A Big Hive and Big Holes

Here’s a photo of me working on what is probably the largest hive I’ve ever had to deal with since I began beekeeping in 2010. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)

Of course, it’s a PhotoShopped image.

The real hive is only about half this size but it’s still big. It’s in a location all on its own because I wanted to see if it was a good location to keep bees. Turns out it’s an awesome place to keep bees. And like my secret fishing stream, I’m keeping its location to myself. I’ve already extracted 26 pounds of honey from it and the honey just keeps flowing.

When I add a medium super of drawn comb to this hive, every frame is filled with nectar in about two days. That’s just nectar, not honey, but still, there’s a massive nectar flow in the area.

Even my strongest honey bee colony in Flatrock where I keep most of my bees is nowhere close to this level of growth.

Judging from what I’ve observed, I’d say I’ll probably get three times as much honey from this big hive than I will from any single hive in Flatrock (where it’s much colder). My Flatrock hives might top out at two medium honey supers each.

I’ve never seen such a clear example of the old beekeeping adage, All beekeeping is local beekeeping.

It’s got nothing to do with my magic beekeeping skills. All I did was move the hive to a new location and make sure the bees had room to grow by adding boxes.

Now it could be that the colony living in this hive has some kind of super mutant genetics, but as far as I know, it doesn’t and the hive has received no special treatment. No winter hive wrap; only hard insulation over the inner cover in the winter; no emergency sugar feeding (it always had plenty of honey); no D.E. Hive configuration or extra ventilation in the winter. For spring and summer, it has a standard Langtroth solid bottom board; standard 10-frame supers; a standard inner cover with a notched top entrance and a hole in the middle; a standard ventilation rim; and a standard telescoping top cover. It probably doesn’t hurt that I have a healthy and vigorous queen running the show, but other than that, I didn’t do anything special to achieve this result.

Do access holes (a.k.a. auger holes in the supers) make it easier for honey bees to make honey?

Something I just thought of… Except for one, all the supers in the big hive have an entrance hole drilled in the middle of them. I first read about this on Honey Bee Suite. It’s supposedly a great way to get more honey from a colony because it gives the bees immediate access to the honey supers, so they don’t have to crawl all the way up or down the inside of the hive to hand off the nectar to a reciever bee who then desposits the nectar in the honeycomb.

I’ve seen no proof in my beeyard yet that these holes do anything to increase honey production. The first time I tried it, my bees filled the honey supers with as much pollen as they did nectar. I’ve even read comments from other well-respected North American beekeepers who say that the bees will avoid storing nectar in frames that are right next to the holes in the super, so the result is actually less honey. Some beekepers love having holes in their supers. Some hate it. So who knows?

This is my first season testing out the big hole method in more than one hive. Almost all of my supers have holes drilled in them. And I don’t see any difference in the behaviour of the bees or in the production of honey yet. Furthermore, the bees in the big hive, with holes in all the supers except one, are making more honey than I’ve ever seen in my life — and they’re not going anywhere near the holes in the supers. A scattered bee comes and goes from one of the holes, but I’d say 99.99% of the bees use the bottom entrance.

Most of the bees in my other hives favour the top entrances, not the bottom. I know many commericial beekepers who run hives that only have a bottom entrance. No top entrances, no extra ventilation. Nothing.

I gotta feeling that the holes probably don’t make any difference. Like most things in beekeeping, it probably comes down to local climate.

3 thoughts on “A Big Hive and Big Holes

  1. Phillip, I know the feeling. I moved my hives to another bee yard after 5yrs in the same spot (my front yard in the woods). Now they’re at an old farming area, covered in every blooming plant and shrub I can name and I’m blown away by the difference. I’ve pillaged them for brood (spun off 9 nucs) and they’re still busting at the seams and making more honey by June than they used to make all season. Yes, they’re now a 5 minute drive away but that frees up my yard at home to raise queens and nucs without the threat of them being robbed out by the big hives.

    Location, location, location.


  2. Just drilled 1/2 inch holes into back of my honey supers and top deep…. Should I put 1/2 in. hardware mesh over it to prevent mice? Do mice try to get in during the summer? Also, in winter, should I plug up hole in upper super, I used a burlap pillow to prevent condensation? Thanks, and please let me know.

  3. I can’t give much advise on the holes. They’re an experiment for me. I hear good things and bad things about them, so I want to find out for myself. So far I don’t see them improving anything in my hives, though I don’t think they hurt either.

    But nope, you don’t have to worry about mice in the summer. I’ve been plugging mine up in the winter. I put quarter-inch / 6mm mesh over my bottom entrance. I used to do the same with my top entrance too, but I don’t anymore unless my hives are buried in deep snow and it’s easy for a shrew to jump from the snow into the top entrance.

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