Wewa beekeeper builds bee fortress to fend off invasive beetles

The back entrance is attached by a nylon hinge. There’s an oil trap in the basement. The doors are angled straight outwards and there’s mesh covering every exterior crack.

Jim Rish has taken every precaution to protect his bee hives from invasive beetles and mites.

His  fortified bee box design, which he calls the Rish Bee Castle, is the culmination of years of research, designing and prototypes. Now, he has it to a point where he’s ready to share it with other beekeepers.

At the American Legion in Panama City on Monday evening, he brought his fortress in tow, ready to present it piece by piece to an eager audience of beekeepers, who meet there the second Monday of every month.

“I have a lot to get through in just a little bit of time,” Rish said to the audience. “So, if you have any questions, could you write them down? And then if I don’t answer it by the end, then you can ask me afterwards.”

Rish, who had driven down from Wewahitchka for the meeting,  dedicated his presentation to a young man he recently met while visiting the University of Florida’s bee lab.

“He’d lost 30 hives, all that he had, to beetles,” He said. “Those little buggers almost put him out of business. They almost did it to me the first or second year they were here. If he’d known about this, he could’ve salvaged some of them. He could have prevented some of this from happening in the first place.”

Nathan Rish, Jim Rish’s son, said his father first began working on the design for his bee castle after losing more than 250 hives to small hive beetles in one year  more than a decade ago.

The invasive species, which was first observed in Florida in the late 1990s, inhabits beehives, where they feed on stored pollen and honey. 

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, “combs are damaged and brood killed by the burrowing of the beetle larvae.”

Often, bees will abandon their combs after they have been infested by the beetles and larvae, and the pests cause the honey to ferment, creating a foul odor.

In the years that followed, Rish, a fourth generation beekeeper, compiled techniques he had learned from family, colleagues and friends throughout his career to build his bee castle, and incorporated his own ideas along the way.

But the most important thing, Rish said, is ensuring that beetles have as few possible entrances into the bee box as possible.

“We’ve all seen people who had beat-up stuff with you know not holes and cracks and stuff rotten. And all that is an invitation for beetles to just inundate you,” Rish said to the group. “ If you’ve got stuff like yet around, they’re going to find it. They crawl  all over the place all through the night looking for a place to get in.”

As Rish disassembled the bee box in front of the gathered audience, describing each part and its purpose, they waited eagerly to ask their questions.

The design is complicated, with many small parts that have been fine tuned over years of use.

Working at the family business, he said it would be too much of a time constraint to build the boxes to sell. So, instead, the father and son are working on patenting the bee castle so that they can then distribute the design and instructions for how to create it online.

“Give me a couple months, and I’ll announce it, and you’ll see,” he said. “This is just kind of to whet your appetite.”

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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