I’m very pleased to be speaking on the 24th of November (this Thursday) to members of the Helensburgh and District BKA. The talk will be at the rather splendid looking Rhu Parish Church at 7.15pm. The title of the talk is “Bees, viruses and Varroa: the biology and control of deformed wing virus (DWV)”. I’ll discuss aspects of the biology of DWV, particularly relating to its transmission by Varroa, and will then explore potential ways in which bees could be ‘protected’ using either high-tech or low-tech approaches. If you’re attending please introduce yourself when we’re all having a cuppa at the end of the evening … don’t leave it too late though, I’ve got a 2 hour drive home afterwards.
The drive from the east coast to Helensburgh was stunning, with a fantastic pink-tinged sunset lighting up the snow-covered hills around Crainlarich (Stuc a’ Chroin, Ben Vorlich and Ben Ledi). It was bitterly cold and clear.
Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich …
There was a slight delay due to an absentee projector. During this we discussed oxalic acid-containing treatments for Varroa control and the problems caused by the lack of a ready-mixed preparation of Api-Bioxal. Once the projector arrived we were up and running and I covered viruses and Varroa, why we treat when we treat (or perhaps more correctly ‘when should we treat for maximum effect?’) and the influence of drifting and robbing on parasite and pathogen transmission between colonies. That’s quite a lot to get through in an hour … and I didn’t. The audience were rewarded for their patience with a well-earned cup of tea and a question and answer session.
The return trip was less visually pleasing other than a great view of a barn owl ghosting along the verges of the A977 near Rumbling Bridge. With thanks to Cameron Macallum and colleagues for their hospitality and a very enjoyable evening.
Dr. Bodgit is the name my wife gives my alter ego … the bloke who spends the first few days each week nursing the cuts and gouges in his hands from a weekend spent butchering pieces of wood for beekeeping purposes. In a past life I was asked to talk about ‘DIY for beekeepers’ for the Warwick and Leamington BKA … something relatively lightweight to follow their AGM. As any BKA member knows, these are usually very tense events, with huge competition to get onto the executive committee … or not. That talk lead to an irregular Dr. Bodgit column in the otherwise excellent WLBK Bee Talk newsletter which in turn prompted me to start this website … if you go back to some of the early posts they were often about DIY for beekeepers. Now, a few years later, I’m dusting off the same talk for the Fife BKA at their 2016 AGM (10/3/16), updated to include a further 5 years of tips and tricks and a large amount of additional scar tissue.
Paynes poly nuc …
In the spectrum of beekeeping DIY – ranging from badly carving up a block of polystyrene for hive insulation to crafting beautiful cedar broods and supers from wood I’ve felled, matured, dried, cut and planed – I’m firmly positioned at the (rank) amateur end. Nevertheless I reckon there are a large number of items that can be easily, relatively inexpensively and usefully built – these both potentially improve your beekeeping (enjoyment at least) and give you something to do in the long, cold, dark winters.
Tools of the trade
Clearer boards …
Over the years I’ve developed some fairly basic boundaries to the types of DIY I attempt. I’m restricted on time, space and very restricted on ability. Furthermore, since I don’t really trust myself with power tools I don’t own too many (though see below). Therefore the vast majority of the things I attempt can be constructed – a rather grand word meaning ‘bodged together’, hence Dr. Bodgit – using the sorts of tools most people already have available:
cutting tools – a good tenon saw, a Stanley knife and a breadknife
measuring tools – tape measure and set square
joining tools – hand drill, screwdriver and small hammer
The breadknife is really for working with polystyrene – either carving insulation or butchering Paynes poly nucs to improve them. To these tools I’d add a list of ‘consumables’ that will need regular replacement:
pencil for marking stuff – you will inevitably lose it … it’s behind you ear 😉
screws – buy them in bulk from Screwfix in a couple of convenient sizes
nails – almost exclusively the gimp pins for frame construction
sticky stuff – Evostick wood glue, Gorilla glue and Unibond Power tape (for Correx)
Elastoplast (though Unibond Power tape and tissues work well) and antiseptic cream
tea – critical to keep hydrated properly … you might also need fruit cake
Tacwise nail gun …
The ‘joining tools’ is where I have gradually made concessions on power tools. A reasonable quality rechargeable electric drill/screwdriver is a huge timesaver and a nail/staple gun makes assembling everything from brood boxes to frames extremely easy (you’ll need to add nails/staples to the consumables list above). However, these power tools are a luxury and not a necessity. I’m also having to consider a table saw as I now no longer have an excellent local timber merchant (or anything but the big chain, big price, rubbish) who stocks a wide variety of ‘bee space friendly’ planed softwood. It’s only the affection I have for my fingers that’s stopping me …
Don’t do this at home
Don’t do this at home …
There are a number of things I think that are simply not worth attempting … these are items that are either already inexpensive, that are difficult to make without a lot of investment in tools or where it is difficult to make them at a quality good enough to justify the effort. In my view brood boxes and supers tick all three of these ‘exclusion’ rules … the cedar seconds are pretty inexpensive and readily available, they’re well made and go together easily and they should last pretty-much forever. I’ve made plywood boxes previously and wouldn’t do it again … too heavy and nothing like as long-lasting.
I think the best things to build are those that meet one or more of the following criteria:
items that cannot be purchased at all (there are lots of these)
items that can be purchased but that are poorly designed and/or built (few of these)
items that can be purchased but only for silly money (lots of these)
For me, considering hive components, it turns out that it’s the parts that are essentially horizontal in the hive that seem to most often meet these criteria. These include:
Kewl floors – these are floors with a so-called ‘Dartington-type’ underfloor entrance. I think they offer advantages for the bees in terms of reduced robbing and wasp problems, and for the beekeeper by obviating the need for mouseguards and making transporting hives and vaporising oxalic acid easier. You can buy these from one supplier but the price is ridiculous and the design is sub-optimal in my opinion (so I’m not including a link).
a variety of split or division boards – these include conventional single entrance split boards, multi-entrance Snelgrove boards, slightly more complicated Horsley boards and clearer boards. I’d also include Cloake boards for queen rearing in this category. In all cases, these meet one or more of the qualifying criteria – some cannot be bought, those that can are not ideal and the prices are always simply daft. Thorne’s Snelgrove boards are about £35 each and can probably be made (better) for about a fiver … that’s one of my jobs for this winter. Their Cloake board is the same price. It does come with a queen excluder (but you’ve got lots of those already) but the shallow eke and Correx removable slide can be built from scavenged materials for almost nothing. There’s a very recent thread on the SBAi about building so-called ‘flight boards‘ from thick Correx for ~£2.70 each – these are dual entrance, dual-use, split boards which can be used as crownboards or used to divide strong colonies for swarm control or making increase.
perspex, insulated crownboards – unavailable to my knowledge (all of those for sale are uninsulated), very useful and relatively easy and inexpensive to build.
inexpensive, totally weatherproof, lightweight roofs – these can be built from Correx for well under £2, less than 25% of the price of the metalwork alone from Beehive bits or about 10% of the price of the – disappointingly poor quality – Thorne’s sale quality cedar roofs.
Perspex crownboard …
Cloake board …
Split board …
I only list Thorne’s above for convenience – their offerings are usually no worse or better (or differently priced) than any of the major beekeeping equipment suppliers. The second quality cedar broods and supers they sell at BeeTradex and the big annual shows are – with a little picking and choosing to avoid the terminally-warped (note that you’re well-advised to take care avoiding the terminally-warped at any of the annual beekeeping jamborees) – perfectly usable. Their first quality cedar broods, of which I have a few, are lovely (and so they should be at £42).
If you move away from hive components there are lots of additional opportunities for exploiting a little DIY skill and/or experiencing a little blood loss:
my honey warming cabinet was first described on this site over two years ago and is consistently the most searched-for (and possibly even read) page. With a little careful planning you can build one that’s far better insulated than commercially available, with better thermostatic control and heat circulation, that will also treble up (is there such a term?) as a super-heater to aid extraction and as a queen cell incubator. If you source the individual components carefully you can build one for 25-33% of the prices listed by big T or Maisemore’s.
honey bucket tippers are now available commercially – they can look beautiful but are eyewateringly expensive – but are a doddle to build for the price of a few scrap pieces of wood and two hinges.
my hivebarrow has more than paid for itself in saving hours of backbreaking work … one of the most useful things I’ve built and, as I get more decrepit, getting more useful by the year.
Honey warming cabinet …
Honey bucket tipper …
Returning wet supers …
So, there you have it, you’ve now no need to attend the Fife Beekeepers AGM in early March … I’ll attribute the tiny audience for my talk to the fact you’ve all read about it in advance, rather than it being of no interest to anyone.
Of course, the three or four who do turn up are going to have trouble avoiding being voted onto the committee 😉
Finally, if you need any more convincing that beekeeping DIY makes sound financial sense, I present my final exhibit …
Dummy boards …
… these cost £6-7 from the beekeeping suppliers. No wonder they’re called dummy boards 😉
I spent last Friday and Saturday attending the Midland and South West Counties Convention at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester. It was a good venue for a meeting, complemented by an interesting and entertaining programme of talks. I presented our research on the influence of Varroa on the transmission of pathogenic strains of deformed wing virus, together with brief coverage of both high and low-tech solutions that might be useful in mitigating the detrimental impact of the mite on the virus population (and hence, the colony).
Queen rearing course
On the Saturday I donned my beekeepers hat (veil?) and discussed queenright queen rearing methods – a talk really aimed at encouraging beginners to ‘have a go’. I’m was aware there were people in the audience who earn their living from bees whereas I largely dabble at the weekends, and that they’ve probably forgotten more about queen rearing than I’m ever likely to learn. I’m always (silently) grateful they don’t ask tricky questions or interrupt with a “You don’t want to be doing that …” comment. I think only about 10% of beekeepers actively raise queens – by which I mean select suitable larvae and generate ‘spares’ for increase, sale or giving away. Without more learning how relatively easy it is to raise queen we cannot hope to be self-sufficient and will remain reliant on imported stocks, of largely unknown provenance (and with an unknown pathogen payload), particularly at the beginning and end of the season. There were excellent presentations on the analysis of pollen in forensic studies (Michael Keith-Lucas) and the use of the shook swarm (Bob Smith), together with a very interesting mead tasting event. I unfortunately missed the workshops and the Saturday afternoon presentations as I had to waste hours hanging around for three delayed trains to eventually get to Heathrow a few minutes after my flight back to Scotland departed 🙁
The MSWCC 2016 event will be running again next year (on the Gower) in mid-October hosted by Swansea and District BKA. The theme is “Meet the Natives” and – if this year is anything to go by – it promises to be a very worthwhile event.
I’m delighted to be sharing the programme with Michael Palmer and Celia Davies at the Somerset BKA lecture day in Cheddar this Saturday (21st February ’15). I’ll be adding a small bit of science to the day and no doubt benefiting significantly from their wealth of beekeeping expertise. It should be a very enjoyable event.
Update – it was a very enjoyable event. Aside from a few audio problems with a misbehaving microphone a packed hall enjoyed two talks by Celia Davies on Summer and Winter Bees and A World of Scents and a further two from Michael Palmer on the Sustainable Apiary and Queen rearing.
If you’ve not heard Michael talk about the importance of overwintering nucs for sustainable beekeeping then you should either try and catch him on his current UK tour or watch him deliver the talk at the 2013 National Honey Show on YouTube. I think I’ve heard this talk three times and have learnt something new every time. The methods Michael uses directly address the problems (lack of early-season queens, overwintering losses etc.) I’ve previously outlined in a post on the impact of imported bees and queens on the quality of UK beekeeping in Supply and Demand.
All the talks – including the science of Varroa and deformed wing virus I presented – generated lots of questions and discussions. With thanks to Sharon Blake for the invitation and organisation of the day.
I’m delighted to be speaking at the CABK Stratford Conference (the Central Association of Beekeepers; Bringing Science to the Beekeeper) on Saturday and Sunday 22/23 November 2014. I’ll be discussing the identification of a virulent strain of deformed wing virus, characteristics of its transmission and potential ways it might be controlled in the future. The CABK website doesn’t yet appear to list other speakers, but the provisional programme I’ve seen lists Alison Haughton from Rothamsted, Ben Jones from FERA, Jochen Plugfelder from Bern and Bob Smith from Kent.
There should be ample time for discussions so please introduce yourself if you want to chat.
Despite the best efforts of the Falcon Hotel (who appeared to have reserved far too few rooms for the registered delegates) the meeting was very enjoyable. The talks I heard were excellent, with ample time for discussion. In particular I enjoyed listening to Bob Smith who showed us the differences between DN5 frames from two of the major manufacturers … one made to British Standard sizes with the wrong beespace (Thorne’s), and the other with the correct beespace between the top bars, the rebated side bars and the wide bottom bars (National Bee Supplies if I remember correctly). Bob’s talk was the only beekeeping talk I’ve heard with psychedelic imagery and a guitar riff. Bob also demonstrated his enviable woodworking skills with an elegant little (mating nuc sized) observation hive. Jochen Plugfelder gave two fascinating presentations on improved formulations of formic acid for Varroa treatment and the chemistry of queen fighting, the latter supported by excellent video. Ben Jones discussed his studies on dietary influences on foragers and – in a commendably dedicated way – rushed off early to complete a time course experiment. Finally (although it was actually the first talk of the meeting in place of Alison Haughton) Robert Pickard presented a wide ranging overview of social and solitary bees and their mimics. The talk was actually so wide ranging that it was difficult to categorise it and was illustrated with a range of interesting slides.