What’s The Ideal Beehive Setup for a Place Like Newfoundland?

I built my first ventilation rim 10 years ago. The final product looked like this:

My first ventilation rim from 2011.

And I’m still using exactly the same rim today. I’ve never stopped using it. (I have several now.)


Now let’s talk about ventilation and the hive setups I’ve tried in Newfoundland since 2010…

I don’t see many beekeepers in North America using ventilation rims. I know commercial operators who don’t even use top entrances, just the wide open bottom entrance, though the usual set up for a Langstroth hive seems to include a top and bottom entrance. But in a climate like Newfoundland, upper ventilation seems to be the way to go.

When I first got into beekeeping and was lucky enough to stumble into the best online beekeeping mentor I could have asked for in Rusty Burlew, I learned quickly from Rusty that ventilation is key to a healthy hive — and that the thousands of bees that live in a beehive are a colony of bees, and that a beehive is the house the bees live in, and that’s why a beehive can’t fly away, because a beehive is a house. Houses can’t fly. (Just about everyone says “hive” when they’re talking about their bees. In my videos, you’ll often hear me say, “The colony of bees living in this hive,” but it’s a losing battling. When I’m around people who aren’t beekeepers, I usually just say “hive” too.) I also learned that “honey bee” (two words) is the correct way to write it, and “honeybee” (one word) is not. It’s good to know these things.

In any case, I learned early on that ventilation is key to maintaining a dry hive. A dry hive is a healthy hive, especially in the winter. David Eyre, who created the D.E. Hive that’s become popular in Newfoundland since Gerard Smith brought it to the island some years back, knew all about the importance of ventilation. The D.E. Hive, while incorporating a variety of innovations, wouldn’t hold up if it wasn’t for the year-round ventilation built into its design. Its other innovations seem secondary to the effect of its ventilation rim and the big unwieldy ventilation box that sits on top of it. I’d say ventilation is the core of its design.

My first ventilation installed on one of my hives in 2011.

Rusty posted some plans way back in the day for making and using what she called a moisture quilt, essentially a ventilation rim full of wood chips that wicks away moisture from the hive in the winter, not unlike what some call a quilt box. I basically followed her plans with the intention of making just the rim, but I made the rim higher so I could put a telescoping top cover over it without blocking the holes. I didn’t know at the time that the rim I was making was virtually identical to the rim that sits on the top of the D.E. Hive, including ventilation holes drilled in at a downward angle so that rain wouldn’t be able to pour in through the holes.

I’ve never stopped using ventilation rims.

I didn’t buy into the D.E Hive when I began beekeeping because it was much more expensive than a regular Langstroth hive (no one in Newfoundland sold beekeeping components at the time anyway), but I did buy into using ventilation rims. This past winter, pretty much all I used on my hives were ventilation rims. One hive had a D.E. Hive box on top, but the rest just has rims. One hive that I keep out on the edge of a farm didn’t have any wrap or insulation, just the ventilation rim up top with a regular telescoping top cover — and I’ve got to say I’m in love with that colony. The bees in that hive are doing great (for my local climate).


LONG-WINDED CONCLUSIONS

Since 2010, I’ve experimented with moisture quilts, insulated inner covers, the D.E. Hive, solid bottom boards, opened screened bottom boards, winter wrapping my hives, not wrapping them, 3-deep hives, all-medium hives, drilling holes in my supers, painting my hives with just linseed oil, white, yellow, green and black paint, and so on. With good weather and healthy queens, the difference between all these various hives setups seems minimal.

Even though many commercial beekeepers don’t use a top entrance or any extra ventilation aids, I think ventilation in the winter is critical for the winter survival of my bees. My hives tend to get pretty damp, and so do the bees, without adequate ventilation. Not everybody needs the ventilation provided by the D.E. Hive. It might not be required in dryer inland areas of the island. A basic Langstroth hive with a top inner cover entrance and a piece of hard insulation over it might be all that’s required in those areas. I know a basic ventilation rim over the inner cover with a regular telescoping top cover works well for me, with or without a top entrance. I might need to toss some kind of absorbent material into the rim at times (creating a similar effect to a moisture quilt), but overall, I think I’ll just stick with the basic ventilation rim set-up for now, winter and summer.

The old adage that tells us that hives in full sunlight do better than hives in the shade seems accurate from what I’ve observed in my hives — but there always seem to be exceptions. Hands down without a doubt the strongest colony I ever had was set up in the woods in Logy Bay, under some spruce trees, where it got maybe three hours of direct sunlight in the morning, and then maybe another hour of sunlight later in the day. I got about 100 pounds of honey from that colony (45kg). It was pretty fantastic. I think the bees might like having a break from the sun at some point in the day. My hives that get the most sun also seem to be the most swarmy, so for me, a little shade doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing.

Keeping my hives off the ground seems to help too, especially during the winter. Even to this day, most of my hives are sitting on old pallets, probably not even 15cm off the ground (half a foot off the ground), which isn’t great. That might explain why I still have a little trouble with moisture in my winter bottom boards. Hives that are further from the ground seem to do better in the winter, probably because the cold dampness of the ground doesn’t seep into the hives. Ventilation aids may not be as crucial for hives that are well off the ground.

When I add it all up — a ventilation rim, lots of sunlight with a little bit of shade, and a good hive stand to keep the hive off the ground — I’d say that’s a pretty good hive setup for Newfoundland, or least the east coast of the island where I live. I still need to do more experimenting on this one, but so far I don’t see any great benefit to hive wraps, even on my hives that are in unsheltered beeyards. The ventilation from the D.E. Hive doesn’t seem any better or worse than a simple ventilation rim. Moisture quilts or quilt boxes are great for hives that build up a lot of moisture in the winter (I’ve had great success with them in certain local climates), but I also didn’t use any moisture quilts this past winter and my bees don’t seem to be any worse off.

And again, everything can be tweaked and manipulated to kingdom come, but it all seems secondary to good weather and healthy queens — and a dry hive, which is what good ventilation provides.

Postscript: I just noticed the rim featured in the video is actually the second rim I ever built, built the day after I built the first one. The first one was put together with screws, but I ran out of screws, so I used nailed on the second. Ten years later it’s a little bit wobbly, but it still works.

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