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The Upstairs Downstairs Intrance: better hive access

Upper entrances are polarizing. Some beekeepers claim they are the best thing since sliced bread, while others say they offer an efficient way to kill your colony. Most likely the truth lies in the middle. Your local patterns of wind, rain, and temperature will dictate how effective or how detrimental upper entrances can be.

Those of you who are regular readers know I’m a fan of upper entrances, at least during certain parts of the year. I use them during the height of nectar flow and during the winter, but I close them for the worst of swarm season and just before the summer nectar dearth.

Why I use alternate entrances

During the nectar flow, I provide upper entrances in my honey supers so returning nectar foragers don’t have to go through the queen excluder. At the same time, pollen foragers have easy access to the brood nest through the bottom entrance. Don’t underestimate your bees: they have no trouble seeing the benefits of this arrangement.

I leave the upper entrances open until nectar dearth then close them to avoid robbing bees and wasps. They remain closed until winter. As soon as I see condensation begin to form on the underside of the hive covers, I add a moisture quilt on top of an Imirie shim with an entrance that allows some of that moist air to escape.

Colonies get smaller and more compact as the winter wears on, so sometimes I close the entrances toward early spring. Once closed, I leave them closed until after swarm season because I don’t want a newly-mated queen to return to the hive through the upper entrance and get stuck above the queen excluder.

Constant management

As you can see, I spend a lot of time plugging and unplugging those upper entrances. I’ve made it as easy as possible with an assortment of plastic and wooden plugs that fit the holes. Still, it’s a series of management steps I have to remember. Failure can take spectacular forms. The year I forgot to seal the honey supers during swarm season, I ended up with massive brood in the honey supers and honey in the brood boxes. Of course.

Failure to mind your upper entrances can also result in robbing bees and yellow jacket attacks. So yes, there are many issues, but I keep doing it because here in my climate it has worked wonders, providing excellent overwintering success and beautiful combs of honey.

The Upstairs Downstairs Hive Intrance

In addition to the benefits of upper entrances are the many drawbacks of the standard Langstroth entrance. Longtime beekeeper Filipe Salbany of the UK explains some of those shortcomings:

  • The standard entrance directs all bee movement through the brood nest
  • The standard entrance, due to its shape and size, is hard to defend against robbing bees and wasps
  • The standard entrance allows the passage of mice, slugs, shrews, and other pests
  • Its shape and placement make it difficult for the beekeeper to regulate

In light of these problems, and after many years of patient observation and experimentation, Filipe designed a multiple entrance system that solves many of the problems outlined above. It’s called The Upstairs Downstairs Intrance or UD Intrance (internal entrance) and it comes in a compact little box with all the parts you need to retrofit your Langstroth hive. He describes it like this:

“The UD Intrance gives the honey bees the ability to effectively defend themselves against robbing, wax moth, wasps and rodents; provides the beekeeper with simple ways to manage hive ventilation, increase foraging efficiency and produce splits, with very little intervention. The UD Intrance is inexpensive and simple to retrofit.”

So, what is it exactly?

The basic kit contains four entrances. Normally, three are placed in the bottom brood box in place of the standard long opening, and one is placed further up. The kit can be used with either wood or poly hives as long as they have standard dimensions that respect bee space. Following the instructions included in the kit, you start by drilling three one-inch holes in the bottom brood box. A super-sharp, high-quality Forstner bit is included, should you need it.

The UD Intrance starter kit contains all the parts you need to convert your current hive. Photo by Filipe Salbany.
The UD Intrance starter kit contains all the parts you need to convert your current hive. Photo by Filipe Salbany.

Inside the brood box you attach three internal entrances with the strainless-steel screws provided. These are plastic devices with openings on the bottom that direct the bees downward to get inside the hive. The space inside the plastic device is like a vestibule of sorts. From outside, the bees enter the one-inch hole and then must go through a second opening on the bottom on the device to actually access the hive.

The fourth internal entrance is included for installation into an upper brood box or a honey super, depending on your set up. In addition, four solid plugs are included that can be used to reduce wintertime ventilation or for temporarily closing your hive to facilitate oxalic acid vaporization. On top of that, the standard kit also contain four vented plugs that can be used to keep the bees indoors during pesticide spraying or to quickly block extra entrances in case of robbing.

A unique design

The design of the internal entrance is clever. Bee space is taken into account in all the measurements to prevent propolis build up and burr comb. The internal space to too small for mice and other small mammals to enter, and even wasps and wax moths are repelled because the small internal entrance is easy for your bees to defend.

The vestibule-like design also reduces drafts through the entrance. In fact, it virtually turns the cold-way set up of the standard Langstroth into a warm-way set up. As soon as air comes into the hive it hits a wall of solid plastic that weakens the strength of any draft that may find its way in.

As Filipe explains, bee colonies differ in size, temperament, and productivity. In the wild, a colony builds according to its needs, yet we beekeepers try to fit every colony into a standard sized hive with a uniform entrance. Why not build flexibility into your hives so you can easily adjust the openings to suit the individual colony? Makes sense to me.

Time to re-think your entrances

I have always liked the idea of multiple openings, but I’ve always met lots of resistance from those who think they are a bad idea. I just accepted that I was the renegade, as I often am. But last fall when I was learning more about trap-outs from trees, I was intrigued to learn that the hardest part of trapping a colony from a tree was finding and closing all the alternate entrances. These can be numerous, but you hardly notice they exist until you close the bees’ main entrance. Then, all of a sudden, alternate entrances are everywhere and beekeepers can spend days trying to find them all.

This tells me that alternate entrances are the rule rather than the exception when bees are making the decisions. Certainly, if bees can get in and out of them, so can heat, moisture, and air currents. Many of them are narrow with corridors that run between the bark and the tree, much like the design of the UD Intrance.

I am very excited about this new tool and I can’t wait to try it. You can see all the details and some videos at the website. Filipe does not have the prices posted in US dollars nor the shipping charges, but you can contact him for that information.

If you try the UD Intrance, please let me know your results, and I promise to do the same.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Comments

Granny Roberta
Reply

Fourth paragraph up you said, “Then, all of a sudden, alternate entrances are everyone“
Yes. Yes we are.

Feel free to erase this comment.

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

Thank you. I try to watch email the first couple of hours after a post, hoping that someone like you will point out the error of my ways. Very helpful. I’m just glad you didn’t say I spelled entrance wrong. Somebody will.

Rusty
Reply

Whoops. Somebody already did, on Facebook.

Treena
Reply

Rusty,

After reading your latest post, I decided to try to order an UD Intrance — anything that gives the bees a bit of an advantage against wasps and wax moths is worth a try. I just placed an order for 1 kit (with the bit); there was a drop down menu to select shipping to the US, I used PayPal to check out and the US charge was $37.04. Hopefully I won’t receive an email notification in a bit saying they can’t be shipped to the States!

I thoroughly enjoy reading everything you post and always turn to your site for reference when I encounter something that puzzles me with the bees. So, yes, everyday! My Virginia bees and I thank you!

Treena

Rusty

Treena,

Okay. Good to know about the price and shipping. I didn’t see it at first, but it looks like the pricing gets all straightened out at checkout.

I’m sure you won’t have trouble receiving your order. Filipe sent me a complimentary kit, including the bit, and it arrived quickly with no problem.

Alicia Terenzi
Reply

Just a comment to tell about my fellow beekeeper friend who did have a top entrance when she installed her new package of bees. Due to our environment here of being surrounded by woods and marshland, it left her hive susceptible to hive moths. Her colony was too young to defend both entrances and it lead to the demise of her hive. I have to agree with Mr. Filipe Salbany of the UK with the caveats of two entrances esp if a beekeeper lives in certain locations which invite the pests, etc into the hive.

Andrew Dewey
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m wondering if it is time to acknowledge that the Langstroth hive isn’t appropriate for every clime and situation. I’m working on a hive that is largely one of Dr. Seeley’s Audacious hives that will have two entrances into a 4″ eke below a single deep. But my experiments aside, it seems like we are standing on our heads at times to make the traditional design work. Maybe we shouldn’t bother.

Rusty
Reply

Andrew,

If I was a decent woodworker, I would try to design a hive from scratch, something much smaller than a standard Lang and with different features and thicker walls. But alas, that’s never going to happen.

ET Ash
Reply

Rusty…

I construct my own tops and bottoms which are identical in construction. Both are constructed with a permanent reduced 3 inch entrance. The bottoms are a replication of bottom boards we used in a commercial operation in or about 1985. These were separate pieces from the pallets (pallets in those days were pretty much indistinguishable from your standard pallet). It was always difficult to keep the right number of tops and bottoms on the truck so I decide why not just have one design that would work for either position.

In my honey production I typically use a queen excluder and a bit of green grass to plug the bottom entry get the field bees to using the top entry pretty quick. After a couple of days the grass plug dries and blows out of the bottom entry. In the winter months the bees tend to close off most of the top entry with propolis.

At least here in Texas when we do get an excessively hot summer the negative effects of one entry at the bottom of the hive becomes obvious < not many people have witness a hive literally melt down with the wax and honey flowing out the wide bottom entry. Typically the counter argument here is 'use screen bottom boards' but to do so you are just asking for problems from small hive beetles.. < having said that I do wonder if the device Filipe designed might also show some advantage in regards to limiting SHB?

Gene in Central Texas

Ryan Griffiths
Reply

I drill 3/4″ holes under the handles of the front facing part of all my supers. The bees will close them themselves then re-open them in the summer. I don’t use queen excluders as I’ve found the bees do not build comb nearly as fast as they do without them (on supers with new frames) I haven’t been impressed with queen excluders honestly and with my double brood boxes they rarely get into the supers, and when they do its just a few frames which I let hatch out and they fill with honey. I am in North Texas where the winters are bipolar and they usually can fly most of it. They are bringing in dandelion pollen as we speak. I used the 3/4″ hole as you can use cheap used wine corks to plug them if needed.

Debby Williams
Reply

So many questions. Is this intended for year round use? The bottom brood box sits on a solid floor, seems like it is eliminating the bottom board. How would you do an oxalic vaporization? In summer I use a screen bottom board to help with ventilation/cooling and to let the varroa drop out of the hive. Seems this option is eliminated.

I like the idea behind this, not sure how well it will work with all we have to do to deal with varroa. It would work well for a top entrance. I will be curious to read your test results.

Upper entrances – I had one colony start plugging it with propolis to let me know to get rid of it! I do like them for an alternate winter entrance.

Cyrus Farivar
Reply

It should be said that the UDI should not be confused with IUD commonly used to help bees regulate their reproduction.

Cyrus

Rusty
Reply

Oh yes, of course!

Bryan Zavada
Reply

Great article! Very similar to what I do. I like 5/8 entrance holes in upper boxes. Easy to close with tape or even stuff with grass or plant material nearby. The other great thing about it is that if the bees don’t like it, they’ll propolize it shut. I even have one colony that has almost completely propolized the bottom entrance and use the top entrance exclusively.

Jeff D
Reply

If I were handy, I would build a Lang hive with a side hinged in such a way you could still stack the boxes to the Moon but open from the side and slide out the frames slick as you please. I would have nice thick wooden sides of pine or other lightweight low density wood. I would include Langstroth’s hinged wooden hood over the whole hive. Modern Langs are aberrations of what Langstroth envisioned. He said as much himself. Thin walled wooden boxes were cheaper so they were adopted but at great cost to the honey bee.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

I agree. It’s overwhelming to look at the original designs Langstroth envisioned and compare them to modern hives. Essentially unrecognizable.

Filipe Salbany
Reply

Thank you to Rusty for all she does for beekeeping and for writing the way she does. I have followed this site for years and I must say that I have come to love the thoughtful insights of a beekeeper and scientist.

The UD Intrance has many uses and it has grown from observations of what happens in the wild. We have to remember that the queen needs to be stimulated and this happens through a variety of factors, one of which is the in flow of early pollen and nectar. With this in mind, there has to be a bottom entrance of sorts. I use three in all my brood boxes and have found this to be ample, even during heavy flows. The second (or third, fourth, etc.) are for the beekeeper to use on their discretion. I use a one above the brood box as the bees prefer this than going through the brood box.

Langstroth actually did have an upper entrance and others (like Pellett) used these to facilitate access for the winter cluster. This has become lost due mostly to beekeepers wanting things to become simpler and simpler and not learning the dynamics of honey bee movement and life.

It has been shown that honey bees recruit 3x more foragers on empty or honey comb than brood comb and I have noticed that this significantly decreased swarming impulse in my test colonies. I was able to use the ‘barrier’ method more effectively (no QE) as the bees stored honey immediately above the brood and closed the cells. Ventilation? Well on my Twitter feed I have a video of 3 bees fanning a 1 inch opening in a steel pipe in 36degC heat in Pretoria. 1 entrance about 45cm down from top (https://twitter.com/BeespaceX/status/1209811761379065857) and they manage. I am sure the Reverend and others would have been bemused as to why entrances have changed to the point where every hive now only has a bottom entrance (or is sold as such). All the old pictures have more entrances and in fact beekeepers used to drill the top box all the way through so bees could move the cluster through the combs. When I was in Michigan, several old beekeepers provided top access and I have noticed that in the UK all the colonies with top access fly at colder temperatures (for same colony size).

I use a special bung that fits into the hole (Intrance – I will find my video) through the middle that I can vapourize OA through (https://twitter.com/i/status/1197865719070900224). As for mite counts, this does not preclude a mesh/screen floor but anyone who has kept more African bees will know that these ‘floors’ will not maintain a swarm and also colonies are more likely to abscond. In South Africa there was a method of staggering supers to allow access for bees. This is now impossible due to the Apis capensis problem and the UD Intrance is now used to help against this as it increases the concentration of QMP and therefore helps combat the usurpation of scutellata nests.

Also, SHB entry has been shown to decrease and greater hive beetle cannot enter at all. I will be using this system in Tanzania this year on all the hives (2500+).

As for shipping. Everyone who has ordered so far will not pay shipping but I will add shipping once I have some set prices and can account for demand. Someone has ordered 100 (£130 – $170) and I will ship these on my return from Africa next week.

A floor for my hives is just a board. It is all I need to look at over the winter, is easy to clean and I have found that actually the floors are cleaner with the Intrances. The mesh/screen floors tend to be the worse, standard entrances the middle ground and the UD Intrances the cleanest.

I do not know why someone has not thought of this before but I hope that it helps beekeepers observe more and watch their bees in an improved environment.

Rusty Burlew is a treasure. Beekeepers like this are hard to find, particularly people that write so well. In over 48 years of being involved with bees, I know the importance of having people like this around. I am privileged to have had this write up and I hope that it will help all your beekeeping experiences and pass some of my ideas to others.

Anne Marie
Reply

Filipe,

I bought one of these kits after reading Rusty’s very detailed description and am really looking forward to trying it.

It would be good if your kit contained more information as outlined by Rusty.

I am not clear what floor board you are using if you can clean it during the winter..perhaps you could explain that to me please.

Also, as I live in a country where it rains a lot would you recommend drilling the 1 inch hole at an angle to prevent the ingress of water? Will the system still work efficiently if I do that?

Rusty
Reply

All good questions. Filipe, can you weigh in here?

Anne Marie
Reply

Can this system be used with National Hives in the same way please Rusty?

Rusty
Reply

Anne,

Yes. I think it can be used with any single-walled hive.

ken roche
Reply

‘I use…’ Shallow supers for all- brood chambers, etc. works fine, lighter. Bottom board with the shallow side up- 3/8 inch?- year around; mice can’t get in. extensive upper entrances- bee activity tells me they prefer them. I keep one fair-sized one near the top all winter. They fly from it when snow covers the lower one. If you have a weak hive, all bets are off. needs attention. Robbing isn’t a problem on average/ strong colonies. If flowers are in bloom, bees prefer working to robbing. Instead of hives on the ground- elevate a bit. at least a cement-block hivestand high. In the wild bees live up a bit- away from skunks, other problems.

John
Reply

Hello Rusty,

We have British std Lyson hives which come standard with pluggable super entrances. Seems the Poles are alternate entrance believers.

Cheers
John

Filipe Salbany
Reply

Dear All,

This has been a fascinating journey and I find the questions stimulating from the point of view that it was one of the reasons I developed the idea; to have beekeepers think about the internal mechanisms of a hive. Tautz for example, found that honey bee foragers recruit 3x more workers on empty or honey comb than on brood comb and von Frisch (1948) discovered that there were far fewer waggle dance areas in the dark than if a hive had light on the combs. The development of the UD is a result of observation and over 48 years of bee experience (I dread the day I say 50!!). Working with African bees as a 6 year old taught me so much, but more than anything it taught me to observe; there is not much scope for error as a child and we become bolder as we age. I also remember seeing how tiny the bees made openings when the hives were abandoned and how they never closed all the entrances, similar to work by Ononye (2019). Bees So, back to the questions.

Floors. I use a plank cut to size. That is it. I can easily tip the hive and have a peek at the floor. The undertaker bees weight until corpses are dry and then remove them. I have found that this process takes longer on mesh floors, particularly when it is damp and in experiments we conducted the solid floors with the intrance were the cleanest, followed by mesh floors with intrance and last were mesh/screen floors with a standard entrance. So, I use solid floors and monitor for varroa with a replacement floor. This process is easy and only takes place when the colonies are smaller. Due to the UD intrance and a solid floor I have found a much improved brood pattern with the queen laying closer to the entrance and moving down much sooner. Bee have evolved over millennia to search nest spaces that are cavities not have an ‘open’ (mesh/screen) under their comb.

Another aspect to all this is that this is not a ‘new’ entrance or about having a top entrance per se. It is about allowing bees to do what they would do naturally and that is move up into the honey stores during winter. In the wild there may be better thermoregulatory properties in trees so the whole nest is warmer, but we keep bees closer to the ground, in the damp layer, and force the bees to have to leave the cluster to access the entrance. Having an Intrance closer to or next to the cluster allows much earlier foraging and cleansing flights which leads to improved colony health and development. As forage improves the bees can push the queen down and then the lower entrances can be opened. We have been made by economics to reverse the process forcing the bees to always work from the bottom up. All the old pictures and discussion (see Langstroth, Pellett, Wedmore, ABJ) showed at least one upper entrance with a lower one opened as required.

I have lived with all sorts of pests in and around bee hives including SHB, large hive beetle, bee pirates, varroa, mice, snakes and wax moth. The bottom entrances can be plugged up as the colony moves up thereby negating the need to defend the colder bottom entrance. A top entrance is not a separate entity but an evolutionary one used by the beekeeper to help the bees. One UD intrance just above the brood box decreases congestion in the spring and further intrances are opened as the bees require. I have not had a problem with wax moth as I can plug the upper intrances as the flows decrease. We have to remember that the queen needs to ‘sense’ a flow and the bees respond by allowing her to increase laying. There is a natural decline in bee numbers as Spring arrives, just as there is an increase in brood. This is a critical time for colony development and all the more reason to control those large bottom entrances. Many of you may have seen, like I have, colonies with over 100 000 bees and absolutely miniscule entrances. We often leave entrances that are too big because that is the kit we have been sold, not because it is what the bees need.

Interestingly, wax moth have much greater access through standard wide entrances and actually gain entry into the hive when it is developing and quite strong. We only tend to notice when the colony starts to contract. The moths lay in crevasses and under the mesh floor with the insert boards quite often a network of larvae and eggs which then are quite happy to live from the debris falling from the hive.

The nature of the UD intrance tends to trap the pests as they try and gain access because they tend to go up which of course they cannot do, hence the decreased ingress.

In many countries, beekeepers used to stagger supers during honey flows and this is now not possible in many areas. It can cause robbing, results in hive access that is not controlled and in South Africa allows for the usurpation of colonies by the capensis bee. The UD intrance allows for this procedure and I have all my supers drilled for this reason. With the capensis idea, one of the things that came out of it was the concentration of QMP in the hive so that workers could recognize foreign bees trying to enter.

The more direct entrances (UD) also provide very direct access points which over time results in propolis coated landing areas which as been suggested to help clean/disinfect the tarsus of bees (see Seeley, Tautz, Schmolke).

The UD hole can be drilled at an angle if required but I have not yet found a problem with water splashing in. It is a nice idea and I will experiment with a few sloping upwards.

I have some data on flying temperatures during a 31 day period with the bees flying (exiting) the hive on 28 days with an intrance by the cluster, 21 days with an intrance in the top box and 11 days with a bottom entrance (still an intrance). The average temperature was 8.3degC (46.9degF).

Hope this helps. Observe, keep following Rusty and enjoy learning with the bees.

Filipe

Anne Marie
Reply

Filipe,

Thank you for a very comprehensive article and for sharing your wealth of information.

I retrofitted your entrances in my national hive and super today. I don’t use castellations just metal runners for frames.

I have run in to my first problem. The frames don’t slide as normal as they are slightly obstructed by the black covers inside and the side of the honey frame is tight against the black cover when frames are pushed together.

Isn’t this affecting the bee space? Do you think the bees will propolise these in time? Did you find this when fitting your national hives? Perhaps it’s all ok!

Anne Marie
Reply

Filipe
Another question!
Where can one get the heat resistant bung with hole/adaptor for use with gas vap please? What size bung What size hole? and what material is it made from, please? Sorry for all the questions but I cannot get all the information anywhere else as there is no contact link on your website.
Thank you
Anne Marie

Filipe Salbany
Reply

Hi Anne Marie,

I will mail you a bung. It took me quite a while to find them but they are fantastic to use. Will send it 1st class tomorrow.

Filipe

Anne Marie
Reply

Thanks Filipe. The bung arrived. Many thanks.

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