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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Clearer Boards

It's more or less the time of year honey supers are removed from the hives. A lot of people will have already removed them, I seem to do mine a little later than most as my bees are still busy bringing in nectar. To get the bees out of the supers there's a couple of methods people use one is a leaf blower to blow the bees out of the supers, it's very fast but needs a leaf blower isn't pricey and I'd need a petrol powered one for my out apiary. Another method is to remove the frames and brush off the bees manually with a bee brush -I've tried that and it wasn't a whole lot of fun. The third technique is a fume board which uses an unpleasant scented pad that the bees move away from leaving the super empty. The other method is to use something the bees can exit the super but not work their way back up through. That means using porter escapes which are small devices with a couple of springs the bees can exit through but not reenter or a clearer board which is a board with a hole in the top and some sort of mechanism below that allows bees out but makes it difficult for them to get back up. I made a couple of clearer boards back in 2011 using rhombus escapes -they're called Rhombus Escapes because well they're rhombuses and I'd guess they evolved long ago without being attributed to anyone in particular. Now I have more hives I need more clearer boards.

They cost about £20 to buy ready made but they're not exactly rocket science to build. You can make the Rhombus part from wire mesh and woodem moulding but it's probably cheaper ands a whole lot simpler to just buy the Rhombus escape as a plastic part. I bulk ordered 20 Rhombus Clearers, I don't need that many but have a vague plan to sell the majority on eventually.

Yeah, it's a photo of a piece of plywood. Gripping stuff..

A quick visit to The Wood Shop sourced me some plywood and three battens. Rather than use a tape measure I opted to just use one of my old clearer boards and a right angle to mark out the plywood for cutting. I cut is with a handsaw as it was a little late in the evening to be firing up the tablesaw.

More bits of wood, some brass panel pins and a cat.

The battens I held together so I could cut all three at the same time. Cutting all 12 side pieces one at a time would've taken longer and the way I'm making them it doesn't matter much if I was a couple of millimetres out.
Boards with sides attached
Using a pin push and taking a bit of care to line up the sides under the plywood I attached the sides to the plywood boards using brass panel pins. Not sure why I'd bought brass ones but I've had them knocking about for a few years so figured I may as well use them. I had considered gluing them but I was out of glue to just used more pins instead.

Hole saw. Horrible thing.
Attaching a hole saw to my drill I started cutting the hole. I've never liked using this holesaw, it feels like an accident waiting to happen to be honest. In fact one did. cutting the first hole the hole saw teeth got caught in the board so the drill span out of my hands and shot off to one side. It was a warm evening so I was barefoot, next time I'll probably dig out some steelies. I tried again and had better luck and had no mishaps on the second and third board.
Two finished boards
The boards made I then just had to attach the plastic Rhombus escapes. The first two I made I'd glued them to the wood but this time I decided to make them removable so I can clean them. I'm not sure how thick the plywood was but I had some tiny screws left over from restoring an antique Zither Mandolin Banjo last year which I decided to press into service. They were slot screws which are a bit hard to get started as in the wood but after an initial tap with hammer I was able to get them in. There's four screws per rhombus and the board can be slid to one side to release it from the screws so I can scorch the board and clean the Rhombus to avoid spreading bee diseases between hives. I altered the old boards too so I can remove them for cleaning as well.

The first pair of Rhombus escapes I bought were made by Thornes, the new ones are from a french company called Nicot who specialise in plastic beekeeping equipment. Apart from the colour and some minor differences along the plastic edge with the screw holes and logos on they seem to be exactly the same as the previous ones. They're so similar I do wonder if someone actually made a mould from someone else's product, we'll never know. Anyway now I have five clearer boards which should be more than enough for my needs this year.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Loves is in the air

On Sunday the bees were making the most of the weather. The landing boards were busy with workers returning hopefully with honey sacs full of nectar or laden pollen baskets.

Returning foragers

I didn't open the hives though, we'd had a few days of rain so I decided it was better to leave them to replenish whatever stores they've used than interrupt their work with an inspection. As well as the workers charging in and out I also noticed a lot of Drones ambling out and a few returning. In the video below the Drones are easy to spot, they're larger than the workers and walk out very slowly compared to the workers.

Drones heading out.
They'll probably wind up as sex murder victims.

There were a few drones returning and wandering back into the hives so I'd assume they'ed just been out on orientation flights -having a fly about to figure out where they live, maybe locate the Drone Congregation Areas. Drone Congregation Areas are as the name suggests areas that Drones from various colonies hang out and Virgin Queens go to meet them. It's a bit of a mystery how they decide the areas but it seems to work for them and somehow they manage to avoid mating with Queens from their own colonies. After they mate they'll die from abdominal wounds. Strange to think each Queen bee happily laying eggs has probably killed about 15 Drones during her adolescence.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Well now I have an out apiary which is great, but unfortunately I can't get my car near to the hives. Lugging supers of honey and bits of hive to and from the vehicle is a bit of a chore. I have a wheelbarrow on site and while I can load it up with empty supers it isn't the ideal for a full super (or two) to sit comfortably on. I've seen on the net that people have tried to make wheelbarrows accommodate hives such as adding wooden crosspieces or strapping a pallet on top to make a flat platform but with a centre of gravity so high I'd be concerned about stability. I was going to need to come up with a bespoke barrow specifically for lugging hive boxes. After a little more Google searching I found the 'Famous 500' barrow and another barrow from the same family which both position the hives over the wheel to reduce the load. I also found Buster and this one which have a platform resting on the barrow frame level with the centre of the wheel which would give the load a very low centre of gravity making them very stable. They're all basically a wheelbarrow with the scoop removed and a flat platform attached with something to stop things sliding off. Some have extra bits like holes for ventilating hives of bees on the move, cut outs for hand holds, cut outs for ratchet straps, large feet for soft ground and clips to hold hive parts.

Beekeepers are a thrifty lot and I'm no exception. As I didn't fancy splashing out on a new barrow or butchering my existing one as it's perfectly good for it's regular duties, I went for a drive around the Avenues looking for skips. There's always a few houses being renovated round there and builders often bin off deceased barrows. Sure enough a few skips later I found a knackered barrow. The wheel and axle had been removed, the powder coating was coming off and the scoop was battered and holed in a few places. I think it'd probably been used for mixing concrete looking at the state of it. I put it in the car and drove home.

Dead Barrow.
The sorry looking scoop was held on by six bolts. Two to supports above the wheel and four to metal cross pieces on the frame. The first two came undone with a little persuasion but the other four wouldn't go. Turning the nuts turned the bolts which had no slot or cross to stop them turning. I could've possibly ground off the bolt heads but it'd've taken time and a few Dremmel discs to do so I opted to remove the cross braces with a hacksaw. That done I returned the scoop to the skip it'd come from - I'm sure someone will pick up and weigh it in for a few pennies.

I got some 18mm exterior ply and guestimating the measurements used the tablesaw to cut a board a bit wider than a hive body and long enough for me to carry some other random gubbins at the front. I secured it with the bolts from the front of the barrow and jubilee clips at each of the four points it where it reaches the frame. To stop things sliding off too quickly I glued a lip at the front and the back of the board clamping them in place for 24 hours whilst the glue did it's thing. Then I decided to paint the frame. I should've really done that before attaching the board but it was just an afterthought. I gave the frame a quick wipe down removing the looser bits of powder coating, cement, mud and whatever then just painted over everything that was left with one of those 'apply directly to rust' type paints. I also added more varnish to the sides of the jubilee clip holes, where the bolts were and the cut sides.

Work of art.
The cheapest 14" barrow wheel I could find on eBay arrived next day. I filled the axle with Castrol LM Grease and bolted it into place. Being a cheap wheel it has no bearings and was supported on plastic bushings.I didn't now what Castrol LM Grease was and I'm not really sure why I even have a tub of it but apparently it's just the stuff for wheel bearings.

Rocket science.

At that point I tested it with a brood box and found just by luck that a box at the back of the platform sat comfortably against the bendy bits of the handles. I made a tailgate type thing from an offcut board with a couple more offcuts glued behind to hold it in place between the handles and varnished. It just sits there held in place by whatever's in the barrow.

Tailgate type thing
I had planned to make it a three wheeler to spread the load and raise the back end when stationary but after reading about different wheelbases in carp fishing forums it seems one wheel is easiest to keep stable on rough ground as you can't tilt a two wheel device to compensate to uneven surface. One wheel is also easier to steer. Carp fishing forums? Yep, the people who seem to know most about barrows are carp fishermen. They regularly lug about a quarter tonne of equipment across fields, through forests and over mountains in the pursuit of catch and release sport fishing. There's even an industry making rugged barrows and trolleys specifically for them to haul their fishing kit, tent, packed lunch, missing neighbour or whatever to those hard to reach bodies of water, so their forums are the best places to look for advice on barrows.

A slightly different barrow
With the barrow finished I drove it to the apiary where I've left it bikelocked it to something heavy till the day I need it as, like so much beekeeping equipment, it's very bulky and will only be used a couple of times a year.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Wasp Nest

Last week a mate showed me a wasp nest in a birdbox in a local allotment site. We stood about three feet in front of the entrance watching wasps coming and going and even though they'ed reduced the entrace hole using paper they'ed made we could see wasps just inside doing whatever wasps do when they're home. I decided to go back with some protective it -bee jacket, gloves and jeans without holes in them, to take some close up photos and video of the entrance. Would've been an interesting post. Unfortunately when I went back the wasps had been poisoned and the nest removed.I too some photos anyway. Going by their markings and the wood they've used for the nest I think they're Common Wasps (Vespula vulgaris) but it's hard to be sure.

Top of the dead nest and a few dead workers
The top of the nest was on the ground. A structure made from paper created by the wasps chewing wood. Like bees they mae hexagonal cells but they orient theirs vertically unlike honeybee worker and drone cells. They'ed made a five tier nest in the bird box and I think this was the unfinished top tier. I found the other four tiers still joined together floating in a water butt. Word to the wise: if you're throwing insecticides around keep them out of the water. The four other tiers were rectangular as you'd expect having been built in a birdbox and joined by a stem of paper in the middle -it was a bit lie a gross little accordion. You could see capped cells in which wasps larve will've been metamorphosing.

Worker Wasps and Larvae
There was a little group of dead wasps and larvae along with some of the wasp's paper that was probably over the top of the nest. You can see the size of the larvae compared to the adults.

Talking to the holder of the next plot along his comment was that if he'd known about them he'd've been happy to have the birdbox and it's compliment of wasps moved to his plot rather than poisoned. Wasps are pretty useful things for the vegetable and fruit grower, looking at a post from the resident wasp expert in the Beekeeping forum it's reported the average wasps nest consumes a staggering 4 to 5 tons of aphids in it's life cycle. That's a lot of time and money the allotment holder wouldn't have to spend on controlling aphids. Of course there's the concern about stings but I've not been stung by one for years myself -and as a beekeeper I probably meet more wasp buzzing about my hives than most.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Third one in a row

I know this is getting a bit repetitive but.. I collected another swarm yesterday. That's three in a week, and they've all been large prime swarms. This was near the out apiary and based on the location I initially thought they were from one of my hives but after going through them and finding I wasn't missing any bees I figure they were probably attracted by the scent from the hives.

Yet another Prime Swarm

Unlike every other swarm collection I've done this one went pretty much by the book. I held an open nuc below the bees a sharp shake dropped most of them into the box then I added some frames and left them to get in by themselves.

In they go
I was a bit short on frames so although it's a five frame nuc I was only able to put four frames into it. I've put a follower board in the gap and I'll just have to hope the new frames and foundation I've got on order arrive fairly soon and I'll probably move these into a full size hive asap.

Later this evening after writing the first half of this entry I popped to the bee yard to install a vent in the shed (gets hot in there, don't want wax to melt) and noticed a cluster of bees on the front on the nuc. Sometimes bees will hang out of the front of the hive if it's a hot day but that wasn't what these were doing and it half nine at night they ought to have been inside. It looked to me like there was too many bees to fit in the hive.

Lifting up the hive roof I found the airspace was packed with bees. They needed moving into a bigger hive straight away. Last week I'd ordered some frames, foundation and roofs but they hadn't arrived. Going on the FedEx website and checking the tracing number I was surprised to see FedEx thought they'ed left me a delivery card 4 days ago, I'll have to pop to the depot tomorrow for them to sort it out.. I could certainly do without that but in the meantime I needed to move the bees this evening. I had a ten frame super with new frames and foundation and a shallow brood frame for drone culling and a few crownboards so I popped to grab a couple of solid floors, a queen excluder and some gaff tape went back to the bees. I moved all four frames and the follower board into the new brood box and added the shallow frame.

There's just too many of you
With all the frames, follower board and adhering bees removed there were still a lot of bees left in the nuc sides -and there were still bees in the roof and on the hive front too. The frames and follower board left the new brood box half empty so I shook out the remaining bees into the gap and put the queen excluder over the brood box and the ten frame super above that. I'm hoping they'll head up to the super rather than drawing wild comb in the void but if everything goes to plan I'll be filling that gap with new frames tomorrow anyway. Bees were nosanoving at the entrance as I put the crownboard on. Unfortunately I didn't have a spare hive roof yet (thanks FedEx..) so I had to improvise a little. I taped the crown board onto the super so water doesn't get in normally the roof sides would take care of that, then put another floor and crownboard on top of that. Gathering a few bricks to keep it in place I found a double glazed pane of textured I'd found on a building site near Aylesburry a while ago. I have a vague plan to use it for some sort of cold frame type thing eventually. I stuck that on top of the crownboard and floor then put some bricks on top to stop it blowing off. It should keep things a little drier till I can put a proper roof on tomorrow.

Looks daft.
Should be adequate for one night though.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bees in the Trees

On Tuesday evening I got a call from the Beverley Beekeepers Swarm co-ordinator about a swarm of bees in The Quadrant, just off Cottingham Road. Not far from where I live. They were up a tree but within ladder reach. I rang ahead and asked if they had a ladder handy so I didn't need to lug mine over, they did, so I borrowed some undrawn frames from the brood box of an existing hive and armed with a six frame nuc went to meet the bees.

They were indeed up a tree just behind a family's garden. They were on a fairly thick branch I could just reach by hand. I initially thought I'd just cut off the branch carry it down to the nuc and shake the bees in but that would've meant removing about a third of the tree top which I didn't fancy doing to the tree and wasn't certain I'd be able to support it from it's lowest point one handed from if I did. Instead I cut away some smaller branches so I could get in towards the bees then ratchet strapped my nuc brood box to the floor and carried it up the ladder along with my bee brush. Pushing the brood box and nuc under the cluster I gave the branch a sharp shake dislodging bees into the box and onto myself and quickly gave the branch a sweep with the brush. Then I carried the box of now rather confused bees and added some frames. with a large proportion of the bees in the box I then had to mop up the smaller clusters of remaining bees. climbing back up the ladder I cut of the twigs being occupied by little clusters and shoo each on top f the frames. At one point I had to nip down the ladder and whip off my jacket as a worker bee had decided to join me in my veil. Not what you want at anytime really and certainly not what you need when you're up a ladder with not much but bees to hold onto.

Dizzying heights of beekeeping

Whilst I removed the bee from my veil a few of the remaining clusters grew as flying bees rejoined their sisters on the branch. I got most of those by knocking them into a plastic tub and then tipping that over the top bars in the nuc. I also gave the tree a thorough smoking to cover any pheromones still attracting bees to it.

The bits of tree I'd cut off I placed in the plastic tub and they'll be going in a composter later. I left the nuc with the crownboard partially on for flying bees to make their way in for a while, it was late evening when I'd arrived and was getting dark by the time I left. Two swarms in two days. Busy times.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Bees in the Bushes

On Monday afternoon I got a call from the Council's Pest Control people asking if I wanted to collect a swarm of honey bees. They're pretty good with bees and tend to pass on accessible colonies to local beekeepers. So far I've been out for a couple of swarms that turned out to be Tree Bumblebees and once for Red Mason Bees. Standard advice for Tree Bumblebees and Mason Bees? Leave them alone and they'll die off in Autumn. So it was a nice chaneg to get a call from the Council as you know they'll've correctly identified the bees. These bees were in a rose bush over in Bransholme, the other side of the city.

I popped to my out apiary and piced up a 5 frame nuc a-when you have bees in two places what you soon realise is that whatever you need is *always* at the other location, even if you have two of everything. It's a quirk of physics or something. So a quick trip to my out apiary to grab the five frame nuc and I was on my merry way when the phone rang again, it was the council again. I thought she was going to tell me the bees had flown away but instead it was another honey bee swarm. I couldn't collect them too though as having been increasing my colonies I'm running out of hive parts -had to order a load of frames and a couple of roofs today.

I got to the location had a look around and couldn't find any bees but after a little hanging about and a little input from a couple of people in the building that'd reported them I was led to a rosebush and there they were.

Admiring the rosebush

It looked like a prime swarm clustered helpfully on an easily accessible branch of the bush. I drove the car round and unloaded my stuff -the nuc, smoker, a saw, usual bee tools, safety stuff and a water spray.
Cutting away a large branch of the bush so I could manouvere the Nuc brood box under the bees I gave the branch a sharp shake and as expected, a load of bees fell into it. I Placed the box on the ground and added three frames of foundation. Turned out the bees helpfully clustered on the easily accessible branch wasn't the whole cluster. There were bees deep inside the bush so I then went about removing smaller twigs from inside the bush and shaking them into the box too. It took a while.I then put the nuc on top of a plastic storage box to move it nearer to where the flying bees were buzzing about and put a crownboard over the top leaving two seams open for bees to enter through as well as the nuc entrance. At this point bees in the box were nosanoving to guide the other bees in too.

Bees Nosanoving on top of the Nuc

I peeled off my Marigolds er beekeeper gloves I mean, removed my jacket and wellies and sat on the ground waiting for the flying bees to make their way into the box. Occasionally a small cluster would reform on the bush so I'd get up and gave it a shake and a smoke. Ideally I'd've left the nuc sat there and come back in the dark but it was too public so I loitered for a couple of hours, talked to a few people who'd seen the bees arrive, stroked a Terrier and caught up on my Facebook newsfeed. Eventually I closed the crown board, put the roof on and ratchet strapped it together leaving just the entrance open. After a couple of hours there was still a lot of bees in the air and I was starting to suspect there were some orientation flights going on. Using the water I'd brought I sprayed over the flying bees and the entrance trying to fool the bees into thinking it was raining. It took a half litre of water and half the bottle I'd brought to drink but seemed to make a difference. I then blocked up the hive entrance before putting it in the car and driving them to their new home.

Okay so it's probably a cartoon wasp I found on Google Image Search.
Works better than a Keep Your Distance sticker.

I would've like to have left the hive closed up for a few days but the only crownboard I'd had available didn't have a feeding hole in it so ventilation was limited and daytime temperatures are pretty high at the moment. Using some ply I'd liberated from a skip previously I quickly made a new crown board and using my hive tool a little creatively managed to cut a round hole in more or less the middle. I then swapped the solid crownboard for the new one and opened the Nuc entrance so the bees who flew up could get back in. I'd moved the colony a good 4 miles as the crow flies so the bees should reorient themselves the the new hive and not return to their original location.

New arrivals