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Tuesday, 23 June 2015


At the Beverley Beekeeper's Auction I picked up three unframed Queen Excluders -the wire grid that stops the Queen laying in the honey super. I decided to make wooden frames for them which should make them easier to take on and off the hive and give them some support -plus my motley collection of hive parts from various sources my supers didn't sit quite right on top of them without frames.

Unframed Queen Excluders
 I'd decided to increase my colonies this year so was going to need a few more of these -one per hive and a spare or two so I could swap out excluders covered in wax. Most of my excluders have a thin frame planed on one side so the Queen Excluder sits flat against the top of the frames. This leaves less space for bees to gum up with wax and propolis, however I've also found that my bees tend to glue these down very solidly which means I have to spend longer prying them up when I inspect the brood box. A couple of my used Queen Excluders have been constructed with the frame seated in a groove running down the centre of each side of the frame. This means the grid isn't in contact with the top bars which leaves small gap the bees could build burr comb but means they only glue the edges down making them easier to remove. I decided to go with this design myself.

Mao being unimpressed by the jury rigged tablesaw
After a quick trip to the Wood Shop I came home with three 2.1m lengths 2x2cm of PSE for almost a couple of quid a piece. I thought PSE  maybe meant Pine or Something Else but I googled it later and found it means Planed Square Wood, in case you wondered. Well I live and learn. I figure the width of the circular saw I've made into a table saw was probably about right for a slot the frame would fit in so lugging it outside and setting it up I popped on some ear defenders and cut a slot down the centre of each length.

The galley saw briefly proves useful again
After cutting all three I checked the fit. Perfect. That was a bit lucky. Lugging the table saw back inside I then hauled out the galley saw. This thing spends most of it's time just taking up room and I've thought about getting rid of it a few times but once every few years I find a use for it. I cut each frame side with a 45 degree angle keeping the slot on the shortest side.

Wire Queen Excluder and frame sides
After cutting 12 sides I pushed them around the frame, used some wood clamps and the workbench to hold them more or less together then went round the outside pre drilling countersunk screw holes. I put a japanned  wood screw in each corner to hold it together. Some wood glue would've been useful but I didn't have any handy.

One Framed Queen Excluder
I repeated the process for the other two excluders and finished before it got dark which is a bit of departure from my usual as I tend to finish up working via a shed light and my phone's torch depending on the state of the battery. I'm currently increasing my hives and with these three now finished I think I have one per hive and one spare.

Three Framed Queen Excluders ready for use

Monday, 1 June 2015

Swarm Time

So I woke up, as you do, went to make a latte, paused to admire the garden and noticed a lot of bees milling about in a different part of the garden to usual. Turned out they were swarming. There was a 3 foot tall cluster on the trunk of my recently pruned Pineapple Broom.

Accommodating bee swarm, clustered in an easy to reach location

To say these black bees are a bit prolific is an understatement. I've already made up one nuc that's now a complete colony and a second five frame nuc from them and they've still got two supers in place. It was very obliging of them to cluster in easy reach although I thought the Police helicopter choosing that morning to buzz about over my garden was a little untimely -however the bees didn't seem to care about it.

Textbook stuff

I placed a brood box with frames below the cluster, used a bit of smoke to move the top of cluster a little lower then knocked the bees into the box and put a crownboard over most of the top. Then it was just a case of waiting for the fliers to go join the rest. Simples.

Going in

Half an hour after starting I was inside drinking my frothy coffee and inflicting yet another video of bees doing bee things on my Facebook followers. After another half hour I wandered back outside to see everything looked quiet so it appeared my collection had gone to plan.

Looks good to go
I decided to put the swarm on top of it's original colony using a Snelgrove board so I could reunite them later.  I picked up the brood box complete with floor and took it to the hives. Lifted up the brood box and put it on top of the board. I had a quick look between the frames and was surprised to see a lask of bees. Where the hell were they? o.O

Didn't really take me long to find them. Instead of clustering inside the brood box with all its fresh foundation they'ed decided to cluster under the floor it was on. Not a huge problem. I removed a few frames from the brood box, held the floor over the gap and gave it a wallop watching as the bees dropped into the gap. Easy. However I then continued to watch as the bees promptly climbed back out of the box and took to the air. They weren't meant to do that. I'm pretty sure that in the books I've read they don't do that.

Time for Plan B. I have a little bottle of Lemongrass Essential Oil amongst my kit so I put a bit on the hive floor and on the back wall of the brood box. Bees seem attracted to it so I'd suggest not using it on yourself in the Summer.. I then put the brood box and floor back near where they'ed clustered and knocked a few bees off a log and into it. There were still quite a few flying but not really enough to account for the whole cluster. Eventually I spotted the rest. They'ed formed a new cluster. Not quite so easy to reach this time though. They'ed chosen a spot three metres up in some bamboo hanging over a pond. Excellent stuff.

High over a pond. Great.

I went back inside and got a step ladder, cardboard box and a big stick. Climbing the ladder and leaning over the little pond I held the box close to the cluster and knocked the bamboo with my stick. The bees fell into the box and I went back down my ladder. Unfrotunately as I climbed down most of the bees decided to leave the box. By the time I got it to the brood box there were only a few still in it I shook them out anyway. The few bees on the box were starting to nosanov so flying bees were heading for the box. I went back up the ladder and smoked as much of the bamboo as I could reach.

Let's try this again.

With the draw of the Lemongrass Oil and workers nosanoving (using pheromones to let other bees know where the colony is) the bees were definitely going into the box now. I'd left the top slightly open to let the bees in faster. I went inside to start writing this blog post leaving them to get themselves into the box in their own time. Then it started to rain. Heavily. Back outside I went.

Wet bees
The bees still on the outside of the box were waiting the rain out, and the rest had stopped nosanoving. Using a couple of plastic crates and a few lids I knocked up a quick shelter for them.


Cold bees don't do much and these wet ones were doing nothing. They'ed normally wait it out and resume activity when things warm up again. Unfortunately temperatures were set to drop so that wasn't going to happen any time soon. Going outside yet again I removed two frames from the middle of the box and used a couple of bits of cardboard to physically scoop up and drop in as many of the currently very docile bees as I could then replaced the frames. The ones left on the outside I gave a thorough smoking figuring the warm smoke should spur them into action as well as encouraging them the get inside. It seemed to work and soon there was only a few stragglers left on the outside.

Last few stragglers
I gave them an hour to sort themselves out then returned to find no more bees on the outside of the box. Carrying the whole thing over to the other hives I moved the brood box from it's temporary floor onto a  Snelgrove board on top the supers on Hive3 -the hive they'ed issued from. This time I could see the bees on the frames. I left one of the entrances slightly open so they could defend it easily.
The swarm are in the top.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Adobe dwelling

Removing a hive roof recently I was surprised to find what looked like a bright yellow sweet wedged into one corner. I knocked it with the hive tool and it fell away revealing what looked like a tiny igloo made of clay.

Who lives in a house like this?
The bright yellow substance fell apart when touched. It was actually pollen that'd been packed into the corner and walled up with mud. I think it was the work of some sort of mason bee. There was no egg or grub in the little house so maybe the bee hadn't got round to it yet or perhaps the spider I also found in the roof space had already taken it.

2015 Beverley Beekeeper's Auction

The last weekend in April was an important date in the local beekeeping calendar as it was Beverley Beekeeper's Association's annual auction. The event when beekeepers sell off old or surplus equipment and bee colonies and a couple of astute sellers make a little profit on items they've made or bought to trade, cheque books get dusted off, money changes hands and everyone goes home to break out the blowtorch and start scorching their purchases.

Some Beekeeping Stuff

As usual viewing started at 10am and the auction was scheduled to start at 12:00. As on previous occasions I'd planned to roll up bright and early peruse the wares and make a plan based on what I needed and what was there. I needed mostly hive floors,  hive lids, queen excluders, a couple of supers and some Commercial brood boxes. Unfortunately the previous night I wound up at impromptu gathering till the early morning and my phone battery died. I woke up at half eleven, responded to a handful of FB messages from the previous night before plugging my dead phone into a contraption with a couple of AA batteries to give it some charge, grabbing my chequebook and  heading out.

I arrived as they reached lot number 15 so I'd not missed much. Lot 15 was some plastic tubs if you were wondering. On display in the hall was beekeeping kit ranging from plastic buckets to new and old hive parts and stands to shiny powered honey extractors and, just outside, bees. There were a lot of feeders for sale, wooden and plastic, not long after sitting down someone bagged a rather smart Ashforth feeder for £8. There were a handful of extractors on offer including some powered models, someone won a mini extractor for £65.

Shiny Powered Honey Extractor

I bid on a couple of hive roofs winning neither then got a rather ragged roof for £18. I've since given it a lick of paint and now it looks well OK it looks like a slightly tatty roof with a lick of paint, but looks aside it's actually a very sturdy piece of construction -certainly weighs more than any of my other roofs. A few supers complete with frames and foundation came up and I got possibly the third one for £26. Another bargain, it looks to be new. This season's looking pretty good so far so it'll be pressed into service pretty soon. Among the bits, bobs and creations on sale was a huge knife with handles at either end. The kind of thing you'd probably spot in the background of a Hostel movie. When it came up the auctioneer revealed it to be a Fondant Knife, for cutting the huge catering size blocks of cake icing beekeepers use in winter. I think the knife sold although the boxes of Fondant that came up later went unsold.

Leather gauntlets, huge knife, branding iron
There were some lots of unframed Queen Excluders and I got a set of three for £25. In theory an unframed excluder can go straight onto the Brood Box and the Super can go on top of that, although when I tested one there was a gap between the Super and the Brood Box, It's possible that I used a Super that wasn't built quite to specification but I think I'll build some frames for the excluders anyway - look out for that super exciting post later in the year! 8-D

Unframed Queen Excluders
2mm Copper wires with 4.3mm gaps between them
After a few more items there was a little break and we headed outside to see the bee colonies. I could be wrong but I think there were less colonies than last year. There was certainly less nucs with most of the colonies being in National hives.

I tried one of those arty angle shots.
Didn't get it quite right..

Last year at the York Beekeepers Auction the last two nucs of bees went for £50 each, and as we'd had a fairly easy winter I expect there'll've been less winter losses to be replaced. Based on that I was expecting bee prices to be pretty low with few people bidding on them. Unsurprisingly I was wrong about that. The first colony with a red Queen went for £180, a red marked Queen was born in 2013 so not a young bee. A national with a super went for £260, although I can't recall if the super was honey or being used for brood. There were plenty of people wanting to buy bees so the bidding was competitive. I bid on the four nucs losing out on three and eventually picking up the very last one for £180. That was for a 5 frame nuc with an unmarked 2014 Queen. I'd guess last year's low prices were probably one reason for fewer colonies being sold this year. Bet a few people were kicking themselves when they saw the prices they were fetching this year.

Nobody took the Strainaway
Back inside and before things got underway I took the opportunity to see what was coming under the hammer next. The most unusual thing I saw was a vacuum cleaner attached to two huge buckets. The top bucket had a description identifying it as a Strainaway. A system for filtering honey rapidly using a vacuum cleaner to create negative pressure in the lower vessel. Looking in the forums a few people really rate the system and they were only made for a very short time. Unfortunately it didn't meet it's reserve. There was what I think was a really well made Observation Hive which was pretty much an objet d'art in it's own right. Shame I didn't take a better photo of it really... I also spotted what looked like a polearm for a medieval child soldier, although it turned out to be a brush cutter. Lots of ratchet straps were sold, which surprised me =I get mine from the Poundshop. Someone won a Baby Burco for £8. I have one of these from a previous auction myself, surprisingly useful things.

Observation Hive

Something I'd recently looked into getting hold of was a Branding Iron. I'm setting up an out apiary and branding your woodwork is the beekeeping equivalent of Smart Water to prove ownership in the event of theft. I had tried using a cheap branding iron made for BBQ meat but it was difficult to get it hot enough for wood, the handle broke and eventually my blowtorch melted the thing anyway. I then got a quote to have one made with 4 letters but was just shy of a hundred quid. I didn't fancy parting with almost whole hours pay for a brand so decided to give it some thought, so, when I spotted a branding iron on the auction floor I decided to put a few bids in. Turned out nobody else was interested in it so I got it for three beer tokens. Whilst it has somebody else's initials on it and there was a lot of kit on sale with those initials already on it I figure I can use a hacksaw to alter it to form a custom brand.

Branding Iron.

At some point I got 6 pairs of 10 slot castellations for the princely sum of £8. They're basically a set of metal battlements that you nail inside a Super to space out the frames. They had quite a bit of propolis attached which if I'd thought about I could've frozen, knocked off, dissolved and sold to more than recoup the cost of the catellations. As it was I just bathed them in a strong sodium carbonate solution for a few days and scrubbed them instead.

10 slot Castellated Spacers
Somewhere along the way I also picked up a couple of empty supers with 9 slot castellations. There were a few things I suspected were made specifically for sale rather than being surplus to needs. These included a few lots of hive stands. Being well made and treated with something green they'ed've been good for my out apiary but they were a little pricey for me so I'll be sticking with my timbers on breeze block arrangements for a while yet. They folded flat too which would probably be handy for anyone who transports their hives for pollination services or to gather heather honey. Unfortunately they didn't meet their reserve.

A stack of triple hive stands
There were a few other random things I bid on and a couple I won. These included some old hessian to use as smoker fuel and an overall without a hood.I think it's some sort of decorators overall. I've since tried it out over my jeans and under my bee jacket, so far so good, even the black bees haven't stung me through it. Towards the end were two bizzare looking white plastic rectangles in aged plastic wallets with a couple of bits of paper. They were actually foundation embossing dies from H.T.Herring & Son, you use them to make new foundation from your own beeswax. The bits of paper are one with a plan for making a pouring tray to make rectangles of foundation and one with instructions on how to use the dies to emboss them. Making your own foundation looks interesting (to me anyway) and over time should save me a bit of money too. There wasn't actually much bidding interest in these, I got the second set for a fiver.

Ancient Embossing Dies
I'm not sure how old they are but I'd go as far as to say "very." One of the bits of paper states "Price 10p" which probably gives some indication of age. The instructions talk about using a mangle or wringer too which tells me they're seriously old. I'll have to get hold of a working mangle to use these at some point, there's actually plenty of them on eBay at the moment so that shouldn't be a problem.

Like last year there were a few buckets of honey for sale. Unfortunately the lid on the one being shown wasn't on as firmly as you'd hope so when it was being shown there was some spillage on the floor and the chap holding it. There was a bit of bidding on the first bucket and the chap who won it then stood on and took the rest too. There was quite a lot of buckets so it was a hefty investment, to me anyway, but once decanted into jars and sold off it should net an impressive profit.

Something I noticed this year compared to previous years was a lack in variety of the hive types on sale. There was only one WBC hive, which was listed as ornamental, whereas previously there's usually been a few of these dotted about, there were no Commercial boxes at all and no polystyrene hives. Perhaps the absence of other hive types is a reflection that more beekeepers standardising on the National, it's meant to have been a standard since 1960 really.

At the end I queued up, wrote my first cheque this year, loaded my stuff into the car and headed home to scorch a couple of used supers and the roof. Later in the evening when it was cooler I drove back to pick up the bees. They'ed stopped flying by then so I pushed a bit of sponge the seller supplied into the entrance and secured it with some masking tape -probably not necessary but better safe than stuck in a car full of bees. I also popped a ratchet strap around the whole thing to hold the roof in place -although I later found the crownboard had been secured with packing tape anyway.

Ready to go

After a slow drive I put the nuc in the location of the bees' new home before moving them into a fullsized hive three days later, That's another auction done and dusted.

New Bees

Monday, 13 April 2015

Start of the 2015 season, downsizing Hive4

The other week I decided it was time for the first inspections of the season. I'd removed the mouseguards the previous week when the weather was warm enough for the bees to be so busy they were having to queue to get through them. I'd also used a stick to poke out dead bees near the entrances so they weren't blocking the survivors in. The main focus of the first inspection is to see how much food the colonies have left as this is the time of year when colonies starve between using their winter food and being able to forage for more.

Hive1 was brimming with bees already and the Queen has been busy laying eggs. There was already capped brood in the centre of the hive. They also had some stores left but I moved in a frame of stores from Hive4 as I took a frame of eggs and capped brood out for them. I don't think this hive will need any stimulative feeding and they're off to a great start. I spotted the Queen wandering about with her bit of green paint.

In Hive2 the Queen looked to have just recently stared laying. There was capped and uncapped brood but less than in Hive1. They still had plenty of stores too but there were some empty frames between the brood and the food stores so I shuffled the food a bit nearer. I think I'll give them a little 1:1 syrup to try and step things up a notch.

Over in Hive3 The bees had made three play cups but none had eggs or royal jelly in them. As these bees have been pretty aggressive before to reduce the number of flying bees I laid the empty end frame on top of the uncovered frame tops and gradually moved it back as I worked. As the frame is supported by the wooden sides it's held above the bees as you go.

Using a frame to reduce flying bees
I didn't see the Queen but there was a lot of eggs and uncapped brood so I'm pretty sure she's in there, if she isn't they're spoilt for choice of eggs to replace her with. Unlike the other colonies these had eaten most of their stores already.The workers had already made a play cup but it was empty.

Capped brood for the start of the season

When I got to Hive4, the one which I think had had nosema, the bee numbers were down to a couple of frames and I didn't see a Queen, eggs or brood. They did have a lot of stored food still in the frames so I gave one frame to Hive3 and swapped another for a frame with some capped brood and eggs from Hive1. The capped brood will emerge in eleven days at most and give the colony some young workers sooner rather than later. They can also make up a new Queen from the eggs although she'll probably be waiting around before there's any fertile drones to mate with so might need another frame of eggs and brood later. As this is now a fairly small colony I moved the frames with food, brood and bees into a 5 frame nucleus box so there's less space for the bees to try and keep warm.

Hive4, they've dowsized.

With the three hives remaining in fullsize brood boxes I removed the floors to clear out the fallen bees left in the hives. As you'd expect the number of dead bees was inversely proportional to the number of live bees, eggs and brood with the brimming Hive1 being almost clear and the half full (or half empty depending what's in that glass and what I'm expected to do with it) Hive2 having a little carpet of chitin clad corpses.

Corpse Carpet. :-/

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Bad Sign.

A friend sent me a photo of this sign she saw in the reduced bin at B&Q, St. Andrews Quay, Hull. Spot the mistake?

Something's wrong here..

The answer's below, to read it flip your monitor upside down or do a handstand:
  dsɐʍ ɐ s,ʇɐɥʇ

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Beekeeping in the Discworld and Beyond

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels died today. The former Electricity Board Press Officer created the Discworld mythos and went on to become one of the UK's most popular writers. The Discworld novels are set on a flat world supported on the backs of four massive elephants standing on a gigantic turtle paddling through the ether. The dramatis personæ of the thirtyodd volume series included four beekeepers.

The first is revealed in Eric. The book opens with Death, the anthropomorphic personification of death, inspecting his hives. Everything is black in Death's kingdom so obviously he has black bees.

Adolescent Demonology and a Beekeeping Death
Five books later in Lords and Ladies it's revealed that Granny Weatherwax has a half dozen hives from which she takes a little wax and honey as she feels they can spare. It's later revealed in Carpe Jugulum that she made her own beekeeping equipment and didn't use smoke or a veil. Still in Lords and Ladies we're  introduced to Mr Brooks, the Royal Beekeeper at Lancre Castle. Mr Brooks is accorded a title and respect due to his secret knowledge of bees, smokes a pipe, makes his own deadly wasp poison and spends a lot of time in his shed. At one point he explains a little about bees to the Queen of the kingdom, continuing his discourse even after ordered to stop. The fourth beekeeper is found in A Hatful of Sky. A Research Witch and former Circus Performer, Miss Level who also talks to her bees.

Meet the Elves, get inside the mind of the Bees
I think it's interesting that he made two of his most enduring characters (you can't really get more enduring than Death) beekeepers, as well as those characters there are frequent references to bees, beekeepers and beekeeping elsewhere in the series. In Small Gods whilst setting the scene bees buzzed in the bean blossoms. In Wyrd Sisters beekeepers are listed alongside witches and big gorillas as creatures who go where they like. In Reaper Man the thought processes or lack thereof of the bee and ant are touched upon in a conversation. Away from the Discworld in his novel Dodger set in Victorian London there is a reference to one of the female characters, Angela Burdett-Coutts, keeping bees. Burdett-Coutts was actually a real person and was president of the British Beekeepers Association for 28 years.

The title of this blog is actually a reference to Lords and Ladies when Weatherwax accesses the mind of a bee colony. Leafing back through a few of his books it appears that Pratchett knew a thing or two about bees, beekeeping and beekeeping history. He talks of watching activity at the entrance, supersedure, swarming and wasp attacks. Two of his characters talk to their bees, which is a reference to the old English practice of Telling the Bees. A folkloric tradition of keeping ones bees appraised of the keepers family. As far as I know Pratchett didn't keep bees himself, but  his friend and Good Omens co-writer Neil Gaiman does so it's not unlikely he had some exposure to the world of the apiarist.

He was a busy chap in life, as well as his writing he became a Trustee of the Orangutan Foundation, and petitioned for more funding into Dementia research as well as campaigning for right to die. Now he's passed away I have no doubt his literary legacy will live on.