Bees in the wild make good use of whatever entrances to a space they can find. In the managed environment of our own beehives, however, entrance management is an important skill beekeeper can utilize. From the width of an entrance to their location and number, how your bees are getting in and out of the hive is worth a beekeeper’s consideration at all times of the year.
A hive’s entrance configuration can have a significant impact on the operation of a hive. In this article we’ll look at bottom entrances, top entrances, considerations for each, and different ways you can manipulate these entrances throughout the beekeeping season.
The Role of Hive Entrances
Obviously, the main purpose of the hive entrance is to provide bees with an easy way to get in and out of their hive. However, the utility of these entrances goes far beyond that.
- The entrance allows the colony to actively thermo-regulate conditions inside the hive. By creating a significant flow of air, into and out of the hive by flapping their wings, bees can manipulate ventilation from an entrance in summer
- A mechanism to reduce moisture. The flow of air can help reduce the build-up of moisture within the hive, which can be a serious threat to the colony in the passive environment of the hive during winter.
- As a staging point for the transfer of resources from forager bees to house bees. From nectar to propolis and water – these are all essential resources for the colony.
- A well-defined area for guard bees to effectively defend. The colony needs the ability to repel threats such as robber bees (other colonies from your own bee yard or neighboring hives that can invade and attempt to steal your bee’s honey). This also helps reduce the likelihood of risk from mice and other critters.
The ideal entrance will be able to address all of these factors.
Beekeeper Entrance Options
The classic entrance, at least with a Langstroth beehive, will be found on the bottom of the hive and typically takes up nearly the full width of the hive. This provides foragers with immediate access to the brood nest and can provide extra ventilation, especially when combined with a screened bottom board, upper entrances, and/or ventilated inner covers.
However, the bottom entrance does have its drawbacks. Being so close to ground level it provides easy access to pests and predators such as skunks (who love to eat bees), or a convenient entry point for rodents…who as you can imagine, would view a warm, comfortable, and honey-packed beehive as a very suitable winter residence. Additionally, with a full-width bottom entrance, especially if other, multiple entrances to the hive exist, it can become difficult for the hive to defend itself and will make weak hives susceptible to robbing behavior.
You can help with these concerns by using a few easy to install, and inexpensive add-on items. These include entrance reducers, which allow you to adjust the width of the entrance, robbing screens, and mouse guards, not to mention a hive stand to raise your hive up off the ground. A hive stand will not entirely prevent predators and pests from gaining access to the hive, but it makes things more difficult for them – a good thing in this case.
Top entrances, on the other hand, are usually found in the honey supers or by way of an entrance shim placed between boxes, which creates a way for bees to enter higher up in the hive. In fact, some beekeepers utilize top entrances only.
The top entrance will make it easier for foraging bees to directly access the supers of the hive. As a result, nectar does not need to enter the bottom of the hive, travel through the brood nest, and possibly pass through a queen excluder before finally making its way to the honey supers. However, bypassing the brood nest in this manner can lead to pollen storage in honey supers, and when combined with bottom entrances, top entrances now create multiple areas that the bees have to defend against robbing, predators, and pests. That said, multiple entrances provide better summer flow-through ventilation, and depending on your hive configuration can be utilized in winter as well.
Top entrances are less likely to be blocked by accumulating snow in the winter as well as vegetation in summer. If using a queen excluder, make sure that you still have a way for drones and new queens to get out of the brood box, otherwise, drones cannot escape the hive, and if you were to have a swarm or supersedure event take place, your new queen may not be able to leave the hive to mate.
Top entrances and the additional airflow can be useful in winter, especially in uninsulated hives, where condensation is more likely to occur. This is a traditional way of managing winter ventilation and helps reduce excess moisture in an overwintering hive. However, in insulated hives condensation will be less likely to occur, and many beekeepers who use well-insulated hives report success with only bottom entrances and bottom ventilation in winter.
As with many things beekeeping, best practices will vary by locality and it will be useful to check with other beekeepers who are experienced with your local conditions and typical beekeeping practices.
A Note about Feeding
While there are many options for feeding your bees – which you may choose to do when getting a new colony started or to prepare a hive for the winter season – feeding at your entrance by using entrance feeders should be done with caution.
Entrance feeders are convenient to use. you can easily see the remaining level of feed and refilling is easy. However, for weaker colonies and especially during a dearth (when normal sources of nectar are not readily available) they are often an open invitation to robbing. As a result, it may be a better option to only use these types of feeders when robbing is least likely to occur.
Having the ability to configure and adjust your beehive entrances can benefit both the bees and the beekeeper throughout the beekeeping season. Oftentimes, you will need to adjust your approach during different times of the year, and having the ability to adjust your entrances and remain flexible over the course of the season can be very helpful.
For example, in a summer dearth when robbing activity is more common, the ability to reduce the size of the entrances provides assistance to your colonies when it comes to defending their hive against other bees. On the other hand, if you are treating Varroa mites, these treatments will sometimes call for maximum hive ventilation, so having the ability to easily increase ventilation (via your entrances) will help in this regard.
Over the winter, your entrance configuration is very much a personal choice and will depend on your equipment (well insulated or not at all), as well as location (north or south), and your region’s winter climate.
Varying throughout the season, your entrance configuration may vary from completely open with multiple entrances for maximum airflow during those hot summer days, to a single reduced entrance during a summer dearth to prevent robbing just a few weeks later. While bees are adaptable and will likely be able to work with whatever entrances we give them, by taking some time to give your entrances some thought over the course of the year we can tailor a hive to help our bees with those different conditions they’ll face, no matter the season.