On a very frigid winter day a couple of months ago, I bundled up in my down parka and went to the bee yard to do my daily “Clear Away.” Two of my Top Bar hives came with bottom entrances—those long slits that run across the bottom of the hive face.
Taking a thin stick in hand, I pushed it deep into the entrance and made a sweeping motion to clear away the dead bees. Wet bee corpses fell to the ground below. The breath of the bees inside the hive is a source of moisture especially in a winter hive. And the falling bodies of the winter dead can easily block up a bottom hive entrance.
My bee mentor witnessed the same problem in her hives: Busy bees inside, no one coming out for a poop run. Why? The entrance was completely blocked with dead bees. House bees in winter, nestled deep in cluster, rarely remove the dead and bees can pile up in inches on the floorboards.
In the past few years, Slowly, I’ve been adding top entrances on the front of my hives. I find that most of my bees use this upper entrance, even though I leave part of the bottom one open in the summer. The bottom seems most attractive to the house bees for cleaning away dead bees and debris from the floor of the hive. When my hives swarm, they’ve swarmed out the top entrances.
My bees seem to prefer smaller entrances than larger, and I find they get agitated when I attempt to open up the hive for ventilation (which I have written about HERE).
I’m pretty sure all this has to do with defense, so I am going even one step further in my entrance modifications.
Last year, I crafted a hive out of an old, hollow log section. I placed it on a sturdy work bench in my bee garden, and drilled a two-inch hole in the mid-section of the log, angled slightly upward, for an entrance. The wood is thick, so the entrance is a tube about four inches long.
Watching the bees working in this hive, I was always amazed to see all the action going on in that entrance tube. It was crammed with bees coming and going all summer. On cool nights, the bees filled the upper reaches of the entrance with their bodies to keep the hive warm.
Come autumn, I never saw a yellow jacket brave that entrance to test the vulnerability of that hive. Because I had unknowingly created an impenetrable gauntlet.
That got me to thinking about the entrances on all my hives. To gain entrance, a predator—insect or other—only needs to slip past, or slide a paw past, a flimsy inch or less. Not much of a barricade.
This summer, I’ll be making a version of that gauntlet on all my hives. Using tubes cut from timber bamboo, I’m adding long, upper, entry passageways on all of my hives.
Right now, I have two top bar hives, and will be adding four straw skeps to the mix. I think these gauntlet openings will be a welcome “security system” on my hives.