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 workbench 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.
Illegal in Canada – wish we could do this!
Bruce, I’ll be sharing this straw hive journey as I go along. For folks where removable frames are required, these can be woven in a cylinder with Warre-style bars across the top. Or, if you are creative, some folks weave hives that can take the Lang frames.
Message*is that a wasps nest hanging above your hive in the first picture? Those skeps look interesting, how do they work?
Good Eye! That is a paper mache wasp nest I made with my Granddaughter’s help. It discourages yellow jackets. I’ll be writing more about my skeps after I get bees installed and start working with them.
Just for the record I believe it is illegal to keep bees in a hive without movable frames in the US.
Ooops! I always run my “skep disclaimer” and forgot to post it here. Here it is: Skep Disclaimer: Just so we don’t get into battle about this post: 1) Yes, these are not legal in states that require removable frames for inspections, 2) No, I don’t have to kill the bees to collect honey. If I chose, I could “drum” them into a fresh hive every few years to keep them making fresh, clean comb, 3) No, I don’t medicate them but if I did, it would be simple to do in these hives, 4) Yes, they must be under protective cover, 5) Yes, management of these hives is very different, and requires lots of observation and a sensitive touch, 6) Yes, they swarm A LOT, but to me—and my bee-loving neighbors that’s a good thing. Have I covered it all?? Whew!
Hello, I suggest you look at a small entrepreneur called, Loon Apiary, in central NY state. He offers a plastc “L” shaped top entrance which also acts as a heat retainer. Check out the U-tube video. I have used these entrances on my hives and the bees seem to like them. Peter.
Susan: I am not yet a bee keeper, moving to Ecuador has put a halt to all plans to start in the spring in the US. I do, hower, still read everything about bee keeping I can find. This article about a bee gauntlet struck a cord in me. How ingenious! So, into the file it goes, and one more worry laid to rest!
Michele: I know a lovely beekeeper in Equador! And I may be going down there to teach a skep making class. Perhaps our paths will cross!
Would love to know how to make a skep, just to have the skill.
I’m working on a teaching video right now.
Is there any plans for building an AZ hive?