March 17, 2022

More Listener Questions (065)

More Listener Questions (065)

This week, Beekeeping Today Podcast's co-host, Jeff Ott sits in for Kim Flottum and joins podcast regular, Jim Tew to answer listener questions. Kim and Jim have often discussed the pros and cons of using all medium equipment. Today, Jim and Jeff...

This week, Beekeeping Today Podcast's co-host, Jeff Ott sits in for Kim Flottum and joins podcast regular, Jim Tew to answer listener questions.

Kim and Jim have often discussed the pros and cons of using all medium equipment. Today, Jim and Jeff answer the listener question about how to move from deeps to mediums (or 'western') boxes for the brood boxes. What do you use? What do you like? What don't you like?

What is your favorite beekeeping tool not found in a beekeeping catalog or your local bee supply shop? Do you use anything? What is possible?

Finally, what use is flour in a bee yard? We'll give you a moment to ponder... Jim and Jeff answer a question involving flour, bees and apiaries. Have you used flour in a bee yard?

Listen today and let us know your answer on all these question and submit yours! 

If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 65 – More Questions


Jim Tew: Hey podcast listeners, Jim Tew coming to you on Honey Bee Obscura, where normally Kim and I talk about all things beekeeping but Kim's away for a week, so we’ve got a good friend from Beekeeping Today, our sister podcast, Jeff Ott with us. Good morning, Jeff.

Jeff Ott: Hey, Jim, how are you doing?

Jim: Are you in good spirits and ready to fill some big shoes?

Jeff: Not only am I in good spirits, but I’ve also broken into the spirits. I am feeling really good. Just kidding, no, I'm feeling good.

Jim: I understand. Quite a breakfast you've had then already--

Jeff: Plenty of coffee.

Jim: What we normally do, Jeff, I think you know the drill, since you're behind the scenes all the time. Kim and I talk about various issues in beekeeping and one of the ones that we've been holding back for a while - but today is a good day - is that beekeepers write us, they send us comments, they send us questions, and we've let those back up. We've chosen three of those today. You want talk about those with me?

Jeff: I sure do. I appreciate you inviting me in on the conversation.

Jim: Just looking forward to it.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, host Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world, and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: One of the first ones that came in that I found to be interesting, is from Michael P. Let's just give the first letter of the last name, Michael.

Jeff: Hey, Michael?

Jim: Thanks for writing us, but you wanted to know, what's involved in going from deep frame operation, deep box operation to a medium box operation. Does that make sense beekeepers? Keeping bees in the deep hive bodies, you want to move to keeping bees in the medium hive bodies. How do you go about doing that? You ever done such a thing, Jeff?

Jeff: Not mid-season I haven't. When I first moved here to Washington state, I decided it's a great opportunity to move everything to eight frame mediums, and I took that opportunity to start out new with all that equipment, but not middle of season. It sounds like that'd be bit of a challenge. Have you done that, Jim?

Jim: I do have some comments, but before I make those, why, Jeff, why did you consider mediums instead of deeps?

Jeff: Partly because of the weight, the weight of handling the full 10 frame box of the super in the middle of the season was a challenge. One or two colonies maybe not so bad, but if you're doing 10 or 20 or 30, the older you get it seems like the tougher that gets. Each box gets heavier.

When I restarted, I decided, I moved to eight-frames, and decided, well, if I'm going to do a eight frame I might as well try all mediums because that seems to be a management technique I hadn't tried before, so I wanted to give it try.

Jim: You're almost exactly in tune with the short comment that Michael made, was that he said, and I want to quote him, "that it would give him some flexibility and be a wee bit lighter." It looks like the universal reason is the weight of the equipment.

There is a quirk though, when you were talking – me being an old guy, memories come and go as they want - I have no control over it all the time, but one of the memories that popped back is that a medium depth super is pretty much the size of a cavity that some of the researchers have been able to show in the field that bees naturally select when given the choice.

It's intriguing that this medium depth super is about the size of the cavity that bees choose in the wild. I'm not saying that's a reason to, or not to, but that is an interesting quirk.

Jeff: Is that a medium size eight frame or medium size, not medium fries, medium size? You see where my mind is.

Jim: You sound like I'm talking to Kim, he is sold on eight frame equipment, man - he is sold on eight frame equipment, but when I talk beehives, I generally talk 10-frame. You asked if I had had experience, it’s ironic - the first day - Jeff. The very first day that I ever walked into a beekeeping class at Auburn University, the beekeeping professor had a table saw running, no guard, you don't need a guard, stand way, and he had students ripping deeps down to mediums.

Now, I want you to know, this was 1974, so it's not that no one cared about safety, it's just we hadn't gotten to the point yet that you shouldn't be doing that kind of thing.

One of the very first things I saw was bee equipment being modified from deeps to mediums, and the professor's reasoning was that he had gotten too old, and he just didn't want to handle those deeps anymore. This comes up over and over again.

That seems to be the only reason, the weight of it. I just want to step right up, Jeff, and say that the weight is an issue, but it's a clumsy size box. Whether or not it's a medium or a deep, I have to reach over, and with my fingertips, on a ridiculously small handle, pick up, in the case of a medium, 60 to 65 pounds, in the case of a deep, 80 to 85 pounds, that's just 20-pound difference.

I'm in a clumsy position though, with fingertips at a dead strain, and I can't tell you that 20 pounds makes or breaks the deal so much as just being in a clumsy position.

Jeff: I think it all comes down to repetitive weight, cumulative weight. One or two boxes, it feels pretty much the same, it's awkward, it's a strain, but after 10 or 20 boxes, it adds up. I think weight's an issue if you have more than two hives.

Jim: I'm not opposed to it. Sounds like I'm arguing. I have said time and time and time and time again, I keep my bees in 10-frame deeps because I inherited the remnants of my father's bee supply operation, and I've got enough deep hive bodies to last me the next two lifetimes. That is why I use them so frequently.

If you're going to do this, Michael, there is no convenient time to start it. You said you started at the first of the season and I assume that you acted like you were just starting with new beehives. Otherwise, you can cut the boxes down. You can't cut the frames down, deciding to go to mediums from deeps, you're basically starting over, sell off the deeps and just start over. What would you say?

Jeff: You could do it as a management exercise and experiment and try to, how do you get the bees to move out of a deep box and move up into a new box now a medium. You could experiment with different types ways of enticing them up into the medium box, and that'd be fine.

I think if you had a large-scale operation, you're wanting to do that, I would just, as your colonies turn over at the end of season and as you catch swarms, you just do a gradual move to medium boxes, and that way it saves you a lot of time and hassle.

Jim: It's going to be a transition, there'll be a year or two into it. You're still going to be some percentage both. Let tell you, I like even when people have this odd comment. I see it all the time now in news clips “I'm a woodworker, don't try this at home or I'm a nutritionist, these are five things you should eat or I'm a car mechanic, always do this to whatever.”

Well, I'm a woodworker and I want to tell you, it is dangerous to start show sawing those boxes down. If you've heard us say anything here today, that implies that you ought to take the guard off a table saw and set that fence up and rip those boxes down to mediums. I want you to know, you've got to have carbide-tip blades. You're going to hit nails. They're going to go flying across the shop. You've got to have on face protection. If you use a hand power saw - circular saw - same thing, it's going to grab, bind. I've done it, I can't recommend that you do it, it's just not worth it. Use other equipment.

Jeff: I agree. In fact, I would suggest if you're going to move to all medium equipment, instead of cutting down your deeps, sell them and buy new medium equipment from a supplier such as our good sponsor Betterbee.

BetterBee: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment and knowledge needed to succeed because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves. They understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at

Jim: Well, I think we've got that worked out as much as we can, Jeff. Good reasons probably wait for using mediums. If you got them already, gradually phase them out, bite the bullet. You and your bees can evolve together. As you get older, your beehives get smaller.

Jeff: There you go.

Jim: Let's do another one.

Jeff: All right. Sounds good.

Jim: I enjoyed that. Let's just keep the enjoyment going. This one threw me for a loop. I actually have mentioned it in one of my upcoming beekeeping articles, but I want to do it again. Jacob asked, "What is your favorite or your most frequently used tool that is not really meant to be a beekeeping tool?"

Jeff: Does he mean out in the yard or just--

Jim: I would think anywhere you want it to be. What do you use in your bee operation that you didn't buy from a bee supply catalog? Is that the way I could word his question?

Jeff: I would imagine so.

Jim: You go first.

Jeff: If it doesn't have a bee imprinted on the side of it. I can't think of anything offhand right now that I have, other than looking forward to this season, I am going to try a battery-powered leaf blower to blow out bees from my honey supers. I've always been using fume boards and a bee brush on occasion.

Around here, there's just not enough sunshine or heat in the air to be really effective on the fume board, like I had in Colorado and Ohio. I'm looking forward to trying to be a leaf blower this year.

Jim: I use those too. Do our listeners know where you are, that you're in the Pacific Northwest?

Jeff: [laughs] Well, I'm afraid if they've listened to Beekeeping Today Podcast enough they've heard me complain plenty of times. [chuckles]

Jim: When you say -  here - you and I are long way apart right now.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: I use leaf blowers too. A sad story, a bee supply company since the mid '60's manufactured a dedicated bee blower, five horsepower gasoline-driven engine. In my lifetime, I have had a personal relationship with five different models of that machine.

I noticed about a year ago that that blower was now in the discontinued section and was marked down from the regular $800 price to $600, and it's going away. It went away very quietly, there was no fanfare. The primary thing that happened that made that thing become irrelevant was commercially available leaf blowers they came everywhere, battery-powered, gasoline-powered, they do the same job, they're lighter. Everything about them worked out better.

Jeff: Just dealing with a gas-powered leaf blower is just a pain and don't need a whole lot of power on that.

Jim: It's so easy to get off the subject on these things because I've used them a lot. First of all, these things are beacons - upper case, bolded, underlined. These leaf blows are beacons for starting robbing.

Think about it, your honey flow is over, you want to take off your surplus honey, nothing's out in the field, everything's over, so let's go out and aeriate the whole apiary for all these unemployed foragers. They will go ballistic when you get that whole place smelling like honey in the air. The thing is happening, and usually, you're attacking all the colonies. It seems to cause wild confusion.

Jeff: It's typically pretty busy when you're--


Jim: When you say you don't need a lot of air, you don't, because if you have really strong air, you'll actually blow the bees abdomen off. The head and thorax will be in the cell eating honey and their abdomens are sticking out, and you hit them with so much air, it'll rip off their abdomens, and then that bee is having a very bad day.

Jeff: That would not be-- That would be--

Jim: That would not be.

Jeff: That would not be good.

Jim: When I read that question, I'm ashamed to tell you that the first thing I thought of before I could get control of my own thought, was that the tool I used the most, that I did not buy at a bee supply company, was my cell phone.

Jeff: Oh, that's a good one.

Jim: [chuckles] I'd never go to bee yard without it. If I have a heart attack or a stroke, the last thing I want to be doing is trying to dial 911 out there so I have it all the time. When I'm not having medical emergencies, it's my friend for what's the latest update on Varroa control? Can I get a particular piece of equipment from our supplier by looking at the catalog online?

Jeff: Or photographs.

Jim: I thought, that's not really what Jacob meant. Not wanting to compete with you, not wanting to enter this contest of who has the weirdest device, but I use a heat gun a lot. Mine just happens to be the Milwaukee brand. Everybody manufactures one of these things.

Why would I want a heat gun? When I go out to a big colony that's really jammed up tight, you haven't been going into it enough, propolis solid, you get that thing off, you get it back to the honey house. I can hit that, hit it where the frame rests are, I can hit that with the heat gun and soften that propolis and wax, and break that loose surprisingly quickly.

Jeff: Wow.

Jim: I use a heat gun to clean up my extractor. When you got pieces of wax stuck to the extractor, on the floor, on your extracting knife, and the knife is already cooled down, whatever, that heat gun is always there ready to go.

Jeff: I think you could also use it with the sieve out of the extractor too, if you have one of the stainless-steel strainers.

Jim: Yes. I had never thought about that. You could use it to soften that and melt the crystallized honey or to melt the wax cappings.

Jeff: It's good idea.

Jim: I sound like I'm selling heat guns, I'm not. I've never seen a heat gun for sale, but I use them all the time. This is a quirk I came up with. This is a Jim Tew quirk, that I don't know that anybody else has ever done this, but I carry a pocket knife. I've carried a pocket knife since I was a club scout.

On occasion, when you get a new knife or your knife gets rusty and seizes up in the hinge, if you put just a tiny clip of bee's wax on the hinge mechanism of your pocket knife, and then heat it with that heat gun, that bees wax goes all down, permeates that pocket knife hinge. That's a freebie, listeners. It makes that pocket knife work smooth as it could possibly-

Jeff: Oh, that's real nice.

Jim: always work.

Jeff: I used to carry pocket knives all the time too until TSA started taking them away.

Jim: Ah, isn't that the truth. Don't ever try to carry a pocket knife into a national museum.

Jeff: There's no sense of humor.

Jim: You are world-class criminal. Mine's just a two and a half inch, three blade stockman. Why we get off on this? Just a common pocket knife. I've been kept out of professional football games because I had a two-and-a-half-inch pocket knife.

All right. Enough about that and the hinge mechanism on it. I thought the last thing we'd do, just very briefly, because it was so interesting. Richard S wrote me, on my webpage, that when he tries to determine who the robbers are from the bee colonies that's attacking his yard, apparently, he stands quietly, lets the robbers come for his veil….get ready now….and while they're attacking him, he tosses flour, F-L-O-U-R, flour, into the air.

It gets on the bees, and then after he does that for a few seconds, few minutes, I don't know, how much flour you think it'd take, Jeff?

Jeff: Oh, jeez, I don't know. Till you got enough?

Jim: Then you monitor where those flour-laden bees as they go back, which hive they're returning to. Have you ever heard of such a thing?


Pause, long pause.  Crickets.  Crickets. 


Jeff: No. I have two responses. One, my first immediate response, and forgive me, Richard is, I can't imagine what his neighbors are thinking when he's out there in the bee yard with dozens of angry bees around his veil and he's pitching finger loads of flour in the air.

Jim: Oh, you poor neighbors. It's always the neighbors.

Jeff: Yes. Besides that, the only other time I've seen something like that actually used, personally seen that used, years ago, I was down in Mexico visiting Roger Hoopingarner and Chip Taylor at their lab in Mexico. Roger was running an experiment, and he was dusting the foragers as they left the hive and returning.

For the life of me, I can't remember the purpose of the experiment, but that was the first time I remember seeing the bees with orange dust on them, orange chalk powder or something. He was able to track and monitor them where they were going. It's a proven method of tracking bees is to dust them with the powder.

Jim: In Richards defense. I've also heard of old, old-time beekeepers who use flour to mark bees on a blossom, and then they would chase them back over time and found the bee nest - use it to line bees. Entertain your neighbors, stand in the backyard and throw flour in the air, on yourself and on the bees, but I think it probably would work.

Jeff: I don't see why it wouldn't work. It's the visual entertainment.

Jim: Jeff, this is enough. We've just gone on and on. I enjoyed talking with you and we-

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: - had some interesting comments from people that came in here. Write us if you want to talk with us more and we'll capture these again and bring them back up later on.

Jeff: I'll even suggest, if you don't want to write us, leave a comment in the comments of this episode and start a discussion. Hit on a couple good topics. What is your most frequently used non-hives beehive tool that you use?

Jim: As always, thank you for listening. Please come back. We'll be here every Thursday morning talking about bees.

Jeff: Thanks for inviting me, Jim. I enjoyed this time.

Jim: You did a great job filling in for a great man.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: All right. I'll tell you bye.

[00:22:13] [END OF AUDIO]