The Bee Portal

Our sustainable wooden BeeSpaceX Portals are sold with personal agreement and under licence from inventor Filipe Salbany. 10% from every sale is donated to Bees For Development to support their work.

Beekeepers have long known that by changing a hive’s entrance size, shape and location they can help and assist the bees in their work and defence of the colony. Much has been observed, written and forgotten about how Bees live in the wild and are affected by the choices we make as Bee Keepers. Over the last 150 years many inventors (Hough, Pratt, Nitsch and Meier, Schlegel, Musgrove, Kerkhof, to name just a few) have patented ideas that claim to improve traffic in/out of the hive, ventilation and defence.

Globally, the most common Bee Hive is the Langstroth. Invented in 1853 by Lorenzo Langstroth it has a single long slot entrance located at floor level. The National Beehive, popular in the UK and slightly smaller than the Langstroth, has a similar entrance 54 cm2 (8.4 in2) reducible to 27cm2 (4.2 in2). Newer floors such as Thornes National Open Mesh Floor offer a small opening of 7cm2 (1.0 in2).

My personal interest in Hive design, its relation to wild bee colonies and how it impacts our colonies and bee keeping decisions came from reading The Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D Seeley (Professor of Biology at Cornel University and author of a number of books on Bee behaviour) and a desire to build my own hives.

During the mid 70s, Seeley completed a study of Bee home preferences. He constructed 252 nest boxes and over the period of 1976 and 1977 he caught 124 swarms. He found that the Bees preferred an entrance size of just 12.5 cm2 (~2in2) compared to something six times larger at 75 cm2 (-12in2). Seeley also describes how having “rendered some boxes drafty by riddling their fronts and sides with 6 mm (1.4″) holes spaced 7.5cm apart” the bees would quickly block up the holes with tree resin.

In the 21st Century, Filipe Salbany of BeeSpaceX has been the most prolific and vocal advocate for alternative entrances. Through his work with wild bees Filipe has done much to break down the myths and confusion surrounding how entrances affect Bees and their hives. He is focused on sustainable and minimum treatment approaches to Beekeeping. Filipe is heavily involved in the Wild Bee project at Blenheim Palace and started drilling holes in hives aged six.

However, Filipe and Seeley are not alone in observing that Bees prefer small entrances. With the increasing pressure (and sad losses) on Bee Populations there is a renewed interest in how as Bee Keepers we can help both domestic and wild colonies. The availability of low cost technologies allows for better recording and more measured or quantifiable results than ever before while social media allows Bee Keepers from all over the world to share ideas and compare experiences.

The outside hole is often not the real ‘door’ to the nest. Frequently the cavity is closed up with propolis to tiny channels. The portal mimics this. Instead of making a huge opening you open multiple small openings. This offers better control of nest atmosphere, better defence against predators and better ability for the bees to adapt their entrances to suit conditions

Joe Ibbertson via Twitter.

Why not a single BIG entrance?

There are a number of disadvantages with the traditional entrance including:

  • They are hard to guard. The single long slot shape requires more guarding Bees than a multiple smaller round shapes of an equivalent area. In times of cold weather this can draw bees away from the cluster where they become isolated and die. It can mean that less bees are able to forage and undertake other tasks within the hive.
  • A single entrance located at the bottom means congestion within the Brood Box. Foraging Bees have greater distance to travel and can disrupt the activity within the Brood Box as they pass through. Seeley noted that regardless of a preference for entrances in the bottom third they will also use higher entrances if available especially with increased regularity in the summer. Alternative entrances are placed on both the main brood box and supers.
  • There is more work effort and guesswork required by the Bee Keeper to ensure the slot opening is kept at an appropriate size for the colony. The structure of the alternative entrances means that Bees can seal them with Propolis/Tree Resin and thus open, close and modify the openings as they feel fit.

The Alternate Entrance.

The BeeSpaceX or Salbany baffles are designed to mimic natural hives found in the wild. The channel dimensions are such that Bees can adapt the overall size and shape with Propolis.

The colony defence changes. Mounted externally, any insect goes through the entrance, up and into the hive. This alerts the guards and brings them to the front. Mounted internally, insects go through the hole, already meeting bees, get inside and are met by the portal. The instinct is to go up, which means they are then restricted. Going down means going into a nest. Hence the importance of configuration of the ‘holes’ to suit the colony and its development. Externally the portals have an incredibly useful role in nest/hive identification and prevention of drifting as it is 3D.

Conversation with Filipe about why the ‘Salbany’ baffles were designed to be mounted on the inside.

The hive opening area provided by the 25mm (1in) hole is 5cm2 (~2 in2) with a 1.25cm2 (0.2in2) opening into the hive. Hence they are used in threes on a Brood Box with one or two on a Super.

Filipe has been using variations on the baffle theme for almost 40 years during and since his time in Africa.

The Fig8 is a new for 2021 untested variation on the same theme yet designed to be an external rather than internal attachment. It borrows the same ideas and dimensions except for the external location and lower entrance portal that can be closed with a simple wine cork. Not only does this provide protection from prevailing weather it can, like the Salbany, be blocked during inspections or harvesting with a simple wine cork.

The Standard baffles come with no island and are most suited to established and healthy colonies.

The Nuc baffles have an island and are more suited to small or weak colonies where the added defensive assistance outweighs the more restricted access.

Entrance Arrangement

The entrances can be arranged in many ways and how you choose to arrange them is likely to depend on your hives, whether you run warm or cold and of course what you know about your Bees. Some people like the triangle configuration (right) as shown below.

Filipe’s suggestion is three entrances in an inverted triangle (left) per standard Brood Box and one (maybe two) per standard National Super. The inverted triangle is designed such that the top pair are located a the brood/honey interchange. The lower one ensures that even when the queen is laying in the bottom of the brood box the pollen/nectar flows are high enough past her to that she maintains an optimum lay rate.

Making the Baffles

All our baffles are sustainably hand made in a small Devon workshop. We use either locally sourced timber or offcuts from a trusted local timber supplier. Typical woods include: Oak, Beech, Ash, Iroko and Sapele and, of course, Cedar.

Installation

Baffles are provided with screws. However, all baffles require drilling of the Brood Boxes and Supers. Filipe recommends a 1 inch or 25mm Forstner Bit although a 25mm Spade Bit would also work. These affiliate links will open in a new window. The 25mm hole can be filled with a 27.5 tapered to 24mm cork.

Due to the softness and wide grain spacing of Cedar great care must be taken drilling the wood to avoid tear out. I would avoid any hole cutting bits that screws itself through the wood as they are too aggressive for Cedar. It is easier to drill the boards before they are made up in to Broods or Supers. However, it is expected that many will be retro fitting to existing equipment.

Our advice is to do all the measuring on the inside face, run a super small pilot drill through to the outside before doing the final hole cut from the outside. This keeps all the pencil mark-up out of sight and the cleanest hole cut on the outside. Where possible cut onto a waste board or cut half two thirds through before finishing from the other side. Either way take care to avoid tear out.

Brood Box Entrances: Top – roughly 100mm (4in) in from internal edge and 60mm (2.4in) down from the frame rail. Bottom – centre left/right and between 60-80mm (2.5-3 in) up from bottom edge.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Filipe for allowing us to make and sell his baffles, his help putting this page together, allowing the use of his ‘in the wild’ photos and most importantly continuing to share his knowledge and experience with us mere novices!

Bibliography

Its outside the scope of a single page to summarize all the research completed but hopefully it answers a few questions and raises many more. For it is only by continuing to ask questions that we can find something that resembles a solution to the complex problems of climate change and sustainability.