Garreson Publishing Newsletter, November 2010

by Peter

Questions from New Beekeepers

Questions frequently pop up on my computer screen from across the English speaking world. People rarely have just one question and here are some that arrived recently. The first set concerns hive design. The second set concerns fall management. If you have different opinions, please feel free to comment.

The first set of questions comes from Jeanne, in Madison, WI:

“I found, when I was just starting to build equipment and thinking about what was essential and what not, I had a number of questions:

1. Why is the entrance on the end, and not the side?

2. Why are the walls 3/4 inch thick – maybe 1/2 inch would be OK?

3. Why do the boxes have box joints and nails, instead of butt joints and screws?

4. Why is there a landing board?

5. How high can the rim be on the bottom board?

6. Why an outer cover?

7. How thick must the pieces be for the frames?

8. Why the complicated shape on commercial frame parts?”

Great questions, Jeanne, and most have complicated answers.

1. The entrance is at the end, most likely, because it provides access to any comb a bee may wish to reach right from the entrance. On the negative side, it also exposes all the combs to drafts from the entrance. Some beekeepers do put the entrance on the side. In wild colonies, I’ve seen combs parallel, perpendicular and diagonal to the entrance, so apparently the bees don’t really care.

2. Standard hive thickness is 3/4” thick because that’s the standard thickness of 4/4 lumber after planing (long ago, 4/4 lumber planed out to 7/8” and some places still use that thickness). 3/4” is a good thickness. Thicker lumber might be still better, but is more expensive and won’t be interchangeable with other brands. Thinner lumber is more difficult to join at the corners and provides less insulation value. Thinner lumber isn’t significantly less expensive than 4/4 lumber and usually has to be specially ordered.

3. Two reasons. First manufacturers like the more complicated joints because if they were easy to make, people would build hives at home instead of buying them. So why don’t people make hives from butt joints and screws? They can and do, but the joints are weaker and they will work loose with time and use. A better and still simple joint is to use a rabbet joint.

4. Beekeepers noticed bees, heavily laden with nectar, sometimes land in the grass in front of the hive, and then have to work their way to the entrance. Other beekeepers observe that bees, heavily laden with nectar, have no trouble landing on the vertical wall next to the entrance. So do bees need a landing? No, but it is a convenience for them.

5. The standard bottom board is reversible. In the fall, the entrance is 3/8” deep to reduce the size of the opening. In the spring, turn the bottom board so the entrance is 7/8” high for better ventilation and more room for the comings and goings of a much higher population of bees. Few beekeepers take the time to reverse the bottom board.

Some beekeepers use a 2” deep bottom board for even better summer ventilation. Since bees may fill that space with comb, you would insert a slatted rack into the extra space.

6. I think you mean why an outer and inner cover or why a telescoping cover. All you really need is something to protect from rain and direct sun. The inner and outer covers together provide an insulating air space. If you used a telescoping cover without an inner cover, you’ll have more messes when you pry it off since bees will often attach the cover to the top frames, some of which will lift when you lift the cover. Bees don’t need the inner cover, or a telescoping cover. They are convenient for the beekeeper.

7. Thicker frame components are stronger, stiffer, and more stable. Bees hesitate to cross large areas of wood and so are less inclined to cross into the next super. Thin frames twist, warp, and sag. They are more difficult to nail. Frames thicknesses are a compromise.

8. The modern self-spacing frame was first made by Julius Hoffman in the late 1800’s. At that time beekeepers were having a lot of trouble with the winter survival of the newly imported Italian bees. People piled them in their basement, or buried them in “clamps”, underground trenches with ventilation pipes. Julius was having good luck with leaving them outside. Others decided it must be his frames. They provided a little more insulation because they fit together at the top. They were also easy to use because you could squeeze them together without having to measure the proper distance. The narrower bottoms allowed bees to pass from one frame to another without going all the way down or up.

There are many other styles of frames that work. My experience with “free-hanging” frames has made me appreciate the Hoffman frames all the more.

From Shelly

… I have a couple of questions for you that I desperately need help with.

1. I took the honey comb boxes off.  There are 8 rows of comb boxes, all but 2 are completely capped.  What do I do?

2. The bees just started drawing and adding nectar to one honey box that I didn’t think they would go in to.  Do I leave that on or take it off and leave it on top of the hive cover so they (along with all the other bees) clean it out?  Or do you leave it on and remove it later?  (They have honey already in the brood chambers)

3. I have all but a half a frame in one hive that needs to be capped in the honey box.  I just rotated that so they could hopefully get it capped.  How do I get the bees to not be so attached to that honey box?  I tried to shake them off, put the frame into another box, but they just clung to it and would fly back to it when I tried to take it away.  I don’t like using any chemicals at all.

4. After I remove the honey boxes, do I automatically start feeding or just only feed when it gets a little cooler?

Good questions, Shelly.

1. I think you mean, what do you do with the unfinished leftover sections. I think the answer is you start eating comb honey. They almost never fill them all the way out. If you were adding more comb honey supers, you’d put the unfinished ones back and let them fill them, but at the end of the year you might as well just eat them. There’s nothing wrong with uncapped honey. It’s probably just thinner and if left long enough, it may ferment.

2. I’d leave it on. The bees are putting it right where they want it. If there is enough honey below and you want to put that super into storage, then you should let them clean it out. I wouldn’t just leave in on top of the hive for a free-for-all for all the colonies in the area. Instead put it over the inner cover with the telescoping cover on top of that. The bees will most likely clean it out unless there is no room below. In that case, I’d just leave it there for the winter.

3. To remove bees from frames, take the frame out and give it one or two sharp shakes above the front door so they drop on the ground in front of the hive. That dislodges all but a dozen or so. Step away from the hive so you are out of their personal space. Each remaining bee gets swished off with a bee brush. I read that a feather works really well and bees are not upset by feathers (they don’t like the bee brush after it’s been stung a few times.

To clear out whole supers at a time without using Bee-quick or Bee-go, blow them out with a shop vac. You will end up with half a dozen or so left in the supers that you will need to catch and release later.

4. You only feed if they need it. After harvesting the honey, they should have about 60 lbs left. If the top brood chamber is nearly full of honey, they’ll be fine or at least die of something besides starvation. Lifting the hive from the back will give you a pretty good idea if they have enough honey.

New Plan Added

This month we’ve added plans for a Shaker Style Beehive Table, just in time for the holidays. This table is a great use for an old beehive, and makes a perfect addition to any home.

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One Response to Garreson Publishing Newsletter, November 2010

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