Friday, 11 August 2017

Swarm Collecting

This year I've had surprisingly few calls about swarms. None in fact. However in early July an ex posted on Facebook about a swarm in a tree at her parents' so I offered to pick it up. I get free bees, they get no bees, the bees get homed, everyone wins :) I rolled up in the early evening walked to the door knocked and was told I'd just walked straight past the swarm. I looked round and there they were. In a low tree at about shoulder height in a very round cluster - the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a text book.

Well bee-haved, ready to be-hived.
Beekeeping is 90% punnery.


They were on a single small branch so I thought it's be easiest if I just cut the branch then deposit it complete with the bees in the 5 frame Nuc I'd brought with me. Simple plan. It actually turned out to be a flawed plan. Taking a firm hold of the branch on one side of the swarm I cut the branch on the other side of the swarm as planned. Instead of carefully carrying the cluster to the Nuc and dropping them in I watched the cut branch in my hand bent double dropping half the bees on the floor below. Excellent stuff. I'd gone from having the swarm in a tight easy to move cluster to a couple of thousand bees in a pile on the ground, a thousand or so on a floppy twig and a few hundred on the wing looking to form a new cluster in the tree.

I assumed the bees on the twig were probably the oiriginal centre of the cluster which should include the Queen so I deposited these in the 5 frame Nuc I'd brought along with a frame at either side. I then used another frame of drawn comb to remove the bees from the ground and shake them into the box. They're attracted to the comb so when I held it to the bees on the ground they climbed onto it for me to move them to the Nuc. When I'd got the majority off the ground I turned my attention to the fliers who kept returning to the tree. Giving it a shake here and there to dislodge the landed bees and a few puffs of smoke to mask any pheromone they eventually gave up on it in favour of the workers Nosanoving at the Nuc entrance. I left the Nuc on the ground and returned a few hours later.

Almost there


When I got back the bees had gone to the Nuc as hoped. There were a lot hanging about outside the entrance though -unsurprising as it was a particularly warm July evening. I used some gaff tape to secure the crown board and used some more tape and a cardboard box to make a cover for the front which would leave room for the bees outside the entrance, after all I didn't want them flying about in the car with me.

Most of this happened in transit.
It was a slow drive to the out apiary but I got there with relatively few bees getting loose in the car. I carried the Nuc complete with gaff tape and cardboard to the hive stands and  removed the packaging. During the drive bees had been coming out of the entrance filling the gap between the Nuc and the cardboard, luckily the gaff tape held for the journey.

Home sweet home

I put the Nuc roof in place and left the bees to it. When I did my next inspection I was relieved to find the bees had chosen to remain in the Nuc. I'd used a small National Travel Nuc I had sat in the shed for this lot. It took me a while to locate the Queen. I'm pretty sure she was still a virgin when I caught the swarm as it took me so long to find her and it was a long time before eggs started appearing too. When I did find her I noticed she had a very yellow abdomen compared to most of my other Queens. I considered raising the swarm as a new colony but later decided to use her to replace a swarmy queen in an existing full size colony and united the workers to an existing hive that needed a boost.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Renewing Brood Boxes

At this years Beverley Beekeepers Auction I picked up an unprecedented 8 Commercial Brood Boxes. After sterilising them it was time to check the joints and add cleats to the sides giving me better handles to move a heavy box with than the rebate handle which is a standard part of the Commercial specification.

Finger Joints and screws, Rabbet Joints with screws and possibly glue


The boxes had been made in a variety of styles, some had finger joints reinforced with screws, some had what I think are called rabbet joints which seemed to be glued and screwed and a few had the sort of large finger joint type things I use because cutting all those small fingers is hard work. Of the ten boxes only one had lose corners. It was one with large tab finger type joints and no screws.
 
Bracing corners
After a few minutes with a tee square to hold the corner straight, a drill for pilot holes and a clicky screw driver I put 4 2" wood screws into each corner making it far more solid. The other boxes were all very solid. Not sure how old thy were but some smelled of tar when I was sterilising them so I'd guess they've seen a few years use and being well made I'm sure they'll see a few more years use yet. They all had a little rectangle of wood ground away which I think must've been a brand from a previous owner.

Four of the boxes had rebate handles the rest had handles attached to the outside by now rather rusty nails. Using a clawhammer and a pry bar I removed the old handles and replaced them with longer cleats of tanalised wood. You wouldn't use tanalised wood for hive bodies but stick to the outside of the box I suspect they'll be fine and will live a little longer than untreated wood.

Wooden Cleat, glued and screwed
You only really need handles on two opposing sides of the box, but i prefer to put them on all four sides to give me options when I'm moving hives. I actually only put new cleats on six of the ten boxes. Hopefully I've got more than I need and four should be surplus. Once done I painted them all. I used an uneven mix of green, black and brown shed & fence paint to give them an old and worn look as an anti theft strategy and only treated the outer sides.

Empty Brood Boxes make an excellent advent re playground for cats.




Thursday, 15 June 2017

Cleanse it with Fire!

After the surprising abundance of Commercial Brood Boxes and frames at this years Beverley Beekeepers' Auction I had a little cleaning work to do. Used beekeeping equipment can be a vector for nasty diseases and viruses so properly sterilising second hand kit before introducing it to the bees is a must.

Toby surveying the work ahead.
He didn't help.



Normally hive boxes are sterilised by scorching with fire. Gamma irradiation works pretty well too but isn't hugely popular in the UK at the moment. The Hulk was created when Dr Bruce Banner came into contact with Gamma rays which tells us that Stan Lee knows bugger all about Gamma radiation. The cost of acquiring and storing your own radioactive isotopes and equipment pretty much rule that out for most beekeepers over here so I decided to go with fire.

So far I've always used a small butane torch, the kind that uses small metal cylinder you buy from DIY shops. Looking at the job ahead I was pretty sure I'd be blazing through cylinder after cylinder trying to scorch all those boxes so it was time to upgrade. I popped to Toolstation and picked up a gas hose, regulator and torch kit -basically a Roofers Torch but a few quid cheaper for buying it as separate items. With torch ready I then needed a tank of propane. You can get them from garages and they offer much better value for money than buying loads of little disposable canisters. The downside is you need to pay about £40 deposit on your first bottle. I didn't really want to do that. It turns out that because of the deposit system the gas supplier remains the owner of the actual gas bottle and they exchange it whenever you get a refill. This means that scrap merchants won't accept them and you cant take them to the tip, unfortunately nobody ever seems to get a full refund on their last gas bottle so it's a canny move by the suppliers. This means unwanted gas bottles tend to get fly tipped a lot. I had a drive around till I found a nice red 13KG Calor Gas bottle sat doing nothing popped it in the car and took it to a local garage. There I exchanged it for a 6KG bottle of propane saving myself the deposit -and presumably returning a lost bottle to circulation, Everyone's a winner -well me anyway :)

Flame on Johnny
The bigger the bottle the cheaper the gas, I opted for a 6KG bottle rather than 13KG simply because I need to be able to lug it about the patio and at some point it's likely I'll want to take it to the apiary. Something I hadn't realised was that the nozzlethingbit (it probably has a better name, but I don't know it) on the gas bottles are made with a reverse thread so when I tried to attach the regulator turning it clockwise it didn't go in at all. After a light bulb moment I spotted the problem and managed to assemble the thing. With it working I blazed through all eight Commercial Brood Boxes with ease. LPG gives a hotter flame than the butane mix in the small cylinders and with my new torch I was using a bigger flame too. It did take a little getting used to working round the hose though and at one point I singles off a 2" wide strip of hair from my right forearm. Oops. No major damage though.

Sterilised woodwork

With the boxes now sterilised it was time to turn my attention to the frames. I decided to boil them in a Soda Crystal solution using one of my Burco Boilers. They didn't fit in completely so it meant boiling them in the solution then turning them over to do the other end.


Hot Tub Time Machine



I stopped them floating up I used the Burco lid as a weight. It took ages to get through all the frames and a few I had left still to do.It occurred to me that the metal boiler was probably losing a lot of heat out of the sides as the evening wore on and temperature dropped so I grabbed a few brood boxes and put them over it.
Sheltering the Burco in a few Brood Boxes to keep the heat in/
After boiling each frame was given a quick scrub with a nylon brush in a plastic tub of water and stacked up to air dry. Once thoroughly dried the frames were put into the brood boxes for storage.

Stack of cleaned frames left out to dry

Friday, 5 May 2017

2017 Beverley Beekeepers Auction

Sunday 30th April was the Beverley Beekeepers 2017 Annual Auction! I got my first bee colony there in 2011 and it's continued to prove a really useful source of kit. Last year I sold an empty Nuc there, this year I had a few more things to sell and decided to drop them off the previous evening when submissions were being accepted. I was supposed to be meeting a couple of people in town that evening but I seem to be perpetually running late so they probably weren't too surprised when it happened again. When I got there half the hall was already occupied with items for auction the next day. I droped off my stuff and went on my merry way, met people patiently waiting in the pub, hit up a club as you do, went home and the next day I grabbed my chequebook and headed back to Woodmansey. This year I was specifically looking for a few Supers, a couple of Queen Excluders and some spare Hive Tools.

Auction this way!
I wandered into the hall as a WBC hive went under the hammer for £25. It wasn't long before a lot of three hive tools came up so I placed a few bids but stopped when they got to a fiver. The hall was pretty full with all.the seats taken and people standing at the end and either side of the stage. An Observation Hive got a lot on interest going for £100, there always seems to be a couple of these at auctions and they seem to sell well. I'm not sure if the buyers actually use them or keep them as curios.

One of two Display Hives that went under the hammer

This is a straw Skep. Bee Hive from the Olde Worlde.
Flipped over they make great laundry baskets.
As well as a few Observation Hives there always seems to be a skep at these auctions. This time was no exception and it went for £34. As usual there was a lot of National Hives and Hive parts. I noticed there were more WBC Hives than last year.

A trio of complete National Hives
Heather Honey Press
As well as the usual Hives there were a few curious items here and there.A strange looking contraption that looked like some sort of vice turned out to be a Heather Honey Press and went for £36. Outside a collection of canvas, metal poles and netting proved to be a bee enclosure for beekeeping demonstrations.

My Lots! 37x330ml Bottles, 600 Queen Cups, Conical Honey Filter and Frame Sides
Eventually we got to the bits I'd dropped off. There was 37 330ml beer bottles er mead bottles I mean. I've decided to stick to 500ml and 750ml bottles for my home brewing. They're good quality dark brown glass and someone got a bargain bagging them for a fiver. I also had two lots of 300 plastic Queen Cups I've had sat on eBay for about a year, they went for £2 per lot so think I probably broken even on those. I also sold a conical honey filter that I got at a previous action and don't think I've ever actually used. My last lot for sale was a box of mixed shallow frame sides. I've decided to standardise on Manley frame sides for my supers and these were 20 self spacing and two wide sides.

National Supers, Foundation and Crownboards.
 
Ten colonies, all sold.
As usual in the middle of the auction there was a break and everyone headed outside for the live colonies being sold. There were ten colonies in all. I think there was a 5 frame Nuc, an 8 frame Poly Nuc, seven single brood National Hives and one double brood National. The single brood colonies went for about £150 I think. The double brood which was described as 10 1/2 frames of brood, 20 frames of bees and a Super fetched £250. Lot of bees there. If I'd bought it I'd probably split it into two colonies pretty quickly.

Double Brood and a Super.
Bet somebody had a slow drive home.
Whilst the bees were selling I had a reconnoitre of the auction floor. There was a tool box with a few bits including three hives tools so I noted the number of that lot and another lot of three hive tools. I spotted a strange little plastic box for one lot which was actually a box of prepared Honey Bee microscope slides, I'd been toying with the idea of making some of these myself and decided to bid on them.

In a box containing quite a strange mix of things including a smoker and soap moulds I found a very innovative entrance reducer/wasp guard. I've never seen one like it before. It has two sides which can be open and closed and a mouse guard over one side. Clever piece of work by somebody.

Innovative Entrance Reducer
As bidding resumed a few flat slotted Queen Excluders sold then the framed excluders I was waiting for came up. Turns out a lot of people wanted those and I didn't win them either. The toolbox with the hive tools sold and I finally got the other lot of three hive tools for a tenner, got to wonder where those bidders were when the first set of three went for a fiver earlier in the day but such is the unpredictable nature of auctions.

Motorised Honey Extractor
The Motorised Extractor went for £310. The seller was someone who'd recently ceased beekeeping and was getting rid of their kit. An Easi-Steam came up but didn't meet it's reserve. I have one of these myself and think it's the bees knees. A Honey Settling Tank got a lot on interest too.

A Honey Settling Tank and a Heated Capping Knife
I bid on some metal frame runners but lost out so shall be ordering some online eventually. Frame runners make it far easier to manage frames in the Brood Box than having the lugs sat on the wooden rebates, they also reduce the chances of a bee getting squished when you put a frame back in the box. Most of my Brood Boxes have metal runners that came with some Easi-Pet Cedar Supers but some still have plastic runners which will melt when I scorch them.

Another mystery lot was a set of 6 small wood and metal cages. Evidently for some sort of thymol treatment for varroa. I'm not entirely sure how they work but I'd guess a thymol treatment possibly goes in the cage then it sits on top of the colony. A couple of people bid on those so presumably they knew a bit more about them.

Mystery objects
I won the microscope slides for £6. They're from Brunel Microscopes Ltd who are still selling the same set for slightly less, but I saved on poastage. Looking at their site they have a few other interesting slides on offer and may get a bit of custom from me.

I'd noticed a few brood boxes at the far end of the hall but hadn't paid them any attention, when we reached them I was surprised to hear them described as Commercial and joined the bidding. Most people still prefer the smaller National size hive so there weren't many people bidding on them. I think only myself and two others were interested in them. I got a lot of three for £15 and stood on for the next batch of three.

Commercial Brood Boxes complete with 12 frames each.
So that was six Commercial Brood Boxes at a fiver apiece. Later we got to some more Commercial Brood Boxes each with a compliment of 12 frames in each. There were two of us bidding on them. I got two lots of two boxes and frames for £5 per lot whilst the other chap got three lots of the same. They were varying in build quality, from some with perfect box joints on the corners to a couple with a few screws in the corners. A few had rectangular abrasions were presumably the previous owner's brand had been sanded off or something. After scorching, scraping, a little attention to a couple and a lick of paint they'll be ready for use again.

Boxes of jars proved popular as ever. Not the most interesting things to bid on but everyone needs them to sell a honey crop. After being a bit disappointed with Compak South Ltd shipping me a couple of broken jars last year then not responding to contacts or making any effort at redress I decided to pick some up here for less and got two boxes of 72 jars each. Saving 30p per jar on the pound jars and a bit more on the smaller jars. It sounds a bit trivial but really adds up when you start selling a few.

Free Worker Bee with a stack of empty Commercial Brood Boxes
Amongst the very last lots were two bundles of ten Commercial brood frames. I picked them up for £3 each. One set appears to be unused with the wedge still in place and the others had been cleaned up. I'll still be sterilising them all anyway to be safe.

Two sets of ten Commercial Deep Frames, £3 a set.
I noticed a few differences his year compared to previous years I've attended. Usually there's a lot of used Nucs being sold but not this year, possibly linked to my other observation that most of the bees sold were in full size colonies rather than Nucs this time. There were also less lots of random bits of kit lumped together than previously.

I've started to notice a few patterns to auctions. The bidding is busier towards the start when there's more bidders so it's worth submitting items as early as possible to get as good a sale price as you can. Conversely as a buyer you can get some bargains if you hang about to the end as people have spent up or gone to settle up their bills before the queue gets too big. The two sets of Commercial Frames I picked up were the second and third to last lots and definitely worth waiting around for.

At the end of the day I spent £98 and came away with ten Commercial Brood Boxes, 71 Commercial Frames, three Hive Tools, 144 jars and a set Microscope Slides. The items I sold off went for £16 which after the 10% auction fee comes in at £14.40. Loading the car took a while as I'd not planned to buy anything bulky and had 4 plastic crates still sat in the back, Took me a couple of tries to get everything in but I got it all home in the end.

Loading the car was tricky, hadn't planned to buy much.
 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Auction this Sunday

The Beverley Beekeepers Annual Auction is this Sunday, 30th April 2017, at Woodmansey Village Hall.

Go there!
As well as being an important date for local beekeepers it tends to draw people from further afield too. Last year I went to get some bits and bobs and came away with a complete National Hive full of bees as it was too much of a bargain to pass up.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Start of the 2017 Season

Whether you're following Meteorological or Astrological Seasons we're definitely into Spring now. Frogs have been spawning and the newts are getting a little frisky.

Frogs have been busy

Couple of Newts, my ponds are full of life.

The winter was very mild, Spring too. Unfortunately out of my eight colonies three didn't make it through Spring. My money is on Varroa as the mild Winter probably meant the bees were raising brood through most of Winter allowing the Varroa to continue reproducing when there's normally a break. The mild winter also delayed Oxalic Acid treatment till February, I'm pretty sure the bees will have had some brood when I did that too which will have reduced the effectiveness of the treatment - it only affects adult mites living on the bees, mites in the comb with developing bees are affected. I started the season treating the remaining hives with Apiguard but mite drop was so low I discontinued it after giving the first treatment two weeks.

Adult Female Varroa Destructor.
She's been in an alcohol bath in my fridge for a few years.
I did my first proper hive inspections on 3rd of April. At the Apiary the hives were surprisingly prolific for the time of year. Straight away I had to carry out an artificial swarm for one colony who as well being heavy on bee numbers had already made a swarm cell with a developing larvae in it. My plan is mainly to perform vertical artificial swarms and later reunite colonies but as I've lost a few colonies I'm initially going to be increasing numbers so I did a regular artificial swarm moving the Queen Cell, brood and young bees to another hive and leaving the old queen and foragers in the original hive. A week later I checked the artificial swarm again to remove the emergency Queen cells the workers threw up following the manipulation. The original swarm cell was capped at this point and should be emerging about now.

Capped Queen Cell

I also remarked a couple of Queens who's marks had worn away making them harder to spot. Those Posca Paint Pens are easier to use than paint and a brush but doesn't seem as durable. Last year the official colour for Queen marking was white, it doesn't stand out too well against comb and brood though so I used a  metallic pink instead. This year's colour is yellow which will stand out even less against wax, bees and pollen so I've decided to go my own way again and use a bright orange paint pen.

One of last years Queens being remarked.
I'm now a couple of inspections into the season and I've got supers on all the hives, one has two on now and I've done another artificial swarm too. Whilst the Spring losses were the worst I've had so far the surviving colonies appear to be thriving at the moment and one is making some real headway on filling the supers too.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Warmer Weather


Spring is in the air, and on the ground.
Meteorological Spring is a couple of weeks away and Astronomical Spring is even further away but nobody seems to have told the weather and it's been a balmy 15 degrees Celsius today. Flowers are starting to open and today bees were flying.

video
Worker gathering water from mud.



Despite the media's claims last that we were in for the heaviest snowfall in years (again) it's been a very mild Winter (again) so some of my colonies are looking far more populous than I'd expect for the time of year so once inspections start next month I'll be expecting swarming signs fairly early on in some hives. Still need a couple more brood boxes to be able to do Artificial Swarms on all the hives but I've got a few Nucs too so can split a few colonies if need be.