My new Serge Labesque hive

31 May

Ventilation is not what most new beeks consider when crafting their first bee hive. But that’s just what Sonoma beekeeper, and my personal favorite philosophe des abeilles, Serge Labesque recommends to keep your hives healthy.

After 2 seasons keeping bees, I couldn’t agree more. Even in the American Southwest, known for being dry as a bleached cattle bone, I find condensation, mildew, and even lichens each spring after opening our hives. To me, the girls don’t need more insulation, they actually need less.

In fact, a survey I conducted with local beekeepers in 2010 shows that nearly twice as many beeks winterize their hives by ensuring there’s adequate ventilation than by suffocating their dames with a downy blanket.

From the 2010 Albuquerque Beekeepers Survey

But Serge Labesque takes ventiliation to a whole ‘nother level by leaving his hive bodies unpainted, save for the joints. As he described at last year’s NM Beekeeping Summer Seminar, the idea is that unpainted wood can breathe, allowing the bees to have more control over ventilation. Here’s what Labesque’s hives look like.

And so voila! We’ve decided to go au naturel this season, leaving our new boxes unpainted. We simply bought unassembled hive bodies from Mann Lake, uncorked a bottle of champagne one Friday night and set to work.

Learn more:


10 Responses to “My new Serge Labesque hive”

  1. Gord May 31, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    For what it’s worth, you can count us in the ventilation camp as well. We’ve always run open, screened bottoms on our hives (top bars). We’re also experimenting with extra venting this year. Our hope is that better air movement will help with drying down the honey, but we’ll see.

  2. mistress beek May 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Oh interesting! Do you remove the bottom board altogether for the summer, leaving just a screened bottom? Or is that *too much* ventilation?

  3. Gordo June 1, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    The boards are all open for the summer, except when we’re checking mites. The bottom board is hinged and does a wonderful job of holding the sticky board in place.

    One problem that we ran into over the winter was moisture and mold. Especially in one yard. So, we’re looking at ways to provide some air movement without freezing the ladies. Something like the upper and lower entrances on langs.

    • mistress beek June 1, 2010 at 11:01 am #

      Hinged bottom board — great idea!

      Sorry to hear about the wet hive, but I agree that perhaps an upper entrance would help. One thing Serge Labesque does is use 8 frames in a 10 frame box with follower boards on either edge. The space between the follower board and box acts as moisture buffer, draining moisture down along the inside edges of the hive rather than into the brood nest area. We haven’t tried this yet ourselves, but hope to one winter.

      • Gord June 1, 2010 at 11:09 am #

        The hinge certainly saves on having to find a place to stores the board and then remembering where you put them when you need them.

        One big advantage of top-bar hives is no supers. Combs don’t shed moisture on to those below because there aren’t any below. The first winter had some stretches as low as -25C and any moisture just dripped out around the board and made icicles. 😀

        (I’ll stop switching email accounts now. I promise.)

  4. teeandzee June 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    They’re also prettier unpainted – though I know that is certainly not your biggest priority.
    For my education, what is the point of even painting the joints?

  5. mistress beek June 1, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Oh I think so as well!

    Painting the joints helps protect the open grain from the elements so that the hive bodies last longer than if they were entirely unpainted. We’ll see how it goes!

  6. Helen June 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    So true–and same holds for most critters (goats, chickens, horses, etc.) Fresh, dry air = dry environment = better health, even if it is cold. Thanks for posting this!

  7. Mil August 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi Mistress Beek,
    I couldn’t agree more about ventilation for the hives. I’m also a big fan of Serge Labesque and his methods having taken several classes with him at Santa Rosa Junior College.

    There is a beekeeping supply store an hour north of the San Francisco Bay Area that sells many of what they call “Serge-style” components. That’s where I bought my Serge-style ventilation board which we’ve installed in all our beehives. That along with the follower boards, and the hive top feeders are MUSTS for our hives.

    I have yet to see any condensation or molds within out hives.

  8. Jason Bruns October 27, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    I am extremely interested in the effects of using follower boards in 10 frame hives. After reading a book called “Constructive Beekeeping” I became aware of just how much moisture is managed by the bees throughout the year. Ideas are discussed in there that make me question many preconceived notions about ventilation and airflow patterns. Please let me know if you get the opportunity to utilize follower-boards this winter, and what your results are. I am just as interested in them for heat management. If bees are able to keep their hives warmer by having the cluster more compacted (down to 8 frames) their ability to work wax should be greater, thus buildup may be increased in the spring when you have nectar, but the nights are still cool.

    Please keep me posted on your progress.

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