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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Feeding and Feeders

As the weather cools it's time to ensure the bees have enough food stored for winter. There's a variety of feeder types out there but I prefer to use large bulk feeders you can leave on the hives and top up without disturbing the bees. I only had two Adams Feeders here and as I've increased the number of hives a lot and have an out apiary I needed some more feeders. As I need to lug them to an out apiary I decided to go with Polystyrene feeders as I figure they'll be a little lighter to carry and the cost of painting them will be less the varnish I'd buy for sealing wooden -plus I'd not have to wait for the varnish to outgas before slapping them on my hives. I ordered four of the from Paynes Southdown Bee Farms.

Polystyrene National Feeders

They're made from pretty dense expanded polystyrene so should last a long time, however they do need painting inside to stop the syrup working it's way between the polystyrene beads and painting on the outside because ultraviolet light will damage them -yep they need protecting from sunlight. The transparent acrylic piece in the middle limits the bees access to the syrup chambers to prevent droving and the chambers themselves have sloped floors towards the centre so every last drop will be available to the bees.

The Polystyrene National Feeder doesn't fit under a wooden National roof.
Following advice from the forums I started painting the insides white with water based  gloss paint. Whilst painting it occurred to me that these feeders actually seemed a bit on the large side compared to all my other kit. I grabbed a spare hive roof and tried to sit the feeder into it like it would be if it was on a hive. It didn't fit. Paynes website does actually say "This feeder has been designed to work in conjunction with our poly national roof." However it doesn't say anywhere that despite being called "National" it does not actually conform to British National Hive specification which is published by the British Standards Institution (British Standard 1300:1960 which if you want to look at is described in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Advisory Leaflet 367). The specification gives an outside edge of  16 1/4" for components which are to fit under a roof with an 18 3/4" roof. This means the feeder does not work with the wooden National Roofs used by almost every beekeeper in the country. Looking at their Polystyrene Brood Boxes and Supers they do actually state they won't fit under a wooden roof so I'm not sure why this was omitted on the page for the feeders. I emailed Paynes suggesting they mention this on their page but they've not responded or updated their page which I'm guessing means they're not really bothered... so colour me slightly unimpressed there.

Cut down to something approaching National Specification
I needed to get the feeders on the hives asap and I'd already started to paint them anyway so I couldn't really be messing about returning them and getting new ones so I decided to cut them to size. The reason they won't fit under a National roof is the extra mass added on the sides and the top presumably because even expanded polystyrene as dense as this is weaker than wood. I figure that unlike a super or brood box the only weight these will be supporting it a roof and a brick they'll probably be fine trimmed down. Initially I used a hot wire foam cutter clamped in my workbench but the polystyrene being so dense it kept snapping the hot wire, I even used used some spare mandolin strings as they were thicker but they snapped a lot too. After trimming about  four and a half edges the cutter stopped working completely so after taking that back I bought a fine toothed saw and finished the job with that. The hot wire gave a much better edge for the saw was far faster.

Sand in my paint

After making sure each feeder would fit under my roof I resumed painting. I sealed the reservoir insides with 4 coats of paint. I gave the bit in the middle which the bees are going to be walking on a coat of sharp sand  mixed with paint then another couple of coats without sand over that. The uneven surface cause by the sand should give the bees something to grip on and reduce drownings. The outside got a few coats of Sandtex Masonry Paint which is also water based. It only took one and a half test pots. I opted for Olive Green to match most of my kit but I'm sure the bees won't care. With all the painting done I had another look at the acrylic inserts. They were a very snug fit in their slots and I felt they would probably cut into the paint so using a Dremmel I trimmed the length a little and smoothed off the edges and rounded the corners.

Modified but finally ready Polystyrene Feeders
With the feeders ready and my existing wooden feeders given a clean I was ready to pop them onto the hives and start feeding. All I needed was some syrup. For winter feed the syrup is made up of 2KG of sugar to 630ml of water bees which is about 2 pounds of sugar to 1 pint of water in olde worlde measurements. This year the price of sugar has dropped dramatically, apparently due to a massive crop in Brazil and the Brazillian Real dropping in value so it was cheaper for me to buy it retail at 49-45p a kilo than trade. September saw me wheeling a trolley full of sugar up Newland Avenue from Herons to the car. I also popped to Farm Foods and B&M to load up.

Last year one of my colonies came out of winter with Nosema and had to be treated and another local beekeeper who knows more about bees than me said he'd lost 5 colonies to Nosema over the winter. To hopefully avoid or at least reduce that I decided to treat the syrup with oxalic acid. Beekeepers call it Thymolated Syrup ('thymolated' relating to Thyme). The recipe is over in the Beekeeping Forum. Basically you make a solution of Oxalic Acid and add it to the syrup.  The recipe calls for 30g of Oxalic Acid Dihydride to be dissolved in 150ml of isopropyl alcohol. Some people use rubbing alcohol or surgical spirit one chap said he used vodka. I opted for vodka too as it's food safe unlike rubbing alcohol so may be slightly better for the bees -the alcohol will be evaporated off when it's used but rubbing alcohol contains other ingredients to make it less palatable which I suspect may be left behind in the final syrup albeit in small quantities.

Making up the oxalic acid solution
I alredy had the Oxalic Acid Dihydride and popped to Sainsburys for the Vodka, got the cheapest they had. Sainsbury's say "We aim for our stores to be at the heart of the community they serve." The one near me is open 24 hours. Got to be said that if the heart of this community is a 24 hour off licence and tobbacconist I'm a little concerned about the state of it's lungs and liver. The vodka was 37.5% and I measured it into a jar with a syringe then placing the jar on a scale added the crystals then gave it a shake and left it in a warm water bath to dissolve. When I made another batch later I used some even cheaper 22% Vodka from an off licene on Newland Avenue and that seemed to work fine as well. I labelled up the jar with the warning symbols on the Oxalic Acid crystals' packet, the recipe, directions and a skull and crossbones as I don't really want anyone drinking it. In the forum post the author says to make thymolated syrup add 5ml of the solution per gallon of syrup or if it's just to stop the syrup fermenting  add 5ml per 3 gallons of syrup.


Previously I'd made syrup in a big pan, it was slow and took lots of stirring. With so many hives to feed I needed a different approach and instead used my Burco Boiler and a paint stirrer stuck in a drill. Took very little time. You do need to be careful with hot syrup though as it stays hot for a long time and is really sticky  so there's a lot of scope for nasty accidents. I found that local wasps were pretty interested in what I was doing as well and kept landing on the boiler. I over filled my 18 litre boiler twice and made more than enough syrup to fill all my feeders. I added the oxalic acid solution whilst it was still hot and gave it a god stir with the drill. With the solution added the syrup slightly changed colour and opacity.

For the ladies I recommend the Thymolated 2:1 Syrup.

Putting the feeders on the hives and filling them with syrup it wasn't long before the bees were filling up and taking it down into the brood boxes. I think they took the first 2 gallons in just 2 or three days. I've got bulk feeders on 6 hives and the moment and the last has a couple of contact feeders which I'm refilling at the moment.

Looks like a tiny leaky in the wood

This afternoon I noticed a little congregation on the outside of one of my wooden feeders.I popped on my jacket and veil and went to investigate. They were quite intent on one particular point on the feeder wall. It looks like there's a very tiny leak through a knot hole so I'll be having a closer look at that feeder once the bees are finished with it. The polystyrene hives were quite a pain to resize but they work very well. When I've been to refill them I'm finding the reserviours completely dry thanks to their sloping floors, and I gather that if they're used with their corresponding polystyrene roofs they can be used as winter insulation -although they need a strap to hold them in place. However in the meantime I'll be sticking to wooden components in the main.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Labelling up Supers

A Natinal Super will happily hold eleven frames in which bees can store extra honey which the beekeeper may harvest. However that's eleven frames with a bee space on each side. What most beekeepers do to maximise the amount of honey you can fit in a super is reduce the number of frames leaving wider combs and less space in the box lost to bee space and foundation. If you were to put 9 new frames of foundation in a box things wouldn't go very well as the bees would make wild comb in the large gaps between the frames so instead you start with eleven frames then once they're drawn out you remove one and alter the spacing and when they're drawn out again repeat the process taking you down to 9 frames. To get the spacing right you can use plastic spacers called Plastic Metal Ends ..they used to me made of metal, now they're made of plastic. You then change the size of the Plastic Metal Ends to widen the gaps. I've tried them and to be honey I find it a bit of a pain changing them so I use the other option which is metal castellations attached to the inside of each super permanently spacing the frames.

Ideally the drawn comb will wind up with 9 frame spacing but I still needed a few 10 and eleven frame Supers to help me get them drawn out that far. Some of my existing supers were already  set at ten and eleven frames and one with plastic runners. You can't tell from the outside how many frames are in a super so I decided to make things simpler for myself by spraying the outside with the numbers of frames -or an R in the case of the one with runners. I also sprayed the number of frames in my nuc boxes onto them too as they look alike too.

Stencil time
With my increased number of hives I needed extra supers and got a set of six very cheap Cedar supers from Easipet via Amazon. They were supplied without nails or glue but it still worked out a pretty decent purchase as they were so cheap. There was the odd crack here and there but nothing a bit of wood glue and clamp didn't sort out. They were supplied with some metal runners which would be fine if you use plastic spaces I suppose. They seem quite good quality so I'll be using them in brood boxes instead. I put 9 frame 
castellations into all six of the new supers.
Six new supers.
As the frames got drawn out I switched them to the new nine frame supers over time. It's not exactly rocket science but makes things a little simpler for me.

It's all about the numbers

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Clearer Boards

It's more or less the time of year honey supers are removed from the hives. A lot of people will have already removed them, I seem to do mine a little later than most as my bees are still busy bringing in nectar. To get the bees out of the supers there's a couple of methods people use one is a leaf blower to blow the bees out of the supers, it's very fast but needs a leaf blower isn't pricey and I'd need a petrol powered one for my out apiary. Another method is to remove the frames and brush off the bees manually with a bee brush -I've tried that and it wasn't a whole lot of fun. The third technique is a fume board which uses an unpleasant scented pad that the bees move away from leaving the super empty. The other method is to use something the bees can exit the super but not work their way back up through. That means using porter escapes which are small devices with a couple of springs the bees can exit through but not reenter or a clearer board which is a board with a hole in the top and some sort of mechanism below that allows bees out but makes it difficult for them to get back up. I made a couple of clearer boards back in 2011 using rhombus escapes -they're called Rhombus Escapes because well they're rhombuses and I'd guess they evolved long ago without being attributed to anyone in particular. Now I have more hives I need more clearer boards.

They cost about £20 to buy ready made but they're not exactly rocket science to build. You can make the Rhombus part from wire mesh and woodem moulding but it's probably cheaper ands a whole lot simpler to just buy the Rhombus escape as a plastic part. I bulk ordered 20 Rhombus Clearers, I don't need that many but have a vague plan to sell the majority on eventually.

Yeah, it's a photo of a piece of plywood. Gripping stuff..

A quick visit to The Wood Shop sourced me some plywood and three battens. Rather than use a tape measure I opted to just use one of my old clearer boards and a right angle to mark out the plywood for cutting. I cut is with a handsaw as it was a little late in the evening to be firing up the tablesaw.

More bits of wood, some brass panel pins and a cat.

The battens I held together so I could cut all three at the same time. Cutting all 12 side pieces one at a time would've taken longer and the way I'm making them it doesn't matter much if I was a couple of millimetres out.
Boards with sides attached
Using a pin push and taking a bit of care to line up the sides under the plywood I attached the sides to the plywood boards using brass panel pins. Not sure why I'd bought brass ones but I've had them knocking about for a few years so figured I may as well use them. I had considered gluing them but I was out of glue to just used more pins instead.

Hole saw. Horrible thing.
Attaching a hole saw to my drill I started cutting the hole. I've never liked using this holesaw, it feels like an accident waiting to happen to be honest. In fact one did. cutting the first hole the hole saw teeth got caught in the board so the drill span out of my hands and shot off to one side. It was a warm evening so I was barefoot, next time I'll probably dig out some steelies. I tried again and had better luck and had no mishaps on the second and third board.
Two finished boards
The boards made I then just had to attach the plastic Rhombus escapes. The first two I made I'd glued them to the wood but this time I decided to make them removable so I can clean them. I'm not sure how thick the plywood was but I had some tiny screws left over from restoring an antique Zither Mandolin Banjo last year which I decided to press into service. They were slot screws which are a bit hard to get started as in the wood but after an initial tap with hammer I was able to get them in. There's four screws per rhombus and the board can be slid to one side to release it from the screws so I can scorch the board and clean the Rhombus to avoid spreading bee diseases between hives. I altered the old boards too so I can remove them for cleaning as well.

The first pair of Rhombus escapes I bought were made by Thornes, the new ones are from a french company called Nicot who specialise in plastic beekeeping equipment. Apart from the colour and some minor differences along the plastic edge with the screw holes and logos on they seem to be exactly the same as the previous ones. They're so similar I do wonder if someone actually made a mould from someone else's product, we'll never know. Anyway now I have five clearer boards which should be more than enough for my needs this year.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Loves is in the air

On Sunday the bees were making the most of the weather. The landing boards were busy with workers returning hopefully with honey sacs full of nectar or laden pollen baskets.

Returning foragers

I didn't open the hives though, we'd had a few days of rain so I decided it was better to leave them to replenish whatever stores they've used than interrupt their work with an inspection. As well as the workers charging in and out I also noticed a lot of Drones ambling out and a few returning. In the video below the Drones are easy to spot, they're larger than the workers and walk out very slowly compared to the workers.

Drones heading out.
They'll probably wind up as sex murder victims.

There were a few drones returning and wandering back into the hives so I'd assume they'ed just been out on orientation flights -having a fly about to figure out where they live, maybe locate the Drone Congregation Areas. Drone Congregation Areas are as the name suggests areas that Drones from various colonies hang out and Virgin Queens go to meet them. It's a bit of a mystery how they decide the areas but it seems to work for them and somehow they manage to avoid mating with Queens from their own colonies. After they mate they'll die from abdominal wounds. Strange to think each Queen bee happily laying eggs has probably killed about 15 Drones during her adolescence.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Well now I have an out apiary which is great, but unfortunately I can't get my car near to the hives. Lugging supers of honey and bits of hive to and from the vehicle is a bit of a chore. I have a wheelbarrow on site and while I can load it up with empty supers it isn't the ideal for a full super (or two) to sit comfortably on. I've seen on the net that people have tried to make wheelbarrows accommodate hives such as adding wooden crosspieces or strapping a pallet on top to make a flat platform but with a centre of gravity so high I'd be concerned about stability. I was going to need to come up with a bespoke barrow specifically for lugging hive boxes. After a little more Google searching I found the 'Famous 500' barrow and another barrow from the same family which both position the hives over the wheel to reduce the load. I also found Buster and this one which have a platform resting on the barrow frame level with the centre of the wheel which would give the load a very low centre of gravity making them very stable. They're all basically a wheelbarrow with the scoop removed and a flat platform attached with something to stop things sliding off. Some have extra bits like holes for ventilating hives of bees on the move, cut outs for hand holds, cut outs for ratchet straps, large feet for soft ground and clips to hold hive parts.

Beekeepers are a thrifty lot and I'm no exception. As I didn't fancy splashing out on a new barrow or butchering my existing one as it's perfectly good for it's regular duties, I went for a drive around the Avenues looking for skips. There's always a few houses being renovated round there and builders often bin off deceased barrows. Sure enough a few skips later I found a knackered barrow. The wheel and axle had been removed, the powder coating was coming off and the scoop was battered and holed in a few places. I think it'd probably been used for mixing concrete looking at the state of it. I put it in the car and drove home.

Dead Barrow.
The sorry looking scoop was held on by six bolts. Two to supports above the wheel and four to metal cross pieces on the frame. The first two came undone with a little persuasion but the other four wouldn't go. Turning the nuts turned the bolts which had no slot or cross to stop them turning. I could've possibly ground off the bolt heads but it'd've taken time and a few Dremmel discs to do so I opted to remove the cross braces with a hacksaw. That done I returned the scoop to the skip it'd come from - I'm sure someone will pick up and weigh it in for a few pennies.

I got some 18mm exterior ply and guestimating the measurements used the tablesaw to cut a board a bit wider than a hive body and long enough for me to carry some other random gubbins at the front. I secured it with the bolts from the front of the barrow and jubilee clips at each of the four points it where it reaches the frame. To stop things sliding off too quickly I glued a lip at the front and the back of the board clamping them in place for 24 hours whilst the glue did it's thing. Then I decided to paint the frame. I should've really done that before attaching the board but it was just an afterthought. I gave the frame a quick wipe down removing the looser bits of powder coating, cement, mud and whatever then just painted over everything that was left with one of those 'apply directly to rust' type paints. I also added more varnish to the sides of the jubilee clip holes, where the bolts were and the cut sides.

Work of art.
The cheapest 14" barrow wheel I could find on eBay arrived next day. I filled the axle with Castrol LM Grease and bolted it into place. Being a cheap wheel it has no bearings and was supported on plastic bushings.I didn't now what Castrol LM Grease was and I'm not really sure why I even have a tub of it but apparently it's just the stuff for wheel bearings.

Rocket science.

At that point I tested it with a brood box and found just by luck that a box at the back of the platform sat comfortably against the bendy bits of the handles. I made a tailgate type thing from an offcut board with a couple more offcuts glued behind to hold it in place between the handles and varnished. It just sits there held in place by whatever's in the barrow.

Tailgate type thing
I had planned to make it a three wheeler to spread the load and raise the back end when stationary but after reading about different wheelbases in carp fishing forums it seems one wheel is easiest to keep stable on rough ground as you can't tilt a two wheel device to compensate to uneven surface. One wheel is also easier to steer. Carp fishing forums? Yep, the people who seem to know most about barrows are carp fishermen. They regularly lug about a quarter tonne of equipment across fields, through forests and over mountains in the pursuit of catch and release sport fishing. There's even an industry making rugged barrows and trolleys specifically for them to haul their fishing kit, tent, packed lunch, missing neighbour or whatever to those hard to reach bodies of water, so their forums are the best places to look for advice on barrows.

A slightly different barrow
With the barrow finished I drove it to the apiary where I've left it bikelocked it to something heavy till the day I need it as, like so much beekeeping equipment, it's very bulky and will only be used a couple of times a year.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Wasp Nest

Last week a mate showed me a wasp nest in a birdbox in a local allotment site. We stood about three feet in front of the entrance watching wasps coming and going and even though they'ed reduced the entrace hole using paper they'ed made we could see wasps just inside doing whatever wasps do when they're home. I decided to go back with some protective it -bee jacket, gloves and jeans without holes in them, to take some close up photos and video of the entrance. Would've been an interesting post. Unfortunately when I went back the wasps had been poisoned and the nest removed.I too some photos anyway. Going by their markings and the wood they've used for the nest I think they're Common Wasps (Vespula vulgaris) but it's hard to be sure.

Top of the dead nest and a few dead workers
The top of the nest was on the ground. A structure made from paper created by the wasps chewing wood. Like bees they mae hexagonal cells but they orient theirs vertically unlike honeybee worker and drone cells. They'ed made a five tier nest in the bird box and I think this was the unfinished top tier. I found the other four tiers still joined together floating in a water butt. Word to the wise: if you're throwing insecticides around keep them out of the water. The four other tiers were rectangular as you'd expect having been built in a birdbox and joined by a stem of paper in the middle -it was a bit lie a gross little accordion. You could see capped cells in which wasps larve will've been metamorphosing.

Worker Wasps and Larvae
There was a little group of dead wasps and larvae along with some of the wasp's paper that was probably over the top of the nest. You can see the size of the larvae compared to the adults.

Talking to the holder of the next plot along his comment was that if he'd known about them he'd've been happy to have the birdbox and it's compliment of wasps moved to his plot rather than poisoned. Wasps are pretty useful things for the vegetable and fruit grower, looking at a post from the resident wasp expert in the Beekeeping forum it's reported the average wasps nest consumes a staggering 4 to 5 tons of aphids in it's life cycle. That's a lot of time and money the allotment holder wouldn't have to spend on controlling aphids. Of course there's the concern about stings but I've not been stung by one for years myself -and as a beekeeper I probably meet more wasp buzzing about my hives than most.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Third one in a row

I know this is getting a bit repetitive but.. I collected another swarm yesterday. That's three in a week, and they've all been large prime swarms. This was near the out apiary and based on the location I initially thought they were from one of my hives but after going through them and finding I wasn't missing any bees I figure they were probably attracted by the scent from the hives.

Yet another Prime Swarm

Unlike every other swarm collection I've done this one went pretty much by the book. I held an open nuc below the bees a sharp shake dropped most of them into the box then I added some frames and left them to get in by themselves.

In they go
I was a bit short on frames so although it's a five frame nuc I was only able to put four frames into it. I've put a follower board in the gap and I'll just have to hope the new frames and foundation I've got on order arrive fairly soon and I'll probably move these into a full size hive asap.

Later this evening after writing the first half of this entry I popped to the bee yard to install a vent in the shed (gets hot in there, don't want wax to melt) and noticed a cluster of bees on the front on the nuc. Sometimes bees will hang out of the front of the hive if it's a hot day but that wasn't what these were doing and it half nine at night they ought to have been inside. It looked to me like there was too many bees to fit in the hive.

Lifting up the hive roof I found the airspace was packed with bees. They needed moving into a bigger hive straight away. Last week I'd ordered some frames, foundation and roofs but they hadn't arrived. Going on the FedEx website and checking the tracing number I was surprised to see FedEx thought they'ed left me a delivery card 4 days ago, I'll have to pop to the depot tomorrow for them to sort it out.. I could certainly do without that but in the meantime I needed to move the bees this evening. I had a ten frame super with new frames and foundation and a shallow brood frame for drone culling and a few crownboards so I popped to grab a couple of solid floors, a queen excluder and some gaff tape went back to the bees. I moved all four frames and the follower board into the new brood box and added the shallow frame.

There's just too many of you
With all the frames, follower board and adhering bees removed there were still a lot of bees left in the nuc sides -and there were still bees in the roof and on the hive front too. The frames and follower board left the new brood box half empty so I shook out the remaining bees into the gap and put the queen excluder over the brood box and the ten frame super above that. I'm hoping they'll head up to the super rather than drawing wild comb in the void but if everything goes to plan I'll be filling that gap with new frames tomorrow anyway. Bees were nosanoving at the entrance as I put the crownboard on. Unfortunately I didn't have a spare hive roof yet (thanks FedEx..) so I had to improvise a little. I taped the crown board onto the super so water doesn't get in normally the roof sides would take care of that, then put another floor and crownboard on top of that. Gathering a few bricks to keep it in place I found a double glazed pane of textured I'd found on a building site near Aylesburry a while ago. I have a vague plan to use it for some sort of cold frame type thing eventually. I stuck that on top of the crownboard and floor then put some bricks on top to stop it blowing off. It should keep things a little drier till I can put a proper roof on tomorrow.

Looks daft.
Should be adequate for one night though.