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Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Broomsticks on Newland Avenue, Hull, are now selling my Propolis Tincture and Lip Balms. If you're in the area pop in and have a look. They're jolly nice people and support Retired Greyhound Trust.

Broomsticks on Newland Avenue, Hull

They sell a massive variety of herbs, resins, essential oils, fragrance oils, incenses, ayurvedic medicines so I figured as Propolis falls within ayuverdic and folk medicine (as well as modern dentistry) it would fit nicely with their current lines. Other things on sale include Spiral clothing, artwork, figurines and huge range wiccan related items like tumblestones, spheres, pendulums, herb harvesting tools, books on related subjects and clothing from Spiral. As well as being a shop they also offer a range of therapies including more massages than you can shake a stick at, Aromatherapy, Reiki, EFT and Reflexology. They also had a few customers asking  about lip balm so I dropped off some of that too :)

They have a Facebook page here

Go there!
Buy these!

As I've mentioned Essential Oils this seems a good place to do a quick rundown of some Essential Oils commonly used in beekeeping. They're either mixed with syrup (although they don't dissolve too well on their own) or added to grease patties. Some are evidence based, some anecdotal and some probably experimental so do a little research before adding any to your hives..

Some Essential Oils used in Beekeeping
Essential OilUsed for
GeraniumUsed as a lure to attract swarms
LemongrassUsed as a lure to attract swarms
PeppermintMask pheromones when combining colonies
SpearmintGeneral health, Control Mites
Tea TreeControl Mites
ThymeControl Mites, Treat Nosema
VetiverTreat Nosema
WintergreenControl mites

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Dead of Winter

The beekeeping season has started and I've not posted for a while, been very busy with sales of my propolis and lip balm products. I've also made a Facebook page to help publicise my online sales, if you fancy a look it's over here: Hivemind Heavy Industries by Hull Bees.

12th March, 2014, sunbathing weather for some.

In early March I noticed Bumble Bees sunning themselves and beehives starting to appear in fields heralding the start of activity for bees and beekeepers alike.

Beehives ready to pollinate a field
Towards the end of 2013 we were told to expect the worst winter in 60 years, so I was expecting something along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow, albeit a little less crap than that 126 minutes of pure disaster. With that in mind, the winter I mean not the movie, and the poor year that was 2013 I'd decided to give the bees a huge amount of emergency stores using candy boards, a method which I gather isn't particularly common in the UK. Basically each hive was given about 7 kilos of white sugar formed into a huge sugar lump, a third of a pattie of pollen substitute and an extra entrance near the top of the hive. This meant that if the bees ran out of stores wherever they were in the hive they would have food directly above them -if it's too cold bees will starve to death rather than breaking the cluster to go get food stored elsewhere in the hive. The top entrance is for in case the main entrance at the floor of the hive gets blocked with dead bees. It turned out that like The Day After Tomorrow the much touted worst winter didn't really get off the ground either and save for a few freezing nights it was probably the mildest winter I've seen.

Lighting up my smoker and grabbing my hive tool on 15th March I decided to give the hives their first inspection. Whipping the lid off of Hive3 the sugar appeared to be intact but I could see the bees had
been taking the pollen substitute. In the picture below the dark area is empty space left where they've taken the yellow substitute. They need pollen for rearing brood so I figured that's possibly a good sign.

They've been nibbling.
This was the hive holding the captured swarm and was expected to be the weakest of the three colonies. When I removed the candyboard and I was able to see just one seam of bees. Not great, but the queen was already laying so I'm hoping she'll be able to ramp up worker numbers in the next few weeks.

Only one seam in Hive3
I did a very brief inspection and found they had a lot of stored food left over -probably on account of the mild Winter -that and the small population in this hive.

That's a lot of stores for Spring
They obviously weren't going to need feeding. In August this hive had had 4 seams of bees so that should mean a lot of dead bees somewhere. After the Winter of 2013 the hive floors were deep in dead bees but this year was very different.

Let the bodies hit the floor..
Removing the brood box to check the floor it was obvious that the bees had done a pretty good job of disposing of their dead sisters over the mild winter. With the floor cleared and swiftly blowtorched back on went the brood box, crownboard and roof.

Hive 1 and 2 both had about 4 seams of bees left in each and plenty of stores. As well as taking the pollen substitute they'ed also made a start on the sugar and had been making tunnels above the seams.

Hive1's Candyboard, slightly chewed.

Hive2's Candyboard, not much pollen substitute left.
There was some brood and eggs visible in both brood boxes so the Queens were getting into the swing of things. Getting the bees out of the tunnels in the candy was a bit tricky and involved a lot of shaking, brushing and the judicious application of smoke. There were more dead in Hive 1 & 2 than in Hive3 but that was to be expected given that there were larger colonies, but still nothing approaching the numbers of the previous year.

Dead On The Floor
Having removed the candy boards I knocked out the sugar into a large tub which I brought into the house giving my housemate the impression my bees had spent the Winter refining white sugar. :) I put it in an upstairs room to dry out in full sun and I shall probably be using it to make syrup later in the year.

Friday, 14 February 2014


14th of February, 2014, Youtube's 9th birthday and St Valentine's Day. As well as the usual stack of cards from various admirers and hopefuls this year I also got a large white envelope from DEFRA. I've mentioned a couple of times that my bees were in the European Union Pilot Surveillance Programme for honey bee health. This European Commission driven study included 200 beekeepers in England and Wales of which I was one. The Regional Bee Inspector visited each beekeeper in the study three times, twice in 2012 and once in 2013. As well as a visual inspection he took samples of bees from each hive which were then taken off to the Bee Unit for analysis, specifically TaqMan® Molecular Pathogen Screening. Yeah it's not exactly an olde worlde beekeeping technique ;) From what I can gather it involves searching for the DNA of specific viruses in a sample using DNA Probes. It sounds a little Fantastic Voyage to me, but you can always read up on Polymerase Chain Reaction yourself if you're having a slow week.

In the first visits samples were taken from all three hives, in the second samples were taken from Hive1 and a sample of dead bees from the deceased Hive3. In the third visit a sample was taken from Hive1 which the inspector felt showed some signs of varoosis. The first samples also had varroa counts lab checked too.

Varroa Counts on 5th September 2012
HiveVarroa count per 100 bees

The molecular screening checked for Deformed Wing Virus, Nosema Apis, Nosema Carnae, Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, Kashmir Bee Virus and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. The names of some of these viruses hints at how far across the globe they've spread, that's mainly thanks to people of course.

Molecular Pathogen Screening Results
Hive2ABPVNo TestNo Test
NA & NC-
(ABPV= Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, NC= Nosema Carnae, NA = Nosema Apis)

Hive3 had died out overwintering between the first and second visits, and Hive2 wasn't sampled in the second and third visits because there were no visible signs of disease. Hive 1 was only tested as it had shown visual signs of varoosis. When I gave the bees their Oxalyc Acid treatment in late November Hive2 was the most populous.

Last weekend I had a listen to the hives with a stethoscope just to see if the bees were surviving. Hives 1 and 2 seemed to be doing well but Hive3 which contained the captured swarm was a lot quieter. Using a stick I had a poke around in the entrances to make sure they weren't blocked with dead bees.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Candy Board

My bees have had a pretty ropey year and although I've fed them syrup till they're no longer taking it I'm not entirely convinced they have enough to get through the winter ahead. We're expecting the worst winter in 60 years according to long range weather forecasting although it's not unknown for the Met Office to be a little out I'd rather err on the side of caution so in case of any shortfall in the bee's food stores I've decided to add a Candy Board to each hive

A Candy Board, also called Sugar Board, is basically a wooden frame full of sugar that goes in the hive directly above the bees. If they run out of food and start to climb upwards they can find it and start eating. Obviously pouring a few kilos of sugar into a square wooden frame is just going to leave you with and empty frame a messy floor  so you need to add a little water to make the sugar cake together, put a wire mesh to hold it all up and add something to hold the wet sugar as it sets. They're fairly simple to make really, there's quite a good 'How To' here or you could just read on.

First up was making the wooden frame. A Commercial brood box has the same outer dimensions as a National brood box which is 46.5cm square. I decided to use some 45x75mm wood for the project, it doesn't really need to be that thick, 22mm will do in fact but I wanted them to be very solid so they'll survive a few winters and I figured the extra thickness might reduce heat loss too. There's a few ways you could put the frame together I opted to cut the ends of the sides diagonally at 45 degrees and screw them together. Time to break out the mitre saw that's been kicking about in the shed for a few years. It's meant to be bench mounted really and previously I've used it on the ground standing on it to hold it steady but this time I bolted the base to a piece of scrap wood and clamped that in the workbench which kept it still and made it so much easier (safer!) to use.

Guess the patio needs a clean then
I also rubbed the blade with a wax candle to stop it sticking to the wood and the top bar of the saw to keep it moving smoothly too. A little while later (okay a little while, a coffee break, and another little while later), I had 12 isosceles trapezoids, a tired arm and a couple of blisters. I also got some wire mesh, the holes need to be big enough for the bees to get through unimpeded, I opted for 13mm mesh just because that's what the shop had.

Pretty much finished. Not.
Turns out holding the frames square to pre drill and screw the corners together was a tricky business but eventually I had 4 square wooden frames held together by three screws per corner.

 That done the frames needed wire mesh stapling into place, and a hole drilling into one side of each. The mesh was stapled to the inner vertical sides of the frame so they didn't interfere with the fit of the candyboard to the hive. The hole has two purposes one is it allows ventilation and the other to allow the bees a second entrance for in case the lower exit gets blocked, by for example a load dead bees or snow or whatever. I used a 10mm drill bit for that. It just needed to be big enough to let one bee out and given that a bee space is 9mm wide that should be adequate for an easily defensible entrance.

Empty Candy Boards
With the woodwork done they just needed the food adding. I bought 15kilos of sugar so I could put 5 in each board. There's recipes for the filling all over the net, one here, it seems to come down to one cup of sugar per five pounds of sugar and a spoonful white or apple cider vinegar if you like. I had some left over 2:1 syrup that the bees hadn't taken so I opted to use that instead of adding water. Normally you place newspaper of something similar over the mesh to hold the syrup as it sets then later the bees chew through it to reach the sugar. However I had read on another blog that this could mean there were bits of paper and pulp in the left over sugar which a thrifty beekeeper might want to use to make 1:1 syrup in the spring, so instead I used some plastic wrap on the bottoms of the boards so I could pop the sugar in to dry then remove it before adding the boards to the hives -should make it a little more accessible to the bees if they need it too.

7 kilos of sugar and a little syrup
Using a huge stainless steel pan I dropped in 7 KG of granulated white sugar to start and added some syrup and started to stir. It was really hard work. I added more syrup as I progressed till the sugar was all a little damp then I started adding it to the boards.  The rest of the sugar I mixed in smaller batches before adding to the boards.

Small gap near the entrance/exit.
There needs to be a small gap in the sugar near the entrance/exit hole for ventilation and so the bees can get in and out of it if they need to. Some people leave in wooden blocks or a plastic box whilst the sugar sets, I just pulled the stuff back so there was a small gap. I did the same in all three boards -although in the picture below you can't actually tell.

Pollen supplement
I'd read a few people talking about adding pollen supplement to their candyboards so I bought a kilo of Candipolline Gold from Fragile Planet. Looking at the website it says it's a made of sugar, milk and egg proteins and and sterilised bee pollen -sterilised with gamma rays no less. Wasn't it Gamma radiation that turned Dr Banner into the Hulk? Well if I have angry green bees in spring I guess I'll know why... I wrapped each patty in plastic except for the side that's exposed to the bees, I'm not sure if the plastic is totally necessary but all the images I've seen have the plastic still on so I figured I'd follow suit.

Candy Boards, filled and waiting to go
Next up they just had to dry. I decided to pop them on the hives when I opened them to do the Oxalic Acid treatment  as I don't want to be messing them about too much when it's cold. When the sugar had dried it was set like rock. As well as providing emergency food if needed the huge block of sugar should also act as a humidity sink helping keep it nice and dry in the hives over winter.

Candy boards on the hives

A fortnight later I put the boards onto the hives. After a little smoke to push the bees down into the the frames I place the boards directly on top of the brood boxes with the entrance/ventilation holes facing the same direction as the hive entrances. Hopefully they won't be needed and the sugar that's left in Spring will be used to make syrup but if the bees do find themselves short on supplies over winter it's there for them.

Now, much to their relief no doubt, I get to leave the bees alone for a few months.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Trickling Acid

Most of a hive's Varroa mite population, well 85% of them, usually live within the developing brood leaving only 15% of the population on the adult bees. When there's no brood all the mites should be on the adult bee population and this makes them vulnerable to treatments applied directly to the bees. The treatment I'll be using is a solution of Oxalic acid and sugar syrup.

For the past six weeks or so the night time temperature over here has mainly been below 5 degree Celsius with a some nights of temperatures below freezing. This should mean that by now the queens have stopped laying eggs and the last of the brood should have hatched by now. With hopefully no brood in the comb the mites should all be rather vulnerable. Obviously if there are brood in the hive then the mites will be safely ensconced in the comb and the acid won't affect them.

Off to work we go
Today was a balmy 9 degrees C, armed with a smoker, hive tool a couple of syringes and a bowl of oxalic acid solution I'd warmed in a water bath I went to meet the bees. They were making the most of the slightly warmer weather and whilst I had expected them to be making cleansing flights but I also noticed they were  bringing in pollen from somewhere too.

Are you ready for your treatment?

Including the space between the end frames and the follower boards there's 12 seams per hive. Hive3 with it's caught swarm had about 4 seams worth of bees and was unsurprisingly the weakest colony. They were also the most edgy with a lot of bees flying out to meet me and inspecting the syringe. Hive1 had eight seams and Hive2 was packed with 12 seams of bees. The guidelines are based on a National brood box and suggest 5ml of solution is dribbled down each seam of bees. As I use a commercial which is a little bigger I did a little guesswork and used about 6-7ml per seam. It's a simple enough procedure, you just open the hive and run a syringe along each seam gently squeezing out the solution as you go. Once completed the hives are closed up and you're done.

Seams of bees

Monday, 25 November 2013

Autumn Feeding: Done.

It's that time of year when, much to their relief, the bees are largely left to their own devices. It's a little nippy to be opening hives and pulling out frames and there'll probably be very little of no brood in there by now as night time temperatures are approaching zero.

They've had their Autumn feed of 2:1 syrup but success was varied. Hive1 seems to have taken about 2 gallons of syrup, Hive2 has taken about half a gallon. Both those colonies had Adam's Feeders that hold 2 gallons at a time.

Adam's Feeder of 2:1 syrup
I only have two Adam's Feeders so Hive3 got a rapid feeder in an empty super. They took first 2 litres and another litre after I refilled it but then lost interest -or more likely it got too cold for them to take any more syrup.

Rapid Feeder on Hive3
The blurry dark things are bees.

This winter I plan to put a sugar board (or candy board if you prefer) on each hive to supplement their winter stores and see then through to spring. Apart from that I still have to do their oxalic acid treatment probably in early December then I'm done till Spring.

Had a look at the bees in Pearson Park Wildlife garden a few weeks ago too. At some point this year they'ed dropped from three hives to one so they've not been having a great year either but when I last checked they were back up to two.

National Hive and WBC hive in Pearson Park
In the picture above which was taken in October you can see they've got the National hive with a super on, and the WBC hive too. The wooden structure to the right is the stand from the  Top Bar Hive which evidently didn't make it. It may be that they uited the bees to make a stronger colony earlier in the season then split them again later -although comb from the top bar hive would've had to be either cut out and attached to new frames or just discarded.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Season's End

Not blogged for a while, been working on a few other things and, well, there's not been much going on beewise really.

They're prepping for winter! ..sortof..
On the 16th August I had the final of the three visits from the Regional Bee Inspector as part of the European Union Pilot Surveillance Programme for honey bee health. There was a patch of diseased brood in Hive1 but a matchstick test showed it wasn't one of the dreaded Foulbroods. The bees seem to heave dealt with that themselves now.

HiveCombs of BroodCombs of BeesNotes
Hive137Some signs of phoretic mite disease
Hive314Very few eggs
Colony inspection from August 2013

And here's how it's looked across the year for hives 1 & 2.

Combs of bees and brood across three inspections
18 combs of bees
7 combs of brood

2.5 combs of bees
0.5combs of brood

7 combs of bees
3combs of brood
13 combs of bees
6.5 combs of brood

3 combs of bees
0.5combs of brood

13 combs of bees
6combs of brood

The figures from the first and third visits should be very simlar so as you can see Hive2 is doing pretty much as expected really but Hive1 is at below half the strength they should be for this time of year. I've had a look in the hives today, they should all be winding down on egg production and storing up food for winter right now and I should be thinking of combining Hive1 and Hive3 but they're still busy raising brood and laying eggs, Hive2 in particular had a huge number of eggs in it today.

Brood rearing in all three hives

Fresh eggs, in late September

The only hive with a super on it was Hive2. Most f the frames were still empty and a couple had a little honey in but not a lot. Here's a photo of the fullest frame of honey today:

Barely enough to sweeten a mug of Roibos
They're obviously not going to be finishing this anytime soon so what I've done is removed the super and placed it above the crownboard on another empty super. Hopefully the bees will remove what little honey there is in there and store it in the brood box instead. When I tried this before to consolidate two supers it went a bit odd and they stored a shedload in the super they were meant to empty, can't see that happening this year though.

Nothing in the brown one,
not much in the green one.
Something quite noticeable is the lack of drones in any of the hives. art of winter preparations is for the bees to expell them from the hive. It's a little harsh but that's nature's way.. they'ed only use up stored food over winter otherwise. amongst the brood in hive2 I spotted one drone cell, don't fancy his chances much though. They've got some stored honey and pollen in all three hives, unsurprisingly Hive2 is leading the way with it's larger workforce.

Honey being stored on a brood frame

I put the mouseguards on the hives a couple of weeks. I actually saw a mouse type rodent thing last week. It ran like the clappers when I was the chicken run. Unless it's met the cat it's probably somewhere in the garden still but there was no signs of mouse damage in the hives -it's probably been too busy robbing the chickens to try the hives so far.

I'll not be looking in the hives much again now. At some point I'll have a quick look in Hive1 and 3 and depending on the numbers I might unite them, other than that the only time I expect to be looking under the crownboards again is for the oxalic acid treatment when we're into winter. The main beekeeping work from now will be feeding them syrup.