Tag Archives: Correx

Split boards

Since moving to Scotland my DIY activities have been restricted – by lack of time, by lack of space and by lack of any major shortages in the equipment I use. However, a couple of spare sheets of Correx became available after some non-bee projects and I decided to use them to knock up a few split boards for swarm control and requeening this season.

As an aside … I love Correx. It makes great roofs, temporary floors and landing boards.

Split boards are simple square boards with beespace both sides and – usually – a single entrance. With an entrance door (rather than a simple gap) closed they can double up as crownboards or can be used to stack supers late in the season.

They can also be built with mesh panels to allow the warmth and smell of the lower colony to spread through the hive. However, in this instance these were to be about as simple as possible so I omitted the mesh.

Opposing entrances

For additional flexibility you can provide two opposing entrances with doors. With these the split board is starting to look dangerously like a cut down Snelgrove board. The vertical split method I use involves turning the hive 180° on the seventh day. With opposing entrances on the split board (and a corresponding double-entrance floor) it’s possible to avoid any heavy lifting – simply close the front door and open the rear door on the split board and vice versa on the floor.

Split board ...

Split board …

Assembly instructions

Really? How simple could it be?

I don’t have a table saw (or space to hide store it) so asked the nice people at Haldane’s in Glenrothes to generate some 20mm x 9mm strip wood. They did this from oak (!) offcuts for about a tenth the price one of the DIY chain stores would charge for equivalent softwood. The latter would have been preferable, not least because I got some wicked splinters from the oak, but it was what they had to hand and would have otherwise gone to the wood burner.

The Correx I had was 4mm thick. I’d have preferred 6mm, but as this was ‘spare’ from another project, I had to make do. I was originally going to use two sheets arranged at 90° to each other to provide rigidity. However, the first single-sheet prototype I built was plenty rigid enough so I stuck with that design.

Corner detail ...

Corner detail …

I cut the oak strips to 44cm in length, arranged them around the periphery of the 46 x 46cm Correx sheet and nailed all but two – on opposing sides of the top face – in place. ‘Overlap’ the corners (see image right) to provide additional strength. It’s worth noting here that my nail gun was only just strong enough to penetrate ~20mm of oak. The few nails that protruded were driven home with a hammer, brute force and a lot of ignorance. With care, frame nails (gimp pins) can easily be used instead.

Doors

In preparing the wood for the last two sides I made two slanting cuts to create the ‘doors’, nailed everything down and added a simple hinge from a gimp pin. It’s worth noting that it’s much easier to place the door ‘hinge’ (pivot?) centrally, rather than at one end of the door. Firstly, there’s less chance the end of the door will foul the adjacent wood. Secondly, to open the door you just need to push one end inwards with the hive tool; there’s no need to add a handle (a screw or nail that protrudes) to open the door outwards. This means there’s nothing to protrude and catch on clothing, on adjacent stacked boxes or on the lower lip of the roof when you’re using it as a crownboard. Finally, the bees won’t care.

Doors closed ...

Doors closed …

I gave the wood a couple of coats of (ironically) One Coat Ronseal Fence Life which should protect it from the elements.

Cheapy, cheapy

The Correx was about a tenner a sheet – delivered 5+ sheets at a time – from which I could cut sufficient for 10 split boards, with useful offcuts to build nuc crownboards or landing boards from. The hardwood strip wood was about £2 per board. Therefore, aside from a few nails, the finished boards cost about £3 each. This compares very favourably with the £28-36 charged by most suppliers for a Snelgrove board. Of course, I appreciate that the latter are more complicated and offer additional confusion functionality, but these are perfectly serviceable for a vertical split and there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained by using something you’ve bodged lovingly crafted yourself 😉

By the time this appears these boards might even be in use …


There’s a good explanation of split board construction in a post by Calluna4u on the SBAi discussion forum (“the thinking beekeepers web forum”). Calluna4u has a wealth of experience as a commercial beekeeper and prepares these boards in industrial quantities. His design differs slightly as it’s for use with hives arranged four to a palette. His post contains links to suppliers for 6mm pre-cut Correx in Dundee which might be useful to Scottish-based beekeepers.

A late start …

After a couple of false alarms, the season finally feels like it’s about to start, with temperatures predicted to be consistently into the (low) teens by this time next week. It’s been a punishing Spring as far as my beekeeping has been concerned with lots of queen failures due to poor mating success last year. I therefore need to expand my current stocks in time for the summer nectar flow – ever hopeful! – but am pretty-much resigned to not being able to exploit the oil seed rape (OSR) that is just about starting to flower in the fields nearest my out apiary (it’s already flowering well in other parts of the county – out of foraging range for my bees though).

OSR 30th April 2015 ...

OSR 30th April 2015 …

Go forth and multiply

It’s not all doom and gloom though … colonies that are queenright are expanding well despite the weather. Those in the bee shed are doing particularly well, with part-filled supers (dandelion perhaps?) and colonies expanding up to a double brood box. As an aside, I’d estimate that these colonies are at least 2-3 weeks further advanced than those ‘outside’ … I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later post. Furthermore, the colonies that haven’t developed DLQ’s include some beautifully docile bees, very steady on the comb even when inspecting them in less than ideal conditions, of which we’ve had lots this Spring. With the expectation (or at least hope) of much better weather by the end of the month I’ll be setting up some vertical splits. This is an easy way of either requeening or making increase, involving a minimum of equipment and almost no interventions in terms of hive manipulations. This is queen rearing made easy … simply dividing a suitable colony and giving each half an opposing entrance, then turning the colony through 180° after 7 days. I’ve also sourced a couple of Snelgrove boards to try this year, but work commitments mean these will have to wait until later in the season as they need a little more attention than a simple split board.

Split board

Split board …

Covet thy neighbours bees … or at least catch his swarms

With the assumption that other strong colonies are at least as well advanced as mine I’ve also set out a number of bait hives. Each of these contains an old dark brood frame – importantly containing no stores or you just attract robbers – pushed against the back wall and several (6-9) foundationless frames. The top bar of the old brood frame gets a few drops of lemongrass oil (this stuff ‘eats’ poly hives, which is what my bait hives are made from, so make sure you keep it restricted to the wooden frame). Bait hives should also have solid floors and small entrances – so I cover the OMF with a few scraps of Correx. Finally, to save on equipment I also often use a simple square of heavy duty polythene sheeting as a crownboard.

I set bait hives out every year, catching a few swarms that would otherwise disappear into the church tower, someones loft space or perish in a thunderstorm. It’s always a bit hit and miss in terms of the quality of bees that are attracted … of course, other than when I catch a swarm from my own colony 😉 The peak swarming season extends over the next 6-8 weeks and the bees are always useful, if only to act as willing recipients for queens raised next month when I’ll start grafting.

Bait hives ...

Bait hives …

New queens

Finally, I’ve ordered a couple of queens from a reputable (UK-based) queen breeder to improve the genetics of my stocks. One of my apiaries is in a region with predominantly black ‘native’-type bees in the area, and with local beekeepers keen to keep it that way. I’ll requeen colonies in this apiary with these queens – and in due course their daughters – to be both a good neighbour and to see whether these ‘native’ bees perform better than my Heinz (57 varieties) local mongrels.

Nucs in the bee shed

Slow-mo of bees returning to a nucleus colony in the bee shed …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The bee shed is designed to accommodate a maximum of four National hives along one wall of its twelve foot length. However, space remains at the outermost ends of the stands sufficient to house a couple of nucs, so I made the necessary modifications and installed a nuc recently. They’re a bit squeezed into the corners but there’s still enough space to inspect them. Since there’s almost no time during the year when there aren’t nucs in use these spaces will be well used, and the shelter offered by the bee shed will provide additional protection when overwintering smaller colonies.

Everynuc entrance

Open wide …

Almost all my nucs are of the Everynuc design sold by Thorne’s. With a little modification these Langstroth-sized poly nucs are excellent, though the entrance is far bigger than it needs to be. These nucs have an integral feeder, a separate floor and Varroa tray, a thin polycarbonate inner cover (it’s a bit grand calling it a crownboard) and a good thick roof. Importantly, as far as fitting them into the bee shed, they have a projecting ‘landing board’, which I found could be pushed flush with the wall of the shed so negating the need for an entrance tunnel of any kind. The remaining gap between the nuc body and the shed wall can be filled with a small block of dense foam.

Nuc entrance ...

Nuc entrance …

To make sealing the colony easier or to add a queen excluder or single bee-width entrance I bodged together some scrap wood to make a simple holder – fitted onto the inside wall of the shed – into which suitably sized pieces of Correx or QE could be slotted. In the picture (bottom right) the Correx is out of sight behind the nuc but this nuc is ‘overheight’ because it has a Miller-type feeder on. Finally, to ensure the nuc couldn’t be accidentally moved during inspections or when I was pottering around in the shed, I added a couple of tie-down points on the walls and so could run a lightweight strap around the floor of the nuc, securing everything in place.

Correx entrance thingy ...

Correx entrance thingy …

Late on Easter Sunday I visited my out apiary, sealed the nuc entrance with foam and transported it to the apiary with the bee shed – these sites are several miles apart, so there was no issues with the bees returning to the wrong place. The colony was busy dealing with a block of fondant in the feeder compartment. After moving them to the shed I left them to settle for ~20 minutes then gently removed the entrance foam and gave them a small waft of smoke. I then carefully placed the nuc in situ. Not a single bee escaped. Why can’t it always be this simple?

Nuc in the bee shed ...

Nuc in the bee shed …

The following morning there were a few bees taking tentative first flights from the simple hole I’d bored through the wall of the shed. I’ve also built them a Correx (no surprises there for regular visitors to this site) landing board, both to help them land – rather than clinging to the shiny paint finish of the shed – and to help them orientate to the entrance. As you can see from the video (top of page), they largely ignore the landing board. The bee shed hive entrances have a variety of coloured landing boards to try and discourage bees from drifting between colonies … but it’s nothing like as distinctively (or artfully) decorated as some of the bee houses on the continent.

 

The bee shed

Under construction ...

Under construction …

The bee shed is a new development in my beekeeping. It was built to house the colonies we need for our work on deformed wing virus. This requires access to larvae and pupae for as long as possible during the year … it therefore seemed worthwhile trying to keep colonies in a sheltered environment in the hope that the queen would rear brood for longer. An additional benefit is that colonies can be opened in poor weather. Due to the timing of the development cycle of bees we almost always have to harvest larvae or brood on a Monday, irrespective of the weather. I’ve previously had to open colonies in the middle of a thunderstorms, getting drenched in the process. The ‘operator protection’ offered by the bee shed will make this a much less unpleasant task in inclement weather (at least for the beekeeper 😉 ).

Location, location …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The shed is situated in a sheltered corner of thin woodland, with the long side facing approximately south-east to catch the morning sun. The spot is a real sun trap and well sheltered from prevailing winds. There is water nearby and a wide variety of forage available within flying distance. On a warm sunny morning it’s an idyllic spot. However, not everything is perfect. Access is a bit limited and there’s no electricity, so I’ll need to use my Kelly Kettle for making a brew. The shed is built onto a solid slabbed foundation that is pretty-much level so I don’t need to worry about levelling the hives when using foundationless frames which must hang vertically. The shed was built by Gillies and Mackay of Errol and the exterior is ~19mm thick T&G boards. They built it with four window openings all down one side … in retrospect I should have asked for a couple of additional openings on the opposite side as well and I may yet take a jigsaw to the wall if needed. Other than fitting metal edging all around the base to prevent little critters getting underneath, it’s a pretty-much ‘off the shelf’ (albeit custom-built if that isn’t a contradiction) 12′ x 8′ shed, liberally painted with something not particularly environmentally friendly (Sadolin Quick Dry woodstain I think). The fenced off apiary site has space for a further 6-8 colonies, with additional space for storage of spare nuc boxes, supers and all the other paraphernalia that beekeeping requires.

Hive stands

Feet through the floor ...

Feet through the floor …

I’ve already briefly described the hive stands. These are completely unexciting. There are two, end to end, down the long-side of the shed. The advantage of two separate stands is that there are fewer colonies sharing the stand to get disturbed during inspections. I considered individual stands but realised that this would prevent the addition of ‘infill’ nucs should we need them. Actually, not really infill, but there’s space at either end for a 5/6 frame poly nuc. The only additional design feature of the hive stands is that the legs reach through the floor of the shed and stand directly on the slabbed foundations. This again reduces vibrations as I potter around in the shed opening other colonies … or brewing tea. This was a suggestion from an experienced bee shed user and contributor to the SBAi forums for which I’m very grateful. I slightly misjudged the height of the stands during design/installation … this has necessitated additional pieces of wood being added along the top runners. Without these the hive entrances were in line with the thinnest part of the wall (the T&G), rather than the thicker centre of the plank. D’oh! In due course I’ll add additional wood along the rails of the stand, incorporating Correx sheets underneath the colonies to catch debris that would otherwise fall onto the floor. These won’t be proper Varroa trays as they’ll be well separated from the open mesh floors, but simply a way of keeping hive rubbish off the floor. The hive floors we use were built by Pete Little and have a particularly well designed Varroa tray that is almost perfect for sealing off the bottom of the colony, both when counting mite drop and during oxalic acid sublimation.

Entrances

Correx ...

Correx …

Many bee sheds I’ve seen have rather fancy entrances with sealable doors on the outside, the ability to add mouseguards and all sorts of entrance reducers. I decided that, a) I don’t know yet what features I need so can’t add them from the start and b) I can cobble-together almost anything from Correx if needed. I therefore opted for a simple hole through which I pushed some spare rectangular extractor hood ducting. This abuts the front entrance slot of the hive – I use standard floors on the hives in the shed, rather than my preferred Kewl floors. The ducting is a pretty tight fit through the side of the shed, so isn’t fixed in place. It rests on a small piece of softwood on the front of the hive floor, with the remainder of the hive entrance i.e. “outside” the ducting, sealed off with a piece of Correx nailed in place to both the bottom of the brood box and the top of the hive floor. The Correx has a flap that lifts up to accommodate the ducting. When I move the hives I simply pull them away from the ducting and close the flap.

Ducting ...

Ducting …

The ducting is only about 12-14cm in length. I didn’t want rain to be driven into the hive, or for water to run down the smooth-walled ducting. The ducting is therefore inclined upwards towards the hive entrance at about a ~15° angle. Additionally, there’s a ~1cm ‘step’ between the floor of the ramp and the hive entrance. I reckoned that this arrangement wouldn’t interfere with removal of corpses, but would maximise protection from the elements. I sprayed the inside of the outer end of the ducting with some gloss paint and liberally sprinkled it with sand to provide a good grip to bees landing. To seal off the exposed edges of the ducting from the outside I added an external entrance ‘archway’ (see picture) with the inevitable Correx landing board screwed on underneath it. I can add entrance reducers (Correx … no surprises there 😉 ) as needed simply by pinning them in place to the ‘archway’. The entrance was pretty-much bodged together (a speciality of mine) … we’ll see how they get on with them over the course of the season, make running modifications as needed and/or design improvements for the the future.

Exits

Bee shed window ...

Bee shed window …

Opening a hive inevitably results in bees flying up and out. I’ve seen a variety of solutions to allow bees to exit bee sheds. These include:

  • clear roof vents so the bees are attracted up to the roof apex of the shed and can then escape through the vent – if built properly this also hugely increases the available light inside the shed, but does require major roof modifications. These were beyond the budget and I was concerned about maintaining a fully weathertight structure, so didn’t choose this option.
  • windows that are hinged along the bottom edge and that are left open a couple of inches during inspections. Bees attracted to the light (it’s always pretty dingy in the shed when compared to daylight) walk up the window and fly from the gap. Although the shed was pretty good value, the custom-built windows offered by Gillies and Mackay weren’t … so this option was abandoned as well.
Let there be light ...

Let there be light …

I wanted a no-moving-parts solution. Therefore, the windows consist of two sheets of Perspex with the outer sheet being 2cm short of the window frame height. This means that bees inside the shed that fly towards the light and crawl up the window eventually reach a gap from which they can fly out. To prevent ingress of rain and draughts the upper gap is overlapped by a short inner pane, perhaps 15cm in height, separated from the outer pane by about 20mm. This arrangement appears to work well. It means there are no moving parts to go wrong, no windows to forget to open (or close afterwards), no thick window frame to further reduce the lighting and yet still provides reasonable weather protection. The inner windows are screwed in place with the outers being secured with waterproof sealant.

Still to do

A combination of flooding, the short day lengths, an arm injury, lethargy and lousy organisation (as a previous student of mine once said, “He couldn’t run a bath”) mean that there are a number of tasks to finish before the season proper starts. These range from adding guttering and storage racks at the rear of the shed to taking a couple of deckchairs over for warmer days. Most importantly I need to prepare additional entrance holes for some nucleus hives. My preferred poly nucs fit flush to the sidewall of the shed (with a bit of bodging) and so should not need the same sort of entrance tunnel. I’m simply going to bore a wine-cork sized hole through the wall … this should be easy to defend and, if needed, seal with a cork. Note to self – drink wine.

But what about swarm control … ?

And all sorts of similar beekeeping questions. I’ve not a Scooby. The classic ‘artificial swarm’ (Pagden method) is out for obvious reasons … this isn’t an issue as it’s not a method I use very often. The two choices would be the vertical Demaree method which I quite like (but which is better with an upper entrance that can’t be provided inside the shed) or simply removing the queen to a nucleus hive. It will be interesting to see what works best. However, since we harvest brood for research during the season these colonies may not get strong enough to swarm until the queen gets pretty old and tired. In the same vein, I don’t expect these colonies to be bulging at the seams and piling in the nectar all season, but – just in case – there’s headroom for about 4 supers 🙂 . It’s not likely that other standard beekeeping activities will be problematic … requeening, uniting, feeding, Varroa treatments and standard inspections should all proceed as required (just out of the rain and wind). The installed colonies are currently in hives identical to those I’d use outside … however, this is likely to change as there’s little need for a roof and so I’m likely to replace the crownboard-insulation-roof with a simple sheet of thick polythene with a block of Kingspan insulation on top.

First impressions last

Perspex crownboard ...

Perspex crownboard …

The first hives were installed in October last year, so I have almost no experience yet in handling colonies ‘indoors’. On a sunny day the lighting is good enough to see eggs and larvae but I might have to consider installing lighting for late-afternoon apiary sessions. We’ve had a reasonably warm, wet winter – very wet – and the colonies look strong at the time of writing (the image on the right is not representative as it was taken some time ago). Colonies within the shed are significantly more active than colonies headed by sister queens outside the shed in the same apiary. However, there may still be genetic differences between the colonies that account for this. This increased activity is twofold – more bees flying on warm days and more hive debris (presumably due to brood being reared and stores uncapped) on the Varroa trays. Only once the hives are opened will it become clear whether these apparent signs of increased activity really reflect stronger colonies that are rearing more brood.

What is clear though is that on days borderline for flying – the sort of day when only the odd bee ventures out – the colonies in the shed have no more bees flying than those outside. On these sorts of days a peek through the perspex crownboards shows that the clusters within the bee shed are ‘looser’, with more bees wandering about in the hive corners and with the bees spread across more frames. However, this increased activity inside the hive doesn’t appear to translate into more bees venturing out if the weather isn’t really good enough.

It’s going to be an interesting season …

Waiting for the season to start ...

Waiting for the season to start …

 

Dr. Bodgit goes beekeeping

Two frame nucs

Two frame nucs …

Dr. Bodgit is the name my wife gives my alter ego … the bloke who spends the first few days each week nursing the cuts and gouges in his hands from a weekend spent butchering pieces of wood for beekeeping purposes. In a past life I was asked to talk about ‘DIY for beekeepers’ for the Warwick and Leamington BKA … something relatively lightweight to follow their AGM. As any BKA member knows, these are usually very tense events, with huge competition to get onto the executive committee … or not. That talk lead to an irregular Dr. Bodgit column in the otherwise excellent WLBK Bee Talk newsletter which in turn prompted me to start this website … if you go back to some of the early posts they were often about DIY for beekeepers. Now, a few years later, I’m dusting off the same talk for the Fife BKA at their 2016 AGM (10/3/16), updated to include a further 5 years of tips and tricks and a large amount of additional scar tissue.

Paynes poly nuc ...

Paynes poly nuc …

In the spectrum of beekeeping DIY – ranging from badly carving up a block of polystyrene for hive insulation to crafting beautiful cedar broods and supers from wood I’ve felled, matured, dried, cut and planed – I’m firmly positioned at the (rank) amateur end. Nevertheless I reckon there are a large number of items that can be easily, relatively inexpensively and usefully built – these both potentially improve your beekeeping (enjoyment at least) and give you something to do in the long, cold, dark winters.

Tools of the trade

Clearer boards

Clearer boards …

Over the years I’ve developed some fairly basic boundaries to the types of DIY I attempt. I’m restricted on time, space and very restricted on ability. Furthermore, since I don’t really trust myself with power tools I don’t own too many (though see below). Therefore the vast majority of the things I attempt can be constructed – a rather grand word meaning ‘bodged together’, hence Dr. Bodgit – using the sorts of tools most people already have available:

  • cutting tools – a good tenon saw, a Stanley knife and a breadknife
  • measuring tools – tape measure and set square
  • joining tools – hand drill, screwdriver and small hammer

The breadknife is really for working with polystyrene – either carving insulation or butchering Paynes poly nucs to improve them. To these tools I’d add a list of ‘consumables’ that will need regular replacement:

  • pencil for marking stuff – you will inevitably lose it … it’s behind you ear 😉
  • screws – buy them in bulk from Screwfix in a couple of convenient sizes
  • nails – almost exclusively the gimp pins for frame construction
  • sticky stuff – Evostick wood glue, Gorilla glue and Unibond Power tape (for Correx)
  • Elastoplast (though Unibond Power tape and tissues work well) and antiseptic cream
  • tea – critical to keep hydrated properly … you might also need fruit cake
Tacwise nail gun

Tacwise nail gun …

The ‘joining tools’ is where I have gradually made concessions on power tools. A reasonable quality rechargeable electric drill/screwdriver is a huge timesaver and a nail/staple gun makes assembling everything from brood boxes to frames extremely easy (you’ll need to add nails/staples to the consumables list above). However, these power tools are a luxury and not a necessity. I’m also having to consider a table saw as I now no longer have an excellent local timber merchant (or anything but the big chain, big price, rubbish) who stocks a wide variety of ‘bee space friendly’ planed softwood. It’s only the affection I have for my fingers that’s stopping me …

Don’t do this at home

Don't do this at home ...

Don’t do this at home …

There are a number of things I think that are simply not worth attempting … these are items that are either already inexpensive, that are difficult to make without a lot of investment in tools or where it is difficult to make them at a quality good enough to justify the effort. In my view brood boxes and supers tick all three of these ‘exclusion’ rules … the cedar seconds are pretty inexpensive and readily available, they’re well made and go together easily and they should last pretty-much forever. I’ve made plywood boxes previously and wouldn’t do it again … too heavy and nothing like as long-lasting.

I don’t attempt any metalwork – other than the base of my steam wax extractor – but have heard of people making queen excluders, smokers and building their own honey extractors … again, hugely rewarding I’m sure, but needs too much time, tools and expertise than I have.

The art of the possible

I think the best things to build are those that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • items that cannot be purchased at all (there are lots of these)
  • items that can be purchased but that are poorly designed and/or built (few of these)
  • items that can be purchased but only for silly money (lots of these)

For me, considering hive components, it turns out that it’s the parts that are essentially horizontal in the hive that seem to most often meet these criteria. These include:

  • Kewl floors – these are floors with a so-called ‘Dartington-type’ underfloor entrance. I think they offer advantages for the bees in terms of reduced robbing and wasp problems, and for the beekeeper by obviating the need for mouseguards and making transporting hives and vaporising oxalic acid easier. You can buy these from one supplier but the price is ridiculous and the design is sub-optimal in my opinion (so I’m not including a link).
  • a variety of split or division boards – these include conventional single entrance split boards, multi-entrance Snelgrove boards, slightly more complicated Horsley boards and clearer boards. I’d also include Cloake boards for queen rearing in this category. In all cases, these meet one or more of the qualifying criteria – some cannot be bought, those that can are not ideal and the prices are always simply daft. Thorne’s Snelgrove boards are about £35 each and can probably be made (better) for about a fiver … that’s one of my jobs for this winter. Their Cloake board is the same price. It does come with a queen excluder (but you’ve got lots of those already) but the shallow eke and Correx removable slide can be built from scavenged materials for almost nothing. There’s a very recent thread on the SBAi about building so-called ‘flight boards‘ from thick Correx for ~£2.70 each – these are dual entrance, dual-use, split boards which can be used as crownboards or used to divide strong colonies for swarm control or making increase.
  • perspex, insulated crownboards – unavailable to my knowledge (all of those for sale are uninsulated), very useful and relatively easy and inexpensive to build.
  • inexpensive, totally weatherproof, lightweight roofs – these can be built from Correx for well under £2, less than 25% of the price of the metalwork alone from Beehive bits or about 10% of the price of the – disappointingly poor quality – Thorne’s sale quality cedar roofs.

I only list Thorne’s above for convenience – their offerings are usually no worse or better (or differently priced) than any of the major beekeeping equipment suppliers. The second quality cedar broods and supers they sell at BeeTradex and the big annual shows are – with a little picking and choosing to avoid the terminally-warped (note that you’re well-advised to take care avoiding the terminally-warped at any of the annual beekeeping jamborees) – perfectly usable. Their first quality cedar broods, of which I have a few, are lovely (and so they should be at £42).

If you move away from hive components there are lots of additional opportunities for exploiting a little DIY skill and/or experiencing a little blood loss:

  • my honey warming cabinet was first described on this site over two years ago and is consistently the most searched-for (and possibly even read) page. With a little careful planning you can build one that’s far better insulated than commercially available, with better thermostatic control and heat circulation, that will also treble up (is there such a term?) as a super-heater to aid extraction and as a queen cell incubator. If you source the individual components carefully you can build one for 25-33% of the prices listed by big T or Maisemore’s.
  • honey bucket tippers are now available commercially – they can look beautiful but are eyewateringly expensive – but are a doddle to build for the price of a few scrap pieces of wood and two hinges.
  • my hivebarrow has more than paid for itself in saving hours of backbreaking work … one of the most useful things I’ve built and, as I get more decrepit, getting more useful by the year.

So, there you have it, you’ve now no need to attend the Fife Beekeepers AGM in early March … I’ll attribute the tiny audience for my talk to the fact you’ve all read about it in advance, rather than it being of no interest to anyone.

Of course, the three or four who do turn up are going to have trouble avoiding being voted onto the committee 😉

Finally, if you need any more convincing that beekeeping DIY makes sound financial sense, I present my final exhibit …

Dummy boards

Dummy boards …

… these cost £6-7 from the beekeeping suppliers. No wonder they’re called dummy boards 😉

And don’t forget …

Measure twice, cut once, swear often

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

Under offer

Under offer ...

Under offer …

This bait hive – formed from two poly nuc supers under a cheap-as-chipsCorrex roof – was put in a sunny corner of my garden in Fife on the 8th of May. The first scout bees were noticed early on the morning of the 22nd and built up strongly over the bank holiday weekend. A large swarm arrived on the afternoon of the 30th … far better here than the church tower or somewhere else inaccessible.

Natural comb

Natural comb …

It’s worth noting the time between the appearance of the scout bees and the arrival of the swarm – just over 9 days. This is almost exactly the time it takes for a sealed queen cell to be produced from a newly laid egg. However, swarms usually leave the originating colony on the day the queen cell is sealed (assuming good weather) and hang about in a bush or tree while deciding where to set up home. Assuming that the first scout bees I saw were from the swarm that finally arrived (for which I have no evidence, other than the rather low density of beekeepers in this part of Fife) I suspect the colony probably swarmed a day or two before the 30th … which still means that the scouts probably started their quest for a new home well before the queen cell was sealed.

Whatever … freebees, what’s not to like?


* actually, cheaper than chips … these Correx roofs cost about £1.50 each whereas a portion of chips at the outstanding Cromars fish and chip shop in St. Andrews is £2.10. And highly recommended.

First hive inspection of 2015

Ribes

Ribes …

The first hive inspection of the year always involves a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Although observing activity at the hive entrance – foragers returning with pollen – or the use of clear crownboards gives an indication of how well the colony has overwintered, it’s only when the box is opened and the frames are inspected that a proper evaluation of the colony is possible. There’s little to be gained from inspecting too early however tempting it might be … until there’s a reasonable level of new brood it’s not really possible to judge overwintering performance. I wait for a settled, warm few days. With the exception of 2011 which had an unseasonably warm spring (I was queen rearing in mid-April) suitable weather usually coincides with the flowering of ornamental currants (Ribes sanguineum) which attracts lots of attention from bees.

Don't do this at home ...

Don’t do this at home …

Last Friday (10th April) the weather was warm and settled and I inspected a dozen colonies and overwintered 5 frame nucs. With two exceptions the colonies were in pretty good order, with about 3-6 frames of brood, no evidence of DWV damaged bees, reasonable levels of stores and sufficient space for the queen to expand the brood nest. One colony appeared to have a failing or failed queen … she was present, but there was almost no brood (though what was present was worker, so she wasn’t a drone laying queen; DLQ). This colony was very small and had a very large amount of stores left. I suspect the colony are doomed and that the queen was either poorly mated last year, or is otherwise unfit for purpose. A second colony had a blocked hive entrance which I’ll post about next week. Two further colonies were in great condition though the plywood brood box they were occupying had almost completely delaminated and will need replacing very soon.

The strongest colony, overwintered on a “brood and a half” (a brood box over a full honey super) had expanded up into the eke that had contained a block of fondant. The bees were beautifully calm as I tidied up the box for the coming season. Only one of the queens I found (10/12) was not marked and I suspect she was a late season supercedure last year. The last full inspection was mid/late August and there was ample time and good weather after that for the colony to have replaced her successfully. The final task of the afternoon was to find and scrub clean the Correx Varroa trays and put them in place for a week to count the early season mite drop (which isn’t really a particularly accurate way to determine Varroa infestation for reasons that will be covered later this year).

All around there were signs that the season was gathering pace … loads of foragers were slurping up water from dirty puddles in the track, presumably to help use crystallised stores, the apple trees in the hedgerows were covered in blossom and the oil seed rape (OSR) buds looked ready to break in the next week or so.

So lots to be excited about and no need for the apprehension 🙂

 

Super poly bait hives

MB poly National

MB poly National

Shortly after they were introduced I purchased two of the poly National hives sold by Modern Beekeeping. These are well made but, in my view after using them for a few months, poorly designed. The poly is dense and strong, they have clever plastic frame runners and they are easy to assemble. I’ve kept bees in them for a couple of seasons and they did fine. However – for me – the negatives of these hives far outweigh the positives. They have handles on all four faces of the boxes which, together with the manufacturers name, means painting them takes ages. Much more significantly, the boxes can only accommodate 10 frames and are too narrow. The frame lugs of a standard National frame are tight against the sidewalls making it almost impossible (once there’s a bit of propolis added to the mix) to slide the frames across the hive during inspections.

The dreaded overhang

The dreaded overhang …

To make matters worse, the boxes have an “overhang” where they join. Although this presumably helps prevent water ingress it also makes stacking supers on top of brood boxes packed with bees a recipe for death and destruction. It’s not possible to offer the box ‘on the squint’ and then rotate it into place. Furthermore, the overhang prevents you even seeing the bees you’re about to slaughter. Of course, the overhang also means the kit isn’t easily mixed with standard wooden or Sweinty poly boxes. I did build a wooden shim that meant the supers could be used, but the beespace was messed up. At about £110 for a complete hive and a couple of supers these hives appeared reasonable value … but they actually represent possibly my biggest outlay on unsuitable kit ever 🙁

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat …

The obvious solution was to flog the boxes to some unsuspecting novice. However, since the design problems would provide a particularly unrewarding start to beekeeping, I didn’t do this and they’ve sat piled in the corner looking a bit forlorn. The original floor, brood box and roof were pressed into service as a bait hive last year and worked well. The supers have simply been stacked up, unwanted and definitely unloved.

Honeybee Democracy

Honeybee Democracy

However, the combination of a bulk delivery of extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene (aka Correx, though it certainly isn’t going by the price I paid) and the ease with which it could be converted into very useful roofs for about £1.50 each, suggested a way to use the supers. Two stacked supers – at least of these slightly smaller than normal “National” boxes – enclose a volume of about 43 litres. Conveniently this is only slightly larger than the 40 litres recommended by Tom Seeley in his excellent book Honeybee Democracy. The addition of a simple floor from a piece of Correx (so much easier to write than extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene 😉 ) stapled together with some scraps of wood from the offcuts bin and including an integral entrance of about 10cm2, a crownboard from strong polythene sheet and a Correx roof make a perfectly serviceable bait hive for the coming season.

In due course I’ll add a single tired old brood frame (I save these from the previous year, treated with DiPel [Bacillus thuringiensis sp. kurstaki spores] to prevent wax moth damage) containing no stores or pollen, which would simply attract robbers. The smell of ‘old bees’, perhaps coupled with a couple of drops of lemongrass oil along the top bar, is a strong attractant to scout bees from a swarm looking for a new home. I’ll fill the boxes with foundationless frames so that an incoming swarm can start building new comb immediately. These frames barely reduce the internal volume but provide guides for the bees to build parallel comb, thereby making it unnecessary to check whether the bait hives have been successful quite as frequently as you otherwise need to (unless you like sorting out the wild comb they’ll otherwise build from the roof).

Floor detail … what could be simpler?

 

Building Correx hive roofs

Smoker on roof

Smoker on roof

What does the hive roof do?

  1. it provides protection from rain and snow
  2. as a consequence of its weight it may help keep the hive together in high winds
  3. (on an adjacent hive) it is a stand for your smoker, hive tool, notebook, flask of tea etc. during inspections
  4. it is used – inverted – as a stand for supers during inspections

A standard hive roof has cedar or ply sides around an internal frame attached to a board, perhaps of ply or OSB, with the entire thing capped with some sort of weatherproof cover. Commercially made roofs usually have a galvanised metal cover, homemade ones might use roofing felt, damp proof membrane or empty compost or fertiliser sacks. All of which makes them rather heavy and potentially quite expensive (an eye-watering £57 for an assembled cedar roof from Thorne’s … )

The Correx alternative

Correx in the frost ...

Correx in the frost …

I’ve built a number of roofs from Correx (the sort of twinwall, extruded, fluted polypropylene used to make estate agent signs) which work pretty well. They are very lightweight, totally weatherproof, easy to build and incredibly inexpensive. Their weight means they either need a brick added on top, or – better – a strap around the hive and stand. They’re not structurally robust, so you can’t stack supers on top of them. However, there are ways around this – use a spare hive stand or a standard roof from an adjacent hive in the same apiary. Correx roofs provide no insulation, but a standard roof doesn’t really either. In the summer this shouldn’t be an issue. However, I use insulated crownboards containing a 50mm thick block of Kingspan. These are used all year round and ensure little heat loss during even the coldest weather.

Building Correx hive roofs

Correx (which is a trade name and used generically … any equivalent twinwall, fluted, extruded polypropylene will do) is available online or can be scavenged from election posters or estate agents signs. Five 2.4 x 1.2m sheets of 4mm Correx should cost less than £50 (delivered … try thealuminiumshop on eBay for example), with each sheet being big enough to make 8 roofs. That’s about £1.50 a roof … what a bargain.

Correx cutting ...

Correx cutting …

National roofs are square. A 60 cm2 piece of 4mm Correx makes a National roof with an ‘edge’ about 6cm deep. If you want a deeper ‘edge’ you’ll need a larger sheet, which means you can’t cut two width-wise from a 1.2m wide sheet of Correx. If you use Langstroth or some other hive type you’re on your own as far as measurements are concerned. For a National roof the relevant measurement is ~63mm from the edge for the fold. You need to crease the Correx so you can fold it along the crease, and then make four cuts, one at each corner, to allow the corner to be folded over and stuck on place. When cutting the Correx remove a 4-5mm sliver as shown in the ‘Corner detail’ image below. This makes the corner fold more neatly. To ‘crease’ the Correx and make it easier to fold you need to use a pizza cutter. When using it with the grain don’t press too hard or you’ll cut right through the Correx. When going across the grain (as shown in the ‘Pizza cutter’ image below) you’ll need to use quite a bit more force to compress the ribs and allow the Correx to fold easily along the crease. Once creased, simply fold along the crease … this is made easier if you line the crease up with a right-angled edge and fold along it. It’s more easily done than described, so practice on offcuts.

Most glue doesn’t work on Correx. The stuff is coated with some sort of chemical which makes water – and therefore most liquid glue – bead and stick poorly. There are ways of flaming the surface with a blowtorch to allow some glues to work – more details, including a range of glues that might work, are available online. My advice is don’t bother – none of the glues I tested (Gorilla, EvoStick or cheapo stuff from a glue gun) worked for more than a day or two. Instead use Unibond waterproof POWER tape. This is readily available, relatively inexpensive and works. Two small pieces across each corner are sufficient. Look at the ‘No overhang’ image below to see how to use them. To make them stick even better to the Correx slightly roughen the surface using fine grade sandpaper.

I’ve been using these roofs all winter, both on hives and stacks of stored supers. All look as good now as they did when they were built (or as bad … depending on your viewpoint). Water still beads on them and the bees have done just fine. All the taped corners have held securely. I also secured some with zip ties at the corners and these have fared less well. Just use tape. They’ve yet to be subjected to hot weather or prolonged periods of sunshine (which might soften or degrade the tape) but appear unaffected by long periods of heavy rain or repeated freezing/thawing.

Other advantages

  • You can get Correx in a range of colours so could even choose something inconspicuous and make the hives invisible from the air.
  • Queen marking pens work well on them if you’re the type of beekeeper who writes notes on the hive roof.
  • Used upside-down these should also make a perfect ‘tray’ to stack supers in when transporting them, or during extraction, preventing propolis and honey getting on the car or carpet. Correx does compress, but is regularly used as a floor covering during building construction, so should be able to take a fair amount of wear and tear. Unlike an upturned metal roof they won’t scratch the floor or rip the car upholstery.

And the disadvantages …

  • As already mentioned you need to use a hive strap or brick to hold the roof in place.
  • During inspections on a breezy day they tend to blow about a bit if you’re not careful
  • You can’t stack supers on an upturned Correx roof … at least, not without trashing them.
  • I’ve not yet melted one with a smoker – I usually try and stand the smoker on a spare dummy board – but fully expect to sometime 🙁

But for £1.50 … you can’t expect everything 😉