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Monday, 13 April 2015

Start of the 2015 season, downsizing Hive4

The other wee 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.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Making Candles & Soaps for Dummies

The For Dummies series of books started in the early 90's and was originally focused on I.T. Pretty quickly the black and yellow covers became regular features on every IT professional's bookshelf. Since then the range has been expanded to cover other topics from martial arts to music to maths, science and history. They've consistently been a good start point for everything from C Programming to Ukulele playing and there's about ten Dummies tomes on my bookshelves at the moment. So naturally when I decided to look at expanding my bee products to include soaps the first place I looked was Making Candles & Soaps for Dummies by Kelly Ewing.

Making Candles not Soaps for Dummies would've been more apt.

Unfortunately after years of using For Dummies books and having always found them excellent start and reference points it seems I've found the exception. Making soap involves adding lye to oils, I'm not going to pretend to understand the science of the saponification process but basically the lye acts on the oil turning it into soap. There's a couple of ways this can be done, either slowly at room temperature (cold process) or faster in a heated vessel (hot process). Different types of oil require different amounts of lye at different concentrations, then there's mixing different oils too and superfatting to consider - you could literally write a book on just that. However Kelly writes off cold process soap making as too dangerous on page 5 and makes no mention of hot process soap making at all.

I thought it a bit strange that a book on making soap completely fails to tell the reader how to make actual soap so I did a little googling and found that in the original Candle and Soap Making for Dummies Kelly had included instructions for cold process soap making but included a mistake in the order ingredients were combined to make the lye solution putting people at risk of burns from the exothermic reaction. As a result the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled the book in 2003. This version I have is copyrighted in 2005 and the safety issue seems to have been addressed by simply removing the who topic and calling it to dangerous rather than just correcting the mistake which would've only needed a note to say: When making lye always add the Sodium Hyroxide to the water never the otherway round. Seems a bit overkill to me and really undermines the book. 

So, instead of writing about actual soap making there's a couple of chapters given over to melt and pour soaps and remilling soaps. Melt and Pour is simply buying ready made soap, melting it adding a few things if you like and pouring it into a mould, remilling is grating existing soap, adding water then remolding that too. Neither technique involves making your own soap. Basically it's tweaking and reshaping existing soap which is quite obviously not "making." There's some info on adding essential oils, fragrances, colours and other additives to the soap but that's pretty much your lot.

I wasn't really interested in the candle making chapters which make up the bulk of the book but had a look anyway. Whilst the authors was risk averse to the point of removing soap making she thinks nothing of decorating a wax candle held in one hand with a hot glue gun held in the other.. Don't think I'd be too comfortable sat near a burning candle decorated with hot glue to be honest -normally hot glue is non toxic but manufacturers warn that overheated it breaks down releasing different compounds that I don't think I'd want to sit in a cloud of.

The book does tell you how to make dipped, moulded and rolled beeswax candles and the section on wicks looks pretty comprehensive, there's also quite a lot on decorating candles and sections on scents and aromatherapy so people may get some use out of it although not probably enough to justify the cover price. Other missing topics include tallow which is easily made at home and has been used for both candle and soap making for a good five thousand years. I also didn't see any mention of Soy Wax either, which may be due to the age of the original text.

The brief About the Author sections notes that Kelly co-authored a few IT For Dummies books The Internet All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies which has her name on the cover as well as having edited more than 75 books on different subjects. Whilst the author describes candle and soap making as a hobby my impression was that the book is made up of information that was collated for the sake of the book rather than written from personal experience and first hand knowledge accrued over time. The mistake with the lye making instructions in the original version is so basic (and dangerous..) that I don't really believe anyone familiar with the process would have published it.

So whilst I've normally found the For Dummies range really useful, as my bookshelf can attest, this book is the lemon in the series. Whilst it's apparently aimed at the beginner and the seasoned craft person I don't think it has enough information for either when it comes to soap making.


When I removed the candyboards from the hives last wee I noticed that Hive4 seemed to have dysentery or possibly Nosema. I'd overwintered them on a solid wooden floor as something of an experiment and it's safe to say I'll not be doing that again. I moved the hive to a mesh floor and had a look for some medication. In the UK Fumagillin B was used to treat Nosema but was withdrawn from the market at the end of 2011. There's plenty of sources online and in print that still refer to Fumagillin B including the UK Edition of Beekeeping for Dummies although that volume is Copyright dated 2012. There's a number of different options including Vita Feed Gold which I've used previously for general health. This time I opted to try a product called Nozevit developed by a firm called Apivita.

Aptiva's web address is in the .hr domain which is administered by the Croatian Academic and Research Network and looking at there address shows they're a Croatian firm. Apparently as well as rather bloody recent history and a very metal influenced punk scene Croatia also has a long tradition of beekeeping and Apivita has a small product range most of which relates to bees:

Nozevit and Nozevit+ both for treating Nosema
Apifit a general bee health supplement
Apibox a system for making section honey without wax foundation (in Langstroth medium supers)
Apistop a sealer specifically for hives
Rebivit a repellent to protect plants from rodents and deer
Barrel Wax a beeswax product for stopping barrels leaking

Whilst I've not previously heard of Nozevit Apivita helpfully provide links and references to articles including the peer reviewed Veterinarni Medicina, The Journal of Apicultural Research and The Beekeepers Quaterly, also the (not peer reviewed) American Bee Journal and other papers from, I think, Argentina, Croatia, Poland, Slovenia and Turkey. The first article in the list mentions that Nozevit is made from Oak bark which contains polyphenols and how these are used to treat the gut in humans and their mode of action or any enquiring minds that want to know.

According to the website Nozevit and Nozevit+ can be applied to the bees by mixing 1ml Nozevit to 200ml of 1:1 syrup and either feeding it to the bees or spraying the bees with it (I'll assume trickling with a syringe will do there) or by putting 1ml of Nozevit in a 500g pollen patty. They recommend using it twice in Spring and twice in Autumn with ten days between each pair of treatments.

Little bottle, ideal for your handbag

The bottle I ordered from Beebay was 20ml of Concentrated Nozevit. It states Made in USA complete with an American flag on both the label and the instructions. I notice the bee logo in the product name and on the Complete Bee Inc logo is the same as on the Aptiva website.

Could use a little work on the wording but hey so could this blog

The instructions that come with it seem to have been translated in a hurry and there's a number 15 in the text which looks to have got there by mistake. I guess they're almost as lax about proof reading as me. The instructions with the bottle were a little different to those on the site which I figured was probably because this is a concentrated version according to the site although the word Concentrated was noticeably absent from the packaging. My understanding was that you're meant to mix the whole 20ml bottle with 1 litre of 1:1 sugar syrup then either feed a cupful to each hive or apply to the bees on the frames. The instructions mention spraying the top bars or using the 'drench method' which sounds a little severe but I'm assuming just means trickling the syrup onto the bees in the same manner as oxalic acid. Doing the maths this is a far stronger dose than is suggested on the website for the regular Nosevit and Nosevit+ products but there's no mention of a reapplication ten days later.

As I'm only treating one hive I didn't mix the whole bottle. 100ml of syrup and 2ml of Nozevit should give me the right concentration. As the instructions seemed so consider a pound and a half kilo as near enough to be interchangeable and the same for quarts and half litres and recommended doubling the dose for stressed colonies  so there's room for a little leeway is anyway. I added 2ml to 100ml of 1:1 syrup. It's a grey liquid with bits of I don't now what in it. I figured it was unlikely to be dangerous and ave it a little taste test myself -don't do that at home kids.. it tasted and smelled a lot like hospital mouthwash I once tried many years ago. It also seems to have a lot of sugar in it so it's probably in a syrup base.

It's time for your medication
I drew it up into syringes before opening the hive to save time even though it was a warm day and bees were flying.

Hello in there

When I'd given the hive a quick check before I'd thought there was only 3 seams of bees but today it looked more like 5. Luckily I'd made more solution than I needed anyway so I drizzled it along every seam I could see a bee in. I'd swapped the wooden floor for a regular open mesh floor already so any overspill will just go through. I've still not done an invasive inspection but having a quick look between the frames I was able to see there was still a lot of capped honey on the frames towards the back of the hives. I assume with the candy above them they'ed opted to to start eating that because it was easier to reach than exploring other frames for stores.

Someone else has been overwintering in the hive too
I found probably a Harlequin Ladybird had been overwintering in a corner of the hive roof between the wood and the insulation. I'm not sure if it's very well with a wing sticking out and I think there's some sort insecticide component in the dribble of green Shed & Fence Paint it's chosen to sleep. I've left it there though, it's not in the hive proper anyway.

Heavy frog

Depending which calendar you use we're either in Spring or soon to be in Spring. As I'm seeing a few flowers out and the female frogs are looking heavy with eggs I'll go with the Meteorological Calendar this time and say Spring started on the 1st of  March. However whilst the days are reaching a 13-14 degrees celcius night time temperatures are still dropping to as low as freezing and I got caught in sleet last week so I'll be leaving the insulation on the hives for a few more weeks.

Spring is in the air -well on the floor at any rate..

Friday, 27 February 2015

Removing the Candy Boards

This winter I placed Candyboards on all four of my hives. It's not something usually done in the UK, I found the idea on Canadian and American websites. Provided the bees have enough stores a Candyboard shouldn't be necessary, but I figure if we have an unexpectedly long Winter like that of 2012/2013 I'd rather spend a few quid on sugar in December than replacing starved bees in April. It's the second year I've used them and whilst it appears to have been successful the fact is both Winters have been very short and mild. Whilst the sugar is placed on the hive as emergency food left to their own devices the bees will happily take it and fill the comb. That would mean less space for eggs and slow down the spring build up, the lack of space might cause them to swarm too.

The bees in Hive4 were using the top entrance and there was a lot of bee poop clearly visible. Possibly a touch of nosema or dysentery. This hive is on a solid floor unlike the other three and was the only one the bees have been using the top entrance for. The lower entrance on this hive isn't reduced and is clear of dead bees.
Needs a clean

There was some faeces on top of the sugar too in this hive. Whilst you'd expect to see some poop on the outside of the hive it's not really normal to find it on the inside -although it's a bit questionable as to whether or not the bees consider the cavity they made 1in the candyboard as inside or outside of the hive proper.

Some things you shouldn't do where you eat

..and a little more on the top bars
There was some more on the top bars below the hole in the sugar. I'd been planning to reuse the uneaten sugar from the boards to make syrup and whilst I'm not sure what temperatures nosema spores can stand I decided it'd be prudent to throw away this sugar. I washed it down the sink and gave the empty wood and mesh frame a long soak and scrub in a strong Sodium Carbonate (Soda Crystals!) solution and let it air dry before scorching it, I'll be treating these bees for Nosema too.

Opening Hive2 I could see the bees had also been taking sugar and for reasons best known to themselves had avoided the top entrance. They'ed taken all of the pollen substitute I'd left in the centre of the candyboard and there were still some bees licking the empty plastic wrapper.

Taking sugar

There was pollen substitute in that plastic wrapper
Populous colony for February
Hive2 was looking very strong with about 8 seams of bees, no doubt thanks to the mild winter. Moving on to Hive1 they'ed also avoided the top entrance and taken far more sugar than the rest, they'ed also taken all the pollen substitute.

Party food! ..although it was intended as emergency rations..
Hive1 looking well populated too

I think there was about 6 1/2 seams of bees in this hive. When I took the roof off this hive I found condensation on the underside. Shouldn't really affect the bees as there's insulation between then and the roof but probably doesn't do the wood much good so I used a Weed Wand to force dry it -it's not much use against weeds.. Last up was Hive3 with it's insanely aggressive black bees. They'ed also made a start on the sugar and the pollen but not taken all the pollen. Like Hives 1 and 2 they'ed also avoided the front entrance. Unlike the other colonies which were clustered towards the middle of the hives these were clustered towards the back where it's warmest.

"Why are they called Black Bees?"
Goth bees, good workers - very Industrial

So that's my fourth winter with the bees. So far I've lost one colony and that was a nucleus in the protracted 2012/2013 Winter. They'ed starved despite having food stores as they wouldn't break the cluster to go get it, I suspect if they'ed had a candyboard above them they may well have survived so I'll continue to use these board for the time being. I could probably make them a lot smaller using less sugar and making it easier to get the bees out when I remove them. At the moment clearing them involves a combination of brush, smoke and patience.

It's still too cold to do a full inspection but three of the colonies are looking fairly strong whilst Hive4 I'll be treating for possible Nosema. Hive4 was on a solid floor as an experiment to see if they fared any differently. It wasn't particularly scientific and there could be other factors I'm unaware of but they're my only colony that appear to have Nosema or dysentery so I'll be sticking with open mesh floors I think. In other news I'm currently working on an out-apiary and hope to move one or two hives out there in the the next couple of months...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Noir Bizarre

It's been all quiet on the beekeeping front over winter and I've been working on a little project restoring an antique Zither Mandolin Banjo so I've not posted for a while, however I can now report the wonderful Noir Bizarre on Princes Avenue is currently selling my Lip Balm and Propolis Tincture.

Eye catching outside and in

The tattoo studio with a difference opened in 2012 and as well as ink which you can check out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter it also provides a space for artists to display and sell their work and hosts events. Pop in to check out the work of local artists and get a tattoo consultation whilst your there.

A small sample of the range of work on display

Don't forget your Lip Balm