Getting answers

Synopsis : Getting good answers involves asking good questions. But remember that the bees have no concept of what is ‘best’, or of the calendar.


If you’re just starting beekeeping it’s likely you will have a never-ending list of questions about the somewhat arcane and often perplexing hobby you are embarking on.

And if you’ve been beekeeping for years (or even decades) you might have the same number of questions, albeit somewhat more specialised or esoteric 1. You’ll also probably be involved in answering some of the questions from less experienced beekeepers.

Hive tools ...

Hive tools … which is the best?

Getting good quality and appropriate answers broadly depends upon three things:

  • who (or what) the question is directed at,
  • the wording of the question, and
  • whether the answer is simply factual or involves a subjective assessment

Let’s take a simple example …

Q. What is the scientific name of a bee?
A. The scientific name for the order of bees is Hymenoptera, but this encompasses many different species of bees, not just a single type of bee. To specify a particular species, a scientific name would be necessary, for example, the scientific name for a honey bee is Apis Mellifera.

… so, let’s be more specific …

Q. What is the scientific name of a honey bee?
A. The scientific name for a honey bee is Apis Mellifera.

By asking a more specific question you have received a better answer.

Unfortunately, it’s still not completely correct.

There is a convention on the capitalisation of scientific names; the name of the genus (in this case Apis) is always capitalised, but the name of the particular species (mellifera; meaning honey-bearing) should start with a lowercase letter.

The correct answer should therefore be Apis mellifera.

Or what?

You may have noticed the who (or what) in the list above. The ‘or what’ was deliberate because, increasingly these types of questions will be answered, not by humans or beekeepers 2, but by a machine.

In fact, the two questions and answers shown above were answered by a machine … in this case one called ChatGPT. In this post, ChatGPT responses are shown in red text. The only reason you may not have heard of ChatGPT 3, released just 2 months ago, was because you’ve been living as a hermit in the Tora Bora cave complex for the last few years.

If ChatGPT is new to you then you’re going to have ample opportunity to experience it – or its successors – in the next few months and years. ChatGPT is described as a chatbot which has been trained through supervised and reinforcement learning. It can do a range of things that are a lot more impressive than not quite getting the scientific name of honey bees correct … it can compose music, write computer code and pass written exams for medicine. It can produce essays and it is causing considerable concern in education, where students are already using it for homework 4.

Perhaps I’ll save myself some late night writing by asking ChatGPT to do my homework …

Write a 500 word article for beekeepers about hive tools and Taranov swarm control, remembering to include a handful of poor quality puns and some truly shocking, punctuation.

I asked it to do this … it generates the answer in less than a minute. I’ve added the answer as a separate page as I don’t want to get even more distracted from the topic of the post today.

Factual inaccuracies

ChatGPT does OK on the poor puns (beeeing, buzz-worthy etc.) but less well on the shoddy punctuation, unless you count the Oxford comma.

It does much less well on Taranov swarm control. Indeed, I had started by asking it to “Describe how to conduct swarm control using the Taranov method” and received the following answer:

The Taranov method is a technique used for swarm control in beekeeping that involves manipulating the hive to prevent swarming. The process begins by identifying a colony that is likely to swarm and removing any queen cells, which are the cells that contain developing queen bees. Next, the beekeeper will divide the colony by removing a section of comb with eggs and young larvae, and placing it in a new hive box. This creates a population imbalance in the original hive, which triggers the bees to start raising new queen bees. Finally, the beekeeper will monitor the hive to ensure that no new queen cells are forming, and will continue to remove them as they appear. This method aims to reduce the likelihood of swarming, by keeping the colony balanced and preventing the development of new queen bees.

Which is almost completely wrong. I’m not going to describe Taranov swarm control, but it’s not that. If you want to know (and it is an intriguing method, though not one I have used) I suggest you ask an experienced beekeeper, not a machine. It requires a simple, correct, factual answer.

Subjective or qualified answers

The other thing ChatGPT is not good at is answering questions that require some experience and/or may be subjective. For example …

Q. What is the best type of beehive for a beginner?
A. For a beginner, the Langstroth beehive is considered the best option due to its standardized dimensions, ease of management, and wide availability of equipment and accessories. Additionally, it is commonly used by many beekeepers and has a strong community of support and resources available.

… OK, what about something even more important?

Q. What is the best type of hive tool for beekeeping?
A. A J-shaped hive tool is widely considered as one of the best for beekeeping. It is versatile, durable and can be used for a variety of tasks such as prying apart beehive boxes, scraping propolis and wax, and removing frames.

The first answer actually isn’t bad, particularly if you are in the US. However, the justification is a little odd and could equally well be applied to a National, Dadant 5 or Layens hive.

The ‘best hive’-type question is one commonly asked by beginners and one where a better question improves the answer. If you instead ask ChatGPT for the best beehive for a beginner in the UK it recommends a National hive (justified by compatibility).

However, the answer ChatGPT gives to the ‘best hive tool’ question is clearly wrong.

Simply the best … no contest!

Anyone with even passing experience of opening a hive knows that the claw-type hive tool is by far and away the most practical, comfortable and good looking 😉 .

The ’widely considered’ in ChatGPT’s answer is the giveaway. It’s (obviously) never used a hive tool and so cannot speak from experience.

Flame wars

The examples above are trivial but they do show both the abilities and shortcomings of ChatGPT. But it will get better – more accurate, more factually correct, better at providing qualified subjective answers (and hiding the fact that it has no direct experience of any of the things it is comparing).

You’d better get used to it as it will revolutionise our interactions – direct or indirect – with computers; websites, discussion forums, computer programming, teaching, student assessment and – increasingly – creative work as well.

It’s going to put a lot of people out of work 🙁 .

I’m already out of work, so I don’t feel too threatened, but perhaps it’s also going to eventually replace the beekeeping blogger.

As an aside, I thought a ChatGPT-powered ‘user’ on a beekeeping discussion forum like Beesource in the US, or the BeekeepingForum here in the UK would be – at least briefly – entertaining. Some of the discussion threads on these can get really out of hand, even with strict moderation (a thankless task).

ChatGPT can already interact conversationally, its command of the subject and of English (and, of course, a range of other languages) is already better than many readers/contributors, and it would be a whole lot more persistent in an online argument (though it is currently not particularly creative when it comes to insults).

It’s going to render many of these discussion forums worthless and is already banned from some of the computing forums. The scientific journal Nature has established ground rules for its use – it cannot ‘share’ authorship (!), its use in data analysis must be documented etc.

I already find many discussion forums unrewarding … they might get a lot worse, at least in the short term. Since many beginners use them a lot, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Better answers

Although I’ve been wandering some way off topic there are some important points embedded in the first half of this post.

The question you ask influences the answer you get.

In beekeeping, your local environment and your latitude are particularly influential in the lives of your bees.

I gave a talk this evening on queen rearing. One of the questions was ‘How early in the season can I start?’

That’s a perfectly good and valid question, but answering it requires knowing something about the local climate and colony development.

It also varies from year to year … for example, a cold spring delays things.

Some might simply answer ‘mid-May’ or ‘late-April’ … indeed, questions like that may be asked by someone wanting a calendar-based answer.

Unfortunately, beekeeping isn’t that simple. Beekeepers on the UK south coast can often start queen rearing two months before I can here in north west Scotland.

My answer involved something about drone availability. A drone takes 24 days to develop and a few days after that to become sexually mature. Studies have shown that the peak of drone brood production occurs about one month before swarming (Page and Erickson, 1988), though production starts earlier.

And the correct answer is …

So a better answer is to keep an eye on your colonies, observe drone brood production increasing and – 3-4 weeks later (or perhaps a little before 6 ) – start your queen rearing with every expectation the bees will have got the timing about right.

Shallow depth of field

One of many …

In a cold spring they’ll start producing drones later, at a more southerly latitude they’ll produce drones much earlier than they will in northern Scotland.

Yes, the answer is more difficult to understand than ‘the 19th of April’, but it’s much more likely to be correct because it is based on an understanding of the biology of the bees.

It’s also likely to be correct most years. You can test this by keeping notes. You’ll then have something to refer back to next year and the one after that, and you’ll be able to answer, with compelling authority, anyone who asks you the same question 😉 .

In about 30 years you’ll be able to review your notes – of drone production and queen rearing successes – and see whether the timing needs revising 🙂 .

In doing that you’ll have completed the transition from seeking a calendar-based response, to understanding the drivers that determine colony development and reproduction, and end up with an answer that is generically applicable, qualified and based upon personal experience.

Expect biased answers

My preference for a particular type of hive tool is based upon personal experience (and unrelated to the fact that I bought 20 of them very cheaply a decade ago). Do not underestimate the importance of personal experience in answering beekeeping questions … or its ability to generate biased, unqualified or even completely incorrect answers.

Ask three experienced beekeepers a question and you’ll get five answers … one will be completely wrong, another will involve ‘brood and a half’ (also wrong … obviously), a third will answer a different question altogether and the final two will express diametrically opposing views about whether the J-shaped or claw-shaped hive tool is ‘best’.

The answer you get is based upon the experience of whoever you ask … and how willing they are to answer.

Be warned, it’s not unusual for the most (usefully) experienced and the most vociferous beekeepers to be different individuals. In fact, it’s not unusual for the most vociferous to be much less experienced than they sound.

For a subject as practical as beekeeping, practical experience is far, far more valuable than ‘knowledge’ gleaned from the internet (after all, you might have been reading something written by ChatGPT).

I know the difference between the Miller and Hopkins methods for queen rearing. I’ve not used either (yet) so I don’t know which is better – either outright, or in particular circumstances.

This can all be a bit overwhelming as a beginner … use your judgement, listen, check some of the answers in a good book 7 or a reputable online source, ask a follow-up question.

Nobody knows all the answers and it sometimes feels as though the more knowledge you acquire, the more questions appear.

Answer your own questions; observation and understanding

There is no ‘best’ hive, or 8 hive tool. The bees don’t care and – through experience – you’ll find what suits your beekeeping.

It’s likely that the ‘best’ anything in beekeeping – bee, hive tool, hive, smoker, forage, honey, hive stand, extractor, queen excluder etc. – is a meaningless concept.

It’s an irrelevant question as far as bees are concerned. There may be good ones and bad ones, but it’s surprising how tolerant and accommodating the bees – and a beekeeper – can be.

I’d strongly recommend that anyone starting beekeeping ignores articles with the word ‘best’ in them – except perhaps this one.

Ask meaningful questions and look for insightful answers.

The ‘when to start queen rearing?’ is a good – albeit incomplete – question and I suggested how I would (or did) answer it above.

In that example it is really by observing and understanding the bees that you answer the question. I think those are two of the most important skills to acquire as a beekeeper; doing so will always help you get better answers, not least because they help answer them yourself.

Asking an experienced beekeeper gets you part way there but it doesn’t come close to working something out yourself.

Do an experiment

I used the word ‘arcane’ in one of the opening sentences. It means mysterious, obscure or little understood. Despite sounding a little like the word archaic – meaning old fashioned or belonging to an earlier period – it has a totally different etymology. Arcane is derived from the Latin arcānus meaning ‘closed or shut up’, whereas archaic is from the Greek ἀρχαϊκός for ‘ancient’.

Nevertheless, bits of beekeeping are both arcane and archaic.

Sometimes they’re ‘old fashioned’ because experience has shown that a particular method works reliably well, so is promoted and becomes widely used. However, sometimes it’s because ”it’s always been done like that” and everyone unquestioningly follows the approach without asking whether there are other – perhaps better – ways of achieving something.

Let’s take a trivial example … starter strips in foundationless frames.

Beautiful …

A foundationless frame is a frame containing no foundation (helpfully, the clue is in the name) . Every foundationless frame you use saves you about £1.40 based upon the current price of foundation. What’s more, because commercial foundation contains miticide residues, every frame you use reduces traces of miticides in your hive.

And, if you read online about making foundationless frames you’ll find lots of descriptions, many of which include instructions to provide a wax, or waxed, starter strip attached under the top bar for the bees to start drawing comb from.

When I started using foundationless frames I – unquestioningly – followed these instructions, cutting 2 cm strips of commercial foundation and nailing them in place in my frames.

Foundationless frame

And they often fell out … which prompted me to ask a question I should have done in the first place, and to do an experiment.

Ask the bees

Where do bees naturally start drawing comb?

Wherever the swarm ends up. If it’s in a previously unoccupied tree hole, or loft space, there are no convenient strips of wax foundation to be used as guides. The cavity may be completely empty.

Clearly they don’t need a starter strip to work from.

However, the beekeeper does not want the bees to build comb totally haphazardly. We want them to stick within the confines of the frame or it becomes impossible to manipulate. It’s therefore useful to provide them with ‘guides’ on where to start … they might not follow them, but they almost always do.

So, by understanding what the bees do naturally, qualified by our own selfish interests in managing the colony, we can ask the bees what suits them … a strip of wax foundation, a waxed wooden guide or a lollipop stick.

And, having worked out which the bees prefer, we can make a decision based upon what also suits us.

Take your pick ...

Take your pick …

I therefore did a simple experiment. I built a dozen or so foundationless frames, each containing three randomly positioned starter strips under the top bar – one third wax foundation, one third waxed wood and one third plain wooden lollipop stick (or ‘tongue depressors’).

Over the course of a season I used these in a variety of colonies and observed which of the starter strips was preferred … indicated by which the bees chose first, or which they avoided.

And the results are in …

It made no difference at all. There was no correlation between the type of starter strip and use by the bees.

They just don’t care.

So I only now use plain wooden starter strips. They are quicker and easier to prepare, impervious to the steam wax extractor and much more robust. I use them in full hives and in my mini-nucs for queen mating, simply gluing the wood in place.

Kieler mini-nuc topbar frames – no need for foundation or waxing

A little understanding of what the bees do, coupled with a little experimentation and some observation, allowed me work out the answer to the question ’What is the best material for starter strips’ 9.

I should note that many other have reached exactly the same conclusion independently. I’m not claiming to have discovered this first, but I did formally test what the bees preferred.

Some ChatGPT creativity to end with

To finish I thought I’d ask ChatGPT to do something creative.

Rather than eliciting incorrect answers about Taranov swarm control I asked it for a poem, in the form of a haiku 10, about honey bee swarms;

Golden bees swarm forth
Honeyed scent on the breeze
Nature’s sweet bounty.

Not bad 🙂


Page, R.E., and E. H. Erickson, Jr. (1988) Reproduction by Worker Honey Bees (Apis mellifera L.). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 23: 117–126 Accessed February 3, 2023. Note: this might not be accessible online, so you could try this instead – Page, R.E. Jr (1982) The seasonal occurrence of honey bee swarms in north-central California. American Bee Journal 121:266-272.



  1. Or downright weird.
  2. A subset of humans … mostly.
  3. And, for convenience, I’m using this as an example of any of a series of similar AI large language model systems.
  4. If I was still in academia I’d be using it to mark the essays …
  5. I love how my spellcheck autocorrects that to Dadaist.
  6. Your queen rearing does not have to coincide with the swarming period, it can start a bit before and extend long afterwards. However, don’t start too early or the colonies won’t be strong enough and there may not be sufficient drones about for good queen mating.
  7. My book ’The history of the claw hive tool: often copied, never bettered’ will be published later this year.
  8. Notwithstanding my soon-to-be bestseller on the subject.
  9. This will be the title of next week’s 3000+ word post … the title is designed to attract beginners and the Google search engines, but as ’regular readers’ now know that there’s no such thing as ‘best’.
  10. A stylised, 17 syllable, form of Japanese verse containing reference to the natural seasons.

26 thoughts on “Getting answers

  1. ben

    I think you omitted your request for chatgpt to write in an insufferable style. Sorry! My error! I meant insufferable style!

    1. David Post author

      Hi Ben

      Yes, one of the characteristics of ChatGPT is its writing in short, staccato sentences.

      Many of these are punctuated with exclamation marks, sometimes when they’re not really needed!

      I expect ChatGPT will improve considerably over the next few months. There are already algorithms to detect where it is being used, and there will be other people involved in making it as undetectable as possible.

      I know of one blog that I read that featured a post that was largely written with ChatGPT. His writing style is already a bit ChatGPT-like, but the ChatGPT-generated content (investment) was of a better quality than some of the answers above!

      It’s going to be interesting to see how things develop over the next year or two! I’m expecting to become largely redundant 🙁


  2. David Ferguson

    I hadn’t heard of ChatGPT in particular, but AI like this is developing, or should I say learning, very rapidly which is a little scary! Its full impact is somewhat unknown but it is slightly reassuring that bodies such as the University of Oxford have established the Institute for Ethics in AI. It will be interesting to see what influence they have! Maybe I will just ask the bees 🙂

    PS I enjoyed your talk about queen rearing last night, it was very good. Thank you.

    1. David Post author

      Thanks David

      It won’t be long until all those little pop-up chatbots we have to deal with before getting to speak with a real human being are powered like this. They’ll either be able to answer the questions without referring us to a real human, or will simply hand us on to a better trained chatbot 🙁

      Delighted you enjoyed the talk.


  3. Andrew McKeown

    Hi, I followed your suggestion and added 3 wooden skewers to 14×12 foundationless frames in my Drayton hive and put the skewers vertically – which was a pain when drilling the holes as the hoffman frames have a wooden starter strip on the underside of the top bar. I notice that in one photo in todays article they are horizontal which would make drilling the holes much easier . Do you find this makes them any less effective.
    I do enjoy your articles and appreciate the hours work involved in preparing them.

    Kind Regards

    1. David Post author

      Hello Andrew

      Firstly … I don’t use 14×12’s. That’s a big area to have relatively little support. Secondly, I remove the ‘wedge’ from a Hoffman frame, then drill them, then add the skewers (from below, having drilled an undersized hole for the pointed end of the skewer), then I staple back the ‘wedge’.

      Horizontal works just fine but you might need to add eyelets to stop the wire cutting into the relatively soft wood of the sidebars. I’ve usually used nylon monofilament, but switched to the BBQ skewers as the mono went saggy in the steam extractor. I’ve recently bought some stainless steel wire and – when I find my frame eyelets – am intending to wire up a load more.

      The advantage of horizontal wires for a 14×12 is that you could add more for better support.


      1. Andrew McKeown

        Hello David,
        Thanks for the prompt reply, I have changed to a couple of Drayton hives as aged 80 and following some savage surgery for bowel cancer – lifting national boxes of honey is a bit risky!
        I used standard brood frames in the Drayton and it leaves a void underneath them which the bees fill with comb! So I changed to foundationless 14×12 Hoffmans. With your skewer mod any brace comb tends to join them in pairs and if I lift them out in pairs to cut the comb out – its reasonable practical, I have only had one season with the Drayton so am still learning!. Its much kinder to the bees as the disturbance is minimal – they stay much calmer, its only a hobby so volume of honey is not an issue. Best wishes A

        1. David Post author

          Hello Andrew

          I had to look up the Drayton Hive as it wasn’t one I was familiar with … a horizontal 14×12 system. I’ll be interested to hear if the claims about avoiding Varroa infestation are correct. I’d certainly consider horizontal or vertical wiring of those large frames. Leo Sharashkin does this with the (even larger) frames for his Layens hives which are not dissimilar. That link shows how he uses staples to avoid the wire cutting the frame bars. If using wire, make sure it’s stainless steel. That avoids the empty rows of cells where the bees fail to rear larvae (which you often see with non stainless wire).

          Enjoy your beekeeping.

          1. Andrew McKeown

            Andrew Bax “invented ” the Drayton hive and wrote some good articles in BeeCraft magazine – he has now published them in a book “Beekeeping simplified with the Drayton Hive” Published by Northern Bee Books.
            I found the book a good read even though I had read the articles.
            Kind Regards

          2. David Post author

            Thanks Andrew

            It’s always interesting to see how other people keep their bees … the bees are the same, we just manage them in subtly different ways to suit us, the environment or because that’s the way it’s always been done here.


      2. Richard Andrew Law

        I think it’s great getting the bees to draw out comb, and i’ve followed your example. I don’t remove the wedge or drill holes for the skewers, I just poke the pointed end into the top bar between the wedge and the bar, diagonally. This works for me. I tried plastic filament but the bees were inclined to chew through them!

        An advantage of this method is that the bees draw out as much drone comb as they like, the more the better as far as I’m concerned, I want to get my nice bees’ pheromones out there.

        Try asking ChatGPT about the life cycle of varroa mites – it refuses to acknowledge the incestuous fertilisation.

        Keep up the good work David, always a very interesting read which I look forward to reading.

        1. David Post author

          Hello Richard

          If you use monofilament it needs to be pretty strong stuff to withstand the attentions of the bees. I think I’ve used 40 – 50 lb test, just cheap stuff sold in bulk for sea fishing. However, it’s not pleasant to handle so I switched to bamboo a few years ago. This season I’m making a few frames with stainless steel wire.

          I’m assuming you mean ‘genes’ rather than pheromones? Lots of drones ensures that they should contribute to the local gene pool, a subset of which is represented in the drone congregation areas. There are some interesting studies on drone size, flight and reproductive quality which I might discuss in the future.

          I think I’ll steer clear of voluntary interactions with ChatGPT for a while … though I’ll no doubt converse with it if I have to contact my bank 🙁


  4. Archie Iain McLellan

    I’ve been trying out ChatGPT theses past few days after reading Iain McWhirter’s Substack. Unfortunately, no doubt because of a deluge of traffic generated by The Apiarist website, it is not available at the moment (at full capacity)!

    I enjoyed your ideas about questions today. Answers obviously come from questions. But where do questions come from? It seems that being able to find the right questions to ask is at the heart of being able to learn anything.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Archie

      I think it’s even more fundamental than that … some people ask questions and some do not. Those who ask questions should also have the ability to learn how to ask better questions, but those who unquestioningly follow instructions, or who appear to have no desire to understand why things are like they are, may be a lost cause.

      I’m not referring here to the toddler-like Why is the ball round Daddy? type of questions, or the mindless questioning of everything, both of which can get wearing. Good questions are based upon some existing level of understanding coupled with a desire to understand further.

      I’ve had some very good questions during talks over the last winter or two … seemingly relatively simple, but intriguing when I either try and answer them or think about them in a little more detail. Some may well appear here in future posts …

      … as soon as I’ve got the answers from ChatGPT 😉


  5. William Green

    Hello David,
    I greatly enjoyed this post, just as I enjoyed your talk on queen rearing yesterday evening. Thanks especially for the halftime refreshment break..
    So let me ask you a question that ChatGPT can’t handle so far.
    How local is local?
    When you introduced the topic of queen rearing, you mentioned your preference for breeding local bees (as an alternative to importing them in unmarked envelopes from Slovenia…).
    Sot in your own case, do you breed one race of queens for (dry, OSR-stuffed) East Fife, and another for the (wetter and I imagine windier) West Coast of Scotland? Or do you consider that this is all one ‘locality’ as far as your colonies are concerned.
    Asking for a friend in Dorset 🙂

    1. David Post author

      Hello William

      Yes, my east and west coast bees are two totally different populations. They are 150 miles apart, about at the same latitude, but the season and forage are fundamentally different. The east coast bees are ready for the OSR, those in the west don’t need to do much until July, so they’re later starters.

      This is a subject I’ll expand on further sometime in the future. I’m additionally restricted in moving bees about as mine on the west coast have no Varroa.

      It’s worth noting that I have moved bees from one end of the country to the other – bees from remote west coast islands to the Midlands for research for example. The bees did fine. However, that doesn’t negate the point that local bees do better. The study I’m referring to was Europe-wide and involved ~600 colonies in 21 apiaries. I’ve discussed it a few years ago. To see the differences presented in the paper I’d have had to move 300 colonies to the Midlands and compared them with another 300 left where they were.

      But, just because the differences are small that does not mean that they’re not important. The same link (above) discusses some of the biochemical adaptations observed in bees from different localities.

      The other thing to consider are the benefits of keeping bees ‘locally’ rather than distributing them and all of their pathogens. The foulbroods ‘migrate’ large distances, often primarily due to beekeepers moving bees about. This is a topic I’ll return to in the next few weeks as we’ve just published a paper that (partly) concerns this.


  6. Sue

    Hello I was led to believe that there is no such thing as a silly question only silly answers (and I am guilty as charged).
    By the way the best hive tool is one that fits your hand and doesn’t get left behind either in the shed or the long grass.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Sue

      A hive tool like this? That’s small enough to fit in my hand, but it’s also easy to lose. By coincidence I found one of those underneath a hive in my apiary on Sunday. The foliage had all died back and it re-emerged for use this season (until I lose it again).

      Whilst it is said that there is no such thing as a silly question (though ‘stupid’ often replaces silly … attributed to Carl Sagan, amongst others) I’m not sure that’s really true. That same link defines a lot of ‘stupid’ questions, which include (but are not restricted to):

      • Questions of which the answer should be painfully obvious to any person with a pulse who has lived on this Earth for more than a decade.
      • Questions that include ridiculous or hypothetical assumptions.
      • Those questions that have already been answered, but the asker was not listening or paying attention.

      I particularly like the first one 😉


  7. David Libchaber

    Good morning David,

    I didn’t know that you were not employed at the moment; I hope this was your decision.

    A very good post, as usual, that triggered two questions.

    That claw hive tool pictured above is not available on the latest Dadant catalogue and I have never seen it at my local (100 km away) bee supplies store. Perhaps it is partcularly useful with National hives?
    Entering second year, thinking of adding another hive. Do you recommend foundationless frames? When I started, the store advised me to go with plastic foundations. I am wondering now if there is much difference, and am I experience enough to switch.

    Thank you


    1. David Post author

      Hello David

      Perhaps I should have written unemployable … equally accurate. I’ve actually retired.

      That’s a very disappointing range of hive tools offered by Dadant! Abelo here offer 21 different types and Thorne’s offer 25. However, I think hive tools are a very personal choice and that it makes little to no difference what you use. I’d just as happily use mine on a Langstroth as a National hive … other than the long sharpened tools the top bar beekeepers use I doubt there’s any difference between how well they perform and the hive type.

      A second hive is always a good idea 🙂 . I don’t use plastic foundation so can’t speak to its benefits. It’s relatively little used over here. The main reason I’ve never bothered to try it is that it doesn’t feel particularly sustainable to add stuff from the petrochemical industries to my hives when the bees are capable of drawing beautiful comb all on their own. Foundationless frames work well and I’ve written extensively on this site about their benefits. There are also drawbacks … you’ll have more drones in your hives (though I consider that a benefit!) and the comb is more fragile until the frame is completely drawn. However, once drawn, the comb is robust and I happily put wired foundationless frames through my radial extractor every year, and reuse them year after year.

      About 30-50 % of the frames I use every year are foundationless … about the only place I never use them are in nucleus colonies that I’m preparing to sell. These often go to beginners and I want to ensure they have robust frames from the start as they may be a little less careful in handling the frames.

      Unless you are very clumsy handling frames I’m sure you’d do perfectly well with foundationless frames. Why not try just making up one or two? Add them individually between two drawn frames in a strong colony and marvel at the beautiful comb they produce 🙂 . Mark the top bars so you can recognise them when inspecting the colony to ensure you treat them gently for the first couple of weeks.

      With many thanks for the coffees … I’ll reply their in due course.


      PS AliExpress have those hive tools (or something that looks remarkably similar) for $1 + shipping.

  8. peter

    Hi there, I have been seeing bees for about four years and would be interested to know if you know of any evidence based research on the 3meters/3miles ‘rules’? and what AI tools might have to say about this

    I live in a rural, coastal village in West Dorset and between my beekeeper buddy and myself we have 10 national hives and one long hive in two locations, less than 2 miles apart.

    We are thinking we might need a third location to cope with expansion/queen rearing this year and so far, have not been too convinced as to the 3 mile concept, as our practical approach so far tends to not support this; so we would be interested in others real-life views on the validity of the research around this – if there is any that is, I’ve looked, and accept the ‘local things count most’ to much of beekeeping

    1. David Post author

      Hello Peter

      I’m preparing an article on ‘what is local?’ for sometime in the next few weeks as it has a bearing on a paper we have just published on coordinated Varroa control. I’ll save a detailed commentary until then if that’s OK.

      I think the rule is 3 feet or 3 miles … if you move a hive 3 metres they’ll return to the original location. I suspect the ‘rule’ evolved from simple empirical observation, but there is good supporting scientific data on the distances foragers will return from and the known distances over which scout bees operate.

      However, like all rules, there are exceptions. Geography often gets in the way. If there are extensive areas of water, or a ridge of hills between your apiaries, then the bees are much less likely to cross these natural boundaries. It’s also possible (and I’m guessing here) that extensive tracts of dense woodland, particularly coniferous, might also act as a barrier.

      The other things about rules like this is that they are no absolute. If you move the hive 4 feet they’ll get back to the right place OK. Likewise, two and half miles may well convince them that something pretty major has changed and they need to reorientate to the new site. You should probably think of these things like a gradation of likelihood that declines from the original site.

      OK, I’ve said enough without cutting significantly into the post I want to write. Have a read of Sphere of influence for starters, but then lookout for another post on this topic soon(ish).

      In closing … an out apiary over 3 miles away would be very useful 😉


  9. peter

    Hi there, thanks for getting back to me, very interesting and look forward to reading more on the topic; ; we do live in a place that only has our ‘managed’ colonies [very much up for debate as to who is managing who!] , although there are two-three wild colonies that we do know of within the village footprint, from we believe a long gone beekeeper. Otherwise, nothing apparently for about a five-six mile radius in terms of other colonies, which does give us occasional worries about drones and mating options and on-going genetics. But this could also be good news perhaps in terms of disease control.. Varroa counts this year quite low in almost all cases following two standard treatment routines.

    2022 was good for us in many ways, including queen rearing and swarm control, but 2021 and 2022 generally for queen losses has been high for West Dorset, with no real obvious explanation, except that the weather in both years was the abnormal becoming the new normal

    1. David Post author

      Hello Peter

      If your “no bees for 5-6 miles” is based upon personal observation or Beebase then both are likely to miss apiaries. Perhaps not many, but certainly some … at least, that’s my experience over the years. However, it is certainly good for disease control. You should have no problems managing Varroa levels.

      My west coast bees are isolated and I’ve moved queens 20 miles away for mating and am looking at sourcing new genetics from the islands for this year or next.


  10. James

    On the subject of questions, and related to an earlier comment, late last season I received a phone call because some contractors who were doing some heavy-duty tree work along the verge of a local road had cut into a branch of an oak tree and gone through the very top of a cavity that contained a nest of honey bees. I don’t know how much excitement that caused at the time, but when I arrived at the site much of the tree was cut into sections and lying in a field, easily ten metres, perhaps more, from its original location. The contractors had left and the bees were quietly flying to and from their original entrance regardless of the fact it had moved, with no sign of stragglers around what was left of the tree trunk.

    It’s left me questioning whether the “three feet” thing is just an oversimplification that’s become “fact” by repetition by people who may well never have tried it. Perhaps, if there’s no sign of their original home, returning workers will look around the area until they find something they recognise as their own colony, or a colony they can beg their way into. Maybe how far they will go to try to find their (or another) colony depends on how many physical cues there are to suggest they’re in the right place and that should a beekeeper be able to remove those cues then moving a fair bit more than three feet in one hit is quite possible.

    And on an unrelated note, I also attended your Queenright queen rearing talk last Thursday and found it very confidence-inspiring and will definitely give it a go this coming season. I imagine Amazon is already seeing a run on 00 and 000 sable paintbrushes. Fortunately my daughter is doing A Level Art so I have that side under control already.

    1. David Post author

      Hello James

      Delighted you enjoyed the queen rearing talk … it really is the most fun you can have in a beesuit. Good luck ‘borrowing’ that brush.

      I have moved bees just a few feet (more than 3 feet) and know they return to the original location even if the hive has been completely removed. I’ll dig out a video for a future post on the topic. However, they also seem to learn pretty quickly if there are other suitable locations nearby … the tree in your example, or a nearby hive. I’d be surprised if smell wasn’t a big part of this. I’m sure there’s also a good degree of oversimplification … swarms have ‘amnesia’ but Gene Robinson showed years ago that if you shake them out of the bait hive they’ve recently occupied, they return to the original hive the swarm issued from.



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