Winter has finally arrived.
We’ve had temperatures fluctuating around 0°C for the last two to three weeks now, with some very hard frosts and more than enough snow to make the track impassable.
Like the bees, I’ve spent the time hunkered down focusing on keeping warm and conserving my stores.
Unlike my bees, I’ve benefited from triple glazing and a wood burning stove 😉
And the main thing I’m worried about running out of is milk for my cappuccino 1.
The 20th was particularly cold with temperatures well below -5°C and stunningly clear. There was something strange about the conditions, as the loch froze. The surface, for 30 metres or more from the shore, had a thin film of ice covering it.
As the tide dropped the shore was left with a sparkling crust of 1mm thick glass-like ice confetti.
The salinity of seawater is typically ~3.5% … this amount of salt reduces the freezing point to about -2°C, a temperature we’ve regularly experienced in the last fortnight. This suggests the ‘strange’ conditions were probably the absence of any swell coupled with the really calm conditions.
Whatever the cause, it was beautiful.
Early season forage … you must be joking 😉
Under conditions like these the bees are effectively invisible. They’re very tightly clustered . With daytime temperatures rarely reaching 3°C none venture out of the hive. With the exception of cleansing flights and the removal of corpses – and it’s too cold for either of these – there’s little reason for them to leave the hive anyway.
The only thing flowering is gorse and it would be a foolhardy bee that attempted to collect pollen at the moment.
I’ve previously written about the genetically-determined flowering time of gorse. In an attempt to improve forage at certain times of the year I’ve been collecting seed from suitable plants and germinating it indoors. As soon as the weather improves I’ll plant these seedlings out 2 as the amount of gorse around the apiary is quite limited.
Gorse seed is painful to collect and germinates poorly. I pour boiling water over the seed and then let it soak for 24 hours, which improves germination at least ten-fold.
Every fortnight or so I check the hive weights by hefting. Only two colonies have had any extra fondant yet and that was through ‘an abundance of caution’. I suspect they actually didn’t really need it.
The next eight weeks (here 3 ) is when brood rearing should be starting to really ramp up. It’s during February and March that starvation is an issue.
Here on the west coast, my colonies are rearing brood. This tray has been in for about a week. I’m including it as I’ve been asked several times about how to determine if a colony is rearing brood without opening the hive.
The red arrows indicate the biscuit coloured cappings that have fallen from the seams in which they are rearing brood. The inset shows a magnification of the indicated part of the image. The photo was taken with a camera phone and the cappings are perhaps a bit darker than usual (though I also know there are a few older brood frames in this hive 🙁 ).
And if the conditions are right, even with a well-insulated poly hive, you can identify which wall the cluster is up against by the evaporation of the overnight damp from the outer surface of the hive.
This is the front of the same hive from which the Varroa tray was photographed – the cappings on the tray and the cluster location correspond perfectly.
By the way … don’t bother looking for Varroa on the tray. This hive is in a Varroa-free region 🙂
As I’ve said before, it’s not unusual for colonies in poly hives to cluster tightly against the wall in winter. Those in cedar are more often away from the wall in my experience (and the same thing applies to brood rearing other than at the height of the season).
Hey good lookin’
The Abelo hive above is a nice looking box. The paint finish is bonded well to the polystyrene and provides good protection.
If you leave unpainted polystyrene out in the elements it starts to look pretty tired, pretty quickly.
I don’t have any pictures as none of my poly hives are unpainted.
At least, none are any more 😉
I’d acquired some new Maisemores nucs with bees and had a number of unused and unpainted Everynucs. Most manufacturers recommend you paint poly hives with masonry paint of some kind, or they sell (often quite pricey) paint that’s suitable.
I’ve painted a lot of nucs with masonry paint, using a paint spray gun. It goes on fast and is reasonably hardwearing … but not great.
In contrast, my Swienty brood boxes look as good now as when they were first painted 5 years ago. These received two coats of ‘Buckingham green’ Hammerite Garage Door paint.
This paint is designed for galvanised metal garage doors (the clue is in the name 😉 ). It contains a bunch of unpleasant sounding solvents but, when dry, appears to be entirely safe. I’d recommend not reading the 13 pages of safety data sheets or you might never dare open the tin because of the imminent risk of explosion.
These solvents have the effect of slightly ‘melting’ the surface of the poly hive. This creates a really strong bond between the paint and the hive surface. The melting isn’t enough that you can notice the surface texture change … it’s just an invisible chemical reaction going on as you brush the stuff on.
However, this reaction might account for the rather patchy coverage of a single coat. If you paint it on thickly enough to try and produce a nice even finish it tends to run and sag a bit.
So give it two coats … and then it looks excellent.
Several months ago I bought a ‘remaindered’ tin of Hammerite paint in Oxford blue. I had wanted a contrasting colour (to my other boxes) for these nucs to help orientate returning freshly mated queens.
I paint the entire box, avoiding any of the ‘touching’ faces which are left unpainted. Some paint usually seeps into joins between the roof, body and/or floor, but you can easily prise them apart with a judiciously applied hive tool.
I’m rather pleased with how smart they now look.
I’m somewhat less pleased with the quality control on some of the Everynucs 4. Several had the mesh floor stuck down incorrectly, with parts unattached. In places the gaps were big enough for a bee to enter.
I simply pulled them off and restuck them down with a glue gun. This is an easy fix but really should not be necessary on a nuc box that costs almost £60 🙁
With the current Covid pandemic we have a responsibility to minimise the demands we are placing on our heroically overstretched healthcare workers.
For this reason I’ve been avoiding doing any DIY for beekeeping for many months now 😉
However, the season is looming ever-closer and I want to try some new things.
My toolbox contains approximately equal amounts of disconcertingly sharp implements and elastoplast. I’m well prepared 😉
I’m also currently living very remotely. In the event of a bad injury I’m unlikely to ever trouble the staff in A+E … unless the accident conveniently coincides with the ferry timetable 🙁
I therefore decided to risk life and limb by building the things I need to try queen rearing using a Morris board.
I’ll describe full details of the method later in the year.
For me, this method should offer advantages due to the type of bees, the size of my colonies, the number of queens I want to rear and the period over which I want to rear them.
You can buy these boards (for about £30 each) … or you can build better ones for about a fiver from offcuts from the wood bin, a bit of queen excluder and a piece of aluminium. They are a bit fiddly to build, with four opening doors and a ‘queenproof’ slide, but the cost savings and satisfaction you gain more than outweigh the blood loss involved.
The very fact I’m still able to write this post shows that I managed to retain all my fingers. Whether or not the Morris board works 5 I consider that fact alone a success 🙂
Doing the splits
The Morris board works by allowing access to 5 frame upper brood box for defined periods. I therefore also needed a brood box divided in half.
I’ve been doing a lot of wax extracting recently and a couple of cedar boxes have cracked under the stress of repeated steam cycles. I split one down to its component boards, burning the bits that were unusable, but recycling one side into the central division of another old cedar box.
I’ll be queen rearing in two apiaries simultaneously, so will need two of these upper boxes. However, I only managed to salvage one sufficiently large board from the steam-damaged box. Fortunately I have some cedar nucs built precisely (so clearly not by me 😉 6 ) to National hive dimensions, so I can use two of these side-by-side with the same design Morris board.
But queen rearing remains both a distant memory and a very long way off in the future. Until then it’s a case of enjoying the short winter days and drinking cappuccino in front of the fire.
Hammerite Garage Door paint is usually £15-20 a tin (750 ml). It’s worth shopping around as there’s quite a bit of variation. I found it remaindered and paid under a tenner 🙂
I reckon there’s enough in one tin to do two coats on 9-10 nucs as long as you take care not to over apply the first one. You could probably thin it a bit (though I’m not sure what with 7) but I’d take care you don’t create something that just melts the poly box.
Even at £20 it still works out at only about £2 a nuc. Considering these can cost £40-60 it seems like a reasonable investment of money to keep them looking smart for years.
And a good investment of time (it took me ~15-20 minutes per coat) … after all, what else are you going to do in the bleak midwinter?
- And if that isn’t a first world problem, I don’t know what is.
- Together with a lot of broom I’m also growing.
- If you’re new to this site be aware that I live in Scotland … our season is significantly shorter than it is in the south of England, lots cooler than it is in Arizona, and positively tropical when compared with the winter in Manitoba. You’ll need to adjust the dates according to the local conditions where you keep bees. You cannot make beekeeping decision based on the calendar … they can only be judged in terms of the local area and the development cycle of brood.
- However, it should be noted that the poly these are made of is smoother, thicker and seems of better quality than that of the Maisemore boxes.
- And it will … a Morris board works using similar principles to a Cloake board, a method I’ve used very successfully and described previously.
- They were built by Peter Little of Exmoor Bees and Beehives.
- Apparently not white spirit as it makes a gloopy mess.
My Paradise Hive is now 5years old and in its original coat of Hammerite Garge Door Paint.
It looks like new…
Envy : the description of my feeling on your environment
My Paradise hive still looks like new … though mainly because I disliked it so much it’s only really used as a bait hive for a few weeks a season 😉 It was painted with Wilko’s masonry paint which was OK, but not a patch on the Hammerite.
I also think white Hammerite (or perhaps normal gloss?) might be suitable for poly Varroa trays. These get dirty really quickly and it gets tricky to see the mites. Painted gloss white would mean they could easily be washed clean.
Yes … it’s a lovely part of the world, but so is a lot of Scotland.
What a stunningly beautiful location. I love that corner of the world. Also, your workmanship looks damn fine to me! Do you have to do a Morris dance when you raise queens with that board?
The hive DIY is OK, but I was largely working with bits of wood cut by others (probably big T’s). The stuff I build from sheets of ply and scraps is very rough and ready, but the great thing is that the bees really don’t care 🙂
For overseas readers … Morris dancing is … er, odd.
Here’s a You Tube video which I rather hope does not embed; https://youtu.be/sArAC2_ow2k
Anybody watching that will be pleased to know that no Morris dancing is needed when using a Morris board 😉
It’s a lovely part of the world. The weather is changeable, but being so close to the coast means that if it’s rubbish now it’ll be bright sunshine in 10 minutes.
OK, I am having a hard time figuring out where you live. What town do you go to for milk (I’m more into Flat Whites right now)?
It is much colder here in Santa Fe, NM…had to do the C to F conversion…we bought bee cozies this year and I think it was a good purchase. We have been in a serious lockdown here for a very long time. One of my bee partners is painting and decorating all the hive boxes in our storage shed to keep from losing her mind. I don’t think it is helping her much.
Is there a general outdoor temperature when a Queen starts laying eggs? No egg laying when they are clustered, right?
Milk from Salen which is 15-20 minutes away, but a proper supermarket is 55 miles away on very slow roads.
I don’t think there’s a temperature that ‘starts’ the queen laying. I suspect it’s a combination of daylength, temperature and the type of bee. It’s noticeable that my bees on the east coast had a long brood free period between mid-October and mid-December, but then started again. In contrast, my bees on the west coast reared brood much later into the year and then had a break until the New Year.
I also prefer flat white’s, but cappuccino seemed to fit better into the sentence 😉
PS … yes, they rear brood when clustered. They cluster when it’s too cold not to. If they stopped rearing brood as the temperature fluctuates at the beginning of spring they’d not build up fast enough to exploit the spring nectar.
“My toolbox contains approximately equal amounts of disconcertingly sharp implements and elastoplast. I’m well prepared ”
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I always enjoy your posts!
That sentence started with a reference to bloodstained chisels but I realised it made me sound like a serial killer and that wasn’t the image I wanted to convey. I give a talk on DIY for beekeeping in which every slide/project carries two scores a) technical difficulty, and b) risk of self-harm.
Pleased you enjoy the posts.
David – it has been a “bleak” winter here for many. In a local club zoom call a friend reported that the majority of hives have not made it through to now. Less than half survived. Out of my 7 hives only 1 has survived to date and it is looking tired. The winter cluster appears smaller and top bars quite soiled with fecal matter (it has been wet and cold preventing cleansing flights for several weeks). People on the call reported 4 queen losses from Formic Pro – these are all experienced bee keepers. I lost 3 queens to my DIY – FA treatmets. A hard year for winter survivals here. By random chance I needed to move 15 hive boxes containing stored comb (brood, honey and foundation). Serendipity had it that in the move I discovered wax moth. Not much but enough to tell me that had I not had a serendipitous moment many of the combs would have been lost by spring. i typically store frames in a freezer but with 7 lost hives I was forced to store many dry. I try to freeze all frames before dry storage but obviously missed some and hence the development of wax moth. Another saving grace was placing sheets of newspaper between boxes. This I think is responsible for the 10-15 adult moths I found to be confined to just one or two boxes. My remedy for caring for the frames is somewhat time consuming. Al frames are being frozen overnight and only replaced in storage once cleaned of any webbing – frozen larva etc. There has been no serious damage – largest webbing spots are about the size of a quarter with just a few on affected frames. Out of all the frames perhaps 10% with evidence of wax moth. Having a good workshop each frame is blasted with air to blow out bits and tiny pieces – also dead mites. The frames look good and very clean when done – most tedious is cycling through available freezer space. In your experience Is this necessary? Had I not physically cleaned the damaged areas – would our bees have nicely handled the problem for me? It does feel good to go through the process. Each box is once again scorched with a heat gun and burr comb not removed previously scrapped away. I had de-capped some frames previously – removing dead bees killed by mites and extracted larva and pupae to better understand mite issues. I also do not like the smell of rotting bees. In some of those areas I have see a bit of mold growth. That mold an issue? I can discard them but they are a valuable resource. We are talking about say 5% of the area on one face of 3-4 frames?
It’s grim having large numbers of winter losses. I know some beekeepers (and some associations) who have lost everything some years, which must be devastating/demoralising.
I steam extract/melt out any way from hives that have died. The same applies to any frames with dead brood in it. I never recycle them without meting everything back to the woodwork.
Wax moth is easy to deal with using Certan or DiPel. You make up a solution of the stuff (it’s spores of a Bacillus that kills moth larvae, but is harmless to bees), spray it over the frames and just leave them. I don’t always use it, but when I do it’s very effective.
I don’t freeze frames ass I don’t have the freezer space. However, I’m pretty scrupulous about only reusing frames that are just drawn comb or stores. Everything else gets binned. Some of the stores can ferment a bit, but that doesn’t seem to cause problems for really strong colonies.
I hope the rest of the winter passes without more losses. We’ve still got a couple of months to go, so I’m not counting any chickens yet.
Once again David some excellent advice. Certan or Dipel then is best a preventative treatment. When larva are present it would take some time making freezing an obvious choice if freezer space is available. Otherwise simply melt down the frames. Your treatment for Nosema is useful. I suspect it is present in most of the mite destroyed hives. DWV was seen in all. For controlling Nosema you mentioned acidic acid. What form and how applied? White vinegar is 5-10% acidic acid and the rest water. This the source? Would you spray or dip the frames in a diluted amount of vinegar? I suspect a spray may be better able to coat the bottoms of cells. Dipping may result in air pockets that could prevent the solution reaching small pockets of space.
You need acetic acid for Nosema spores. You fumigate the comb. Ideally stand a stack of boxes containing frames on an impervious and unimportant surface, add a shallow tray containing 80% v/v acetic acid and put a lid on the lot. The acetic acid generates a vapour which gets everywhere. It’s horrible stuff. DO NOT BREATHE IT IN! It will corrode any metal frame runners and it marks concrete paving.
I’ve realised I’ve only previously mentioned acetic acid treatment in passing, so will correct that at some point in the future.
Since it’s a vapour all you need to ensure is that it has access to the frames and no access to your lungs.
David – here acetic acid 80% v/v cost about $120.00 US per L. How much volume is placed in the tray when treating for Nosema and how many stacked hive boxes can be fumigated at once? Your UK costs look to be significantly less.
Know if dipping entire frames in a solution of vinegar would work? Some much lower % acid solution.
Here’s a quote lifted directly from the National Bee Unit’s guidance Combs can be sterilised to destroy the spores of chalkbrood, wax moth, and Nosema spp. disease of adult bees by using the evaporation fumes from acetic acid. There is no evidence that this treatment is effective against AFB or EFB. Acetic acid is available from chemical suppliers and online. Begin treatment by stacking the brood and/or super boxes containing combs to be sterilised on solid surface such as a board or solid hive floor. Note that acetic acid is corrosive and will attack metal and concrete. It is also important to block off hive entrances, as acetic acid fumes are heavier than air and will travel from the top to the base of the stack, leaking out of any gaps or holes at the bottom. Place a non-metallic dish (saucer or similar container) on the top of the frames of the top box. Very carefully, put 80% acetic acid into the dish, allowing 120 ml acetic acid/box (e.g. 600 ml would therefore treat 5 boxes). Then, place an empty hive box on the top of the stack. Close off the empty box on the top of the stack with a hive cover. Seal any joints between the boxes with wide adhesive tape to stop fumes escaping. Leave the stack for about one week to ensure sufficient fumigation. When the treatment is complete, the dishes of acid must be removed with caution and boxes should be thoroughly aired (at least two days) before they can be used again. When using this system you must wear suitable protective clothing, protect your eyes and use rubber gloves.
80% acetic acid costs about £8/litre here when purchased in 5 to 10 litre amounts.
I don’t think there’s much chance that vinegar would work (either at all, or be effective enough to make it worthwhile).
Randy Oliver has some comments on his website about using formic acid for Nosema. I can’t comment on this or alternates as I’ve not tried them.
I usually just discard and burn any heavily Nosema-soiled frames. It’s not worth the effort to save them in my view.
David, in my SCUBA diving days we would dive West Coast Scotland in the winter and following calm conditions you could see the Thermocline with the fresh water runoff from the burns separated from the saline sea water. The fresh water was colder and You were always happy to drop below it! Anyway, hope your Bees don’t go anywhere near it! Regards
I’d wondered if that might be the cause as well … there are a large number of burns and a lot of rain in the area! I should have tasted some of the ice to determine whether it contained salt or not.
I canoe in the summer and the water is distressingly cold. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the winter. Brave man!
Thermocline. So that’s the word. I too have done a little SCUBA diving in the NW. When diving in Morar bay, coming back up was like reaching the surface twice: first, reaching the top of the salt water, then 3 feet higher, through the fresh water of the river. A very strange sensation. As you probably found Kenneth, April was much colder than October. Later, for winter sailing, I discovered drysuits.
Do you find the Hammerite chips at all?
I usually use masonry paint but I did one of my Abelo roofs with normal exterior gloss paint just to try. Disappointingly I’ve found it chips off quite easily on the corners and the edges where the strap goes etc.
I’ve only used it on brood boxes and it’s been very hardwearing. The nucs will be the first roofs that I’ve done … I’ll update this page (or a subsequent one) after a year or two of strapping them down.
I’ve got one Abelo roof which the paint stripped back from in several patches leaving bare poly. No idea why. I’m going to have to repaint it in due course.
Yes. With the the roof in question, all the original Abelo paint bubbled up and flaked off over large areas. Not had that happen before. I thought I might have left it in some strong soda solution by mistake. I repainted it with masonry but it all peeled off again! Ended up sanding it right down and putting a couple of coats of gloss on. Looks fab but will see how it wears.
I think I’ve had about a dozen Abelo boxes and only one has gone patchy as you describe. I don’t remember seeing the paint flaking off, but instead just became aware that there was a large bare patch where ‘something’ had apparently eaten away at the surface. It’s currently in use, so I’ll get round to it sometime later in the year.
Thanks so much for your fantastic website. Reading your entertaining and informative posts has been keeping me sane during lockdown. I also enjoyed the talk you gave to the Andover beekeepers association last month. I am going to be putting some of your advice into practice this upcoming season.
Your beautiful photos of Scotland are making me very envious!
Thank you 😊
Pleased you enjoyed the talk and the reading … Scotland and the writing are the things keeping me sane during lockdown.
Hello from across the water on Mull!
I’m a new beekeeper going into my 3rd season. I’ve got poly hives in my garden and was pleased to see the biscuit coloured crumbs on the bottom boards but very surprised they would be rearing brood already. There is always something new to learn. Great to hear experienced beekeepers in my area that I can learn from. Thank you!
I can see Mull from the top of the ‘garden’ (rough bit of hillside surrounding the house) and have to climb up there to get a mobile phone signal … hence the log seat in the last photo, though it’s not too convenient in poor weather or on a winter evening!
It’s a lovely part of the world. Are you Varroa free? I know parts of Mull were a few years ago because I chatted with the people in the local association.
The bees have to start brooding pretty early in the year to ensure they have a chance to swarm (reproduce). If they waited until late March to start rearing brood they’d not be strong enough to leave either a strong enough swarmed colony or big enough swarm for either to collect sufficient nectar to make it through next winter. The patch of brood at this time of the season might only be the size of your palm, but they’ll quickly increase the rate as the day get longer. That’s why the next ~8 weeks are the ones in which a colony can starve – little forage and lots of hungry mouths to feed.
Let’s hope for a great spring like we had last year.
Yes we are varroa free on Mull which is great. Let’s hope we can keep it that way.
All the best
Interesting to see you working on Morris boards – I’ve used Cloake boards in the past, but never needed the ‘high turnover’ of cell production that a Morris board gives you.
Something I did think on while reading your article is whether or not there would be any merit in using a Cloake board AND Ben Harden at the same time. To me it seems like it would give you the advantages of Ben Harden (don’t need full double brood/huge colony, extra insulation etc), and Morris board (high bee density, temporary queenlessness).
Given it’s not much more effort to use a Cloake Board in place of a QE, and do the door switching/slide insertion/removal, I might give this a go and see if it boosts the ‘take’ and/or cell quality.
It’s not the high turnover I’m after, it’s the prolonged production … if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. This is to compensate for the iffy weather on the west coast. I think a Morris board is already effectively a combination of a Cloake board and a Ben Harden setup. The reduced volume/high bee density is of interest as near-natives tend to have smaller colonies. With a Morris board you presumably can run one half empty, which would reproduce exactly what you describe.
It’s not at all unusual for the bees in a Ben Harden system to start drawing queen cells on the open brood frame added above the QE, even before the grafts have been added.
I’ve just got to cut the stainless steel queen excluder to size and make the recesses for the aluminium slides. If I manage to survive both with a full set of digits I’ll try and keep some notes we can compare later in the season.
Completely agree about the prolonged production – the weather can be so iffy or the bees too finicky that ultimately lots of small queen-rearing attempts is likely to be more successful than fewer, ‘bigger’ attempts. I learnt that the hard way a few years ao when a cold snap caused the nurse bees to retreat to the cluster and abandon the QCs, and had to scramble to set up the next round!
You’re also quite right that the Morris board/method is the same approach to what I’m trying out. I’m really just being lazy and thinking about going with what I have to hand already, rather than making/buying a morris boad and split brood box (though I am slightly closer to an A&E!). The only difference I can think of is that if there are only 5 frames ‘upstairs’ then having insulation on either side might offer some extra warmth, but then I’m using wooden hives – in poly that’s probably not a consideration.
Wil be interesting to compare notes at the end of the season!
Yes … it’s the few cells a time that appeals to me. Not a disaster if everything goes pear shaped … just set the other side up the following week.
The split brood box I’ve built (and the nucs) are all cedar. I’m not too worried about the temperature. After all, we’re probably talking about late May to early July.It’s always balmy here by then 😉