Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

Floors and Doors

Pattern-matching doors and floors. A pleasing and picturesque solution to the problem of figuring out which entrance block belongs to which hive floor. Some entrance blocks are interchangeable, but some of them jam if you try to put them in a different hive floor.

I've added matching marks to matching door blocks and floors. These are done using a pyrography pen. The entrance block is the top part with the gap (doorway) cut in it - if you take away the entrance block then the bees have that whole area as their doorway, the full width of the hive, whereas with the entrance block in place there is only that small door you can see, about the height of a bee.

And now the floors have been treated with linseed oil and have gone out to the apiary, where this one is in use by Queen Ottilie's colony:

I've just transferred Queen Ottilie's colony in to this new hive on a trolley, so that I can gradually move them from their current position - where the swarm descended on the bait hive - to one of the new stands.

Smith (bait) hive with wide doorway

The bait hive chosen by Queen Ottilie's colony was the old Smith hive, which does not have an entrance block (it may have done once, but if so it was lost long ago). That's ok for a bait hive, but in the longer term such a wide gateway is harder for the bees to defend against burglars such as wasps, who become a nuisance at this time of year. Some beekeepers take out the entrance blocks in spring to give the foragers a wide doorway to fly from and return to, then re-insert them in late summer to assist hive defence. But I tend to leave the entrance blocks in all year round. The hives are well ventilated through their open mesh floors, and I don't think the smaller doorway really restricts the flow of foragers.

I've also got a couple of new style floors that Thorne's recently brought in. These have a full width entrance but it's narrow, and there's no entrance block. The doorway is L-shaped in profile, so the bees walk forward then climb up a vertical slot in the wood to enter the hive. The rest of the floor is open mesh. Queen Romaine's and Queen Storm's hives are fitted with these floors. The outer entrances are big, and incorporate a shallow landing area, but the vertical slot is unattractive to wasps and too narrow for mice.

Here's one I pyrographed earlier. Queen Peony's hive.

I plan to add some (pyrographed?) landing boards to the older-style hive entrances, as it seems awkward for returning foragers to have to land vertically on the outer wall of the hive or to fly precisely through the small doorway.

Shouldn't that be "Bees don't generally attack unless provoked so the bee house welcomes careful visitors?"

Marking different hive entrances with different patterns isn't a new idea. Some beekeepers put different playing cards, different colours or different shapes around the entrances to their hives, which is supposed to help the bees distinguish their home hive from their neighbours'. A friend sent me this photograph of an information board at the National Trust's Trengwainton Garden in Cornwall, describing hive entrances on a bee shed marked with distinctive colours and shapes.

The National Trust's notice is rather melodramatic, leaning towards the Daily Mail school of journalism. "Entry to the wrong hive can result in death" - well, maybe. Most bees that enter hives are returning foragers carrying nectar or pollen. If they take the goods to the wrong address, they are unlikely to be turned away - the neighbouring colony does better to let them in!

Update 13 August 2018

I'm no longer so sure about those L-shaped entrances on Queen Romaine's and Queen Storm's hives being good against wasps. Watching the entrances today, there were lots of wasps around those two. Wasps hovering around menacingly, wasps preying on bees on the little internal landing areas, and wasps walking up the vertical wall to the entrance. Whether they met a line of guard bees within the hive I'm not sure, but some of them were gone a while rather than being repelled immediately. Wasps were hanging round the other hives too, but so many and not so obviously as at Queen Romaine's and Queen Storm's. I'm glad I've moved Queen Ottilie's colony to a more defendable hive, else they would be having to deploy a vast number of guards at the entrance, with the drain on resources and inconvenience to foragers that that entails.

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