Tag Archives: apiary

The new bee shed

It’s not often a backhoe digger and dumper truck are required for apiary construction. Certainly, most of the sites I’ve used over the years have needed little more than a few breeze blocks, Buster (my trusty hivebarrow), some sweating and swearing 1 and a spirit level.

And the spirit level is only required because I want my foundationless frames drawn out straight and true.

Mid December 2017 - foundations and base installed ...

Mid December 2017 – foundations and base installed …

However, our new research apiary has involved some rather impressive ‘boys toys’. It is now nearing completion and we will shortly be moving bees onto the site.

One day all this will be under tarmac

Our original research apiary was located in an idyllic spot in the corner of open mature woodland. It was sheltered from prevailing winds, had water nearby – very nearby during some localised flooding – and housed the first ‘bee shed‘.

The bee shed in autumn ...

The bee shed in autumn …

However, a planned extension to the town, the relocation of a large school and the need to keep Council budgets to a minimum, meant that a ‘feeder’ road was proposed to be routed through this apiary in early/mid 2018.

Not near, not around … literally through.

Even if it had been near or around, the prospect of working hives next to a route used by hundreds of children was not appealing. I also didn’t fancy re-drafting risk assessments to include lots of sweaty roadbuilders and their heavy machinery during the construction phase.

So, sometime last year we started scouting around for a new location for the research apiary.

The water table

The one issue we’d had with the old site was minor flooding during winter … and spring, summer and autumn (!) rains. This never threatened the bees, but washed away an access footbridge several times and made wellingtons a necessity in most months I can remember.

To avoid this in the future 2 we opted for a site on a small mound of earth that would place the hives and the bee shed safely above the water table.

A small mound of earth ...

A small mound of earth …

‘Small’ if you have access to a backhoe digger that is … 😉 3

The site was extended and levelled, an access road installed, the base was prepared with a few (very large) lorry loads of hardcore and was then topped with compacted gravel. There’s probably a technical term for this sort of groundwork. It was completed with impressive speed just before an extended cold spell in mid-December.

The frozen ground delayed the installation of security fencing 4 but this, and installation of the new shed, was finally completed a few weeks ago.

Bigger is better

I’m convinced of the benefits that a bee shed offers in solving some of our beekeeping problems. These are primarily security, storage and shelter in increasing order of importance. These might well not be problems you face, but the ‘shelter’ is likely to benefit many who keep bees in temperate and, er, damp climates.

With bees in a shed you can open the colonies and inspect them whatever the weather. This is a huge benefit if time is important; either your own or – and this is why it is critical for our research – so we can harvest larvae and pupae at particular times for experiments.

Before we used a bee shed I’d had to harvest brood during weather totally unsuited to beekeeping, including howling gales or thunderstorms. Now, other than periods when the colony is clustered tightly, hives can be opened whenever needed.

Our first bee shed was 12 x 8 feet and turned out to be a bit cramped at times. The new shed – at 16 x 8 – is the largest routinely supplied by the excellent Gillies and Mackay. Larger still would have been better, but there were some financial constraints and we needed to keep space on the site to relocate the old shed in due course.

The new bee shed ...

The new bee shed …

The new shed can house seven full colonies.

Fitting out

We’ve learnt a lot since building the first shed in 2015. The old shed suffered from poor lighting and a range of different shapes and styles of entrance. We’ve partly addressed the former by having windows all the way down the South facing side of the shed and we’ve fixed the latter by standardisation.

Where have you heard that before?

The bees enter the shed through a hole in the wall and reach the hive via a simple rectangular section tube (extractor fan ventilation ducting). All the entrances are now identical, consisting of a simple supporting bracket on the inner wall of the shed to cradle one end of the ducting. The other end of the duct is supported by a thin strip of softwood tacked to the front of the hive floor.

Standardised entrance ...

Standardised entrance …

The same entrance design, omitting the ducting, can accommodate nucs if needed.

All our floors are of one design 5 and compatible with most National brood boxes. None of the boxes are fixed to the stands and, unless the hives are badly bumped, this entrance arrangement is essentially ‘bee proof’.

Entrance duct and hive floor ...

Entrance duct and hive floor …

Hive stands

The hive stands are very robust, separated into two (three and four hives respectively) and protrude through the floor to the rest on the slabbed foundations. Consequently, vibrations are minimised. Ideally, I’d have preferred individual stands, but that increases complexity and cost.

A significant change made with the new shed is to raise the height of the stands by 3-4″ making inspections a little less backbreaking. This will make working a double brood box topped with 3 supers a challenging experience, but the colonies very rarely get that big … and the nectar flows simply aren’t good enough.

Welcome home

I like landing boards. Of course, they’re largely unnecessary, but on what would otherwise be a uniform wall punctuated with seven 1″ holes, they provide a good opportunity to make the individual hive entrances readily distinguishable to returning foragers.

Landing boards ...

Landing boards …

The landing boards are folded black Correx painted with some surplus-to-requirements bright yellow Hammerite paint. Correx is tricky stuff to get glue or paint to adhere to, so I’m not sure this will have sufficient longevity. However, it’s neater than painting big patterns on the shed wall.

The distinctive colours and patterns were based broadly on the known abilities of bees to discriminate between shapes. The intention of course is to minimise drifting between colonies.

Lightening things up

The windows are of exactly the same design as those used in the first shed. These are formed of two overlapping sheets of polycarbonate, enabling any bees flying in the shed to readily exit simply by crawling upwards to the ‘slot’ at the top of the window. These are an excellent solution to a shed full of bees following an inspection. There’s nothing to open or close afterwards, it’s largely draught-free and totally maintenance-free. Result.

But they probably still don’t allow sufficient light in on a very dull, overcast day. Amazingly, these aren’t unheard of on the East coast of Scotland.

I’ve therefore installed a 12V solar-powered lighting system. This charges a large leisure battery which powers six LED bulbs. It’s like Blackpool illuminations when they’re all fired up. The final tests of this system – and the timer that (should … there are some teething problems here) automatically turn the system off – are currently underway and I’ll post about them separately.

The immediate environment

The apiary has the new bee shed together with sufficient space to accommodate at least half a dozen additional hives – for splits, nucs, queen rearing or teaching – as required. We’ve also installed a separate levelled base to take the old bee shed once the original apiary is vacated. This will primarily be used for storage, but can also accommodate four full colonies if needed.

The site is a little more exposed than I’d like, though it is sheltered from the coldest winds from the North and East. To improve shelter and, more importantly, early season pollen we’ve planted 150 native hedging plants around the site 6. As 80 cm bare-rooted ‘whips’ they look a bit pathetic, but they’ll soon fill out. Two thirds are native goat willow (Salix caprea) which will be coppiced and should provide good quantities of pollen.

Willow and native hedging ...

Willow and native hedging …

With the snow now largely gone and the temperatures slowly increasing I expect to move bees into the new bee shed in the next fortnight.


 

Bee shed 2: the sequel

All good things must come to an end, though this particular one did sooner than I’d hoped.

Our research apiary – affectionately known as The Bee Shed – lies in the path of a recently announced new road development. Not close to, not within sight of, but actually underneath a proposed access road to the new Madras College site to the West of St. Andrews.

Under construction ...

Under construction (mid/late 2015) …

The timing stinks

There are actually two preferred access road routes to the new school, but the Council (who in their infinite wisdom drag everything out to the last possible minute before committing) won’t decide which will be used until about a month or so before development is expected to start. This is intended to be early in 2018 i.e. rather too close for comfort if we don’t want our research interrupted.

We’ve known about the possibility of the new road since June, but things never seem to move as fast if there’s not a deadline looming.

We therefore need to prepare a second research apiary, move all the bees across and then disassemble the original one … all within the next few weeks.

Time spent in reconnaissance …

… is seldom wasted. And we’ve spent quite a lot of time. We’ve considered a number of alternative sites, some better than others, but none truly ideal.

Given the choice we’d have selected a sheltered, East/South facing site, surrounded by mature open woodland, with water close by, protected from strong winds by the adjacent woodland or walling, with abundant local wildlife, early pollen and …

No, stop, wait!

The bee shed in autumn ...

The bee shed in autumn (2016) …

That’s a description of the current site.

In fairness, there were some issues with the original apiary location. It was low lying and prone to minor flooding. Access was across a rickety set of scaffolding planks that threatened to pitch us into the burn when wet and slippery. Crossing the burn with the hivebarrow – particularly in the dark – required some courage (or stupidity). There was no power in the shed, it was quite remote and it was a bit on the small side.

There were some wonderful orchids though …

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid …

I suspect these will struggle to re-emerge through the tarmac of the new road 🙁

Bigger and better

We’ve had to compromise on the new location, but – in doing so – we’ve managed to correct some of the shortfalls of the original site.

We’ll now have much more space and better drainage. We’ve achieved the former simply by specifying a larger footprint, and the latter by building on an earth mound raised a few feet above the water table. We’ve invested in solar powered lighting systems and have excellent shelter from the cold Easterlies that sweep in off the North Sea.

It’s also better located for outreach activities and closer to the research labs.

The final plans include a 15m x 15m platform to house a new bee shed of 16′ x 8′. Once we’ve vacated the original shed (a tiddly 12′ x 8′) it will also be moved to the new apiary, giving us additional storage and colony space.

In total we should have capacity for about a dozen colonies under cover, with more outside if needed. I should have added earlier … the two primary goals of housing bees within a shed is to  provide greater protection, enabling both a slightly longer brood rearing season and allowing inspections and brood harvesting whatever the weather.

If we absolutely have to inspect/sample on a Monday morning during a downpour, we can. The beekeeper saunters over under an umbrella, dons his/her bee suit and does the work. The bees don’t react badly to inspections in inclement weather. They simply exit the shed via the windows and re-enter the hive by a short tunnel through the shed wall.

Landing boards ...

Landing boards …

Over the next few weeks I’ll document some of the developments as we start to prepare for the 2018 season.

Here’s what I prepared earlier

Here are a couple of photos of the apiary in the very early stages of preparation.

Dig and Dug build an apiary

Dig and Dug build an apiary

The compacted grit base and shed foundations are now complete, with the shed and the fencing due shortly … and then it’s my turn to have a dabble preparing the shed for the bees, installing the windows and entrances and the solar power lighting system.

Early/mid December foundations and base installed

Early/mid December foundations and base installed

More of the same.

Shed foundations

Shed foundations

And then there’s the small task of moving the bees in …


This quote (Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted) is sometimes attributed to the talented and successful German Field Marshal of World War Two, Erwin Rommel. However, there are numerous other proposed sources … Sir MacPherson (Mac) Robertson (1860 – 1945), Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley The 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852) or Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC) in The Art of War. Take your pick. The meaning is self-evident … when planning something it’s worth considering all the possibilities, in particular the environment.

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Seasonal changes

At the beginning of the season, after the wettest winter for 100+ years, I rebuilt the rickety scaffold-plank bridge I use to cross the burn to get to my apiary and bee shed. The herbage had been flattened by flooding and the general die-back of winter. Access was easy … if a bit squelchy.

Before ...

Before …

Seven months later the bridge, the burn, the shed and the apiary have all but disappeared behind the luxuriant growth of reeds and weeds. Over the burn is an extensive patch of waist high nettles and long tussocky grass. If there’s been any recent rain the herbage remains damp and my bee suit gets saturated … if for any reason I have to make repeated trips (such as removing full supers [in my dreams!]) the water runs down my legs and fills my boots. Lovely.

After ...

After …

Wildlife near the apiary

The overgrown little patch of woodland is a great spot for wildlife, with regular sightings of sparrowhawks jinking through trying to catch the small birds unawares. All of the regular woodland and parkland birds are present, with increasing numbers of mixed parties of finches now we’re into early autumn. There are great spotted and, much less frequently, green woodpeckers to be seen and the presence of the latter might mean I have to protect my hives in the winter (although I had no problems on this site last winter it never got really cold which is when the yaffles cause a problem). Buzzards wheel overhead – incessantly mewing now as the adults start to ignore their young and so force them to find their own territories. Until recently the air was filled with swallows and martins. There were so many of them I was concerned about losing queens on mating flights. However, it was the June weather that was the biggest handicap, and I think I only had one mating nuc in which the virgin queen simply disappeared.

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid …

I’m hopeless at plant identification but think this is a Common Spotted Orchid. The area around the apiary has hundreds of these in late June/early July. There’s an interesting Citizen Science survey (https://www.orchidobservers.org/) on how climate change is affecting the flowering period of orchids and they have a comprehensive identification guide (16Mb PDF download … you have been warned), together with distribution maps. Finally, the damp grassland and the nearby burn mean there are loads of frogs to be seen … which probably also explains the near-universal presence of herons.

On a balmy summer afternoon – not completely unheard of this far North – the air is filled with the sound of bees going to and from the hives, making this an idyllic spot.

End of the season

I usually reckon that the end of September is the end of the bee season. Certainly this year – my first full season in Scotland – it is. Honey supers were taken off in late August/early September and there’s been almost no nectar coming in since the middle of August. The ivy has yet to start properly and there’s no balsam in range of my main apiaries. Colonies have been treated for Varroa – one repeatedly – and all have large blocks of fondant to keep them company for the next couple of weeks. All the hives are warm and watertight. There’s a few last-minute jobs to do … a final tidy of the bee shed, stacking supers and drawn brood comb out of reach of wax moths and acetic acid treatment where appropriate to sterilise comb.

Since the bees are safely tucked away for the winter I can now relax …

Cheers

Cheers

ICE ICE baby 

This post was written a week or two ago as I’m currently at ICE 2016, the International Congress of Entomology, talking about our work on DWV. The scope (and number of attendees … ~6000) of this conference is huge and includes at least 10 sessions covering bees. If the jet lag doesn’t finish me off I’ll take some comprehensive notes and report on some of the more interesting talks in the coming weeks. Normal service will be resumed by November.


Yaffle is an English folk name for the green woodpecker (Picus viridis) derived from its laughing call, which also probably explains the wonderful alternatives of laughing Betsey, yaffingale, yappingale and Jack Eikle. Hearing the yaffle call is supposed to be associated with the onset of rain, which probably accounts for the other names of rain-bird, weather cock and wet bird.

Ice ice baby is a hip hop song by Vanilla Ice from ’89/’90 … coincidentally it’s about South Florida, which is where the ICE 2016 conference is being held. I can’t stand hip hop 😉

Google maps and apiary security

The increased interest in beekeeping over the last few years has meant there is considerable demand for bees, either for beginners or to replace stocks lost over the winter. The impatient and unscrupulous have resorted to bee rustling, either directly or indirectly. It is therefore sensible to take precautions to prevent the theft of your hives and nucs. This subject was covered extensively a couple of years ago in a post on Beekeeper UK which described branding, locks, ground anchors and other deterrents and is recommended reading. However, one aspect of security worth reinforcing is the impact of new digital technology – specifically smartphones and satellite imagery – which can be used to locate hives.

GPS-tagged image

GPS-tagged image

Smartphone cameras (and many new digital cameras) embed the GPS coordinates into their images. This information is contained within the exif (an abbreviation for exchangeable image file) data in the image, which also includes details of the camera, exposure etc. This can be readily viewed using online tools such as Jeffrey Friedl’s Exif (Image Metadata) Viewer. To illustrate this I’ve uploaded an image (right) taken when out cycling – so not compromising my own apiary security – with an iPhone a few years ago. If you point the Exif Viewer at the image you can extract all the embedded information, including both the GPS coordinates and a Google Maps view, as shown here. You can then use Google Streetview to see the, er, street view of the scene (if their little cars have visited).

Google Streetview

Google Streetview …

So what? I don’t share my images online …

OK, so much for the introduction to a potential problem, why should it be of interest or relevance if you don’t post GPS-tagged images on your personal blog, Facebook page, Instagram account, internet discussion forums, Flikr, 500px etc.?

… three rows of hive stands, cars provide scale

Baton Rouge labs

The real problem isn’t the GPS-tagged images at all (I’ll describe an easy solution to this later in this post), rather it’s the resolution of the online satellite images provided by Google, Bing and others. These are good enough now to locate apiaries relatively easily and to see individual hives in certain circumstances. They’re also going to get a lot better soon. Rather than compromise an amateur beekeeper, or publicise an otherwise hidden apiary, here is an image containing  three rows of hives (on rail stands) at the ARS Honeybee breeding, genetics and research labs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA … I think it’s fair to say it’s no secret that they’ll have apiaries on site 😉  And below is the view from ground level, taken in a different season with the trees in full leaf. The cars in the satellite image provide a sense of scale.

Baton Rouge apiary

Baton Rouge apiary …

Google Maps (and Bing and others) satellite imagery are of similar resolution for the USA and the UK. The satellite image above is not even at maximum size … when it is you can pretty easily count individual hives. This was brought home forcefully when processing a smartphone image (with embedded GPS coordinates) in Adobe Lightroom. The Map module showed a neat row of hives in the corner of a field. Google updates the images they use reasonably frequently, so even if your colonies are not visible now they might be soon after the next satellite passes over.

Security by obscurity

How can you prevent your apiary from being detected? Of the local apiaries I’m aware of I couldn’t detect those that:

  • were located under light tree cover. This would seem to be both practical and relatively easy to achieve. As long as they are not in deep shade it can also make for a much more pleasant inspection experience on a sweltering hot day, and the trees or hedges can provide shelter from strong winds.
  • contained only individual hives. Whilst absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence it is certainly easier to detect neat rows of hives along field boundaries or angled across the corner of a meadow.
There you are!

There you are!

The most obvious hives were those in which the roof contrasted with the ground. This was particularly marked with bright, shiny, metal roofs glinting in the sun. Older, tattier, hives or those with roofs covered in roofing felt were more difficult to find. Perhaps it might be worth applying camouflage paint to new hive roofs. Irregularly placed hives in dark or muted colours that didn’t contrast with the ground were generally tricky to see.

None of these precautions are foolproof. None of them negate the need to keep your colonies in secure, private locations, preferably behind locked gates. However, they might be useful in preventing unwanted attention.

But what about my online images?

Some image hosting sites automagically strip location-sensitive information from uploaded images. Others do not. On the principle that it’s better to be safe than sorry it’s worth always ensuring the uploaded images do not contain this information. Phones usually have an option to exclude GPS data from images. Alternatively (and to avoid omitting the location information from all the images you want to keep it in) it’s easy to strip unwanted exif data, including all the GPS data, using software. If you’re an Adobe Lightroom user this is an option under the ‘export’ menu. Alternatively, ImageOptim is an excellent (and free) Mac application that compresses images, strips out unnecessary metadata including all the location information and removes unnecessary colour profiles. This typically reduces the file size by 10-20% and works with a range of graphics format images. The image per se is unaltered. It runs as a Service on the Mac, which makes it even easier to use.

Not GPS-tagged

Not GPS-tagged …

The GPS-tagged image of the bike on the fence at the top of the page is 242 kB. After using ImageOptim this is reduced to 213 kB in size. More importantly, as far as security is concerned, Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer now shows no geographical information. It even hides the embarrassing fact that my smartphone is over four years old 😉

There are also ways of removing exif data from your images if you use Windows. I’ve not used these and cannot comment on how well they work.