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.

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.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Winter Feeding and Mite Teatment

Through winter the bees are all busy keeping warm, clustered in their hives away from the prying eyes of beekeepers. Barring a bit of hardware maintenance, woodwork and renewing Beekeeping Association subs there isn't much for Beekeepers to be doing. However there are two bee related tasks still to be done: mite treatment and Winter feeding.

The mite treatment as with every other year is an organic acid treatment which kills off a huge proportion of the varroa mites in the hive. There's a couple of options but most beekeepers seem to be using an Oxalic Acid solution. It's easy to make, just dissolve 35g Oxalic Acid Dihydrate in one litre of sugar syrup -most sources say to use 1:1 syrup but 2:1 syrup has been used by some. The hive is then opened and the syrup trickled between the frames directly onto the bees. As the bees move about the solution gets distributed over the whole colony and onto the mites. It takes 5ml per seam for a National hive and by my calculations 6.6ml per seam for a Commercial. It's only effective when the mites are actually on the bees though so needs to be done then the colony is broodless. If there's brood most of the mites will be in the comb with new larvae and the oxalic solution won't reach them. Waiting for a long enough cold snap took a while but I treated my colonies about a fortnight ago.

Mite treating time
Oxalic solution is very cheap and easy to make at home, unfortunately it's no longer legal for beekeepers to do so. Last year a firm called Api-Bioxal registered it as medical product so now any treatment with Oxalic Acid needs approval from the Vetinary Medicines Directorate. This means you can't just whip up your own solution or buy it from just anyone anymore, you need to buy the approved and expensive VMD approved product. The approved Api-Bioxal currently costs £10.99 for a 35g  sachet of what is clearly Oxalic Acid Dihydrate, if you shop around and source your own >99.5% pure Oxalic Dihydrate you get about half a kilo for that price. So the cost of treating my 8 hives with Api-Bioxal comes to about ninety quid whereas using other Oxalic Dihydrate I'd be paying under a fiver. Not that I'm suggesting anyone does ..obviously I used the super expensive pricey approved stuff and the photo above shows a bottle of lemon barley water I was drinking at the time and the syringes were just so I could drink it through the veil of my beekeeping jacket. Honest.

Can see the roughly round shape of the cluster here.

I've not seen my bees for a long time, what with it being winter and all but opening hives in Winter is quite different to Summer. In the summer bees tend to be distributed allover the comb in the brood box but in winter they form a rounded cluster and when you remove the crownboard you can clearly see the shape of it. All being well the cluster moves in the hive using stored food from the combs.

When I was doing the treatment I found four of my colonies are still very densely populated with huge clusters whereas two are like the one above where there's been some of the expected die back and two are looking very low on numbers. The two colonies that are low on numbers may struggle to generate enough heat so I whilst I've  so far left the mesh floors open with those two I closed them to try an conserve heat -I very much doubt they'll make it through Spring but shall wait and see.

You can order anything, as long as it's sugar.

In Winter hives can be running a little low on stores -especially big strong colonies that haven't experienced much die back  through Winter. Because of that it's fairly common practice to give the colonies a little food top up. Bees won't take syrup when it's cold so instead the beekeeper can give them dry sugar or fondant. In previous years I've made candy boards which are effectively huge square sugar lumps covering the top of the hive so the bees have access to emergency food wherever they are in the colony. I had planned to make newer shallower candy boards but never got round to it so this year I've gone back to fondant again.

Fondant can be given in a block, as it comes from the packet, placed above the feed hole in a crownboard with a plastic food tub above it which I've done previously. This time I decided to just cut the Dr Oetker Ready to Roll Icing very thinly and place it above the frames in the small gap between the frame tops and the crownboards. With the fondant in place the crownboards, insulation and roofs were quickly put back in place so the bees could get back to warming the air in there.

Bees making cleansing flights, must be quite a relief for them.

On Monday just gone I popped to the out apiary and was able to see bees making cleansing flights although according to my weather app it was only 7 degrees Celsius. It's been a fairly warm winter so far, which isn't great for the bees. In a cold winter they're less active and cluster tighter using less food, when it's warmer they're more active which means using up more energy and depleting food stores faster. In early Spring I'll need to check how much they've got left as that's the time they're at most risk from starving.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Don't get stung buying honey online

Now I've put honey on eBay I've become a little more concerned about some of the dodgy dealing going on with Honey on the site. This has prompted me to write a quick guide to help people spot some of the cons going on with dodgy honey sales and hopefully help legitimate sellers with quality products, packaged and sold to meet legal requirements reach the sales they deserve.

Don't get stung, read This Guide.
However to save my dear readers the trouble of having to click and follow the link I've also copied the guide to here :) Harvard References (more or less) are at the end. Over time the guide may evolve as I add to it or even spell check it so the latest version will be on the eBay site. I may also add it as a stand alone page on here.

So if you ever buy honey online or plan to do so I suggest you make yourself a cup of tea and read on..

Guide to Buying Honey on eBay

Avoiding scams and unsafe products

This is a brief guide to safely buying Honey on eBay. Having seen very dodgy selling practices, illegally labelled products, misleading and fraudulent claims made by many Honey sellers on eBay and found Trading Standards unwilling to intervene such a guide needed writing. Full disclosure: I'm a Beekeeper, I sell Honey, I occasionally sell Honey on eBay. For further reading and evidence see the references at the end of the guide.
The health benefits of Honey are lauded and it's a hugely popular food and health product but Honey is unfortunately also one of the most frequently abused and adulterated products you'll find on the supermarket shelf. Supermarket shelf? Yes indeed. In December 2015 The European Commission published preliminary results of a study into Honey fraud in 30 countries including the UK (JRC-IRRM, 2015). Of the 2237 samples tested 19% were either from the wrong plant, wrong part of the world or were adulterated with sugar, and a further 13% were suspected of sugar adulteration or of different geographical origin to that claimed. What does this mean? It means Honey fraud is so prevalent even big business is being caught out, but that doesn't mean you have to be.
The situation online: A number of small scale Beekeepers and Honey sellers in the UK and abroad use eBay to reach customers, myself included. It's a great way to do it. It lets you reach a large customer base and allows customers to access more choice than the supermarket channels allow. You want Honey from your own city or home county? Try eBay. You want Honey from Yemen? Try eBay for that too! The choice is there and so are the customers. Everyone's a winner.
Unfortunately not everyone is a winner. As mentioned above Honey is not always what the label claims. Adulteration with cheap syrups (corn syrup, rice syrup, etc) is unfortunately nothing new and was touched upon in the 2007 documentary film The Vanishing of the Bees (Langworthy et al, 2011) and is still a reality as the European Commission study has shown (JRC-IRRM, 2015). Whilst commercial supply chains are working to avoid this it still happens to them and when you're buying direct over the internet from anonymous sources there are even less safeguards in place.
Location, location, location?
As mentioned earlier the European Commission found a lot of Honey on shelves isn't from the geographical region given on the label. Initially this might not seem relevant to you however due to different Beekeeping practices around the globe Honey from some countries can contain substances you probably don't want to eat -such as high level of antibiotics (Al-waili et al, 2012). In the UK Beekeepers don't have access to unprescribed antibiotics, but elsewhere in the world its a very different story and there's even been a ban on Honey from specific countries being imported to the European Union due to the high levels of antibiotics in their final product. Despite that it still slips into commercial channels occasionally having been transshipped. Buying direct from a seller who imports or buys honey from unknown sources with no accountability and no audit trails increases your chance of buying Honey that couldn't be sold in a supermarket. Unless you want particularly want tetracycline, oxytetracycline, doxycycline, chlortetracycline or chloramphenicol on your toast or in your tea you need to know where your honey is coming from.
 Is it really Organic?
As well as Honey being adulterated or mislabelled regarding content and origin another fraudulent claim often made by sellers is that their Honey is Organic.
For a product to be sold as Organic in the UK, whether produced locally or imported, it needs to be tested and certified as Organic by one of the UK's 9 organic control bodies (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2016). It is completely illegal to claim your product is Organic without this certification. Certified Organic products then bear a logo on the label to show it is Certified Organic as who it was certified by, looking on eBay at so called Organic Honey check for a Certified Organic logo. You won't find it for two reasons.

The first being bees are unlikely to forage exclusively on organically reared plants. Foraging bees free range over an area of about 28 square miles around the hive and the bee keeper has no control over what food sources they use in that area. In such a large area it is very unlikely that all the plants the bees access are being grown organically, so to produce Organic Honey one needs huge swathes of land which a small operation is unlikely to have access to.   It's not impossible for example hives may in a large unmanaged woodland but it's unlikely.
The second reason is that getting Organic Certification for your product whether it's Honey, wine, potatoes or whatever is a very expensive process and needs repeating every year. The cost of Organic Certification places it well beyond the financial reach of the small scale beekeeper as well as all but the biggest commercial Bee Farmers. If a beekeeper or Honey seller is using eBay as their distribution channel they won't be selling a Certified Organic product, if they claim to be then they're either misrepresenting their product intentionally or do not understand Honey or the relevant food legislation all of which ought to be a red light for potential buyers.
What about Manuka Honey?
Ignoring the arguments abut the pros and cons of Manuka honey, the fact is people want to buy Manuka Honey and Manuka Honey is expensive as so little is currently made per season. This has led to a huge industry in fake Manuka Honey. New Zealand produces about 1,700 tons of Manuka Honey in a season but 10,000 tons are sold annually (Creasey, 2014). This means 4 out of 5 jars don't really contain Manuka and that's before factoring the large percentage of Manuka bought up by the pharmaceutical industry before it even reaches the jar. To protect their product New Zealand formed the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA). There's over 70  suppliers  registered with UMFHA (UMFHA, 2016) so if you are buying Manuka Honey online check the UMFHA website to ensure it's coming from a licensed source.

So what can you do?
So how do you avoid buying fake, dodgy or adulterated Honey? It's not easy but here are a few things to look at  when buying online to help you buy safe, high quality honey.

The Seller: Try and make sure you buy direct from the Beekeeper selling their own honey rather than some guy moving a few buckets of Honey of unknown provenance they picked up at an auction or imported from who knows where and labelled as whatever they like. It's actually not that difficult to tell who is a beekeeper and who's not: look at their other items. Bees don't only make Honey so chances are a Beekeeper on eBay will be advertising other items made from the produce of their hives such as Beeswax Polish, Lip Balm, Wax, Propolis possibly even Bees and beekeeping equipment. Other clues may be in their About Me page if they have one. What does it tell you? Do they have a website, blog, Instagram or Facebook page for their small scale beekeeping operation? You could even just ask them -beekeepers tend to very happily talk about their bees and beekeeping practice.

The Honey: How much honey are they actually selling? There's at least one seller on eBay claiming to be a beekeeper who appears to have sold about 80 tonnes of honey using a number of different adverts. Selling that quantity of honey it would make more sense to do so through commercial channels rather than deal with the financial overheads of eBay fees, Paypal fees and postage as well as the considerable cost in time and effort to pack and process that many single jar sales. The fact they're selling such quantities in this way should ring a few alarm bells for the potential buyer.

The Label:  There are strict laws about food labelling (The Honey (England) Regulations, 2015). A jar of honey must be labelled with the word Honey, a metric measure of weight, the country of origin, a name and address for the supplier and a best before date. If the Honey is being sold through a third party it must also have a batch number.

If you’re seeing jar advertised on eBay with a label that doesn't meet these criteria then the seller isn’t following legislation set by the Food Standards Agency to protect the public. If a seller is ignoring or unaware of this they really should be avoided. If you see a seller claiming their honey is organic but doesn't have any Organic Certification they're fraudulently misrepresenting their product and should also be avoided.

  The Cost: Producing Honey takes work and an investment in both time and money. If you’re seeing Honey being sold for roughly the same price as a tin of Golden Syrup with free postage thrown in chances are you’re not getting what you think.
There are no guarantees but these are just a few ways to reduce your chances of being ripped off or buying something unsafe.

Al-waili N,Salom K, Al-Ghamdi A. & Ansari MJ (2012) Antibiotic, pesticide, and microbial   contaminants   of honey:  human  health hazards. The.  Scien.  World.  J.; doi: 10.1100/2012/930849.

Creasey S. (2014) Special investigation manuka honey. The Grocer 28/06/2014 p41-45.

Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (2016) Organic farming: how to get certification and apply for funding.

JRC-IRRM  (2015)  Coordinated  control  plan  to establish  the  prevalence  of  fraudulent  practices in  the  marketing  of  honey.  Preliminary results. December 2015.

The Honey (England) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/1348)

Langworthy G., Henein M., Erskine J., Gazecki W. & Page, E. (2011). Vanishing of the bees. Hive Mentality Films & Hipfuel Films.

UMFHA (2016) UMFHA Members . Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association website.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Hull Bees Honey now on eBay!

I've had a few enquiries to the Hull Bees Facebook Page from people wanting to buy my honey who live outside the city so finally I've put some on eBay. There's  454g/1lb and 250g/8.8oz jars of both set and liquid honey.

Hull Bees Honey, now on eBay!
It does mean charging a little more per jar and getting a smaller return per jar than selling locally but allows me to reach a bigger customer base and puts in in the reach of people who can't pop down to West Hull for a jar or twenty. I'll add a link to the banner above at some point.

In other news my Honey is still available at The English Muse on Newland Avenue and I've recently dropped off a batch of Propolis Tincture at Broomsticks, also on Newland Avenue.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Hamilton Converter

Been a while since I've posted about my beekeepery wood butchering efforts. Back in April last year I bought a colony of bees at the Beverley Beekeepers' Association Auction. They came in a National Hive and I've since moved the bees onto Commercial frames which are larger. The floor and roof the hive came with I can use with Commercial boxes but the Brood Box I don't have a use for as it is. However it can be altered to take 8 Commercial frames using a device called a Hamilton Converter. I don't know anything about Mr or Mrs Hamilton but the Converter sits on top of the National Brood Box raising it's height by 5 cm with a rebate for frame lugs alongside the box's thinner walls making a box with enough room for 8 Commercial Frames.

One National Brood Box minus frame runners.

Plans for a Hamilton Converter seem to be strangely absent from the Internet, however a few beekeeping suppliers make them so after looking at a couple of pictures online and checking National and Commercial Brood Box measurements I was able to knockout a rough plan for one. I was on my phone at the time and used Google Keep to rough it out. Never used Google Keep before, it's a note making app that handles a variety of media and includes a drawing faciltiy which I'll be using again.

My rough plan for a Hamilton Converter
The sides that fit in the rebates on the National could be made up using separate pieces but I decided to make them from one piece each. I initially made all the sides 460mm long then later trimmed the thinner sides down and cut rebates in the wider sides so I could make rabbet joints.

Cutting rebates
All four side pieces needed a rebate cutting along the length, the thick sides needed one at the bottom alonwing them to slot into the rebates already in the brood box, and the thinner sides needed rebates at the top to accommodate the frame lugs and runners. I used the tablesaw to cut the rebates the whole length of two pieces of wood. Once cut I then checked the outside edges of box thick and thin sides lined up. There'd be no point proceeding if they didn't.

They line up ok. Little victory.
Although that upside down 9 should be an 11.

That done the corners of the bottom of the wide sides needed trimming to fit into the National as the rebates stop at the outside edges. Hard to follow? I thought so.

Cutting corners
Between steps I kept checking things fitted together and lined up. I wouldn't like to say if it was due to my careful design, craftsmanship or blind luck but everything did.

Test fit.
With the wide sides in place I then trimmed down the thinner edges so they would overlap the wide ones by 20mm at either end, more or less. I used the sides to mark where to cut the rebates for them to fit into so it didn't matter too much if they weren't exactly the length I was aiming at. I also labelled each corner with a letter from A to D to ensure I was using the sides in the rebates I'd measured for them. It gets a little confusing and it's very easy to cut off the wrong part of the wood. I like to mark the offcuts with a big X to make that a little less likely.

Marking up rebates for the joints.
Finally I had all four pieces cut to size. With all the rebates and lugs the wide edges took a total of ten cuts each not including cutting the length.

I've made a flat pack.
All the wood cut to size I then used wood glue and screws to assemble it using the National Box and a huge wood clamp to keep it all in place. For the screws I drilled guide holes with counter sunk heads and lubricated the screws by putting wood glue in the threads. I trimmed some smaller pieces from offcuts and glued them into the ends of the rebates to tidy things up a bit. There's 3 screws per corner which along with the glue is probably overkill.

We're not finished yet.
With the wooden parts assembled it was time to add some metal runners. These protect the edge of the box and by reducing the amount of surface the frame lugs are resting on make it far easier to manage heavy frames when the box is in use. The runners are made to go in a regular size box not a weird cut down hybrid thing like this so I needed to trim them. Rather than dig out a tape measure I just held the runner to the Converter and marked in pen where to cut then lopped the end off with a hacksaw. I then used the shorter runner to mark where to cut the other one.

Metal Tin Bucket, as seen in the July 2016 edition. Wow.
After trimming both runners had lost a nail hole. To replace those I just used some radio pliers to hold a nail in place whilst I knocked it through the runner with a hammer then pulled the bent nails out for recycling. I could've probably used a drill but this was quicker and less messy with no metal filings.

Making new nail holes.
That done I nailed the new shorter runners in place. The radio pliers came in useful for that too as the nails were too short to hold and I didn't fancy banging my fingers on a cold January evening..

Runner in place.
Finally with the woodwork and metal work done it was time to throw on a coat of paint. I've had some ideas about colour coding hive parts to make them more recognisable at a glance and decided to make this a different colour to all the other brood boxes as it's only going to hold 8 frames instead of 11. Mixing a little reddy brown, green and black I wound up with a nice choclate brown colour which I now think would look good on all my brood boxes ah well..

Lower left? Yes, I did knock the paint over.
It was about 3 degrees Celcius outside and my Shed & Fence paint says not to apply it below 10 so I decided to do the painting indoors. I nipped out and bought a newspaper for the occasion and used it to line a big black plastic tray to contain any spillages. This turned out to be a great plan because at one point I did manage to knock over the yoghurt pot I was using as a paint caddy. Oops.

One National Brood Box converted to an 8 frame Commercial Brood Box.

I decided to give the old National Brood Box a lick of paint too, to give it some protection from the elements. With the box finally finished it's gone to wait in the shed till it's needed again. Ideally you should have two brood boxes for each colony you intend to keep so you can artificially swarm them, at the moment I have eight colonies and four spare brood boxes although I also have a few Nucs I can use to split colonies into.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Hull Bees Honey for Sale on Newland Avenue!

There isn't a huge amount for beekeepers to do in Winter, so blog posts are a little thin on the ground however here's an advertisement which should be good news for some of the folk who've asked about buying my honey. :)

Right now my honey is for sale at English Muse, 81 Newland Avenue, Hull, HU5 2AL. If you've walked up Newland Avenue you've probably seen The English Muse with it's distinctive Edwardian shopfront. Check out The English Muse - Coffee & Art Facebook Page for some images of the place.It's an interesting place to visit with an ever changing display of local artists talents on display as well as friendly staff and good food.

Go here! :-D
Buy this! :-D
 So if you're after something to go in your hot toddy or on your toast give them a visit, the paninis are excellent :)