Want better crop pollination? Consider insulated hives

Home is where the best insulation is, according to honeybees. And almost like Goldilocks, bees like the temperature inside their hive to be just right. Too cold and the larvae don’t develop normally. Too hot and the brood suffers high mortality. Both situations are detrimental to the overall strength of the hive and, consequently, the bees’ ability to pollinate crops.

An image depicting APEX's well-insulated hives
Well-insulated bee hives enable bees to forage and pollinate flowers and crops, even on very warm days.
(Photo credit: Willem Augustyn-Goussard)
Ideal internal hive temperature

The ideal internal hive temperature is around 34°C. At this temperature, most of the brood (bee eggs, larvae and pupae) survive and develop into strong, healthy and smart adults. If the temperature drops below 33°C the developing bees take longer to become adults. These adults are also (literally) half as smart, and bad fliers due to malformed wings. Internal hive temperatures above 36°C also dumbs down adult bees, and many of the developing brood do not survive. A colony needs to maintain a narrow temperature range of 33 to 36°C to be at their strongest and smartest.

Healthy brood equals a strong colony overall not only because there is strength in numbers, but also because the pheromone produced by the brood triggers the adult bees in the colony to go foraging for nectar and pollen, increasing the colony’s food supply. And this, of course, results in increased crop pollination.

Luckily, bees have developed efficient techniques to maintain a consistently ideal temperature inside the hive. Bees generate heat by vibrating their wing muscles, keeping the brood warm. In warmer weather, bees use their wings to fan air into the hive, cooling it down. These strategies are effective at stabilising internal hive temperature, but they are not ideal for pollination; bees spend their time stabilising hive temperature instead of foraging for nectar and pollen.

Why insulated hives matter for crop pollination

When a hive is effectively insulated, the heat bees generate inside the hive doesn’t escape. As a result, the internal temperature is not as affected by either hot or cold weather conditions. This enables more bees to spend more time outside the hive pollinating plants. On the contrary, hives that are not well-insulated are much more exposed to weather conditions. On days with extreme temperatures, bees from these hives have to spend most of their time either warming up or cooling down the brood instead of pollinating crops.

An image showing bees clustered at the entrance to a hive. When most of the bees are regulating the hive's internal temperature, they are not busy with crop pollination.
A multitude of bees clustered at the entrance of a hive indicate an extremely heat-stressed colony. Here, the insects are fanning profusely at the entrance to a wooden bee hive in an attempt to cool the colony down. In this state, bees are preoccupied with stabilising the hive’s internal temperature and not with crop pollination.
(Photo credit: Willem Augustyn-Goussard)

Traditional wooden hives struggle to maintain a stable internal temperature because of poor insulation. Moreover, traditional hives in South Africa are typically fitted with zinc lids that don’t offer any insulation. Poorly-insulated hives result in heat loss in winter, forcing most adult bees to stay inside the hive to keep the brood warm — less than ideal for winter-flowering crops like blueberries. In summer, traditional wooden hives risk overheating, and foragers need to return to the hive around midday to cool down the brood. On very warm days, you might spot bees accumulating outside the hive, desperately fanning their wings in an attempt to keep the developing brood from overheating. Again, bees are spending most of their time attending to the brood instead of pollinating crops.

A modern hive solution

APEX’s modern hives are made from a special material that is about five times more effective at insulating colonies than wood. These hives are much better at maintaining a relatively stable internal temperature of 34°C and, as a result, are more favourable for crop pollination. Bees are also more active outside the hive in winter as they don’t have to spend their time keeping the brood warm. During summer, bees can forage for longer because they don’t need to return to the hive to keep it cool.

Providing bees with a well-insulated hive means they spend more time doing exactly what you need them to — pollinating your crops.

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