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.
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.
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.
Honey Bee Suite