- Bottom Boards
The bottom board is what the entire hive sits on. Years ago the bottom board was referred to as a reversible bottom board. Screen bottom boards offer much more advantages to beekeeping than the old solid bottom boards.
The reversing of the bottom board was a practice where you would actually rotate it to the 3/8” (smallest opening) during the summer and the larger 3/4” opening in the winter. The thought was that during the winter, the larger spacing of 3/4 of an inch allowed an area inside on the bottom board for dead winter bees to fall and collect away from the winter cluster. And the smaller opening of 3/8” in the summer was believed to reduce robber bees.
Over the last 20 years most people have forgotten the reversible idea and strictly run a 3/4” opening when making bottom boards. After all, it does take a great deal of work to take the hive apart down to the bottom board in order to reverse it. And let’s be practical. First, a healthy colony is very good at removing dead bees from their hive on the first warm winter day. Secondly, a strong colony can defend itself against other colonies attempting to rob its honey stores. But there’s another part of this idea that is starting to intrigue me.
A friend of mine observed that bees land on the bottom board, go to the nearest wall and walk up and then cross over. This is why we see most foragers land toward one side of a bottom board. They are attempting to gain faster access to their wall so they can gain faster access to going up into their hive and then walking across. It’s not impossible for bees to enter a wall or tree and walk to where their comb is located. However, to be able to enter a colony and immediately gain access to comb does seem more practical to me. This can be achieved by reversing the bottom board to the smaller 3/8” opening because it drops the bottom of the deep hive body frame down closer to the screen bottom board. A foraging bee can land, walk it and simply raise up onto the comb and walk up on any frame rather than having to go to the wall.
Forager bees usually enter a colony and hand off their resources to house bees who walk it up into the honey super. By my observation, it appears it does not take place on the wall but within the comb which makes sense. If this is the case, then it makes sense that bees would rather enter and choose which comb to gain access to from the bottom rather than having to walk up above the first deep and then back down or up from there.
I observed this activity for some time and I did not see one single bee fly up from the bottom board onto frames. Bees cannot jump, so they were indeed heading to the side wall to go up.
Before you jump to conclusions and form a rigid opinion, wait! I am NOT saying that 3/4” openings reduces a colonies healthy or ability to store resources. Nor am I saying that a smaller opening will improve a colony’s honey production. At the most I am simply suggesting it may reduce the distance bees have to walk to get to where they are going. Whether or not that changes things, I simply do not know.
But, if you want to try it why not. You can see if it makes any difference. We are now adding the extra back piece to all our bottom boards we sell simple to give customers that option if they so choose.
I like the idea of the smaller opening year round for several reasons. First, reducing the walk time of foragers. Secondly, the smaller opening should reduce robbing in the fall, and mice in the winter. I said “reduce,” not eliminate. Mice are very hard to keep out of hives. In their natural habitat bees always choose smaller openings and will even add propolis to reduce entrances. However, there are less pieces of equipment that support the 3/8” spacing. Most feeders, pollen traps, etc., are made to fit the standard 3/4”.
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