Tag Archives: bait hive

Super poly bait hives

MB poly National

MB poly National

Shortly after they were introduced I purchased two of the poly National hives sold by Modern Beekeeping. These are well made but, in my view after using them for a few months, poorly designed. The poly is dense and strong, they have clever plastic frame runners and they are easy to assemble. I’ve kept bees in them for a couple of seasons and they did fine. However – for me – the negatives of these hives far outweigh the positives. They have handles on all four faces of the boxes which, together with the manufacturers name, means painting them takes ages. Much more significantly, the boxes can only accommodate 10 frames and are too narrow. The frame lugs of a standard National frame are tight against the sidewalls making it almost impossible (once there’s a bit of propolis added to the mix) to slide the frames across the hive during inspections.

The dreaded overhang

The dreaded overhang …

To make matters worse, the boxes have an “overhang” where they join. Although this presumably helps prevent water ingress it also makes stacking supers on top of brood boxes packed with bees a recipe for death and destruction. It’s not possible to offer the box ‘on the squint’ and then rotate it into place. Furthermore, the overhang prevents you even seeing the bees you’re about to slaughter. Of course, the overhang also means the kit isn’t easily mixed with standard wooden or Sweinty poly boxes. I did build a wooden shim that meant the supers could be used, but the beespace was messed up. At about £110 for a complete hive and a couple of supers these hives appeared reasonable value … but they actually represent possibly my biggest outlay on unsuitable kit ever 🙁

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat …

The obvious solution was to flog the boxes to some unsuspecting novice. However, since the design problems would provide a particularly unrewarding start to beekeeping, I didn’t do this and they’ve sat piled in the corner looking a bit forlorn. The original floor, brood box and roof were pressed into service as a bait hive last year and worked well. The supers have simply been stacked up, unwanted and definitely unloved.

Honeybee Democracy

Honeybee Democracy

However, the combination of a bulk delivery of extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene (aka Correx, though it certainly isn’t going by the price I paid) and the ease with which it could be converted into very useful roofs for about £1.50 each, suggested a way to use the supers. Two stacked supers – at least of these slightly smaller than normal “National” boxes – enclose a volume of about 43 litres. Conveniently this is only slightly larger than the 40 litres recommended by Tom Seeley in his excellent book Honeybee Democracy. The addition of a simple floor from a piece of Correx (so much easier to write than extruded, twinwall, fluted polypropylene 😉 ) stapled together with some scraps of wood from the offcuts bin and including an integral entrance of about 10cm2, a crownboard from strong polythene sheet and a Correx roof make a perfectly serviceable bait hive for the coming season.

In due course I’ll add a single tired old brood frame (I save these from the previous year, treated with DiPel [Bacillus thuringiensis sp. kurstaki spores] to prevent wax moth damage) containing no stores or pollen, which would simply attract robbers. The smell of ‘old bees’, perhaps coupled with a couple of drops of lemongrass oil along the top bar, is a strong attractant to scout bees from a swarm looking for a new home. I’ll fill the boxes with foundationless frames so that an incoming swarm can start building new comb immediately. These frames barely reduce the internal volume but provide guides for the bees to build parallel comb, thereby making it unnecessary to check whether the bait hives have been successful quite as frequently as you otherwise need to (unless you like sorting out the wild comb they’ll otherwise build from the roof).

Floor detail … what could be simpler?

 

2014 in retrospect

Hives in the frost

Hives in the frost

2014 was a pretty good year for beekeeping. The winter was not overly long or cold and colonies came through it in good condition. Spring was cool and damp – although colony build up was about normal it was difficult to find good enough weather for inspections. Despite the weather the OSR yielded well. The summer flows were good, with excellent lime and blackberry which persisted for a long time (and necessitated frantic frame and super assembly in mid-summer). I took the honey harvest off in mid-August but – in retrospect – should have left it longer to get more from the himalayan balsam. The autumn ivy was excellent, with the bees working it here until at least mid-November. I’ve ended the season with more honey than I’ve had in the last 4 years, a dozen strong colonies and some overwintering nucs. As always, some things went well and some things went badly (or at least, less well) and I hope I’ve learnt from both.

Three day old grafts

Three day old grafts

Queen rearing was patchy to say the least. This was entirely my fault. Although I achieved consistently high ‘take’ rates for grafting my work commitments meant I lost a couple of batches of queens by not caging the cells early enough. With queen rearing, timing is critical. I used a mixture of Kieler mini-nucs and 3 frame nucs for queen mating, losing some of the former to wasps and – stupidly – getting a 50% return of mated queens from the latter because the plastic crownboard (pinned down along the central wooden divider) buckled or stretched from the heat of the colony allowing one of the virgin queens to slaughter the other. D’oh! Needless to say, this is being fixed for the 2015 season.

Morris board

Morris board …

On a more positive note both preventing and capturing swarms went very well. The combination of clipped queens and prompt use of the Demaree method kept my production colonies under control and I’m only aware of losing one swarm from an over-stuffed 5 frame nuc early in the season. I increasingly favour the Demaree system (or versions of it, such as the use of a Morris board) for swarm control – it requires minimal additional equipment and keeps the colony together. My bait hives for capturing swarms worked well, particularly as I’ve learnt the best way to set them up is to use foundationless frames. The incoming swarm has somewhere to build immediately and they only need to be checked every few days. The combination of a nail gun (for frame assembly) and foundationless frames was a revelation – the former slashing frame building times and the latter providing the obvious benefit of reduced foundation costs, and a number of less obvious (but greater) benefits in terms of improved colony vigour.

Smoker

Smoker

The first inspections of the 2015 season are still several months away so there’s ample time yet for preparation. This includes painting several more poly nucs, frame building and wax filtering. I’ll make an annual batch of mead in the hope that – one year – it will be drinkable. Beekeeping is too dependent upon the vagaries in the weather to make definitive plans or resolutions. However, I do intend to experiment with upper entrances during Bailey comb changes and Demaree swarm control, to use more foundationless super frames and to overwinter more nucs for the 2016 season.

Finally, this website has been running for about a year. Looking at the visitor stats it’s clear that the most popular posts have been on honey warming cabinets and Paynes poly nuc boxes (though in fairness, these were also some of the earliest posts), with visitors from over 100 countries in total. I hope you found something useful here.

Happy New Year

What it's all about …

Not too long to wait …

 

Foundationless frames reviewed

New comb ...

New comb …

One of the big successes of this season has been the use of foundationless frames. These have reduced my use of foundation by over 75%, leading to a significant accumulation of unused packets which were ordered before the season started (as an aside, if stored flat in a cool place foundation should be OK for years, simply needing a quick blast with a hairdryer to remove the pale bloom that appears). Aside from the economic benefits, I’m convinced that the bees draw comb on foundationless frames at least as fast as they do on frames with foundation. In some cases, given the choice, the queen also starts laying in the foundationless comb earlier. Finally, they are an ideal way to prepare a bait hive, providing the volume the scout bees are seeking coupled with the ‘order’ that will ensure that any swarm will build comb where you want it.

Foundationless frames

Super frames …

Preparing new foundationless frames takes a litte more effort – you need to drill the sidebars and ‘wire’ them with nylon monofilament fishing line before adding a narrow starter strip. At least, that’s what I do. In my view this effort is more than offset by the benefits they provide. Framebuilding is made almost pleasurable by using a nail gun … look out for special offers on these from Amazon where a suitable model (Tacwise EL191) was recently reduced to under £40.

Foundationless frames also work well in supers. I prepared a few boxes of these this season and extracted them using a radial extractor. With a couple of exceptions the frames all survived. The only two that collapsed were either partially drawn or incompletely filled. I treated the foundationless frames as roughly (or carefully) as those with foundation during extraction – I uncap with a hot air gun and wind them up to full speed as quickly as practical.

That's blown it

That’s blown it …

 

The only real problem I had with foundationless frames in supers was getting unwanted brace comb in boxes where the frames were not vertically aligned with the box below. For example, an eleven frame brood box topped with an undrawn 9 or 10 frame foundationless super sometimes resulted in the bees trying to build brace comb between the frames. This problem was partially, though not completely, solved by mixing foundationless frames with a few frames containing full sheets of foundation. Next year I will get the comb drawn in a super filled with foundationless frames, and then remove a couple and space them further apart.

Brace comb

Brace comb …

Other than the infrequent building of brace comb, which can usually be avoided by careful frame spacing, I’ve only had two issues with foundationless frames that might be considered problems.

The first is the bees chewing through the monofilament supporting ‘wires’. I’ve been using 15 kg breaking strain cheapo mono picked up from eBay. If the frame isn’t drawn evenly (perhaps because the hive isn’t perfectly level) the exposed mono on one side of a frame is targeted by workers and sometimes nibbled through. In a frame with three transverse strands (i.e. a deep, or brood frame) this is usually the one closest to the bottom bar. This isn’t a major issue – it leaves a trailing strand which needs to be snipped off but the majority of the frame is usually drawn sufficiently well that it’s robust enough for the usual stresses and strains of inspections. In over 100 foundationless brood frames used this year, none have been unusable after the mono has been chewed through (which only happened on half a dozen). I’ve bought a big spool of 30 kg monofilament to use next year. At about 1p per metre it’s good value but may be a little less easy to work with.

Foundationless brood frame ...

Foundationless brood frame …

The second ‘problem’ is minor and depends upon your chosen method of swarm control. Colonies often draw out significantly more drone comb in foundationless frames than they do on standard foundation. It’s not unusual to have big slabs of drone comb on one or more of the outer frames of the brood nest. As a consequence, these colonies have lots more drones present throughout the season. Interestingly, I’ve not had increased problems with Varroa and deformed wing virus in these colonies. I generally use the Demaree method of swarm control, shifting the original brood box containing all the sealed brood above the queen excluder for a three week period.

Drone graveyard ...

Drone graveyard …

Consequently, drones emerging in the upper box cannot get out of the hive. If they are not periodically released – for example, during inspections, or by lifting the roof and crown board every few days – they sacrifice themselves struggling to get through the excluder. The standard inspection interval can uncover hundreds of dead and dying drones wedged half way throught the excluder. This is unpleasant, both for the beekeeper and the drones. Next year I’ll experiment with adding an upper entrance to allow the drones to escape – either by proving a thin shim of softwood underneath three sides of the upper box, or by providing a temporary hole through the side of the box (closed with a cork when not needed).

Finally, using a steam wax extractor on foundationless frames destroys much of the tension in the monofilament. They might still be usable – I’ve not tried – but it’s an easy job to replace it.

 

Nail guns

Foundationless frames

Foundationless frames

Putting frames together is one of those tasks that should be undertaken in the dark days of winter when it can be done at a leisurely pace. There’s a certain satisfaction from the mindless repetition of the process, whether for standard frames with foundation or foundationless frames (with the latter requiring a bit more effort due to the drilling and ‘wiring’ necessary). However, it’s cold in the winter and there’s certainly no satisfaction from bashing the end of your thumb with the hammer. Your fingers are semi-numb with cold, barely able to grip the gimp pin, which is too small to hold in a gloved hand. Self-harm is almost inevitable.

Supers

Supers …

Of course, in the summer, if you need more frames you need them yesterday. There’s nothing leisurely about it. There’s a flow on, the supers are filling faster than you can keep up, the bait hive has been occupied by a swarm and you need to set another up or you urgently need a dozen new frames so you can move the nucs to full brood boxes. With nucs being sold, swarm control and 8-10 honey producing colonies I get through a lot of new frames each season. I’ve not counted, but do know I’ve used nearly a full 100 metre spool of 15kg monofilament making foundationless brood frames alone, each using about a metre of nylon.

Tacwise nail gun

Tacwise nail gun …

I needed six new supers with frames for the weekend inspection. There’s a good flow on, possibly lime, and I’ve more or less run out of boxes. Constructing the supers from flat-packed seconds bought in the winter sales was a trivial job. Knocking together the ~60 frames I needed to populate them also turned out to be quick and easy as I’d generously been given a Tacwise EL 191 Pro nail gun. This is a light duty electric model, using 18g nails from 10-35mm or type 91 staples from 15-30mm. This was the first time I’d used it for building frames. What a revelation!

Nailed

Nailed …

The usual incessant tap, tap, tap (or, at best, tap, tap) for each of the 8 gimp pins in a frame was replaced with a satisfying ‘chunk’ as the nail gun drove the galvanised 20mm pin flush with the surface. It didn’t take long to get the positioning accurate and adding the six pins (four on the top bar and two holding one of the bottom bars in place) took less than 15 seconds. Most of the frames ended up with thin unwired foundation for cut comb so I fitted the second bottom bar with standard gimp pins. This is necessary as they are easy to remove (and I’ll need to add fresh foundation next season), whereas the nails driven by the nail gun are almost impossible to shift once they’re driven in flush.

Since the nail gun is essentially single handed there’s no chance (well, almost no chance) of injuring my thumb. I might even be able to use it with gloves on in the winter.

I now need to order some 18g 35mm nails – the largest this model takes – for building boxes 🙂

Lost and found

Walking back from my out apiary this evening and I saw this reasonably new natural comb in the bushes. This must have been a swarm I missed a month or so ago, though perhaps not from my colonies as the queens are all clipped. Most swarms settle a short distance from the hive they leave, then move elsewhere … this comb was a couple of hundred metres from my nearest colony.

Natural comb

Natural comb …

We had some good weather at the beginning of May. I was abroad and when I returned at the end of the first week I discovered a swarm had moved into a bait hive on top of my greenhouse. Perhaps it moved there from this tree? There are bees in both adjacent fields so this might have been the source. The comb was a foot or so deep from the branch it was connected to. I suspect that, having swarmed, the weather got worse, trapping the swarm in the tree for several days, during which time they built the comb.

In contrast, here’s one I did catch at the end of last month. I noticed this late in the evening and had to use flash to photograph it. It was at head height on a rotten branch.

Swarm of bees

Swarm of bees

I gave it a good shake (snapping the branch and dropping bees everywhere) into a Paynes poly nuc and left them on the ground overnight to sort themselves out. Within two days they’d drawn out sufficient foundationless frames for the queen to start laying and now, fifteen days later, are in a full hive with nearly 9 frames fully drawn and packed with eggs and brood.

Captured swarm in 8 frame poly nuc

Captured swarm in 8 frame poly nuc …

The queen in this swarm was large and pale, nothing like the ones I usually rear, so I suspect she’s a generous gift from an unsuspecting local beekeeper.

Freebies

More bait hives

More bait hives …

With a week of warm weather forecast it was pretty clear there was going to be a lot of swarming activity last weekend. Colonies had been held back for the previous fortnight by low temperatures and rain. Quick inspections of a few hives during a queen rearing course on the 11th. (when we couldn’t avoid the weather) showed that many colonies had open or sealed queen cells, but the queen was still present. With the temperatures last weekend predicted to reach 20oC I prepared two additional bait hives. Each contained 10 foundationless frames and a single frame of old brood comb – but no stores to avoid the risk of robbing and possible spread of disease.

When preparing these bait hives it’s worth strapping them up securely so that they can be moved relatively easily if and when they are occupied. If they are going to be in a tree or on a roof the last thing you want is for the box to disassemble as you try and bring it down a ladder. Screwing the floor and crownboard in place might seem extreme, but makes sense.

Des Res?

Des Res?

One hive went into the association apiary to try and avoid losing swarms over the fence (which was annoying the neighbours). The other was left tucked into the corner of my garden next to my greenhouse. Within a day or so the hive in the garden was getting attention from scout bees. These examine the hive carefully, going in and out of the entrance, exploring the floor, the sides and back of the box. Numbers built up until there were dozens of scouts visiting late on the Sunday afternoon. However, even later in the evening the scouts disappeared and a dozen or two drones appeared – several of which spent the night in the bait hive (I’m running low on equipment and the garden bait hive used up an old Perspex crownboard so I could have a peek without disturbing any residents). More on this below.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

Monday morning was bright and warm and there were dozens of scout bees present from 8am or earlier – well before the other hive in the garden had shown much signs of life. Sure enough, a swarm arrived at lunchtime, quickly entering the hive and settling down. They spread across 5 or more frames, settling on the old brood frame on one side of the box and spreading into the middle of the box. Unfortunately they arrived during a two hour phone call and I missed their arrival entirely. Previous experience suggests that if all the scout bees disappear en masse it is likely that the swarm will shortly arrive. If they simply dwindle in numbers over several hours it’s more probable that the consensus reached by the swarm is that there are more desirable sites elsewhere. Tom Seeley describes the entire process in Honeybee Democracy which is highly recommended.

More freebies (free bees … geddit?) as a small cast arrived on the same day in the bait hive on the association apiary.

There’s always something new to learn … two things stand out from this experience. The first is that drones stayed overnight in the empty hive. Where did these drones come from? Although it’s well known that drones drift from colony to colony – like male teenagers, thinking only of food and sex – I was surprised they chose an empty colony. I suspect they came from a couple of strong nucleus colonies I moved from nearby 24 hours earlier. The fact that they didn’t arrive until late evening – perhaps as late as 9pm – suggests to me that drones are out flying for long periods, and that these particular ones then returned to the nearest hive (albeit an empty one) to their original ‘home’. Interestingly, few if any foragers returned from the same nucleus colonies, although I moved them only about 2 miles. Secondly, it was clear that scout bees were active before the morning had properly warmed up. These definitely did not stay overnight, but appeared at or before 8am.

As soon as I’ve cobbled together some more equipment I’ll be setting out a few more bait hives. Queen rearing has started and I need as many bees as possible to populate nucs and mini-nucs over the next few weeks. Almost irrespective of how badly behaved or temperamental a captured swarm is, the bees can be put to use.

Current score … bait hives set out = 4, occupied = 4 (2 swarms and 2 casts), one was at head height, 3 were on a normal height stand.

Bait hives – success

Bait hive …

Bait hive …

Sometime in the first week of May two of my bait hives were occupied by swarms. One was knee-height in a field and the other was above head-height on top of my greenhouse. I was away all week so cannot be sure the date the swarms moved in (though looking back at the weather records I suspect it was mid-week). The bees seem to be drawing out the frames well but it’s been too cold to do an inspection. This is a good example – both my absence and the lousy weather – of a situation when a box full of frames allows the bees to get established, rather than adding the frames after it’s occupied. The clear ‘crownboard’ on these Modern Beekeeping poly Nationals make it simple to take a quick peek without disturbing the colony too much.

Occupied bait hive ...

Occupied bait hive …

In the larger swarm (right) the colony has divided to occupy the two frames of old tatty drawn comb I left on either side of the box. In retrospect I think only one manky old brood frame is probably needed, so when I transfer these to new boxes I’ll re-populate the bait hives with nine foundationless frames and one old frame. Despite the temperature (which has hovered between 11 and 13oC most of the last few days) there’s a reasonable flow on from remaining OSR, so I’m not feeding them. Pollen was being taken into both colonies today when I checked, suggesting there’s a mated, laying queen present.

Lemongrass oil ...

Lemongrass oil …

The forecast looks to be improving for the end of the week. A lot of colonies appear to be delaying swarming because of the inclement weather. Several inspected at the weekend in the association apiary had sealed QCs but the queen still present (we couldn’t avoid the bad weather as we were running a queen rearing course and needed larvae for grafting). Therefore I’m going to empty these bait hives as soon as possible, move the captured swarms to a temporary apiary, refill the boxes with more frames, add a drop or two of lemongrass oil and put them back in position.

Finally … I’m not aware I’ve lost a swarm as my queens are all clipped (I think) so these two are likely from one of the many other beekeepers in the area. Thank you!

Bait hives

A small swarm

Swarm

The swarming season is almost upon us. Colonies now have good levels of drone brood and increasing numbers of mature drones. The weather is improving. There’s a good flow on from the oil seed rape and colonies are starting to get overcrowded. Inevitably this means that colonies will start making preparations to swarm … recent inspections show increasing numbers of ‘play cups’ and a few charged queen cells.

I usually leave a couple of empty boxes in likely spots to act as bait hives, primarily to catch swarms from my own colonies but – with the concentration of beekeepers in the Kenilworth/Coventry area – possibly to attract a swarm someone else has lost. I try and clip my own queens to prevent losing a swarm … in a semi-urban environment I don’t want to bother my neighbours. However, there are always a couple I’ve missed, perhaps due to late supercedure or simple forgetfulness.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading

The requirements for a bait hive are beautifully described in Tom Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy. They can be summarised as a south-facing, National-sized, solid-floored box, small entrance, preferably located high off the ground. To make them more attractive they should contain a frame or two of old manky drawn brood (no stores though as this encourages robbing) and have a dab or two of lemongrass oil added. I’ve previously used spare National brood boxes containing only two old black frames. However, if a swarm takes up residence they can build comb very quickly, so this year I’m experimenting with a full brood box of foundationless frames.

Bait hive

Bait hive

I have a couple of Modern Beekeeping National poly hives. These are high quality but – in my view – poorly designed. The brood box is fractionally too narrow, meaning that frames fit well until they’re propolised after which everything gets too tight to move. The external dimensions are about the same as a cedar National but the walls are thicker meaning they can only take 10 frames. The floor is mesh and the crownboard is a simple sheet of semi-rigid clear plastic. The supers have an overhanging lip which makes re-assembling a hive after an inspection fraught. These are being used as bait hives this year.

Old brood frame in a bait hive

Old brood frame …

I’ve covered the mesh floor with cardboard, added the two old frames (in retrospect only one is really needed) on the outside and filled the space in between them with foundationless frames – a standard brood frame with 15kg fishing line horizontal supports and a 2cm starter strip of foundation. Tom Seeley describes how scout bees measure the volume of a potential new home by a series of walks and short flights. The hope is that the foundationless frames will provide the guides for the new drawn comb, but that most of the ‘space’ will appear empty and so of an attractive size for the swarm. It also saves on the cost of seven sheets of foundation.

Waiting … bait hive waiting to be populated by a swarm

Waiting …

I’ve added a few drops of lemongrass oil to the top bars of a couple of frames (take care, it dissolves poly hives) and strapped the entire thing together securely. I’ve placed one on the top of my garden greenhouse, about 8 feet off the ground. The other is about 30 metres from my out apiary, on a normal height stand. I’m not sure I’m convinced about the need for height … the swarms I’ve caught in the last couple of years have all been in bait hives at or below waist level.

Update

It must be the season … a post on bait hives has also been made on the Beekeeping Afloat blog.

Update

Both these bait hives were occupied by swarms in the first week of May.