Save the Date: Nov 12, 2016

All Day Education Event Planned with Landi Simone (NJ Master Beekeeper)

Co-Sponsored with the Northern Virginia Beekeepers Association (NVBA). See

More details will be available soon at the NVBA and SHP websites, to include ticket sales.

LandiLandi Simone

Landi Simone, a distinguished Master Beekeeper from New Jersey, will offer her presentations entitled:

  • Reading the Frames (A good beekeeper is a good detective)
  • Timing It


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Nuc colony management

March 13, Atlanta Georgia

Since the Boone North Carolina EAS meeting two years past, Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association have been requesting a visit to one of their meetings. Finally my availability and their meeting schedule coincided. Thanks to Cindy Hodges insistence and Jenifer Berry’s flexibility with her schedule it all came together. Thank you Cindy for persisting and thank you Jennifer, I owe you one.

I was able to cover an introduction to nuc colony management and an overview of the dire need for a local queen breeding and production effort.

A good write up of the effort can be found at Linda’s Bees. Enter her site in your search engine then on her home page enter Billy Davis in her search bar. One clarification; we do not feed all our bees, just the mating nucs since they are in an isolated area that has very limited forage. All in all, a very good meeting and a most enjoyable visit with the Atlanta folks.

Thank you Atlanta.



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This will be a three-part series. First we will cover the full size Langstroth hives, then the nuc colonies and the transition accessories. There may be other posts that interrupt the series. So let’s do it.

What began with the question: “why does all the crud seem to pile up in the corner of the bottom board?” has become a many-year search.  The colonies in the hives  with the condition seemed to have an inordinate amount of dysentery and were usually low producersbottom line just were not do good colonies.

We felt it was a ventilation problem. Like I have done many times I went to the old masters and found some bottom boards that had ventilators in the rear of the unit.  We tried some of the rear vents and the colonies still had dysentery and crud in the corners. Believing that ventilation was still needed we tried first a half bottom screen. The crud went away, but the dysentery, especially in the Spring, still persisted, so we installed a full bottom screen.  Bingo, it worked. The colonies turned around within that year, 1992. This was before the varroa arrived in our area, but when it did other beekeepers began to utilize the screen bottom as an IPM mechanical device.  That screen bottom board has become almost universal in many areas.

The search did not stop there. A very close friend, Dorlas Hall of Round Hill , Virginia, recently deceased, helped me build a temporary wind tunnel in his back yard out of refrigerator boxes  in which we tested the air flow around and in hives even once with bees. That was a very exciting event, negatively speaking. The colony just did not understand and let us know they disapproved. I also remember having met David Eyre of the Bee Works of Canada; he introduced me to a system which is almost universal in the UK. The frames were parallel to the entry as opposed to perpendicular as in traditional US set up. Dorlas and I  soon discovered that the colony built up near the hive entry and the stores were in the back or away from the entry. I knew that a colony would become more active earlier in the day on the sunup side of the hive. That being the case it appeared bee-logical to place the face of the colony toward the rising sun. The results found in the back yard wind tunnel indicated that the air needed to flow up through the rear of the hive away from the brood. There needed to be additional air vents in the rear of the hive and an easy air exit, yet protected in bad weather. This jived with what I learned from David while at an EAS conference.

A few years later a Yellow Jacket invasion destroyed a couple of colonies and since the bottom was screened it seemed necessary to reduce the size of the entry to enable the colony to simplify their defensive area. The screen bottom supplied sufficient air from below, but most bees in a full open entry hive establish a loose pattern to departures and arrivals on the opposite sides of the entry.   We cut the entry down to about 6 inches and have now evolved that to just over two inches. No alarm or distress was observed as the colonies went about their business so the small entry is still used today. 

   I wanted the hive close to the ground  to avoid  excessive stooping and extended lifts if possible. Mounting the hives close to the ground did not solve the stooping so in most cases I sit and work a colony. Ground contact of the hive stand utilizes treated decking lumber and has vents built into the easterly, down wind entry side. Originally it had a full screened front, but now the stand front is vented wood to keep the string trimmers from damaging the unit. The bottom board has 2 inch side rails, thus giving us approximately 8 inches in an air chamber. This is still evolving as we discover more and more positive effects in this system. The inner cover has added vents as well as  ventilated shim between the inner cover and outer cover or top. All vents are covered with regular metal window screen which a Small Hive Beetle cannot enter.. The stand is settled to the ground so the only entry to the hive by a SHB is by the small hive entry.

This could be utilized by a commercial operator, not likely, not because it would not work, but it is not the accepted norm and construction is somewhat more labor intensive.But serious side-liners could very well gain more healthy colonies with a lower stress level. Scientific proof? No, observed performance over an extended time and reports from other beekeepers that have shifted to their version of the SHP system.

Neersville11This is a young colony in a hive with parallel frame configuration. This is an earlier edition, later versions will appear in the series at a future post.

Using a hive of 4 medium bodies utilizing the parallel frame arrangement (SHP system), beekeepers in our area of Virginia are able to rotate the top storage body during a window of opportunity in early winter or very late fall to place honey above the cluster and within the thermal column. This procedure helps to eliminate the stress of unnecessary manipulation. This has to be done on a colonybycolony basis trying to stay ahead of the heart of the cluster as it moves up the winter thermal. We do not want to do severe cluster splitting.

 “Stress” has been mentioned several times in this blog. At SHP, minimizing colony (and apiary) stress is emphasized. Here are some SHP practices in the use of  hive covers (drapes) to aid in minimizing colony stress.

The ability to work from the rear of the hive as if it were a file cabinet is a definite advantage. Especially utilizing the covers (drapes) allowing the beekeeper to remove the rearmost frame which is closest to the beekeeper making room for  manipulation without undue harm. A clip on the use of the quiet box and covers (drapes) will be later in this series.

RP4200 PictureHive at rest.  Sun warms the cover and bees move lower. All calm and no alarm thus minimum stress.  A hive in the above configuration will remain calm for a break or to accomplish another task in the yard.

RP4200 PicturePlace the second cover (see the rolled edges ), then remove the rear frame which will most always be honey. The removed frame is placed in a quiet box or Nuc. Once the queen is located, remove her with the frame she is on into the quiet box keeping her from harm’s way as you manipulate the frames.

RP4200 PictureAfter moving the frames to the rear where the space was created, the drape opening is only for the area or frame to be worked. Note: the bees are not on the top bars. With practice and consideration for the bees there will be a minimum honey smell in the air, minimizing robbing.  Before removing any frame be sure to have any bridging cleared. Never drag a bridged frame thereby opening capped honey. This releases honey scent and possibly injures workers or the queen.

Detailed hive components of the latest version will be illustrated in the next post.          Billy D

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The evolution of the Langstroth to the current configuration is attributed to Charles Dadant and  later to C.P. Dadant and A. I. Root. Yes, there were some changes to arrive at our current deep, medium and shallow.  Like so many I began in the early years in deep brood bodies then added shallow as honey supers. The medium has lately dominated the honey super use replacing the shallow. Dad and I sold many shallow frames in frame boxes. The shallow frame went to the consumer along with the honey it contained. Things change and the old sieve gave way to an extractor. Now the emphasis was on extracted honey and the necessary paraphernalia was assembled.  When one looks back at the effort, especially the cost, it is very easy to understand “wannabe-beekeepers” and their effort to seek a very economical path. Unfortunately they go to the internet and some take a path leading to a dream that more often has an abrupt dead end.

The internet has a massive amount of information, often just wrong, directing these new-bees to often arrive at an emotional rather than a logical or well-thought out decision toward selecting Top Bar Hives.  I see so much heart ache and total frustration when the colony is lost. Many forge on in spite of advice to  be careful and to become aware of the management requirements needed by the colony occupying such a structure. This is not a condemnation of the TBH, rather some explanation and words of caution one needs to consider before making a total commitment to this system. This post will cover a few of the most important considerations.

I believe the most important task to be considered is to learn as much as possible about the honey bee colony. The most advisable route would be to volunteer to assist a local beekeeper for a complete year before a decision is reached. Not just any beekeeping mentor, rather a recognized good beekeeper. Listen and watch because the task is to learn honey bee colonies.  The system used by this host beekeeper is not as important as the overall beekeeping success of the host with the system he/she uses, so choose carefully.  The point is, learn bees and the colony. The system is a far second to learning honey bee colonies and the elements thereof. There are some clubs and groups like SHP that have such a program available, especially for those that take classes or short courses before hooking up with a mentor.

To the point: The only natural bee hive is a hollow tree. Sure, colonies sometimes occupy very odd structures but given a hollow tree that meets the minimum colony requirements, they will generally take the tree.  African colonies are not like our European bees. AHB colonies often will move into mailboxes, flower pots, old tires and even abandoned toilet. Dr. Tom  Seeley of Cornell in his work Honey Bee Democracy laid out a very convincing discussion in regard to a swarming colony and their selection of a new residence.

Let us look at what happens in the colony’s home by seasons.  I firmly believe the beekeeping year begins in late summer or very early fall, but for this session let us begin in the Spring.  In this part of the temperate zone of North America, specifically my area in very northern Virginia, springtime is the time a colony must survive, stay healthy, produce massive brood and begin to lay in stores for the year. The home cavity begins to fill  in the upper area and in doing so the colony moves downward as the stores displace them. The comb is built downward as this progresses. Summertime is the time to protect and conserve the stores while maintaining the colony health and population. Late Fall and early winter is when the colony forms a cluster in order to generate the temperature and condition for the area around the queen and attendants. The colony moves upward following a thermal they are creating. Retriever bees venture out to bring food back to the cluster. Even during periods of warm weather the cluster prefers to continue its upward movement with an increased activity by retrievers and newly recruited retrievers moving the supplies into the cluster. The TBH system forces the cluster to move horizontally.  Doing so means they loose the thermal and its comfort. There must be as much honey as possible stored above the colony in a limited area. Dr. Wyatt Mangum of Virginia in his articles in American Bee Journal is about to launch some experiments on winter survival of colonies in TBH housing. He has not published any particulars at this time, but I feel there may result some important information that could result in reconfiguration  of the TBH in temperate zones.

Dr. Mangum’s recently published TBH beekeeping manual has much valuable information for the beginner who is considering the TBH system.  Top Bar Hives were developed in the tropics to mimic the old bark hives the resident beekeepers had learned  to manage.  Utilizing minimum handling  due to the temperament of the African honey bee was and is the watchword.  These TBHs were built originally from scrap lumber  or other available material, often shipping crates.  The bees of that region of Kenya are not the same as the western bees. African bees build straight comb and move away from any problem be it pest or disease. Their nasty disposition made it very plain that honey be removed from the rear and never in the colony brood area. Our European ancestry bees build random and irregular comb.  Bees forage nearly year round in the tropics and sub-tropics quite unlike our burst of supplies  which is very seasonal and African bees need virtually little storage, especially surplus.  These brief facts alone should raise many red flags to full mast. A strong sense of caution should be obvious.  I know I sometimes poke fun at  ‘TBHers,’ but please realize it is to instill caution and  is not a total condemnation of the effort or sincerity.  Are there other questions I might reply to?

The search for the man made “natural hive” has increased interest in the Warre hive. SHP will venture into a variation of that hive in the year of 2013 and this blog will track that effort. Beginning with the cavity requirement as the base line we will build the hive and attempt to  cover the needs of the colony with some man-make adjustments. More on these efforts as they develop. We will not alter our effort to continue queen breeding and colony evaluation. Utilization of the conventional Nuc as well as full size Langstroth type hives will continue. All this activity is  limited by available volunteers and funds.

May you bee successful,

Billy D

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There are very talks to groups or for that matter lectures to advanced or intermediate level audiences that someone does broach the subject of hives particularly the Top Bar Hive (TBH) or some out of the norm structure Most would consider the Langstroth the norm in this part of the world. Wrong! The hollow tree is the norm and any variation we contrive, to a point, must keep the bees adaptation of that housing in mind. Yes, commercial operators want something easily manufactured and once constructed moved rather easily. Maximum capacity and output for minimum input and effort is the ideal sought, but seldom regularly achieved.

This posting will not go into history nor the usual discourse or picking other positions apart, rather just a few plain bee basics. Left to their own devises swarm colonies generally seek a volume of at least 200 to 300 square inches which is very small by current Langstroth standards.  How it is generally configured by the bees is simple. The process is begun at a point near the main entry. the hollow is lined with a mix of wax and propolis as they begin the comb to house food and brood of the fledgling colony. The comb structure is built out from a common wall and then downward from the entry point.

The brood rearing expands downward and is followed by food storage in the upper cell recently vacated by brood. cells are cleaned and sanitized then filled with honey and pollen. Pollen primarily in the lower and outer cells with honey in the upper central comb. This continues through the production season. The cavity is filled as supplies and needs are balanced as best  the colony can ascertain. Regeneration of the kind occurs by casting a swarm and life in the cavity continues. The new queen and the resident colony clean up, secure the housing arrangement, relocate stores to more advantageous positions and honker down for the coming winter.

In the old days of the skip, mini-hutch and so forth the unit was tipped over and the comb trimmed of it’s fresh comb containing honey. cured or not was generally not a question because the locals knew when even the uncapped was cured. Honey was for the most a very seasonal crop and not jarred for a long term market. This practice gave Brother Warre  his idea for the Warre hive and the management thereof. More on this on a  later session.

The older bees die off and the young ones begin the process of winter survival. Cool nights bring a clustering of the colony around the queen and her attendants. When needed they tightening the cluster and begin the vibration process to generate heat for the mother queen and the retrievers that go forth to bring the food to the cluster. This process continues as teh colony consumes its food upward following the thermal they have generated. Within this thermal the colony regeneration begins it’s life.

A follow up session will deal with TBH and other configurations.

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My hope is to create post on this feature that are either a learning experience or stimulate an inspirational beekeeping  action. This is my first blog and there will be many nervous nights hoping the effort is worthwhile.

I will leave the two-way open for the time being and see how it goes. I will not participate in a tiff nor do I have a hidden agenda, rather to help be better beekeepers and stewards in the true sense. Why the use of a buzz word like sustainable? We were for good sustainable  honey bee colonies and sustainable beekeeping practices before it became fasinonable. It might be noted I very often use the term we where many would use I. That’s my way, we share the successes and I am responsible for the failures. I have had many in the latter column and hopefully I can help others overcome or venture through such failures.

One of the latest task we are working with is a trap for yellow jackets, robber bees and SHB which we will discuss later.

Good  beekeeping,

Billy Davis, certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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