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Upper entrances can enhance your honey production

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.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Enhance your honey production with upper entrances
The bees hang in festoons during the comb building process. © Rusty Burlew.
This comb nearly reaches the bottom bar
The new white comb is almost reaching the bottom bar. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

Elena
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m in my first weeks of beekeeping. I prepped with upper entrances because of what I read on your site. They are using both lower and upper entrances. I’ve reduced the lower to just two small holes so that the young colonies could more easily defend. I also have the stand legs sitting in cups of oil so that the moat prevents ants. And they are in an electric fence enclosure. I’m catching as many queen yellowjackets as possible this spring but still anticipate that will be a problem come fall. Also based on your writing, I did the follower frames on both sides of my brood boxes. But there is still brace comb being built. Dern. I dread disturbing them to get it fixed. Any words of wisdom? Thank you for all you do for the bee community, native and honey.

Rusty
Reply

Elena,

I wouldn’t go in just to fix that one problem. Wait until you have a second reason and do both at once.

Donald Rideaux-Crenshaw
Reply

We put holes in all our boxes, cork them as necessary. One hive last year used all the open holes to an extent but used the bottom entrance most of all. At the moment we’re still waiting for the main nectar flow but have holes on three boxes and a small hole on the one super we have and, wait for it…

No one uses the bottom entrance. The hole in the middle box is the busiest, the top box second, the bottom box last. Even after doing a reversal and mixing things up thoroughly to get brood and the queen down low, the bees retained their new-found preference for the hole in the middle box. We have foundation-less frames in a super above a queen excluder — hoping for some comb honey to harvest if all goes well. No bees are using the hole in the super but bees are investigating the super so the queen excluder is clearly not a worker excluder.

I wish the dang bees would read the same books I read, take the same advice I get, and maybe come to a bee club meeting or two!

Debra
Reply

Make sure you have frames that are already drawn out or something along those lines in your box of foundationless frames unless they are below drawn frames the bees are working. Else you will get something like this:

Rusty
Reply

Debra,

Your link didn’t work so I deleted it. It said, “private group.”

In any case, I’ve never had a problem getting straight combs if I use starter strips or a bead of wax along the top bars.

Philip
Reply

I tried this last year and my bees filled their medium honey supers heavy with pollen. Kind of a disaster.

I don’t think it was the fault of the holes in the honey supers, though. In my local climate, the weather turned funky at just the right time and killed the blossoms on almost every flowering tree in the area. Fruit bearing trees, wild and cultivated, produced no fruit. Then the weather turned hot and dry for weeks, drying up many nectar-producing plants. (Just guessing here.)

Subsequently, I think my bees switched to collecting more pollen than nectar. Brood production was through the roof (my first-year queens were out of control), but the honey supers either had hardly any honey or were filled with pollen. I heard similar stories from other beekeepers. Lots of pollen. No honey. Argh.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

You spelled your name wrong. Just saying.

That is so interesting about the pollen. But it seems like the bees could fill the supers with pollen regardless of the placement of the hole, so like you said, it’s probably unrelated. Weather issues can lead to surprising results.

Julie
Reply

My father also spelled his name- Philip–with one L.

Rusty
Reply

Julie,

That is fine. But this particular Phillip is a two-l Phillip who, on several occasions, has expressed his displeasure at folks spelling his name wrong. When I saw he did it to himself, I was elated! Payback time on a good friend. I hope he’s reading.

Julie

LIKE!!

Phillip

Yeah, I’m reading.

John
Reply

In Greek the name is written with one L and two Ps! Philippos (friend of horses or horselover). And is a Greek name, so after dropping one p and the ending, Philip it is!

Anthony Planakis
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Loved the article!!! Just recently a friend had asked why, with the holes drilled, aren’t the bees using the entrance? True to the fact, if the flow is minimal/slow, the bees will fill all spaces comb below before advancing to the supers, when asked prior to using this method did he inspect the hive and was he higher than 90% full capped on bottom, “Deer in the headlights!!!” Lol. Some prefer to use the Imiri, like it but hate it! Burr!!!!! Bonds excluder and or super to top frames: damage-mess-casualties!! To each his own, this is a practice I’ve been using since I first started 40 yrs ago. Like you’ve always said, “doesn’t matter what you’ve read, the bees have their own library!!!” Should the super be installed prior to completion below, the bees will not be able to guard that entrance leaving it open to pests (moths etc) been there done that 😉

All the best!!!

Tonybees!

Stormie
Reply

Do you not have to worry about robbing with upper entrances?

Rusty
Reply

Stormie,

No. If they are strong enough to need a honey super, they are strong enough to defend a second entrance. If they were weak, I wouldn’t give them either.

Ryan Griffiths
Reply

I just drilled 1 3/4 holes in all my top deeps and will in all my supers as well. 3/4″ so I can cork them easily if needed. Bees seem to be taking to them well.

Kari B
Reply

I agree – the bees like the upper entrances! I don’t use the typical telescoping hive top and instead have chosen to go with a locally developed lid that features 2″ Styrofoam on top and no inner lid. It also has an entrance. My bees love to use the upper entrance/exit, despite the lack of landing board. Last fall, we even put an extra hole at the back of each insulated lid, to allow for nice ventilation. And now that it’s spring, even though I’ve switched the boxes and the brood is down below, the girls are still busy at the upper entrances – both of them.

Ashley
Reply

I’ve been debating using Imrie shims for an upper entrance for awhile now. I’ve been using notched inner covers and opening them up. I’ve yet to see a single bee use it on any of my hives. Especially in my hot and humid climate I think that an upper entrance would make venting the hive much easier.

Jeff in the Adirondacks
Reply

I put entrance holes in all my supers last year hoping the bees would use them. The bees put propolis around the inside of the holes but I never did see a singe bee use them for entering or exiting. I would observe almost every day hoping to see them using the new holes but no luck for all the hives right up to quilt box time. I will try it again this year.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

Interesting. I didn’t see any propolis at all near the holes, and I live in Propolisville.

Adam
Reply

Mine do the same thing! Inspired by your post I made an entrance last year with a landing board and I am 0/2 with anyone using it. This year it looks like they started to close it up and then gave up.

Do you think it would help if I blocked off the bottom entrance for an hour or two? Then they’d have to use it, and maybe realize that it’s just delightful?

Rusty
Reply

Adam,

You could do that, but if they’re happy the way things are, why force them? At least you gave them an option.

Anna
Reply

I don’t know why, but I thought your starter strips were shorter than that. Were they?

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

I don’t measure. Some are wide, some narrow. Depends on my mood. I don’t see it as mattering all that much.

Anna
Reply

So every super gets a hole? And then when another body is added, the previous hole is covered?

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

I don’t know how other people do it. I put one hole in each honey super, but none in my brood boxes.

David
Reply

I’ve used upper entrances in combination with main lower entrances and I often observe bees exit the upper entrance and immediately enter the main entrance. I wonder if they’re robbing themselves.

Rusty
Reply

David,

That’s an interesting thought. I supposed it’s possible, or maybe they’re just taking a short cut and avoiding all that congestion. If I could fly I might have a better answer for you.

JH
Reply

Hi Rusty,

A great article thank you.

On a different topic …… a commercial beekeeper suggested I shouldn’t bother removing my queen excluder over winter, as the hive was very strong when we inspected it in early May. He felt the bees would not desert the queen when going up for a feed. I’m in southern Victoria, Aust., where there are often frosts, but it doesn’t snow.

Many thanks.

Rusty
Reply

JH,

The bees won’t desert their queen. Like I said in the article, my bees have to go through an excluder to get to the winter feeder and it’s never been a problem.

J
Reply

Hi Rusty

Thanks for the article. I live in western WA near Olympia and a second season beekeeper. I have two Langstroth hives and I plan on putting the supers on in the next couple days before the blackberries come in. Before I read this I was thinking about using an excluder and Imirie shim on one of them and just putting a super directly on the other. I often see conflicting information in the literature regarding the utility of excluders. However, based on your candy board / bee quilt posts, I used an excluder over the winter and the bees seemed to get to it just fine. Sadly, they didn’t make it but ultimately I didn’t attribute their demise to the lack of available food on the candy board.

I appreciate the post and find everyone’s comments useful.

Rusty
Reply

J,

I think the bottom line is that bees will go through the excluder when they feel the need. As Tonybees says in his comment (above), if there is still room to store things below the excluder, they’re not going to go through it. If they need the space, they will go. Often people blame the excluder, but it’s the bees that decided to store things closer to the brood nest. How can you blame them? You have to look at things from a bee perspective, not a beekeeper perspective.

Gretchen
Reply

Bees will stay below the excluder if there is still room to store things below — that makes so much sense! I have rarely used excluders, and in August I often end up with brood boxes full of bees, honey supers full of honey, but little honey below. It makes deciding what to harvest in August a challenge.

This year I have added the excluder. I’m hoping they will pack in plenty for themselves, and continue to keep a good honey supply down below, to make that August decision easier. I winter with 3 boxes – 2 deeps + 1 medium, or 1 deep + 2 medium.

I have always had 3/4″ holes in my mediums – I think I got the idea from Beekeeping for Dummies. But no cute little landing board like Tony. Any particular value of that? My bottom entrance is always busy, but the ones in the mediums and the top one in the inner cover also get used when it is warm.

Rusty
Reply

Gretchen,

I don’t use the little landing boards, cute as they are. For me, it makes them harder to store.

Hilary Kearney
Reply

I use upper entrances and often see colonies that seem to prefer them over the main entrance as you described. One bonus not mentioned here is that theoretically an upper entrance could cut down on the number of times a bee must pass through the excluder which may help prevent excluder related wear and tear on their wings/bodies.

Rusty
Reply

That’s an excellent point, Hilary.

Julie
Reply

I -just- reread that post yesterday regarding the super holes! I’m building a langstroth framed longhive, and I’m using a series of holes every 12 inches along the side. Same principle- express ways for bees. In the winter I’ll plug them up using the little mushroom plugs you recommended, leaving a single entrance in the front.

Rusty
Reply

Julie,

That sounds cool. Be sure to send photos!

Megan Montague
Reply

Rusty, I googled Anthony Planakis to see what his platforms on the upper entrances look like, and got thishttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4500254/Anthony-Planakis-finds-70-000-bees-living-home.html

By the way, congrats on your Master Beekeeper badge from UM. I didn’t notice that before now!

Rusty
Reply

Megan,

Yes, Anthony is a card. He’s always up to something!

Megan Montague
Reply

Oh duh, there are pictures on a prior article in your blog. Here’s hoping you have a good bee season! Here in Boise we had a looooong dry fall replete with innumerable hornets and wasps, followed by a hellaciously cold and long winter. Many of our beeks lost 80% of their hives or more. It’s been a very quiet swarm season too.

Did your bee bee tree seeds sprout? Mine did not.

Megan

Rusty
Reply

Megan,

No, mine did not either. It was worth a try, though. Thanks again. Trying things is always fun.

Dan
Reply

An alternative to cutting holes is to set the supers just a bit cockeyed so there is an small area where the hive bodies don’t completely cover each other. The other benefit of these is that they are adjustable by slightly rotating the super more or less to make a bigger or smaller opening.

Ginny McVickar
Reply

I drilled two 5/8″ holes on the sides of each of my supers, not the front, and they don’t seem to want to use them. I peek in the holes and there they are walking around on top of the frames and occasionally come to the hole, take a look outside and go right back in again. They’re smart enough to know they can go out that way. Wonder why they don’t, and none are entering either. They only use the lower entrance. H-m-m-m. Maybe I should post a notice on their bulletin board!

Tyrel
Reply

Last summer all of my hives had both top and bottom entrances, and all used the bottom. Over winter the bottom entrances became plugged with snow and dead bees, and so this spring it was the top entrances that were active first. Once I cleaned the bottoms and removed the entrance reducers, they have since continued to use the top, I presume because they are used to it. That leads me to wonder if it is simply because they are orientated to the top entrances now?

Perhaps young bees more naturally go up to an entrance rather than down (or just leave from the closest entrance on there first orientation flight… Their latest job being in the honey supers or as guards at said entrance), and then simply remain oriented to that specific entrance?

Rusty
Reply

Tyrel,

It’s quite possible that habit has a lot to do with it.

debbie
Reply

My bees usually cover the holes with propolis. Sometimes they leave a pinhole to look out at, but not large enough for anything to enter. A few of the hives I leave the small hole from the inner cover for them to come and go. I, too, use the queen excluder on my candy board in winter, as your writings suggested, and it usually works out for the bees. So many great ideas on this website. It’s the number one site for good, solid information that one can trust ! Thanks Rusty!

Julie
Reply

I just heard that story today!

Lynne Mast
Reply

Thanks

Maryanne
Reply

I am trying the apimaye hives for the first time this year, and I noticed they have openings on both of the deeps, so I opened them along with the bottom opening, and my bees seem to be loving them! I see them flying in and out of all the openings. I’m curious as to how these hives will be in the winter, but so far they are so much nicer than the wooden hives. The only problem I’ve had is finding foundation boards to fit the plastic frames. Does anyone have any information on the apimaye hives?

Rusty
Reply

Maryanne,

I don’t, but maybe someone else here does?

Steve
Reply

Rusty,

I am using gabled roof tops. I thought about making and entrance in them instead of just ventilation screened holes. Without a solid top, could these work as a top entrance.

Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

I don’t see why not.

Tyler
Reply

I have a question on the top entrance. Are you just drilling a hole in the supers or are you using a spacer with the hole in it. Also do you remove the inside cover and just set the outside cover on? Any pics would be great thanks in advance.

Rusty
Reply

Tyler,

Follow the link in the article to Tonybee’s post. Pictures are there. I never use an inner cover in summer.

Reto
Reply

If you look at Michael Bush’ website, you’ll see he uses top entrances exclusively.

No need to drill holes, just add some shims to the (migratory) cover. They can be reduced too. On the other side of the shims, I cut a “Z” shaped tunnel to break the cold winter winds. So the shim side is for the summer and the Z side is for the winter.

Rusty
Reply

Personally, I strongly advise against using shims under a cover to form an upper entrance. It is far too big for the bees to guard effectively. I’ve seen yellowjackets duck into a hive where the roof was shimmed and wipe it out in 45 minutes. I’ve also seen hives completely robbed by other honey bees in the course of an afternoon; they literally flowed in under the inner cover that was shimmed. It’s fine if you’re going to sit there and watch it, but that’s not my idea of beekeeping.

Reto
Reply

Maybe you read over the possibility to reduce option? If a colony is too weak to defend against intruders for a given entrance size, my guess would be that it wouldn’t matter if the entrance is on the top or bottom.

Rusty
Reply

Reto,

That is true, but if they are too weak to defend one entrance, you wouldn’t give them two. My point was simply that if they are too weak to defend themselves, they are too weak to fill a honey super. So why not just stay with the one regular entrance, wherever it happens to be?

John Zone 5
Reply

I agree about not using the large shim across the entire top, but not to confuse anyone about the Imirie shim that only has a small opening—an inch or so.

Rusty
Reply

John,

Oh yes. Good clarification. The type I worry about is made by inserting two blocks of wood under the telescoping or inner cover, usually one in each corner. The resulting space is huge, running the entire width of the hive, and back along both sides in an ever-decreasing triangular space. An Imirie shim is fine. Thanks for pointing out the difference.

cyrus
Reply

I once tried an upper opening by cutting a notch out of my inner cover so the opening is just above the frames and the poor dears just stared out anxiously and later tried to propolize the opening. Does the hole need to be in the middle of the box? Should I try again?

Cyrus

Rusty
Reply

Cyrus,

The hole does not need to be in the middle of the box. You can try again if you want. All colonies are different.

Jerry
Reply

Rusty:
With not using an inner cover during summer, do you have problems with the bees building burr comb etc. under the telescoping cover or wherever? I’m intrigued by that but have English garden (peaked) roofs, so wondering how that would work.

Jerry

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

I have only two hives with peaked roofs, but neither has had any burr comb whether I use an inner cover or not.

BeeHappy
Reply

I use a 5/8 forstner bit to drill my supers. A spade bit works but is harder to control. I drill it low enough to be in the space where the woodenware has a natural hole between frame ends. Hold 2 empty frames together and look at the end.

If robbing is suspect or for other reasons, a wine cork can be used to plug the hole. Seems I can normally find one laying around the kitchen. I place one hole facing forward first and then later in the summer place 2 facing the back for air flow.

Seems to help the temperature control of the hive. For comb honey I do see some propolizing of the close area to the hole. Maybe 2 extract frames at the hole location, and the rest comb frames would resolve the issue. If they plug them the bees do not wish for more ventilation or want less entrance area to guard. I would think 3 or so is enough holes. Also I do not put the holes in the brood boxes, as a cool wind or driving rain could affect the brood nest, as well you would need to plug them for the winter.

Gloria Carlineo
Reply

Hi Rusty,

How many and how big are the holes that you are drilling into the supers? Do you have any pictures? Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

Joe
Reply

Of the dozen or so hives I’ve had, two were primarily top entrance bees. So much so they’d wear out the paint near the top entrance, which was the top cover above an Imirie shim. I’ve never used a landing perch, you have inspired me to try.

I typically use an Imirie shim with a queen excluder below honey supers. When I put the shim above the excluder I’ll find some drones stuck above. When the shim goes below they tend to build more comb in the space.

Shawn Hoff
Reply

Rusty,

We have for several years now used the following set up: We made our own 2″ deep shims, I guess you’d call them, and drilled a half inch hole in the front. We place these under the inner cover. They work as a top entrance in the summer and give space for sugar boards in the winter. We don’t plug the holes in the winter, as we have not had issues with it and it provides nice ventilation. Originally, we had only intended to use them in the summer, but we accidentally left them on one winter and haven’t looked back.

When we add supers, the shim always stays below the lid and above the supers. Otherwise, they build comb to connect to supers placed above it and you have a mess (accidentally did that once, too). The only thing you have to remember is if you use a bee escape for honey extraction, you have to screen that upper entrance hole. (Did that once, too) 🙂

We’ve found only once that a hive closed it up with propolis and that was in the summer, immediately after it was put on an existing hive. For whatever reason, they didn’t like it, so I took it off that hive later.

We are in Northeast Kansas.

Clyde Dildine
Reply

I have a question on where to drill top entrance holes on both brood boxes and supers. One beekeeper suggests placing it off to the side (upper right or left corner) rather than in the middle of the box so it isn’t directly in front of the brood nest. Thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Clyde,

I drill mine in the upper right corner because it’s kind of silly to drill them near the handholds. The brood nest can move around, so you don’t actually know where it will be. The position of it changes throughout the year. Of course, you shouldn’t have any brood nest in the supers, just the brood boxes.

Craig
Reply

I’d like to posit this theory, re your confusion:

Like humans, bees are creatures of habit. Someone already touched on that. But I’m thinking they’d also change that habit if it made things overly inconvenient for them.

You might take one route to work if the weather is good because it saves you a mile but take another if it’s raining and your ussual route tends to get flooded.

The bees may also be taking the most direct route to drop off materials to where they are needed for the process they’re currently involved in. This would tend to make the hives use different entrances at different times, to do different tasks.

Just a theory. And the difference between theory and practice is less in theory than in practice. 😀

Kirsten Redlich
Reply

My hives were all set up from feral swarms last year. I have three. I was just investigating purchasing bees when the first swarm turned up, quickly followed by the second & the third. I had all my boxes, base boards & frames ready to go but I was waiting for material to screen vent holes in my lids. Once they turned up I just put the hive together as was, with the intention of adding/finishing pieces as & when I could. Well all 3 hives began using the 2 front vent holes as their entrance, completely ignoring the bottom or base entrance. I tried closing the top entrances off a number of times, some would resort to using the bottom entrance, but 15 bees out of 30 000 is a vote of no confidence in that particular motion. The bees chose the top vent entrances & could not be swayed. I now have an inserted rim with a larger hole inserted between the super & the lids, vents are masked as usually are & the bees love their top entrance.

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