Tag Archives: roof

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

Late arrivals

Stacked boxes

Stacked boxes …

I’m moving house in a couple of weeks and so stacked unused ‘bee equipment’ in a pile on the patio for packing. Some of the supers contained drawn comb from previous years, some of the broods were empty and some contained prepared foundationless frames. I thought I’d taken care to align everything reasonably well to ensure they were ‘beetight‘ when I finished up late on Thursday evening. However, I’d misaligned a chest high stack in the middle and unknowingly left a finger-width crack which allowed some scouts to decide it was a desirable site. Sometime mid-morning on Friday – when I was in the office – a good sized swarm arrived. I hadn’t noticed any scouts checking out the location. I originally thought it was robbers cleaning out honey from the supers, but a quick peek under the roof (there was no crownboard on the stack) showed they were busy drawing comb. Going by the numbers of bees present it looked like a prime swarm, but you can’t be sure unless you find the laying queen.

They couldn’t have chosen a much less suitable (for me … it obviously suited them 😉 ) stack to set up home in. The bottom three boxes were empty broods, topped with three supers, two of which were part filled with drawn drone foundation. Inevitably the spacing of the frames in the supers was all over the place. Removing the roof gently showed they were already building brace comb, attached to the roof and/or the frames. The bees were accessing the stack somewhere in the middle, on the face against the wall. What a mess.

Rearranging the hive

Rearranging the hive …

I fired up the smoker and got kitted up. It was relatively easy to split the stack and put a temporary floor below the supers (with the entrance facing the wall) and put a crownboard in place. The colony were agitated but not aggressive. There were far too many bees to try and find the queen. It was a hot day and there was a whirling maelstrom of bees. I was concerned that the queen – if she was mated – would start laying up the drawn drone foundation in the supers. By evening the stack was quietly humming away, with all the bees inside, so I moved them a few feet away to a purpose-built stand (the ubiquitous milk crate) … swarms can be relocated within 24-48 hours of arrival during which time the “3 foot, 3 mile rule” can be safely ignored.

Blackberry

Blackberry …

Early on Saturday morning I put a new floor and brood box filled with frames on the stand, then added a clearer board and put the two supers full of bees on top. The hope was that many of the foragers would move down into the brood box, leaving the queen and attendants above the clearer. I peeked through the perspex crownboard on Sunday morning and the number of bees in the supers was much reduced. A quick inspection located a very dark unmarked laying queen in the supers. One wing was pretty tatty so she might be quite old. To my surprise the bees had re-engineered a big patch of the drawn drone comb in the super frame to make worker-sized cells and that was the area she’d laid up. In addition, they’d also piled in a surprisingly large amount of nectar – presumably from blackberry which is just developing well at the moment. I rearranged the brood box, moving the queen on the laid-up super frame into the bottom box, then shook the remaining bees off the super frames and closed the colony up.

Ready for OA treatment ...

Ready for OA treatment …

Finally, late on Sunday evening I treated the colony by oxalic acid vaporisation. With no sealed brood in the hive it’s a perfect time to reduce the phoretic mite numbers by at least 95%. Since I have no idea about the provenance of the swarm – other than being sure its not from one of my colonies, all of which have marked and/or clipped queens – this gives at least some peace of mind that a range of unpleasant diseases aren’t being introduced to the apiary with the bees, or the mites they’re carrying. I’ll check the Varroa drop over the next few days and monitor the quality of sealed brood before deciding what to do with them. However, I suspect they’ll either be requeened or given away to an association member still wanting bees, or quite possibly both as I unite other colonies in preparation for moving.

The faint sniffing is my hay fever … I’m not testing the OA vapour. The latter is a significant lung irritant and I’m wearing safety goggles and a mask for personal protection. I’ll post something separately on the Sublimox vaporiser later in the season.

Note Unlike an earlier swarm only about ten mites dropped after OA vaporisation within the first 24 hours which is very reassuring. Some claim that only healthy colonies swarm and, although there is some truth in this (i.e. only strong healthy colonies build up sufficiently to swarm), it doesn’t mean the swarm won’t have a high phoretic mite load. Since, by definition, swarms are brood-free it’s an ideal time to treat them.

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 😉

Winter water

Freezing here overnight but the sun warmed the hives sufficiently that a few foragers emerged to collect water. They appeared particularly attracted to the pool of melted ice around this brick holding down a Correx roof. Presumably the black colour helped warm the water and there were some minerals leaching out of the brick.

Winter water

Winter water

And the first snowdrops are out …

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

I treat all my stored drawn comb with acetic acid going into the winter. It then needs to air thoroughly before use the following season. I stacked a pile of treated supers on top of some empties on the patio. Unfortunately I forgot that acetic acid corrodes concrete and now have this to get rid of …

Acetic acid damage

Acetic acid damage

Oops

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.

Google maps and apiary security

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

GPS-tagged image

GPS-tagged image

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

Google Streetview

Google Streetview …

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

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

… three rows of hive stands, cars provide scale

Baton Rouge labs

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

Baton Rouge apiary

Baton Rouge apiary …

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

Security by obscurity

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

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

There you are!

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

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

But what about my online images?

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

Not GPS-tagged

Not GPS-tagged …

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

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