Category Archives: Review

2017 in retrospect

The end of the year is a good time to look back at the highs and lows of the season. What worked … what didn’t work … what on earth happened to our weather in June?

Early June 2017 ...

Early June 2017 …

June is an important month here in Fife. Early season colony buildup should be pretty much complete, most colonies will have had some sort of swarm control measures in late May, virgin queens may well be present in many hives, the OSR is over and colonies need to consolidate for the main summer flows.

But instead it just rained.

Rainfall in Fife was 225% the 40 year average, access to apiaries was problematic due to flooding and queens could only get out to mate if they were wearing ‘water wings‘.

Big mistake

Many colonies needed to be, or should have been fed, during June. Mine had reasonable levels of stores as I’d not taken much early season honey. I therefore chose not to feed them. In retrospect I think this was a big mistake.

Although not monitored carefully, I suspect brood rearing slowed, so reducing the colony size to effectively exploit the July/August flows. It was my worst summer honey crop in years.

Lesson one … If this happens next season I’ll continuously feed thin syrup to keep the queen laying strongly.

Doing the splits

Notwithstanding the incessant rain, swarm control – and the inevitable associated queen mating – went pretty well. I generally use splits of one form or another and most queens got out to mate, albeit a little slower than I’d have liked. If swarm control is needed for colonies in the bee shed we can’t do vertical splits (because of the way entrances are organised) and instead just take a nucleus colony away and let them rear a new queen.

Only ‘pretty well’ though because I suspect I lost a cast from a vertical split that went calamitously wrong. I’d left the queenless half far too strong and inadvertently also left multiple developing queen cells.

D’oh!

This wasn’t going to end well  🙁

I did manage to capture and hive another cast from the same colony, but the first virgin queen and well over half the workers were long gone.

So, lesson two (which I’ve been taught many times before 😥 ) is to be decisive when there are multiple queen cells in a split. Either knock them back appropriately (which I’ll explain next year) or split the box up into multiple nucs. Don’t dither. Don’t prevaricate and don’t – as I think I did this year – simply forget to check.

All the gear, some idea

I blatantly poached how to build foundationless frames with bamboo skewers from the internet. I claim zero originality here. It isn’t my idea. However, I’m pleased to say it was a great success. Simple wooden starter strips were also a roaring success. It’s very satisfying when you realise you don’t need to spend £1 per frame on foundation.

Nearly completed ...

Nearly completed …

I’ve used quite a few Abelo poly hives this season. They’re a strident colour – blue and yellow – but reasonably well made. Colonies checked this winter are doing well in them, with bees right up to the side walls on sub-zero days. This suggests to me that they are well insulated.

An Abelo/Swienty hybrid hive ...

An Abelo/Swienty hybrid hive …

There are some aspects of these hives I have yet to be fully convinced by; upper entrances, the crownboard, high condensation levels and a small Varroa tray. I’ll review them more fully when I’ve been using them for at least a full year.

Old invasives …

The bête noire of most beekeepers, the Varroa mite, has featured heavily throughout the year. In print, though thankfully not in my colonies. I’ve tried to emphasise the need to treat appropriately, using the right miticide at the right time. Since most approved (and even some unapproved 😉 ) miticides are all pretty effective, the timing of treatment is probably the most important point.

2016 temperature data and OA treatment ...

2016 temperature data and OA treatment …

In three recent posts I presented the importance of midwinter treatment, how to prepare the oxalic acid-containing miticide and how to administer it. These should probably be read in conjunction with an earlier article on when to treat, which I’ll come back to in a minute. Finally, as far as Varroa is concerned, I discussed potential ways to optimise the timing of the winter treatment by watching the weather. I suspect that most beekeepers treat too late in the winter.

If you have yet to treat this winter … get a move on!

… and new ones

The new invasive that got some coverage was, inevitably, the Asian hornet. Having first arrived in 2016 I think we’ll be subjected to annual incursions until it gets established here. Constant vigilance is going to be needed to help postpone what might be inevitable. Just because it is inevitable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and delay it’s permanent arrival.

Devon beekeepers got some first-hand experience of how vigilant you need to be to both spot and photograph Asian hornets in September. Martin Hocking has written about his experience in the Devon Beekeeper (pp172 and also in November’s Bee Craft)  which should be required reading for beekeepers, with a follow up article about his experience in December (see pp196). There’s an open meeting on the 20th of January at Harberton Parish Hall, TQ9 7SD where the threat posed by the Asian hornet – and how to mitigate it – will be discussed.

Although rarely mentioned this year, Small Hive Beetle now appears to be established in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Data updated in late September and November indicates that positive wild colonies and sentinel nucleus colonies are still being found, indicating that attempts to eradicate the beetle have failed. Infested colony numbers are perhaps a bit lower than previous years, but since there’s no readily-available data on the level of surveillance, it’s not clear whether this shows that control is having an effect, or if people are just not looking as hard.

www.theapiarist.org

Posts have been made every Friday of the year, with a few additional ones when something important happened (Asian hornets or I was ‘advertising’ a Convention I was speaking at … OK, my talk wasn’t important, but the Welsh Beekeepers Convention was 😉 ).

Regular as clockwork ...

Regular as clockwork …

The Friday posts are intentional. It’s when most of us have time to read stuff. The regularity was not and, frankly, it’s a bit of a surprise I’ve achieved it. However, there it is. No promises it’ll continue like that. You can register to receive email notification of new posts in the right hand panel.

Visitor numbers to the site are markedly increased from last year. Page views per visit are down fractionally, but not significantly. It’s clear that more are finding the site as it becomes better indexed by the search engines, and as pages are referenced by other sites.

24 months on www.theapiarist.org ...

24 months on www.theapiarist.org …

My attempts at generating a presence on Facebook was an abject failure. I simply don’t have time to do anything other than automagically post updates from here on Facebook (as I do on Twitter, which I’m a bit more familiar and competent with … follow me on @The_Apiarist). Apologies if you tried to ‘Friend’ me (or whatever) on Facebook. I’ve cancelled all the email updates as I simply couldn’t keep up. Or, when I tried, I didn’t know how to! I belong to the pre-FB generation, or the one before that.

Beekeeping is international, with different problems – but many shared ones – globally. I’m grateful to the visitors from 161 different countries and the European Union 🙂 Less than 50% of the readers are from the UK, despite the UK-centric bias I inevitably exhibit (°C, colour, no mention of queen castles or slatted racks, precious little discussion of Langstroth hives etc.). Southern hemisphere beekeepers don’t even do things at the same time of the year, so many of the posts aren’t even topical for readers in Australia, New Zealand and South America. Whatever, I’m grateful people took the time to visit and read stuff.

And the winner is …

I don’t publish visitor numbers, but I do comment on the popularity of particular pages. For several years a post on my honey warming cabinet has been the most popular. It was originally posted ‘way back’ in 2014. Frankly, it was useful, but not particularly challenging or exciting.

But it’s all change this year. Aside from the homepage, the archive and blog pages, all of which people arrive at to to get the most recent posts, the honey warming cabinet post was a distant fourth in the 2017 rankings.

Above it were posts on vertical splits and making increase, feeding fondant and – particularly pleasingly and top this year – when to treat colonies with miticides against Varroa. I say particularly pleasingly as the When to treat? post is a serious article on an important subject, underpinned by scientific arguments. The timing of the late summer treatment is probably one of the most important events in influencing the health and overwintering success of the colony. This post was almost twice as popular as any other post this year which – because it originally appeared in early 2016 – suggests it is finally being widely cited and accessed by beekeepers.

When to treat?

When to treat? Finally getting read when it should be.

And what does the future offer?

Frankly, as I write this in mid-December with a streaming cold, a box of tissues and slathered in Vicks VapoRub (really, it’s not a pretty sight) I don’t know. I have two priorities at the moment; getting the new bee shed properly setup and (with my researcher hat and lab coat on)  starting studies of Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus. Both will get coverage here.

Bee Shed 2 ... the windows still need some work.

Bee Shed 2 … the windows still need some work …

In terms of the website I’m acutely aware there’s no proper indexing or rational list of articles on particular subjects, perhaps other than Varroa. I hope to bring some order to the chaos, allowing me to not repeat myself, to develop some themes more fully and to not repeat myself 😉 . I also know I have a load of unwritten stuff on queen rearing.

Winter time is also DIY time … dabbling with wood, perspex, Correx and Elastoplasts. Something will surely result from this, in addition to the blood loss and bad language.

If there are things you’d particularly like to read drop me a note. I’m interested in the science underlying beekeeping and have little patience with some of the dogma and That’s the way we’ve always done it stories. I’ve already written about the importance of training and the responsibilities of beekeepers. I’ve got some more on these areas planned as I think they’re too often ignored by beekeepers in the UK.

With Best Wishes for 2018. May your colonies be docile, your supers unliftable, your queens well-mated and your swarms (again) in my bait hives 😉

Happy New Year


 

 

2016 in retrospect

The end of another year and another season’s beekeeping. Now is a good time to review what went well and what went badly.

The bee shed in autumn ...

The bee shed in autumn …

In terms of my beekeeping year in Scotland, the end of December isn’t even half way through the winter. Although I didn’t open many hives after mid-September (three and a half months ago), unless we get a warm, early Spring I don’t expect to do any inspections until mid-April. That’s another four and a half months to ruminate on the year passed and plan for the season ahead.

The high points

The great escape ...

The great escape …

This was the first full season using the bee shed and I’m already convinced of the advantages it offers. Colonies built up well in the late Spring, appreciably faster than colonies in the same apiary that didn’t benefit from the protection the shed offers. I was able to inspect whatever the weather. Only really warm days were a problem, and that was because it gets uncomfortably hot. The Up-and-Out™ windows (the bees crawl up and fly out) clear the shed very quickly, making it a good environment for grafting larvae when queen rearing without getting buzzed with bees all the time. It would benefit from power, better lighting, a kettle and an armchair … perhaps something to plan for 2017? It’s never going to resemble the palatial setups in some of those German bee houses, but in terms of secure, weatherproof and sheltered accommodation, it’s hard to beat.

Varroa control has worked well this year. A combination of timely applications of treatment and a significant brood break in the middle of the season, meant that colonies went into the winter with low to very low Varroa levels. Some broodless colonies dropped less than 20 mites after midwinter treatment which is very encouraging.

OSR ... can you believe it?!

OSR … can you believe it?!

I’ve also been pleased with the honey flavour this year. By missing the OSR – too cold (the photo above was taken at the end of April) – the early season honey was a heady mix of goodness knows what, and all the better for it. Great flavour and it has sold well. The switch to square jars with distinctive black lids looks good and, coupled with a very simple DIY label, it’s been popular with repeat customers. My honey is currently available – assuming they haven’t sold out over Christmas – from Mellis Cheese in St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and Luvians in Cupar.

The low points

The most significant problems were all related to queens. Firstly, queens from 2015 were poorly mated (as predicted way back in June 2015) and several gave up (stopped laying) or simply disappeared in May/June. Secondly, my own queen rearing coincided with shortfall and an extended period of very poor weather for queen mating. As a consequence, several hives developed laying workers and needed some significant interventions to rescue them.

Drone laying workers ...

Drone laying workers …

All of these problems – some of my own making, but some unavoidable – meant that production colonies weren’t really strong enough to exploit the summer nectar flow. Honey yields from the summer were the worst I’ve had for half a decade, though the flavour was outstanding. I’ve a couple of 30lb buckets left that I’m hoping to eke out over the next few weeks in the smallest possible portions. To add insult to injury … it was apparently one of the best years for heather honey and, because of the problems detailed above, I was singularly unprepared to take advantage of it. In all honesty, I’m not wildly disappointed about this as I’m not a great fan of heather honey. However, since I’m in Scotland and heather honey is considered by many as the crème de la crème, I feel I’ve missed a golden opportunity.

The new season

With the winter solstice now passed it’s time to make plans for the coming season. I’ll deal with these in the Spring as this article is already longer than intended.

www.theapiarist.org

It’s been a busy year with posts almost every Friday. This was more than I’d intended at the beginning of the year, but seems to have happened without too much contrivance. Although posted on a Friday, they’re written in the days and weeks preceding (hence explaining the butchered tenses often used).

Keeping it regular

Keeping it regular

I’ve always tried to avoid the diary-like cataloguing of what goes on in the apiary (as there are others who do this much better), instead focusing on a balance between topical items and more expansive posts – often written as separate linked articles (like on Varroa control or queen rearing) – that both reflect my interests and might help others improve their beekeeping … if only by avoiding my mistakes 😉

Page views and visitors

Page views and visitors

Other than a slightly odd dip in July – a belated “June gap”? – visitor numbers and page views showed the expected pattern of increasing interest in mid/late Spring, tailing off again as the season draws to a close. The peak figures in October reflect the interest in feeding fondant and mite treatments. Clearly there’s still some work to do … treating for mites in October is likely to be too late to protect the winter bees from the ravages of deformed wing virus. Over the entire year the original 2014 posting about honey warming cabinets remained the most popular, with articles on feeding fondant, vertical splits, steam wax extractors and foundationless frames getting lots of attention as well.

Search and ye shall find …

Google and most other search engines ‘hide’ the search terms used by viewers to reach a website. This is nominally valuable information, though looking at the terms that do get through the filters makes you wonder … each of the terms below led the viewer to this site (the typos are original) :

circular large 200 frame honey extractor plans … as opposed to a small 200 frame extractor?

wellies with honey bee pucturers on … puctures?

using laser printer in unheated wooden shed … electric heater needed I think

square drones frame homemaking striping images … random word generator?

foundationless sheds … understandable considering foundationless frames and bee sheds

poly queen beekeeping pdf … article on poly queen beekeeping in preparation for 2017

plastic nuc boxes for sale in manitoba … perhaps a little too geographically specialised

simple label design for honey sales in nigeria … see Manitoba

do i feed bees with apiguard … not exactly

is dettol effective against varroa mites … rigorous testing needed and possibly tainted honey?

how to treat a double brood hive with api bioxal … article on beekeeping bankruptcy to follow

houney bees kb shed bnati h or kb kha jays h … yes, that really was a search term

save humanity a topic covered in detail earlier this year

humanity save … there’s a theme emerging here

how do bees save humanity … by pretending to be wasps

Unsocial media

It’s clear that there are whole communities of beekeepers out there with very different online activities – some interchangeably use old-fashioned websites (like this site) and various types of social media, others restrict themselves to Twitter and Facebook. Posts to this site are now also ‘announced’ on Twitter (@The_Apiarist) and Facebook. I still have to get the hang of Facebook as I’ve not previously used it … I don’t even know how to properly link to it 🙁

Anyway … enough for the year. As I write this the winter solstice has now passed, the days will be getting longer and lighter, queens will – particularly now with the warmer winter weather – be starting to lay and mites will be starting to reproduce. There’s very little to do in the apiary, but the new season is definitely on its way …

For 2017 I hope your bees are gentle, your queens are prolific, your supers are heavy and your swarms end up in my bait hives 😉

Happy New Year

Frosty apiary

Frosty apiary

 

Everynuc feeder

I bought a few of these Ashforth-style feeders when I standardised on using Everynucs from Thorne’s a year or two ago. They’ve sat more or less unused since then, largely because the design of this poly nuc – a Langstroth-sized box adapted to take National frames – includes an integral feeder. This year I’ve used these nucs for queen mating and holding ‘spare’ queens when undertaking swarm control. Most of these have either migrated up to a full colony or been returned to the original hive, but I have a few left to take through the winter. These are now being fed up for the coming months. All are, or will be, housed in the bee shed overwinter for additional protection, though I’ve previously overwintered colonies in them outside reasonably successfully.

Everynuc feeder ...

Everynuc feeder …

Syrup and paint

The feeder is well designed, with an opening at one end leading to a good-sized reservoir for syrup or fondant. The volume of the reservoir is a little more that 3.5 litres when filled to dangerously near the brim. When using syrup – which I don’t – there’s a folded wire mesh screen that should prevent the bees drowning. They can climb up and over the dam to reach the syrup, but don’t have free access to the reservoir. This should reduce that distressingly high ‘body count’ sometimes seen with badly designed feeders. Additionally, the mesh screen prevents bees from leaving the hive when the clear plastic crownboard is removed to top up the reservoir. Convenient  🙂

Rodent damage ...

Rodent damage …

Like all poly hives, and particularly poly feeders, these should be painted before use (remember, Do as I say, don’t do as I do … some of mine aren’t painted due to poor planning). Syrup soaks into the poly if the surface isn’t sealed first. This can lead to problems with fungus growth and attack by rodents when the feeders are stored. As an aside, I try and remember to seal the entrances of my poly hives when not in use to prevent mice from destroying them … they seem very enthusiastic about having polystyrene chip parties at my expense. A couple of my poly bait hives have already been attacked this autumn – these just smell of bees and propolis (and now strongly of mouse 🙁 ) without the added attraction of syrup residues which would just make things worse.

The wire mesh screen on the Everynuc feeders is a bit ‘springy’ and probably needs holding in place with a couple of drawing pins (see image above). Additionally, both sides of the dam wall should also be painted and, when still wet, sprinkled with sand to improve the grip for bees accessing the syrup (as I show on the landing boards on my kewl floors).

Fondant

Feeder with fondant

Feeder with fondant …

At one end of the feeder, opposite the syrup reservoir, is a well that can be filled with fondant if the wire mesh screen is fitted. My crude measurements suggest it should hold about 1.5 kg of fondant if packed in tight. It might be possible to directly carve off suitably sized lumps from an intact block but it’s easier to pack it with a variety of offcuts and squeeze them down. Bees are be able to access the fondant from underneath and adjacent to the dam wall. As with syrup, feeding them like this means the fondant can be topped up without bees escaping.

Alternatively (and see the next section) you can simply stuff a big lump of fondant into the well of the feeder and omit the wire mesh – as shown above.

Easy top-ups

Easy top-ups …

I had a few concerns about how well the bees would access the fondant through the mesh – might the fondant dry out too quickly, would access be restricted as the fondant block shrank in size etc? Therefore, before it got too cold I set a couple up of feeders with or without the mesh fitted to see how readily the bees could access and take down the fondant (this post was started in mid-September). Both methods seemed to work fine though I suspect feeding through the mesh directly above the frames is likely to work better as the weather cools further, simply because it’s less far for the bees to travel and likely to be a little bit warmer.

Alternatively

Peter Edwards has recently written a short article in BIBBA’s Bee Improvement on modifying the Miller-style feeder supplied by Maisemores for their poly nuc. He simply drilled a series of ~25mm holes through the bottom of the one side of the feeder, leaving the other side unbutchered for delivering syrup if needed. A simple but effective solution ideally suited to Maisie’s double-sided feeder. Since I’m so wedded to the use of fondant for my autumn/winter feeding I may do this on a few of these Everynuc feeders as well … accepting that they’ll be trashed for use with syrup.

That’s all folks

The last week has seen temperatures peaking in the low teens, with the first overnight frosts of the year. Active beekeeping is effectively over for the season. Colonies checked at the end of last week are taking fondant down well and two that I briefly inspected had reasonable levels of brood in all stages, wth the queen laying at a consistent rate albeit much less than earlier in the season. These new bees will help the colony get through the winter and – because mite treatments were completed several weeks ago – will have been reared in a hive with very low Varroa levels, ensuring they are protected from virulent strains of deformed wing virus. I have a couple more colonies to check in the next few days and one more nuc to move to the bee shed.

However, before the autumn tidying and winter tasks are started there’s still some reasonable weather to get out and enjoy the beautiful Fife countryside.

Ballo Reservoir and West Lomond

Ballo Reservoir and West Lomond

 


 The Ashforth-style feeder has the entrance at one end or side, the feeder with the double entrance in the middle is the Miller feeder.

 

Bee lining for Christmas

Bee hunting

Bee hunting

Following the Wild Bees† by Tom Seeley is an entertaining little book that would make an ideal Christmas present for a beekeeper. It describes the methods used to locate feral colonies (or any colonies actually) by bee hunting or bee lining, so called because you follow the line or direction they return to the colony from a nectar source you provide. It’s an ideal Christmas book for two main reasons; it’s a summer activity, so will remind the reader that balmy sunny days will – finally – replace the cold, dark days of winter and, secondly, it will allow the enthusiast the time to build the essential two-chambered ‘bee lining box’ which is used to trap, feed and mark the bees being ‘lined’.

I don’t intend to provide a précis of the method … you should buy and read the book for that. However, as a taster, you can visit the companion website to the book or watch a short video of Tom Seeley bee hunting …

Tom Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour at Cornell University. He is a highly respected entomologist and, unlike many scientists, writes in an engaging and accessible manner. He explains complicated experiments in layman’s terms and makes parallels between his observations on honey bees and wider societal issues. Anyone who has read his book “Honeybee Democracy” will appreciate how simple and elegant his description of the science is.

His explanation of bee hunting is no less clear. Following the Wild Bees is really a ‘how to’ guide, rather than a popular science book, though each chapter does contain a separate section on the science behind the ‘how to’, together with lots of anecdotes. The book is subtitled “The craft and science of bee hunting”. If you’re not aware of feral colonies in your own area this book might help you find them … however, if you live in an area with lots of other beekeepers it will probably just help you find their apiaries (and you can also do that with Google maps).

Wild? They’re livid feral.

The most up-to-date review of feral colonies in the UK can probably be found in Catherine Thompson’s 2012 doctoral thesis (brace yourself … this links to PDF of the 173 page thesis!). Catherine surveyed a number of feral colonies in the UK and showed that, although there were limited but significant genetic differences between feral colonies and managed colonies, the feral colonies were no more ‘native’. Catherine also neatly demonstrates the limitations of studying wing veination (morphometry) as an indicator of genetic purity – it usually isn’t. Feral colonies are essentially relatively recent swarms lost by local beekeepers.

Why ‘relatively recent’?

High levels of DWV

High levels of DWV …

The feral bees Catherine studied had much higher levels of deformed wing virus (DWV), both indicative of – and as would be expected of – uncontrolled Varroa infestation. Therefore, whilst it might appear appealing to have colonies of wild bees in the local church tower they’re almost certainly riddled with DWV and Varroa. This presumably explains why so many of the feral colonies Catherine analysed died during the study period (2.5 years). The swarms lost by beekeepers (that occupy the church tower for example) quickly succumb to the detrimental effects of uncontrolled Varroa replication and the consequent transmission of viruses. Furthermore, through the activities of robbing and drifting that feral colony is likely to act as the generous donor of viruses and mites to the local managed beekeepers hives.

Perhaps not so appealing after all.

Conclusions

I recommend you read Following the Wild Bees. Do so sitting in front of a roaring log fire in mid-winter. Plan and build a ‘bee lining box’ (or buy one) and consider where you might go prospecting for ‘wild’ bees once the long summer days return.

But also plan to put out bait hives to catch swarms (yours or others) and clip your queens … every one ‘lost’ is an opportunity to establish a future source of Varroa and virus infestation.

Under offer ...

Under offer …


 

 ISBN-10 0691170266 … it’s worth shopping around for a copy as the prices vary widely (at the time of writing). WH Smiths had it for well under a tenner recently.

www.theapiarist.org’s year

This is the second full year that this site has been running. Visitor numbers to the site wax (no pun intended) and wane with the beekeeping season – lower in the winter and higher in the summer. This is perhaps not unsurprising … the online forums are much the same, though there’s a lot less bickering here in the winter and no-ones actually been banned. Yet 😉

Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar

Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar

Posts

The site has been visited by beekeepers (or visitors, or at least robots … ) from 132 countries over the course of the year. The most popular individual articles are on honey warming cabinets, Paynes poly nuc boxes, steam wax extractors and the one article I posted on the Saf Natura honey extractor (which continues to perform really well … the extractor, not the article). These were all originally posted in 2014 so have had time to permeate deep into the Googled-psyche of the internet. The most popular 2015 post was about avoiding – or removing – frosting in honey. Tim Foden posted some useful additional comments on this when I recently discussed making soft set honey. There’s also been quite a bit of interest in recent posts on oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal and the relative costs of the various Varroa treatments. Disappointingly, my semi-rants on the need for more sustainable beekeeping practices – including training and controlling imports – particularly in relation to stopping pathogen imports (both the visible ones like small hive beetle and the invisible, and untested, ones like new virus strains) have received relatively little attention (though they do appear to be recommended course material for a Masters degree of some sort). Maybe next year …

Searches

Fat finger

Fat finger

The search terms make interesting reading though Google (by far and away the most frequent referrer accounting for 96% of direct searches) hides these for commercial reasons and I can’t be bothered checking Google Analytics. I hope the person who searched for a “cow dummy board” found what they wanted but suspect the visitor who searched for how to build your own collapsible bin 1.2m by 1.2m plans and designs” was disappointed. There’s been some recent interest how to “demaree nucs” which is a combination of terms I’d not expected to see and can’t see a need for. Can you? If the spelling errors that appear in the visible search terms are representative then it’s fortunate that Google and Bing both use algorithms to take into account common typos, fat fingers and the spektackularly poor spelling of many internet users. I use Akismet for spam filtering of comments and it’s amazing the garbage it’s successfully prevented from appearing online … any number of “free pianos”“genuine Louise Vuiton” (really?) bags and RayBan sunglasses. Most recently was a long and fascinating post (er, not) about “making your breath smell good” in response to my overview of foundationless frames (shurely shome mishtake?) I’m grateful to those who negotiated the “are you human?” Captcha tests and posted a comment or two. Without using Captcha tests I’d be swamped with more free pianos than I’d know what to do with …

Plans

I’ve managed to post a bit more than the once-per-week target I’d set myself (64 posts in total). I suspect this will be throttled back a little next year, though I have a range of new things (oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal treatment regimes, homemade label printing, DIY hive monitors etc.) that I’d like to cover. I’ve tended not to write purely topical posts (“My hives this week”, which sounds more like something you’d find in the comments pages of NHS Choices) – there are much better writers out there already doing this* – instead concentrating on more practical aspects of beekeeping. It’s sometimes difficult to achieve a balance between the ‘flow’ of the beekeeping year – the inactivity of the winter months vs. the never-quite-keeping-up activity in May and June – and writing practical and topical posts, after all, most practical beekeeping happens in that 2-3 months between the OSR starting and the end of the swarming season. I’ve already had some interest in discussing the bee shed (and will try and respond to other requests) and want to expand some aspects of queen rearing as I get more experience of different approaches. In particular I’m interested in looking at practical solutions – like vertical splits – for small scale beekeepers who don’t want to graft but do want to improve their stocks. Having moved to Scotland I also now have potential access to some very scenic apiary sites (at least used by friends, even if my own are relatively dull and boring) and I’m hoping to combine visits to these with my photography interests.

It’s never too late to join the 21st Century …

I’ve finally got round to including a widget (right) to mirror my Twitter account @The_Apiarist. This was created way back in January 2014 but got forgotten and was subsequently suspended by Twitter … presumably due to inactivity. More topical things might end up there (if I remember), leaving the more practical stuff for these pages …

Mid-April 2015 queen ...

Mid-April 2015 queen … I hope to see her again in about 4 months

As the year draws to a close I hope that in 2016 your mite numbers are low, your colonies docile, your queens visible and your supers heavy.

Happy New Year

David


* on bees, not urticaria

2015 in retrospect

The winter solstice seems like a good time to look back over the 2015 beekeeping year. With the day length about to start increasing, what went right and what went wrong? Back in March I wrote that my plans for the year were different from the usual OSR – swarming – queen rearing – summer flow – harvest – Varroa treatment – feed-’em-up and forget ’em routine as I was moving to Scotland in the middle of the season. Some of these things happened, though perhaps less than in a usual year.

Mid-season memories

Mid-season memories …

Spring – better late than never

Cloak board ...

Cloake board …

The OSR yielded poorly as the spring was cold and late. I didn’t even look inside a colony until mid-April. Colonies were only getting strong as the OSR flowers went over meaning that most of it was missed. The weather was unseasonably cold, with mid-May being 2-3ºC cooler than average. Queen rearing started in the third week of May and although grafting went well, queen mating was really hit and miss, with low temperatures and lots of rain lasting through May and June. On a more positive note, I used a Cloake board for the first time and was pleased with the results (I’ll write about this sometime in 2016 after using it a bit more). I didn’t use any mini-nucs this year as I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with them mid-season when moving North. Instead, I did all of my queen mating in 2-5 frame nucs, often produced as circle splits from the cell-raising colonies. This worked well … and considering the lousy weather was probably a lot less effort than using mini-nucs which would have required constant attention and lots of feeding. Using poly-nucs I could prime them with a frame of brood and a frame of stores and adhering bees, dummy them down and leave 3 frames of foundation (or wherever possible, drawn comb) ready to be used on the other side of the dummy board. Once the queen was mated the colony would build up well and if – as often happened this season – the queen failed to get mated or was lost (drowned?) during mating flights it was easy to unite the queenless unit with a queenright one, so not wasting any resources.

Go forth and multiply

Split board

Split board …

Beginners often find the coordination of colonies for queen rearing, and the apparent difficulty of grafting (it isn’t), a daunting prospect. When I’ve been involved in teaching queen rearing it’s clear that the relatively small scale approach I use (queenright cell raiser, grafting and – usually – mini-nucs) is often still too involved for the very small numbers of queens most beekeepers with just a couple of hives want. It was therefore interesting to raise a few queens using vertical splits, simply by dividing a strong colony vertically and letting the bees do all the work of selecting the best larvae, raising the queen and getting her mated. It has the advantage of needing almost no additional equipment and only requires a single manipulation of the hive (and even that can probably be simplified). Having documented the process this season I’ve got a few additional things I’d like to try in 2016 to make it even easier and to allow better stock selection. After that it will be incorporated into queen rearing talks and training.

Changes in Varroa treatment

The big change in Varroa treatment in the UK was the licensing of Api-Bioxal. Whether or not you consider the 50-fold or more cost of VMD-approved oxalic acid (OA) over the generic powder is justified is really a separate issue. Oxalic acid is an effective miticide and, if administered appropriately, is very well tolerated by the colony. Despite the eyewatering markup, Api-Bioxal is significantly less expensive than all other approved miticides. For the small scale beekeeper it’s probably only 20% the cost of the – often ineffective – Apistan, or either Apiguard or MAQS. Under certain circumstances – resistant mites, low temperatures or the potential for queen loss – there are compelling reasons why OA is preferable to these treatments. If we hadn’t been using OA for years the online forums would be full of beekeepers praising the aggressive pricing strategy of Chemicals Liaf s.p.a in undercutting the competition. Of course, if we hadn’t been using generic OA for years Api-Bioxal would probably be priced similarly to Apiguard 🙁

Sublimox in use

Sublimox in use …

I’ve used OA sublimation throughout 2015 and been extremely impressed with how effective it has been. Mite drops in colonies treated early in the season remained low, but increased significantly in adjacent colonies that were not treated. I treated all swarms caught or attracted to bait hives. Some were casts and there were no problems with the queen getting out and mated (though the numbers of these were small, so statistically irrelevant). Late season treatment of colonies with brood also seems to have worked well. Mite drops were low to non-existent in most colonies being monitored through late autumn. Colonies get mildly agitated during treatment with a few bees flying about under the perspex crownboard (you can see a couple in the image above … this was a busy colony) and a few more rapidly exiting the hive after the entrance block is removed. But that’s it. The colony settles within a very short time. I’ve seen no loss of brood, no obvious interruption of laying by the queen and no long-term detrimental effects. Sublimation or vaporisation of OA can – with the correct equipment – be achieved without opening the hive. I expect to use this approach almost exclusively in the future.

Moving bees

Moving colonies from the Midlands to Fife was very straightforward. Insect netting was an inexpensive alternative to building large numbers of travel screens. It’s the same stuff as Thorne’s sell for harvesting propolis so I’ve got enough now to go into large scale propolis production 😉 The colonies all settled in their temporary apiaries well and I even managed a few supers of honey during the latter part of the season.

Small hive beetle reappeared in Southern Italy shortly after the honey harvest was completed there. Che sorpresa. This was disappointing but not unexpected (and actually predicted by some epidemiologists). As I write these notes the beetle had been found in 29 Calabrian apiaries between mid-september and early December. It’s notable that there’s now a defeatist attitude by some contributors to the online forums (when not if the beetle arrives here) and – since not everyone are what they seem on the interweb – there are some playing down the likely impact of the beetles’ arrival (and hence the demand to ban imports) because they have a vested interest in selling early season queens or nucs, either shipped in or headed by imported queens. I don’t think there’s any sensible disagreement that we would be better off – from a beekeeping perspective – without the beetle, it’s just that banning imports of bees to the UK (admittedly only a partial solution) is likely to cause problems for many beekeepers, not just those with direct commercial interests. I remain convinced that, with suitable training and a little effort, UK beekeeping could be far less dependent on imports … and so less at risk from the pathogens, like small hive beetle. Or of course a host of un-tested for viruses, that are imported with them.

And on a brighter note …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The new development in the latter part of the year was the setting up of a bee shed to house a few colonies for research. This is now more or less completed and the bees installed. It will be interesting to see how the colonies come through the winter and build up in spring. The apiary has colonies headed by sister queens both in and outside the bee shed so I’ll be able to make some very unscientific comparisons of performance. The only problem I’ve so far encountered with the shed was during the winter mite treatment by oxalic acid vaporisation. In the open apiary the small amount of vapour that escapes the sealed hive drifts away on the breeze. In the shed it builds up into a dense acidic hazy smoke that forced me to make a rapid exit. I was wearing all-encompassing goggles and a safety mask so suffered no ill effects but I’ll need an alternative strategy for the future.

Due to work commitments, house, office and lab moves, things were a lot quieter on the DIY front this year. The Correx roofs have been excellent – the oldest were built over a year ago and are looking as good (or as bad, depending on your viewpoint) as they did then. They’ve doubled up as trays to carry dripping supers back from the apiary and I’ll be making more to cover stacks of stored equipment in the future. Correx offcuts were pressed into service as floors on bait hives, all of which were successful.

With well-fed colonies, low mite counts, secure apiaries and lots of plans for 2016 it’s time to make another batch of honey fudge, to nervously (it’s got hints of an industrial cleaning solution) try a glass of mead and to finish labelling jarred honey for friends and family.

Happy Christmas

Lomond Hills and OSR

Lomond Hills and OSR

Which poly nuc?

Which is the best poly nuc? Over the last few years a number of manufacturers and suppliers have started selling polystyrene nucleus (poly nuc) hives in the UK. Some of these are specifically designed around the popular British National frame dimensions, others take advantage of the larger size of Langstroth frames to provide a box that will accommodate National frames, or that can be readily modified to take them.

I’ve used three of the most widely available – in order of increasing price – from Paynes, Modern Beekeeping and Thorne’s. I’ve also commented on the use or modification of each of these poly nucs elsewhere on this site. To simplify the comparison I list below what I consider to be the best and worst features of each of these poly nucs, with a few additional comments on their use.

Paynes poly nuc (£31)

Paynes 8 frame conversion

Space for 8 frames … just

Pros

  • British National dimensions (6 frame), no modification needed
  • Eke available for 14×12’s or to feed fondant
  • Reasonable price, particularly if you buy in the sales or in bulk (good discounts can be had)
  • Convenient handles for carrying
  • Easy to paint
  • Box plus lid, no removable floor (wire open mesh floor)
  • Can be readily converted to a (more useful) 8 frame poly nuc
Insulated eke

Insulated eke …

Cons

  • Internal feeder is too narrow and is difficult to empty if the box is occupied with bees
  • Box plus lid, no removable floor
  • Roof is far too thin and flimsy (build an insulated eke for winter use), side walls are just about OK

Modern beekeeping (Paradise Honey) poly nuc (£37)

MB poly nuc

MB poly nuc …

Pros

  • High quality build with dense, thick, poly
  • 6 frame
  • Entrances at both ends for conversion to dual, three frame nuc – which can also be achieved with National frames and a bit of DIY
  • Thick roof requiring no additional insulation
  • Removable floor with integral plastic mesh
  • Good handholds for carrying
Correx entrance block

Correx entrance block …

Cons

  • Langstroth dimensions (only an issue if you don’t use Langstroth frames of course)
  • Too many nooks and crannies to make painting easy – at least with a brush
  • Requires strapping together for transport (removable floor)
  • Entrance reducers are a daft price (but Correx makes a good substitute)

Thorne’s Everynuc (£47)

Everynuc

Everynuc …

Pros

  • High quality build with dense, thick, poly
  • 5 frame (plus a dummy board)
  • Excellent thick, solid roof
  • Clear plastic crownboard
  • Removable floor with integral wire mesh
  • Varroa monitoring tray
  • Integral syrup/fondant feeder (users of Langstroth frames can buy a nicely designed polystyrene Miller-type syrup feeder)
  • Smooth roof and side – easy to paint
Entrance reducer

Entrance reducer …

Cons

  • No convenient handholds for carrying
  • Entrance is much too large and no entrance block supplied
  • Bee space is a bit wayward in places
  • Langstroth (but already converted to National, so not really a con at all)

 

Conclusions

You will likely see lots of the Paynes poly nucs in visits to apiaries. They were one of the earliest to the market and can be bought in bulk at a big discount. However, price aside, there are too many compromises in my opinion to make them a good investment, particularly if you intend to routinely overwinter colonies. Nevertheless, when converted to 8 frame boxes (as originally described on the BBKA forums), they are excellent for collecting swarms – light enough to carry up a precarious ladder, no removable floor to drop and large enough for all but the very biggest prime swarms. Some people also use them as bait hives, though the volume is not ideal according to Tom Seeley.

Quality-wise there is little to choose between the MB/Paradise Honey and Thorne’s Everynuc. Other than the issue of painting, if you use Langstroth frames, either would be an excellent investment. However, the Thorne’s Everynuc can be purchased with an integral feeder that also converts the box to take National frames “off the shelf“. Despite the higher price, this convenience and the removable Varroa tray, probably makes the Everynuc the best choice. The deficiencies of the Everynuc can be readily fixed. With care, poly nucs should last a couple of decades at least, which makes the price premium for the Thorne’s offering (actually built in Germany) pretty much irrelevant.

Saf Natura Extractor

Saf Natura Ritmo

Saf Natura Ritmo

This is a review of a 9 frame radial motorised Saf Natura Ritmo extractor, prompted by a recent discussion on the SBAi forum and the absence of many other reviews when I was researching the purchase. I hope it’s useful to others thinking of purchasing a machine.

Extractors are probably the single most expensive item purchased by the majority of beekeepers. Actually, that should have started “an extractor” because a well-chosen machine that suits your beekeeping should last a very long time. Try before you buy … borrow one from another beekeeper or, if your association owns one or more, book or hire one for a weekend to see how it suits your beekeeping needs. If your association is reasonably large it’s likely that demand will be high as the OSR finishes – honey must be extracted promptly or it will crystallise in the comb. Be prepared. Book the machine in good time and keep the removed supers warm to make extraction easier.

You may not need to buy an extractor at all. Many don’t. If you’re flexible about when you can extract, or well organised, you might be able to share with friends or use the association machine(s). I’m certainly not well organised and often have to fit extraction around inflexible work commitments …

Extractor size – 3, 4, 9, 18 frame?

This is my second machine … the first being a 4-frame Lega manual tangential model which, although excellent quality, was simply too small for the number of colonies (~10) I now have. Small or large extractors (in terms of number of frames) take about the same time to extract the honey per spin, so buy a larger model if you want to spend less time extracting. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Since I extract twice per year (OSR and late summer) from about 18-24 supers (~200+ frames each time) and don’t intend to scale up I’ve decided a 9 frame extractor will suit me for the foreseeable future. Famous last words.

Manual (hand cranked) or motorised?

Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas …

Motorised. End of discussion. Seriously. Unless you’re built like Charles Atlas, or want to be, I would strongly recommend a motorised extractor if you’re considering a 9 frame or larger model. My manual tangential model was hard work after a couple of dozen frames. 200 would have been purgatory. Remember that if you’re handling 20 or so supers you will already be moving about 1000 lb. of boxes around, before you start extracting, often in a warm room. For the model I discuss below the price differential between the manual and motorised version is about £280. I think this is a good investment. You can often retro-fit motors to manual models, but I have no experience of this.

Why a Saf Natura extractor?

After outgrowing my manual four frame tangential extractor I’d borrowed a polythene-barreled radial 9 frame motorised Thorne’s extractor from our association. I was convinced about the capacity and the motor but disappointed about the signs of wear on the polythene barrel. The machine had been used pretty hard by the association and would have become increasingly difficult to properly clean, so I wanted a stainless steel machine. All the standard suppliers sell these, at prices – for a 9 frame radial model – ranging from about £600 to £1600. The Thorne’s polythene-barreled model has a list price of approaching £800. I looked carefully Abelo extractors on show at the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Spring meeting. Abelo sell 8 frame tangential and 12 frame radial models, but there were some rough edges on the stainless steel barrel of the model I inspected which put me off. I finally purchased a Saf Natura Ritmo extractor from Bee Equipped in Derbyshire. It was close enough to collect, so I wasn’t committed to purchasing until I’d checked the quality.

Ritmo motorised radial extractor

Manual motor

Manual motor …

The Saf Natura website provides details of this model. It is 52.5 cm in diameter and – once the bent angle coated steel legs are assembled and attached – stands 102 cm high at the top of the closed lid. The motor extends the height a further 12 cm. Note that the model illustrated on the Bee Equipped and the Saf Natura websites both show what is variously termed a Saf Natura motor, or – I think – a digital motor. These have an additional control box on the side, presumably controlling time of spin etc. Bee Equipped only sell this extractor model with a more basic manually controlled motor as shown in the images here. I presume this helps keeps the price down to a very attractive £620.

Resin cage

Resin cage …

The other clear cost-saving is the cage for the frames. In this model the top and bottom sections are moulded out of some sort of plastic or resin, rather than being constructed from stainless steel. The top and bottom sections are joined by stainless steel rods. The honey gate is also plastic. Half of the perspex (?) lid hinges up to add and remove frames for extraction, in doing so the motor safety cut-out (red and black in the image on the right) is engaged. The overall quality, rigidity and finish of the stainless steel is excellent. It looks and feels like a solid, well made, machine that should last a long time. I use Nationals and the extractor I purchased was set up for this frame size. By using longer stainless steel rods holding the resin cages apart it is possible to use Langstroth frames in the same model. I also purchased three mesh frames for tangential extraction from brood frames (deeps). Unfortunately these are only supplied in Langstroth dimensions so will need some minor butchering before being suitable for National frames (I’ll describe this later if I ever get round to it … the tangential meshes were only £25 for three and I didn’t want to have to pay postage at a later date).

In use …

It works well. The motor makes the expected whining noise as it speeds up or slows down. It sounds strained but I’ve heard exactly the same thing with other extractors and you soon get used to it. Full speed is amply fast enough to clear filled supers, even of viscous OSR honey. There’s nothing to stop you opening the lid or slamming the machine into reverse when it’s going full speed ahead … other than common sense and a small adhesive label stuck on the lid. I’ve not tried and I suggest you don’t either. As with all extractors it wobbles with an uneven load. I’m going to investigate castors or foam blocks under the legs. However, if the wobble is bad enough it’s worth rearranging the frames to sort the problem, rather than simply hanging on for dear life as it dances around the room. The worst wobble I’ve experienced, which got progressively worse as the length of spin increased, was due to my forgetting to uncap one side of one frame … D’oh! Crystallised OSR honey in part of a frame often causes problems for similar reasons.

I run the machine with the honey gate open, directly filtering the honey through coarse and fine stainless steel filters above a 30 lb. honey bucket. As long as you keep a careful eye on the level of honey in the bucket this method works well. A contributor to the SBAi discussion commented on the relatively short distance between the bottom of the barrel and the cage, causing the long frame lugs on National supers to foul the accumulated honey. This is avoided by leaving the gate open.

I’ve only had the machine for a season so cannot comment on longevity, spares etc. Dot at Bee Equipped told me they’ve been selling this model for at least a decade with no significant problems, other than some models damaged in transit. Redesigned or stronger boxes appear to have sorted this problem out.

In conclusion … highly recommended.

Note that many suppliers aggressively discount extractors in the spring shows (BeeTradex or the BBKA convention) and that the very worst time to buy an extractor is at the end of the summer 😉

Full speed ahead …

Everynuc poly nuc

Everynuc

Everynuc …

Thorne’s have introduced two new poly nuc hives recently – one called the Polynuc (~£27) and the other the Everynuc (~£47). Both are available in British National dimensions. I’ve not seen the Polynuc but consider the walls, at 22mm, to be a little on the thin side for overwintering colonies (perhaps about the same as the Paynes poly nucs). However, I have recently taken delivery of half a dozen Everynuc poly nucs with the intention of expanding my stock, by splitting production colonies (after the honey harvest) and using mid/late season-reared queens to take them through the winter. Here are my first impressions.

Everynuc floor

Everynuc floor

The Everynuc is an interesting design. It’s available in a range of different sizes; Langstroth, National, Smith, Commercial, 14×12, Dadant etc. All have a rectangular, preformed (i.e. no assembly required) brood box with 40mm thick walls and neat metal runners at each end for frames. I suspect this box is the same size for all frame sizes. To accommodate smaller frames e.g.  National in the Langstroth-sized box, they supply a slot-in feeder that takes 2.2 pints. The deeper frames e.g. 14×12 and Commercials also include a 40mm or 60mm eke that presumably goes between the brood box and the removable floor. The latter is sloping, with open mesh and has a removable tray for Varroa monitoring. There is a clear plastic crownboard and a thick roof. The exterior of the box is commendably smooth, so much easier to paint than the Modern Beekeeping/Paradise Honey boxes).

Bee space

Bee space

Thorne’s claim the Everynuc is top bee space. Well, it is and it isn’t. In the National size, the top edge of the feeder sits 2-3 mm above the frame runner, meaning that the top bar slopes. To rectify this I’ve cut a couple of millimetres off the bottom of the feeder lugs, effectively lowering the feeder sufficiently to restore top bee space. While we’re on the subject of bee space, it’s definitely wrong at the end of the box without the feeder where I measure the gap at 1.5cm. This is poor and may reflect some sort of compromise to accommodate the different length lugs on National and other types of frames. For the moment I’ve not done anything about this, but if brace comb becomes an issue I intend to skin the inside end panel with some 8mm ply to restore the correct bee space.

Not 6 frames

Er, no …

The Everynuc is designed for 5 frames and a dummy board. With brand new frames you can just about cram 6 frames in, but as soon as the Hoffman spacers get a bit of propolis on them it’ll definitely be a 5 frame box. With good thick walls and a solid roof this is a good size to overwinter.

FIve frame poly nuc

FIve frame poly nuc …

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

In addition to lowering the feeder I’m looking at ways to add a metal or plastic runner to the inside edge of the feeder, fitted just proud of the cut ply, to make frame manipulations easier. I’ve also added a thin piece of stripwood across the top of the feeder to stop the frames sliding backwards and forwards when the boxes are being moved. There is a small wooden spacer on the bottom edge of the feeder, but this additional cross brace should add a bit more security and prevent bees getting crushed. On the subject of moving colonies, I routinely make up 2-3 frame nucs for queen mating and then transport them from one apiary to another. Rather than letting the frames slide about side to side I’ve cut small blocks of dense foam to wedge them tightly in place for travel. An additional block of foam will be required for the entrance, which is wide and, with the short ‘landing board’, an awkward shape to block with mesh held in place with drawing pins (my favoured solution to transporting nucs).

Everynuc entrance

Open wide …

First impressions of these nucs are reasonably positive. The beespace might be a problem, the frame feeder really shouldn’t need lowering and the entrance is likely to require some sort of reducing block to prevent robbing. However, the poly is dense and well moulded, with no real nooks and crannies to harbour pathogens. Cleaning should be straightforward. The boxes will stack if it is necessary to unite colonies.

Finally, I wonder how many beekeepers noticed the name of the manufacturer of the clear plastic crown board …

Bayer Everynuc crownboard

Bayer …