washed up over the coral reef onto the remote and inaccessible South Island beaches. Cocos islanders are all too aware of the damage any waste does to the environment living somewhere where whatever comes to the island has to stay there.
Apimaye bee hives are certainly not a single use plastic, being able to be in continual use for very many years, possibly beyond the worlds current plastic crisis.
With the extremely high cost of shipping, Cocos only has a handful of the Apimaye hives at the moment but they are definitely proving to be worth their while. The bees seem to like them, and Cocos with its organically grown coconuts and garden plants certainly helps to make these some of the healthiest and happiest bees I have ever seen. I am very grateful to Jack Clunies Ross and his ‘Happy Jacks’ bees for taking the time to show me his colonies and the wild Bee Tree.