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 producers—bottom 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 sun–up 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.
This 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 colony–by–colony 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.
Hive 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.
Place 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.
After 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