The slatted rack has become my all-time favorite piece of bee furniture, and I wouldn’t try to keep bees in a Langstroth-style hive without one now that I understand its value to our hives. I plan insert one whenever I put in a new hive and leave it there year-round. If you’re not familiar with them, a slatted rack (sometimes called a brood rack) fits just beneath the lowest hive body and above the Varroa screen or bottom board. It has the same outside dimensions as the brood box and is about 2 inches deep.
Slatted racks provide dead air space below the brood chamber. This layer of air helps to keep the bees cooler in summer and warmer in winter. In the summer when populations are high, bees congregate in this area which reduces congestion in the hive, spreads out the heat load, and facilitates ventilation by fanning. This increase of space and lessening of heat seems to decrease swarming as well.
In the winter, when the entrances are reduced, the air space within the slatted rack acts as an insulating layer between the brood chamber and the cold area below the hive. It also removes the brood nest further from the drafty entrance.
The queen will lay further down
Because a slatted rack moves the bottom of the brood chamber further from the entrance, the queen tends to lay eggs all the way to the bottom of the frames, thus extending the brood pattern.
Here are some caveats about using slatted racks:
- If you use a screened bottom board, the slats need to run from front to back— the same direction as the frames. The idea here is that the mites will fall between the slats and then through the screen. If you have the type of rack that runs crosswise, fewer mites are going to fall through so your Varroascreen will be less effective. Similarly, the number of slats should match the number of frames. If you use only nine brood frames in a ten-frame box, your slatted rack should have nine slats. Some manufacturers have designed racks that can be modified for this configuration. There are also slatted racks made specifically for 8-frame equipment.
- At one end of the slats (running perpendicular to them) is a flat board about four inches wide. This goes at the front of the hive and is said to reduce air turbulence at the entrance.
- But the most important thing to remember about slatted racks is this: they have two sides, a deep side and a shallow side. The shallow side goes up. Repeat. The shallow side goes up. If you put it in upside down, the bees will draw comb into the empty space. The next time you try to reverse brood boxes, you’ll first have to cut away the comb and brood hanging off the bottom. You can’t even set the box down without doing serious damage. This is not fun, especially when the box weighs 90 pounds and the temperature is 90 degrees. (Hmm . . . Do you hear experience speaking here?)
However, once you get your slatted racks successfully installed, you’ll be a convert. Whatever the reason, hives with racks seem to do better than hives without.
How you prepare your hives for winter depends on where you live, so some of the suggestions below may not apply to you. Nevertheless, the list may give you some ideas. Although the calendar still shows November, those long, dark, cold days of winter are just around the corner. It’s time to get busy.
- Remove empty supers. Make the space inside the hive commensurate with the size of the colony. If necessary, reduce the hive volume with follower boards, especially in a top-bar hive. A proper interior size is less drafty and less likely to harbor intruders.
- Check for a laying queen. You should see at least some brood in your hive. If you don’t, order a queen as soon as possible.
- Check for colony size and combine small ones. Come spring it is better to have one live colony than two dead ones.
- Check for honey stores. If your hives are too light, you will need to add some frames of honey. You may also feed….but once the cold gets here it will be too late .
- Assure that the honey frames are in the right place, that is, they should be on both sides of the cluster and above it in a Langstroth hive. Move frames around if necessary. In a top-bar hive, put the cluster at one end of the hive and put the honey frames next to the cluster on the other side. This way, the colony can move laterally in one direction to find food.
- Reduce hive entrances if you haven’t already. It’s time for mice and other small creatures to find a snug and warm overwintering place—one filled with honey is especially attractive.
- Remove weedy vegetation from the base of the hive. Vegetation is a convenient hiding place for creatures who may want to move into the hive and it can be used like an entrance ramp or stepladder.
- Put a slatted rack** in your hive if you don’t already have one. The slatted rack adds space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty hive opening. **This is something new I have learned about and am adding to my hives…see my next post for more information
- Put a wintergreen grease patty in each hive. Grease patties won’t control a large mite infestation, but they can slow the increase of mites during the winter months.
- If you live in a wet area, make sure your lids will keep out the rain. Make any needed repairs now.
- Provide ventilation for your hives: air must be able to come in through the bottom and out through the top. I like to use a screened bottom board all winter long.
- If high winds are a problem, secure your lids with heavy stones or tie-downs.
- If high winds are a problem, consider providing a windbreak.
- If winter flooding is a problem, move the hives to higher ground now while the weather is still dry.
Received the following text from Sean a few weeks ago…and I was reminded today that I still had not responded. Since Sean’s observations really concern us all, I decided to post and answer here. You are welcome to add to my comments and perhaps you have questions to raise as well.
“Hey Scott. My hive at the apiary is okay one at my house if full. I have three boxes pretty full of honey. Do I add another or leave it alone. Also do I go ahead and put the small opening and seal it up? Apiary hive is pretty weak compared to the one at the house. Both have signs of queen but one at the house is way more productive. Hope you are doing well” –Sean
First let me say I am doing very well, but for a retired person…I am not very retired. I am deeply involved in my church and community and have been doing a huge amount of work as a substitute teacher as well. That being said…my beekeeping time has been greatly reduced, most especially for our Blog…so its time to crank it back up.
- Addressing the three boxes of honey…we definitely want to pull off two of these. Reducing the size of our hives for winter is essential. I have reduced all of my hives to the brood box and one super. The super is full of honey for the bees to utilize over the winter.
- It is certainly time to reduce our openings. Many of us will do this as early as August if there is any potential for “robbing”.
- Checking to make sure we have queens is another thing we just always be on top of. Our Winter Bees are being made and the population should be greatly reduced.
- Production is always a curious thing. This is why having hives at multiple locations is a good thing. I cannot account for your lack of production at the Apiary? I know that when I put the new community feeder out it helped my hives. If your stores are still lacking, you should continue to feed as long as it is warm.