Friday, 24 June 2016

On The Waterfront

I got a phone call on Tuesday about a swarm of bees that had arrived in the grounds of a Ship Repair and Dry Dock company. I said I'd be happy to go collect them and after work went to my apiary and grabbed a nuc. In it was 4 frames of new foundation and one frame of old dark used comb. I also gave our Regional Bee Inspector a call as he's asked us to contact him if we get any calls about swarms within a kilometer of the Humber bank or local ports due to concerns about pests arriving in the area -specifically small hive beetle. It took a while to find the ship yard as the number of site entrances to the dock area confused my satnav but once there the security chap showed us their location. There's a lot of trees and greenery in the area but these bees had opted to cluster on the corner of a pallet of Marine Lubricant, on a metal grid, tucked just under some nettles near a load of paint.

Lots of nature around, but the bees chose this.
My usual method of swarm catching involves initially getting as many bees as possible into the box at once by shaking or brushing them in. There wasn't space to do that with these though. Luckily the RBI had a different approach. He held the frame of old comb to the swarm and the bees walked on to it. They love the smell of brood and other pheromones in there.

Coaxing the bees onto the comb

Once on the frame he shook it out into the Nuc then went back to the swarm with the old comb to get more bees and repeat. I'd wiped some swarm attractant into the Nuc -think that stuff's going to be a regular part of my kit after this year. The bees seemed to be staying in the Nuc once shaken in.

They seem to be staying
Sliding the frame under the pallet he used a stick to prise the bees off the wood to the comb below. When once most were in the Nuc I popped the crownboard on then used smoke and a little encouragement to move the remaining bees on the pallet and under the metal grid.

In you go ladies.

The Nuc was sat on top of 120 litres of Lubmarine (the marine lubricant used on over 7000 vessels!) and I'm not too sure what that contains so I was a bit careful with the smoker. Eventually with workers Nosanoving at the entrance we left the bees to finish getting themselves inside.

They're to the left

The RBI gave me a thing called a Better Beetle Blaster to put in the hive. It's a trap for Small Hive Beetle (SHB). SHB is an African beetle which so far has caused huge problems to beekeeping in the USA and parts of Australia. As far as we know Small Hive Beetle hasn't made it to the UK but it reached Italy in 2014. Controls put in place to have included destroying complete apiraies where the beetle has been found and treating the ground around them. The Italian's scorched earth policy is understandably upsetting a lot of beekeepers there but left unchecked the beetle may cause far more damage and their efforts seem to be stopping the beetle spreading.

Better Beetle Blaster
To use the Beetle Blaster you pour some vegetable oil filling the reservoir to about half way then sit the device between the topbars of two hive frames. The theory seems to be when you open the hive beetles sat on top of the frames will try to run into the dark and mistakenly run for the black top of the Beetle Blaster going through the holes which are too small for a bee and get caught in the oil.

Beetle Blaster with oil in place in the Nuc.

Back at the apiary I added some oil to the trap and popped it into the top of the Nuc then closed it up. Given the size of the colony and the calmness of the bees the RBI felt they had probably come from a nearby colony rather than a passing ship but given the impact Small Hive Beetle could have if it arrives it's best not to be complacent. He's told me to keep an eye on them for two brood cycles and I'll have a quick look in there next inspection.

The next day I got another call from Environmental Health reporting a second swarm in the same yard. Sometimes returning scouts can form a little cluster on the site a swarm was at if the person collecting it doesn't wait long enough for the scouts to rejoin the colony -ideally it's best to leave the box the swarm are going into till night time but that's not always doable. I was very sure I'd waited long enough though for the colony to get in so any stragglers wouldn't present a problem though. I grabbed another Nuc and went over. This time there was a smaller swarm very close to the previous days colony but in a slightly different place. Instead of being tucked under the pallet they were gathered on the corner of one the 20 litre lubmarine bottles. There were a couple of chaps curious as to how I was going to get the bees into my box (the Nuc) so I said I'd show them. Opening the box I placed it on top of the bottles with a view to using the old comb  to gather the bees up and drop them in, but that didn't happen.

As soon as I put the box down the bees started running into it. Some went into the entrance others went running up the side for the opening at the top. All I had to do was wait. Never had such an easy swarm collection before. Whilst the previous day's swarm had included a number of drones this one didn't. I spoke to the RBI as once again they were the dock area and he felt they were most likely  a cast swarm from the same colony that had produced the previous day's prime swarm. A cast swarm is a smaller secondary swarm sent out with a virgin Queen. I've taken them to my apiary and placed them next to the other swarm and on Monday the RBI will be dropping off another Beetle Blaster which I'll be adding some vegetable oil to and popping in the Nuc.

Talking to the guys at the ship repair place (impressive place with two dry docks BTW) swarms seem to arrive every year. One said swarms often come off the lumber ships going past to the unload at the docks which  sounds very feasible so whilst checking swarms in the port and river bank area is making more work for our Inspector I'm inclined to think it needs doing. With the arrival of bees on passing ships and what may be a local feral colony in the area he may look into setting a bait hive up in the area to both keep an eye open for SHB and reduce impact of swarms - after all two swarms in two days must be quite annoying especially if they're holding work up by sitting on equipment that's needed.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Another two brood boxes

Yet more woodwork in this entry, I might rename the blog Shoddy Carpentry and Me. I recently made some Horseley Boards for swarm control but on their own they're not much use, you also need a spare brood box and a full compliment of frames to go with each. So it was buy more brood boxes or build them myself. As usual I opted to make them myself.

Cutting glued floorboards the hive side size
Last year I was given a load of floorboards which I glued and cut to get the right size for brood box sides. I was cutting 16 sides and didn't feel like doing it by hand so I used the the circular saw that normally lives in the tablesaw housing for that.

16 hive Commecial Hive side sized bits of wood.
I used a few of the side to make up a couple of Nucs earlier. For the joints I just used screws and wood glue. Brood boxes can end up bearing a lot of weight though so I needed to make the joints a bit more robust. Dovetail joints or finger joints are the way forwards. Ideally this could be done with a router and a template but I tried that and just found it confusing so I went back to hand tools. I decided to cut two fingers per side then use glue and screws.

Cutting corners whilst cutting joints.
Previously I've cut the joints one board at a time using pencil marks, whilst my cuts have improved with time there's room for improvement. This time I decided to cut both sides of the corner joint together using a thin saw blade. Clamping two boards at a time onto the workbench and marking the joints I made what would be the horizontal cuts by holding a hacksaw vertically. I marked the edges on the joints A,B, C and D on each box because as I was guaging the cut positions by eye instead of measuring them so each joint would be unique.

More cutting..

The boards were then seperated for the other cuts which I made with the same saw for the outer cuts and a coping saw for the inner ones. I broke a few coping saw blades along the way which wasn't hugely surprising bearing in mind they cost me the princely sum of 19p each.

Test fitting. Looks ok to me.
The floorboard edges have a rebate on the top sides, I used a rabbit/rebate plane to cut off the inner side of the rebate to create a shelf for the frame lugs to sit on. Using a lot of glue on all the mating edges and some long wood screws with predrilled holes I stuck and screwed the sides together. This is normally a real pain unless you have a large collection of big wood clamps but I borrowed another set of hands which made made it a doddle. I added some metal runners saved from the Easipet Supers and gave them a coat of red Shed & Fence Paint. I paint most of my stuff green but these floorboards are quite soft wood and I doubt they'ed stand up well to Winter. Differentiating them with red paint will remind me to swap them out.

Thanks to the existing groove the rebate was too wide.

After filling the boxes with frames I found the rebate for the frame lugs were too wide so the frames could slide too far to one side and fall into the box. I fixed that by gluing and pinning a thin bit of wood into each. Thanks to the free floorboards these brood boxes only cost me a few screws, a couple of batons, a little glue and some paint I already had lying around.

Two more finished brood boxes

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Cleaning under the hives

In nature bees nest in a hole high up in a tree, dead bees on the ground around the tree wouldn't really affect the colony and the hive floor would have it's own little population of woodlice and so on eating whatever fell on it. However as most beekeepers aren't twenty feet tall and generally keep their hives at a height they can work them and use open mesh floors dead bees and detritus can accumulate on the ground around and under hives. If your hives are above bare ground or grass you might not really notice this as nature does it's thing but mine are sat above concrete pavers so I get to see the mess.

Hive detritus on the pavers
I've noticed wasps picking at the dead bees before and slugs feed off the general mess too. More recently I've been seeing bumblebees picking through the litter too. That poses a risk of disease or parasites spreading between the honey bees and the wild bumble bee colonies so it's not something to be ignored. It was time to clean up under there.

A party of Bumble Bees picking through litter below a hive

I went to sweep up just after 8pm, it was still fairly warm and whilst it was still light the bees were all in the hives or bedded down. Taking a sweeping brush and standing behind the hives I began sweeping the dead bees and miscellaneous hive crap towards me, slugs and all.

Slugs and woodlice were enjoying the banquet

It didn't take long before a couple of bees buzzed round to see what was going on. I noticed them but carried on sweeping. They didn't like that. I got a sting in the arm from one and decided to walk away to let them settle. A few minutes later I returned and resumed sweeping at the other end of the line of hives. A few bees came out and wasted no time planting two stings in my head. Raking the stings off with my finger nails (didn't have a cash card on me at the time..)  I went back to the car and got a jacket with a veil and some latex gloves. All covered up I went back. The bees had retired again but it wasn't long before angry guards started buzzing me as I worked and they planted a couple of stings in my clothing but rather then stretch it I opted to work quickly and got the job finished

I don't keep angry bees, whilst some claim they give better honey yields I don't think it's worth the effort or the risk. Mine are usually rather placid, placidf enough that I keep a few tools and things near the hives which I often retrieve with no more protective gear than jeans and a tshirt. So what made the bees angry today? I think it must have been the smell of the decomposing bees as I was disturbing them with my brush. Thinking back when I've cleaned under hives before I've used a lot of water, soda crystals and a sponge instead of just a brush. The liquid probably reduces the odours being released. I'll remember that for next time.

I buried the dead bees in a composter, pretty sure the vegetation breaking down on top will help mask any odours and the ant colony already living in it will speed up their decomposition. Another evening I'll pop back with some soda crystal solution and give those pavers a quick scrub to help shift any greasy residue amd remaining odours. Probably needs doing once or twice a season really.

Monday, 13 June 2016

One Hand Catcher and POSCA Pens

At this years Auction I picked up a "One Hand Catcher," a device for catching and marking a Queen Bee. There's a few ways to mark Queens, my usual way is to catch her in a Queen Clip then transfer her to a Marking Cage which has a foam plunger.

Queen Clip and Marking Cage with Plunger
 There's a chance you could loose the Queen whilst transferring her from the clip to the cage. It's a small chance but it's there, and it's happened to me. One way round it is obviously to do the transfer from clip to plunger with your hands in a transparent plastic bag. There's also a different kind of marking cage which has spikes that you press into the comb trapping the queen for marking without removing her from the comb at all. People do it but I can imagine an occassional Queen of two getting accidentally impaled so it's not a method I've tried.

'One Hand Catcher'
The One Hand Catcher integrates the Clip and Marking Cage cutting out the transfer and in theory being operated with just one hand. The device is from Korean company Yasaeng Beekeeping Supplies and their English language catalogue is worth a look, they make some interesting Queen Rearing and bulk feeding kit although it's all Langstroth sized. I'd made up a Nucleus earlier from a hive in the garden which had made themselves a Queen and graduated to a full sized hive but I'd not yet marked the Queen. I was able to find her surprisingly easily as she was, in relative terms, huge. Her back end was also very light coloured making her stand out too. Some queens are seriously difficult to locate being not much bigger than a worker and just as dark.

One Big Fat Queen
Once you find your Queen you open the cage top by sliding a slotted panel down with your thumb to open the cage, place it over the queen on the comb then slide the panel closed again trapping the Queen. It's quite bulky compared to a Clip so it's going to take some getting used to but I was able to do it a few times. Practice by catching individual drones rather than winding your Queen up though.

Got her

The slots are wide enough to let workers out but not the Queen. Once captured you push the sponge plunger up trapping her against the plastic slots whilst you mark her. In some of the photos you can see there's an odd round section in the side of the device. There's one on each side and they're actually built in magnifying lenses so you can inspect your Queen up close and very personal.


Once marked you lower the plunger again letting her wander about a a bit as the paint dries. Maybe take some photos and upload them to Instagram or something.

Big girl.

 Previously I've always used waterbased paint and a paint brush to mark queens, this means getting paint onto the brush marking her then cleaning up the brush later and any spilled paint. At the Auction I got a POSCA paint pen which a lot of beekeepers rate. They're an art product really but a lot of beekeeping suppliers sell them as they're so popular. It's far better than faffinf with paint and brushes.

Whilst Queen bees are meant to be marked a specific colour for each year I've decided to abandon the colour scheme and go my own way. This year's colour is white which doesn't really stand out in the hive at all against, another year uses yellow which again doesn't stand out against the comb and bees. I do have to wonder who chose these colours. I've decided to just use two colours and alternate them one year to the next. Last years Queens are marked blue and being the only blue thing in the hive are fairly eay to spot, for this years Queens I've gone for a metallic pink. There isn't much usually much metallic pink in a bee colony so this is another easy to spot one. I'm probably just going to alternate between two colours year by year and let the bees handle supersedure themselves. Keeping it simple.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Horsley Boards

I have a couple of Snelgrove Boards for artificial swarming and was looking to make a few more when I came across the Horsley Board. The invention of a guy called Arthur Horsley, it was developed based on the Snelgrove board but for people with less access to their hives, to me his method seems simpler to follow so I decided to make two of these. It's basically a crownboard with a meshed area and an area of queen excluder which can be closed opening a side entrance. You can buy them ready made for about thirty quid a pop or you can make your own less polished version for far less.

Edging the board

Using a drill and a jigsaw I cut a couple of holes in some plywood, one for the meshed section which allows scent from the bees below the board to mingle with the bees above and one for an small area of queen excluder. A rim was added above and below the board but the edge nearest where the section of queen excluder would be had a section cut out which would be used to make a pull out entrance.
Making metal doors

A metal door to open and close the queen excluder when the side entrance is opened and closed also needed making. I popped to Bargain Line on Newland Avenue and picked up a baking tray for a couple of quid then used a dremmel to cut out two rectangular sections which I trimmed to shape with tin snips. The queen excluder section was made cut from a plastic excluder I had knocking around. I prefer using framed wire excluders so it hadn't seen much use.

Snip snip

To make runners for the doors I could probably have got away with a few flat head nails or screws but I decided to file a layer of ply from some offcuts instead. I left the back end open so I can remove the door completely for cleaning if the mood takes me.

Checking the fit and testing the action
Once I'd tested the runners I used some panel pins to secure them to the board and attached the edge offcut to each. The entrance bit need a handles so I knocked in a couple of galvanised nails at an angle for that. It's simple but workable.

Pretty much done.
All that was left was to give the edges a little paint to protect them from the weather. I decided to use some black Shed & Fence Paint to make them stand out from the rest of the hive.

Two finished Horsley Boards.
Ideally I'd like to have one of these and a spare brood box per hive so I can artificially swarm every hive at the same time if required. At the moment I have seven full size colonies so I'll probably be making a few more at some point.

A little guidance from the BeeCraft booklet
There's plenty of sites giving instructions on how to use these boards, and they're not all the same. The method on the David Cushman site covers two ways to do the artificial swarm depending upon whether or not you can find the Queen or not and the BeeCraft site details a method that seems a cross between the two. Cushman also details a method of using the Horsley Board to create a Two Queen System.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

More Nucs Needed

Something handy to have knocking about is a few Nucs or Nucleus Hives, small hives 2 to 8 frames wide to house smaller bee colonies. They've got a lot of uses I tend to use them to hive swarms, store spare Queens or even hatch spare Queen cells. I've made two already but as my number of hives has increased so has my need for support colonies and I want some free for swarm collection too, so I decided to make some more.

A friend nearby replaced her living room floor last year and gave me the spare floorboards. My plan was to make Nucs and brood boxes with them. First job was to attach the boards to each other. Floorboards have a tongue and groove so I decided to put some glue in there and clamp them whilst they cured. runing a bead of glue down the groove and one either side of the tongue I used a hammer to knock them together and a few gimp pins to temporarily hold them in place. I gave the glue a few days to cure before removing the clamps. After that it was onto the tablesaw to cut lengths the right width and remove the top tongue.


Cutting the tongues off the top of the floorboards I had a bit of a misshap. One of the thin offcuts got caught by a tooth on the spinning blade which propelled it forwards at an impressive turn of speed. The offcut went straight into the top of my left hand. It was a bit like being shot with an arrow, albeit one with a square profile and a jaggy mess instead of a pointy bit. Immediately concerned about my patio I grabbed bucket to catch the dripping claret whilst I had a think and checked the damage. Deciding I couldn't really work anymore that evening and noticing it was getting painful to close my hand and a large lump was growing under the puncture I thought a trip to A&E was probably the best course so grabbing some reading material and putting a carrier bag over my hand off I went. The Nurse Practitioner I saw turned out to be a beekeeper too. Anyway it was relatively good news, there was nothing broken in the hand. I'd nicked a vein and had a nice big haematoma developing which would dissipate with time. I popped back home to photograph the crime scene for posterity. A month later and a few rainfalls have done a great job of cleaning the patio, looking at the hand the puncture is barely visible but there's a hard little lump of scar tissue above the second and third metacarpal -pretty sure that'll break down eventually. Maybe I'll have a go at attaching a riving knife to the saw, maybe not.

Safety first
After a week or so I resumed work on the Nucs. Previously I've cut box joints when making nucs but this is really overkill as they won't be bearing much weight so glue and screws or even nails should be fine.I opted to use wood glue and six 40mm screws per corner, probably still more than needed really.

Nuc bodies. Going to need some excess glue scraping off later.
I decided to make Open Mesh Floors so I can check varroa drop if I want to but as the needs of a Nuc are different to a large colony I made the sliding bottom board fit in two postitions, one snug to the mesh so it's like a normal solid floor as far as the bees are concerned and one lower down to leave a cavity for mites to get stuck in when I want to check the drop. For the mesh I used sections cut from a piece I bought online from C. Wynne Jones. The correx bottom boards were cut from a fly tipped estate agent sign I found -I guess whoever bought the property wanted rid of the sign sooner than the estate agent wanted to go and collect it. Previously I've cut the entrance into the hive body but with these I made it part of the floor instead.

Making the floors.
The Nuc Roofs were made from chipboard I used the offcuts from the lengths of floorboard to make the sides. Initially I glued the roof sides and tacked them down with a few nails before drilling guide holes and putting screws in. Roof sides take a bit of hammer being used to pick up the roof and support things placed on top of them. A 22mm batton went around the inside of the roof to leave a space above the crownboard.

Nearly finished.

They were finished with roofing felt. I've found roofing felt difficult to use before but this time I scored the underside of the felt and ran a blowtorch over the corners to soften them before folding and nailing them. Seemed to work. The crownboards are just plywood with a rim glued and nailed in place and a feeding hole cut in the middle, each Nuc also has a little ply square that lives above the crownboard to cover or reduce the hole when they're not being fed.

Two Commercial Nucs.
I gave them a coat of green Shed & Fence paint, then drilled a couple of holes in the sides of the roof and slid some spare mesh up beneath the felt for ventilation. I later added wire clips to hold the floor and body together too to make carrying easier. Two more 5 frame Nucs added to the inventory. They were populated with bees the afternoon they were finished.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Swarm Lures and Awkward Bees

A couple of my colonies have been very swarmy of late. I suspect part of the problem is the swarms I caught last year are from stocks with a predisposition for swarming -in hindsight the fact they'ed swarmed for me to catch in the first place could've been a clue as to what to expect from them. The huge swarm I caught in July had been doing really well, raising a strong colony and filling Supers but a couple of weeks ago one morning the queen absconded taking a large contingent of workers with her leaving a supersedure cell and no swarm cells oddly enough. A couple of weeks ago a cast swarm went and sat in a neighbours fruit bush too and last weekend I collected a swarm from a fruit tree near my apiary. Not sure who's they were but the queen was marked blue so they've obviously slipped past someone's swarm control. As well as the usual weekly inspections and swarm control I decided to put out a bait hive and put swarm lure on a post so any swarms they managed to get by wouldn't go far. Looking on eBay for swarm lures I opted for the cheapest seller who's stock was in the UK and ordered 10 lures for £8.49 from someone uktrader2011. They seem to sell a lot of body piercing stuff as well as swarm lures and the text in the advert suggests the seller uses this stuff themselves and linked to a couple of videos of the seller showing the stuff in use. Good enough for me. Take my money!.

Swarm lures, store them carefully.

The lures came in little test tube things individually sealed in a plastic strip. I'm not sure what it's made of but it smells pleasant, whatever it is I think there's a little lemongrass oil in the mix. As well as the lure I decided to attach a box to a post to act as a bait hive too. I had a large polystyrene vegetable I'd found outside a supermarket knocking about in the shed and it was time I found a use for the thing. I cut a little hole in it then gave it a coat of water based masonry paint to protect it from sunlight and rain and strapped it to a post. I scribbled Swarm Trap on one side and marked the front with an arrow to the entrance for the benefit of anyone stumbling across it. Not sure if it'll work or not really as it might be a bit bright in there, usually a Bait Hive is an actual empty hive tucked out of the way somewhere or a big wooden box hung up a tree. I wiped some of the swarm attractant on a bit of wood, slung it in the box and wiped some more attractant on the post, the little test tube I also wired to the post. Whilst handling the lure I used disposeable nitrile gloves, you don't want to be walking about with swarm attractant on you.

Use the entrance. Can't you read?.

Two days later there was a large swarm on the post. The tube on it's bit of wire will have been in the centre of the cluster. The post was too firmly fixed to the gound for me to shake the bees off it but it looked simple enough to remove the box hold a Nuc underneath and brush them into it. Simple stuff. Unfortunately the bees had other ideas. I got about half of them into the box and the rest took flight. Popping the box on the ground for the fliers to join their sisters I started inspecting my hives. It would be very easy to see which colony had lost a swarm that size but my colonies were all intact. This swarm must've been drawn by the scent of the lure as they absconded from another apiary. I believe there's at least 6 other apiaries within a mile of this one so it's not too surprising although I'm wondering how strong this lure is and is every swarm in the city going to be heading to my post? Whatever the swarm lure's made from it certainly seems to work anyway. After ascertaining I wasn't missing any bees I found the actual swarm itself was now missing. Instead of the fliers and stragglers joining their sisters in the box those that were in had gone back the others and they'ed flown off. Not too far though. They were in a gooseberry bush. I gave them some time to form a cluster again then carefully made my way to them armed with my Nuc. Removing three of the five frames I held it under the cluster so close the cluster were half way into the box already then shook them into the box replaced the three frames and put the crownboard most of the way on leaving one end open a bit to help the stragglers get in. That should've been it really but instead they took flight again. This time moving into a very tangled collection of bushes.

Thirds resting place, wont be brushing or shaking anything out of there.

There was no way I could shake them out of that mass of twigs and plants. At this point I was thinking whoever had lost these bees was probably glad to see the back of them, and wondering if I really wanted such an awkward colony in my apiary at all. Still I had to get them in the box... Evidently they needed more incentive to stay in it so I swapped one of the new frames of foundation for a grotty looking frame of dark comb I'd earmarked for rendering and replacement. I also threw in the tube of swarm lure. Pushing the Nuc as far into the bush as I could without dislodging the bees I used some tin snips to cut away at the gantry of twigs, stalks, sticks and branches running through the cluster. As I went I removed the little offcuts one at a time placing them on the Nuc floor without dislodging their bee passengers. As the space in the Nuc slowly filled with twigs and leaves I noted bees weren't leaving it yet. Eventually I was able to bend the last couple  of branches into the Nuc and put the lid partway on leaving a space for the foliage and hopefully for bees to enter the box.

Doing as they're told at last.
It'd taken two hours to get to this point but eventually I was able to see workers Nosanoving to tell the other bees this was their home. Lifting one side of the crownbord I was able to pullout the twigs and so on and slip in the remaining frames without them traking flight again. I gave them another half hour to get in then took the box back to my apiary, sat it on top of another hive with the entrance pointing  the other way and soon saw bees Nosanoving at the entrance as flying bees went to join them. I'll leave them alone for a week or two before seeing how they're doing in there.

Stragglers going to join their sisters

Having checked the other hives I could see none are preparing to swarm at the moment, however with a period of  good weather predicted I'm expecting a few more passing swarms to be drawn to my baited post now. I dare say there may even be more from the colony today's awkward swarm had issued from too ..something to look forwards to there.