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Why is Hive Ventilation Needed?

Why is Hive Ventilation Needed?

Today, we begin a four-part series covering hive ventilation. Hive ventilation does more than just move fresh air into the beehive. When correctly implemented, it provides the following benefits:

  • Eliminates excess heat
  • Reduces and eliminates moisture buildup and humidity
  • Releases airborne toxins
  • Allows carbon dioxide to escape
  • Enables pathogens to escape
  • Reduces the work of the bees
  • Increases honey yields

Why is Ventilation Needed?

Bees breathe just like every other animal, taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide and water vapor. Warm air rises, causing the carbon dioxide and the water vapor to rise to the top of the hive where it can become trapped if there is no means of escape (i.e., ventilation). Moisture is also created during the curing of honey and nectar. When trapped, the water vapor condenses under the inner cover or inside the roof of the hive, eventually forming droplets that fall back onto the cluster of bees.

When the stale air — air containing moisture, excess heat, airborne toxins, carbon dioxide and pathogens -- cannot escape, there’s no way for fresh clean air to enter the hive. Oxygen levels decrease. Carbon dioxide levels increase. Airborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, can become trapped. And, airborne mold and fungus spores can build up to extreme levels.

Special Considerations for Hive Ventilation

As you consider how to increase your hive’s ventilation, make sure you don’t increase problems in other areas.

Don’t Give Predators Too Much Access

When you increase airflow by adding additional openings, make sure you don’t make it too easy for predators to enter the hive. Predators include creatures who eat honey, bee larvae and/or the bees themselves.

Take for example ... yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are very aggressive and will take every opportunity to enter a hive and consume both honey and bees. When increasing airflow, you don’t want to arbitrarily increase unscreened open areas that will be impossible for the bees to defend, such as adding shims to raise hive bodies or covers.

Consider also ... robbing bees. When nectar is in short supply, such as during a nectar dearth, robbing bees are on the lookout for the honey they can steal from poorly protected hives.

Yellow jackets and robbing bees can be so persistent that your honeybees may struggle to keep the main entrance protected, much less other unscreened entrances you may consider adding. Therefore, ensure that your bees can defend any newly added ventilation features, or add only features that will be screened off.

Ventilation Openings Must Be Sheltered from Rain

When adding new ventilation holes, make sure they are protected from rain. A poorly placed ventilation hole or port can result in water entering the hive, rather than exiting. Adding additional moisture to the hive’s interior is the exact opposite of what your goals for any ventilation strategy should be.

Consider Winter Cross Drafts

If you are adding ventilation to solve a heat issue, you don’t want your solution to also create a cross draft problem in the winter. A draft that flows across a winter cluster of bees can be a problem; therefore, the path that the air flows must be considered when adding new ventilation holes or features. Airflow should be directed along the interior sides of the hive body — not through the middle of it. For example, you do not want to add ventilation holes that originate from the center of the lower front to the center of the upper back, right through the middle of the hive where the bees will cluster in the dead of winter.

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That wraps things up for today. Join us next time when we continue our discussion. We'll look at actual ways to provide ventilation in the following two posts and look at the benefits of heat reduction in the hive in our final post.

Ventilation is one of those topics where some beekeepers believe it’s needed, while others say it’s worthless. It should be noted, however, that many early hive designs contained venting features. As hives developed, these features were often omitted to reduce the cost of manufacture. Could the lack of venting in hives be why so many new beekeepers fail one or two years into their beekeeping journey? Something to think about. 

Previous article Ways to Provide Ventilation in a Beehive, Part 1
Next article Keeping Hives Cool in the Heat