Above is H1, also known as ‘The Swarm’. I talked a bit about them last week. It features a pretty unusual piece of ‘bee furniture’. That wooden block on the front. I have been sold on upper entrances for a while now. I don’t have them in all my boxes, yet. But that’s basically just because I haven’t taken the time. One of the things I decided on when I first started beekeeping was that I wanted all of my equipment to be interchangeable. This seemed like it made the most sense. That way you never run into figuring out how to hang a medium depth frame in a deep box… Because your queen didn’t get the memo she was supposed to only lay eggs in the deep boxes. Likewise, I want my boxes to be uniform.
A recent post on one of my favorite bee blogs, Honey Bee Suite, made me rethink my view on upper entrances. Not because the author suggested they were a bad thing, but because she suggested adding doorsteps to them. I’ll explain a little about that later. This post got me really thinking about upper entrances, how and why I have my own, as well as the advantages of adding landing boards to them as Rusty over at Honey Bee Suite suggested.
About Upper Entrances
Upper entrances have a number of attractive features. Like most things beekeeping, they can be added to your hive in any number of different ways. From imrie shims (a thin shim, of the same dimensions as the hive, with a notch cut into it for an entrance), to drilling holes, to just plain propping the top open with some blocks of wood. They have a number of different advantages.
Reasons To Have Upper Entrances
Having entrances in specific boxes can allow a more direct path for bees to travel. Later in the season this comes in particularly handy. Who wants to climb all the way up from the bottom entrance to the latest super to deposit a load of nectar, afterall? Certainly, if a bee could find a better spot closer to entrance, I would think it would drop it off there. Allowing bees to leave and enter from the box they are trying to fill seems more efficient, right?
One of my hives that did not make it through the last winter had its bottom board absolutely coated in dead bees. Hundreds of the poor little girls. Thousands. Although I have read in a number of different bee publications that during the winter we should clear the entrance of dead bees, no one ever gives good advice on how to accomplish that. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Likewise, during winter snows, unless we are going to go out frequently to clear the entrance, you can count on the bees being locked indoors.
When it’s that cold, surely that doesn’t matter, right? But how often have you seen a pristine 50 degree day right after a good snow? I know I have! No upper entrances means the bees are locked in their hive. When they might otherwise make cleansing flights or doing other housekeeping tasks. Upper entrances solve both problems, and allow the bees access to the world when they need it.
Upper entrances are definitely NOT the one trick to rule them all when it comes to ventilation. However, they do play a useful part. Heat rises, afterall, and so does the moisture it carries. Giving a place for warm, moist air to depart allows the bees to better regulate their airflow and keep killing condensation from forming inside their home.
It might be argued that the upper entrance allows warmth to escape. However, bees are far better at handling cold temperatures than they are at dealing with being wet. Bees thrive in all sorts of super-cold environments. Here in Washington state, we don’t get nearly cold enough to threaten the life of a hive. Yet, somehow hives die frequently throughout the winter, and not just from lack of stores. One of the silent killers is the condensation that forms inside the hive, drips down onto the bees and leaves them both cold and wet.
Why I Drilled Holes
My first reason for drilling my upper entrances into my boxes was simply because I couldn’t find any imrie shims for sale nearby, and didn’t want to risk trying to make them. Additionally, I really liked the rationale that providing an entrance in each box could allow bees to navigate in and out of the hive without needing to crawl all the way up from the bottom box to their destination. Lastly, I really liked the idea of simply corking closed an upper entrance. It seemed to me that was a lot simpler than doing an unecessary tear-apart to remove a shim.
Landing Boards on Upper Entrances
This was the new development that made me rethink my policy on upper entrances. The idea of adding a landing board to upper entrances in order to aid the bees in their use. I will admit, I basically facepalmed when I read the post. It made so much sense! If you’ve ever watched bees coming in for a landing, they’re not exactly the most graceful of creatures. It’s amazing enough that they’re able to fly, but their landings leave much to be desired. I discovered this was particularly true when they were full of nectar or loaded down with pollen.
Why It Works
I imagine myself stumbling along with a load of groceries, fumbling my way up the stairs at our old apartment. I’m one of those people. You know the ones. The kind that don’t like to make a second trip down to the car. So I bundle the groceries up all along my arms, and stagger along under the weight of it all. To say that the stairs sometimes caused me trouble is a bit of an understatement.
Now imagine doing that while flying.
A typical upper entrance on a beehive is a sheer wall with a small hole in it. The bees that come flying in are NOT likely to hit that entrance perfectly. Even if they did, they’d probably run into someone else who was coming out and start a fist-fight… Foot-fight? Anyway, it’d be a wreck. So they try to land on that sheer wood surface while carrying all the groceries. Putting a landing board in place would make all the difference!
How To Do It
Adding a landing board to your upper entrances is easy. As long as there are no bees in the box. Just take a piece of 1 x 4 or similar scrap wood, and drill from the inside of the box just below the upper entrances into the wood. You’re done. It’s advised that you paint the wood, because it’s always better to have a long life-span on your beekeeping equipment. It doesn’t need to be big, or pretty, though by all means, feel free to make it pretty!
If there are bees in the box, you have a little more work on your hands. I’d suggest bringing a spare box along, and transferring frames out briefly during a full inspection, if you were determined to add them right away. For myself, I’m taking the more laid back approach and slowly adding new entrances as I need new boxes. Eventually, all my boxes will have these new and improve upper entrances, but it’s not worth disturbing the girls for no other reason, to me.
Rusty over at Honey Bee Suite mentioned another beekeeper that had gotten some 680 pounds of surplus honey in one season from just 4 hives. In part thanks to the landing boards for his upper entrances. Wow. I have to admit I am super excited about THAT benefit of upper entrances with landing pads. I’ll let you know in a few months how the one hive I’m intending to harvest a crop from fares.
Until then, remember that we can BEEcome self-sufficient. Together.