The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Cover Story

Gadgets and Gizmos

- May 1, 2015 - M.E.A. McNeil - (excerpt)

honey bee technology

Beekeepers are inventors, many of them – surely more than among keepers of much else. To speculate on why this is so, consider that they are people who are content in the company of wild stinging insects that have no inclination toward domestication. To have some say in the situation, beekeepers must anticipate and guide their charges like Montessori kindergarten teachers. To that end, they come up with ingenious ideas, starting with the first person to pack home a chunk of fallen treetrunk filled with bees.

It is often said that the last half of the 19th century was a golden age of beekeeping invention, spurred by the observation of bee space and the creation of the movable frame hive. True, the smoker, centrifuge and queen rearing techniques soon followed in a creative blitz with all manner of contraptions, apparatuses, contrivances and doodads. But that curiosity and passion have not waned. After all, Langstroth was just looking closely, and that is what still happens in the company of bees.

From ant-gooping to queen castling, here are some ideas.

Christine Kurtz of the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association (SCBA) finds that the transparency of her water bottle swarm catcher allows her to see how the cluster is dropping. It is simply a five-gallon plastic water jug, cut off at the bottom and attached to a long telescoping extension pole, which is removable. The opening is large enough to hold a frame of comb sprayed with sugar syrup if she wishes.

Hive Building
A yogurt container glue pot made with a brush stuck through the lid “has been my best tool over several decades” according to Marin and San Francisco beekeeper Robert MacKimmie. He uses it to construct boxes and frames and also paints the outside box corners, sealing the open grains of the exposed finger joints to curtail weathering. He uses a 16 ounce yogurt container to construct smaller numbers and a 32 ounce when he has more to do. A thin 1” chip brush does the job, sets him back $1 and is swapped out twice a year. He works with Titebond II Premium Wood Glue, which sells for under $19 per gallon. “Everything about this is very inexpensive, but it results in excellent hive body durability,” he said.

Corrugated plastic campaign signs are reused by Ettamarie Peterson of SCBA. When elections are over, she gathers signs for several uses. With an X-Acto knife, she sizes them as plastic monitor boards, which she sprays with cooking oil to stick falling mites for counting. She also makes them into sturdy “politician board” nucs, as she calls them – with one successful candidate touting her recycling of his signs. She was told that such a nuc was independently created at the Central Coast Beekeepers in California.

An ant-proof hive stand is Windsor, California, beekeeper Mike Turner’s solution to a chronic problem. He mounts the stand on a base of four ¾ inch carriage bolts, 10-12 inches long on each corner. He coats the bolts with a mixture of 1:1 petroleum jelly and mineral oil. He reapplies it in hot weather, when it lasts about a month, or if it hardens with cold – although he does not find ants to be a winter problem. He makes the slurry thicker in summer and runnier in winter. Vaseline and baby oil work fine, and he uses the same formula to dissolve propolis on his hive tools He also rubs it into his leather gloves to soften them.

Cinnamon and fireplace ash as ant repellents are suggested by Ettamarie Peterson.

simple robbing screen was devised by Billy Davis, a Master Beekeeper who heads the Sustainable Honeybee Program of Northern Virginia. He folds a piece of 8” hardware cloth into a right angle, creating a 3/4” tunnel. He uses a staple gun to attach it over the hive entrance, extending at least 4” on each side beyond the opening. He uses it, together with an entrance reducer, on all of his hives and finds that it works as well as more complex models. He confines the entrance on full size colonies to 2”. He reports that “The colony learns very quickly to turn left or right to enter or exit the tunnel. This very much discourages robbers.”  It can be seen in the blog by Atlanta Master Beekeeper Linda Tillman:

Note that in the photo bees are grouped at the entrance of the newly placed screen, but they soon acclimate to the new way in. Also note the turquoise identifying markers that Tillman placed on the hives for the bees, similar to the markers used by Von Frisch.

wine cork entrance reducer was fashioned by Linda Tillman who has more ideas that can be seen at the site above. The corks fit snugly and the opening width can be adjusted by adding or removing a few. (The bees will most probably propolize the interstices; note that the Latin pro polis means before, or in front of, the city.)

Tools for Working the Bees
The guitar string hive separator is used by beekeeper Terry Oxford who keeps bees on the roofs of San Francisco restaurants. Small of stature, she had difficulty prying propolyzed boxes apart. She found that a strong guitar string, tied on either end with wood handles, allows her to pull through the connected supers, toward herself from the opposite corner, to loosen them. Her friend Tony Blaiotta made her the tool. See a video of the separator in action at

The quiet box is another innovative contribution by Virginia beekeeper Billy Davis. He finds that placing frames in sunlight during hive inspections is disruptive to the bees, so he places them in a box with an attached vinyl cover cloth. He places the first frame removed from the