The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – May 2017

- May 1, 2017 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)



I wrote you earlier in the year and asked you your opinion about why my bees died. I was positive that it was some kind of pesticide exposure from farmers around me late last year that showed up under winter conditions. You asked me about sampling and treating for mites and what did I use and did I sample after to see what the count was to see if the treatment worked. The state bee inspector came out and took samples and sent them off to the USDA Lab to be analyzed. The report just came back and I had 33.9 mites per hundred bees. As much as I hate to admit it, you were right. Just wanted to let you know.

Someplace in the Midwest

Reply from Jerry

Sometimes being right is a two-edged sword—it is a learning opportunity, but it can aggravate people. Thanks for telling me. We are all in this together.

Q The Bears and the Bees

I love “The Classroom”, my favorite part of ABJ. We recently purchased a farm in NH and will be moving our apiary from Massachusetts this spring. My question is about the direction to face a hive’s entrance, but allow me to digress a bit because bears are influencing my apiary plans, and have gotten me thinking.

My MA apiary faces SSE which is perfect because the girls are flying as soon as the sun pops up, and though it’s surrounded by an electric fence, our average-sized Palmer bear just pushes through it when he’s hungry enough. After losing one hive to a bear attack at 2am last winter (a story for another day), I screwed all of the bottom boards to a pair of 4×4’s and have strapped all my hives to them. This has frustrated Smokey’s numerous attempts, and I haven’t lost a hive since.

In New Hampshire, a contractor I use just a mile away from the farm had a hive given to him last summer by another beekeeper. A couple months later he heard a “bang” noise behind his garage and went to investigate. When he rounded the corner, he saw “the biggest bear” he had ever seen in his life just 40 feet away, and when it saw him, it “casually” moved in his direction. Now, this being NH, he just happened to have his .308 with him (gotta love NH). He fired a round into the ground in front of the bear, to which it just shrugged and calmly sauntered off (he swears it flipped him off as it strolled down an embankment). Weeks earlier I had suggested that he put straps around his hive, and when asked, he said he had! Needless to say, his hive was completely destroyed.

My new farm has a 40 x 100 foot barn that, with some 2nd floor repairs, will eventually make a secure and more weather-protected apiary. But because the North & South sides are only 1 story high, I was warned that Mr. Super-Bear would likely tear his way through the barn wall if he has to, to get at the hives (picture what he does to trees with hives in them). Although the East side has a 2nd floor, it’s in a state of disrepair such that I’m not comfortable using the 2nd floor until I can fix it up a bit. On the West side, however, the ground does slope down a full story so I can easily put my apiary on the inside ground level with the hive entrances out the West wall. This would put them a full story up from the outside ground level which will be plenty high enough from the outside to deter any bear. That said though, the Westward facing hive entrances won’t get any direct sun until mid-late afternoon.

My questions are: Will they tend to get a late start most days waiting for sunlight?  Will I likely suffer a significant loss of that badly needed morning foraging that I enjoy today? Will the girls be “unhappy” facing West with no direct sunlight until late in the day? And, are bees genetically (or preferentially) wired, in that their entrances are always facing Southward?

Any other entrance-related advice for this 3rd year beekeeper would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your help on this.

Gary Ross
Palmer, MA


Good morning Gary and thank you for the Classroom compliment.

First, I think you need to get a serious high voltage electric fencing. There are a couple websites that might help. One from Canada is And one from my former State of Florida, might be helpful.

You are correct that the sooner a warming sun is experienced, the sooner they will be able to consider making the decision of a foraging flight. This is not any different than you and I and that lazy Saturday morning–it makes a difference if you are in a dark room with curtains drawn or curtains open and the rising sun streaming light into the room and into your eyes.

It’s up to you to prevent bears from getting free food by making it hard for them with appropriate fencing and providing early sun exposure for the colonies to get an early start or the building option you have with limited early sun.

Good luck. Whatever you decide you may not be entirely right, but you do not want to take a chance with bears about.

What Size Cell?

Thank you for the many answers, but I have one more. What is your opinion on the 5.1 drone cells vs 4.9 drone cells? Also, I have read that some other countries do not have mite problems like we do. Is this true and if it is, why not? Different treatment or management? Thank you again for the answers.



There is always one more question :). No problem.

5.1 and 4.9 are worker size cell options when purchasing worker foundation not drone foundation. The colony will build larger free-form drone cells at the bottom of comb or sides or tops, etc. Genetically, they want to reproduce successfully and will build queen, drone and worker cells in other locations in the hive if needed.

All countries (except Australia) with managed Apis mellifera honey bees have Varroa mite issues affecting their colonies’ health. Various miticides and physical management schemes is all we have globally, but none are a silver bullet. Those with African bees are less affected by varroa mites because their developmental time is, PA