Bovard rack? Really?

The following comment came yesterday in response to the post, “How to use a slatted rack.” I’ve decided to answer the allegations one by one.

Your comments about slatted racks is inaccurate. First the original designer was a man in Hawaii by the name of Bovard back in the 1960s, hence Bovard Racks was the original name.

I don’t see how it’s inaccurate to call a rack with slats a “slatted rack.” Once upon a time, the old-fashioned slatted rack with crosswise slats was referred to as a “Bovard rack.” But the original idea for a slatted resting place below the brood chamber was developed by Dr. C. C. Miller in 1900 and refined by Carl Killion in 1950. Brovard merely came up with a way to build the device in one easy-to-use piece.

Although modern slatted racks maintain the 4-inch wide board in front (conceived by Killion), the slats now run parallel to the frames instead of crosswise so they can be used effectively with screened bottom boards. With the change went the name, and the current rendition of slatted racks are called—wait for this—slatted racks. I invite you to look at the ones for sale at places like BetterBee, Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, or Ruhl Bee Supply.

In any case, the subject of the post on which you are commenting is how to use a slatted rack, not how to name one.

Second, the wide board in the front of the hive directs any incoming air to go up through the cluster so reducing cold air going up past the cluster. The strips are placed crosswise to break up incoming air at the hive entrance. Bees cluster in the 3/8″ spaces thus controlling air movement up through the cluster resulting in a larger cluster going into winter and a warmer colony in the spring – if the bee colony is large enough.

The slats are no longer placed crosswise. Plus, you are asserting that cold air going through the cluster is better than cold air going around it? Are you sure?

Third, the space below the crosswise slats is not dead air. Any space wider than 1/4″ allows for air movement or tirbulance as you refer to it. That is why thermo pane windows are spaced the way they are.

First, as I illustrated above, the slats are no longer crosswise, they are longwise. Yes, you can still buy plans for the other type, if that’s what you prefer. Again I quote, BetterBee: “Our slatted rack can be used in combination with our Varroa screens. The slats run from back to front so that they are directly under the hive body frames. That way when the Varroa mites fall naturally off the bees, they fall through the slats and through the Varroa screen.”

Regarding dead air space, let me quote Ruhl Bee Supply, “Installed between the bottom board and the bottom brood chamber, [the slatted rack] creates dead air space at the bottom of the brood chamber, keeping the bottom of the hive more protected, and encourages the queen to lay lower in the comb.” Or maybe you prefer Beekeepingandbeehives.com, “The extra space produced by the slatted rack is said to keep a beehive warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer by creating dead air space.”

By the way, double or triple paned windows are designed to reduce heat transfer and prevent condensation. The space between the panes is great enough to reduce conductive heat loss and small enough to prevent convective currents. In any case, these windows are closed systems and in no way compare to slatted racks which are open to the outside air and populated with bees.

Fourth, USDA research says that non-reproductive mites are the ones that fall to the hive bottom board and through a screen bottom board. Hence the board becomes unnecessary to colony survival from Varroa.

It’s impossible to tell if your second sentence refers to the hive bottom board or the screened bottom board. But no matter—nowhere in my post do I say or imply that either one is “necessary to colony survival.” In fact, I’ve often said that I don’t believe screened bottom boards are are as helpful as we once hoped. In any case, I don’t see where I’ve said anything inaccurate. Again the subject here is how to use a slatted rack should you decide to do so—not whether screened bottom boards are helpful in varroa control.

Fifth, the rack allows the bees to control air movement, and swarm queen cells can be found on the bottom bars of the bottom brood nest because it is warmer above the rack. This results in larger colonies and faster buildup in the spring provided the queens and colony size is optimal for other reasons.

In my post I say, “Because a slatted rack moves the bottom of the brood chamber further from the entrance, the queen tends to lay eggs all the way to the bottom of the frames, thus extending the brood pattern.” This comports with your assertion that queen cells may be found lower in the hive. I do not speculate on whether this results in larger colonies and faster build-up because I simply do not have any proof of that. But I’m still looking for the alleged inaccuracy. Where is it?

I thought you should know these issues.

And here’s an issue for you to consider: Here at Honey Bee Suite, I do not make things up . . . I look things up. I have made mistakes in interpretation in the past, so when a comment like yours comes in, I spend a lot of time re-researching so that if I have made an error I can correct it. If I don’t know or understand an issue I will say so. I probably type the phrase “I don’t know” more than any other. Your kind of shotgun approach—the everything-you-say-here-is-wrong approach—wastes a lot of time and doesn’t yield any benefit. I stand by my original post.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Hive five: equipment to improve summer ventilation

Summer is coming to a close even though it was nearly a “non-summer” here on the Pacific Northwest coast. The corn hasn’t tasseled; the peaches look like walnuts. Nevertheless, my bees are healthy and I had a good honey harvest–much better than expected. My honey was capped and my hives are dry inside. What more could I ask for?

This is just a quick review of ventilation equipment I used this year. Although there are others, these are my favorite five.

Screened bottom board: In my opinion, this is a must-have piece of equipment. Whether or not it effectively controls mites is anybody’s guess, but it is great for ventilation. It allows large volumes of air to enter the hive while keeping out mice, large insects, wasps, and other bees.

Screened inner cover: In order for air to move through the hive, it needs a place to go. The screened inner cover is my favorite choice for reasons similar to the the screened bottom board. It allows plenty of air movement but blocks entry to predators. Before I began using them, the tops of my section boxes frequently became stained with mildew because moisture got trapped beneath the inner cover. Now that problem is completely gone.

Ventilation eke: I used ventilation ekes on a few hives where I was short of screened inner covers. These worked almost as well and would have worked even better with more holes. The ones I used had four holes, two on each of the long sides. In the future I will add at least one hole–and maybe two–on each of the short sides as well. The ventilation eke is an economical solution because I can staple canvas to the bottom and use them as moisture quilts in the winter.

Slatted rack: The slatted rack improves ventilation because it gives the bees a place to congregate inside the hive. This allows better air flow through the hive because the bees are not filling up the bee space between the frames. On hot days the bees hang in beards from the slats instead of jamming up the front entrance. It is especially effective when used with a screened bottom board.

Follower boards: Like the slatted rack, follower boards give the bees a place to congregate inside the hive. Unlike the slatted rack, the follower boards are at the sides of the hive. In my hives with follower boards, the bees used more vertical space for the brood nest. (Since the bees have only eight instead of ten combs per box, they expand into an upper box sooner.) This tall and slender hive structure is more tree-shaped and seems to provide a “chimney effect” that pulls the air through the hive. My hives with follower boards did especially well with honey production.

My next experiment will center on a gabled roof with ventilation ports at each end. I’m going to start with a prototype from a reader in Maryland who has had excellent success with his design. I will be using it for both summer and winter moisture management and writing about the results. Stay tuned for more about the ventilated gabled roof.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Why do bees collect on the bottom board?

Bee Brief bee

Brood nest temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year at 93°-96° F (34-35° C.) But while a colony in late winter may consist of only 10,000 bees, a summer colony averages about 50,000 bees—and in some cases the summer population may reach 70,000+. With all those bees in the hive, the brood nest has to be cooled to keep it at the ideal bee-rearing temperature.

As temperatures increase in spring and early summer, it is not unusual to see throngs of bees sitting on the bottom board near the entrance to the hive. Even early in the morning after a cold night, they may be all lined up, looking like they are about to swarm.

However, congregating at the entrance is normal behavior for this time of year. Think of it this way:

Even a small cluster in the dead of winter manages to keep the brood nest warm. Individual bees take turns pressing their bodies against the brood and, by doing so, the baby bees are incubated at a cozy ninety-some degrees Fahrenheit.

But as the outside temperature gets warmer, so does the inside temperature. In addition, the number of hive occupants rises dramatically. So, instead of having a heating problem, the hive now has a cooling problem. Too many bee bodies sitting on the brood may make the brood too hot for optimum development.

In addition, the vast number of bees in the colony restricts the air flow through the hive. This occurs at the same time that the bees are trying to dry down the nectar and turn it into honey.

In response to these problems, the bees congregate in different places. They begin by sitting on the bottom board. As temperatures rise even more, the bees may “beard” on the outside walls of the hive, or hang in festoons from the landing board. Think of sitting on the front porch to stay cool on a hot summer’s day—same thing.

Follower boards and slatted racks can both provide additional congregation areas—places where the bees can sit without overheating the brood or restricting air flow through the hive. You can also help by providing screened bottom boards, screened inner covers, and upper entrances—all of which increase air flow through the hive.

I am probably guilty of over anthropomorphizing bees, but it is one of the easiest ways to figure out what they are doing and why. We need to stay warm in winter, and so do they. We need to stay cool in summer, and so do they. When we have excess moisture in our homes, we try to remove it—and so do they.

Remember, though, that even if the air feels chilly to you, the bees have huge numbers of individuals in their homes that we don’t have. So even a modest increase in the outside temperature can have a significant impact on the inside temperature, and the bees react accordingly.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

An update on “How I overwintered ten out of ten”

Since I published “How I overwintered ten out of ten” several people have asked me what I did with the slatted racks during the winter. Since I always leave slatted racks in place, I didn’t think of them as an overwintering strategy, so I left them off my list.

Now I see that my way of thinking about slatted racks–as a permanent part of the hive–was confusing to people. So I have now added another bullet to my list and it looks like this:

• The slatted racks remained in place in the Langstroth hives all winter long.

Comment: I consider slatted racks basic equipment in Langstroth-style hives, so I never remove them in any season. In summer they provide a place to hang out during hot muggy days, and the queen tends to lay eggs further down on the brood frames–apparently because this area is no longer near the “front door.”

In a traditional winter hive with the Varroa drawer in place, the slatted rack adds an insulating layer of air between the brood nest and the Varroa drawer. This will not exist in the same way with the Varroa drawers pulled out. However, during cold snaps–or other times when the Varroa drawers are in place–the slatted racks again provide a “dead air” space that helps to keep the bees a few degrees warmer.

Thank you to those who mentioned the omission. I appreciate your input.

Rusty

Yet another take on follower boards

After making some Langstroth brood boxes with nine frames and two follower boards (in positions one and eleven) I began to think that it would be easier to make a ten-frame Langstroth into an eight-frame Langstroth by putting follower boards in positions one and ten. In this way you could use two standard Langstroth frames and fill them with Masonite to use as your followers. This method has several advantages:

  • The follower boards would be easier to make. Instead of having to divide a frame lengthwise, you could use the whole thing.
  • A full brood box would be lighter with just eight brood frames instead of ten. Using this system, the weight of a full ten-frame brood box with follower boards would be similar to that of a full eight-frame brood box without follower boards.
  • You gain some of the benefits of an eight-frame brood box (chiefly lighter weight) without sacrificing compatibility between eight-frame and ten-frame equipment.
  • You gain all the advantages of having follower boards (a place for bees to congregate, easy to remove frames, insulation in winter) while still having a conventional shape in your brood boxes. (In other words, your ten-frame slatted rack will work perfectly even though you have two follower boards.)
  • Because eight-frame equipment has become very common, we know that a hive can thrive in that configuration.

The downside is that a large hive, let’s say one with three deeps, will contain only 24 instead of 30 frames of bees. However, this would be the same if you had three eight-frame deeps with no follower boards, so I suspect it’s not much of an issue.

Rusty