25 really simple beekeeping tips


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books, Making a beehive, Varroa destructor | Posted on 22-04-2011

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Recently spent a delightful couple of hours at Deryck Johnson’s garden and apiary listening to him give a talk on beekeeping equipment.

Over the years I’ve been drawn to various hobbies, and in that time have found the following to be universally true: the advice you treasure most is always of the, “now here’s a trick that’ll save you half an hour / 50 quid / sore thumbs” variety.

Deryck basically spent an hour giving us the benefit of decades of experimentation. I wish I’d filmed it and put in on You Tube. Instead, here’s the novice beekeeper’s print-out-and-keep guide to “25 beekeeping tips you will otherwise probably take years to pick up”. All credit to Deryck Johnson.

Colour coded beehive

A national beehive (with eke to convert it to 14x12), placed on a milk crate stand, and showing coloured crown board, clearer board and queen excluder

Advice on beehives

Empty milk crates – of the type used by milkmen to store milk bottles – make ideal hive stands. Deryck gets a supply of old broken ones from his local dairy.

White catering trays (price £1) slide neatly between hive floor and crate to create a removable surface on which varroa will stand out for monitoring purposes.

Make it easy to ‘read the hive’. Paint the edges of crown boards, queen boards and clearer boards so that you can see at a glance from a distance how the hive is made up:

Crown boards = blue

Clearer boards = green, because workers can ‘go’ through them

Queen excluders = red, because they ‘stop’ the queen.

Use different coloured plastic frame spacers to quickly identify different age foundation (e.g. white new, yellow old).

Squares made out of Xtratherm building insulation make ideal winter beehive insulation if placed between crown board and roof.

In winter, prop open the corners of your crown board with matchsticks to improve ventilation and avoid mould.

Drape a net over the hive in winter to protect it from woodpeckers, being careful to peg the edges away from the sides of the beehive. The bees will still be able to get in and out, but the woodpeckers won’t get through the net.

Home-made bee frame feeder

Home-made bee frame feeder - holds around 3.5 pints of syrup

Car body filler works just as well as wood filler to repair beehives.

Advice on beekeeping smokers

Buy a stainless steel smoker.

Dry grass makes the best and cheapest smoker fuel. It’s cooler and less acrid than cardboard or egg boxes.

Attach a square hook to the back (bellows wide) of your smoker to hang it from your hive and because a square hook is easier to carry with one finger.

Useful things to have in your beekeeping toolkit

Apart from the obvious (hive tools, uncapping tool, marker pens etc) keep:

a laminated (photo)copy of brood timings (Ted Hooper’s Guide to bees and honey features a useful table);

a small tin of drawing pins for marking the top of frames (should they contain queen cells or anything unusual, for example);

hammer and nails (two nails hammered into the top bar of a frame makes a handy emergency lug if the wooden end breaks off);

an empty plastic container (to store any excess bits of wax);

DIY beehive mouse guard

Cheapest beehive mouse guard around:four nails

an empty matchbox (to keep bee samples);

matches (for testing for foul brood);

nail scissors (for wing clipping).

Miscellaneous beekeeping musings

Don’t bother buying propolis remover.

Fabi-Spray, on the other hand, is a good 5-10 second alternative to using a smoker, for quick manipulations.

Nails hammered vertically into a wooden entrance at short intervals make an ideal (and dirt cheap) mouse guard.

After every inspection stick your hive tool through the dishwasher.

Do you have any simple beekeeping tips that save money and hassle? Please share them by leaving a comment.


How (not) to recycle beeswax foundation – a step-by-step guide


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Beeswax foundation and frames | Posted on 15-04-2011

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  1. Leave frames with mouldy old foundation, stores and insect bodies festering in crate on garage floor.
  2. Trip over crate at regular intervals.
  3. Chop up wax foundation and put into black bin bag. Leave on garage floor.
  4. Trip over bag at regular intervals.
  5. Look up price of wax melters sold by beekeeping suppliers. Scoff.
  6. Ask wife for large old pan in which to melt foundation.
  7. Turn up nose at large old pan offered.
  8. Look up price of large new pans sold by Argos and Tescos. Scoff.
  9. Place wanted ad for large old pan on Freecycle. Wait.
  10. …And wait.
  11. Accept wife’s offer of large old pan.
  12. Remove handful of sticky, furry mess that was once foundation from black bin bags.

    Melting old beeswax foundation

    "...and when it looks like this it's about ready to throw away."

  13. Drip contents over garage floor.
  14. Drip contents over utility room floor.
  15. Drip contents over kitchen floor.
  16. Boil kettle. Pour hot water into pan. Tip waxy mess into pan. Stir.
  17. Close kitchen door. Open back door. Open windows. Switch on extractor fan. Turn up extractor fan.
  18. Tell curious offspring that you’re recycling wax.
  19. Tell curious offspring not to make a fuss about the smell.
  20. Tell curious offspring not to tell Mum.
  21. Bribe offspring with chocolate.
  22. Add more foundation to pan.
  23. Keep stirring.
  24. Turn up heat under pan. Turn down heat under pan. Re-examine contents of bin bag in garage.
  25. Place bin bag in boot of car to take to tip.
  26. Pour contents of pan into large hole in back garden.
  27. Buy brand new foundation.

Feeding honey bees in late spring, and the position of the hive


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee feeders, Bee feeding, Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping courses for beginners | Posted on 13-04-2011

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At our second, second-year beekeepers class in March our instructors, Jane and Richard, had confidently predicted that our various colonies would soon kick-start into life. Nearby fields of oil seed rape would burst forth, their balletic ripples sounding a dinner bell for honey bees far and wide. Well, within a three mile radius anyway. Start preparing now, we were instructed. Make sure brood chambers have their full complement of frames to avoid the colony swarming. Have supers made up and ready in preparation for the first ‘flow’.

It sounded alarming, and not a little distasteful. Nevertheless, it had what I presumed was the desired effect. I stopped twiddling my thumbs and logged into Thorne’s online shop to order frames, foundation and (in a moment of reckless abandon) a tin of ‘bee-friendly beehive paint’. In no time at all, (well, plenty of time actually – nineteen days to deliver – nineteen days) I’d readied myself for the upcoming nectar-fest.

Except that to date there has been no ‘fest’. No great hum of activity, just a few bees casually flying in and out when the sun is at its highest. By the end of week two I could contain myself no longer and chose a warm day to lift off the roof and check on progress.

Honey bee frame showing depleted stores

The 'bonus' frame of stores I found and moved in February

To my relief they were still alive, and appeared to be so in reasonable numbers. But they were far from bursting at the seams. I pulled out a couple of frames and, probably for the first time since taking up beekeeping nine months ago, instinctively identified what the problem was: they were hungry. Nearly all the frames with stores had been licked clean. The ‘bonus’ frame I’d found mid-February had been uncapped and was left with crystallised leftovers. To my relief I saw larvae, but not much.

Thankfully, the arrival of Thorne’s supplies coincided with a spell of warm weather. I topped up the brood chamber (even though it didn’t really need it), replaced a frame with foundation that had gone mouldy, and added a rapid feeder in an empty super. The bees pounced on it within hours, but a week later had still taken barely a third. Perhaps it’s true that honey bees sometimes need a quick feed to kick-start them. After all, I like to go to work on a good breakfast. Then again, maybe there was more to it.

mouldy capped pollen and nectar

Mouldy capped pollen and nectar

Two days later I passed a local apiary and couldn’t help but notice that its hives were buzzing, literally. Clouds of bees hung round each entrance while, like the famous scene from Metropolis, a steady stream of bees zoomed in an out on invisible highways. Then Michelle from up the road told me that she’d only just managed to get a super on her colony in time. They’d already filled every frame of the brood chamber. Strange. And then Mark, who lives barely a few hundred yards from Michelle, asked me whether my colony was really active yet, because his bees were just casually flying in and out when the sun was up.

Interestingly, Michelle’s and the Metropolis’ hives have at least one side fully exposed to the sun. Both Mark’s colony and my own are flanked by trees or hedges. Our bees, it seems, wait for the sun to hit the hive before bothering to get up for work. Maybe they have more in common with my kids than I thought.