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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My overwintered Italian/MN Hygenic colony has been using a top entrance with a bottom entrance option. I recently acquired 2 Russian colonies with the advice to give them a top entrance. As I consider the pros and cons of the top and bottom entrances, I am wondering what and why the traditional hives use a bottom entrance. It seems counter-intuitive to me, but since most hives do use a bottom entrance only, there must be a good, scientific reason why we usually offer the bees that sole option.

Thank you in advance for any enlightenment anyone can offer.
 

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Bees like the, or an, entrance at the broodnest, so with the entrance on bottom, it helps to keep the nest low in the stack of boxes when not using an excluder. There is always that one hive that didn't read the same books I did tho...
 

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This is just my guess, but since heat rises, a bottom entrance would help keep a bit more heat in the hive in winter. And it seems that bees like to keep honey up high, brood down low and near the entrance. Or it could just be an old habit that hasn't been broken yet.
 

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Am giving an educated guess here. I suspect that it is more for sanitary hygene. The bottom entrance allows the bees an easy way to clean out any die off bees. It is much more difficult for the undertaker bees with an upper entrance. When doing a cutout from a vertical wall there was a fairly deep layer of dead bees at the bottom including old queens. Can't be very hygenic that way.
 

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But was that the original designers intent or reason for putting the entrance where it is?
 

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So you got me curious and I searched the net and found nothing about the reason for the bottom entrance. Maybe it was because most hives in a hollow tree have the entrance at the bottom. Skeps always had a bottom entrance, Right? When it is during cold weather the bees will cluster around the brood leaving the honey above unprotected. A top entrance allows that honey to be robbed easier than if the robbers had to go through a bottom entrance.
 

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I tried both but decided that I preferred to work at the bee's back door rather than their front door. Using a bottom entrance, returning foragers are not bothered by me pulling a couple of frames or looking over the top bars. When I used top entrances all of that seemed to back up the foragers returning into a cloud around me.

I suspect that the original plan using a bottom entrance was both to facilitate the ease of cleaning out dead bees and removing a frame or two with the least disruption.
 

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None of my hives have a bottom entrance. There is no particular reason for one except that it's the way it's always been done. :) That said, a bottom entrance works fine as long as you keep it free of weeds in the summer, don't have skunks, keep it free of dead bees and snow in the winter and remember to put the mouse guards on in time...
http://www.bushfarms.com/beeslazy.htm#topentrance

How to make a top entrance:
http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopentrance.htm

Historic reference to top entrances:
"I had a neighbor who used the common box hive; he had a two inch hole in the top which he left open all winter; the hives setting on top of hemlock stumps without any protection, summer or winter, except something to keep the rain out and snow from beating into the top of the hive. he plastered up tight all around the bottom of the hive for winter. his bees wintered well, and would every season swarm from two to three weeks earlier than mine; scarcely any of them would come out on the snow until the weather was warm enough for them to get back into the hive.

"Since then I have observed that whenever I have found a swarm in the woods where the hollow was below the entrance, the comb was always bright and clean, and the bees were always in the best condition; no dead bees in the bottom of the log; and on the contrary when I have found a tree where the entrance was below the hollow, there was always more or less mouldy comb, dead bees &c.

"Again if you see a box hive with a crack in it from top to bottom large enough to put your fingers in, the bees are all right in nine cases out of ten. The conclusion I have come to is this, that with upward ventilation without any current of air from the bottom of the hive, your bees will winter well without any cobs."--Elishia Gallup, The American Bee Journal 1867, Volume 3, Number 8 pg 153
 

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Michael.
Do they ever propolis up the top entrance? I thought of putting shims on mine. I asked the question some time ago, and got varied response. So I stayed with my bottom entrances. If you shimmed at the top and left 1" long bottom entrance would they tend to propolis up either entrance? I would continue to use my sbb on the bottom, with a top cover and vent on the top, the shims would go under the top covers. I can see an advantage to having both since I utilize the standard 10 frame longstroth hives with 2 deep brood chambers, and raised platform. this they can use either at their will for drone exits or to remove dead bees or even foragers. If I were starting over today I would definitely go with the 8 frame mediums like you say. I just can't justify the expense of changing now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Michael, I had read your website last summer and the top entrance seemed like a logical option so I gave my girls the option. Last summer they used the bottom, but have shown a definite preference for the top this summer. I leave the bottom open for ventilation.

When I picked up my Russian nucs, the beekeeper told me to use two brood boxes, put the nuc frames into the top box and give them a top entrance. So it got me to thinking and wondering...

Thank you all for your thoughtful and thought-provoking messages
 

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So you got me curious and I searched the net and found nothing about the reason for the bottom entrance.

Mark's reply: I think we may have to go back to LLL's original design and see what that looks like. Since his design is the, what, prototype for what we use today.

Maybe it was because most hives in a hollow tree have the entrance at the bottom. Skeps always had a bottom entrance, Right?

Mark's reply: No, actually that's not correct. Skeps can have entrances at the base or other places. Most of the ones I have seen have an entrance about 1/3 of the way down from the top.
LLL's hive was not the first wooden box hive, so who knows what inspired him to put the entrance where it was. We may never really know why the entrance is where it is. But Michael Bush has good things to read about how to have your entrance higher up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I love the conversation and am glad I posted it. While eating breakfast, however, I read my ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture and found a lengthy discussion about the relative advantages of bottom and top entrances, including a quote from Langstroth about the advantages of the top entrance.

But this passage jumped out at me: "At this date (April 1949) the evidence has piled up overwhelmingly in favor of the upper entrance, either at the top or part way down..." (earlier it says that Langstroth& Son sold a good many hives iwth the upper entrances in 1873) Page 236of my antique 32nd edition.

Cynthia in NE MN
 

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>Do they ever propolis up the top entrance?

They propolis any entrance sometimes. I usually reduce them in the winter to about 1 1/2" to 2" wide. And they they don't.

>I thought of putting shims on mine. I asked the question some time ago, and got varied response. So I stayed with my bottom entrances. If you shimmed at the top and left 1" long bottom entrance would they tend to propolis up either entrance?

Not particularly. But if you leave the bottom open you still have skunks and mice to be concerned with... which are some of my main reasons for top entrances.

> I would continue to use my sbb on the bottom, with a top cover and vent on the top, the shims would go under the top covers. I can see an advantage to having both since I utilize the standard 10 frame longstroth hives with 2 deep brood chambers, and raised platform. this they can use either at their will for drone exits or to remove dead bees or even foragers. If I were starting over today I would definitely go with the 8 frame mediums like you say. I just can't justify the expense of changing now.

I just stopped buying ten frame and mixed them first:
http://www.bushfarms.com/images/TenFrameToEight.JPG

Then I started cutting them down:
http://www.bushfarms.com/images/TenFrameToEight.JPG
 

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But this passage jumped out at me: "At this date (April 1949) the evidence has piled up overwhelmingly in favor of the upper entrance, either at the top or part way down..." (earlier it says that Langstroth& Son sold a good many hives iwth the upper entrances in 1873) Page 236of my antique 32nd edition.

Cynthia in NE MN
Good research Cynthia. Makes me think that we have the design that we do because it is convenient for humans, not necassarily for the bees.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Wouldn't be the first time we humans did/do that...with more beasties than just the bees...take horse stalls, for example...would a horse given its druthers put itself in a such a confined space for most of its days?
 

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Always an interesting topic. Any comment on a "theory" I've been told that since the vast majority of bees using the entrances are the foragers, having the entrances closer to the storage combs is more "logical?"
 

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Oh yeah, just remembered this bit-Langstroth was talking about the bees cleaning out the hive, and he said that there should never be any part of the hive below the entrance, because of the difficulty the undertaker bees have dragging a dead bee uphill. Also, water cannot collect in the hive if the entrance is lowest.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
On the other hand, if there is a bottom entrance as well, the bees can choose how to use each of them. I also find there is good ventilation with both openings and I do believe good ventilation is essential for all my animals including the bees.

A University of Minnesota bee specialist at a presentation last fall told stories about hives that survived the winter after being toppled over and/or lost their top covers in the middle of January. I personally don't want to test that much ventilation premise, but it is interesting.
 

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Allen Dick of www.honeybeeworld.com would drill a 1 inch hole below the handhold in the brood boxes. He cited a study which showed that if you have a hole in the brood boxes, the bees raised X amount more brood than hives with holes in the brood box. I don't recall the exact figure, but it was a substantial number - I'm thinking it was 1/3 or 1/2 more brood.

He would overwinter his hives in double deep boxes, and he said the holes in each brood box helped with ventilation and gave the bees an upper entrance of sorts if the bottom was covered by snow.

I've been putting 3/4 inch holes in my brood boxes. When the cluster is small, it seems like the bees prefer the hole to the bottom entrance. Once the hive becomes stronger, they seem to prefer the bigger bottom entrance, but still use the hole too.
 
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