Category Archives: Boards

Queen excluders

If your season is going anything like my season you’ll now be conducting weekly inspections of colonies which have one or more increasingly heavy honey supers 1.

Finally ūüôā

Wire queen excluder ...

Wire queen excluder …

At least, you should be doing weekly inspections and I hope the supers are filling nicely ūüėČ

If so, you’ll also probably be using queen excluders to stop Her Majesty from moving up into the supers. You don’t have to use queen excluders, but most people using stackable hives do. As I use a lot of drone foundation in my supers it’s a bit of a catastrophe if the queen lays up frame after frame of drones, so I always use queen excluders.

The good

I’ve used all sorts of queen excluders (henceforth QE’s for simplicity) over the years. Some are much better than others, some are awful and some fall into the¬†“OK¬†since I’ve run out of other equipment and I’m desperate”¬†category¬†i.e. useable, but not actually good.

The good ones are wooden-framed with rigid wires. They have beespace on one side 2 and generally don’t get stuck down to the tops of the frames. They are relatively easy to clean and you can buy a little scraper gadget to help with this task. Importantly, from an apiary hygiene point of view, they can be blowtorched if needed to sterilise them.

I build my own, using the wire-only grids available from Thorne’s. A 9 x 25mm frame with simple rabbet joints holds the wire, which I fix in place with Gorilla glue. I then add a narrow wooden rim around the top edge, flush with the wire, onto which the super is placed. The overall cost is about a tenner, about half that of the readymade commercial ones and only twice that of the¬†el cheapo plastic ones.

The bad

I started beekeeping using the slotted steel or zinc sheets that get propolised to the tops of the frames and, as you prise them up, suddenly go ‘ping‘ firing bees up into the air. The trick to stopping this was lift from one corner but keeping pressure in the middle with one finger so they released slowly and gently.

These slotted zinc QE’s tended to bend or crease 3¬†and mine were butchered to make mini-nuc feeders years ago.

Unfortunately – because they’re the most recent QE’s I’ve purchased – I’d also add the current XP PLUS QE from Thorne’s to this category. These are moulded plastic with square holes but have the addition of a bottom rim and half a dozen standoffs that hold them a beespace above the top bars of the brood box. So far, so good.

They’re described as non-stick, but in my experience aren’t. I’ve got about half a dozen in use at the moment and all of them have either (or both) been stuck firmly to the top bars of the brood box or – infuriatingly – to the underside of the super.

Irritatingly these QE’s also don’t appear to ever lay flat 4. When purchased they were a bit banana-shaped, but I wrongly thought that stacking under some other boxes for a few months would sort them out. When reassembling the hive they always leave a corner or two bent up, under which the bees crawl … with inevitable consequences. Avoid.

The indifferent

Plastic lay flat QE

Plastic lay flat QE …

I also have lots of the plastic ‘lay flat’ QE’s. These are just about the cheapest to buy. Some have¬†square, some rounded, holes. All are much of a muchness in my view. They get propolised to the frame tops and usually need the same sort of ‘finger press’ in the middle when removing them to avoid launching bees unceremoniously across the apiary.

All of these ‘lay flat’ QE’s are a bit tricky to clean. You can scrape them with a hive tool, but lots of the holes get blocked with wax/propolis. If you put them in the freezer overnight you can then flex them gently and quite a bit of the propolis can be released (and used for all sorts of things like tinctures).

Top tips

When removing the queen excluder, particularly the flat plastic ones that inevitably get stuck down to the top bars,¬†gently twist it in a circular motion to loosen it from the wax. Also try the¬†‘finger in the middle trick’.

Before putting the hive back together give both frame top bars and the QE a scrape with the hive tool encourage it to lie back down flat. This makes subsequent inspections easier.

Finally, remember to always check the¬†underside of the QE for the queen before setting it aside and continuing with the inspection. Take it from me … you feel a combination of stupid and relieved when you finally find the queen wandering around on the QE as you reassemble the¬†puzzlingly queenless hive that’s got loads of eggs and no queen cells.

And it’s always worth checking the upper face of the QE as well …

Queen above the QE

Queen above the QE …


 

All the gear, no idea

The new Thorne’s catalogue came out a few days ago. I picked up a copy during a visit to the Newburgh store when I bought frames for the upcoming season and some more queen excluders.

Required reading

Required reading

I’ve always enjoyed reading the Thorne’s catalogue. Browsing the 2018 copy brought back memories of my introduction to it a decade or so ago. That was after my very first¬†“Beekeeping for Beginners”¬†evening class with the Warwick and Leamington beekeepers. Everyone left the class clutching a catalogue and an order form for a discounted¬†BBwear suit.¬†

It was clearly effective and well-targeted marketing. I still spend more than I should (though less than I could, thanks to my catastrophic DIY skills) with Thorne’s and I still use BBwear suits.

Pick a size, any size

Dadant? Smith? Aargh!

Dadant? Smith? Aargh!

The abiding memories of my first experience of the catalogue were the myriad choices … of hives, frames, foundation, tools and – perhaps more than anything else – labels and moulds.

Remember, this was before even the basics of the hive had been introduced in the beginners course. That first evening was probably spent on the distinction between queens, workers and drones, or perhaps ‘the beekeeping year’.

Back to the catalogue … surely there wasn’t the need for all those different frame sizes and styles? DN1, DN2, DN4, DN5, 14″ x 12″ and BS Manley.

Hang on! What happened to DN3’s? 1

And then the hives … National, Commercial, Dadant, Smith, Langstroth … Aargh!

Very confusing. And that’s before some of the hives that didn’t even really look like beehives were considered … Top bar, Dartington, Warr√© 2¬†etc.

Of course now, a decade or so later, I know the answer. There’s no logical need for anything other than medium Langstroth boxes and one type of frame ūüėČ

But I and most other beekeepers also know that logic is something in short supply in most beekeeping.

Indeed, logic is almost as rare as adhering to standards.

Which is why I use BS ‘British Standard’ National hives ūüėČ

The essentials and nothing else …

The Thorne’s catalogue3 lists everything an amateur ‘hobbyist’ beekeeper could possibly need and almost everything he or she could possibly want. It also lists several thousand things that are either duplicates of other stuff or, plain and simple, are probably unnecessary.

Eight different types of smoker.¬†Eleven different types of uncapping knives, forks or rollers. Eighteen different types of hive tools. Eighteen! And I daren’t even look at the labels or moulds.

This isn’t a criticism. Choice is great … but is can be really confusing. Particularly when you don’t know the difference between your Bailey, Horsley, Snelgrove, Cloake or Snuggle boards.

Have some sympathy for the hundreds of tyro beekeepers attending winter training courses all over the UK at the moment. In between those two hour lectures in the drafty church hall 4 they’re feasting on the Thorne’s catalogue every evening to provide their necessary daily ‘fix’ of beekeeping enlightenment.

For many, this catalogue is an integral part of their beekeeping education.

Beetradex and the Spring Convention

And then, schooled in basics from their winter training courses and simultaneously confused and enticed by their nightly perusal of the ‘essentials’ in the Thorne’s catalogue, come the two biggies.

Beetradex and the BBKA Spring Convention.

Like lions waiting to ambush an unsuspecting baby wildebeest, the two biggest trade events in the beekeeping year allow all those essential items in the catalogue to be seen, inspected, caressed, agonised over and – finally – bought.

Beetradex ...

Beetradex …

Not necessarily in that order.

In my case sometimes bought, caressed, inspected and then agonised over ūüôĀ

What on earth possessed me to get a Combi-Brush?

All the gear, no idea

Those early beekeeping days were characterised by limitless enthusiasm – in part fueled by the annual Thorne’s catalogue – and precious little practical experience.

"Essentials" ...

“Essentials” …

I’ve still got stuff I bought in those early days. There’s all sorts of bits and bobs stored away which¬†‘might come in’.

It hasn’t and probably won’t ūüôĀ

One of the characteristics of my beekeeping (and I suspect of many others) is that it has become much simpler and more straightforward as I’ve gained experience 5. The enthusiasm is still there, it’s just tempered with pragmatism and an appreciation that there’s only so much I can fit into the garage.

Enlightened apiculture

I now carry less to the apiary than I did five years ago. The bee bag is slimmed down and much more manageable. My record keeping is more organised – or at least less shambolic. I’ve given away the frame rests, mouseguard magnet … and the Combi-brush.

But, most significantly, I’ve pretty-much standardised on the equipment I use. I buy the boxes ensuring that they’re all compatible with each other. I buy the replacement frames and I buy less and less foundation.

And most of the rest I usually do without or build myself. The latter includes almost all of the ‘horizontal’ components of the hive – the floor, boards, roof, ekes¬†etc.6

And I reckon my beekeeping is better for it. My bank balance certainly is ūüôā

What’s new?

Nevertheless, I’ve still enjoyed a quiet hour or two (as the Beast from the East roars outside) with a cup of tea and the 2018 Thorne’s catalogue.

I’ve marvelled at the Adapta hive stand and floor which, by my estimates, would cost an eye-watering ¬£422.92 if you were to buy it with all the accessories.¬†¬†Actually, I’ve mainly marvelled at their ingenuity in designing all those accessories. This floor has been out a year or two now, but new for 2018 is the Adapta eke.

Or perhaps that should be Eek!

Undoubtedly well made, indubitably multi-functional, but costing £107.50 with all the add-ons.

Eek!

My first hive was a secondhand Thorne’s¬†Bees on a Budget¬†National bought from an association member who had had to give up beekeeping due to allergies. The boxes are still in regular use. It’s still listed in the catalogue and thousands have probably started their beekeeping with one of these hives.

While the basic hive hasn’t changed there are lots of new choices of floor, half-size supers and insulation, polish containers, queen introduction cages and – inevitably – candle moulds.

So … was I tempted by anything?

Of course ūüėČ

Horsley board

Horsley board

A year or two ago Thorne’s started selling Horsley boards¬†(PDF) – an interesting method of swarm control consisting of a split board with an upper entrance, removable slide and queen excluder panel. I built my own a few years ago and have used it successfully. Mine is bodged together from bits of scrap wood and a butchered tin baking tray.

It’s a monstrosity.

They had one in the Newburgh store and it was beautifully made.

I was very tempted.

But I managed to resist … though I’ve looked at it¬†several times¬†in the new catalogue ūüėČ


Colophon

In the interest of literary accuracy I should add that the bit about the Combi-Brush is not entirely true. I’ve never bought one. It was chosen as the most ridiculous piece of beekeeping equipment I could find in the catalogue that readers might appreciate.

However, there¬†are a few things I have bought that, years, months, weeks or just days later, I’ve wondered …¬†“Why?”

What they are will remain a closely guarded secret ūüėČ

Makes space in beekeeping (3)

The poor cryptic crossword clue in the title of course refers to an eke.

In beEKEeping, an eke is a wooden frame, the same dimensions as the hive, used to provide temporary additional volume to the hive.

They are useful and versatile pieces of equipment.

Etymology

The word eke can be traced back to Middle English (eke or eake) when it meant¬†“an addition” and was derived from the the Old English (ńďaca) and the Old Norse (auki) words¬†of the same meaning.

In Old English it usually referred to a reinforcement of troops, but in 1549 it was first used 1 to indicate an addition to the tag end of a bell-rope.

And then, a mere 308 years later it was used to describe a cylinder on which a beehive was placed to increase its capacity.

Swarm in a skep

Swarm in a skep …

‘Cylinder’ of course, because in 1857 most beehives were probably still straw skeps 2. A more extensive definition from the same period was a small addition to the bottom of a beehive, often just a few strands of straw, on which the hive was temporarily raised.

Most of us don’t use skeps any longer (other than for swarm collection) but we do use ekes.

Don’t buy it, build it

For some time I’ve reckoned that the appropriately-named dummy board represent the single item with the largest profit margin for manufacturers of beekeeping equipment.

I’m wrong. It’s the humble and unassuming, but oh so useful, eke.

At its most simple, an eke is a made of four bits of wood, screwed, nailed or glued together at the corners, square 3 and true. It doesn’t need to be made out of the best quality cedar.

In fact, it doesn’t need to be made of cedar at all. Any readily-available softwood with a couple of coats of wood-preservative slapped on top will be just fine.

Look back at the definition of an eke. Now, as in 1857, it was meant as a temporary addition to the hive. Cuprinol is just fine, best western cedar is overkill.

A cute rabbit, not rabbet, from http://www.bbbvet.org.uk

No … rabbet. R a b b E t.

I shall leave the precise design and details of building an eke as¬†‘an exercise for the reader’. You can achieve ‘square and true’ by using a simple square of plywood as a template. I’d suggest gluing and screwing the corners using a simple rabbet joint. Paint the entire thing with a couple of coats of bee-friendly wood preservative and you’ll have saved at least ¬£20 on the prices some of the commercial suppliers charge.

Dimensions

Length and width are the same as the hive, depth is the important one.

You can make an eke any depth you want. You can usually buy them in only two depths.

  • Shallow (~20mm) – to provide just enough space over the brood frames when applying Apiguard treatment in the autumn. I can’t think of alternative uses that need an eke this shallow.
  • Deep (~90mm) – to convert a regular brood box for use with 14 x 12 frames 4.
Rabbit, er, rabbet joint

Rabbit, er, rabbet joint …

All my ekes are made from 20 x 44mm (thickness x depth 5) softwood. This just happened to be the wood I could easily get when I first started building them, but has turned out to be a very useful depth overall.

Build more than one. Unless you only have one hive. In which case buy another hive and then build another eke. I’ve got about two-thirds the number of ekes as I have hives and I regularly run out.

Feeding and treating

Use your wellie

Use your wellie …

The most frequent use for an eke is to provide space above the frames and below the crownboard, for example when feeding a colony fondant or applying¬†Apiguard. It takes just seconds to lift the roof and crownboard, position the eke, add the fondant or tray of Apiguard and cover the hive again. In the days when I used to use Apiguard I’d often add the fondant at the same time 6. What could be simpler?

With care (or a lot of flattening the block by standing on it repeatedly) it’s possible to easily squeeze 6-8kg of fondant into the void provided by a 43mm eke. Since I usually feed a full 12.5kg block of fondant in one go – sliced in half and opened up like a book – I simply pop an eke under an inverted insulated crownboard to provide the ‘headroom’ needed.

Vaporising with an eke

Vaporising with an eke …

Whilst we’re on the subject of applying miticides … I also use ekes when¬†administering vaporised oxalic acid-containing treatments to colonies in polystyrene hives. The nozzle of my Sublimox vaporiser gets hot enough to melt¬†polystyrene. Rather than messing around trying to aim the billowing cloud of vapour through the entrance it’s much easier simply adding a wooden eke to the top of the brood box and pushing the nozzle through a 7mm hole in one side. The vapour easily permeates to every corner of the hive 7.

Travelling

Travel screens are used in place of crownboards and roofs when colonies are being moved any distance. They are usually framed wire mesh of some sort. They are important as they stop colonies overheating during the stress of transporting them. You can also easily spray water onto the colony to help cool it if needed.

They are yet another thing that spends 98% of the time stacked up in a corner with all the other oddities of beekeeping – clearer boards, Miller feeders, weirdo split boards and custom-made shims for uniting mismatched hives.

Travel screen mesh and eke

Travel screen mesh and eke …

I don’t bother with travel screens, but instead use robust ‘glassfibre’ insect mesh held securely in place with – you’ve guessed it – an eke. I just lay the mesh over the open colony, add the eke and then strap everything thing up tight. This works a treat. The eke ensures that the mesh is held securely around the edges.

Abelo hives in transit ...

Abelo hives in transit …

Insulation and crownboards

I’m a firm believer in providing a block insulation over the crownboard, ideally all season, but certainly through the winter. I’ve built a number of reversible, insulated perspex crownboards … but I didn’t build enough

I’ve also bought, inherited or otherwise acquired several standard framed plywood or perspex crownboards. Using a 44mm deep eke and a suitably sized block of 50mm thick expanded foam you can easily cobble together a perfectly function insulated crownboard.

Another use for an eke

Another use for an eke …

And the rest …

There are all sorts of additional uses for ekes … stacking supers on, providing space¬†under brood frames with protruding queen cells (for example, when moving a frame from one colony to another 8, doubled up to provide depth for 14 x 12 frames¬†etc.

It’s worth keeping a couple of ekes stacked up with spare supers and broods in the apiary. They’re more useful than you’d think a simple square frame of wood should be.

Winter colony with eke, fondant and insulation

Winter colony with eke, fondant and insulation …


 

Cleaning perspex crownboards

Perspex crownboard

Perspex crownboard …

I’ve previously described the perspex insulated crownboards I use. These allow me to determine¬†how the colony is expanding in Spring, or how much fondant remains during autumn feeding, with minimal disruption to the colony. The poly Everynuc I use is also supplied with a semi-flexible clear polycarbonate¬†sheet¬†to be used as a crownboard‚Ć. Note that the terms¬†‘perspex’ and¬†‘polycarbonate’¬†are almost certainly incorrect, but I’m sure you are familiar with¬†the sort of material I’m talking about (and may even know the correct names for it).

My crownboards have bottom beespace and the polynucs are nominally top beespace. Nevertheless, perhaps because of the inherent flex in these materials or my shoddy workmanship, the bees often start to build wax fillets between the top bars and the crownboard. When replacing the crownboard after inspecting the colony this can trap bees so periodically needs to be removed. If you have one of the blade-ended hive tools this can be used but I’ve found a much better solution is a Stanley-bladed window paint scraper. However, don’t use a brand new blade as it will inevitably catch and stick into the relatively soft perspex/plastic/polycarbonate of the crownboard. Instead use an old and blunt blade which makes short work of the wax and propolis adhering to the crownboard.

Inevitably the bees will have started to refill the gap when you next inspect the colony but at least you won’t be faced with a little row of corpses trapped along the top of the frame. The wax can be collected and eventually melted down in a steam wax extractor and turned into something more useful, like candles, firelighters or soap.


‚Ć made by Bayer, the German agripharma company, if you bother to read the shrink-wrap plastic that covers it when supplied …

Vertical splits and making increase

A vertical split describes the division¬†of a colony into two – one queenright, the other queenless – on the same floor and under the same roof, with the intention of allowing the queenless colony to raise a new queen. If successful, you end up with two colonies from the original one. This approach can be used as a means of swarm prevention, as a way to requeen a colony, as a way to generate two colonies from one, or – to be covered in another post – the starting point to generate a number of nucleus colonies. It’s a hands-off way of queen rearing ‚Ķ without the need to graft, to prepare cell raising colonies or to manage¬†mating nucs.

Wally Shaw has written an excellent guide to simple ways of making increase (PDF) which includes a number of variants of the straightforward¬†vertical split described here. There are additional instructions available on the Kent beekeepers website by Nick Withers (Swarm Management¬†– Under One Roof¬†‚Ķ in which the ‘split board’ described below is termed a swarm board). Wally’s article¬†is particularly good, but includes complications like brood and a half colonies and a host of further embellishments. For simplicity I’ve restricted my¬†description to a situation when you have one¬†colony – on single or double¬†brood boxes, possibly with supers on top – and want to divide it into two.

The split board

Split board

Split board …

You need a way to divide the colony in two and provide an upper entrance. There are many¬†ways of doing this, including¬†the multi-entrance Snelgrove board¬†(PDF) and the increasingly popular Horsley board, but one of the most straightforward¬†is a simple split board as shown in the picture. A single sheet of 9-12mm plywood forms the basis for the board, with a ‘beespace’ rim on both faces. On one side (the ‘upper’ side when in use) make a simple hinged¬†door as shown. In the middle of the board cover a 100mm square hole with a single sheet of¬†Varroa mesh – this allows the odour of the colonies to merge and for warmth to spread from the lower box to the upper one.

Vertical split Рin principle

The general idea is to divide a strong, healthy colony into two. The colony is arranged so that the queenright side of the split gets depleted of bees which boost the queenless side, so providing ideal conditions for making emergency queen cells. After the cells are sealed the colony is manipulated to deplete the queenless side of bees, and strengthen the queenright side. This prevents swarming. Nectar collection continues without too much interruption if there is a flow on. All of this is achieved by straightforward manipulations of the colony on day one and day 7. You should have a mated, laying queen (in the originally queenless side of the split) about 3 weeks later.

Vertical split – in practice

It’s only worth rearing queens from colonies that exhibit desirable qualities – healthy, docile, a good laying pattern, steady on the comb¬†etc. Of these, I’d argue that health and temper are two critical characteristics. You need to make these judgements over an extended period – I’ve briefly discussed the basics of good record keeping when selecting¬†larvae for grafting, and the same principles apply here. Like computing –¬†rubbish in, rubbish out. If your colony doesn’t have the necessary desirable characteristics there are ways of modifying the method described below to raise queens from better stock ‚Ķ but lets deal with the basics first.

Day 1

  1. Gently smoke the colony and remove the lid and crownboard. You¬†need to find the queen so don’t gas them. If the colony is already on double brood move the top box – which probably contains the queen – off to the side. If the colony is on a single brood box you’ll need a second brood box and 11 frames of drawn comb (ideally) or foundation.
  2. Having checked carefully that the queen isn’t present on them remove a couple of outside frames to allow you space to manipulate the remainder. Go through the boxes carefully and find the frame with the queen on it. Either put this somewhere safe, like a two-frame nuc box, or leave it well separated from the other¬†frames so that the queen stays put on it.
  3. Rearrange frames between the two brood boxes so that the queen, older larvae and some sealed brood is present in what will become the upper box, together with a frame or two of stores. Eggs¬†and young larvae should predominantly be in the bottom box. This isn’t¬†a precise science, you need sufficient brood with the queen to build up a new colony and sufficient eggs and very young larvae for the queenless side to have a good choice of young larvae from which to raise a new queen.
  4. Reassemble the boxes with the brood in the centre, flanked by either stores and/or the new frames. The idea is to create two brood nests, one above the other, roughly centred on the mesh-covered hole in the split board.
  5. Place the queenless box on the original floor. Put the split board on top with the entrance open and facing in the opposite direction to the original entrance. Put the queenright box on top of the split board, then replace the crownboard and the roof (see the note about supers below).
  6. Leave the colony for a week.

What’s happening¬†‚Ķ¬†During this week foragers leaving the¬†top box will mainly¬†re-enter via the entrance at the front of the colony, so significantly boosting the numbers of bees in the bottom box. This box will rapidly realise it is queenless and will raise new queen cells. The concentration of bees in the bottom box will ensure that the developing queen larvae are well fed. If there were queen cells in the top box (with the queen) the depleted bee numbers will mean they will soon get torn down. The queen will continue laying uninterrupted.

The Vertical Split in pictures

The Vertical Split in pictures

Day 7

  1. You don’t need to inspect the colony at all, but you do need to rearrange it. If there are no supers on the colony and you’re feeling very strong you can simply reverse the entire colony on the stand. The original bottom entrance is now at the ‘back’ and the upper entrance is at the ‘front’. That’s it ‚Ķ leave them to it. There should be a new queen, mated and laying, in the bottom box in about 3 weeks.
Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas …

However, remember that this is a double brood box at the height of the season. There is likely to be a good nectar flow on and there should be¬†some reasonably fragile queen cells in the bottom box – dropping the hive when reversing it could be catastrophic, and not just for anyone standing nearby (as an aside, the mushroom-like cloud of bees that erupt from a dropped brood box is one of the most spectacular¬†sights in beekeeping ‚Ķ probably the ultimate test of how impenetrable your beesuit is and how steady your nerves are). Far better than Charles Atlas-like heroics it’s probably better to separate the colony¬†below the split board, put the upper box aside, reverse the lower box and floor, then replace the upper with the entrance now facing in the opposite direction (see the figure above).

If you do inspect the colony at this stage you’ll find a happily laying queen in the top box. There will be no queen cells in the top box unless there is something wrong with the queen. There should be relatively fewer bees in the top box – thousands not hundreds. In contrast, the bottom box will be very crowded with bees and there will be multiple queen cells present, both sealed and unsealed. Leave them ‚Ķ the bees will choose a good one in due course.

What’s happening¬†‚Ķ¬†During the next few days the bottom box will get depleted of bees as they leave by the lower entrance and return to the ‘front’ of the hive, eventually finding the upper entrance and strengthening the upper box containing the laying queen. Initially there will be considerable confusion, with hundreds of bees milling around at the site of the original entrance. For this reason it’s best not to rearrange the colony late in the evening ‚Ķ do it earlier in the day to allow them ample time to reorientate to the upper entrance. This reorientation takes a couple of days – don’t worry about it, there will be a lot more activity around the entrances (and positions of previous entrances) during this period.

A limited number of virgin queens should emerge about 16 days after the initial manipulation and the depleted bee numbers in the bottom box will ensure that the colony shouldn’t throw off casts. If multiple virgins emerge at the same time they’ll probably fight it out to leave just one. In due course, usually about 5-6 days after emerging, the virgin will go on one or more mating flights and return to the lower box and start laying.

Vertical split

Vertical split – day 7 …

Supers

If there are supers on the original colony, or the nectar flow is strong during the month-long process and you need to add supers, then there is a simple rule about where they should be placed – above the strongest of the two brood boxes, separated by a queen excluder. This means that during the first week they will be on top of the lower brood box, below the split board, and in subsequent¬†weeks they will be above the upper brood box, underneath the crown board. Because the split board has a mesh screen the colony odours are mixed and the bees should not fight during these rearrangements. There’s no need to empty the bees from supers when moving them.

Making things easier …

Any enthusiastic DIY beekeeper will realise that the entire process can be made much easier by creating both a split board and floor with two opposing entrances. Using these there would be no need to reverse the colony on day 7. The split board might be a sensible modification – something to build during the winter. However, the Kewl floors I favour don’t readily lend themselves to this type of design and – although having a physique more like Charles Hawtrey than Charles Atlas – I find it easy enough to manhandle the colony as needed. A floor with opposing entrances would also benefit queen rearing using a Cloake board which has some similarities to the principles of the vertical split.

And finally …

At the end of this vertical split you will have two queenright colonies under a single roof. You can either move one or other away (remembering the 3 feet and 3 miles rule or the box that remains on the original site will collect all the returning foragers) thereby doubling your colony number. Alternatively, you can inspect the upper box and sacrifice the old queen (of course, if she’s simply¬†surplus to requirements but still performing OK you could¬†offer her to another beekeeper ‚Ķ these little acts of kindness are appreciated both by the recipient¬†and¬†the queen), remove the split board and thereby unite the two colonies into one strong colony.¬†And, of course, if something goes wrong – the new queen doesn’t get mated or the old queen fails during the process – you can simply merge the colonies back down to one.

Advantages and disadvantages

I see the main advantages (in no particular order) as:

  • limited horizontal space required.
  • almost no additional equipment needed.
  • colony ‘smell’ retained making uniting or exchanging supers easier.
  • swarming and controlled increase are possible with little intervention.

… and the disadvantages:

  • vertical lifting required and boxes may be heavy.
  • inspections of the bottom box are complicated (not least by the mass of bees trying to return to the upper entrance).
  • supers need to be moved during the procedure and add to the weight (but think of all that lovely honey ūüėČ ).
  • some smaller colonies may not raise a new queen in the bottom box – I don’t know why this is, but suspect it’s due to the amount of queen pheromone, particularly from a young, strong queen in the top box. I intend to investigate whether a super separating the boxes might help prevent this.

Dummy boards

Can you have too many dummy boards? Well, obviously you can, but having made half a dozen last winter and another three¬†last night I’ve yet to suffer from an excess of them. In fact, I’m going to have to make some more this weekend.

National hive dummy boards DIY

Dummy boards …

I’ve run out of dummy boards this year for three¬†reasons. Firstly, I’m using the Demaree method for swarm control much more and so have two brood boxes to control free space in (and I usually remove frames of stores in the top box). Secondly, I’ve been using three frame nucs for queen mating, some of which are in five frame nuc boxes. Finally, with several swarms captured in bait hives, my colony count has increased.

Dummy boards are brood-frame-sized (length and height, but not thickness) pieces of something, with a simple top bar. The something is probably ideally a nice piece of red cedar about a centimetre thick. However, all mine are 9mm plywood from the offcuts bin in my local timber merchant, or stuff I’ve recovered by dumpster diving during refurbishments at work (I have no shame). I cut a piece 355¬†mm x 205¬†mm and simply glue and nail a top bar from 9mm stripwood along the longest, straightest edge.

Eleven frames plus dummy board

Eleven frames plus dummy board …

I’ve seen all sorts of designs on the web. Some made from a Correx-lined standard brood frame, some¬†with side spacers and some with insulation. Although there is a case to fill a large amount of excess space with something like an insulated fat dummy (e.g. when housing a nuc-sized colony in a full brood box) most of the time a dummy board will simply be occupying a small strip of space that would otherwise be filled with brace comb. Typically this is when you have eleven brood frames in a National-sized box. When new, you can squeeze a dozen frames in. However, as soon as there’s some propolis it gets nearly impossible to add or remove the last frame without rolling bees. In this case it’s better to use eleven frames and a dummy board.

Spacers and any other embellishments seem totally superfluous to me. If there’s space for a full frame I’ll use a full frame, so why purchase a full frame dummy board lined with Correx? If I want the dummy board to be a certain distance from the adjacent frame I’ll put it there ‚Ķ and in a couple of hours the bees will have propolised it into place. Finally, if you use poly nucs, or have roofing felt on the roofs of adjacent hives in the apiary, a dummy board makes a great¬†place to stand the smoker when not in use during inspections (from experience I can confirm that neither poly nor roofing felt appreciates exposure to a hot smoker ūüôĀ ).

Note: After writing this I checked the price of dummy boards with major beekeeping equipment suppliers (I’m thinking of writing about¬†beekeeping economics in the winter) and was horrified to see that they varied between ¬£5.75 and¬†¬£6.12. Dummy boards¬†are the perfect example of something that is well worth making ‚Ķ even more so because the most expensive one is plastic, so would melt under my smoker ūüėČ

 

Poly nuc insulated eke

Insulated eke with block of fondant in place

Insulated eke

The lid on Paynes poly nuc boxes is very thin. ¬†This, and the internal feeder, are the weakest features of what is otherwise a well designed, robust and useful box. ¬†You can improve the box hugely by¬†butchering it¬†removing the internal feeder. ¬†This generates an eight frame nuc box which is also a good size (and weight ‚Ķ when struggling up or down a ladder) for housing all but the largest swarms.¬†However, other than during the summer, the lid is far too thin. ¬†On a morning with a heavy frost the thawed patch above the cluster is very obvious. ¬†I’m convinced that top insulation is very important; I build crown board with internal insulation or roofs with integral Kingspan insulation for all my full-size hives. ¬†With a little ingenuity and some primitive woodworking skills it is possible to construct an insulated eke for these Paynes poly nucs that has the additional advantage of allowing you to feed fondant to the colony.

Construction details

Construction details

Kingspan and most other expanded polystyrene-type (that’s probably not exactly the correct term, but it’s a description most will understand) insulation is 50mm thick. Since my woodworking skills are limited and I lack anything other than a simple saw I have to work with the softwood ¬†sizes available off the shelf (at my excellent local Shepherds DIY store). Therefore, using 46 x 21mm softwood I build an eke, with simple rebated joints, that fits onto the nuc box, outside the short raised lip. This then needs an additional shim of 9 x 21mm softwood around the top edge. I add a thin strip of 3mm thick stripwood to the inside top edge of the eke and then create the raised lip (over which the lid will fit) using 32 x ¬†9mm softwood (this is much easier to show in a photo than to describe). The intention is that the lid fits neatly over the ‘new’ raised lip, forming a reasonable seal against the weather.

Jablite cut to fit

Jablite cut to fit

After adding two to three coats of a suitable bee-safe wood preservative like Ronseal Fence Life I prepare a block of Kingspan or Jablite insulation, carving¬†out¬†a rebate to fit the raised lip of the eke ‚Ķ again, the photo should make this much clearer. FInally, cut a hole in the insulation to take a “carry out” food container with fondant. Don’t discard the piece you cut out ‚Ķ use it to fill the space if you’re not going to be adding fondant.

Inner corner detail

Inner corner detail

In the summer I usually use 2mm Perspex crown boards on these poly nuc boxes. After an inspection they can easily be slid across the top of the box, pushing bees away and down out of the way. These crown boards have no feeding holes in them. Therefore, in the winter I prepare a sheet of thick translucent polythene with a suitably placed flap over the top bars, add the fondant block and the insulated eke, topping the entire thing off with the 2mm Perspex sheet and the poly lid. The latter can easily blow away – make sure you strap it down or add a brick on top.

 

 

Clearer boards

One visit or two? If you shake the bees off the frames (or use a leafblower) you can clear supers in a single visit. However, juggling all those frames on a hot day with the air full of bees can be a little trying. Although it takes two trips, I prefer the less disruptive approach of using a clearer board. The usual approach is to insert a Porter escape into the hole in the crown board and return the following day to find the super largely empty. But not always. Porter escapes have moving parts and a bit of propolis or a fat drone can easily block them. There are a number of alternatives, with Thorne’s selling about eight different types of escapes, as well as the conventional Porter unit. I’ve used several alternatives but have settled on the design shown in the picture (which I originally found on the Beekeeping forum described by ‘Poly Hive’ but they’ve lost all the images in a server crash) as it works extremely well. It has no moving parts, clears supers in as a little as a few hours – probably due to the space underneath and the widely separated exits – and, most importantly, is simple and inexpensive to construct.

Clearer boards

Clearer boards

Construct a flat, square and true eke from 46 mm x 21 mm softwood (see a previous article) and cover it on one side with a sheet of 4-6mm plywood. Glue and screw or nail the sheet of plywood in place. From now on I’ll refer to the ‘top’ as the plywood. Acquire a rhombus escape from Thorne’s (hint, these are always discounted in the sales, usually to ¬£1). Cut the lozenge-shaped rhombus in half across the shorter diagonal using a small fine-toothed saw (see image). The resulting triangles should be offered up into opposite corners of the underside of the clearer board. Before fixing them in place drill a 2-4cm hole through the plywood – as close to the eke as possible and as far from the rhombus ‘exit’ hole. Refer to the picture which should be self-explanatory. Finally, fix the rhombus halves in place – I simply fixed them down with a thin smear of Gorilla glue. Slap a bit of wood preservative all over the exposed bits once the glue is dry.

Clearer board in use

Cleared!

Put the clearer board underneath the bottom super you want to remove, with the plywood sheet at the top. Return later in the day or after leaving in place overnight. You should find that the supers are more or less empty of bees and can easily be removed for extraction. The bees will be densely clustered on the underside of the clearer board. For some reason the bees usually seem very well tempered and can be given one good shake to return them to the brood box.

Perspex crownboards

Crownboards cover the hive under the roof and are typically ply with one or two holes designed for feeding and/or Porter bee escapes. Since the most basic function they serve is to prevent the roof being propolised down they can be as simple as a sheet of thick polythene cut to size. The semi-translucent stuff they wrap new furniture in is particularly good. Assuming bottom bee space this can be laid across the top of the frames, easily peeled up for inspections and discarded once it gets too messy. With good insulation above, condensation is not a problem.

Perspex insulated crownboard

Perspex insulated crownboard

However, I prefer crownboards that are rigid with inbuilt insulation, that lack holes and that allow me to see the colony with the minimal possible disturbance – for example during autumn feeding. For a few years I have used Perspex crownboards. These need insulating to avoid condensation so more recently I’ve been building reversible Perspex crownboards with inbuilt insulation.

Construction

Build a square (flat and true ‚Ķ by clamping it to a 46cm square template of thick plywood) eke out of 46 mm x 21 mm softwood, using simple screwed and glued joints. Cut 4mm thick Perspex or polycarbonate to 46 cm square.¬† Don’t be tempted to use 2mm Perspex, it tends to warp and this ruins the resulting bee space.¬† Use a strong sharp knife and a metal straightedge to carefully score the Perspex deeply and then (with a surprisingly hard) sharp blow, break it along the scored line. This is easier if you clamp the sheet to a table edge, using a piece of wood to hold the sheet down and prevent it from moving. Place the Perspex on top of the eke and then cut four strips of 6mm thick softwood ~45cm in length to create the bottom rim of the cover board, overlapping slightly at each corner. Note that 9 mm is too thick and usually results in some brace comb being built on the underside of the Perspex. With the rim in position use a 3mm bit to drill through the thin rim and just mark the Perspex – you probably need 2-3 holes per edge. Remove the softwood rim, but keep a record of the order they were in as you will need to put them back in exactly the same positions. Remove the Perspex and drill through it at each drill-marked point using a 5-6mm bit. This is critical. If you screw the rim in position through a hole in the Perspex that is too small you will inevitably crack the Perspex. Put the Perspex and the softwood rim back in their original positions and fix the latter in place with 4mm x 30mm screws. Now for the insulation. Kingspan and most other expanded foam-type insulation is available in 50mm thick sheets. Kingspan is particularly suitable as the foil cover makes it a bit more robust. It can be easily cut with a sharp knife. Cut the sheet to size to fit within the thick rim of the cover board. Use gaffer tape to seal the edges of the insulation and to create two simple ‘handles’. Finally, fix an additional rim of 9mm x 21 mm softwood around the thick (upper) rim so that it is deep enough to accommodate the Kingspan.

Fondant and Apiguard

Fondant and Apiguard

In normal use the Perspex sheet is placed immediately over the brood box and the insulation can be lifted out to view the colony. For Apiguard treatment in the autumn or feeding small blocks of fondant in the spring simply remove the insulation and reverse the crown board. Put the insulation on top and replace the roof. If you use fondant in the autumn the addition of a separate 46mm eke below the reversed crown board gives sufficient space to accommodate a single 12.5 kg block split into two halves directly on top of a queen excluder. The bees will usually eat enough within a couple of weeks to allow the removal of the eke. Once it’s all gone, remove the empty plastic bag and the QE and reverse the crownboard.

No condensation under a well-insulated Perspex crown board

Midwinter cluster

In mid-winter you will usually find the cluster immediately below the Perspex Рthe warmest spot in the hive. This image (left) shows an older style simple Perspex crown board (with a blocked feeder hole, something I now omit) from which the 50mm Kingspan insulated cover has just been removed. Despite the sub-zero temperatures there is no condensation.