Two years ago, Detective Anthony Planakis (retired) from New York, shared his secret to large honey crops: access holes with platforms. His awesome photos and impressive production records convinced me this was something I had to try.
My situation is a little different because I produce comb honey instead of extracted honey. Nevertheless, I promptly drilled a hole in each of my honey supers, including the Ross Rounds, the cut comb supers, and the Kelley section supers. Then I added a queen excluder to each hive and stacked the drilled supers above that.
The worst season ever
After all the preparation, I had the worst honey season ever. But it wasn’t the fault of the holes, it was the weather. The honey season was so short last year due to bad weather—first too wet and then too dry—that I didn’t harvest a single molecule of honey. It was so bad I was forced to feed bees all fall and winter. Those years happen, so we can’t get discouraged.
This spring, undeterred, I put my swiss-cheese supers back on my hives and now my bees are loving them. They are acting like upper holes are the normal, everyday way of doing bee business. They say, “Of course supers have holes. Duh.”
Things I don’t understand
However, there are a few things I don’t understand. For example, all my hives have the access holes in the honey supers in addition to the main entrance down below. But in some of the hives, the bees are streaming through the supers with no one—absolutely no bees—using the main entrance. Sometimes I have to wait many minutes to see one, while the top looks like Times Square at rush hour. What is going on?
Not only that, there is a queen excluder between the supers and the brood boxes. So all those teeming masses of bees are either going straight to the honey supers and back out again, or they are going down into the brood area through the excluder. The ones carrying pollen are definitely going through the excluder.
I’m also wondering where the drones are hanging out. In a few of the hives, I see drones on the alighting board and passing through the main entrance. But in other hives, I don’t see the drones anywhere. Yet, when I look inside the hives, there are plenty of drones and drone brood, and they have easy unobstructed access to the fully-open main entrance. It’s a mystery.
Putting up comb honey
Inside the honey supers, snow-white honeycomb is accumulating at an amazing rate. Although the bees have nothing but starter strips to begin with, it seems the upper entrances have sped up the comb-building process. When you think about it, the bees don’t have to carry their loads from the bottom of the hive to the top. Instead, they just fly in and drop it off. Then back to the field they go.
I haven’t had a really good comb honey year in a while, so I’m crossing my fingers that this one holds up. It’s raining today, which I consider a good thing. Our dry season starts about July 4, meaning spiky temperatures and zero rain until fall. Blackberry season, which is just starting, is usually our last decent nectar for the year.
“Bees don’t like upper entrances”
After Tonybee’s post, many people wrote to say bees “don’t like” upper entrances. I would like to know if those people ever tried it or if they were just repeating bee-club dogma. The same holds true of queen excluders. So many say that bees “won’t” go through queen excluders, but that is obviously not true. In fact, my winter candy boards have a floor made from a plastic excluder. The bees have to go through the excluder to get the candy. This spring and last, every candy board on every hive was cleaned out. I guess someone forgot to tell my bees what they won’t do. Go figure.
Like their keepers, all bees are different
We know for certain that different keepers get different results. But beekeeping is a complex activity with a steep and never-ending learning curve. So why not try what feels right to you? Some of the best moments of beekeeping come from trying something new and watching your bees respond. For me, the upper entrance holes have been a trip, and I’m so glad I tried.
Honey Bee Suite