Category Archives: Moving colonies

We’re moving …

The Apiarist is moving to a new server in the next few days. It’s possible that there might be a little disruption but – going by the access statistics – most beekeepers are now fixated either on the dregs of the Black Friday sales, or the run up to Christmas.

We're moving ...

We’re moving …

To try and make the transition as seamless as possible I’ve closed comments on this and future posts on the current site and will re-open them on the new site as soon as all the changes are in place 1.

Why?

Speed, space, cost and to satisfy the inner geek in me. But mainly speed and cost, or cost and speed depending how things go.

Or speed alone … or cost alone if things go worse than I’d hoped¬† ūüôĄ

What’s new?

There will (or at least should) be a few differences.

  • The first time you access the new site you should be offered a relatively discrete privacy notice about cookies and personal information. OK it (Accept and Close) and you shouldn’t see it again for about a year … unless you use multiple computers.
  • The web address will (eventually) have an https:// rather than http:// prefix. All this means is that information is encrypted when you fill forms in. You shouldn’t need to make any changes to bookmarks or anything else, it should all be handled automagically. Some over-protective web browsers (Chrome in particular) report that the current site/servers ‘are not secure’ (it is, for what it does … I don’t take credit card orders). Google also uses https as a ranking factor, so searches that find stuff here should move from page 232 to the heady heights of page 187¬† ūüė•
  • There are a few additional behind-the-scenes changes. If these break anything I’ve overlooked drop me an email via the ‘contact’ page and I’ll try and rescue things.

Thank you for your patience.

What? No beekeeping?

Well, almost none. I’ve been doing quite a few winter evening talks and particularly enjoyed the excellent lemon drizzle cake at Fortingall and District beekeepers recently¬† ūüėÄ ¬†Next week I’m at Dunblane and Stirling beekeepers on Tuesday and then with Arran beekeepers on Thursday.

I hope they’re both busy baking ūüėČ

I’ve got your number

However, back to the topics of¬†moving and¬†beekeeping … I’ve just received two sets of numbers for hive and queen labelling next season 2.

Numbers for hives and queens

Numbers for hives and queens

I manage hives in two to three apiaries which, for work purposes, sometimes get moved about during the year. Even more mobile are some of the queens which – for reasons that are too complicated to explain here – might start the season in one hive, spend some time in a nuc midsummer and end the season heading another colony altogether 3.

Keeping track of the hives¬†and the queens was a bit of a nightmare this year. To (hopefully) improve things I’m going to label occupied hives – both production colonies and nucs – with a unique number. In addition, using a separate distinct number, I will “label” the queens in the hives.

The hive number moves with the hive (or at least the brood box) and the queen number will be changed when the queen is moved or the colony is requeened.

What could possibly go wrong?


Colophon

The phrase to “have (got) someone’s number” means to understand someone There’s perhaps a subtle threat in the meaning … effectively¬†“You can’t fool me … and if you try to I know what to do”.

>3 feet and <3 miles

My original bee shed and the new bee shed are about 500 yards apart. There were at least eight colonies that needed to be relocated to the palatial new facility.

En route there was a precariously narrow scaffold plank footbridge, two (not particularly passively) aggressive swans, a large flooded field and a steep earth bank. Thanks to Buster, my trusty hivebarrow, none of these physical barriers were any impediment whatsoever.

Swan ...

Swan …

What potentially caused the problem was that the apiaries were only separated by 500 yards.

Moving colonies: the usual advice

The usual advice when moving colonies is that it is OK to shift the hive less than three feet or more than three miles.

Less than three feet because the final approach to the hive involves the appearance and smell of the colony. Flying bees that have orientated to the hive in their early flights return to the general location using obvious landmarks, but make the final approach using very local features and the characteristic odour of the colony. Just moving the hive 2-3 feet doesn’t change these local features or odour, so the bees very rapidly find the hive entrance.

The bees cope very well with moving the hive forwards or backwards and slightly less well with lateral movements.

It’s worth noting that the hive entrance should remain facing the same way for this to work. If you reverse a hive it does disorientate the bees though they find the new entrance eventually. This is exploited during vertical splits to separate flying bees with the queen.

More than three miles because the maximum foraging distance is probably a bit less than three miles. Therefore, if the hive is moved further away, all of the familiar landmarks will have disappeared and the bees have no choice but to reorientate to their new location.

In practice I’ve regularly moved hives just a couple of miles without issue. These distances aren’t set in stone.

Intermediate distances

But what about intermediate distances? For example, the swan-infested, wobbly-bridged and paddy field-like 500 yards separating my two bee sheds?

The recommended solution to these intermediate distances is to move the colonies to a distant apiary (3+ miles away) for a week or so, then move them back to their final destination. The bees are forced to reorientate, do so, ‘forget’ their original location and then are forced to reorientate again to their final location.

A totally foolproof and absolutely reliable solution to the problem.

And a lot of work.

However, in high summer with good weather and a large force of foraging bees, this is the method I usually use. I’d fit insect mesh travel screens, seal up the colonies late at night or very early in the morning, move them away for a week and then repeat the entire rigamarole to get them to their final location.

Hard physical work, lots of lifting and long days 1.

Alternatively you could move them a yard a day … but that’s only practical over very short distances

Or, more accurately, only bearable over very short distances.

Flat platform ...

Flat platform …

If you’re going to attempt this incremental migration I strongly recommend a hivebarrow with a level platform. No lifting every day. Simply push it another yard across the garden … day after day after day after day.

But this is a typical Scottish Spring …

It’s cold. Very cold at times.

It’s wet. Sometimes wet rain and sometimes wet snow.

Although the colonies are building up they are still relatively small. Because of the weather they don’t get out foraging every day. When they do it’s for an hour or two at most.

With a reasonably accurate weather forecast and careful timing it is possible to take advantage of this to move colonies intermediate distances with no problems.

Early April weather ...

Early April weather …

The Easter weekend was predicted to serve up the usual depressingly poor weather we expect on Bank Holidays. Other than Sunday we were promised intermittent rain or sleet from the Friday to at least the Tuesday.

In contrast, the Thursday before Easter was good with the bees foraging well, though it cooled quite quickly in mid/late afternoon. Importantly, inside the hives, the colonies remained active … they weren’t tightly clustered. I would avoid moving bees that are tightly clustered in very cold weather 2.

Moving in day

The new bee shed was prepared with clean floors for all the colonies that were being moved. The entrances were loosely stuffed with dried grass. The tyre on the hivebarrow was reinflated and I rummaged around in the bee bag to find some ratchet straps to hold things together.

Using just a puff of smoke at the entrance to clear any lingering bees I lifted a colony off its old stand and gently placed it on the hivebarrow. I sealed the entrance with foam3, strapped the hive securely together and then strapped the hive to the hivebarrow.

I then negotiated the flooded field, the stroppy swans, the wobbly bridge across the burn and the earth bank.

Each hive was placed on the floor of the new shed and left to settle while I fetched the remaining colonies.

Moving in day ...

Moving in day …

Finally, after 45 minutes or so, I gave each colony a tiny waft of smoke through the OMF to move the bees up, gently split the brood box from the old floor and lifted the hives onto their new floors.

Hardly a single bee escaped during the entire process … and I wasn’t savaged by the swans.

Settling in

Dried grass ...

Dried grass …

The hives were reassuringly heavy so had sufficient stores. Friday delivered sleet and temperatures no higher than 3¬įC. The bees stayed warm and snug in the shed. Saturday was particularly rubbish. Sunday was better, but the grass blocking the entrance¬†– now drying in the breeze and weak sunshine – still restrained them. Monday was poor again … by which time they should have forgotten about the original shed.¬†I removed the remainder of the grass on Monday. A few bees appeared, confirmed that the weather was rubbish and quickly returned to the shed.

As I write this the weather is promising to warm up in a week or so, but it’s still unsettled. Any bees venturing out in this first full week of April will be forced to reorientate. They’ll have the brightly painted landing boards to help their final approach.

Landing boards ...

Landing boards …

There are still a few more hives to move. Since I need to rearrange colonies between out apiaries for the season ahead I’ll do this by simply swapping distant colonies about.


Colophon

The > (greater than) and < (less than) mathematical symbols were – surprisingly (to me at least) – first used almost 400 years ago. Thomas Harriot, in his snappily titled bestselling treatise on ‘The Analytical Arts Applied to Solving Algebraic Equations’ 4¬†stated “Signum majoritatis ut a¬†>¬†b significet a majorem quam b” and “Signum minoritatis ut a < b significet a minorem quam b”. Or something like that ūüėČ Since¬†then, and particularly since the introduction of the computer and programming languages, the greater and less than symbols have been used for a multitude of other things, not least of which is as integral components of the markup tags used in HTML. This controls the appearance of text and links on the web and explains why the page title does not display properly on the tab of my Safari web browser.

HTML fail, though not too epic.

HTML fail, though not too epic.

 

Travel screens

Stressed bees trapped inside a hive generate large amounts of heat which can result in the comb melting and collapsing. If you are moving colonies any distance, for example between distant apiaries (or even nearby apiaries if it’s a warm day), it is really important to provide ample ventilation to the hive.

Abelo hives in transit ...

Abelo hives in transit …

The usual way to do this is to use travel screens. These consist of a wooden-framed metal mesh which is used in place of a crownboard. With a sealed entrance, an open mesh floor and a travel screen, the hive is securely and safely closed up for transport, but air still can circulate freely. On long journeys or particularly hot days (which can be avoided by moving bees at night) water can be poured or sprayed through the mesh travel screen to further aid cooling of the colony.

Moving day

Late evening in the apiary

Late evening in the apiary

I often end up moving colonies in midsummer, either distributing splits to new apiaries or taking my strongest colonies to good areas of forage to exploit the summer flow. Colonies are strapped up during the day and moved either very late in the evening or very early the following morning. This timing ensures that all the flyers are back before sealing the hive and that colonies are moved during the coolest part of the day. In June in Fife this means after 10pm or before 4am if the weather is good.

Nevertheless, despite my moving hives annually, the travel screens would only be in use for a few hours a year. The rest of the time they are simply in the way.

Be flexible

For this reason I don’t use wooden-framed travel screens. I’m not prepared to pay the ¬£15-17 the commercial suppliers charge for something that will languish on top of a stack of supers in storage for almost the entire year.

Instead of framed travel screens I use fibreglass insect mesh¬†(search eBay for that phrase and choose the cheapest – I bet they’re all the same). This is very strong and hardwearing, relatively inexpensive and available by the roll or in a range of sizes. It’s easily cut with strong scissors and you can therefore prepare customs sizes for full hives or nucs. I cut the mesh a few centimetres oversize to allow it to be securely attached to the hive.

I bought mine from eBay a few years ago. Current prices work out at about ¬£1.25 a hive depending on the quantity ordered. It’s usually cut for you from a 1.2 metre wide roll and sold by the metre. Each metre gives you four National-sized travel screens and some offcuts.

Straps or staples

Colonies in transit should be securely strapped Рboth together and to stop the hive moving in the event of an accident. For full hives I use straps and an eke to hold the mesh in place.

Travel screen mesh and eke

Travel screen mesh and eke …

For nucs, or when I run out of ekes, I staple the mesh in place to keep it secure.

Mesh and staples

The mesh is similar to the stuff sold by Thorne’s to collect propolis (at over ¬£3 a sheet). If left in place for a long period the bees will start to seal the holes up. If you want the propolis put the mesh in a bag in a freezer and scrunch it up to release the frozen propolis.

Foam blocks

While we’re on the subject of transporting hives it’s worth mentioning that the frames¬†must be aligned with the direction of travel. If they’re not, there’s a danger that bees will be crushed as the frames move with the acceleration and deceleration of the car.

You also need to prevent the frames from moving laterally. In a National box, unless heavily propolised, there’s usually space for 11 frames and a dummy board. However, that still leaves a bit of additional space.

On a long journey or on rough roads these can shiggle apart. This causes two problems. Firstly there’s a chance that bees will be crushed as the frames swing from side to side. Secondly, since you won’t be opening the top of the hives immediately upon arrival (the bees need to reorientate rather than have their roof unceremoniously whipped off after the long journey) there’s a chance the bees will build brace comb in the gaps.

Foam block ...

Foam block …

I use closed cell foam blocks wedged tightly into the gap between the dummy board and the side wall – one on each side in line with the side bars of the frames. This keeps everything stable and the blocks can be removed when you first inspect the colony after moving. With nucs, where there’s less to move about, or with very inflexible dummy boards, you can get away with a single block wedged tightly half way along the top bar.

Nuc prepared for transport

Nuc prepared for transport …

If you use Langstroth-sized nucs with integral feeders (like the Thorne’s Everynuc) to allow National frames to fit then it helps to also nail a cross bar over the feeder to stop the frames shifting backwards and forwards during transit.

 

Mobile beekeeping

After the recent long posts on DIY foundationless frames using bamboo skewers, starter strips and hive autopsies, something in a slightly lighter vein this week.

Migratory beekeeping is the term used for moving your bees to places where they are needed e.g. to California for almond pollination, or moving your bees to crops or forage for the nectar Рand hence honey Рthey will collect e.g. taking your bees to the heather.

About 75% of all the colonies in North America are used for almond pollination. This is the largest managed pollination event in the world, with colonies being ‘rented’ for about $200 for the 4-6 week pollination period before being shipped off to pollinate other crops in a near year-long clockwise rotation round North America.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the beekeeper who, at unholy-o’clock sometime in early August, loads a couple of sealed¬†colonies into the car and drives them up to the moors in the hope that the rains hold off and the bees can collect enough nectar for a few jars of heather honey.

There’s more than one way to do it

Here’s the last of the photos that Calum sent me a couple of months ago – a mobile bee caravan in Germany. I love the way it’s simply parked on what looks like the village green, with a bit of tape stretched around it to keep people at a safe distance.

Bee caravan

Bee caravan …

Lorry loads ...

Lorry loads …

It might be a bit small and poorly lit to conduct inspections inside and the photo seems to show the beekeeper looking at a frame standing outside, behind the caravan. However, the simplicity of being able to hitch it to the car and drive off to take advantage of better forage is really appealing.¬†The ‘top opening’ hive we’re familiar with may not be ideal for these types of small trailers where headroom can be limited. One solution is to use a hive that opens from¬†the rear, such as the AZ hive from Slovenia. The AZ acronym is derived from Anton¬†ŇĹniderŇ°ińć (1874-1947), a famous Slovenian beekeeper and inventor of the hive and hive house.¬†There’s a comprehensive introduction to this hive type by Mark Chorba available online (large PDF) which discusses the benefits (and disadvantages) … and has some excellent illustrations including the truck for mobile beekeeping shown on the right.

While we’re on the topic of mobile beekeeping, I discovered this (poor quality) video of someone moving a hive to the moors … by bicycle. I know one or two beekeepers who travel between apiaries by bike, but this shows a tremendous level of dedication. And strength.

Can you imagine the return journey after a successful early autumn on the heather? The hive, now weighed down by a couple of filled supers, together with the descent from the moors,¬†means you’d need forearms like Popeye to use¬†the brakes and maintain control.

Mobile extracting

In addition to mobile beekeeping using a bike trailer there’s now mobile extracting using a trailer. The snappily-named International Honey Product Ltd. make a 120 frame mobile extractor (jump to ~36s. to skip the intro).

Although there are a few bees flying around inside the trailer in the video it’s not the orgy of robbing you might expect. Apparently this is because the entrances and exits have air curtains that effectively separate the two environments. Clever.

They claim to be able to process over three thousand¬†pounds¬†of honey an hour, so I’ll need to scale up a bit before being able to justify the purchase.

For the moment my mobile beekeeping is restricted to my hivebarrow

 

Apiary moves

When I moved to Fife this summer I didn’t have space properly arranged in advance for my bees – poor planning I acknowledge, but there were quite a few other things I was juggling with at the time. The garden at the new house was¬†just about big¬†enough for a bait hive but I had a number of¬†offers from friends and I had a plot provisionally agreed for my research apiary. However, until these various sites were ready I accepted a¬†generous offer from my local association to ‘squat’ in one of their shared apiaries.

Shared apiary ...

Shared apiary …

This worked very well … I dumped the majority of the hives and nucs early one morning after driving up overnight in mid-July and pretty-much left them to it. The weather in July was very poor, but August picked up considerably. In the intervening period I had to move a few nucs up to full size boxes, I treated for¬†Varroa by OA vaporisation and I fed them up for the winter on fondant. I even got a small amount of honey from a couple of the colonies during a good¬†flow in August.¬†In the meantime I prepared other apiaries, in particular the space for my research colonies. This included a “bee house” – a substantial¬†shed with holes cut in the wall – in which some colonies were to be housed.

Double brood ...

Double brood …

With winter fast approaching and the hives at about their heaviest since they’re now packed with stores (D’oh! … more poor planning) the apiaries¬†were finally ready and I spent a few hours moving colonies about. Buster, my trusty hivebarrow, proved invaluable when¬†shifting colonies. As usual I underestimated the time (yet more poor planning – theres a pattern emerging here) it would take to seal up the entrances, strap the hives together, load them into the car, drive the 15 or so miles separating the temporary and new apiaries and unload everything … meaning I was left moving the last hives in the dark. Note to self: remember that bees are attracted to light when removing¬†the entrance block and wearing a head torch ūüôĀ

Entrance block

Entrance block …

As an aside, the majority of my hives have so-called underfloor entrances, which are sometimes called kewl floors, in which the aperture is a very narrow slot. The easiest way to securely seal these is to make a simple¬†‘L’ shaped block from softwood, nailed or stapled together, with one piece of wood a full 18″ long (i.e. spanning the full width of the National hive). This can be simply slotted into the entrance and held in place with a couple of short screws at either end … totally secure and foolproof. These are also useful when using OA sublimation, and are certainly faster and more secure than using a hive tool to wedge foam into the entrance.

And that’s more or less the end of the beekeeping year as far as I’m concerned. I have a¬†few more¬†hives to move and a couple of nucs to squeeze into the bee shed. After that it’s just a case of jarring some honey for Christmas, making another batch of mead, reviewing the season and planning for 2016.

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

Imports

Planning

Planning …

Last week I moved more than a dozen colonies to Fife where I’m going to be living and working from the beginning of August. Due to the vagaries of queen rearing this year this was slightly fewer than I’d intended, but – for one person doing all the heavy lifting – was still a reasonable amount of work and a bit of a logistical nightmare (they were spread over 4 different apiaries and were in three different sized boxes). There was also the large¬†piles of additional boxes – supers, broods, a variety of poly nucs, stands, ekes¬†etc. that needed to make the trip.

Rather than use framed travel screens I simply stapled plastic insect netting across the top of all the boxes. This is available by the metre at a reasonable price and can easily be cut to size with a Stanley knife. I took a variety of boxes – 5 and 8 frame poly nucs and four full Nationals, two of which were on double broods. Some of the nucs were expanding so fast I was moving them up to 8 or 11 frame boxes in the week preceding the move. All were on open mesh floors.

A combination of the incorrect sized van being delivered, a large desk making the same trip and a stack of stands and other equipment – floors, supers, roofs etc. – made for a sort of Rubic’s cube packing puzzle. However, late in the evening everything was aboard and secure, although one colony had to sit on the passenger seat. The near 400 mile overnight journey was straightforward, with a single stop midway. It was a cool evening – one of the reasons for travelling overnight, the other being the¬†“sheer weight of traffic” on the M6 – but I still sprayed water over the mesh tops of the hives in the car park of the Tebay service station at about 2am.

 

After arriving and a brief nap I arranged the colonies in temporary apiaries. The travel screens worked well and it was an easy job to prise the staples out of the poly nucs. It was less easy on the cedar boxes and I think a better solution would be to hold the mesh in place with a spare eke, strapped down tight, or perhaps simply pin the overhang down round the sides.

A local queen

A local queen

Are these¬†local bees or are they imports? They’re not local to Fife, that’s for sure, but they’re a damn sight more local than something flown in from the other side of Europe. Some of my stocks are grafted from larvae derived from Colonsay queens but the majority are mongrels, selected on the criteria important to me; temper, health, steadiness. The climate in Fife isn’t hugely different to the Midlands in terms of overall rainfall, average temperatures etc.¬†It’s a bit cooler and quite a bit windier, so it will be interesting to see how they perform in the run up to winter, and how they build up again for the 2016 season.

 

Hivebarrow

Bee bag and hivebarrow ...

Bee bag and hivebarrow …

Beekeeping involves a lot of lifting and carrying. In a good season this hopefully includes removing supers full of honey for extraction, each weighing perhaps 30 lb or more. Carrying these any distance is hard work, and carrying them over rough ground in a full beesuit on a hot day is crippling. Carrying a full hive, alone, any distance is also a thorough test of back, shoulder and arm strength. To make these tasks easier you could:

  • avoid apiaries you can’t get near to in a car
  • buy a Landrover
  • recruit a strong friend to help

All highly commendable, but not necessarily achievable. An alternative is to build a hivebarrow.

Wheelbarrow

B&Q wheelbarrow

Beg, borrow or steal a wheelbarrow (or even buy one, in which case get one with a galvanised frame). The condition of the tray is immaterial, but the frame should be sound. For rough or muddy ground a wheelbarrow with a large pneumatic tyre is preferable. Finally, if you have a choice, get one in which the attachment points of the tray are horizontal when the barrow is standing (why will become obvious later). I bought a galvanised one with a plastic tray from B&Q for about £40.

The precise construction details are dependent upon the wheelbarrow frame you’ve acquired. I built the platform from a single piece of 18mm thick exterior plywood, 52cm x 52cm. I braced this underneath using two pieces of 46mm x 21mm softwood. You should only fit a ‘lip’ at the front – to stop boxes sliding forward when it’s in use – omit them from the sides and the back as this makes lifting boxes on and off easier and allows you to transport items wider than the platform (such as paving slabs). Finally, I fitted four pieces of 9mm stripwood on the top – this again makes lifting boxes easier and means you don’t have to recess the heads of the bolts holding the platform to the frame. Over time I expect these to get damaged but they can easily be replaced if necessary.

M8 bolt and cross brace

M8 bolt & cross brace

M8 nut and washer

M8 nut & washer – top view

I bolted the platform to the frame using M8 bolts, with large washers to spread the load and standard and nylon lock nuts so they don’t shake loose over time. I then gave it several coats of preservative and, before use, took the axle apart, greased it well and reassembled it. You will need to use ratchet straps to stop hives or stacked supers from shifting during transport. Use two, front to back and side to side, and strap them down tight. Believe me, over rough ground, one is not sufficient! Finally, for those “more than three feet but less than three miles” moves (such as across the garden) you can use a hivebarrow with a horizontal platform as a temporary stand, simply moving the colony a few feet every few days.

Oh yes ‚Ķ I’ve named my hivebarrow Buster after the Viz cartoon character, Buster Gonad.