One of the first steps in beekeeping is getting all of your equipment ready. Along the way you have some choices to make. Even with the popular Langstroth hives (the industry standard) – beekeepers have at least 2 options for bottom boards. Both solid bottoms and screened bottom boards are available – each has its advantages. Explore the pros and cons to help you choose the right bottom boards for your hives.
Your skills as a beekeeper will grow quickly if you have a good understanding of the various parts of a beehive. Knowing the function of each will allow you to consider other ideas as your beekeeping expertise grows and new things become available.
Beehive Bottom Boards
When discussing hive components – what better place to start than the base or floor of a beehive called a bottom board. While there are several different types of beehives in use, we will focus on the most common-Langstroth Hive.
For many years, solid bottom boards were the industry standard. This base was a solid piece of wood. As a foundation of the hive, they did a good job.
In recent years, the use of bases with screen inserts have become more popular. Which is better for your colonies?
Well, like most things in beekeeping we have a lot of disagreement. But, let’s explore the options and cover some tips for choosing the right bottom board for your hives.
What Does A Bottom Board Do?
First, let’s understand the function of a bottom board. In the Langstroth hive, it is the base or floor of the beehive. All the other bee boxes (or supers) sit on this base.
Because of the way it is made, the base also provides an entrance for the bees. Those little sides provide a way for bees to enter the box stack. A small piece across the back closes up the hive from the rear.
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When needed, this entrance is easily reduced or closed entirely using entrance reducers or even the right sized stick or piece of wood. We sometimes want to reduce the size of the opening according to conditions or colony population.
During times of a honey flow, strong hives will have their entrance completely open. They are busy working and have many bees to defend the hive.
But during other times of the season, you want to be able to use a standard entrance reducer if needed to help with colony defense.
If you decide to try your skill at building your own beehives, follow your plan instructions on the size of these side pieces. This will ensure that your equipment is standard.
Another purpose of the bottom board is to protect the base of the hive from larger predators such as mice, opossums etc. This can be very beneficial if you live in an area with many small predators.
Because many bottom boards are made of wood. They will last longer if they are elevated off the ground.
Take the time to construct a hive stand for your beehives. Raising the hive off the ground not only protects your wood – it also saves your back while doing hive inspections.
In recent years, hive bases have become available in plastic and various composites. Reportedly they require less maintenance than wood. However, the really good ones are quite expensive.
Solid Bottom Boards (SBB)
Solid Bottom Boards (SBB) have been in use for more than 100 years as part of the original Langstroth hive design. They are still popular.
- cheaper to build
- may contribute to earlier brood rearing
- no unwanted pests can enter the base
Cheaper to Build.
It is hard to believe that wire is more expensive than wood. However, that is often true. Some beekeepers use a solid sheet of wood for the base but several pieces placed close together work too.
Usually made of pine or other soft wood, it does not require a lot of expertise to build a solid wooden bottom. The most difficult part is to build the sides at the correct height to allow a standard bee entrance.
Earlier Brood Rearing
They can help keep the hive warmer during in early Spring. Some beekeepers believe that a solid base encourages earlier bee brood rearing.
Also, the increased darkness inside the hive, may cause the queen to lay further down in the hive body. Therefore, the colony is using more of the available comb space.
Keeps More Pests Out
Due to the fact that it is a solid piece, a solid bottom board does not allow any insect pests to enter from the bottom of the hive. Even the smaller bugs have no wire to go through.
- debris accumulation
- natural mite drop counts more difficult
This type of hive base is not without its challenges. All through the year, debris will drop down through the hive. Dropped pollen, beeswax, bee propolis and pests will accumulate on the solid floor.
For this reason, the board should be cleaned several times a year – which requires moving all the boxes stacked on top.
Taking routine mite drop counts may be more difficult with solid bottom boards. If the beekeeper uses natural mite drops as a measure of infestation to asses if varroa mite treatments are needed special equipment is needed.
A special wire/sticky board combination is inserted into the hive. Otherwise, your honey bees will stick to the count board!
Screened Bottom Boards
Beehive bottom boards with a screen insert have gained popularity in recent years. They have the wooden entrance board (front porch), sides and back of a standard solid. However, instead of solid planks in the middle – it has a section of screen.
Screened Bottom Boards gained popularity among beekeepers during the influx of varroa mites. They were originally designed to be part of an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system.
Researchers understood that a small percentage of mites drop from adult bees during grooming. Any mites that fell through the screen to the ground would not make it back into the hive. This did not pan out to be enough to make a big difference-but they do make testing easier.
They usually come with a mite grid board to aid you in taking mite counts. That board should remain out off the hive most of the time unless you are using it for a certain purpose. But, if the grid board is left on the hive for any amount of time – it too should be cleaned periodically.
- easier mite counts
- better ventilation
Taking Mite Counts Easier
While the screened bottom only removed a small percentage of varroa mites, it helped with mite control in another way.
The screen allowed for an easy method of testing for varroa mites. A “sticky board” could be placed under the wire base. The wire screen keeps the bees off the sticky board. Mites falling through land on the sticky board.
This enables the beekeeper to count the natural mite drop. And, they can estimate the level of mite infestation in the colony. These numbers are important, in order to know when to treat bees for mites.
Provide Better Ventilation
Screened Bottom Boards definitely provide better hive ventilation – something that is important any time of year.
The screen insert makes aids in good air flow and helps reduce temperature build up .Living in an area with Small Hive Beetles, I choose to use screened for heat relief.
Hives placed in full sun are less plagued by hive beetles. But, it gets hot out there in the sun during July! Having a screen insert helps my bees control the heat inside.
- pests entering screen
- possible too open in harsh climates
Possible Pests Entering Hive from Below
Screened Bottom Boards have # 8 size wire mesh. This size of wire will not allow honey bees, wasps or hornet predators to enter.
However, tiny beetles are able to fit through the wire. This is a concern for me. However, beetles seem to have no problem just walking in the front door either! Several beetle traps in the hive seem to be the best solution.
In Southern regions, there is no harm in leaving the mite count board in during winter to block drafts-but you don’t have to. Many northern beekeepers use Screened Bottom Boards without closing them – unless they live in a truly frigid climate.
If you live in very frigid regions, you might have 2 bottom boards for your beehives. Using the screened one in Summer and the solid in Winter. Or a solid board that is periodically cleaned of debris may be best if it stays cool all year.
It is good to paint the parts of the bottom board that are exposed to weather – the landing strip, edges and back – perhaps the bottom to protect the wood. However, the interior parts of the bottom board do not need to be painted.
Solid bottom boards should be cleaned several times a year – especially in early Spring and Fall. Set aside the hive boxes and use a metal scraper to remove an debris that is stuck to the wood.
Which one is best for your hives? When choosing between a solid bottom board or the screened version – honestly, both types have advantages. And, some beekeepers have both and switch them on their hives as needed.
The region in which you live – whether extreme cold or hot may play a role in your decision of choosing a bottom board for your beehive. Check with other beekeepers in your local beekeeping association and find out what is common in your area.