Category Archives: Frames

Foundationless frames redux

Synopsis : Foundation is getting more expensive. Try foundationless frames; save money and reduce miticide contamination in your hives.


While preparing some minor updates for a talk this week 1 I had cause to look up the price of foundation.

Flippin’ heck!

Foundation is one of the beekeeping basics. It’s effectively a consumable item that you periodically have to replace … or more correctly you replace the frames containing new sheets of foundation. It is recommended that brood frames are replaced every three years; this means you should expect to replace 3-4 frames per season in a National hive.

Like other basics, such as eggs and pasta, the price of foundation is rising inexorably. The last stuff I bought – premium National wired worker deep – was about £13 from Thorne’s. I bought ~15 packets and it hurt.

It’s now £15.60 a packet (for 10 sheets) 2. If it goes up much more I’ll have to trade in a kidney before visiting Brian at Thorne’s of Newburgh.

Continue reading

Getting answers

Synopsis : Getting good answers involves asking good questions. But remember that the bees have no concept of what is ‘best’, or of the calendar.


If you’re just starting beekeeping it’s likely you will have a never-ending list of questions about the somewhat arcane and often perplexing hobby you are embarking on.

And if you’ve been beekeeping for years (or even decades) you might have the same number of questions, albeit somewhat more specialised or esoteric 1. You’ll also probably be involved in answering some of the questions from less experienced beekeepers.

Hive tools ...

Hive tools … which is the best?

Getting good quality and appropriate answers broadly depends upon three things:

  • who (or what) the question is directed at,
  • the wording of the question, and
  • whether the answer is simply factual or involves a subjective assessment

Let’s take a simple example …

Q. What is the scientific name of a bee?
A. The scientific name for the order of bees is Hymenoptera, but this encompasses many different species of bees, not just a single type of bee. To specify a particular species, a scientific name would be necessary, for example, the scientific name for a honey bee is Apis Mellifera.

… so, let’s be more specific …

Q. What is the scientific name of a honey bee?
A. The scientific name for a honey bee is Apis Mellifera.

By asking a more specific question you have received a better answer.

Unfortunately, it’s still not completely correct.

There is a convention on the capitalisation of scientific names; the name of the genus (in this case Apis) is always capitalised, but the name of the particular species (mellifera; meaning honey-bearing) should start with a lowercase letter.

The correct answer should therefore be Apis mellifera.

Or what?

You may have noticed the who (or what) in the list above. The ‘or what’ was deliberate because, increasingly these types of questions will be answered, not by humans or beekeepers 2, but by a machine.

In fact, the two questions and answers shown above were answered by a machine … in this case one called ChatGPT. In this post, ChatGPT responses are shown in red text. The only reason you may not have heard of ChatGPT 3, released just 2 months ago, was because you’ve been living as a hermit in the Tora Bora cave complex for the last few years.

If ChatGPT is new to you then you’re going to have ample opportunity to experience it – or its successors – in the next few months and years. ChatGPT is described as a chatbot which has been trained through supervised and reinforcement learning. It can do a range of things that are a lot more impressive than not quite getting the scientific name of honey bees correct … it can compose music, write computer code and pass written exams for medicine. It can produce essays and it is causing considerable concern in education, where students are already using it for homework 4.

Perhaps I’ll save myself some late night writing by asking ChatGPT to do my homework …

Write a 500 word article for beekeepers about hive tools and Taranov swarm control, remembering to include a handful of poor quality puns and some truly shocking, punctuation.

I asked it to do this … it generates the answer in less than a minute. I’ve added the answer as a separate page as I don’t want to get even more distracted from the topic of the post today.

Factual inaccuracies

ChatGPT does OK on the poor puns (beeeing, buzz-worthy etc.) but less well on the shoddy punctuation, unless you count the Oxford comma.

It does much less well on Taranov swarm control. Indeed, I had started by asking it to “Describe how to conduct swarm control using the Taranov method” and received the following answer:

The Taranov method is a technique used for swarm control in beekeeping that involves manipulating the hive to prevent swarming. The process begins by identifying a colony that is likely to swarm and removing any queen cells, which are the cells that contain developing queen bees. Next, the beekeeper will divide the colony by removing a section of comb with eggs and young larvae, and placing it in a new hive box. This creates a population imbalance in the original hive, which triggers the bees to start raising new queen bees. Finally, the beekeeper will monitor the hive to ensure that no new queen cells are forming, and will continue to remove them as they appear. This method aims to reduce the likelihood of swarming, by keeping the colony balanced and preventing the development of new queen bees.

Which is almost completely wrong. I’m not going to describe Taranov swarm control, but it’s not that. If you want to know (and it is an intriguing method, though not one I have used) I suggest you ask an experienced beekeeper, not a machine. It requires a simple, correct, factual answer.

Subjective or qualified answers

The other thing ChatGPT is not good at is answering questions that require some experience and/or may be subjective. For example …

Q. What is the best type of beehive for a beginner?
A. For a beginner, the Langstroth beehive is considered the best option due to its standardized dimensions, ease of management, and wide availability of equipment and accessories. Additionally, it is commonly used by many beekeepers and has a strong community of support and resources available.

… OK, what about something even more important?

Q. What is the best type of hive tool for beekeeping?
A. A J-shaped hive tool is widely considered as one of the best for beekeeping. It is versatile, durable and can be used for a variety of tasks such as prying apart beehive boxes, scraping propolis and wax, and removing frames.

The first answer actually isn’t bad, particularly if you are in the US. However, the justification is a little odd and could equally well be applied to a National, Dadant 5 or Layens hive.

The ‘best hive’-type question is one commonly asked by beginners and one where a better question improves the answer. If you instead ask ChatGPT for the best beehive for a beginner in the UK it recommends a National hive (justified by compatibility).

However, the answer ChatGPT gives to the ‘best hive tool’ question is clearly wrong.

Simply the best … no contest!

Anyone with even passing experience of opening a hive knows that the claw-type hive tool is by far and away the most practical, comfortable and good looking 😉 .

The ’widely considered’ in ChatGPT’s answer is the giveaway. It’s (obviously) never used a hive tool and so cannot speak from experience.

Flame wars

The examples above are trivial but they do show both the abilities and shortcomings of ChatGPT. But it will get better – more accurate, more factually correct, better at providing qualified subjective answers (and hiding the fact that it has no direct experience of any of the things it is comparing).

You’d better get used to it as it will revolutionise our interactions – direct or indirect – with computers; websites, discussion forums, computer programming, teaching, student assessment and – increasingly – creative work as well.

It’s going to put a lot of people out of work 🙁 .

I’m already out of work, so I don’t feel too threatened, but perhaps it’s also going to eventually replace the beekeeping blogger.

As an aside, I thought a ChatGPT-powered ‘user’ on a beekeeping discussion forum like Beesource in the US, or the BeekeepingForum here in the UK would be – at least briefly – entertaining. Some of the discussion threads on these can get really out of hand, even with strict moderation (a thankless task).

ChatGPT can already interact conversationally, its command of the subject and of English (and, of course, a range of other languages) is already better than many readers/contributors, and it would be a whole lot more persistent in an online argument (though it is currently not particularly creative when it comes to insults).

It’s going to render many of these discussion forums worthless and is already banned from some of the computing forums. The scientific journal Nature has established ground rules for its use – it cannot ‘share’ authorship (!), its use in data analysis must be documented etc.

I already find many discussion forums unrewarding … they might get a lot worse, at least in the short term. Since many beginners use them a lot, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Better answers

Although I’ve been wandering some way off topic there are some important points embedded in the first half of this post.

The question you ask influences the answer you get.

In beekeeping, your local environment and your latitude are particularly influential in the lives of your bees.

I gave a talk this evening on queen rearing. One of the questions was ‘How early in the season can I start?’

That’s a perfectly good and valid question, but answering it requires knowing something about the local climate and colony development.

It also varies from year to year … for example, a cold spring delays things.

Some might simply answer ‘mid-May’ or ‘late-April’ … indeed, questions like that may be asked by someone wanting a calendar-based answer.

Unfortunately, beekeeping isn’t that simple. Beekeepers on the UK south coast can often start queen rearing two months before I can here in north west Scotland.

My answer involved something about drone availability. A drone takes 24 days to develop and a few days after that to become sexually mature. Studies have shown that the peak of drone brood production occurs about one month before swarming (Page and Erickson, 1988), though production starts earlier.

And the correct answer is …

So a better answer is to keep an eye on your colonies, observe drone brood production increasing and – 3-4 weeks later (or perhaps a little before 6 ) – start your queen rearing with every expectation the bees will have got the timing about right.

Shallow depth of field

One of many …

In a cold spring they’ll start producing drones later, at a more southerly latitude they’ll produce drones much earlier than they will in northern Scotland.

Yes, the answer is more difficult to understand than ‘the 19th of April’, but it’s much more likely to be correct because it is based on an understanding of the biology of the bees.

It’s also likely to be correct most years. You can test this by keeping notes. You’ll then have something to refer back to next year and the one after that, and you’ll be able to answer, with compelling authority, anyone who asks you the same question 😉 .

In about 30 years you’ll be able to review your notes – of drone production and queen rearing successes – and see whether the timing needs revising 🙂 .

In doing that you’ll have completed the transition from seeking a calendar-based response, to understanding the drivers that determine colony development and reproduction, and end up with an answer that is generically applicable, qualified and based upon personal experience.

Expect biased answers

My preference for a particular type of hive tool is based upon personal experience (and unrelated to the fact that I bought 20 of them very cheaply a decade ago). Do not underestimate the importance of personal experience in answering beekeeping questions … or its ability to generate biased, unqualified or even completely incorrect answers.

Ask three experienced beekeepers a question and you’ll get five answers … one will be completely wrong, another will involve ‘brood and a half’ (also wrong … obviously), a third will answer a different question altogether and the final two will express diametrically opposing views about whether the J-shaped or claw-shaped hive tool is ‘best’.

The answer you get is based upon the experience of whoever you ask … and how willing they are to answer.

Be warned, it’s not unusual for the most (usefully) experienced and the most vociferous beekeepers to be different individuals. In fact, it’s not unusual for the most vociferous to be much less experienced than they sound.

For a subject as practical as beekeeping, practical experience is far, far more valuable than ‘knowledge’ gleaned from the internet (after all, you might have been reading something written by ChatGPT).

I know the difference between the Miller and Hopkins methods for queen rearing. I’ve not used either (yet) so I don’t know which is better – either outright, or in particular circumstances.

This can all be a bit overwhelming as a beginner … use your judgement, listen, check some of the answers in a good book 7 or a reputable online source, ask a follow-up question.

Nobody knows all the answers and it sometimes feels as though the more knowledge you acquire, the more questions appear.

Answer your own questions; observation and understanding

There is no ‘best’ hive, or 8 hive tool. The bees don’t care and – through experience – you’ll find what suits your beekeeping.

It’s likely that the ‘best’ anything in beekeeping – bee, hive tool, hive, smoker, forage, honey, hive stand, extractor, queen excluder etc. – is a meaningless concept.

It’s an irrelevant question as far as bees are concerned. There may be good ones and bad ones, but it’s surprising how tolerant and accommodating the bees – and a beekeeper – can be.

I’d strongly recommend that anyone starting beekeeping ignores articles with the word ‘best’ in them – except perhaps this one.

Ask meaningful questions and look for insightful answers.

The ‘when to start queen rearing?’ is a good – albeit incomplete – question and I suggested how I would (or did) answer it above.

In that example it is really by observing and understanding the bees that you answer the question. I think those are two of the most important skills to acquire as a beekeeper; doing so will always help you get better answers, not least because they help answer them yourself.

Asking an experienced beekeeper gets you part way there but it doesn’t come close to working something out yourself.

Do an experiment

I used the word ‘arcane’ in one of the opening sentences. It means mysterious, obscure or little understood. Despite sounding a little like the word archaic – meaning old fashioned or belonging to an earlier period – it has a totally different etymology. Arcane is derived from the Latin arcānus meaning ‘closed or shut up’, whereas archaic is from the Greek ἀρχαϊκός for ‘ancient’.

Nevertheless, bits of beekeeping are both arcane and archaic.

Sometimes they’re ‘old fashioned’ because experience has shown that a particular method works reliably well, so is promoted and becomes widely used. However, sometimes it’s because ”it’s always been done like that” and everyone unquestioningly follows the approach without asking whether there are other – perhaps better – ways of achieving something.

Let’s take a trivial example … starter strips in foundationless frames.

Beautiful …

A foundationless frame is a frame containing no foundation (helpfully, the clue is in the name) . Every foundationless frame you use saves you about £1.40 based upon the current price of foundation. What’s more, because commercial foundation contains miticide residues, every frame you use reduces traces of miticides in your hive.

And, if you read online about making foundationless frames you’ll find lots of descriptions, many of which include instructions to provide a wax, or waxed, starter strip attached under the top bar for the bees to start drawing comb from.

When I started using foundationless frames I – unquestioningly – followed these instructions, cutting 2 cm strips of commercial foundation and nailing them in place in my frames.

Foundationless frame

And they often fell out … which prompted me to ask a question I should have done in the first place, and to do an experiment.

Ask the bees

Where do bees naturally start drawing comb?

Wherever the swarm ends up. If it’s in a previously unoccupied tree hole, or loft space, there are no convenient strips of wax foundation to be used as guides. The cavity may be completely empty.

Clearly they don’t need a starter strip to work from.

However, the beekeeper does not want the bees to build comb totally haphazardly. We want them to stick within the confines of the frame or it becomes impossible to manipulate. It’s therefore useful to provide them with ‘guides’ on where to start … they might not follow them, but they almost always do.

So, by understanding what the bees do naturally, qualified by our own selfish interests in managing the colony, we can ask the bees what suits them … a strip of wax foundation, a waxed wooden guide or a lollipop stick.

And, having worked out which the bees prefer, we can make a decision based upon what also suits us.

Take your pick ...

Take your pick …

I therefore did a simple experiment. I built a dozen or so foundationless frames, each containing three randomly positioned starter strips under the top bar – one third wax foundation, one third waxed wood and one third plain wooden lollipop stick (or ‘tongue depressors’).

Over the course of a season I used these in a variety of colonies and observed which of the starter strips was preferred … indicated by which the bees chose first, or which they avoided.

And the results are in …

It made no difference at all. There was no correlation between the type of starter strip and use by the bees.

They just don’t care.

So I only now use plain wooden starter strips. They are quicker and easier to prepare, impervious to the steam wax extractor and much more robust. I use them in full hives and in my mini-nucs for queen mating, simply gluing the wood in place.

Kieler mini-nuc topbar frames – no need for foundation or waxing

A little understanding of what the bees do, coupled with a little experimentation and some observation, allowed me work out the answer to the question ’What is the best material for starter strips’ 9.

I should note that many other have reached exactly the same conclusion independently. I’m not claiming to have discovered this first, but I did formally test what the bees preferred.

Some ChatGPT creativity to end with

To finish I thought I’d ask ChatGPT to do something creative.

Rather than eliciting incorrect answers about Taranov swarm control I asked it for a poem, in the form of a haiku 10, about honey bee swarms;

Golden bees swarm forth
Honeyed scent on the breeze
Nature’s sweet bounty.

Not bad 🙂


Page, R.E., and E. H. Erickson, Jr. (1988) Reproduction by Worker Honey Bees (Apis mellifera L.). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 23: 117–126 Accessed February 3, 2023. Note: this might not be accessible online, so you could try this instead – Page, R.E. Jr (1982) The seasonal occurrence of honey bee swarms in north-central California. American Bee Journal 121:266-272.


Winter projects

Synopsis : Now is the time to make plans for the long winter ahead; frame building, winter projects, some light reading or an escape to somewhere warmer and with better wine?


The good late summer September weather 1 has been replaced with the first of the equinoctial gales. Actually, more of a 30-40 mph stiff breeze with an inch or two of rain than a real gale. Nevertheless, wet and windy enough to preclude any outdoor jobs, and instead make my thoughts turn to winter projects.

The more northerly (or southerly) the latitude, the longer the winter is. Here in north west Scotland there’s virtually no practical beekeeping to be done between the start of October and early/mid April i.e. over 6 months of the year.

Some beekeepers fill these empty months by taking a busman’s holiday … disappearing to Chile or New Zealand or somewhere equally warm and pleasant, where they can talk beekeeping – or even do some beekeeping – and, coincidentally 2 enjoy some excellent wines.

Santiago bee graffiti

Santiago, Chile, bee graffiti …

Others ignore bees and beekeeping for the entire winter and think (and do) something completely different. They build model railways, or practise their ju-jitsu or – if really desperate – catch up on all the household chores that were abandoned during the bee season.

They then start the following season relatively unprepared. Almost certainly, next season will be similar to last season. They’ll make similar mistakes, run out of frames mid-season and lose more swarms than they’d like.

Rinse and repeat.

Alternatively, with a little thought, some reading, a bit of effort and some pleasant afternoons in the shed/garage/lounge, they can both plan for the season ahead and prepare some of the kit that they might need.

As Benjamin Franklin said ”By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Looking back to look forward

I’ve discussed beekeeping records previously (and should probably revisit the topic). My records in the early years were terse, patchy, illegible and of little real use, perhaps other than in the few days that separated colony inspections.

Better than nothing

Better than nothing … just.

My records now are equally terse, but up-to-date and reasonably informative. I’ve got a numbering system for my colonies and queens that means they can be tracked through the season. The records are dated (rather than ’last Friday’) so I can calculate when important events – like queen emergence or mating – are due.

They’re also legible, which makes a huge difference. I could just about read my old scrawled pencil notes a few days after an inspection, but would have had no chance 5 months later.

By which time I’d have lost the little notebook anyway.

So, at some point over the next few months – sooner rather than later – I’ll look through my records, update the ‘queen pedigree’ table 3 and summarise things for the season ahead.

In the spring I’ll update a new sheet of records with a short note on overwintering strength/success and then we’ll be ready to go.

But, in reviewing the records I’ll remind myself about the things I ran out of, the timing of swarm control (when there’s the maximum pressure on available kit) and ideas I might have noted down on how things could have been done better 4.

Reading and listening

The winter is a great time to catch up on a bit of theory. Some beekeepers do exam after exam, pouring over Yates’s Study Notes until they can recite chapters verbatim.

I’ve done enough exams in my lifetime for … a lifetime, and have no intention of doing any more.

However, I’m always happy to do a bit of reading. I’ve currently got The Native Irish Honey Bee and Joe Conti’s The Hopkins Method … (which I’ll return to shortly) by my desk. I’m also partially successfully at keeping up with some of the relevant scientific literature 5.

A larger and more enthusiastic audience than usually seen at a beekeeping talk

There are also numerous winter talks available. Some are through local associations, others are available more widely. I ‘virtually’ attended one this evening where there were questions from as far apart as Orkney and Tasmania.

Of particular relevance to Scottish beekeepers, it’s worth noting that our association membership fees are usually significantly less than south of the border (probably because your SBA membership is separate), so you can inexpensively belong to a couple of associations and benefit from their talks programmes and – if you’re lucky – Co-Op purchasing schemes 😉

My attendance at these talks is less good than it should be, largely because I give a lot of talks each winter, but I instead benefit from the Q&A sessions which can be both entertaining and informative.

OK … enough theory

Theory is all well and good, but beekeeping is a practical pastime and just because it’s dark, cold, wet and windy, doesn’t mean there isn’t practical stuff you could be doing.

Competitive beekeepers will use the time to prepare the perfect wax block or bottle of mead for their – local or national – annual honey show.

I’m not competitive, and my wax is pretty shonky but I’ve had fun making (and more fun testing) mead 😉

But there are lots of other things to do …

The known knowns

By reading your comprehensive notes you will know that you ended the season with 5 colonies, that swarming started in mid-May but was over by early July, and that you’ve got one really stellar queen you’d like to raise 2-3 nucs from.

All of which means you are going to need a minimum of 60 new frames next season. These need to be ready before swarming starts.

Bamboo foundationless frames

Bamboo foundationless frames

How did I get to 60?

About a third of brood frames should be rotated out and replaced each season (~20). The nucleus method of swarm control uses the fewest frames, but you’re likely to have to use swarm control for all your colonies (~25). Then there’s a further 15 frames for the 3 additional nucs you want to prepare. Of course, if you’ve got lots of stored drawn comb 6 or you use double brood boxes, or Pagden’s artificial swarm method these numbers will be different.

The point is, you will need extra frames next season.

I’m ending this season with about 20 colonies and so expect to need over 200 frames next year, possibly more if queen rearing goes well. Some frames will be recycled foundationless frames but others will contain normal wired foundation.

And what about supers? 2022 was a good year for honey. If you had enough supers and super frames you’ll probably be OK in an average year.

Whether it’s average or not, it’s always easier to build the frames – well-fortified with tea and cake – in the winter, rather than in a rush as you prepare to go to the apiary.

Exactly the same type of arguments apply to any other routine piece of kit – broods, supers, crownboards, roofs, clearers. Buy or assemble and prepare them in the winter.

After Tim Toady try something new

A few weeks ago I introduced the Tim Toady concept. For just about any beekeeping activity, there are numerous ways that it can be completed. There must be dozens of different methods for swarm control or queen rearing, perhaps more.

Of course, however many methods there are, all – at least all the effective ones – are based upon the basic timings of brood development and of the viable fractions of the colony. These things don’t change.

The biology of the honey bee is effectively unvarying.

Queens take 16 days to develop, drones take 32 days (from the egg) to reach sexual maturity. A queen and the flying bees are a viable fraction, as are the nurse bees and young brood etc.

Despite being based around these invariant 7 biological facts, not all swarm control or queen rearing methods are equal. Certainly, the end results might be similar, but some methods are easier, use less equipment, need less apiary visits or whatever i.e. some methods probably suit your beekeeping better than others.

My advice about this plethora of different methods to achieve the same ends remains exactly what it was a month ago … learn one method really, really well. Understand it. Become so familiar with it that you don’t need to worry about its success 8.

And then, after a bit of winter theory, plan to try something different.

And the winter is the ideal time to build any new things you might need to try this alternative method next season.

Here are a couple of my past and current winter projects.

Morris boards

Probably 90% of my queens are produced using the Ben Harden approach. It was the method I first learnt, and remains the method I’m most confident with. I’ve found it a reliable small scale method for rearing queens.

But, as they say, ’familiarity breeds attempt’ (at something new) and I’ve always liked the elegance of the Cloake board. This is a split board with an integral queen excluder and a horizontal slide. You place it between the boxes in a strong double-brood colony. By inserting the slide, opening upper front and lower rear entrances and simultaneously closing the front lower hive entrance you render the top box temporarily queenless and enable it to get stuffed with all the returning foragers 9. The queenless upper box is now in an ideal state for starting new queen cells from added grafts.

Morris board

But most of my west coast bees don’t end up as booming double brooders … the standard Cloake board needs too many bees for my location.

Parallel Cloake boards 

Which is where the Morris board comes in. It’s effectively two parallel Cloake boards. Paired with a ‘twinstock-type’ divided upper brood box (or two cedar nuc boxes) it works in the same way as the Cloake board, but only needs sufficient bees to pack a 5-frame nuc so is better suited to my native bees.

Here’s one I started earlier … a Morris board under construction

You can buy Morris boards … or you can easily build them. This was one of my winter projects in ’20/’21. I’ve used them for the last two years successfully and have been pleased with the results.

I don’t think I understand their use as well as the Ben Harden system … but I will. In particular, I have yet to crack the sequential use of one side, then the other to rear a succession of queens.

Portable queen cell incubator

This was my one big project last winter. Unfortunately, we had a shocker 10 of a summer on the west coast and it was rarely used. I did put a few queen cells through it successfully, but queen rearing generally was hit and miss (mainly miss) so it’s yet to prove its full worth.

Portable queen cell incubator version 2

This is version 2 of the incubator. I’m gradually compiling a list of opponents for version 3 11 that should correct a few things that could be improved – capacity, level of insulation, heat distribution – though the current incarnation is probably more than adequate.

Building – and testing, which actually took a lot more time – the queen cell incubator was a lot of fun. I discovered (and created 🙁 ) a series of problems that needed to be solved and, relatively inexpensively 12, enjoyed sorting them all out. I could work in my warm, well-lit workroom, drink gallons of tea, and dabble with 12V electrickery without endangering my life.

I’ve used it this season powered by a 12V transformer indoors, from an adapter in the car or from a battery with solar backup in the apiary.

However, to use it properly I need to rear more queens … which brings me to … 

Queen rearing without grafting

Both the Ben Harden and Cloake/Morris board methods of rearing queens use a suitably-prepared colony in which young larvae are presented. Typically 13 these larvae are grafted from a suitable donor colony.

Grafting is perceived by some as a ‘dark art’ – though perhaps not exactly malicious – involving a combination of sorcery, spells, fabulous eyesight and rock-steady hands 14.

It isn’t, but this perception certainly dissuades many from attempting queen rearing.

Capped queen cells

Capped queen cells produced using the Ben Harden queenright queen rearing system

I find grafting relatively easy and routinely expect 80-90% ‘take’ of the grafted larvae. My sorcery and spells are clearly OK. However, in the future, my eyesight and manual steadiness/dexterity are likely to decline as I get older 15.

I’ve also been reading some papers on how the colony selects larvae to develop into queens. Their strategy isn’t based upon what they can see and pick up with a 000 sable paintbrush … funny that.

I’m therefore going to try one of the graft-free methods of rearing queen cells, and the approach I intend to use is the Hopkins method. Hence the part-read copy of Joe Conti’s book mentioned earlier.

The Hopkins method of queen rearing

This method involves the presentation of a frame of suitably-aged eggs and larvae horizontally over a brood box packed with young bees. Importantly I mentioned both eggs and larvae as, under the emergency response colonies preferentially rear new queens from 3 day old eggs.

The resulting queen cells are cut from the frame and used to prime nucs or mini-nucs.

Even with my presbyopia and ’hands like feet’ I should be able to manage that 😉

The intention is to couple the Hopkins method with a 12-frame double-brood queenless nuc box which is subsequently split into several nucs for mating the new queens. And, if that wasn’t enough, I’m hoping I can integrate this with some swarm prevention for the donor colonies … time will tell.

All of that means I need some new kit 🙂

Before butchery photo … an eke being adapted for the Hopkins method of queen rearing

I purchased some Maisie’s poly nuc boxes, floors, feeders and ekes in the summer sales. In the winter I’ll spend some time butchering them with my (t)rusty Dremel ‘multi-tool’ to accommodate the horizontal brood or super frames (and a cell bar with grafts for good measure) before painting them a snazzy British racing green or Oxford blue 16.

More poly hive butchering

I’ve already done a little poly hive butchering this winter.

I’ve got about 20 Everynucs from Thorne’s. These are a thick-walled, well made nuc with a couple of glaring design flaws. However, I’m prepared to overlook these as, a) they’re relatively easy to fix, and b) they cost me a chunk of money and I’m loathe to spend at least the same amount again to replace them.

In addition, bees overwinter fantastically well in them.

Here's one I prepared earlier

Here’s one I prepared earlier … an overcrowded overwintered nuc in April

I’ve also got a few compatible feeders which are really designed for feeding syrup. You can add fondant, but the bees then need to follow a rather convoluted path to access it.

Everynuc feeder ...

Everynuc feeder …

I decided to modify the feeders to allow both by fitting a syrup-proof dam about half way along the feeder and drilling some 3-4 cm holes through the resulting ‘dry’ side of the feeder 17 .

Wooden syrup-proof dam and holes in an Everynuc feeder

Fondant, ideally in a transparent/translucent plastic food container 18 is inverted over the holes and the bees have direct access to it, even in the very coldest weather.

Munchity crunchity … direct access to the fondant

The Ashforth-type syrup feeder still works if needed and I no longer need 8 gallons just to top up each nuc 19. Typically my nucs won’t need feeding in midwinter, but if they do I should be able to position the fondant directly over the cluster allowing them the best chance of reaching it.

Winter weight

This is a practical project carried over from last year. I’m interested in the changing weight of the hive as the colony segues from ‘maintenance’ mode to early season brood rearing. I’ve drawn some cartoon graphs where there’s a clearly visible inflection point, with the hive weight dropping much faster once brood rearing starts.

Hive scales

I’m keen to have some real data rather than just my crummy cartoons. I already have the tools for the job, my no expense spared made hive scales. Tests last year showed that these were pretty accurate; I was about 8% shy of the actual weight (which doesn’t matter a jot, it’s the percentage change in weight that’s critical) and, more importantly, produced readings that were reproducible within a percent or two.

However, last year I was thwarted by bad weather, a lack of Gore-tex and an unexpected delay in evolving gills. I’ve now bought a sou’wester and, in the name of science, am preparing to brave the elements every week or so to weigh half a dozen hives.

And in between all that lot I’ll be building frames 🙂 20


The other winter project already part-completed is moving this site to a new server. Frankly this has been a bit of a palaver, but I think it’s now sorted.

If you had problems connecting over the last few evenings, apologies. If things still seem odd, slow, broken or unresponsive drop me a note in the comments or by email. Of course, if you can’t connect at all you’ll never read this postscript 🙁 .

The changes I’ve made will enable some new things to be incorporated over the next few months, once I’ve got a bit of spare time and have built all of those frames 😉


How have I managed to write over 450 posts without having one specifically dedicated to the bane of every beekeeper’s life … frame building?

Actually, that’s not quite correct.

It’s sometimes the bane of my life 1.

Building frames in the height of the season can be a rather stressful process.

I belatedly realise I need 20 frames for swarm control, or making up new nucs, or simply to replace some grotty old ones.

I’m short of time.

I can’t find the hammer … or the nails … or the foundation 🙁

Perhaps it’s only me that’s so disorganised?

But frame building isn’t always like that, and it doesn’t have to be like that.

When there’s no rush, when you have the right tools for the job and the time to do it properly, it can be quite a pleasant way to spend half an afternoon.

And the winter is the time to build frames, so this seemed a logical time to write this post.

Single use or reuasble?

Frames are a semi-disposable 2 consumable for beekeeping.

At least brood frames are. You’ll need new ones during swarm control and when making increase. These brood frames should then be replaced every 3-4 years, depending upon how dark and manky 3 they are getting.

‘Semi-disposable’ because brood frames can be recycled a few times through the steam wax extractor, but eventually the joints get a bit rickety and they should be consigned to the stove.

Super frames are a bit different because they can be reused year after year. I still have some (frames with drawn comb) in use from my first summer of beekeeping.

However, whether I’m making brood or super frames, I build them in essentially the same way. I also build my foundationless frames in a broadly similar manner.

If you build them properly they will remain square and relatively rigid even after a couple of passes through the steam wax extractor. This makes financial sense as frame costs can quickly escalate if you are not careful.

If you build them the way I describe below, you can put them through the steam wax extractor, push off the ‘nailed only’ bottom bar, scrape back any remaining propolis and wax, add a fresh sheet of foundation and refit the bottom bar.

Tools of the trade

You need somewhere with a reasonable amount of space to work and just a few very unspecialised tools. I like building frames in the garden if it’s warm and dry. The banging 4 is less intrusive for those indoors.

Of course, if you’re (sensibly) building them in midwinter – when you have time and little else to do – then you need to plan things accordingly i.e. not late in the evening, or when the crochet/poker club are meeting downstairs.

Tools of the trade

A sharp knife, a pair of pliers and a small lightweight hammer are the essentials. I use a 110 g (4 oz) cross pein hammer, though anything similar is suitable. Even if you end up using a nail gun for most of the work (see below) you will still need a hammer.

You will be surprised (I was) how much easier it is to build frames with a small hammer like this.

You don’t need force …  you need accuracy.

Every frame requires 11 nails, so a brood box or super-full of frames will mean you’re going to be using it a minimum of 121 times.

So buy and use a lightweight hammer 🙂

And then, after a thousand frames, buy a nail gun and ask yourself “Why didn’t I do this years ago?”.

Tacwise nail gun

Tacwise nail gun …

The Tacwise model I use has worked well, but I know some prefer a compressed air (rather than ‘lecky) powered gun.

I wasn’t joking when I said make a thousand frames first. Frame building is a sort of rite of passage for a beekeeper. You won’t make better frames with a nail gun, but you will make them faster (and more noisily).

I also suggest you use some wood glue 5 such as the blue indoor/outdoor Evo Stick or the equivalent stuff from Gorilla.

Of the two, I prefer the Gorilla glue as the nozzle is more clog-free 6.

OK … any readers who have made a few hundred frames up already can skip ahead to some of the concluding comments. You will know all of the following … or you should.

Building frames

Get organised first.

Make sure everything is to hand and logically arranged.

Put a hundred or so gimp pins (frame nails) into a container that has low sides and a wide open top, ideally quite heavy. You want them to be easy to pick up, but not easy to vibrate off the worksurface with all the hammering.

Gimp pins

And, if they do fall off, you only want to pick up a few dozen, not a 500 g box full.

I strongly recommend a Charlie Bigham’s pie container 7 for this purpose 🙂

How many frames should you make at a time?

I do them in batches of 10 as that number fits on the top of my Black and Decker Workmate. It’s also the number of sheets of foundation in a packet. And it’s a convenient number to put in a brood box so you don’t trip over them when building the next 10.

I usually make 5-10 batches and then give up from boredom 8.

Seconds out

You can save a chunk of cash by purchasing second quality frames in the sales. Most of the major suppliers sell them in batches of 50.

You can expect that a small proportion of the frame bars will have defects – knots, shakes, splits or warps.

If any of these are significant, and particularly if there are defects near the frame lugs or warps or twists in the top bar, discard them. It will only be 1-2% of the frame bars and it will save you the hassle of a broken lug or an ill-fitting frame later in the season.

I learnt this the hard way, so you don’t have to 😉

Prepare the top bars

  • Use the knife to remove the foundation retaining wedge from the top bars. Don’t just pull the wedge off as they sometimes break.
  • Put the foundation wedges somewhere nearby but out of the way 9.
  • Tidy up the remaining sliver of wood that is attached to the top bar with another careful swipe of the knife.
  • Lie the top bars – all in the same orientation – upside down on a flat surface.

Top bars – lined up and ready to go

  • Add a small dab of wood glue to the recess cut into the top bar where the side bars attach. Do both sides at once.

Add the side bars

  • Working down one side, then the other, of the aligned top bars, push fit the side bars in place.
  • Make sure you orientate the side bars with foundation groove on the inside 10.
  • They will be a tight fit and don’t worry if they’re not all perfectly aligned or fully pushed down. They need to be a tight fit to ensure that the frames will be square once assembled.
  • Once all the side bars are in place, take each frame and turn it over, standing on a hard surface and use the hammer to tap down on the top bar to ‘seat’ the side bars properly. Don’t hit the lug, just aim for the narrowest part of the top bar.

Properly ‘seated’ side bar

  • Some frames won’t need this, others will need a couple of smart taps to ‘seat’ them properly.
  • Return the frames to the inverted position.

Add the bottom bars

  • Add a dab of glue to the recess in the side bars that will take the bottom bar above the ‘non wedge’ side of the top bar.

Glue for one of the bottom bars only – note the orientation of the top bar

  • Add one bottom bar to every frame in the glued recesses. If the bottom bar is a very tight fit then the frames are good quality. If it’s so tight that the side bar splits then they are not such good quality.
  • A sharp tap with the hammer at the ends of the bottom bar before offering it to the glued recess will make it slightly thinner and so it may be easier to fit.
  • It is important that the ends of the bottom bars are flush with the side bars. If they are not the frame will taper and you will struggle fitting the foundation.

Check frame alignment

  • Check the alignment of the frames. They should all be square, with equal gaps between the bottom bars as shown in the photo above.
  • If any are wonky give them a twist to straighten them up.

Nail the frames

  • I nail each frame in turn, rather than doing all bottom bar nails first, then all side bars. It involves less frame handling and so is faster.
  • Use two gimp pins, one each side, to attach the bottom bar to the side bar. Drive the pin in vertically through the bottom bar into the end grain of the side bar.

Bottom bar nailing

  • Use four pins, two each side, to attach the two side bars to the top bar. One pin goes through the flat edge of the side bar.

One of four pins attaching the side bars and the top bar

  • The other – assuming you are using Hoffman self-spacing frames – is driven through the angled wedge-shaped spacer. Alternatively, some drive it in to the apex of the wedge. Either way works.

And the other face of the frame

  • All of the nails should be driven in flush with the wood. You do not want the heads protruding to catch on the hive tool when (if) you scrape the frames of propolis.
  • Some gimp pins are poor quality and have ‘spade ends’. These tend to drive in at weird angles and are best avoided.

Some good and bad gimp pins – the four on the left might be tricky to drive in straight

  • If the gimp pin does go in at an angle then don’t worry … unless it protrudes through the side bar or into the foundation groove.

Wonky pin … rip it out and start again

  • In these cases replace the pin or you will inevitably catch it with the hive tool, or rip your vinyl glove on it.

Fitting the foundation

I only fit foundation shortly before I need to use the frames. Foundation is relatively fragile. It goes brittle in the cold and develops a white(ish) bloom on the surface which makes it less attractive to the bees.

If you are building frames in the winter 11 then wait until you need the frames before fitting the foundation.

I use diagonally wired foundation. If you remove a sheet from the packet you will see that there are small or large loops of wire on the long edge of the sheet. The large loop goes adjacent to the top bar of the frame, trapped under the foundation wedge.

  • Fold the three large loops at 90° to the sheet and slide the sheet down the foundation grooves in the side bar so that the the wire loops lay flat against the underside of the top bar.

Placement of the wire loop against the underside of the top bar

  • Refit the foundation wedge. You usually have to squeeze it into the gap between the side bars, trapping the wire loops underneath it.
  • Fix the foundation wedge in place with three gimp pins driven through the wedge and each of the trapped wire loops. This stops the foundation from slipping down in the frame.

Pin through the foundation wedge and the trapped wire loop

  • Add the second bottom bar to the frame. This should not be glued as you want to be able to remove it to replace the foundation. Just use one gimp pin at each end.
  • Take care adding this second bottom bar as there is (or at least I have) a tendency to crumple the lower edge of the sheet of foundation. Push fit one end of the bottom bar and then offer it into position by prising it apart from the already fitted bottom bar, so making space for the foundation to fit. You quickly get the hang of this after messing up a couple of sheets of premium quality foundation 🙁

Second bottom bar fitted … do not use glue.

  • Some sheets of foundation are fractionally too wide for the frames. I’ve only ever used Thorne’s DN/SN4’s and DN/SN5’s – both first and second quality – and their premium foundation, and still they are sometimes too wide. In that case lay the foundation on a flat surface and cut ~1mm off one of the shorter edges.

Trimming super foundation to fit the frame

  • I suspect this poor fit is because the sheets of foundation ‘stretch’ slightly during storage 12. Since I usually need to trim down every sheet in a packet I find I can do 3-4 sheets at a time.

Foundationless frames

I’ve discussed these in detail before. I use a lot of them. I don’t have time or space or energy to justify their use again here … I’ve written lots about their construction and use previously which I hope should answer any questions you have.

I make these frames in the same way except for the addition of a couple of vertical bamboo supports. These are added after I fit both bottom bars. I then add back the foundation wedge to leave a narrow slot into which I glue a simple wooden ‘tongue depressor’ starter strip.

Why wood?

Why not a strip of commercial foundation?

Or a hand crafted wax starter strip?

Or at least a wax-painted wooden strip?

Because a plain wooden strip made from a tongue depressor works better and is less effort than any of the other ‘solutions’ 13 above.

Take your pick ...

Take your pick …

And I know this because I’ve done a side-by-side comparison (see above) to determine which the bees preferentially use … and they simply do not care.

I made a dozen or so frames up like those above and added them to hives and observed which of the options the bees ‘chose’ to draw comb from.

They chose the plain wood as frequently as any others … and since that’s the easiest to prepare, that’s what I do.

Let the bees tell you … 😉

Storing frames

If you’re paying full price for the frames and foundation (rather than buying in bulk, or buying second quality) a frame will cost about £3.30.

Look after them!

Storing 10-20 frames is easy … just put them in empty brood boxes. Except these might get pressed into service during swarm control, or to make bait hives, so then where do you store the frames?

Foundationless frames are relatively easy as they are more robust than frames with foundation. Just stack them up in a pile and use as needed.

Bamboo foundationless frames

Bamboo foundationless frames

Ideally do the same with the built frames before you add the foundation.

However, with a little ingenuity you can devise a solution … here’s mine.

Frame storage

I can store a couple of hundred frames hanging from the shed roof. This has worked well, but needs a reasonable amount of ‘head space’ – either a high roof, or something underneath them (like a bench, or in my case a canoe) that stops you from walking/standing directly below them.

Here are some I made earlier

I’m sure there are lots of other equally good solutions …

Final thoughts

If you use a nail gun to assemble frames do not use it for the second of the bottom bars (other than for foundationless frames). The gun drives the nails in deep and they are very difficult to remove. Attach the unglued second bottom bar with gimp pins as described above.


Nailed …

I use 20 mm 18g nails for the nail gun.

The nail gun speeds up frame building.

It can get quite competitive … can I build the next 10 frames in less time than it took the last 10?

Come on .. give me a break. It’s the winter and I need some sort of entertainment to get me through the dark days until I’m beekeeping again 😉


Autumn cleaning

Over the last fortnight, despite some occasional warm and sunny days, the autumn has made its presence known. 

Flaming autumn aspen

The aspen down the road are a stunning colour at this time of the year. Although I’ve planted a couple of dozen, they’re still not more than thigh-high and it will be quite a few years until they can match the display shown above.

Almost overnight hundreds of redwing have arrived from Scandinavia and many of the rowan have already been stripped bare 1.

In Fife, the leaden skies are filled with skeins of geese forming raggedy V’s as they fly in from the North Sea. It’s an evocative sight … it reminds me of my first weeks as an undergraduate student at Dundee University half a lifetime ago

And it also emphasises that the beekeeping season is over.

Of course, there will be jobs to do in the winter, but the bees are pretty much on their own for at least the next five months.


The final essential task of the season for me is to remove the Apivar strips that went into the hives in August. Initially the strips were placed on either side of the – still large – brood nest. A few weeks ago I removed the strips, scraped them free of propolis and wax and re-inserted them around the, now shrunken, brood nest.

Mid-autumn and time for the Apivar strips to be removed

You can just about see them in the photo above, flanking the four central frames.

It is important to remove the strips. Although Apivar has a relatively short half-life, some residual activity will remain. If you leave them in the hive any surviving Varroa – and there will be survivors 2 – will continue to reproduce in the presence of trace levels of amitraz, the active ingredient in Apivar. 

With reduced – and possibly borderline for killing – levels of amitraz present, these are ideal conditions in which resistance may develop. Although this has been reported it does not appear to be widespread. 

Therefore, to ensure that Apivar remains an effective miticide it is important to remove any remaining strips before the winter.

Your next adventure in Glenrothes awaits!

Tragic isn’t it?

That’s the subject line on the emails I receive from Travelodge where I stay when I’m doing my beekeeping in Fife. 

Have you ever been to Glenrothes?

‘Adventure’ isn’t the word most people associate with Glenrothes. 

Good morning Glenrothes

GetMeOuttaHere is. 

This is a town where every third car being driven late at night has a raucous exhaust, lowered shocks, tinted windows and a spoiler. The drive-in queue for McDonald’s sounds like the pit lane at the Indianapolis 500 and there are more donuts in the car park than in the fast food outlets 3.

But none of that usually bothers me as, by the time I get to the hotel, I’ll have been driving for 5 hours and will have spent about the same amount of time inspecting colonies or lifting cleared supers. I may also have squeezed in a couple of hours of meetings at work.

The environment might be noisy, but the beds are comfortable. 

But visits in late autumn are a bit different.

No colonies to inspect, no grafting to do, no nucs to check for mated queens and no supers to remove.

All I need to do is gently lift a few crownboards and pull out the Apivar strips now that treatment is complete.

So, what do I do for the rest of the day?

Long range weather forecasting

Is that an oxymoron?

I book my trips to Fife to fit in with what the bees need. To make the hotel affordable I book many weeks in advance.

I therefore put up with whatever the weather throws at me. Usually it works out OK.

Furthermore, as regular reader know, several hives are in a bee shed, so the weather is largely irrelevant.

But ~60% of them are outside.

And Monday was really wet. 

Having driven for four hours through increasingly heavy rain – stopping en route to make a honey delivery – I fortified myself with a cappuccino and excellent almond croissant from Taste, the best independent coffee shop in St Andrews 4.

Essential fortifications

I then sat in the shed enjoying my late breakfast listening to the rain hammering on the roof.

I needed something to occupy me until either:

  • the rain stopped
  • it got so late in the day that I’d just have to open the hives and remove the strips anyway

And the obvious thing to do was a bit of spring autumn cleaning. 

During the season the bee shed is used on a daily or weekly basis depending upon the experiments underway. In addition, we have a storage shed on the same site and a number of additional hives in the same apiary. I also do most of my queen rearing in this apiary (the bee shed provides a near-perfect environment for grafting), distributing the nucs to other apiaries for mating.

And all that beekeeping tends to leave a bit of a mess. At least, it does where I’m involved.

Super job

For the last couple of years I’ve not bothered returning the extracted supers to the hives for the bees to recover the last of the honey.

Instead I’ve just stacked them ‘wet’ in the shed, protected from wasps, mice and robbing bees, by covering the top of the stack with a well-fitting roof.

Or a snug-fitting crownboard and a badly fitting roof.

Stacked ‘wet’ supers

Experience has taught me that the floor of the shed isn’t level and/or has gaps between the planking. Rather than seal all these gaps I simply stand the stack of boxes on the sort of closed cell foam sheeting used for packing furniture, or – when I run out – on double thicknesses of cardboard 5. This stops the wasps, ants and bees from getting access. 

So I started by tidying the stacks of supers. Inevitably this necessitated moving them first, sweeping the floor clean, laying out the foam/cardboard and then restacking them. There’s not enough space in the shed to move ~60 supers so they went out in the rain.

So I got wet 🙁

Floors, roofs, boards, unidentifiable objects and wax moth

Once they were back I could turn my attention to the other side of the storage shed which houses spare roofs, nuc feeders, floors, boards (split, crown, surf, Morris, Snelgrove etc. 6 ), a breeding colony of queen excluders 7 and a motley collection of other items that:

  • might come in useful
  • don’t logically belong anywhere else
  • appear valuable and/or difficult to make … but I don’t know what they are
  • are essential and were needed several times in the season … but I’d lost them 🙁

Sorting this lot out took another hour or two, and involved a further soaking as I needed to clear the space before I could refill the space.

Early on in the process … 

Is beekeeping the largest volume hobby?

… and when at least partial order had been restored …

Floors from Abelo, Pete Little and some homemade abominations

I also found several brood boxes full of drawn comb or sealed stores.

Excellent 🙂

And I found a nuc box lurking in the far corner containing comb riddled with wax moth 🙁

Wax moth larvae and damage


DiPel DF

Wax moth are something I’ve largely avoided or ignored for most of the last decade. The cold winters in Scotland seem to keep their numbers down.

Not this time … 

All of the infested frames were bagged up for burning at the earliest opportunity. The remaining brood frames were treated with DiPel DF, a suspension of Bacillus thuringiensis kustaki spores and toxins. If ingested by the larvae of wax moths, the δ-endotoxin component dissolves in the alkaline environment of the gut, is activated following cleavage by gut proteases and then ‘punches’ a hole through the gut wall.


And the spores germinate, allowing the bacteria to grow inside the larva.

As I wrote in a post several years ago about this treatment:

This isn’t good for the moth larva. Not good at all. Actually, it’s probably a rather grisly end for the moth but, having seen the damage they can do to stored comb, my sympathy is rather limited.

DiPel DF is non-toxic for bees.

DiPel DF

I’ve not had problems with wax moth infesting supers stored ‘wet’ … they’re after the old cocoons and other rubbish that accumulates in brood frames.

Vita used to sell a product called B401 – also a suspension of Bacillus thuringiensis spores and proteins – which was withdrawn from sale in 2019. Despite assurances that a replacement – imaginatively labelled B402 – would be available ‘soon’ it appears to only currently be sold in the US.

Out with the old … and the not fit for purpose

I was on a roll … 

All this organisation meant I discovered things that I’d lost … like a small stack of contact feeders hiding in the corner that had not been used this season as I hadn’t done any shook swarms.

There they are! Contact feeders lurking shyly in the furthest corner (unlike those brazen frame feeders at the front)

I also found some mini-nucs I’d built for queen mating almost 10 years ago. They were made of ply and housed a tri-fold full-size brood frame (you can now buy these, but couldn’t when I built them). 

Tri-fold brood frame

However, the ply was starting to delaminate and it was pretty clear that they wouldn’t survive a Scottish summer season so they were unceremoniously binned.

And I finally bit the bullet and got rid of all my XP Plus queen excluders. These were bought from Thorne’s a few years ago and had been used only when I ran out of everything else.

In principle they are a good idea. A white plastic queen excluder with bee space on the underside provided by a raised rim and a series of small X-shaped spacers that stand on the top bars.

XP Plus queen excluder (the plus must mean ‘plus warp’)

However, in practice, they’re rubbish. They were the ‘ugly’ in my 2017 description of queen excluders that included the phrase ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’.  

They warp really badly. The photo above – if anything – obscures the warp because the QE is not being held flat. When you place them under a super the centre bows up and contacts the underside of the super frames.


Out they went.

The little things

There’s something rather poignant about the death throes of the beekeeping season. It can end with a bang as autumn storms roll in, or it can end in a protracted stutter as intermittent good days allow the bees to forage late into October. 

Of course, it’s au revoir 8 and not a final goodbye

It forms such a large part of my life for six months of the year that little things found during the clear-out bring back a flood of memories …

Nicot cup and (partly squidged) queen cell amongst the debris on the shed floor

A Nicot cup and vacated queen cell reminded me what a good queen rearing season we’d had on the east coast. Although the first round of grafting was a near-total failure, successive rounds were excellent, and queen mating was very successful. One of the best seasons in memory 9.

Coffee stirrer … or AFB test kit

Not all the memories were good ones though. I received one of the dreaded ‘AFB alert’ warnings for the apiary and spent a very long couple of days checking every cell on every brood frame in every colony, and testing any that looked suspicious.

I don’t take sugar, and the coffee stirrer shown above is provided in the AFB LFD kit to lift the dodgy-looking larva into a tube for analysis. Everything looked clear, but it gave me a few very stressful days.

And … after all that tidying, and repeated trips to the industrial-scale bins, it finally stopped raining.

Finally … some practical beekeeping

I fired up the smoker and quickly, but gently, removed all the Apivar strips. The crownboards on all the hives were very firmly stuck down with propolis and the bees, although calm, weren’t exactly overjoyed to see me.

Autumn still life – smoker, hive tool, Varroa trays and Apivar strips

I still had another apiary to visit. With rain threatening there wasn’t time to monitor the level of brood present so I slipped cleaned Varroa trays under the hives. This will allow me to inspect both residual mite drop and look for the presence of the characteristic biscuit-coloured cappings when brood is uncapped.

And then, after about half an hour of practical beekeeping, I set off back to the west coast as the rain started again.

The Moidart hills – An Stac, Rois-Bheinn and Sgùrr na Ba Glaise

Two days later the Moidart hills had their first dusting of snow.

It’s official, autumn is here and the beekeeping season is over.