Building bridges

The precarious scaffolding plank bridge that straddles the burn near my apiary got partially washed away during the heavy rainfall and flooding over the last few months. As the bee season is fast approaching and I need to shift some additional equipment and colonies to the apiary, I took advantage of a break in the weather to rebuild the bridge. Or, more accurately, put the planks back in place … ‘build’ makes it sound more than a 20 minute job, which is what it took. It’s a natural crossing point over the burn, as indicated by the roe deer hoof prints (‘slots’) in the soft mud on either side. Whether they’ll risk using the repositioned bridge remains to be seen. Whether it’ll survive discovery by the H+S people also remains to be seen 😉

The apiary occupies a sheltered and sunny corner of open woodland, access is restricted – not least because the bridge is still pretty precarious – and it’s not possible to get a car particularly close to the site. Therefore everything of any size has to be wheeled there on Buster, my (t)rusty hivebarrow. It’s easy to jump across the burn – after all, the deer do it all the time – but I need the bridge for the hivebarrow.

The apiary includes my bee shed, a 12 x 8 foot sturdy shed built onto a solid, level, slabbed foundation. The side of the shed that gets the morning sun has large bee-friendly windows. Inside, there’s a secure set of hive stands that are fixed, not to the shed, but to the underlying slabbed foundation. This ensures that vibrations caused by me wandering around inside the shed aren’t transmitted to the bees by the continued flexing of the floor. If you jump and land heavily on both feet in the shed the bees give a small roar of recognition/agitation. However, since I don’t normally pogo around my hives this isn’t an issue … during normal bumbling around the colonies they’re silent.

Feet through the floor ...

Feet through the floor …

I’m new to bee sheds, so am still learning … time will tell whether the modifications I’ve made to help house the hives – largely suggested by generous contributors to the SBAi, gleaned from the internet or simply guessed at – are suitable. For example, the hive floors are currently bolted onto the hive stands to avoid my inevitable engulfment in escaped bees if one were to get bumped inadvertently. In some bee sheds I’ve read the hive entrances are simply lined up with a hole in the shed wall. However, for a variety of reasons I and others want to be able to work in the shed without beesuits, so I have entrance tunnels that connect the floor to the shed wall.

Winter colony activity

Winter colony activity …

There are currently two colonies in situ. Both appear to be doing fine. Despite the temperature being appreciably warmer inside the shed (it’s unheated, but quickly warms once the sun is on it) they don’t fly if the outside temperature is too cold. On very cold days the colonies are tightly clustered. However, there are days when bees outside are clustered very tightly, but those inside are in a far looser mass. There’s also more evidence of activity within the colony – in terms of stores being uncapped and brood rearing. This isn’t to say that all similarly housed colonies would behave the same … the differences I see in the small number of colonies I’ve looked at might simply be due to genetic differences between the bees. Examination of the Correx Varroa boards shows the expected ‘stripes’ of wax granules from brood rearing and you can even see a few eggs that have been discarded and dropped through the OMF. The Varroa counts are very low. These colonies were treated by vaporisation about 8 weeks ago and have only dropped a couple of mites since then. However, I appreciate that mite drop counts are notoriously unreliable, but at least there aren’t hundreds 😉

Insulation ...

Insulation …

Several of my colonies had still not finished with their fondant blocks by late into November. These blocks had been housed over a queen excluder in an empty super, underneath the usual insulated perspex crownboard. To avoid a dead space above the colony I filled the super with some of that ‘inflated’ sealed plastic bag wrapping often supplied with packages from Amazon or similar mail-order suppliers. Bubblewrap can be used in the same way.

Far better this stuff is used than just dumped into a landfill …

Waiting ...

Waiting …


8 thoughts on “Building bridges

  1. MerryBee

    It looks a great setup, David, especially for the colder weather in the frozen north! But how do bees which are flying around inside the shed after the crown board is removed, find their way back into the hive?

    1. David Post author

      Ah ha! That’s the bee-friendly windows which I’m going to describe in more detail in a later post. I’m waiting until it’s warm enough to get a short video of them working … June perhaps?!

  2. Mick Smith

    David, I wondered the same, why don’t you have a shed full of bees? but I will now wait patiently until June to see what happens.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Mick,
      The bee-friendly windows let the bees out without letting the rain in … I would hope we’re inspecting colonies here before June, but it’s certainly too cold to go rummaging through them at the moment.

  3. Tim Foden

    Hi David

    I was wondering the same, so look forward to seeing your set-up in action. I am reminded of the many bee houses I saw on my visits to Slovenia. Their frames pull out backwards as the hives are stacked above each other, but I don’t know how stray bees get out.


    1. David Post author

      Hi Tim … I think there are a variety of solutions. One I’ve seen a couple of times is vents in the roof apex. Others have opening windows. We’ve gone for a “no moving parts” answer … for laziness and ease of construction as much as anything else. Those Slovenian-type hives are interesting … they must have to promptly remove capped honey frames from the upper chamber. I would think that swarm control without a vertical option might be a bit restrictive. Presumably they simply remove the Q in a nuc? As you can see in the pic above, our hives are boringly standard Nationals …

  4. Brian

    Hi Dave

    Impressive shed, given me food for thought for future plans. Is there not a danger of bees being tempted out due to warmer conditions in the shed and then getting chilled once out ? Or is this bunkum ? Suspect it us but interested to hear your observations / experience ?

    Suppose contrary to my question the same could be said for using poly hives

    Cheers ( and enjoying the posts )


    1. David Post author

      Asked and answered Brian! Remembering it’s my first year with the shed … however, I’ve been there on winter days borderline or slightly worse for flying. There’s been as much – or as little – activity from hives outside the shed as those inside. The only real difference appears to be how tightly the bees are clustered (less in the shed) though this is difficult to judge as the number of bees in the colony might be wildly different.

      What really interest me is the duration of the brood rearing period. Looking at the Varroa trays it appears that those inside are more active … at the moment at least.


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