Sunday 28th of May 2017

Modified Bee Tree Hive System


For more than 30 years we have been studying wild bees in their natural environment.
After examining many bee tree cavities, we have concluded that bees normally occupy only the top two thirds of the chamber, leaving a dead air space in the bottom one third.
Our observations led us to believe that the bees’ use of the hollow space might actually be “orchestrated”, rather than accidental…that it may have a functional purpose significant to the survival of the colony.
As a result, we now include an empty bottom box, modifying the modern Langstroth Hive system to more closely duplicate the conditions found in a natural “bee tree”.
Our original intention when implementing this system was essentially two-fold:
Addition of the empty bottom box has significantly improved hive ventilation, aiding in the control of nosema and other microsporidians.
Research indicates that a smaller brood nest reduces overall varroa mite populations.
Traditionally the brood nest is 2 deep supers, or 3 mediums.
By using only 2 mediums, or a single deep, with the addition of the empty box on the bottom, we are now able to more easily monitor and maintain smaller brood nest populations.

Our Modified Bee Tree System is an evolving experiment:

One current method of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) helps control varroa mite populations by the addition of drone combs which are then removed prior to emergence.
While we used to include "Selective Drone Removal" as an advantage of our system,we have become aware that some beekeepers employing our method have not removed the hanging drone comb in the bottom empty box in a timely manner, resulting in an increase in their mite loads!  Because of this, an alternate recommendation is to add a queen excluder below the bottom brood chamber, above the empty bottom box, pulled backwards to extend 2 inches outside  the rear of the hive leaving a 2 inch space in the front of the box.  This unusual use of a queen excluder allows the bees to bees to pursue their inherent desire to create an eliptical shaped nest, while preventing the queen from laying excess drone brood in the bottom of those hanging combs. Workers move about freely,eliminating the need to closely monitor and remove drone comb.  
This allows the bees to mimic natural nest building without sacrificing the easier management style of traditional Langstroth Hive design
Another IPM method takes advantage of naturally occurring mite drop. Up to 40% of varroa mites can spontaneously fall out of the brood nest.
When researchers began to study the efficacy of chemicals in controlling varroa mites in the hive, they made an unexpected discovery: When mites are at least 1 ½ to 2 inches away from their host bees, they have trouble sensing where the bees are, and are unable to crawl back to the brood nest area ( ref: BEE CULTURE; Aug 2008; pp33-35, “using Screened Bottom Boards”, by R Conrad)
By increasing the dead air space below the brood nest, our Modified Bee Tree System maximizes this natural advantage.
Since beginning this new system, we became aware of additional, unexpected advantages that we did not originally anticipate, making the implementation of this hive management method even more beneficial:
  • GRAVITY WASTE DISPOSALHive debris falls to the bottom of the empty space, down and away from the main body of the nest. This litter often contains harmful pathogens.
  • IMPROVED INSULATION:  Here in the Pacific Northwest, condensation and moisture must be considered. Dead air space is an excellent insulator.
  • IMPROVED HIVE MANAGEMENT: The empty bottom box provides a safe place to put frames while doing brood nest inspection.
  • IMPROVED EFFICIENCY MAKING SPLITSBrood combs are removed and used for new splits, relieving congestion.
  • IMPROVED SWARM CONTROL: Early brood comb removal improves ability to monitor and interrupt swarming behavior.
  • INCREASED HONEY PRODUCTION: Efficient brood comb removal promotes timely “splits”, resulting in increased honey production.
As queen producers, we are committed to the chemical-free preservation of our mite resistant Pacific Northwest Wild Survivor Stock.
By implementing this new hive management technique we are hoping to enhance and preserve some of the qualities and conditions that have contributed to their successful survival.




OWA Isolated drone yard in spring