It seems like nothing in beekeeping is ever straightforward. You've probably heard the worn out saying from your local beekeeping association "ask 10 beekeepers a question and get 11 answers" <insert eye roll here>.
Some beekeepers use 8 Frame equipment while others use 10 Frame. Some beekeepers run upper entrances all year round while others don't...It may leave you wondering, which is right? Which is wrong (there really is no wrong answer, it's what is right for you and your climate)? Which is better?
So then...when it comes to bottom boards, like everything else, of course there are multiple options to choose from there as well, why wouldn't there be?
Well, when it comes down to your choice of bottom board, it really depends on a few factors.
1. Your management style and preference.
2. Your local climate.
3. Your pest & mite management strategy.
First, let's talk about the purpose of a bottom board. Put simply, this is the part of the hive that your bottom most brood chamber box rests on. It has raised edges so that it forms the front entrance for your bees. The bottom board is designed to seal the bottom of your hive and protect it from the weather and opportunistic pests.
Now let's review the pros and cons of the types of bottom boards:
Solid Bottom Board Pros:
- Maintains more of the bees communication pheromones within the hive.
- Bees tend to propolize (a sticky substance derived from plants and trees) sold bottom boards. Some studies suggest that propolis invokes better immune responses in European Honey Bees, which may contribute to healthier colonies.
- Solid bottom boards will keep out a lot more cold air and may make it easier for the cluster of bees to maintain warmth during a cold New Brunswick Winter.
- Brood rearing may start earlier in a cold Spring in colonies with solid bottom boards as they are able to better keep out cold air and drafts.
- Solid bottom boards are more natural as a honey bee hive in nature would not have an open to air bottom.
- Tend to be priced better than screened boards (saves you money).
- Mite treatments tend to work better as the mites have nowhere to escape to.
Solid Bottom Board Cons:
- In very hot, humid climates a solid bottom board can't provide natural ventilation, which means your bees will have to spend a bit more time and energy ventilating the hive by fanning their wings to assist in temperature moderation.
- Varroa mites that fall off bees can climb back up into the colony off a solid board
Screened Bottom Board Pros:
- Mites that fall through the screened bottom board usually cant get back into the colony.
- Sticky paper can often be placed beneath the screening and can be used as a passive mite monitoring technique to examine mite drop in a 24 hour period.
- Allows for plenty of natural ventilation of the colony in hot and humid climates
Screened Bottom Board Cons:
- In areas that see very cold Winter's (like NB) screened bottom boards may make the colony colder and require the cluster to consume more energy to regulate temperature.
- Bee pheromones may become diluted due to the increased ventilation and air movement through the hive making it harder for the bees in the colony to communicate with each other.
- The mesh can provide easier access into the hive for other pests such as ants.
So after analyzing the pros and cons of each style of bottom board, which one do you choose? It is entirely up to you and what you feel is best for your bees. NBee Gold Beekeeping Supplies typically recommends solid boards in our climate, however there are beekeepers in the Maritimes who use screened bottom boards successfully as well.
If you have more than one hive (which we always advise starting out with 2 hives) then you can run a comparison experiment and try one of each and then document if you notice any discernible differences in the colonies based on their bottom boards.