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American Bee Journal

The Classroom – May 2024

By June 17, 2024No Comments
Q Hive Configuration Question

You have talked that you run deep + medium hive configurations, and that at a certain point, you shake down the medium and insert a queen excluder. You turn the medium into a honey super for the spring to get them to lay up the winter stores. At what point do you do the shaking and insert the excluder, right away once the flows start, or later once temperatures have moderated?
I should mention that I am in northern Alabama rather than Florida, and we are in the midst of our red maple bloom right now. Swarming starts within 10 days or so. I have overwintered some deep/mediums for once, and I am trying to figure out when to shake them down to dissuade swarming. I have got brood both in the deep and medium, and I am thinking the queen will be safe since there is brood in the deep for the cluster to keep warm under the excluder, but we are of course still getting freezing temps here till late March.
Jordy Nichols
Alabama, February


You are correct. My standard hive configuration (from the ground up) is a deep brood box, a metal-bound queen excluder, and a medium super. The excluder keeps the queen in the deep brood box while the medium super is where the bees store the honey they need to survive throughout the year, including during the winter months. This is not really a “better” or “worse” hive configuration than others. It is simply the one I like to use, for various reasons.
This is my core hive configuration, meaning that I do not typically use singles, double deeps, double mediums, etc. I consider this my least divisible hive unit. Of course, I add medium supers in which bees can store surplus honey for me to harvest, but I always leave them the medium super immediately above the brood nest. It does not matter how good the honey looks in that super. I leave it for the bees. Now to your question about the excluder …
I use an excluder most of the year. I prefer to use it as long as possible. I only take it off the hive during winter. Why remove the super during winter? Colony clusters tend to move up in their nests over winter. Excluders, then, can trap a queen in the bottom box as her cluster moves up in the nest. This will cause her to die from exposure while her bees are happily alive in the upper super. Thus, I tend to remove the super at a time of year I know that temperatures will consistently go into the 40s°F (4-10°C) during the night. Brood production has usually slowed or ceased at this point. We tend to get these temperatures consistently here around the week of Thanksgiving (4th week in November) every year. Removing the excluder allows the queen to migrate up in the nest with her cluster.
I want to share a quick tip here. I do not remove the queen excluder from the apiary once I leave. Instead, I place the queen excluder back on the hive, but this time immediately underneath the hive lid. That way, it is sitting there waiting for me to reinstall it in spring. I do not need to remember to grab it from the shed and take it with me back to the apiary. It is already there!
I usually place the excluder back between the deep and medium boxes when the nighttime temperatures get consistently warm (>50°F [10°C]). I like to see that the colony is in expansion stage before returning the excluder. This is usually around mid-to-late February where I live. When I do this, I go through the entire hive, find the queen, place her in the bottom box, replace the excluder, and then return the medium super to the nest. Keep in mind that the super is likely to contain brood. If you cut queen cells for swarm control purposes, you will need to check the medium super for a couple of weeks, until all the brood hatches.

Q Bees near a landfill

I have had some hives at a local orchard that is about a half mile away from a giant active landfill covering hundreds of acres. I have not noticed any strange honey from the hives yet, but I cannot help but wonder what sweet treats my bees are going dumpster diving for at the neighbor’s place. I once rescued a wild hive from a fallen tree that was near a large brewery, and their honey had the distinct malty/hoppy quality of stale beer. We have probably all seen the story about the colorful honey that showed up in hives near an M&M factory in France a few years ago.
Do you think I should be concerned about what my bees may find in the rubbish, and what are some of the strangest things you have seen bees foraging?
Phil Hucke
Ohio, February


I can only speculate, given that what bees might encounter at a landfill will vary by the landfill visited. Bees will be attracted to nearly any sugar source. Correspondingly, I suspect the bees would be more likely to collect sugar from soda cans, candy wrappers, etc. at your local landfill. Most of these encounters would be only with very limited amounts of sugar. The danger, I suppose, is that the sugar residues would end up tainted with other things disposed of in the landfill, maybe spent pesticide containers, things like that. Even still, I think the risk is relatively low. However, I do believe that your bees will be regular visitors to the landfill, much like the buzzards I see hanging out around the Florida landfills. ☺
I would be mindful of the taste and color of the honey my bees make in that apiary. Compare how your honey tastes to that of honey collected by colonies of other nearby beekeepers. An “off” taste or color might suggest it is tainted. You can always have residue analyses conducted on your honey. You must interpret these results with caution, though, as pesticide and other contaminant residues can be found in many honeys. Your honey being positive for something at low levels would not necessarily mean that you need to discard your honey, or that the landfill is the problem. However, it might provide some insight into contamination.
Another option is to move your bees out of that location. That eliminates the potential problem altogether. My guess is that many of this column’s readers keep bees within short distances of landfills. If so, hopefully they will reach out to me with any insight they can provide.

Q: Master Beekeeper program comparisons

Is there anywhere a comprehensive listing of the various Master Beekeeper programs in the U.S.? It would be helpful to compare program descriptions and requirements, costs, comments, etc.!
David Lewis
Wyoming, March


Unfortunately, I do not believe there is a single source in which you can find side-by-side comparisons of all the various master beekeeper programs. Quite a few master beekeeper programs exist in the U.S. (including one we manage out of the University of Florida). All differ in price, rigor, how offered (online/in person), time investment, general requirements, etc. Dewey Caron published an article in the October 2020 American Bee Journal in which he discussed the attributes of several master beekeeper programs, and I mentioned several in the July 2023 Classroom. These, to my knowledge, would come the closest to providing the information I believe you are seeking. Otherwise, you need to contact the administrator of each program and ask them your specific questions directly…

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