Beehives for the Modern Farmer

Modern Beehives

by Paul Holowko, June 4, 2017

This Beehive design brings bee keeping into the 21st Century. This beehive logs the health of your beehive by monitoring its reproductive cycle, honey flow, energy flow and swarming. Currently, bee keeping requires a lot of home grown knowledge and a manual process of monitoring the health of your hive. This automates the process.

Observation Window

The observation window glass is about 2 to 3 inches above the top of the brood chamber. Bees do not build wax upward, but downward. If the glass it too close to the comb, they will start to build on the glass. This design discourages building comb on the glass.

  • Less intrusive observation.
  • Visual quick check of the health of the hive
  • It’s fun.

Carbon Dioxide

The average concentration of Carbon Dioxide on the Earth is around 400 ppm (parts per million)   A chilly morning in a beehive can make the bees consume honey producing around 2560 ppm of CO2. As the outside temperature warms up, the CO2 goes down.

If there is a laying queen, there is brood that needs to be kept warm. For keeping brood warm, CO2 can be around 800 ppm. If there is a low ppm reading in your hive, there is no brood.

If the CO2 is around 400 to 600 ppm, there is no brood or bees.

CO2 is heavier than air. The means CO2 moves toward the ground and slides over the ground. The screen in the bottom of hive vents CO2 while keeping warmer air in the brood chamber.

  • CO2 is a byproduct of the metallization of honey by the bees.
  • Indicates dead queen or none laying Queen.
  • Determine the caloric stress level of the hive.
  • Determine the isolative properties of the hive. (Efficiency of the hive design)
  • Prevent CO2 poising in an enclosed hive.
Carbon Dioxide probe encased in plastic. This is inserted into the hive.
Carbon Dioxide probe laying on top of bottom screen.

Close up of CO2 sensor and network.

Relative Humidity and Temperature

The brood needs to be kept at 34.1 C. If the bees have difficultly maintaining that, it could mean the queen is not laying, there is not enough nursing bees to heat the comb or the hive is starving.

If the RH is low, bees are not consuming honey.   Looking at the RH and the weight of the hives indicates the amount of foraging food available out in the field.

  • Water is a byproduct of the metallization of honey by the bees.
  • Dead Queen
  • Starving hive
  • Mold

Wall Insulation

Starvation is one of the big killers of beehives. It takes a lot of energy to heat or cool depending on the outside conditions. Heating and cooling consumes honey that could be necessary for winter survival and honey production. Once a hive gets weak, disease sets in. For the bees to survive, they need to keep the brood temperature up to around 34.1 C.

  • ½ inch Styrofoam around the entire super.
  • Coated with a Tennessee Cedar Veneer
  • Finished with Tung Oil (Made of Walnut oil and distilled pine sap; not latex)
  • Lid is insulated with 1 inch of R30 insulation. Covers window. Prevents condensation.


Beehive’s Mass (Weight)

There is a 200Kg scale built into the base of the beehive. (load cell) This measures the weight of the entire hive. The total weight of the hive is not too important; however, the change in mass tells a lot about what is going on in the hive.

  • If the weight goes gradually down during the winter, the bees maybe starving.
  • Detection of swarming.
  • Measure increase/decrease of nectar flow

Operating Hives

Insulated hives are installed in places around the bay area difficult to grow bees and normally starving during the winter. Pictured below are two 8 frames hives in the Santa Cruz Mountains that have insulation in the walls and top. The tops are filled with “Good Stuff” crack and window sealer. On the backside of the hives are removable boards with an installed glass window for looking into the sides of the frames. The top is rarely taken off to keep the seal for heat loss. Supers are added to the bottom of the hive. Not the top.

I have never been able to winter hives at this location without insulated hives. The right hive is a split from a few years ago. The one on the left are bees from the mid California region. It’s rare for remote mated queens to survive in a different microclimate, but this one is thriving.

Both hives have a screen bottom. There is a lot of water here, and at times is damp. Since the hives are strong, mold is not a problem. Peak CO2 production is 600 ppm.


Two operational hives in the field

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