Migrating from commercial to 14×12 frames – part two (a change of plan)


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Artificial swarms, Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books | Posted on 12-06-2012

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I love to browse beekeeping books. I confess I don’t own that many: two, to be precise. But I like to browse, or ‘to look at the pictures’ (as my sister once rudely described my reading habits). My problem with actually buying books is that I have no time to read them, and that I suspect the bees never get around to it either.

Anyone coming here from Migrating honey bees from commercial frames to 14x12s – part one with the not unreasonable expectation that ‘part two’ might – you know – progress from there, ought to brace themselves now. I had a plan, an elaborate twelve-point plan, which I’d even begun to render into a series of beautiful colour illustrations. Unfortunately, (or possibly fortunately) the bees had a different agenda.

homemade and shop-bought National beehive supers

Shop-bought super (below) versus homemade super (above). After taking this picture I went out and bought three supers.

At my next inspection I found drone brood and over a dozen unsealed queen cells, the unmistakeable signs that the colony was preparing to swarm. The presence of queen cells was obviously a dead give-away, but I was quite proud of the fact that having noticed more than the average volume of drone brood on the outer frames I was already on the look-out for queen cells before I found them. And what was this in the super above? Honey. Honest to goodness honey. Two years of trying and approximately £400 in equipment and granulated sugar was about to pay off and result in my first jar of golden nectar: retail price £4.

I called Deryck Johnson for advice and, bless him, he came over the very next day. I don’t think I could have kept him away. I thought we’d split the colony, but what we ended up doing was an artificial swarm. I say “we”. Deryck did all the work. I stumbled around knocking into things. I could finally see what he’d meant about my apiary being small. With two of us it was like working in a broom cupboard. I proudly showed him the new apiary site I’d prepared around the corner. I’d put up fencing and everything. He said it needed to be twice as big. Ah.

We (he) knocked down all but two queen cells and then moved them and the entire colony (minus the old live queen), in the commercial brood box, to the new site in the back garden. A single frame of brood was kept back and rehoused, together with the old queen, in my 14×12 brood box on the original site. The rest of the brood chamber was then filled with frames of undrawn 14×12 foundation. A second super was placed on top and I was left with strict instructions to leave both colonies alone for a fortnight, but to keep an eye on the supers. So far so good.

Thirteen days later the second colony swarmed.

Next week (possibly): Extracting honey for the first time, and I get a third colony.


Migrating honey bees from commercial frames to 14x12s – part one


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 04-05-2012

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The last few weeks have been wet. Very wet. Nearly five weeks of steady rainfall we’ve had now, which must have gone some way towards alleviating East Anglia’s drought, you’d have thought. Leaving aside the issue as to whether it was the right kind of rain, both the bees and I have pretty much just had to get on with life – which, in the bees’ case, they’ve interpreted literally. Five weeks ago I snuck a quick peek between cold snaps and found capped brood. Three weeks ago I nipped in between rain showers and saw eggs, larvae and more sealed brood. I also initiated step one of a convoluted plan to migrate the colony from commercial frames onto 14x12s. Last weekend I progressed to step two.

Eke fitted to commercial brood chamber

The bees are so impressed by my carpentry skills that they crowd around to admire the gaps between eke and brood chamber.

So here’s my plan: my one and only colony spent the winter housed on eleven commercial (10”) frames, inside a commercial brood chamber. The commercial brood chamber doesn’t belong to me, so needs to be returned to its owner. When I decided to build my own hives I elected to go for national 14×12 brood chambers because they’re the most commonly used in these parts (we live next to fields of oil seed rape). National 14×12 frames will only fit into a commercial brood box with an eke fitted. Commercial frames will not fit into a national brood box of any description (standard or 14×12 deep). National frames will of course fit both a commercial and a 14×12 brood box, but they’re too short and will encourage brace comb.

With me so far? Good. Because this is where it gets really complicated…

Apart from commercials, the only frames I have with drawn foundation are five (actually four and a bit) national frames (DN5s). All my 14×12 frames are brand new and therefore only have undrawn foundation. I live in an area where, as mentioned, the local oil seed rape normally produces an early crop of honey – which hardens within the frames if it’s not harvested promptly. And I’ve never had so much as a single jar of honey from my bees since I took up beekeeping, er… two years ago. No pressure there then.

So my challenge is to migrate the bees from commercial frames to 14x12s, via a short stopover on nationals, without weakening the colony so much that they won’t produce an early harvest. A bit like getting a fox, a chicken and a sack of corn across a river in a small boat without any of them getting eaten.

In this regard I’ve had some help from Deryck Johnson, who’s forgotten more about beekeeping than I’ll ever know. Together, we discussed the merits or otherwise of a shook swarm (essentially, tipping the bees from the commercial brood chamber into the 14×12) before rejecting the idea on grounds that, with so much undrawn foundation, the new colony could be weakened too much to produce any honey. Had that not been the case it would also have been an effective method of disease control. Instead, we elected to go for the world’s most complicated 12-step plan, involving spending a month or two carefully moving the commercial frames outwards from the centre and my few national frames, followed by 14x12s, inwards from the edge. And adding a homemade eke, and a super. And perhaps starting another, separate colony around the corner.

I can’t see what could possibly go wrong.



My first swarm collection


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee swarming and swarm collection, Beekeeping advice | Posted on 23-12-2011

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Why is it that I should hear the words, “Would you like another colony? Only there’s a free swarm going spare” for the first time just as I was settling into a warm sofa with a cold glass of wine? In other circumstances my answer might have been, “A free colony? Yeah, bring it on.” I’d wanted a second colony for some time. But now, with TV remote in one hand and glass of Sancerre in the other, I was overwhelmed by doubt and self-loathing, mainly at the realisation that I might be the kind of middle-aged, overweight supertanker that would forgo the prospect of new adventure in favour of a soft cushion and Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks. So instead I wearily handed my glass to Mrs S and chirruped down the phone, “A new colony? Wow, that would be great. I’m coming right over.”

That pretty much paints the picture of my phone conversation with Mark at the end of May. Neither of us had captured a swarm before, and both had expressed interest in doing so. Now the opportunity had presented itself, literally, in Mark’s backyard. A next door neighbour had spotted one from over the fence.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Up a tall tree.”

Of course it was.

“Easy to reach?” I ventured hopefully.


What were the odds?

Mark lives barely three miles away, so it took only a few moments to get round there in the car. I brought along a recently finished homemade nuc and found Mark’s partner Julie fully suited and wandering about with an open copy of A Guide To Bees And Honey in her hand.  Mark appeared from around the corner carrying a long ladder and with a mobile phone clasped to one ear. He was taking advice from Deryck.

“Yeah, Andy’s just arrived now,” Mark said. “We’re just heading to the bottom of the garden.”

I could just make out Deryck’s disembodied voice. It went on for several minutes, before signing off with something about garden rubbish.

“He says he really likes your blog,” smiled Mark, as I followed him to a small copse.

Sure enough, there at the top of a tall, willowy tree was a rugby ball sized writhing mass of bees.

Clutching a tree-pruning saw, and with his next door neighbour spectating from the safety of her kitchen door, Mark gingerly climbed up the ladder. As I clung onto its base to prevent it from slipping I wondered whether it might not have been more gallant of me to offer to go up there myself. That is, until I realised that I’d been left looking upwards as he sawed his way through a branch dripping in bees directly above me. Julie watched with interest from a discreet distance.

Mark removed the branch and descended, before carefully placing it inside the nuc which we’d already positioned on an old bed sheet spread out at the base of the tree. Time for a cup of tea! Forty-five minutes later I was driving home with the taped-up nuc box wedged behind my car seat. So much for adventure. Nice cup of tea though.

I positioned the nuc next to my other colony and for nearly six weeks fed and fussed over it, even getting excited that it contained both light and dark coloured bees (see Black honey bees and yellow honey bees). Eventually however, the penny dropped. The queen was laying drone brood. The number of bees was gradually declining and there were unmistakable signs of ‘bobbling’ across the face of the comb. I transferred the frames into my new brood chamber,  placed that on top of the existing colony, and separated them with sheets of newspaper, merging the two colonies. The swarm queen I put into a match box and left to die alone in the shed. I couldn’t bring myself to kill her.

So much for adventure.

Wishing all beekeepers everywhere a very merry Christmas.


Black honey bees and yellow honey bees


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice | Posted on 19-12-2011

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I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise, but he delivers a great line in A Few Good Men (courtesy of Aaron Sorkin, of whom I’m a very big fan indeed). While Demi Moore’s character is flapping over minutiae, all the while missing the bigger picture, he deadpans: “Ah, I get it now. It was professor plum, in the library, with the lead pipe!”

I had a similar moment of epiphany with the colony last May: “Aa-ah, it’s the queen. She’s not laying, because she’s knackered!”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the signs were all there. She did look …well, dishevelled. And I guess you would too if your life consisted of a free-for-all gangbang followed by years in the dark giving birth thousands of times a day. Although I’d daubed her in blue marker last year I suspect I still wouldn’t have found it difficult to spot her if I hadn’t. For weeks she remained rooted to frames five or six, wandering around aimlessly, like a frail aunt in her dressing gown. Her offspring meanwhile, (in an odd reversal from my own experience) busied themselves filling the empty cells around her with food.

Of course hindsight being what it is, I didn’t actually cotton on to any of this until I saw the first queen cell. Which I promptly tore down. News of my action was met with much teeth-sucking by experienced colleagues. A week later – thankfully – there were two more queen cells, both uncapped. By this time I’d got the message. I marked the frame, replaced it in the brood chamber, and tip-toed away.

A new queen eventually emerged and, for nearly two months, co-existed beside the old queen. Having briefly established that her royal newness was indeed laying, I largely left her to get on with it. Running a business got in the way of running an apiary across much of the summer. Hive ‘inspections’ consisted largely of keeping an eye on the entrance to see what colour bees emerged from the new brood.

Yellow honey bees

My bees - Apis Mellifera, but more yellow than black

All my queens to date (four in total – although only three have been documented here so far) have been the product of swarms. Although presumably all of the species Apis mellifera, they’ve been mongrels. Among the local population of honey bee mongrels however, I have noticed that there appear to be two distinct sub-species: ‘yellow’ honey bees and ‘black’ honey bees. Both types have black and yellow bands on their abdomen. The ‘yellow’ bees just have slightly wider yellow bands while the ‘black’ bees have slightly wider black ones. It’s only a matter of emphasis, but when viewed side-by-side you can see a distinct difference in colouration.

As I seem never to tire of saying, being a novice beekeeper is a lot like being a novice parent. There are manuals, but most of what you learn comes from actually interacting with the little darlings – both your own and the offspring of a whole host of new friends that seem to come with them. And, like parents, you almost can’t help yourself from degenerating into a little competitive beekeeping when it comes to comparing notes.

Black honey bees with queen in centre

A captured swarm (with queen in centre) - more black than yellow

“Gosh, my bees are so docile”, you find yourself boasting, “they’re an absolute doddle to handle.”

“You’re so lucky”, will come the reply, “mine fly everywhere, it makes extracting honey every few weeks a real nightmare.”

Now the truth about this exchange is that there isn’t a beekeeper anywhere who wouldn’t swap docile bees for high yielding ones at the drop of a hat. My bees have always been docile and, perhaps as a consequence, have so far produced b****r-all in the way of honey. By comparison, opening up my friend Michelle’s hive is like entering a Glasgow pub on a Saturday night, and ordering a cocktail. This summer it produced so much honey, so fast, she nearly ran out of supers. I have ‘yellow’ bees. Michelle’s are ‘black’. I wanted black bees.

As my lovely new chocolate-coloured queen began to make her mark on the colony I started to see newly hatched furry bees and squinted hard to determine whether they were of the lighter or darker persuasion. Unfortunately there was no mistaking it. They were distinctly yellow. Damn. It seems that what the yellow bees lack in temperament they make up for in other departments. Time for a little family planning in 2012, I think.


The 2011 beekeeping year


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive, Nucs, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 12-12-2011

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Homemade beehive: 14x12 brood box and floor

My first homemade 14x12 beehive - best viewed from a distance

Well, it’s been an… engaging year. Not all bad, and certainly not run-of-the-mill, but definitely full-on. While I churned out reams of copy on topics as diverse as door access systems, 360 degree photography and male waxing (for completely separate clients, I hasten to add) I confess I struggled to find time to jot down musings on life within the colony. Not that interesting things weren’t happening. No sirree. This year the queen stopped laying, was replaced by her offspring, continued to live alongside the new queen for a while, was joined next door by a new colony (my first swarm collection) with, it turned out, an equally unproductive queen (this time of the drone laying variety) before having the neighbours move in when I united both colonies using the newspaper method. Meanwhile, I also built a hive and two nuc boxes, and began to experiment with the idea of setting up a beehive web cam.

Lessons learned: dozens. Jars of honey harvested: nil.

So, rather like those American sitcoms that condense the last six episodes into a breathless fifteen second monologue, that was my beekeeping year. If you want to read the glorious details, sign up to receive the next installment.


Advice on beekeeping advice


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee diseases, Beekeeping advice, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 14-06-2011

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Beekeeping advice

"Bless him, he's doing his best. But perhaps if he just left us alone..." (Pic: Subbotina Anna)

Got a bit of a mauling on the Beekeepers’ Forum. Essentially, I was reprimanded for not reading the textbooks properly and for medicating my colony without proper evidence of disease or infestation. Some of it I’ll take as fair comment, some of it as a reminder of the perils of ‘diagnosis by forum’.

I opened the hive four weeks ago and found – surprise, surprise – a sealed queen cell. I removed the tray of Apiguard and the temporary solid floor and found – surprise, surprise – no sign of varroa. Not-a-one, in seven days. Which I recognise wasn’t to say they weren’t there, just that I clearly wasn’t overrun with mites. (Either that or they were really good at climbing back onto the frames). No balaustium / spider mites either. And no wax moth… although I rather forgot to look for them (it’s so hard to remember everything).

As for the nosema, since I don’t have a microscope we’ll probably never know. Robert said that treating with Fumidil B would do no harm regardless. The Beekeepers’ Forum begged to differ.

So I found a single queen cell and I tore it down. That was a mistake too, apparently. Trouble is, Ted Hooper said you should have a plan for these situations, but I couldn’t quite remember what my plan was. I was pretty sure it involved tearing down the first lot of queen cells, but then I only had one. Then again (I reasoned after the event) my worker bees may have been inhibited from creating more by the smell of Apiguard.

Anyway, I was concerned that the old queen – still very much alive and present – might kill the virgin new queen, or else slink off with a batch of workers and leave the colony even weaker. Which, in the cold light of day, I now accept wasn’t very logical. (Old queen knackered, workers create new queen to ensure survival, then …bugger off with old knackered queen)? Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned to commit my fears to a new forum thread, only to find that I’d placed myself at the centre of a hail of criticism. I should read up about swarming and supersedure I was told (agreed, I should). It’s all there in Ted Hooper, I was told. Er, no it wasn’t. Not what I was seeing. I’d riffled backwards and forwards through its pages looking for relevant passages. Bits sounded familiar, but nothing covered my exact circumstances.

Which is not to condemn the beekeepers that offered their ha’penny worth on the Beekeepers’ Forum. They were all trying to help, and I appreciate that. But this was a classic example of why I set up a novices’ beekeeping blog in the first place. Because no two colonies are alike, and because no text book can cover every eventuality.

Anyway that was four weeks ago, since when I’ve hatched a new queen and acquired a second colony. And while I haven’t done a particularly good job of writing about either I have at least begun to appreciate that, when it comes to beekeeping advice, there are usually several good ways of achieving the same objective, and that invariably one of them is to do absolutely nothing.


Building a beehive – national, modified national and 14×12 hive types explained


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 10-05-2011

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As a b2b writer I’ll occasionally get the urge to revisit an article and tweak it. A word or a sentence will start to bother me. So I’ll change it. And then the paragraph it sits in won’t work as well. So I’ll swap it around, only to find that doing that messes up the ending. Before you know it I’ll have cut and pasted the thing to shreds and found that I’ve had to start over again practically from scratch.

My first homemade beehive, completed in the summer of 2010, is back in pieces on the garage floor.

It didn’t have a varroa mesh floor, which wasn’t the end of the world, but it struck me as sensible to provide it with one before installing a colony. More significantly, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to remain a modified national. And I didn’t like the roof. And, well, I’m not terribly good at sawing wood in straight lines so wasn’t convinced about some of the gaps between brood chamber and super. And then I bought a tin of bee-friendly beehive paint and thought that I should probably use it to cover up the untested Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base I’d already coated it in.

All that said, my haphazard approach should at least reassure any DIY beekeepers contemplating making their own beehives: believe me, if I can do this stuff, you can.

modified national plus 14x12 eke and frames

A modifed national brood chamber, together with eke to convert it to a 14x12, plus national DN4 frame (left) and 14x12 frame (right) for comparison. I'll fix the eke permanently to the underside of the brood chamber.

Let’s focus on perhaps the most serious problem. I chose the ‘modified national’ design because, well, I was given a set of plans. And because the ‘national’ remains the most popular type of beehive in England. Interestingly, it isn’t the most popular hive type among experienced beekeepers in these parts (north Essex). We’re surrounded by fields of yellow oil seed rape – as anyone who’s driven up the M11 couldn’t fail to spot. The bees love it and they make lots of honey out of it. Local, more experienced, beekeepers therefore tend to favour the ‘14×12’, sometimes referred to as the ‘national 14×12’.

Now if you’re wondering what the differences are between a ‘national’ beehive, a ‘modified national‘ and a ‘national 14×12’ you’re not alone. I searched high and low before being told the answer.

A ‘national’ beehive, sometimes also referred to as a ‘standard national’, has a brood box measuring 460mm x 460mm x 225mm externally. So does a ‘modified national’. The only difference between the two is that a ‘standard national’ has a double-thickness wall on two sides (the sides that carry the frames). The ‘modified national’ has L-shaped rails top and bottom, connected to the side walls (see photo above). The top rail carries the frames. The bottom rail extends outwards to line up with the floor. As a consequence the ‘modified national’ can be made with four walls of uniform thickness. The ‘national 14in x 12in’ shares the 460mm x 460mm footprint, but is a lot deeper – 315mm deep to be precise. It can therefore take taller frames, which means more brood and, ultimately, more honey. Whoever came up with the idea of mixing imperial and metric measurements was clearly having a laugh.

All three hive types share the same floor, super and roof dimensions. The differences only affect the brood chamber. Both the ‘national’ and ‘modified national’ brood chamber can be converted to a 14×12 by means of an ‘eke’ – a 460mm x 460mm x 90mm wooden spacer. Which is what I’m now adding.

Many ‘homemade’ hive plans quote internal or (occasionally) external dimensions only, forcing the DIY beehive builder to compensate based on the thickness of the timber they’re using, or compromise based on the standard external dimensions of shop-bought crownboards, queen excluders and floors. The internal dimensions are more important. Get those wrong and either your frames won’t fit or your bees will fill the gaps with brace comb.

national brood chamber dimensions

National brood chamber dimensions: the figures in brackets show the width at the narrowest point, where the frames hang.

That being the case, why did I quote external dimensions? Because if you ask any experienced beekeeper what size a national brood chamber is, chances are those are the measurements they’ll supply. The internal dimensions of the brood chamber are shown in the table above.

And if you think that’s confusing, don’t get me started on brood and super frame types and spacing…


Slow bee colony build-up in May


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Apiguard Thymol, Bee diseases, Beekeeping advice, Varroa destructor | Posted on 04-05-2011

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Something’s wrong. I only have two frames of brood and the bees are very docile. Too docile. Just a couple of miles away Michelle’s colony has nearly filled its second super.

I have varroa. I have wax moth. I appear to have some small red mites, possibly balaustium, which I’m told are harmless to bees but feed on pollen. I may have nosema. It’s always hard to avoid a slight sense of one-upmanship with other second-year beekeepers, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ve recently been to several presentations on honey bee diseases and poor colony hygiene, so am trying to remain objective and to not fall into the trap of transposing it all to my beehive. But I’ve seen the varroa, the wax moth and the balaustium (if that’s what they are). Granted, not in any great numbers: less than one varroa a day, and two wax moths and five balaustium in total. Hardly an epidemic. There’s no sign of dysentery to indicate nosema, and no melted larvae to point to European Foul Brood. The queen is present and laying. I have eggs, larvae, capped brood and newly hatched bees, as well as uncapped stores and pollen. But I have only two frames of brood. Four frames of brand new foundation remain untouched.

It might be the queen. Michelle’s colony swarmed on Friday. On Monday we opened her hive to take a look and found 6-8 queen cells the size of Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. Interestingly, we also found the old queen amid a small heap of writhing workers on the next door neighbour’s driveway. She looked absolutely knackered (the queen, not the next door neighbour), which you could forgive her as the colony itself had bees spilling out from every quarter. They were pinging off our veils. All frames were heaving under the weight of stores, eggs, larvae and capped brood, while drones the size of my thumb stomped about looking ready to pounce – which I guess they were.

So what’s with my bees? I even cut the hedge to give them more sunlight.

Last Tuesday I ran into Robert, my bee guru. He suggested I had nothing to lose by going for a little shock and awe. Apiguard for the varroa, Fumidil B for the nosema (as it will do no harm even if it isn’t present), and an uncapping tool and no mercy for the wax moth. The red mites will sort themselves out, he said.

I’m going in…


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.


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.