The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Beekeeping Basics

Easy Ways to Complicate Simple Beekeeping

- November 1, 2022 - James E. Tew - (excerpt)

At its core

At its most fundamental level, beekeeping is a simple endeavor. Bees are bizarrely adaptable and can put up with most demands that beekeepers impose on them. Elementary beekeeping is an elegantly simple system.

The bees

Fundamentally, for a nest site, bees only want a protected cavity having the approximate volume of a medium super and a defendable entrance. They want the cavity to be dark and dry. Additionally, bees want the cavity protected from the elements and ideally not directly on the ground. Finally, they don’t want anything else living in the cavity.

Without help, bees can take care of comb building, foraging, brood production, and swarming. Were it not for varroa mite control, beyond supplying the cavity space, bees wouldn’t really require us for anything else.

The beekeeper

To manage bees at the simplest level, the tending beekeeper requires basic hive equipment. Normally, a list of that hive equipment would include: an outer cover, inner cover, brood bodies with frames and foundations, and a bottom board and a hive stand to set the unit on.

For personal protective equipment, the beekeeper needs only one veil, one hive tool, and a smoker. That’s it. For a beehive, at the most basic level, that is all the equipment that the beekeeper is required to have to maintain a hive of bees.

This bee equipment situation is not unlike my car. I must have the basics. I would need an engine with a connected transmission, seats, and mechanical operative devices, like a steering wheel and brakes and some illumination devices for night driving. Much like the 1952 Dodge1 pickup on which I learned to drive, not much more is needed to get me from one place to another.

But here’s the rub — I want the heated seats and the musical sound system. A sunroof would be great and electric window controls are nearly mandatory. A front and rear camera system combined with a remote start would be heavenly. Do I need all of this? No, but I really want it. Do I need all the other beekeeping paraphernalia that I have? No, but I really want all that, too.

Before I begin

Before I begin this discussion, I need to prepare you readers for a few discussion points. Keep in mind that much of this optional equipment are pieces that we want more than we need. Across the bee industry, these devices may not be standardized in either name or style.

Names of the devices

Since many hive appliances are elective devices, the names of these devices will vary from one manufacturer to another. For instance, a moving screen produced by one manufacturer may be a top vented screen when offered by another manufacturer.

Styles of the devices

Frequently, the devices will have design variations from one manufacturer to another. Of course, each producer will tout the value of their various characteristics, and you, the purchaser, will have to decide which best suits your interests.

Opinions of the various devices

Individual beekeeper opinions of the devices will be all over the beekeeping page. For example, queen excluders are optional pieces of equipment that beekeepers either love or hate. There seems to be little middle ground. When talking to others about a particular piece of optional equipment, the reader should expect spirited opposing opinions on nearly every piece of equipment that is in this category.

Rim devices (sometimes named “spacers”) on top of the hive

Simple wooden rims make up the core of many optional hive devices. Of all those devices, the simplest is just a hive rectangle. Hive rims are basic spacers that temporarily add small amounts of space to the top of the beehive. Rim depth can be anything you and I choose, but generally rims are in the outline of the hive body and are ¾”to 2” deep and are made of ¾” stock. This simple device has a multitude of hive use possibilities. I offer a few below.

  • Banking queens

If I am banking queens (storing queens until I will be introducing them), there is no suitable space in a typical hive to temporarily store these caged queens. If I arbitrarily add a ¾” rim atop the brood nest, I now have sufficient space to lay my extra caged queens. Nurse bees will have ready access to these confined queens.

Those of you with longtime beekeeping experience will immediately suggest that bees will build annoying burr combs there. Yes, they surely will. In this case, the rim is for the moment or is specifically installed when no nectar flow is ongoing. If rims are left on during a nectar flow, a burr comb mess will be the certain result.

  • An Upper entrance

If I mount a dado-head cutter on my table saw, I can cut a ⅜” deep slot that is ¾” wide in one end of the rim, and I can now use the rim as an upper entrance spacer.2 If I position this rim between the brood nest and the supers, bees will have an alternate higher entrance that they can choose to use or not. In the beekeeper literature, there are those of you who are committed to this concept while others of you are lackadaisical about this modified entrance rim.

Again, would not the bees build burr combs in the extra space during the flow? And again, yes, they would. This rim would only go on after the nectar flow had peaked and the bottom super was already nearly filled. In bee management theory, the full super would serve as a barrier, but not a rigid one, between the brood nest and higher empty supers. Beekeepers who use this device are trying to help returning fully loaded forager bees get to the storage area faster.

  • Winter aids

I, as have others of you, have used spacing rims at the very top of a wintering colony to provide a space for a hive-top insulating material during cold periods. In the past, I have used rims as deep as three inches. In some of the supply catalogs, this device is named a “Moisture Box.” Later in the winter season, to supplement food stores, foodstuffs such as sugar bricks or pollen patties could be put there.

You should know that some kind of ventilation technique should still be employed in this wintering colony. Otherwise, moisture, arising from the warm cluster, will cause excessive dampness in the colony.

Moving screens

A moving screen is needed when hives are relocated. It seems that each beekeeper has a design that they favor. At its most fundamental level, a moving screen is a rim that has had wire screening attached to one side. Designs and attachment techniques vary from model to model.

In my photo, I show a moving screen that I built quite a few years ago. It is temporarily screwed to the hive body with four 3½” screws. When I use fiberglass screen for building moving screens, it sometimes sags and touches the tops of the frames and it is easily ripped. Though more difficult to cut and attach, 8-mesh hardware cloth is better for building moving screen rims. If you don’t want to build your own, moving screen devices are commercially available.

Double screen division boards

If I take a wooden rim and attach screens to both sides, I have then devised a “double screen” board. Closeable entrances are cut into either of the sides or ends (or both sides and ends) of the board. This device is commonly used to make colony splits or to start nucleus colonies. The thought is that environmental conditions are essentially maintained in the upper separated section by warm air rising from the lower unit.

Bees between lower and upper parts do not have direct contact; therefore, a new queen could be introduced in the top section, or the upper section could be allowed to produce a natural queen. Double screens are also …