The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – November 2021

- November 1, 2021 - (excerpt)

Seven-son Flower

Hi Eugene,

I was wondering if you and readers are familiar with this plant? It is called Heptacodium miconioides, the common name is “Seven-son Flower.” It is a 15-20-foot multi-branched shrub that flowers from mid-August to mid-September when here in southern Ontario very little else is in bloom. The white flowers are very attractive and fragrant, and are followed by an even more spectacular show when the petal-like leaves behind the flowers turn a bright purple-red in late September. During the winter months the exfoliating bark shows varying shades of brown and greys. It is hardy from Zones 5 to 9.

Oh, did I mention it is also attractive to hummingbirds and monarch butterflies? These species must use the plant as a food source in preparation for their long migrations.

But the main attraction to beekeepers is that this plant is a bee magnet! The flowers are covered with bees from morning until night (unlike plants like buckwheat that produce nectar only in the morning). Walking past the Heptacodium when in bloom is like walking past the apiary — constant buzzing. We have a six-acre field of white clover next to our bee yard, and are in a long-term process of scattering Heptacodium and basswood throughout the field. It should be a nice sight in 5 years from now.

John and Eva Hotchkiss
Aylmer, Ontario


Editor’s response:

Hi John and Eva,

Thanks for sharing. I was not familiar with this tree. According to Ohio State University (, this species is native to China, but is now rare in the wild. The genus name Heptacodium means “seven bells,” referring to an average of seven flowers in each grouping. It is gaining popularity as an ornamental shrub, and tolerates a wide range of soils and conditions, though it is not considered invasive. Most importantly for us, the late summer blooms attract a variety of pollinators, including honey bees.


Reducing drowning in frame feeders

While contemplating my pending departure from this Earth, it occurred to me to wonder whether I had acquired from my 66 years (perhaps 15,000 hive-years) of beekeeping experience any items of knowledge which might be useful to fellow beekeepers but not readily available in current literature. One tidbit that might qualify came to mind. So here goes.

For feeding sugar syrups in our standard Langstroth style operation we used mostly division board (also called “frame”) feeders. Their primary shortcoming is the death of bees in the feeder due to presumed drowning. Various contrivances have been designed to avoid these deaths including some of our own. Our designs used either flyscreen or eighth-inch mesh hardware cloth as ladders for the bees to climb out of the syrup. Each of these contrivances came with its own problems or failed to reduce deaths.

Hours of careful observation of individual Apis mellifera worker honey bees showed that they: (1) are able to swim for hours in both warm and cool sugar syrups without drowning; (2) are able if uninterrupted to swim distances greater than one inch per minute, and (3) appear to preferentially swim toward near objects of support but (4) appear unable to swim through the meniscus that usually borders potential objects of support including the walls of syrup feeders and fine mesh ladders provided for the bee’s escape. (“Meniscus” here refers to the upward slope of the top surface of the syrup and support. The molecules of the syrup and support have electronic attraction for each other, resulting in the syrup climbing up the support and dragging more syrup behind them until the weight of the lifted syrup equals the attractive molecular force between the syrup and support.)

It is my theory that the reason that swimming bees have great difficulty in grasping a support is that they usually must swim up the slope of a meniscus in order to reach the support. The lubricating effect of syrup may also make grasping more difficult.

We tested various ladder designs that might allow the bee’s foot claws and arolium (pad) to actually reach the support. Quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth works well. The bee swims toward the ladder until her head begins to enter a gap through the mesh and meniscus which allows the bee to grasp the wire on either of her sides and climb quickly up out of the syrup.

We construct our division board feeder ladders from 36-inch wide galvanized quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth. First, the cloth is cut into rectangles, one for each feeder. These rectangles measure 18 inches long by a width equal to  ….