FEBRUARY

Well into February now and things are finally beginning to look up. With the evenings and mornings starting to lengthen and sunny spells becoming the norm rather than the exception, I’m beginning to detect a definite air of expectation around the apiaries. A brief look below the crown boards on the warmest days, shows the bees have briefly broken cluster and are eagerly going about their business. All this plus the pollen being collected suggests the queens are beginning to lay, always a good sign that Spring is just around the corner. I don’t spend any longer than necessary with these early inspections and haven’t yet removed any frames. I did have time to take a couple of pics which I’ll share with you.

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BELOW THE CROWN BOARD ON ONE OF THE MENDIP “C” HIVES

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AND ONE OF THE NUC’S.

One or two of the bees came out to see who had had the audacity to disturb them but were very placid gathering around the hive entrances, queuing to go back, in as soon as I’d replaced the roofs.

With our colony numbers sadly depleted my prime objective this year will be the production of nuc’s with which to re-populate the empty hives. Once again, I intend to use The Cloake Board method to achieve this. Although there are many other tried and tested methods of queen rearing, this one particularly appeals to me and although I’ve had only limited success in the past, mainly due to my poor grafting skills, I intend to persevere with it. Since my last attempt I’ve acquired new custom made glasses and am hopeful that they will be the difference between success and failure. Any of you familiar with the Cloake Board method of queen rearing will know that ideally you will have had your intended nursery colony over-wintered on double brood. The colony I intend to use over-wintered on brood and a half so my first task will be to get them off that and onto double brood as soon as conditions permit. The reason they were on brood and a half is that with the exception of hive 3, all of my bees in 14×12″ hives. Not having another standard brood box available at the time, I had no option other than to add a super to give them the additional space they required..

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HIVE THREE CONFIGURED BROOD AND A HALF

I now have a standard brood box filled with drawn comb which as I said, I’ll get onto three as soon as possible

Chatting to a group of friends at a recent beekeeping seminar, the subject of Winter losses inevitably came up and how best to get things back on track. I mentioned that, as I had a number of hives that I wanted to re-populate, I was going to use The Cloake Board method of queen rearing. “What’s that” one immediately asked whilst another stated, “I’ve never heard of that”. It turned out that only one of the group had heard of The Cloake Board method, and he wasn’t too sure what it involved. I don’t know why this surprised me knowing how few beekeepers actually plan their queen rearing, and why should they? We all know that eventually one or more of our colonies will prepare to swarm or supersede which, if we’re looking to make an increase, will provide us with  queen cells from which we can produce our new queens.The problem with this, as I see it, firstly, unless we know the exact day the queen cell was started, we can’t know when to expect our new queen to emerge can we. More importantly, if we use cells from a colony preparing to swarm, we run the risk of keeping the swarminess factor in our colonies, surely something we shouldn’t be looking to propagate. Similarly, we know the main reason why a colony looks to supersede, is because they’ve detected failings in the queen they currently have, and yet, we are considering using a queen cell produced by a queen which we know, her own colony has deemed inadequate and is looking to replace. Surely it would be much better if we could produce queens of known pedigree, in the certain knowledge of when they would emerge and in whatever quantity we require. I believe The Cloake Board method of queen rearing is as close a method to meeting those requirements as we are likely to find and I’ll show you how I go about it here at Mendip.

THE CLOAKE BOARD METHOD OF QUEEN REARING. (THE MENDIP-APIARY WAY)

The first decision is exactly what we want to achieve from this queen rearing exercise, as this will have a bearing on where we locate our nursery colony. If our requirement is  solely for queen cells, then the colony can remain on it’s stand in the apiary. If on the other hand, the requirement is populated nuc’s. then the colony must be sited in an area where it is possible to surround it with the nuc’s. These will all be inward facing and forming a circle ideally no more than three metres in diameter. From a strong nursery colony we should be able to create seven or eight bearing in mind, each will require, as a minimum, one frame of brood, one of stores and ideally a frame of drawn comb. Frames can be taken from other hives if necessary but ideally the colony we’ve selected to rear our queens will be strong enough to populate however many nuc’s we intend to produce.

THE REQUIREMENTS

So, what are the basic requirements for The Cloake Board method of queen rearing? Well, as I previously stated, before we even consider this method, we need a very strong colony which ideally will have over-wintered on double brood especially if it is nuc’s that you are seeking as this colony will be used to populate therm. It will be configured “the warm way”. If necessary bee numbers can be boosted by taking frames of bees from other colonies. As the colony will require feeding throughout, use weak syrup for this, we need a bulk feeder, Ashforth, Brother Adam or similar and of course, a Cloake-board. For those of you who have never seen one, it comprises a frame, the same dimensions as a hive floor, with a slide with which to separate the two brood boxes and an adjustable opening to allow the bees access. The board will need a queen excluder which can be incorporated in the making, or as with mine, the board can be just stood on one.

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MY OWN VERSION OF A CLOAKE-BOARD

This is my Cloake-board. As you can see the slide is partly out revealing the queen excluder and the adjustable opening which is a part of the slide. The block on the rear corner has a fixed opening and is inserted when the slide is removed. We said earlier that one of the main benefits of this method was that, not only did it provide us with queens of known pedigree but also the certainty of when they would emerge. To achieve this we have to provide our nursery colony with larvae of a known age and from a known source. They can be from this colony or taken from any other that exhibits the qualities that we particularly want to promote. In order to achieve this we will need some means of getting the larvae we have selected, from our donor colony, which we should have decided on well in advance, into our nursery colony. It is generally accepted that grafting provides the best results and in order to achieve this we need, at this stage, to provide ourselves with a grafting tool, most favour the Chinese variety,

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CHINESE GRAFTING TOOL

and a cell frame on which to transport and grow our larvae. There are several ways of producing a cell frame, but basically it is an empty brood frame to which one or more cross bars have been fitted with cell cups attached. There are all manner of plastic cups etc. available but the method I favour is known as the Doolittle method. This involves the production of wax cups using a wooden dowel former which are then mounted onto our crossbars using a little melted wax. To produce the cups melt a little beeswax in a suitable container then, after wetting the tip of your dowel, dip it two or three times into the wax to a depth of about 3/8″. Let the wax solidify between dips then ease the cup off the dowel with your thumbnail.

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WAX CUPS AND DOWEL FORMER

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CUPS AFFIXED TO CROSS BARS USING A LITTLE MELTED WAX.

THE METHOD

DAY 1. Turn the hive through 180 degrees so that the entrance faces the opposite direction. This can be difficult especially if you are on your own. A colony on double brood is a heavy brute. For this reason, and because there are other manipulations which call for a hive to be turned, I have modified a number of floors to incorporate an adjustable entrance at the rear and this colony will have been on one of these from the start.

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MODIFIED FLOOR SHOWING ADJUSTABLE OPENING OPPOSITE ENTRANCE.

The next step is to re-arrange the frames so that the queen is in the bottom box along with the bulk of the sealed brood and the unsealed brood in the top box. The purpose of this is that bees in the bottom box will be attracted up into the top box by the unsealed brood. Next, insert a queen excluder with your Cloake-board on top between the two boxes without the slide and with the entrance facing forward. Insert the entrance block, close off the hive’s main entrance, fit and fill your bulk feeder. The reason for the hive being configured the warm way is because flying bees returning to the hive, finding no entrance will have to migrate up to the entrance in the Cloake-board and they will find this much easier over a flat surface.

Leave the colony like this for one week and on DAY 7, insert the slide into the Cloake-board with it’s entrance open. This will direct all returning bees into the top box which needs to be filled to overflowing with bees to ensure a successful operation. Open the top box, find and remove a frame that has no brood and a minimum of stores on and insert your cell frame, re-arrange the frames so that the cell frame is in the middle of the box.  Open the rear facing entrance in the hive floor.

The following day, DAY 8, is the day we’re going to graft our larvae so, the first step is to remove the cell frame and the frame which is to provide our larvae for grafting *. The grafting process needs to be completed as soon as possible, we don’t want our larvae to get chilled neither do we want them exposed to direct sunlight where they might dry out. So, having decided where our grafting is going to take place, the location of which should have been decided on well in advance, the first step is to prop our frame of brood up, angled in such a way as to allow us to see down into the bottom of the combs. We are looking for brood, ideally newly hatched and if not, certainly less than three days old after which they will no longer be viable. Remember, the age of this brood will determine the day that we can harvest our queen-cells. Generally the best place to look will be next to a clump of eggs. As a rule of thumb, the larvae will be about the size of a lower case comma and floating on a bed of royal jelly. Having located your larvae, the next step is to transfer them, one by one, to your cell frame, so, taking your grafting tool in one hand, and approaching the larvae from the rear, that is to say, the curvy side, gently slide the tip of the tool under the larvae and transfer it to the cell frame. The royal jelly you will pick up with the larvae will enable you to slide the larvae off the tool and into it’s new home. Because, very obligingly, queens lay in quite large batches, having found one suitable larvae, there will always be several close by, so, if there’s a chance that you have damaged one, discard it and take another. The next step is to get the frames back into their respective boxes. Before inserting your cell frame back into the top box, have a quick check for queen cells. There shouldn’t be any, but if you do find anything resembling one, remove it. The bees in the top box, having effectively been queenless for twenty four hours will by now, be desperate to produce one. A measure of which they exhibit by the speed with which they locate and cover the cell frame, they are usually on the frame before you start lowering it into the box and by the time it is in place, it’s usually covered in bees. This is, of course, exactly what we want in order to ensure the very best quality queens, hundreds of bees, all queuing up to pump royal jelly into our larvae.

Examination of our nursery colony the following day, DAY 9, should reveal the bees should have begun enlarging the cells housing the grafts. It’s not necessary to completely remove the frame, just withdraw it far enough to reveal the cells. One thing you will be amazed by is just how many bees can get onto one cell frame. They seem to be clambering over each other in an effort to get to the larvae and will ignore you completely. Don’t worry about a few failures, hopefully you will have prepared more grafts than queens you actually wanted. After re-inserting the frame, remove the Cloake-board slide and insert the block, close the entrance in the hive floor. At every visit, check and if necessary, top up the feeder.

The queen cells will be sealed by DAY 13. Other than keep an eye on the feeder, nothing to do until DAY 16. Time to locate and remove the queen, along with the frame she is on. Place her along with a frame of brood from another colony, a couple of frames of foundation and a frame feeder of syrup into a nuc. and take her to another site, far enough away so there’s no chance flying bees from our nursery hive finding her.

The following day, DAY 17 is the day we’ve been waiting for. Today is the day we complete our part of the exercise. A glance at our cell frame will tell us how many of our grafts have been successful and this will determine how many nuc’s will be required. Remember the object of this exercise is to provide us with the best possible queens so, discard any cells which are miss-shapen or puny looking. If you are fortunate enough to have more finished cells than you have nuc’s. for, they can always go into your mating nuc’s. or if not, a couple of ‘phone calls will usually find grateful homes for them.

So, to the nuc’s. Each will require as a minimum, one frame of brood and one of stores, fill the remaining spaces with frames of comb or foundation. As each nuc. will require feeding until they have become established, you will need a contact or preferably, frame feeder for each one. So, having prepared a nuc. carefully remove a queen cell from the cell frame, sliding a sharp blade along the bar will easily facilitate this. Using your thumb carefully gouge a short vertical groove in the centre of the brood frame and place the queen cell in it, gently moulding the wax around it to lock it in place. Alternatively, you can use a cell protector if you prefer. Keep the cell right way up and be gentle with it, the last thing we want to do after all this effort is to risk damaging her. Repeat this until you have filled all of your nuc’s and the nursery hive is empty of anything they can make use of, obviously any brood or stores but even frames the bees haven’t yet started will be preferable to frames of cold foundation.

Finally, arrange the nuc’s in a circle around the nursery hive, entrances facing inwards and remove the hive back to it’s place in the apiary. Any bees still in the hive will, on leaving, fly back to the place in the centre of the nuc’s which they have just vacated, as will any flying bees and from there, will find their way into the nuc’s. We know exactly when our new queens will emerge, in three days time, DAY 20, so just a case now of visiting our nuc’s before then, closing them up and removing them to their final location. The Cloake-Board method of queen rearing is an excellent method of producing top quality queens and if it’s not being used to produce nuc’s., can be repeated throughout the season. Provided you have given sufficient care to your grafting and observed the timing of the various manipulations, you can reasonably expect to achieve in the reason of 95% success.  Good luck!

* If you don’t fancy the idea of grafting your larvae, an alternative is to produce wax plugs containing your larvae which you affix to your cell frame in exactly the same way as the Doolittle cups. From then on, the method of rearing is exactly the same. To harvest the plugs you will need a short length of copper pipe or similar about 1/4″ in diameter. Having located your frame of suitable larvae it’s just a case of pressing the pipe down over a cell, twisting it and withdrawing the cell complete with larvae. All that is required now, is to remove the cell from the pipe, trim it to length and fix it to your cell frame.

 

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER

Well into October now and pleased to report, so far, everything seems to be moving along very well. The Apiguard and Winter feeding is now completed. The warm weather has meant that wasps have continued to be a nuisance and I’ve continued to top up the traps. I would imagine the first prolonged cold snap will see the end of them. Very few drones in evidence but little sign that brood production has slowed down, if anything, the queens seem to be on overtime. I can’t remember seeing so much brood in October and on all but the wettest days, there is still an abundance of pollen being brought in.

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THIS NUC ENTRANCE GIVES SOME IDEA OF THE AMOUNT OF ACTIVITY

The last couple of weeks has seen new dandelions flowering in the meadow, something which the bees have been taking full advantage of.

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BEE ON WINTER FLOWERING DANDELION

I know it’s not a very good pic. but as usual, I didn’t have my ‘phone with me the first time I walked down to the bees and of course, at that time there were two or more bees on each flower. By the time I had retrieved my ‘phone, the only one that was left is the one in the pic.

There are so many things about this hobby of ours which give me pleasure. In addition to full supers and brood boxes, I never tire of watching baby bees queuing to take their maiden flight and I always come away with the same satisfied feeling after hiving a swarm, especially one which has been difficult to get at. I’ve always enjoyed the apiary meetings and other social events which the society arranges from time to time. Another thing I’ve come to enjoy is talking to groups of people, keen to find out more about our subject. Giving the occasional candle making demonstration can be equally enjoyable, especially if you can persuade one or two to come up and have a go themselves. Never a problem if there are children in the room. I well remember the first time I stood up to speak, I’d managed to get myself that worked up beforehand, by the time it was time for me, I stood up, opened my mouth and horror of horrors, nothing came out. From memory I eventually managed to squeak “Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen”, but it was one or two glasses of water later before I could manage my second sentence. Thankfully they seemed to do the trick and I managed to see the rest of the evening out without any further problems. Thankfully all that was a one off but I still get shivers down my spine when I think about it.

I gave a talk to a local branch of The W.I. earlier this week and very enjoyable it was. I think most of us enjoy talking about the hobby we love and talking to people who by and large have had no connection with bee-keeping, can be most rewarding. Inviting questions from the floor at the end of the evening can be the most entertaining bit, and if nothing else, it does tell you whether or not you pitched your talk at the right level. Do, however, be ready for the unexpected from time to time. Like the time when after addressing a class of young Primary School children I asked if there were any questions one little boy put his hand up immediately. So quick was his response that I suppose I expected something quite profound to issue from his lips. I motioned to him, “Yes young man, what would you like to ask me?”. He paused, “Why have you got lots of hairs up your nose?”. So, as I said, always expect the unexpected!

The month has continued to go well although the unusually mild weather has produced another plague of wasps. I thought that I’d finished with the wasp traps but have had to fish them all out again. There have been promises of frosts this month but none so far, at least, not in our neck of the woods. Hopefully, there’s one in the offing which with luck, will put paid to the wasp problem for this season. With Winter feeding and varroa treatment more or less completed, there’s not too much more to do this year. I’ve still to strap the two nuc’s. at “C” together and get them under one roof, hopefully later today if the weather holds. I planned to do it at my last visit but one of them hadn’t quite emptied their feeder, so, as I said, hopefully today. Just the mouse guards left to fit then and tidy up around the hive stands. There are one or two overhanging branches at the meadow, so I’ll be giving them a trim back some time shortly, and that’s about it. I shall still try to pay them all a visit once a week throughout the Winter and as usual, they’ll get their dose of Oxalic acid after Christmas.

If you look hard enough, you can always find little jobs to be done can’t you, for instance, there are a couple of empty brood boxes that will benefit from a coat of Cuprinol and I’ve noticed a couple of supers which need a little attention, but, with none of these potentially life threatening, and with plenty of spare kit, I’m happy to put these jobs on my “to do” list. The installation of my Workmate quickly converts the greenhouse into a makeshift workshop and it’s here that most of these little jobs will be sorted. It’s surprising how quickly the greenhouse warms up after an hour or two’s watery Winter sun and, feeling the sun on my back, even if it is watery, especially at this time of year, always gives me a real lift. With just my thoughts and Teddy, the resident rat catcher for company, I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve whiled away in that greenhouse and what a welcome break from sitting indoors, listening to the rain beating on the windows.

A lovely day, Wednesday of this week, so straight to “C”. Barely ten o’clock and already the apiary a hive of activity, if you’ll forgive the pun. I always feel that it’s one of the real pleasures of bee-keeping, to see the air around the hives filled with thousands of flying bees, and even more so, when they’re so intent on what they are doing, that they are totally oblivious to my presence, and so it was this morning. For a moment, I just stood there soaking up the atmosphere, so intense I could have reached out and touched it, but enough of this, time to get on with the job in hand. Aware of just how quickly the weather can change at this time of year, I dragged myself away from my daydreaming and made my way back down to the car. I had all the bits that I was going to need already sorted and in the boot,so it was only a couple of minutes before, suited up and fully laden, I was back with the bees.

.The mood of the bees told me this was going to be an operation without incident, and so it was. No need for a smoker, just move the nuc’s a little to the right, away from hive one, gently remove the roofs and the empty feeder from nuc.one. Then, just a simple matter of replacing the crown boards with boards which have mesh over the ventilation holes, strapping the nuc’s together and putting the under the one roof. If all that sounds simple, that’s because it was. It’s probably taken me longer to write about it than to do it.

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NEW CROWN BOARDS FITTED

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HIVE STRAP NOW IN PLACE

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JOB COMPLETED

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NUC 2 FACING REAR OF STAND TO MINIMISE DRIFTING

The thinking behind this move, is as I said before, I always felt that my mating nuc’s over-wintered more successfully that the “stand alone” ones. I put this down to the fact that only having a thin partition between them, they probably kept warmer and that this was the contributing factor to their success. Whether it was or whether it was just co-incidence, I don’t know but I certainly intend to over-winter my nuc’s in this way in the future, given the chance. Another plus is that I can use the modified Adams feeders for their Spring feed if required. I made these feeders specifically for the mating nuc’s. but they fit perfectly onto the nuc’s, now strapped together, and the feed holes line up perfectly, so, I’ll be looking forward to giving these a try.

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I’LL BE LOOKING FORWARD TO GIVING THESE A TRY

I used these regularly on the mating nuc’s. both with Winter and Spring feeds with great success and a real bonus is that they are really easy to make.

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A REAL BONUS IS THAT THEY ARE SIMPLE TO MAKE

You will need to cut slots in the rims of the plastic cups which cover the feed pillars to allow the syrup through, but if they are to be used on the modified feeders, it’s important that they are too small for a bee to get through.

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KEEP THE SLOTS TOO SMALL FOR A BEE TO GET THROUGH

When the feeder is empty I always remove one of the cups to allow the bees from one of the nuc’s .access to clean up the feeder. Leaving the other cup in place ensures that the bees don’t come into contact with one another. I’m really looking forward to giving this another try. As I said before, it worked with the mating nuc’s but this will be the first time that I’ve tried configuring “stand alone” nuc’s. in this way, I’ll let you know how I get on.

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REMOVING ONE CUP ALLOWS BEES UP TO CLEAN UP FEEDER

Sorry the pic’s a bit out of focus, one of the bees must have moved while I was taking the shot!

 

 

APRIL

Into the second week of April now and I’m really getting the feeling that Spring is finally here. The meadow is alive with dandelions and there is an abundance of blackthorn in flower. Having all of this food so close at hand means the bees don’t have to fly more than a few yards before they can start taking advantage of this rich bounty, evidence that they are, being borne out by the copious amounts of pollen returning to the hives. As is to be expected when there is such a flow on, the bees are in remarkably good humour. I mentioned previously that four and seven housed my remaining two “bought in” queens and how seven had eventually given up the ghost. Four, by comparison, after what looked like a shaky start, I’m pleased to say, has really taken off. They began life as half of one of my mating nuc’s. Following the failure of the queen in the other half, I removed the partition and they were allowed to unite and this was how they went into Winter. What all of this means is that they are the last colony remaining on single brood and also, they are tying up one of my mating nuc’s, something I’m hoping I shall be sorely in need of as the season progresses. Well, it costs nothing to dream, does it!

Following two very poor seasons, I had, if you recall, decided that an infusion of new blood was called for and this was the thinking behind my decision to, for the first time, buy-in new queens. Although this exercise wasn’t exactly an unbridled success, with hive four now housing the one surviving queen, I am still firmly committed to bringing in new blood and now that she is finally exhibiting all the signs of a very good queen, I’m seriously considering her’s as donor colony for this season’s Cloake-board exercise. That is still a couple of months away but was still one of my reasons to have four on extended brood as soon as possible and last Monday presented the perfect opportunity. Following a very pleasant weekend, Monday dawned bright and clear and by ten o’clock, with the sun very much in evidence, and my drivers window wound right down, I made my way to the meadow. I had, the day previous, placed a new 14×12″ box, complete with floor and frames on the hive stand between four and five so, this morning, just a case of swapping the positions of the two boxes and manipulating the frames to suit.

I had my smoker to hand but I needn’t have bothered, so docile is this colony, another good reason for wanting to breed from them. With the new box in position, the returning flying bees started entering immediately and even with both roofs off, none of them took the slightest interest in me. The standard frames would need extending or replacing with extended and to that end I had a number of frame extensions and new 14×12″s with me. Just in case you haven’t come across the extension pieces before, they are available from Thornes along with the foundation strips.

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14X12″ FRAME EXTENSION PIECES

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EXTENSION FITTED TO STANDARD BROOD FRAME

When I want to re-wax reclaimed extensions and have spare standard foundation to hand, I just cut a standard brood wax sheet in half with a sharp pair of scissors, it fits perfectly, and you don’t have to pay postage! Fitting the extensions to frames crawling with bees takes a little more care and you will need a rampin. In case you haven’t encountered one before, this little gadget enables you to insert gimp pins without the need for a hammer. I think even the most docile of bees would take exception if you were to start hammering an extension on with them in residence.

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RAMPIN IN USE ON MANLEY FRAME,

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AND ON FRAME EXTENSION.

As I said, a little more care is required when fitting the extension to a live frame, as it were, but if I can manage it, I’m sure that you can.

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STANDARD FRAME A COUPLE OF WEEKS AFTER FITTING AN EXTENSION.

The new box has castellated runners so it was a simple matter to replace the frames in the order I had removed them from the old box. A couple of the existing frames hadn’t been started so they were replaced with new. All of the others, with the exception of the one with the queen on, had extensions fitted, I didn’t want to risk upsetting her. In fact, it’s not absolutely necessary to extend every frame if you don’t want to, the bees will happily extend any standard frame that you leave them and provided you leave them between extended frames which they will use as a guide, they will maintain the bee-space all of the way around.

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NOT A PARTICULARLY GOOD EXAMPLE BUT IT GIVES YOU AN IDEA

I didn’t time myself but I doubt the whole operation took little more than an hour and that included tidying up and removing the old box. The following day I gave them a feeder of syrup. They’ve got a lot of fresh foundation to draw out and I want to give them all the help I can.