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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Candyboards revisited

Last year I placed candyboards on the hives  in case the bees needed extra food over the winter.A candy board is basically a layer of sugar placed above the frames, it's an idea I've seen in American blogs and means wherever the bees are in the hive there will be sugar directly above them. The bees shouldn't really need this extra food but I prefer to take a belt and braces approach just in case something goes wrong -such as the Winter being too mild and the active bees blazing through their stores too fast or the Winter dragging on for too long and the bees running out of food. It's cheaper to buy a few kilos of sugar you don't need than replacing a lost colony in Spring, and the unused sugar can be reused to make syrup later anyway.

The boards I use are just a thick wooden frame with a wire mesh to support what's essentially a huge sugar lump. Other designs I've seen have been more like a crown board with slightly deeper sides and the sugar stuck to the underside of the wooden board rather than supported by a mesh. I already had 3 empty boards from last year so just needed to make one more for the fourth hive.

Making a fourth candyboard

Using some more or less 40mm x 40mm wood cut at 45 degree angles then screwed and glued together with a small entrance drilled in one side and a wire mesh is inserted and stapled in place by the sides. My old Argos stapler seems to be dying a death after only 16 years use so I wound up banging the staples in with a hammer whilst listening to Therapy.

Last year I'd put about 5KG of sugar in each frame, given how little the bees had used this was obviously excessive. This year I decided to put just 3.75 kilos of sugar in each board, I could probably use less but need to make sure the sugar lump will support it's own weight as there's some flexibility in the wire mesh. Actually in hindsight I could probably put a rigid support across the middle but that'd probably make it a bit harder to pull out the unused sugar in Spring.

Mixing a few kilos of sugar with minimal amounts of water is more like mixing concrete than cooking and I snapped a spatula last time. This time I bought  a stainless steel gardening trowel to mix it with and used a huge food grade plastic bucket I'd acquired courtesy of my local Subway. Well I say it was from Subway but it could've been absolutely anyone dumping two large buckets of breadmix with the labels scratched down the side of their shop next to their bins the night before they were due to be emptied... Anyway after a thorough clean they're proving useful.

Stir it up

Empty boards lined with plastic wrap
-don't want to glue them the utility room floor

As well as sugar the bees need protein which they get from pollen. You can buy pollen that bees have collected but you can't give this to your bees in case it harbours viruses or other disease that won't affect the humans it's being marketed to. I added some Candipolline Gold Bee Feed which contains pollen that's been sterilised with Gamma radiation -yep beekeeping is so olde worlde... I put a small block of Candipolline in the middle of each board with plastic on the top and sides to keep it from the sugar but the bottom side open against the mesh so the bees can access it from below.

Candipolline Gold Bee Feed with Pollen
With the Candipolline in place I then added the wet sugar with the trowel and more or less smoothed it out. Hopefully I pressed it together enough for it to form a solid block when it's finally dry. If the bees do use this sugar they'll need to add water to it before they can use it, in theory there should be some condensation in the hive that they can use for this although I've also read that the huge sugar lump serves as a moisture sink helping to keep the hive dry -however it works it seemed to go well last last year anyway.

The filled Candy Boards will need a while to dry
The wooden frames I've made are deeper than they need to be so there's just over an inch of air gap at the top. The empty void will just make it harder for the bees to heat the hive so I decided to fill the gap with insulation. The gap was too narrow for a block of Kingspan so I decided to use layers of thin insulation (Selitac 5mm expanded polystyrene floor underlay) glued together and attached to a plywood square that would rest on the sugar. I used a plywood layer to stop the bees nibbling the insulation and reduce the chance of water condensing on the insulation's foil surface and dripping onto the sugar.

Emergency Rations for Hive4, just in case.

After a couple of weeks drying time I put the candy boards onto the hives with the Kingspan insulation on top and then the roof on top of that. It's been pretty mild so far although the temperature doesn't seem to affect food stores as you'd expect - general consensus seems to be that whilst colder weather uses more stored food to keep the bees warm warmer weather means more activity in the hive which also means more food used. Hopefully it won't be needed and I'll be dissolving the sugar to make 1:1 syrup in Spring.

Insulation on top, just needs the roof and they're done.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Public Works

Yesterday whilst pushing a wheelbarrow full of aged chicken litter between shoppers on a busy Newland Avenue it occured to me that I was seeing a few bees around. Not workers trying their luck in the cold but great big bees about a foot long daubed on walls and telephone junction boxes.

Going places

I'm not sure when they appeared but they've been around the area for a while and are a little more creative than the usual misspelled tags and a bright departure from the occasional Banksy inspired stencilwork that occasionally appears.

Buzzing along

Whilst obviously not the most well executed images you'll ever see they're a little uplifting as they go about their business with small smiles on their anthropomorphic faces.

Happy to be here

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Winter mite treatment

There isn't a lot for beekeepers to do in the winter except maybe drink mead, argue on forums, pad out their blogs with book reviews and clean equipment for next year but one winter activity that needs doing is the mite treatment. As with every other winter whilst there's no brood in the comb the varroa mites will be clinging to the bees which makes them vulnerable.

Can't see any mites, but they'll be in there somewhere..

The treatment we use is a solution of organic acid and sugar syrup. Lactic, Formic or Oxalic acid is used with the latter being the most popular going by the forums and articles posted. I gather there's been a recent change in the legal status of Oxalic Acid to treat mites so it's now comes under the control of the Vetinary Medicines Directorate and is considered an Annex II product whatever that means (seriously I don't have a clue). The upshot is it needs to be prescribed by a vet, however it's still being sold as a hive cleaning product so beekeepers can still get hold of it. So er yeah I'm actually applying Oxalic Acid to clean the hive, specifically the hive floor between the frames. If it goes on some bees that happen to be in the way and happens kills a 90% of the mites well that can't be helped :)

The Oxalic acid solution isn't actually that wonderful for the bees but it's 70 times more damaging to the mites. There's different recommendations of the strength of solution to use and a lot of studies have been done on the balancing act between minimising it's effect on the bees and maximising it's the impact on the mites. 3.2% is the strength of solution sold by people like Fragile Planet and Thorne. Confusingly there's two different ways to measure it there's the % concentration or the % by weight of crystals to syrup solution .

Do not eat.

Previously I've bought ready mixed Oxalic acid solutions but this year I decided to save a little coin and mix my own, so I bought half a kilo of Oxalic Acid Dihydrate Crystals. It's very cheap stuff. The recipe I followed was from Montgomery Beekeepers Association website 1KG of sugar dissolved in 630ml or water, I then decanted a litre into a jug and added 35g of Oxalic Acid Dihydrate crystal. I didn't need a litre of the stuff but as the article notes the more solution you make the lower the error margin when you add the oxalic crystals.

Add caption
The amount given to use if 5ml per seam which is based on a National Hive brood box, I use slightly bigger Commercial brood boxes so I aim for 6ml of solution per seam.

We've had some really cold days and nights recently but even though it was 22nd December the weather had warmed to 14.5 degrees Celsius so the bees were flying. I started with Hive4 which I'd thought had a small population but there were 9 seams of bees to treat so they're more populous than I expected. They were very placid and I was able to treat them without a problem.

Hive3, the brief calm before the storm.

Hive3 is my aggressive colony. I'd thought with they might've calmed down a little having requeened them a few months ago, left them alone save for feeding and it being December. They hadn't. They'd done an excellent job of gluing the crownboard to the frame tops so it took me a long time to prise it off, once the hive was open it wasn't long before they were on the attack. After a few puffs on the smoker I quickly administered one syringe worth of solution and was rewarded with a sting on the wrist. I decided to walk away and let them calm down before continuing so wandered to the other side of the garden whilst a little contingent of angry bees followed me bouncing of my head. Eventually they subsided after puffing a lot of smoke around me so I returned to the hive, I repeated the process twice to complete their treatment before moving onto Hive1. I'm thinking I should probably have done the aggressive bees last as the amount of alarm pheromone they're probably throwing out may well affect the other colonies. Luckily the bees in Hive1 didn't seem that bothered by my opening them up and trickling acid on them. Hive2 weren't quite so relaxed with one bee stinging my leg and I later found another had crawled up the wrist of my glove.

All finished.
I also added candy boards to each hive, did it at the same time to minimise disruption to the bees but I'll cover that in another post. The excess oxalic solution went down the sink with a lot of water. I'm unsure of it's shelf life but it's cheap to make if you have crystals and the ready made stuff is usually given a fairly close use by date so I wasn't going to mess about trying to store it.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Insulating for winter

After a strangely warm October the temperature finally dropped in November so it was time to put some insulation on the hives. As with every year that just means popping a square of Kingspan between the crownboard and the roof. There's a few different ways to insulate hives including hessian quilts, layers of wood chippings, rags, polystyrene other expanded materials but Kingspan's insulation boards currently seems the most popular going by the forums. It's easy to cut, doesn't need any support and can easy bear the weight of a roof with a brick on it. I already had insulation for three hives but as I've got up to 4 this year I just needed to get another bit for the last hive.

Cutting a 46.5x46.5 square of insulation
Obviously it's not rocket science cutting a bit of insulation to fit the hives, just clamp a straightedge to the insulation and use a very sharp long bladed knife to cut it and you're done. As I'm now using candy boards for emergency food I won't even need to cut a feed hole for fondant.

Toasty warm. The roof will go on top.
I've actually suggested to a couple of Kingspan employees that they consider cutting 46.5 x 46.5cm squares from the damaged boards that the company currently bins off by the skip and sell them to beekeepers. It'd reduce their waste, generate a modest profit from damaged goods as opposed to none and be good for their green credentials -lets face it there's nothing green about disposing of foil covered fibreglass. They could probably even come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with one of the larger beekeeping suppliers to cut and retail it. Perhaps someone at Kingspan will chance upon this post and run with it. :)


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Season of the Mouse

For a mouse looking for somewhere to overwinter safe from the cat and chickens that wander my garden the beehives are an excellent place to go. Safe from the elements, dry, heated by a few thousand bees, lots of honey, wax and dead bees to chew on. Perfect. As the weather cools down and bee activity slows mice start to get ideas about overwintering in those inviting looking boxes so the normal response of the beekeeper is to put mouseguards on the hive entrances to keep them out. I think this is normally this is around mid October but this year mid October was still tshirt weather -actually here in Hull 'tshirt weather' just means the snow doesn't come too far over your boots, anyway as the bees still very busy I decided to hang fire till it cooled as the mouseguards slow bees down as they enter and leave the hives and can knock collected pollen from the bees legs too.

Mouseguards
In October I decided to make sure the guards old fit the floors, I'd originally made the mouseguards back in 2011 when I had hive floors from two different manufacturers, since then I've bought floors from different sources and they all have slightly different sized entrances so as expected my  guards wouldn't fit them all. There are standard measurements for hive floors so it shouldn't be a problem in theory but in the real world as long as the outer edge of the floor is the 46.5cm square expected of a National hive the rest is a bit variable, probably depending on wood available and the preferences of the carpenter

Hive1 Mouseproofed
One of my original mouseguards fitted Hive2 without a problem, and I was able to saw half a cm from another to make it fit Hive1 but there was nothing for hives 3 and 4. I decided to make a new guard for Hive3which had a wider entrance than any of the other floors. After a quick trip to get wood and aluminium it was outside with with a saw and chisel to make the wooden part then out with the hacksaw and drill to make the metal part.

Drilling holes for bees and nails
One new reduced entrance mouseguard

The Black Bees trying the mouseguard for size in October


As an experiment Hive4 is using an old solid floor picked up at an auction. This has a slightly lower entrance than the others. I didn't have a piece of wood to fit it. I decided to put some mesh over the entrance and see how that goes. The holes are 12mm squares which I've read a small mouse can still get through but some beekeepers report having used for years with no problem. I attached it with a handful of drawing pins and it'll do for now and whilst it looks a bit rough and ready the bees can actually pass through it easier than the holes in the other mouseguards.

Hive4 with it's wire mesh mouseguard
The usual mouseguard is a strip of metal with vertical slots which is pinned to the front of the hive, this would work on Hive4 but some of the other hives I've put porches on the redirect rain from the entrances (not a normal part of the Commercial brood box specification) which would obstruct these. Another approach is to use an entrance reducer with metal nails hammered in at intervals to stop mice squeezing through, although I've read that mice can widen a wooden entrance reducers to get into hives. After making sure I had reducers to fit the hives.

In the end I fitted the guard in late November when the hive activity was reduced. Now it's been a couple of weeks since I've seen any flying bees and today the ponds are frozen over. Next thing on my list of things to do are Oxalic Acid treatment for varroa and I plan to install candyboards again like last year, other than that I'm prettymuch done for the year.

Let it go...


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Award Winning..

Every July the market town of Driffield -Capital of the Wolds no less! has an agricultural show. Driffield Show, possibly not the most imaginative at name but it leaves no room ambiguity, has been running a long time. A little Googling tells me the 2014 show was the 139th show and I found an article about  a tug of war at the 1859 show, so obviously it's been running a lot of years. I actually went to school in the town and recall the kids are allowed the day off to go to it. Given the once a year choice between the show and school I've been a few times myself, a young me may have even scrambled through a hedge once or twice to avoid the entry fee.. It's basically an agricultural show, if you want to look at tractors, combine harvesters, 4x4 school run behemoths and livestock it's the place to be, there's also a beer tent which tends to prove surprisingly popular.

In my teens I actually worked on the show myself a couple of times, once spending a week doing various site maintenance jobs like painting the clubhouse, raking cut grass and pretending to pick up litter, aged 16 I drove a tractor on the site -although I probably wasn't supposed to, and one year I worked on the gate separating attendees from their money.

As well as the agricultural machinery and vehicles there's a few other events at the show include a livestock show, a pet show, some sort of horsey event and, the reason I'm mentioning the show in the blog, Beverley Beekeepers' Association's annual Honey Show. 2014 was their third year of holding the show. There's 14 different categories including extracted honey, honey in combs, candle making, baking, photography and a category for pretty much everything else Display of Hive and/or Honey related items. It's quite a broad category including mead, polish and cut comb. As I had some stock knocking about I submitted a few things to this category. I didn't manage to attend the show myself unfortunately so was unaware of how my entries had gone. Turns out my lip balms came third in the Display category. :)

Lip Balm of Eminence.

I don't know how many entries there were but my balms were exhibit 91 so I figure there were more than three. There was a modest cash prize but really it's all about the prestige :) My lip balm adverts now include the words 'Award Winning' which I'm sure won't hurt sales.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Feeding Time

Every October  the fair rolls into town bringing traffic jams, diesel fumes, dodgy burgers and cold weather. A week later and it rolls away leaving the city with a little more litter, lighter pockets and possibly a lingering stomach ache. The arrival of the fair roughly marks the end of the beekeeping season. The honey crop has been harvested and feeding is more or less finished for most of the country. Looking back over the blog my winter feeding is usually done in October.

We've had a strange September and start to October with unseasonally warm temperatures. The spider population appears to be booming with big fat round spiders all over the place and ladybird larvae months after they should've metamorphosed. This month I spotted a Grey Dagger Moth caterpillar, I'd thought caterpillars were more of a summer thing but according to the Internet these caterpillars don't make a chrysalis till November so whilst it's still warmer than last year perhaps the weather is slowly returning to schedule.

Grey Dagger Moth Caterpillar. Looks like a child coloured it in.
I'm not sure how it got there but I found that garish little critter on my glove, so I'd assume there's a few more of the lurking around the garden. Anyway on to feeding. Last winter I'd put candyboards on the hives in case they needed emergency food. I think it'd worked quite well and the sugar that was left I removed and later used to make syrup. When that was used up I popped out to get some more sugar.


I went to Booker's because they previously gave beekeepers a discount on sugar but that doesn't appear to be the case this year. As they're a wholesaler it's still cheaper than high street supermarkets. Whilst most of the sugar is in the baking section near the barrels of oil and gallon bottles of vinegar the cheapest sugar was tucked away with the tea bags. I think it worked out as just over 69p a kilo in the end. I later saw a post in the forums saying B&M had some at 50p a kilo, but they'll only sell you six bags at a time.

The thick winter syrup is referred to as '2:1 syrup' but that's based on imperial measurements in which it was 2 pounds of sugar to 1 pint of water. The UK's old Imperial measurements are basically a confusing mess of names and numbers with 16 Ounces to a Pound, 14 Pounds to a Stone and 160 Stone to a Ton, and for volume 4 Gills to a Pint, 2 Pints to a Quart, 4 Quarts to a Gallon, 2 Gallons to a Peck, 4 Pecks to a Bushel and 64 Bushels to a Quarter. 2048 Quarts to a Quarter? Confused yet? Surprisingly these old measurements still linger, examples being pound jars, pint glasses and land measured in rods and acres. Under the metric system 2:1 syrup is actually 1KG of sugar to 630ml of water.

Grubs up! It's Syrup. Again.
It takes a long time to dissolve the sugar in so little water, a little heat helps but if you heat it too much and the sugar caramelises it can release toxins damaging to the bees. I tend to give it a few hours to dissolve and only heat it whilst I'm stirring it to avoid that. If you're making a large bath once the liquid is warm it retains heat for quite a while anyway. I think the pan I use is a 19 litre saucepan -that's just over 4 gallons in olde worlde units. Whilst it was warmer I was feeding the bees using Contact Feeders -an upside down bucket with a fine gauze section in the lid bees can suck syrup through. However when it gets colder these can leak so I swapped over to Adam's Feeders on hive 1 and 2 and Rapid Feeders on hives 3 and 4. Both feeders work in the the same way. They have a reservoir of liquid accessed via an island in the middle which has a hole down the centre, a cup type dome placed over the island limits access to the liquid and stops your bees drowning in it.

Full Rapid Feeder, with the lid on.
The bees climb onto the island through the hole in it and drink their way down. Hive4 was able to empty a contact feeder in about 2 days.

Empty Rapid Feeder, 2 days later.

The Adam's Feeders are the essentially the same but far bigger having the same footprint as a Super or Brood Box, they're also made of wood. A solid crown board goes over the feeder then the hive roof. I filmed a short clip of bees taking syrup in an Adam's Feeder on Hive2. The bigger feeder makes things easier for the beekeeper as it means less time having to top it up. On the other hand mould in the feeder can occasionally be a problem which is a bigger pain with a bigger feeder.

Bees taking syrup in an Adam's Feeder

As well as the syrup I'm giving the bees they already had a lot of stored honey in the brood boxes. I'd actually tied bruising the comb to get them to move it up into the Supers for me to extract but they seem to have moved it sideways in the boxes instead. The bees are still quite busy foraging at the moment too.

video
Busy bees at the entrance to Hive4 on 11/10/14

I'm still not convinced the Queen in in Hive4 has successfully mated, but it's a bit late to be doing invasive hive inspections. I've had a quick look at a couple of frames from the middle of the hive and not seen any eggs, however given the recent temperatures and fact the workers are packing away lots of syrup in there even if she is mated she may not be laying at the moment. The bees seem very placid and they're bringing in pollen which may bode well. All four colonies are looking pretty strong at the moment so I'm going to cross my fingers and hope for the best rather than dequeen them and unite the workers with another colony.