Friday, 7 October 2016

Wrong again Asda. Wrong again..

In January whilst sourcing some set english honey to seed my own set honey I noticed that Asda had put the wrong bee on the label for their Extra Special English Set Honey. I sent them an email letting them know and offering to send a few pictures of Honey Bees if they needed to know what they looked like. Asda responded that they'ed raise that when the label was redisigned. The redesigned label came out this year and whilst they've replaced the picture of the oil seed rape with a picture of an oil seed rpae flower they've gone and used the very same Bumble Bee image again.

A picture can say a thousand words..
..but this one just says "We don't know what we're selling."

Given the recent EU findings that 20% of honey on supermarket shelves isn't what the label claims do you really want to be buying honey from someone who doesn't seem to know anything about the product?

Monday, 19 September 2016

2016 Honey Crop

This years honey crop has been removed from the hives. Contrary to what some people seem to think thanks to Flow Hive advertising removing and extracting honey doesn't actually kill bees. There's different ways to do it but I use a clearer board which is basically a board with a big hole in the top and a couple of smaller holes underneath. It sits under the Super and the bees go down through the big hole, exit the the smaller ones below into the hive below and can't find the way back up. You then return and remove the Super which now has no bees left  in it. Actually there's often a couple of bees still in the Super but they're not a problem. I remove the supers in the evening when few bees are flying and stand the supers on one end, after a few minutes the remaining bees fly back to the hive -any that take too long are poked out with a blade of grass and once displaced also fly home to the hive. It's simple, bee friendly and easy to do.

A Worker Bee taking an interest in my boot.

Once removed from the hives the supers were hauled home and put on my purpose built trolley so I could wheel them into the utility room. The honey buckets and extractor were cleaned in anticipation and I covered the floor in newspaper bought specifically for the task -next year I'll probably put a plastic sheet or tarpaulin down first too as spilt honey is awkward stuff to clean up.

Supers ready for extraction
The last batch of supers included uncapped honey. It passed the shake test indicating it's probably ripe but if you leave uncapped honey sitting around it's likely to draw in water from the air so I bought a dehumidifier and sat it in the room behind the Supers with a few bits of wood to seperate them letting the dehumidified air circulate in the stack.

Frame of capped honey.
On the first batch of supers I used a hot air gun to remove the cappings but on the last lot I reverted to using an uncapping fork. Whilst the air gun works it means you have no wax cappings to harvest. I've also found with practice I can get almost the same speed with an uncapping fork as the heat gun anyway.

There's a lot of videos of people using uncapping forks on the internet but I'm not sure they're all doing it the best way. A lot of people use the fork going up the frame (from bottom bar to top bar) which takes  lot of passes, some keep lifting the fork off the cappings every inch or so which must take them forever and some people seem to be pushing the cappings so they come off dark which means they're taking a lot of honey off with them.

Using and Uncapping Fork.
Bit of Tiger Army playing in the background
I prefer hold the frame at about a 30-40 degree angle and remove the cappings in two passes going across the comb without pulling the tines away until the end of the pass. I keep the fork almost parallel to the frame so the tines aren't going very far into the comb and use a rocking motion to help pull the cappings upwards as I go. In the video you can see the removed cappings are very pale which indicates the air gap below the cappings is still empty rather than having had honey pushed into it.

Other ways to remove cappings include using a large knife or heated knife to cut them off although looking on youtube I'm seeing a lot of people cut their comb so deeply a lot of honey is being lopped off with the cappings. Probably gives you nice flat uniform comb for next year though. This year I also tried an Uncapping Roller. It's a spiked roller on a wooden handle that looks a bit like a WWI Trench club. The idea is you run the roller down the comb and the pins make holes or cuts in the cappings for the honey to come out of when it's spinning in the extractor. My experience with this was that it was a waste of time. The roller left some cappings intact and those it did cut the edges of the cuts seemed to be closed up by the sides of the cut wax and the pins rolled out. It took a lot of passes with the roller to make an appreciable difference but that left loads of tiny wax particles to come out in the extractor and clog up the filter.

Bit of a wast of time.
After spinning frames I'd used the roller on I noticed they still felt heavy so wound up going over them again with the uncapping fork and spinning them a second time to get the honey out. I was quite surprised how badly the device performed in use and shall be popping my roller on eBay at some point.

Spinning honey in the extractor.
Listening to Green Day now.

My two frame plastic extractor performed excellently as per usual. Thornes no longer sell this model but at the time of writing it's stocked by Maisemore Apiaries. As some of the frames had contained uncapped honey the water content of each bucket has to checked individually with the refractometer.

One of several buckets of honey.
I extracted a little over 80 kilos of honey this season. Best yet. Next step is to covert some to set honey then get it all into jars asap.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Correcting dodgy Frame Grips

Within most modern beehives (Commercial, National, Dadant, Langstroth, Beehaus, Smith,Rose and Modified Warré off the top of my head) there are removeable frames in which the bees make their comb. The frames are supported by lugs at either end of the hive that fit a rebate in the hive wall. The frames can then be lifted out for inspection. With a National hive the lugs are about inch long so it's easy to hold the frames by them and turn them, however frames used in Commercial and Smith hives have very short lugs making them a bit fiddly to hold the frames. As an alternative to using the lugs I prefer to use a device called Frame Grip which is basically a four fingered metal claw you hold in one hand that allows you to pick up a frame by the centre of the top bar. Using a frame grip also means you have one hand free when holding a frame making it easier to do things like move bees, scrape propolis, check play cups or whatever.

As per usual there's some really cheap frame grips going on eBay coming from China and Hong Kong so I decided to order a second pair for my out apiary a while ago. Readers of my blog have probably noticed I've bought enough cheap chinese tools off eBay to open my own pound shop, whilst they're obviously not the best kit hence the low price they're usually adequate for my needs and when they're not sellers seem fairly quick to give a no quibble refund. There's a few different types on there at the moment all similarly priced. I ordered some with metal tubes over the handle section. They took a few weeks to arrive.

Possibly not my best purchase

They're obviously more cheaply made than my usual grips with each side being made from separate pieces of metal bolted together rather than each being one complete cast part but they looked fine to me. However not long after starting to use them I was just a little surprised when a heavy frame of bees and brood slipped out of it's grasp. Bees everywhere. Angry ones. Probably some casualties too. That's never happened before and I've been using frame grips since day one. After closing up the hives I had a closer look at the frame grip. I found the tines that are meant to hold the frame in place when gripped are shorter than my other frame grip and angled so when you're holding a frame the surfaces below the bar are sloping downwards making it easy for the weight of a heavy frame pressing down to push them apart and fall through.

Notice the angle of those little teeth?
Well, I didn't..

I messaged the seller on eBay who promptly gave me a refund without asking me to return the grip. They're still being sold in huge numbers on eBay so I guess a few readers will have them. Anyway once the problem's been spotted it's not rocket science to fix, just a couple of minutes with a metal file is enough to take the slopes off the tops of the teeth improving their grip. I filed them to a right angle with the vertical edges.

A couple of minutes with a file and you've got a better frame grip.
I've been using them just over a year now and not had another accident. Actually the metal tubes on the grip are very thin metal and one's torn a bit on the end where it goes over a nut hidden underneath but that's not something I'm losing sleep over. At the time of writing they're still the cheapest grips on eBay and I'd buy another pair, but I'd remember to file those tines before using it.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Super Trolley

Honey supers weigh a fair bit when they're full and being a 46.5 cm square that needs to be kept level they're a bit of a pain to move. Not a huge problem with one or two supers but as numbers increase it's worth giving some thought to how to make moving them easier.

Built last Summer the Hivebarrow has proved it's usefulness
I've already made a hivebarrow for moving Supers and Brood Boxes from the out apiary to the car which makes life a lot easier but once home the supers need moving to the utility room and storing before extraction and later after extraction when they're slick with honey they need removing. I've previously sat them on crownboards or hive floors which is alright but a bit of a pain when you need to move them. This year I decided I needed some sort of mobile platform the supers could live on to save me having to carry them individually to the utility room for extraction and move them individually when they're in the way. Turns out what I was thinking about is called a Dolly, although I wanted one made to measure for Supers with a solid floor and an edge to contain any spilt honey. Unfortunately nobody makes them. Large scale bee keeping operations use pallets and pallet trucks which apart from being pricey couldn't really be used a Victorian town house so I was going to have to make my own.

Nice piece of free OSB

I borrowed a huge piece of fairly thick OSB and some treated timbers from a pile of debris left by builders working on a dodgy take away nearby. Whilst it's an eyesore and I gather has already led to the owner being fined I've actually got some useful wood from the pile. I also gave a pallet in the pile a little attention with a crowbar and made a nice new deep shelf in one of my outbuildings with most of it. Measuring the board using a spare Super and the timbers I made a couple of cuts to the board to make a base for the trolley and returned the rest of it to where I'd found it. I've sized it so there's about a centimetre of spare space around each Super.

Adding sides
I used yellow wood glue to attach the sides, loads of the stuff, and clamped them in place a few days whilst the it cured. Given the weight this will potentially be carrying I decided to give it six wheels allowing me to use fairly cheap ones and also distribute the weight better so it doesn't damage the floor in my utility room. I ordered 75mm castors with rubber tyres from Amazon. Each castor and top plate is rated to carry 50KG so six gives me a total load of 300KG. I opted for a set of 4 regular wheels and two seperate ones with brakes.

Sides attached, everything still fits.

I don't know much about OSB but I doubt it's particularly good stuff for putting screws into. In case you're wondering OSB stands for Oriented Strand Board and it's basically a load of wood bits glued together, quite good for partition walls and shed floors. To hold the wheels I made six wooden pads cut from a piece of pallet wood, sourced in the same place as the rest, and glued them in place with more wood glue. I weighted them for a couple of days whilst the glue set. At one end I planned to attach a loop of rope to help move it about and again I didn't really think OSB would hold up to that very well so I glued a short plank of wood underneath that area and clamped it too. It was slow going with all the clamping and waiting. Once all the glue was dry I attached all six wheels using a belt and braces approach of Gorilla Glue and great big wood screws. Don't think they'll be dropping off any time soon. The wheels with brakes were placed at diagionally opposite corners.

I sawed the corners off at about 45 degrees to make it easier to manouvere and drilled a couple of angled holes for the rope through the board and wood below. I then used a large masonry drill bit to roughly countersink them, should be okay. Cabinet making masterclass this clearly is not.

Healthy shiny coat.

If OSB gets damp it swells and the wood strands can pull apart. It's likely honey will get spilt on this trolley at some point and cleaning honey takes a lot of water. As I didn't want the thing to fall apart after it's first use I gave it a few coats of outdoor varnish. Actually I gave it a lot of coats of outdoor varnish. A side effect of the varnish was making the trolley look a nice bright yellowy colour and less like a collection of bits hauled from a pile of rubbish.

One Super Trolley
To finish off I added a bit of nylon rope which I tied underneath the trolley with a reef knot. Once tightened with pliers I applied a little heat to the knot and the rope ends then squished it all together, don't think it's going to fray or come apart any time soon. I also added a couple of drawer handles which I shall be using to move the trolley when it's not in use and being stored vertically. The handles were attached with gorrilla glue and screws supplied with the handles and then I slung some varnish over them too. I left it outside for a few weeks for the varnish to outgas before using it -although I'm also using a couple of solid crownboards between the supers and the trolley anyway.

Super Trolley in use.

It's exactly the right size to negotiate the inside of my house, and I can move supers about effortlessly. As well as making the boxes easier to move it also makes the extracting room much easier to manage. I suspect if some bee keeping supplier decided to start making these they'ed sell rather well although with free wood it's been a cheap piece of kit to construct.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Bee Sting under the Microscope

A few weeks ago I found a bee sting in my clothing and decided to pop it in the fridge for later. Having had a few minutes free recently I pulled out the microscope and took a few photos. Been doing a little reading up on microscopes and mine seems to be a Victorian Field Microscope which is probably why I couldn't find a USB port on it. The picture quality isn't great as it's pretty difficult to take a photo down a microscope anyway and the laser focus on my phone probably got thrown by the microscope being nearer than the object but after taking a lot of photos, deleting most and tweaking the best I made a composite showing three views of the sting. In the bottom left image I think you can make out a couple of the barbs, the little saw toothlike shapes on the lower left of the sting towards the end.

The business end of a Honey Bee under a microscope

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hive Entrance Video

This image is best accompanied by Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries

I've recently discovered my phone can record video in slow motion, so one sunny day with not a ot to do in the apiary I decided to film bees coming and going from the hive entrance. It's quite and eye opener, mainly because they don't seem to be particularly good at flying.

Watching the video I was surprised how many returning bees bumped into the Brood Box as they missed the hive entrance. One bee crashes into it four time before finding her way in. There's ample room for them to land on the landing board and walk in but despite the risk of concussion most seem to prefer to fly straight in rather than land and walk.

At the hive entrance, slow motion

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Yellow Bees, Smoker Spiders and Others

On a recent hive inspection I was surprised to see a round yellow dot moving about on a frame of bees. Normally a round yellow dot is a Queen Bee marking to show she was born in a year ending in a 2 or a 7. Blowing on the comb to separate the bees a bit it tuned out to be a worker.

Yellow marked worker?

I initially wondered if someone was doing some sort of test to see where bees were coming from and going to but if that was the case I should've seen more marked bees. I reached out and touched the bee and as the bee moved from under my thinly gloved finger the mark rubbed off. It was pollen. I found another one looking the same in another hive too.

And another yellow dot
Wasps have started making an appearance round the hives and I've even spotted a couple fighting with bees. Not seen many yet but depending how their numbers are this Summer I may put out a trap. I filmed one butchering a dead bee . I've filmed this before but this is a clearer video -better camera phone, less obstacles, better lighting, friendlier wasp and so on.

Wasp butchering a dead bee

As well as prodding pollen covered bees and annoying wasps with my phone I've made yet another brood box, finishing off the floorboards I was given last year -made three brood boxes, two nucs and a roof with them which I think is pretty good going.

Another Commercial Brood Box ready for painting.
I've also been observing urban wildlife in the garden and apiary and taking a few photographs. Recently upgraded my phone to an HTC 10, the camera is excellent -getting the bees to stand still is a little tricky though.

Spider on my Smoker. D-8

Buff Tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris) I think

A male Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

Honey Bee collecting Nectar and covered in Pollen

Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), a sort of over muscled hover fly

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
One of the cats keeps releasing these into the house.