Tag Archives: DIY

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

Making soft set honey

Soft set honey was often called creamed honey before that description was effectively outlawed – at least for labelling purposes – under the trade descriptions act because it ‘contains no cream‘. It’s the stuff that’s spoonable and spreadable, it feels like velvet on the tongue because the crystals are so fine (hence creamy) and it remains looking good for a long time. The long shelf life more than compensates for the (relatively small) effort required to produce it … you don’t have to sell it or give it away quickly before granulation takes over and the appearance is spoiled. Winter is a good time to prepare soft set honey as it requires low temperatures.

Granulation

Granulated honey label

Granulated honey label

All honey granulates. At least, all honey that hasn’t been subjected to the sorts of heating and filtration used by commercial packers to produce a uniform and sometime bland product with a very long shelf life. The rate at which honey granulates is related to its composition. Honey with a relatively high glucose to fructose ratio – such as oil seed rape – granulates faster. Granulation is also influenced by temperature and particulates (e.g. pollen) that acts as a ‘seed’ for granulation. My honey carries a label indicating that granulation is a completely natural process and is a sign of high quality honey.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey is honey in which the granulation has been controlled. A small amount (~10%) of honey with a soft, fine grain, is used as a ‘seed’ for liquid honey. As the latter granulates it takes on the consistency of the seed honey. The principle is straightforward and an industrial process was patented by Elton Dyce in the 1930’s. However, this requires rapid heating and cooling of bulk honey, something most beekeepers are unable to achieve. There are some good descriptions online about making soft set honey, including a useful video by ‘BeekeeperDevon’ on YouTube. There are also a lot of conflicting methods published and some that are, frankly, either nonsense or wrong.

This is how I do it … followed by some details on a few of the critical bits.

  1. Extracted honey should be left to completely crystallise in honey buckets. This might take several weeks. The honey, particularly if it’s OSR, is likely to be spoonbendingly hard. In the following description I’m assuming the honey has only been (at least) coarse filtered on extraction, so will almost inevitably still contain bits of wax and the odd leg or antenna.
  2. Melt a full bucket of crystallised honey completely. For a 30lb bucket I find this takes about 24-36 hours at 50ºC in my honey warming cabinet. Stir it once or twice during this period if you get the chance – this speeds up the process. Honey should not be kept at elevated temperatures for extended periods to avoid the build up of HMF.
  3. Filter the honey into a clean food-grade bucket. I use the double stainless strainer and nylon straining cloth from Thorne’s.
  4. Cool the filtered honey to 35ºC in the honey warming cabinet. At the same time, warm the seed stock (see comments below) to 35ºC in bucket with a tap. By keeping the temperature below about 40ºC the all-important fine crystal structure of the seed stock will not be destroyed.
  5. Add the filtered bulk honey to the seed stock. Mix gently but very thoroughly. The intention is to completely disperse the fine seed stock crystals throughout the mixed honey. You can use a stainless steel corkscrew and drill, or a honey creamer. Of the two I prefer the latter. Try and avoid incorporating air during the mixing (hence ‘gently’) to avoid frosting in the final product.
  6. Cool the honey to less than 14ºC, mixing every 12 hours or so. It’s easy to achieve this temperature in winter in an unheated outhouse, pantry or conservatory. In the summer you can do this by adding a succession of freezer blocks to the warming cabinet (but it’s hard work). The honey will get increasingly hard to mix and will – within a week or less (and possibly within a couple of days) – set. This is soft set honey.
  7. Re-warm the bucket of honey to 35ºC and bottle it. See comments below.

The seed stock

You need about 10% by weight of a suitable seed stock to make soft set honey. You can use more or less, it’s not critical. Much less than 5% and it won’t be enough to ensure even crystallisation, or will take a very long time to finally crystallise. More than 10% is unnecessary and you’d be better saving it for another batch of soft set honey. If you’ve not got a seed stock of a suitable consistency (by which I mean of the consistency you want your final soft set honey to have) you can make, borrow or buy some.

Pestle and mortar

Pestle and mortar …

To make your seed stock grind hard set crystallised honey using a pestle and mortar until it has a wonderful, even consistency. It will start as hard unyielding lumps and end up with the consistency of thick toothpaste. This is hard work but you might only need to do it once, so do it well. You can borrow your seed stock from a neighbouring beekeeper who has something suitable, returning the same amount after you’ve prepared your own soft set honey. Finally, you could even buy your seed stock from a supermarket. If you insist on buying the starter, at least steer clear of the “mix of EU and non-EU” honeys (why don’t they just state “sourced from goodness knows where”?)  which could have just about anything in them. You are aiming to produce a top quality product. The type of honey you use as your seed stock is immaterial; it will only comprise a small amount of the final product, the consistency is what matters.

Bottling soft set honey

At 35ºC the prepared soft set honey will barely flow through the honey tap. However, with a little effort, and a long handled spoon to gently stir it, the thixotropic honey can usually be made to flow sufficiently to get it into jars. Again, to avoid frosting try not to mix air into the honey; hold the jar just under the honey tap with the bucket slightly inclined.

Miscellaneous notes

Spatula spoon

Spatula spoon

Keep about 3lb of your first batch of soft set honey – I use these useful sealable plastic containers – to use as the seed for your next bucket. This might be the following week or the following year – I’ve just used up the last of my 2014-prepared seed stock. If you’re preparing batch after batch of soft set honey on a weekly basis you can simply leave the seed stock in the bottom of the bucket with a tap. I’ve found silicone spatula spoons really useful for mixing honey, for getting the last few ounces out of the honey bucket and for quickly removing all the honey from the last three 1lb jars after you realise you’ve just bottled the seed stock for the next batch 😉

 

Everynuc 2 beespace

The Everynuc poly nuc sold by Thorne’s is a clever design. However, the British National version is a bit of a compromise where beespace is considered and, as purchased, may not accommodate national frames properly. It can be improved relatively easily but requires a small amount of woodworking, some Gorilla glue and the confidence to take a saw to your recent £47 acquisition.

The problem

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

The Everynuc 2 accommodates national frames in what is a Langstroth-sized box by having an internal feeder at one end of the box. The frame rests on the upper edge of one side of the feeder and the opposite end of the box – presumably the entrance end of the nuc hive. An 8mm thick piece of stripwood on the lower edge of the feeder stops the frame sliding ‘back’ (because the box is much longer than the top bar of a national frame), potentially crushing bees and certainly destroying beespace. The box is supposed to be top beespace – it’s not really, particularly since the (Bayer manufactured!) plastic crownboard sags a bit. However, in those I currently own the feeder was too close to the crownboard, making it almost top beespace at one end of the frame and something much less at the feeder end (a more complete review and more photographs have been posted here previously). Furthermore, in the three boxes I painted this weekend the combination of incorrect top beespace and the thickness of the stripwood at the bottom of the feeder prevented the frame properly sitting on the frame rest at the opposite end of the box (see photo below right).

The solution

  1. The side supporting lugs for the feeder need to be reduced in depth by removing about 3mm from the bottom of them (the bit in contact with the sidewall of the nuc box). In the half-dozen boxes I’ve modified so far the lugs are all attached using glue and a nail gun. Belt and braces. In about half of them the nail hasn’t been driven in straight and the saw fouls it … simply remove the nail using strong pliers. Both sides need to be cut down by the same amount.
  2. Add a frame runner to the inside of the feeder. I’ve used plastic frame runners and stuck them in places using Gorilla glue. It needs to be just proud of the top of the wooden panel on the feeder (any higher and the bottom of the frame is raised above the wood spacer at the bottom of the feeder). Clamp the runner in place and then trim away any glue that’s oozed out once everything has set.
  3. Add a cross bar of 9mm stripwood to act as a framestop, preventing the frames shifting ‘back’ as described above. It’s easy to add syrup or fondant directly into the feeder, but the crossbar removes any chance of the frame moving.

These minor modification fix the top beespace problem and make the frames fit properly. The framestop makes transporting (e.g. by car or hivebarrow) these boxes much easier. The reduction in depth of the supporting lugs doesn’t alter the 1-2mm that the bottom of a frame overlaps the 8mm stripwood on the bottom of the feeder (see the top picture). However, with top beespace, any slight bump lifts the frame clear of this stripwood and it can then slide back, crushing bees between the sidebar of the frame and the feeder. The addition of a framestop across the top of the feeder fixes this defect.

Everynuc feeder

Everynuc feeder …

Note – this post was written originally in March 2015 about Everynucs purchased and delivered in late 2014. I have subsequently purchased and received a further 18 Everynucs (received April 2015) which appear to have a slightly shallower ‘lug’ on the feeder. Those I’ve tested don’t appear to show the problem illustrated above, with the frame not seated on the runner. I can’t make a side-by-side comparison as I’ve already modified all of the original Everynucs I received. However, they all still have the wrong beespace at the non-feeder end, the solution for which is described below.

You’ve not finished yet …

The beespace at the non-feeder end of the nuc box is still wrong. I overwintered a number of colonies in these nucs* and all had built brace comb between the frame end bars and the wall of the box, making frame removal messy and disruptive. The incorrect beespace is due to the long lugs on a National frame being used in a box where the frame rests are designed for the short lugs on a Langstroth frame. To overcome this simply glue a piece of 8-9mm ply onto the end wall of the nuc. A piece of ply 20.4 x 20.5 cm (w x h) restores beespace. I’ve used Gorilla glue to hold it in place in the half-dozen modified recently. Since Gorilla glue doesn’t seem to form an irreversible joint with dense polystyrene I reckon I can take these apart if they are unsuitable (famous last words … and don’t trust me on this, test it yourself first).

It seems a shame to have to modify what is probably one of the most expensive poly-nucs on the market. However, I remain reasonably certain that this is the best currently available. These boxes should last 20+ years if properly maintained and so justify a small amount of effort at the beginning to improve them.

Fixed

Fixed …

The final task is to design a suitable entrance reducer to prevent robbing by wasps late in the season, to stop mice getting in during the winter and that allows my recently acquired Sublimox oxalic acid vaporiser to be used when required. Since wasps, mice and OA treatment are ages away I’ll leave this exercise for another day …


* I should add in closing that colonies overwintered extremely well in these nucs. Some were stronger coming out of the winter than full colonies that had gone in strong in September. I only fed with fondant, gently dropping slices into the feeder through the autumn.

 

Spray painting poly nucs

It’s recommended that poly nucs are painted before use as polystyrene degrades in sunlight. I’ve always used the cheapest masonry paint I can find – being water-based there’s no danger of damaging the polystyrene, it goes on reasonably well and is pretty hard wearing. The range of colours – in the inexpensive ranges at least – is a bit limited … white, a variety of cream or ivory shades, brick red or black. I’ve always used the brick red (though the bees would see this as black of course) from Wilkinsons, but would really prefer a leaf or dark green colour to help make the hives unobtrusive.

Black & Decker HVLP200

Black & Decker HVLP200

The paint tends to a be a bit thick out of the pot, so I usually water it down by about 25% and apply a couple of coats. The Thorne’s Everynucs or Paynes boxes are easy to paint with a brush as all the surfaces are flat. The Modern Beekeeping poly Langstroth nucs are a different matter altogether – the ‘branding’ and handles moulded into every face make painting them a real pain.

First coat done

First coat done …

However, painting a large number of any of these boxes quickly becomes a tedious task. With 18 new Everynucs to paint I bought a Black and Decker HVLP (high volume low pressure) spray gun in the sales. These come with a small funnel-like contraption to measure the viscosity of the paint. Out of the tin the masonry paint I’ve got was far too thick and gloopy, but with enough water and lots of stirring I readily achieved the right consistency. After that the painting was a doddle. In two hours – as two one hour stints – I painted a dozen Everynucs with two coats. A few areas were a bit patchy as I got the hang of the paint gun. These paint guns are essentially strong hairdryers so there are few moving parts – the nozzles and paint reservoir are easily rinsed out and cleaning probably took no more than 10 minutes.

I usually paint my cedar hives with Ronseal Fence Life in a ‘forest green’ colour – this is much thinner paint and will probably be usable without dilution. It’s not as hard wearing as the masonry paint and requires re-painting every few years. This spray gun will make this a trivial task and it should be possible to stack them head-high and paint all four sides very quickly. All of this painting needs to be done outdoors on a calm day as there’s quite a bit of overspray from this type of paint gun … there speaks the voice of experience 😉

D'oh ...

D’oh …

 

Repairing poly hives

Well healed nucs

Well healed nucs

A stack of recently painted poly nucs got blown over in high winds during the winter. Inevitably, when they land on the edges of the boxes, the thinner bits break away. These are easy to fix … Gorilla glue is your friend. A smear across one face of the break and a bit of water spread across the other, coupled with some clamps or string to hold everything mated together properly, will form a really strong bond. The glue expands to fill the spaces, oozing out of the joint. Pare back the dried glue 24 hours later and everything will be fine.

Super damage

Super damage

Gorilla glue and a little additional ingenuity can also successfully fix boxes that are more dramatically damaged. I dropped a full poly super from shoulder height when harvesting OSR honey in 2014. The result was not pretty, though I did manage to recover most of the frames for extraction. Two of the corners of the poly super (Swienty) were badly broken, with the interlocking lugs snapped off cleanly. A combination of Gorilla glue, dowels and sash clamps fixed it for use during the main flow later in the season.

More major repairs ...

More major repairs …

More extensive gaps such as woodpecker damage can be fixed using exterior wood filler. Fortunately, I’ve not yet had to do this. However, while butchering Paynes 6 frame poly nucs to create 8 frame boxes I filled very large gaps with a combination of Screwfix MegaGrip glue and offcuts of polystyrene. These appear to have lasted well. The glue seemed to take a very long time to set, but it’s rock solid and can be sanded back flush to provide a smooth and easily cleaned face to the repair.

Oops ...

Oops …

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 😉

Cheap smoker

Necessity is the mother of invention. I forgot my smoker on a recent trip to an out apiary and had to open a colony (to add fondant) that was livelier than I would have liked. However, I did have some egg boxes and lighter … a scrap of egg box smoulders for a long time and gives more than enough cool smoke to waft along the edge of the cracked open crownboard to calm the bees.

Egg box smoker

Egg box smoker …

You can even leave it sitting on a (metal) hive roof until you need it. This is probably not a good idea if there’s any chance of of causing a fire but in the winter everything around here is too wet to ignite.

Langstroth nuc conversion

I bought several Modern Beekeeping/Paradise honey 6 frame Langstroth poly nucs in a sale a couple of years ago. My recollection is that they were £29 each. These are fine quality poly nucs and I’ve previously described their conversion into 2 x 3 National frame nucs for queen mating. I wanted to convert the remaining nucs into standard 6 frame Nationals, similar in design to the Everynuc sold by Thorne’s. I think the latter is probably the best quality poly National nuc currently available but, at over £47, they’re not cheap and not without their faults.

Using scrap ply from the offcuts bin, a few bits of stripwood and some odds and ends it was relatively easy to convert the box non-destructively. One end of the box consists of a single piece of 11mm ply 239x243mm (w x h). The other end has an integral feeder made from two pieces of 5mm ply 239x240mm (w x h) separated by a 54mm wide piece of softwood. The feeder has a 3mm ply base. Because the MB nucleus boxes have internal mouldings I needed to add spacers (6mm and 9mm respectively) on the non-feeder and feeder ends. All joints were glued and stapled with a nail gun. I added plastic runners to the top edges, sealed the inside of the feeder with melted wax and fixed the ends in place with screws.

Unlike the Everynuc, this converted MB poly nuc has the correct beespace at the frame ends, top beespace and a small entrance (two 16mm holes, easily sealed for transport and easier to defend). The cost of the materials is negligible. Although I still don’t like painting these boxes, the handholds are useful and – if you can buy them in the sales from Modern Beekeeping – this converted nuc works out about 40% cheaper than the Everynuc and corrects most of its design faults.

That’s probably the last posting ever on converting poly nucs … I’ve now got more than enough for my modest needs. Other than infrequent repainting and the odd bit of filler to fix holes or damage I expect these to last and last.

Correx roofs

I’ve got a variety of roofs on my hives. Some are homemade, covered with roofing felt or damp proof membrane. I have a number of disappointingly flimsy ‘seconds’ from Thorne’s purchased at about £18 each from trade stands at the National Honey Show or Spring Convention. Finally, I have a few beautifully made ones from Peter Little of Exmoor bees and beehives (highly recommended if you don’t want to make your own equipment). My DIY roofs and the cedar ones from Peter are strong, but they’re also quite heavy. It’s not as if there isn’t already enough heavy lifting to do when beekeeping …

A collection of roofs ...

A collection of roofs …

I use fluted polypropylene such as Correx or Corroplast for a variety of purposes – landing boards on Kewl floorsVarroa trays, fat dummies, temporary crownboards and – I fear in the future – as SHB traps. I usually scrounge abandoned ‘For Sale’ signs, advertising boards or political posters, but these are rarely larger that A2 in size. I recently bought (from eBay) five sheets of 1.2 x 2.4m 4mm Coroplast for about £12/sheet (delivered) for another project and built some roofs from a spare sheet. I can get 8 National roofs from a single sheet i.e. each folded from a 60x60cm square, making each cost about £1.50 (plus a few pence for tape or glue).

Correx sheet

Correx sheet …

If these withstand the rigours of the 2014/15 winter I’ll post some simple construction details in due course (it turns out there are  tricks to folding and gluing Correx … you’ll need a pizza cutter). Correx roofs aren’t an original idea … Jon from the NIHBS, the acknowledged Correxmeister on the SBAi forums, has previously posted details of both roofs and nuc boxes built from election posters and yards of gaffer tape.

Correx roof

Correx roof

At the very least these lightweight roofs are likely to be very useful on bait hives which are both temporary and usually moved soon after being occupied.