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Monday, 25 May 2015

Adobe dwelling

Removing a hive roof recently I was surprised to find what looked like a bright yellow sweet wedged into one corner. I knocked it with the hive tool and it fell away revealing what looked like a tiny igloo made of clay.

Who lives in a house like this?
The bright yellow substance fell apart when touched. It was actually pollen that'd been packed into the corner and walled up with mud. I think it was the work of some sort of mason bee. There was no egg or grub in the little house so maybe the bee hadn't got round to it yet or perhaps the spider I also found in the roof space had already taken it.

2015 Beverley Beekeeper's Auction

The last weekend in April was an important date in the local beekeeping calendar as it was Beverley Beekeeper's Association's annual auction. The event when beekeepers sell off old or surplus equipment and bee colonies and a couple of astute sellers make a little profit on items they've made or bought to trade, cheque books get dusted off, money changes hands and everyone goes home to break out the blowtorch and start scorching their purchases.

Some Beekeeping Stuff

As usual viewing started at 10am and the auction was scheduled to start at 12:00. As on previous occasions I'd planned to roll up bright and early peruse the wares and make a plan based on what I needed and what was there. I needed mostly hive floors,  hive lids, queen excluders, a couple of supers and some Commercial brood boxes. Unfortunately the previous night I wound up at impromptu gathering till the early morning and my phone battery died. I woke up at half eleven, responded to a handful of FB messages from the previous night before plugging my dead phone into a contraption with a couple of AA batteries to give it some charge, grabbing my chequebook and  heading out.

I arrived as they reached lot number 15 so I'd not missed much. Lot 15 was some plastic tubs if you were wondering. On display in the hall was beekeeping kit ranging from plastic buckets to new and old hive parts and stands to shiny powered honey extractors and, just outside, bees. There were a lot of feeders for sale, wooden and plastic, not long after sitting down someone bagged a rather smart Ashforth feeder for £8. There were a handful of extractors on offer including some powered models, someone won a mini extractor for £65.

Shiny Powered Honey Extractor

I bid on a couple of hive roofs winning neither then got a rather ragged roof for £18. I've since given it a lick of paint and now it looks well OK it looks like a slightly tatty roof with a lick of paint, but looks aside it's actually a very sturdy piece of construction -certainly weighs more than any of my other roofs. A few supers complete with frames and foundation came up and I got possibly the third one for £26. Another bargain, it looks to be new. This season's looking pretty good so far so it'll be pressed into service pretty soon. Among the bits, bobs and creations on sale was a huge knife with handles at either end. The kind of thing you'd probably spot in the background of a Hostel movie. When it came up the auctioneer revealed it to be a Fondant Knife, for cutting the huge catering size blocks of cake icing beekeepers use in winter. I think the knife sold although the boxes of Fondant that came up later went unsold.

Leather gauntlets, huge knife, branding iron
There were some lots of unframed Queen Excluders and I got a set of three for £25. In theory an unframed excluder can go straight onto the Brood Box and the Super can go on top of that, although when I tested one there was a gap between the Super and the Brood Box, It's possible that I used a Super that wasn't built quite to specification but I think I'll build some frames for the excluders anyway - look out for that super exciting post later in the year! 8-D

Unframed Queen Excluders
2mm Copper wires with 4.3mm gaps between them
After a few more items there was a little break and we headed outside to see the bee colonies. I could be wrong but I think there were less colonies than last year. There was certainly less nucs with most of the colonies being in National hives.

I tried one of those arty angle shots.
Didn't get it quite right..

Last year at the York Beekeepers Auction the last two nucs of bees went for £50 each, and as we'd had a fairly easy winter I expect there'll've been less winter losses to be replaced. Based on that I was expecting bee prices to be pretty low with few people bidding on them. Unsurprisingly I was wrong about that. The first colony with a red Queen went for £180, a red marked Queen was born in 2013 so not a young bee. A national with a super went for £260, although I can't recall if the super was honey or being used for brood. There were plenty of people wanting to buy bees so the bidding was competitive. I bid on the four nucs losing out on three and eventually picking up the very last one for £180. That was for a 5 frame nuc with an unmarked 2014 Queen. I'd guess last year's low prices were probably one reason for fewer colonies being sold this year. Bet a few people were kicking themselves when they saw the prices they were fetching this year.

Nobody took the Strainaway
Back inside and before things got underway I took the opportunity to see what was coming under the hammer next. The most unusual thing I saw was a vacuum cleaner attached to two huge buckets. The top bucket had a description identifying it as a Strainaway. A system for filtering honey rapidly using a vacuum cleaner to create negative pressure in the lower vessel. Looking in the forums a few people really rate the system and they were only made for a very short time. Unfortunately it didn't meet it's reserve. There was what I think was a really well made Observation Hive which was pretty much an objet d'art in it's own right. Shame I didn't take a better photo of it really... I also spotted what looked like a polearm for a medieval child soldier, although it turned out to be a brush cutter. Lots of ratchet straps were sold, which surprised me =I get mine from the Poundshop. Someone won a Baby Burco for £8. I have one of these from a previous auction myself, surprisingly useful things.

Observation Hive

Something I'd recently looked into getting hold of was a Branding Iron. I'm setting up an out apiary and branding your woodwork is the beekeeping equivalent of Smart Water to prove ownership in the event of theft. I had tried using a cheap branding iron made for BBQ meat but it was difficult to get it hot enough for wood, the handle broke and eventually my blowtorch melted the thing anyway. I then got a quote to have one made with 4 letters but was just shy of a hundred quid. I didn't fancy parting with almost whole hours pay for a brand so decided to give it some thought, so, when I spotted a branding iron on the auction floor I decided to put a few bids in. Turned out nobody else was interested in it so I got it for three beer tokens. Whilst it has somebody else's initials on it and there was a lot of kit on sale with those initials already on it I figure I can use a hacksaw to alter it to form a custom brand.

Branding Iron.

At some point I got 6 pairs of 10 slot castellations for the princely sum of £8. They're basically a set of metal battlements that you nail inside a Super to space out the frames. They had quite a bit of propolis attached which if I'd thought about I could've frozen, knocked off, dissolved and sold to more than recoup the cost of the catellations. As it was I just bathed them in a strong sodium carbonate solution for a few days and scrubbed them instead.

10 slot Castellated Spacers
Somewhere along the way I also picked up a couple of empty supers with 9 slot castellations. There were a few things I suspected were made specifically for sale rather than being surplus to needs. These included a few lots of hive stands. Being well made and treated with something green they'ed've been good for my out apiary but they were a little pricey for me so I'll be sticking with my timbers on breeze block arrangements for a while yet. They folded flat too which would probably be handy for anyone who transports their hives for pollination services or to gather heather honey. Unfortunately they didn't meet their reserve.

A stack of triple hive stands
There were a few other random things I bid on and a couple I won. These included some old hessian to use as smoker fuel and an overall without a hood.I think it's some sort of decorators overall. I've since tried it out over my jeans and under my bee jacket, so far so good, even the black bees haven't stung me through it. Towards the end were two bizzare looking white plastic rectangles in aged plastic wallets with a couple of bits of paper. They were actually foundation embossing dies from H.T.Herring & Son, you use them to make new foundation from your own beeswax. The bits of paper are one with a plan for making a pouring tray to make rectangles of foundation and one with instructions on how to use the dies to emboss them. Making your own foundation looks interesting (to me anyway) and over time should save me a bit of money too. There wasn't actually much bidding interest in these, I got the second set for a fiver.

Ancient Embossing Dies
I'm not sure how old they are but I'd go as far as to say "very." One of the bits of paper states "Price 10p" which probably gives some indication of age. The instructions talk about using a mangle or wringer too which tells me they're seriously old. I'll have to get hold of a working mangle to use these at some point, there's actually plenty of them on eBay at the moment so that shouldn't be a problem.

Like last year there were a few buckets of honey for sale. Unfortunately the lid on the one being shown wasn't on as firmly as you'd hope so when it was being shown there was some spillage on the floor and the chap holding it. There was a bit of bidding on the first bucket and the chap who won it then stood on and took the rest too. There was quite a lot of buckets so it was a hefty investment, to me anyway, but once decanted into jars and sold off it should net an impressive profit.

Something I noticed this year compared to previous years was a lack in variety of the hive types on sale. There was only one WBC hive, which was listed as ornamental, whereas previously there's usually been a few of these dotted about, there were no Commercial boxes at all and no polystyrene hives. Perhaps the absence of other hive types is a reflection that more beekeepers standardising on the National, it's meant to have been a standard since 1960 really.

At the end I queued up, wrote my first cheque this year, loaded my stuff into the car and headed home to scorch a couple of used supers and the roof. Later in the evening when it was cooler I drove back to pick up the bees. They'ed stopped flying by then so I pushed a bit of sponge the seller supplied into the entrance and secured it with some masking tape -probably not necessary but better safe than stuck in a car full of bees. I also popped a ratchet strap around the whole thing to hold the roof in place -although I later found the crownboard had been secured with packing tape anyway.

Ready to go

After a slow drive I put the nuc in the location of the bees' new home before moving them into a fullsized hive three days later, That's another auction done and dusted.

New Bees

Monday, 13 April 2015

Start of the 2015 season, downsizing Hive4

The other week I decided it was time for the first inspections of the season. I'd removed the mouseguards the previous week when the weather was warm enough for the bees to be so busy they were having to queue to get through them. I'd also used a stick to poke out dead bees near the entrances so they weren't blocking the survivors in. The main focus of the first inspection is to see how much food the colonies have left as this is the time of year when colonies starve between using their winter food and being able to forage for more.

Hive1 was brimming with bees already and the Queen has been busy laying eggs. There was already capped brood in the centre of the hive. They also had some stores left but I moved in a frame of stores from Hive4 as I took a frame of eggs and capped brood out for them. I don't think this hive will need any stimulative feeding and they're off to a great start. I spotted the Queen wandering about with her bit of green paint.

In Hive2 the Queen looked to have just recently stared laying. There was capped and uncapped brood but less than in Hive1. They still had plenty of stores too but there were some empty frames between the brood and the food stores so I shuffled the food a bit nearer. I think I'll give them a little 1:1 syrup to try and step things up a notch.

Over in Hive3 The bees had made three play cups but none had eggs or royal jelly in them. As these bees have been pretty aggressive before to reduce the number of flying bees I laid the empty end frame on top of the uncovered frame tops and gradually moved it back as I worked. As the frame is supported by the wooden sides it's held above the bees as you go.

Using a frame to reduce flying bees
I didn't see the Queen but there was a lot of eggs and uncapped brood so I'm pretty sure she's in there, if she isn't they're spoilt for choice of eggs to replace her with. Unlike the other colonies these had eaten most of their stores already.The workers had already made a play cup but it was empty.

Capped brood for the start of the season

When I got to Hive4, the one which I think had had nosema, the bee numbers were down to a couple of frames and I didn't see a Queen, eggs or brood. They did have a lot of stored food still in the frames so I gave one frame to Hive3 and swapped another for a frame with some capped brood and eggs from Hive1. The capped brood will emerge in eleven days at most and give the colony some young workers sooner rather than later. They can also make up a new Queen from the eggs although she'll probably be waiting around before there's any fertile drones to mate with so might need another frame of eggs and brood later. As this is now a fairly small colony I moved the frames with food, brood and bees into a 5 frame nucleus box so there's less space for the bees to try and keep warm.

Hive4, they've dowsized.

With the three hives remaining in fullsize brood boxes I removed the floors to clear out the fallen bees left in the hives. As you'd expect the number of dead bees was inversely proportional to the number of live bees, eggs and brood with the brimming Hive1 being almost clear and the half full (or half empty depending what's in that glass and what I'm expected to do with it) Hive2 having a little carpet of chitin clad corpses.

Corpse Carpet. :-/

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Bad Sign.

A friend sent me a photo of this sign she saw in the reduced bin at B&Q, St. Andrews Quay, Hull. Spot the mistake?

Something's wrong here..

The answer's below, to read it flip your monitor upside down or do a handstand:
  dsɐʍ ɐ s,ʇɐɥʇ

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Beekeeping in the Discworld and Beyond

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels died today. The former Electricity Board Press Officer created the Discworld mythos and went on to become one of the UK's most popular writers. The Discworld novels are set on a flat world supported on the backs of four massive elephants standing on a gigantic turtle paddling through the ether. The dramatis personæ of the thirtyodd volume series included four beekeepers.

The first is revealed in Eric. The book opens with Death, the anthropomorphic personification of death, inspecting his hives. Everything is black in Death's kingdom so obviously he has black bees.

Adolescent Demonology and a Beekeeping Death
Five books later in Lords and Ladies it's revealed that Granny Weatherwax has a half dozen hives from which she takes a little wax and honey as she feels they can spare. It's later revealed in Carpe Jugulum that she made her own beekeeping equipment and didn't use smoke or a veil. Still in Lords and Ladies we're  introduced to Mr Brooks, the Royal Beekeeper at Lancre Castle. Mr Brooks is accorded a title and respect due to his secret knowledge of bees, smokes a pipe, makes his own deadly wasp poison and spends a lot of time in his shed. At one point he explains a little about bees to the Queen of the kingdom, continuing his discourse even after ordered to stop. The fourth beekeeper is found in A Hatful of Sky. A Research Witch and former Circus Performer, Miss Level who also talks to her bees.

Meet the Elves, get inside the mind of the Bees
I think it's interesting that he made two of his most enduring characters (you can't really get more enduring than Death) beekeepers, as well as those characters there are frequent references to bees, beekeepers and beekeeping elsewhere in the series. In Small Gods whilst setting the scene bees buzzed in the bean blossoms. In Wyrd Sisters beekeepers are listed alongside witches and big gorillas as creatures who go where they like. In Reaper Man the thought processes or lack thereof of the bee and ant are touched upon in a conversation. Away from the Discworld in his novel Dodger set in Victorian London there is a reference to one of the female characters, Angela Burdett-Coutts, keeping bees. Burdett-Coutts was actually a real person and was president of the British Beekeepers Association for 28 years.

The title of this blog is actually a reference to Lords and Ladies when Weatherwax accesses the mind of a bee colony. Leafing back through a few of his books it appears that Pratchett knew a thing or two about bees, beekeeping and beekeeping history. He talks of watching activity at the entrance, supersedure, swarming and wasp attacks. Two of his characters talk to their bees, which is a reference to the old English practice of Telling the Bees. A folkloric tradition of keeping ones bees appraised of the keepers family. As far as I know Pratchett didn't keep bees himself, but  his friend and Good Omens co-writer Neil Gaiman does so it's not unlikely he had some exposure to the world of the apiarist.

He was a busy chap in life, as well as his writing he became a Trustee of the Orangutan Foundation, and petitioned for more funding into Dementia research as well as campaigning for right to die. Now he's passed away I have no doubt his literary legacy will live on.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Making Candles & Soaps for Dummies

The For Dummies series of books started in the early 90's and was originally focused on I.T. Pretty quickly the black and yellow covers became regular features on every IT professional's bookshelf. Since then the range has been expanded to cover other topics from martial arts to music to maths, science and history. They've consistently been a good start point for everything from C Programming to Ukulele playing and there's about ten Dummies tomes on my bookshelves at the moment. So naturally when I decided to look at expanding my bee products to include soaps the first place I looked was Making Candles & Soaps for Dummies by Kelly Ewing.

Making Candles not Soaps for Dummies would've been more apt.

Unfortunately after years of using For Dummies books and having always found them excellent start and reference points it seems I've found the exception. Making soap involves adding lye to oils, I'm not going to pretend to understand the science of the saponification process but basically the lye acts on the oil turning it into soap. There's a couple of ways this can be done, either slowly at room temperature (cold process) or faster in a heated vessel (hot process). Different types of oil require different amounts of lye at different concentrations, then there's mixing different oils too and superfatting to consider - you could literally write a book on just that. However Kelly writes off cold process soap making as too dangerous on page 5 and makes no mention of hot process soap making at all.

I thought it a bit strange that a book on making soap completely fails to tell the reader how to make actual soap so I did a little googling and found that in the original Candle and Soap Making for Dummies Kelly had included instructions for cold process soap making but included a mistake in the order ingredients were combined to make the lye solution putting people at risk of burns from the exothermic reaction. As a result the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled the book in 2003. This version I have is copyrighted in 2005 and the safety issue seems to have been addressed by simply removing the who topic and calling it to dangerous rather than just correcting the mistake which would've only needed a note to say: When making lye always add the Sodium Hyroxide to the water never the otherway round. Seems a bit overkill to me and really undermines the book. 

So, instead of writing about actual soap making there's a couple of chapters given over to melt and pour soaps and remilling soaps. Melt and Pour is simply buying ready made soap, melting it adding a few things if you like and pouring it into a mould, remilling is grating existing soap, adding water then remolding that too. Neither technique involves making your own soap. Basically it's tweaking and reshaping existing soap which is quite obviously not "making." There's some info on adding essential oils, fragrances, colours and other additives to the soap but that's pretty much your lot.

I wasn't really interested in the candle making chapters which make up the bulk of the book but had a look anyway. Whilst the authors was risk averse to the point of removing soap making she thinks nothing of decorating a wax candle held in one hand with a hot glue gun held in the other.. Don't think I'd be too comfortable sat near a burning candle decorated with hot glue to be honest -normally hot glue is non toxic but manufacturers warn that overheated it breaks down releasing different compounds that I don't think I'd want to sit in a cloud of.

The book does tell you how to make dipped, moulded and rolled beeswax candles and the section on wicks looks pretty comprehensive, there's also quite a lot on decorating candles and sections on scents and aromatherapy so people may get some use out of it although not probably enough to justify the cover price. Other missing topics include tallow which is easily made at home and has been used for both candle and soap making for a good five thousand years. I also didn't see any mention of Soy Wax either, which may be due to the age of the original text.

The brief About the Author sections notes that Kelly co-authored a few IT For Dummies books The Internet All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies which has her name on the cover as well as having edited more than 75 books on different subjects. Whilst the author describes candle and soap making as a hobby my impression was that the book is made up of information that was collated for the sake of the book rather than written from personal experience and first hand knowledge accrued over time. The mistake with the lye making instructions in the original version is so basic (and dangerous..) that I don't really believe anyone familiar with the process would have published it.

So whilst I've normally found the For Dummies range really useful, as my bookshelf can attest, this book is the lemon in the series. Whilst it's apparently aimed at the beginner and the seasoned craft person I don't think it has enough information for either when it comes to soap making.


When I removed the candyboards from the hives last wee I noticed that Hive4 seemed to have dysentery or possibly Nosema. I'd overwintered them on a solid wooden floor as something of an experiment and it's safe to say I'll not be doing that again. I moved the hive to a mesh floor and had a look for some medication. In the UK Fumagillin B was used to treat Nosema but was withdrawn from the market at the end of 2011. There's plenty of sources online and in print that still refer to Fumagillin B including the UK Edition of Beekeeping for Dummies although that volume is Copyright dated 2012. There's a number of different options including Vita Feed Gold which I've used previously for general health. This time I opted to try a product called Nozevit developed by a firm called Apivita.

Aptiva's web address is in the .hr domain which is administered by the Croatian Academic and Research Network and looking at there address shows they're a Croatian firm. Apparently as well as rather bloody recent history and a very metal influenced punk scene Croatia also has a long tradition of beekeeping and Apivita has a small product range most of which relates to bees:

Nozevit and Nozevit+ both for treating Nosema
Apifit a general bee health supplement
Apibox a system for making section honey without wax foundation (in Langstroth medium supers)
Apistop a sealer specifically for hives
Rebivit a repellent to protect plants from rodents and deer
Barrel Wax a beeswax product for stopping barrels leaking

Whilst I've not previously heard of Nozevit Apivita helpfully provide links and references to articles including the peer reviewed Veterinarni Medicina, The Journal of Apicultural Research and The Beekeepers Quaterly, also the (not peer reviewed) American Bee Journal and other papers from, I think, Argentina, Croatia, Poland, Slovenia and Turkey. The first article in the list mentions that Nozevit is made from Oak bark which contains polyphenols and how these are used to treat the gut in humans and their mode of action or any enquiring minds that want to know.

According to the website Nozevit and Nozevit+ can be applied to the bees by mixing 1ml Nozevit to 200ml of 1:1 syrup and either feeding it to the bees or spraying the bees with it (I'll assume trickling with a syringe will do there) or by putting 1ml of Nozevit in a 500g pollen patty. They recommend using it twice in Spring and twice in Autumn with ten days between each pair of treatments.

Little bottle, ideal for your handbag

The bottle I ordered from Beebay was 20ml of Concentrated Nozevit. It states Made in USA complete with an American flag on both the label and the instructions. I notice the bee logo in the product name and on the Complete Bee Inc logo is the same as on the Aptiva website.

Could use a little work on the wording but hey so could this blog

The instructions that come with it seem to have been translated in a hurry and there's a number 15 in the text which looks to have got there by mistake. I guess they're almost as lax about proof reading as me. The instructions with the bottle were a little different to those on the site which I figured was probably because this is a concentrated version according to the site although the word Concentrated was noticeably absent from the packaging. My understanding was that you're meant to mix the whole 20ml bottle with 1 litre of 1:1 sugar syrup then either feed a cupful to each hive or apply to the bees on the frames. The instructions mention spraying the top bars or using the 'drench method' which sounds a little severe but I'm assuming just means trickling the syrup onto the bees in the same manner as oxalic acid. Doing the maths this is a far stronger dose than is suggested on the website for the regular Nosevit and Nosevit+ products but there's no mention of a reapplication ten days later.

As I'm only treating one hive I didn't mix the whole bottle. 100ml of syrup and 2ml of Nozevit should give me the right concentration. As the instructions seemed so consider a pound and a half kilo as near enough to be interchangeable and the same for quarts and half litres and recommended doubling the dose for stressed colonies  so there's room for a little leeway is anyway. I added 2ml to 100ml of 1:1 syrup. It's a grey liquid with bits of I don't now what in it. I figured it was unlikely to be dangerous and ave it a little taste test myself -don't do that at home kids.. it tasted and smelled a lot like hospital mouthwash I once tried many years ago. It also seems to have a lot of sugar in it so it's probably in a syrup base.

It's time for your medication
I drew it up into syringes before opening the hive to save time even though it was a warm day and bees were flying.

Hello in there

When I'd given the hive a quick check before I'd thought there was only 3 seams of bees but today it looked more like 5. Luckily I'd made more solution than I needed anyway so I drizzled it along every seam I could see a bee in. I'd swapped the wooden floor for a regular open mesh floor already so any overspill will just go through. I've still not done an invasive inspection but having a quick look between the frames I was able to see there was still a lot of capped honey on the frames towards the back of the hives. I assume with the candy above them they'ed opted to to start eating that because it was easier to reach than exploring other frames for stores.

Someone else has been overwintering in the hive too
I found probably a Harlequin Ladybird had been overwintering in a corner of the hive roof between the wood and the insulation. I'm not sure if it's very well with a wing sticking out and I think there's some sort insecticide component in the dribble of green Shed & Fence Paint it's chosen to sleep. I've left it there though, it's not in the hive proper anyway.

Heavy frog

Depending which calendar you use we're either in Spring or soon to be in Spring. As I'm seeing a few flowers out and the female frogs are looking heavy with eggs I'll go with the Meteorological Calendar this time and say Spring started on the 1st of  March. However whilst the days are reaching a 13-14 degrees celcius night time temperatures are still dropping to as low as freezing and I got caught in sleet last week so I'll be leaving the insulation on the hives for a few more weeks.

Spring is in the air -well on the floor at any rate..