Stinky Beehives

High clustering bees clinging to the inner cover. (March 19th, 2002, Newfoundland.)

Here’s a 7-minute video of me taking a peek inside some stinky beehives.

00:00 — Intro.

00:40 — Peek inside the hive.

01:00 — Protein patties over cluster.

01:35 — Sugar brick cover cluster.

01:50 — Poop inside the hive.

02:20 — I don’t want these inner covers anymore. They don’t repell water well because they’re not waxed-dipped and they’re just not as robust as the solid-plywood waxed-dipped inner covers I originally orderd from Beemaid in 2009 which are still going strong.

The inner covers, telescoping top covers and bottom boards that I ordered from Beemaid in 2009, all heavy and well-built, are the sturdiest and most long-lasting hive components that I own. Some of the bottom boards might need an extra coating of beeswax — after 11 years of use — but the inner covers and telescoping top covers are still pretty much brand new. It’s frustrating having to work with subpar hive components that are flimsy and light. They might do the job, but starting out my beekeeping with the primo gear, it’s easy to notice the difference.

02:45 — Sensitive bees pouring out the hive after the slightest vibration.

03:10 — Bees clinging to inner cover.

03:30 — The lowered top entrance experiment maybe didn’t work. The idea was to move the top entrance down about 15cm (about 6 inches) to hold ambient heat inside the hive that would normally leak out the top entrance. I tried it out on 3-4 hives this winter and didn’t see any problems with it until now. It seems like the high-clustering bees aren’t moving down towards the lower entrance. There’s more feces inside the hives that have the lowered entrance. Whatever the reason, if the bees had a top entrance they could easily find, I know they’d use it. So I don’t know if I’ll do this lowered top entrance thing again.

04:40 — Bees crawling over me.

05:45 — “Sport” straps instead of ratchet straps. Tightening and loosening ratchet straps can send vibrations into the hive that rile up the bees. I could do without that. It’s the same reason I don’t use a loud staple gun to attach hive wraps anymore. I know it’s not the end of the world, but my style of beekeeping says, “Don’t do that,” so I don’t if I don’t have to.

06:15 — Stinky hives and discussion about hive smells.

Nosema or dysentery come to mind when we find poop inside the hive where it shouldn’t be.  I don’t normally see this much poop inside the hives, but I nevertheless have my doubts that my bees are seriously sick with anything.  I suspect that the removal of the upper entrance with the bees clustering high at this time of year doesn’t give the bees quick access to the outside and they just don’t make it out in time when they feel the urge to go.  How’s that for a scientific explanation?

The only other time I have found a significant amount of poop in a beehive was when I experimented several years ago with providing upper ventilation through a moisture quilt with only the bottom entrance open.  No top entrance (or exit).

The same thing happened then.  The cluster over the winter gradually moved to the top of the hive and seemed to get stuck there.  The bees just wouldn’t leave the cluster to exit out the bottom entrance.  And they pooped all over the place.

I know someone will argue it was probably nosema or dysentery, that it had nothing to do with the bottom entrance, but I’ve used top entrances for my wintering hives ever since (it was 8 years ago) and I haven’t seen poop inside the hives until now — when I blocked up the top entrances again.

I know that’s not exactly a scientific consensus, but despite the arguments I hear online about the bees losing all their heat through the upper entrance and so on, I’ve never had a problem with it.  I don’t know many beekeepers in my climate who have.

I’m always up for trying something different.  I’d probably be a better beekeeper if I stuck to one thing and stopped experimenting.  But at the moment, judging from what I’ve seen with my bees over 11 years and from what I’ve seen and learned from other beekeepers who keep bees my type of climate, a small upper entrance doesn’t seem so bad to me.

April 12th, 2022: One of the colonies from this video has Nosema and the stink coming off these hives might have been first sign of it. The bees are in a clean hive with clean frames and are doing well now. The dirty hive will be treated safely and effectively with Acetic Acid. As much as I would like to document that process so that others might learn from my experience, I’ve decided to hold back on it due to the overzealous policing element that continues to be nuisance to so many beekeepers in Newfoundland.