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Bee Flow within a honey bee brood nest

Not often observed by beekeepers

This may seem an unusual topic, but it relates to what the bees will do when faced with different circumstances and what we as beekeepers can do to influence this.

We have all noticed that bees will put holes in combs that they use as passageways. Some beekeepers will remove such combs and melt them down as they are considered defective, but we should consider why the bees are doing this.

In nature, it is rare to find an unbroken sheet of comb as large as the brood frame of a beehive. Holes and gaps are presumably needed to allow the bees to travel easily throughout the colony. Some of these gaps are brought about by irregularities in comb building and some are due to airflow and ventilation reasons.

When designing bee equipment, I believe it is preferable to work with nature rather than against it. I have taken particular notice of this when dealing with the raising of queen cells and the raising of drones.

I think bee flow is also important if we are trying to produce section honey.

Anything, that we as beekeepers, can do to increase the natural process of honey gathering becomes a benefit.

Transparency to Bees

Beekeepers introduce all sorts of gadgets into beehives, some of which can interrupt the normal bee traffic in a localised region. Cell bar frames are an obvious example, as there is much extra space within the frame. In this case, it is helpful, as it allows more bees easy access to feed the larvae in the growing cells. In the design of my queen banking cages, I was aware that the large mesh covered areas were an obstruction and incorporated bee spaces in the frame design, above and below the cages to ease this problem. The cages themselves needed access for worker bees and so I put two areas of queen excluder either side of the passageway that gives the workers internal access, in order to improve the transparency and at the same time provide an extra barrier to an escaped queen. I have employed artificial 'pop holes' in the plywood sheets that form the matrices that are used to get the egg transplants drawn out and filled with eggs.

Shorter Routes

On various occasions, I have used Cell Punching to produce queen cells. I have noticed that sometimes the portion of comb removed is replaced, but at other times the hole has been left as a deliberate pop hole. I conclude from this that the bees themselves desired this shorter route.

I have a personal, unsubstantiated theory that one of the triggers of swarming is due to bees bumping into each other more frequently in a congested nest. The provision of shorter or alternative routes may reduce this aggravation and thus reduce swarming.

Top & Middle entrances, are much used in USA, partly for ventilation and partly to provide alternative routes for foraging bees to place nectar directly in the honey supers to avoid travelling through the brood nest. This may seem a good idea at first sight, but I personally have grave doubts about this, for the simple reason that bees in a hollow tree will seal up such alternative entrances. Some fresh research is being conducted in USA, but this has little momentum, as the Americans have been wedded to their ideas for a long time and there are some very rigidly held opinions. I do think that there is some mileage in temporary extra entrances in honey storage supers, but robbing may be difficult to overcome when it occurs.

Mouse ramps or extended alighting boards that run down to the ground, can be a big bonus in honey gathering. In the early 1980s I noticed that many bees fell short of the hive entrance by several feet. The first thing that such shortfall bees did was to climb a grass stem until they could see the hive, but instead of taking off and flying, the bees concerned climbed back down to the ground and walked towards the hive. During this walk there would be other climbs up the grass for re-orienting, eventually the walking bees would reach the hive stands and climb the legs to gain entry to the hive. I did not keep any records of times and distances, but I promptly made some alighting boards that were 900 mm long. And I try to maintain a smooth area directly in front of a hive. I have always considered that this is a major improvement in 'time and motion' and that it has contributed as much as 25% extra honey on some occasions. (This is subjective as I did not do any actual recording or controlled experimentation.)

The ideas of Eugene Killion have influenced some of my designs. I have incorporated Killion Slots into all sorts of boxes and frames. The "Rational" box ideas were based on this.

Having removed several hundred free living colonies, I have observed much of what Dave Cushman wrote about above. There are usually several holes and gaps in sizeable combs, that I believe are used for several reasons, including quicker travel, which not only helps the workers, but may mean the queen moves between combs more than in a managed hive, especially one with large combs without holes or plastic foundation. My thinking is that pheromones are more easily distributed and the cluster can move onto fresh food during the winter. R.P.

Dave Cushman.

Page created Winter 2001

Page updated 19/12/2022