Tag Archives: Bees


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.



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.

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Preparing soft set honey, or warming OSR for bottling, means you will need a source of controllable heat large enough to accommodate one or two 30lb honey buckets (or more of course). Many recommend an old fridge or freezer with an incandescent 100 watt bulb. These are getting increasingly difficult to buy and require some electrickery skills – which I lack – to accurately and safely control the temperature. An alternative is to build a honey warming cabinet from ply, lots of insulation and a well-regulated thermostatically controlled heating element, like they use to hatch chicken eggs. 

Using ply sheeting, a few dozen 4 x 40mm screws, some wood glue and a few sheets of 50mm insulation (for example Kingspan or Jablite, both of which are available from larger B&Q stores for about £4-5 per sheet) you can build a cabinet that easily rivals those sold by Thorne’s the usual commercial sources for a fraction of the price.

Ask your local wood merchant to prepare 9mm exterior grade ply cut to the following dimensions:

  • Top and base: 2 pieces, each 47.5cm x 87.5cm
  • Sides: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 87.5cm
  • Ends: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 45cm
Internal view

Internal view

Using ample glue and screws construct an open-topped box on top of the base sheet. Add scrap stripwood as handles on either end and feet underneath before going to the next stage (rather than after having to deconstruct the finished box as I did … the screws holding these handles and feet on should go from the inside of the box outwards). Line the box with thick insulation; both Jablite and Kingspan are easily cut with a carving knife which is much less messy than using a regular saw. A single sheet of insulation lines the base of the box, with the sides sitting on top and lying flush with the top of the ply side panels (see photos). The insulation does not need to be fixed in place, particularly if you overlap the ends (like sealing the top of a cardboard box).

Element … ary

Element … ary

I used a 100 egg incubator heating element from Ecostat. These are sold by beekeeping suppliers at a considerable markup … instead try Patrick Pinker Game Supplies who sell them for significantly less (c. £55 if I remember correctly). These elements are pre-wired and consist of a control unit/plug with two protruding wires. One is the thermostat and the other the heating element.  Both need to be fed through a hole drilled in the end or side wall of the box. I added an external socket (see note at end of article) but this is not necessary – simply ensure that the wires from the box cannot be accidentally pulled out as this is likely to damage the element or thermostat. The heating element needs to be supported from short wooden pegs so that it is clear of the walls and floor of the cabinet – I prepared a false floor from an offcut of 3mm ply and glued/screwed the vertical posts to it. Small eyelets are attached to the top of these which then – using the supplied rubber bands – support the element. The comprehensive instructions for the Ecostat element make this very clear. The thermostat needs to be well separated from the element. I taped it to the inner side wall of the box. While you have the role of duck tape out it might be wise to cover the exposed edges of the insulation which can be a little friable. The lid is simply constructed by gluing a suitably sized piece of insulation to the middle of the ply sheet – you can use Gorilla glue safely with foam insulation. Tape the edges of the lid as well as they can get quite a few knocks.

[Note 1: I have prepared some rudimentary plans (with dimensions) showing the construction of this honey warming cabinet. These should be read in conjunction with this page which contains the relevant images.

Note 2: There is an additional brief post on alternative places to source the thermostat and heating element. These are also available from Thorne’s and possibly other major beekeeping equipment suppliers, though at higher prices.]

Bucket stand

Bucket stand

You need the lid and floor finished before you can prepare the last component – a ventilated stand for the honey buckets. This needs to provide clearance above the element, but be short enough that the buckets leave space above them when the lid is closed (to allow air circulation). The picture shows the sort of thing required without exposing my poor quality carpentry.

Finally you need to calibrate the thermostat. This can easily be done by standing a large container of water in the cabinet with a thermometer in it, allowing the cabinet (and, more importantly, the water) to reach a stable temperature before recording it. Alternatively, and a lot more conveniently, buy one of those cheap remote weather stations from Maplin which have an external temperature sensor. Leave this in the cabinet and monitor the temperature with the base unit. My cabinet is in an unheated garage and holds temperatures between about 20oC and at least 55oC +/- 0.5-1.0oC when the ambient temperature is below about 14oC.

Ready to go

Ready to go

Soft set honey needs a temperature of 14oC or below so is best made during the colder months of the year, though you can always use your well insulated box as a chiller if you add lots of cooling blocks.

Improving heat distribution in the cabinet

After using this cabinet for about three years I modified it by adding a small mains powered fan underneath the slatted wooden stand. I used the external twin three pin socket to provide the power for this. This is a marked improvement (on what already worked pretty well). The box reaches temperature faster and fluctuates very little. The only problem I have encountered is when you try and maintain a constant low temperature … the fan generates some heat and it is difficult to keep the temperature much below the low 20’s centigrade.

Queen cell incubator

With an inner container such as a polythene ice cream carton with a damp cloth inside (to raise the humidity) I’ve used this incubator to hatch out queens from grafted cells. Just stack the hair-roller cages vertically in the ice-cream carton and check them regularly. Virgin queens can easily be added to queen less mini-nucs. If you’re going to use this cabinet for incubating queen cells remember to calibrate the thermostat and mark it for 34oC well in advance.

Warming super frames before extraction

If you take care to build the cabinet the same dimensions as a couple of supers you can use it to warm boxes of frames for extraction.

A version of this article first appeared (way back in 2012) in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter of the Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.

Paynes poly nuc boxes

Paynes poly nuc

Paynes make a reasonably robust 6 frame polystyrene nucleus box complete with an integral feeder for syrup. Having used these for a couple of seasons I’ve ended up modifying them to better suit my beekeeping. The resulting box now has eight frames, runners, a clear crown board and much improved roof insulation.

Before providing the grisly details I should add that my Paynes poly nuc boxes are first generation models. The current ones have a different type of entrance.


Landing board

Landing board

The entrance is the first thing for modification. I use gimp pins to add a small Correx landing board. This encourages the bees to climb back into the hive, rather than accumulate under the mesh floor. It’s a daft design on the original, but easy to rectify. As an aside, when transporting the nucs I stuff the entrance with a single block of dense foam, cut slightly oversize. With this wedged in place all is secure. When painting the nucs I add some colour to the entrance in the hope it provides a pattern that is easy to recognise.

Frame runners and bee space



I install frame runners to make moving frames around easier. If you don’t do this you will need to thoroughly varnish the ‘lug rest’ or the bees will propolise everything together. Gorilla glue seems to work fine when gluing metal or plastic runners to the polystyrene. Adding frame runners makes the nucs bottom bee space … or at least removes the top bee space they started with.

Crown boards

Crown boards will be needed, if only to stop the bees propilising the roof down (and it’s so flimsy I’d worry about it breaking when trying to lever it off). The cheapest and easiest solution is to use a sheet of thick clear polythene. Cut it exactly to size or the roof won’t ‘sit’ down properly. This works well – just lift the corner and give them a gentle puff of smoke when inspecting them, then peel slowly back. Alternatively, I’ve used 2mm Perspex sheet (just about visible in the photo above). Since this has some rigidity it can be gently slid back over the top of the frames and the bees will be pushed down or away.

That hopeless internal feeder

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

Look … no feeder!

All the changes above convert the poly nuc from being OK to actually useful. However the weak part of the design is the inbuilt feeder. It’s rubbish. It needs thorough painting before use or the syrup soaks in and goes mouldy, it’s far too narrow and it can’t be emptied without tipping everything upside down. It ended up being a fermenting grave for bees. At first I simply used duct tape to seal it off (remembering the entrance over the wall needs sealing as well) but then read posts by Adam on the SBAi and BBKA sites about converting the nuc into an 8 frame box. Using care and a considerable amount of brute force, a bread knife, a Stanley knife and a small saw it’s possible to remove the wall of the feeder completely. You’ll discover that the (inevitable) blood cleans off the poly relatively easily. By butchering the removed poly you can then rebuild the ‘lug rest’ region, sticking everything in place with one of those space-filling glues (I’ve used Mega Grip). Sand everything level and replace the frame runners.

Remember it doesn’t have to be pretty … just functional. I smeared the inside joins with wood filler to try and exclude any crevices that could harbour pathogens and to discourage the bees from nibbling the exposed, rough, polystyrene.

Paynes 8 frame poly nuc

Packed 8 frame nuc

The end product is a very serviceable 8 frame poly nuc box. Much improved over the original design. You can use a standard frame feeder for syrup if needed, or bodge together an eke to both improve the roof and allow fondant to be fed.

Being lightweight and of reasonable capacity these make ideal swarm collection boxes. They can easily be held one-handed while balancing precariously on top of a ladder … at least when empty! I usually shake the swarm into the empty box, gently add eight frames with foundation, pop the lid on and either put them on the ground on a sheet or securely balance them somewhere suitable to allow the stragglers to arrive, then seal them up with a foam block and move them.

Improving the roof and insulation

Eke and fondant

Eke and fondant

The roof is a weak point in the design, being much too thin to provide really useful insulation. Using a little ingenuity, some strip wood and a block of Kingspan it’s possible to construct an insulated eke that can house a 1kg block of fondant in a fast food container. Using new materials I reckon these cost about £5 to make, much less than the price of the Paynes eke alone (which still has the problem of the thin roof). 

In the future I’m considering converting one of these boxes into a twin 4 frame design, by adding a Correx divider, sealing the original entrance and adding new entrances at opposite ends of the box. This would be a useful size as a mating nuc, or could possibly be used to overwinter bees in a sheltered site … watch this space.


It turns out that these modified boxes are a fraction too small to be split into a twin 4 frame design. Although a newly converted box will comfortably fit 8 frames, once they are propolised there’s too little space – even using a very thin central divider made out of Correx.

Paynes 8 frame conversion

Space for 8 frames … just

A far better solution is to modify a ModernBeekeeping Langstroth poly nuc which, with some scrap plywood, can be converted into a twin 3 frame design with opposing entrances and an inbuilt feeding compartment. I’ll post separately on this in due course. I’ve posted details of these separately.