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Cold or Warm Way

Placement of bee hive frames in the brood box

There are two views on this page, the first is the original page that was written by Dave Cushman, the second by me. I am including my comments because my experience is somewhat different from those of Dave Cushman. I think that beekeepers should have the benefit of the experience of both of us. R.P.

All through my beekeeping career I have always questioned the established pattern (as I believe we all should). I take nothing for granted and usually conduct a great deal of research (both literature and practical) before I adopt one method or another.

As British Standard National and British Commercial hives are square in construction, they will fit over the floor with the frames either perpendicular to the entrance or parallel to it. The "Cold Way" is the perpendicular version. In the past, I have tried both ways to see what would happen, but I could not originally discern any benefit one way or the other. I adopted "Cold Way" for my standard, as it suited my method of working (standing at one or other of the rear corners).

I was acquainted with a gentleman (alas now long dead) by the name of Beo Cooper. He was a Naturalist and a founder of Village Bee Breeders Association (the forerunner of BIBBA). He was a staunch supporter of "Warm Way" and I now subscribe to the same ideas myself. Everything comes round full circle, but my reasons are similar to his. I am now in favour of regressed native bees that are different in several respects to the run of the mill mongrels that abound in the UK. They have physically smaller colonies and are individually longer lived than other types of bee, which means they can survive with a smaller population (hence the small brood chamber of the British Standard hive).

As each colony is less in bee numbers, they are at a small disadvantage in a robbing situation, particularly against Italian crossed bees. By adopting "Warm Way" combs we give our smaller number of bees a more defendable front door.

With the frames set "Cold Way", a winter cluster will tend to progress across a set of 11 frames starting from the centre and moving to one side. This causes a problem when they get to the side wall. The cluster is then as far as it can be from the remaining stores. This can result in "isolation starvation" as they will not be able to leave the cluster, due to cold, to travel the few inches to obtain the rest of the stores.

This problem can be avoided by having the bees the "Warm Way". As they generally place their stores at the back of the hive and work their way from the front to the back as winter progresses.

One advantage of "Warm Way", is that combs are completed more fully to fill the frame right down to the bottom bar and without rounded corners.

Many of the above reasons are not applicable to Langstroth hives or American bees... The Langstroth hives only contain 10 frames, the footprint is rectangular rather than square and the bees themselves have larger colonies and are of types that are based on Italian or Carniolan genes which tend to have brood chambers consisting of more than one box.

Dave Cushman.

An Alternative View.

First, I will give the reasons why the terminology is "warm" and "cold" way. It was originally thought that if the combs in the brood box were perpendicular to the entrance the wind would blow through the entrance and up between the combs, hence "cold", but if the combs were parallel to the entrance the wind wouldn't blow between the combs, hence "warm". There have been many experiments carried out and even with solid floors it doesn't make any difference. From that point of view it's just a matter of preference for the beekeeper, but the terminology remains, perhaps giving a false impression.

When fully inspecting colonies, if possible I prefer to work from both sides, so I don't have to reach right across the hive. If I do this on a hive that is set up the "warm" way, I will either have to work from the front or reach right across the box. If the hive is set up the "cold" way, I can work from both sides without standing in front of the entrance. It doesn't matter much if you only have a hive or two, but leaning across 10, 20 or more hives one after the other can get tiring.

Contrary to Dave's suggestion about isolation starvation, my experience is different. I find that in autumn/early winter the bees are usually clustered on the combs at the front of the hive towards the entrance, whatever the orientation of the combs. If the hive is set up the "cold" way and there is a prolonged spell of cold weather when bees are in tight cluster, they can move up and/or back to access food, so can survive for some time until the weather warms up enough for them to break cluster and either bring food from other combs into where they have clustered, or they can move onto fresh combs of food. With the "warm" way, if the bees run out of food, they are confronted with an empty face of a comb. If the weather is cold they can't break cluster to go over, round or under the combs to find fresh food, so they starve. I have seen this on several occasions, not with my own bees, but those of others. A way round this is to put some holes about 10mm diameter in the combs, so the bees can move onto fresh food. This is small and bees won't fill them up during the summer.

Isolation starvation is usually only a problem with managed colonies, as a wild colony in a tree usually has most of their food above them. Contrary to popular opinion, wild colonies can build combs in any orientation.

Bees won't put food close to their entrance, but they will put pollen there, so if you want frames of pollen for queen rearing, then run a couple of colonies the "warm" way. You should have combs of pollen readily available.

I have known beekeepers with National or Commercial hives, that are square, to run them the "cold" way during the summer for ease of inspection, then rotate them in the autumn to give them a perceived benefit in the winter. This may cause the bees a problem if it is done late, as the bees have already arranged they nest for the winter how they want it.

At the Wisborough Green BKA teaching apiary, I usually run a couple of colonies the "warm" way for demonstration purposes. It is only observational and a small sample, but I have noticed the honey yields of colonies run the "warm way" is lower than those run the "cold way", or on single brood they are. I suspect this is because queens are reluctant to go around combs to lay on the other side early in the season, so the brood nest is slightly smaller, hence a smaller foraging force.

Roger Patterson.

Originally written by Dave Cushman. Additions by Roger Patterson.

Page created pre-2011

Page updated 19/12/2022