Item 1.Swarm control
Item 2. Feeders
Item 3. Hive transporter
Item 4. Solar extractor
Item 5. Varroa counter
Item 6. Escape board
Item 7. Uncapping
Item 8. Bait hive
Item 9. Local anaesthetic
As you will be aware, three conditions have to be present for a colony to swarm namely, brood, flying bees and a queen. There is a fourth, namely conditions, but as there is little we can do to influence them, we can to all intents and purposes discount them. Swarm control consists basically of separating any one from the other two and then, if increases are not your intention, re-uniting, after the new Queen has mated and started laying. As one would expect, there are many tried and tested ways of achieving this and all have their merits and advocates.The most common being the use of a second hive in the position of the original housing the queen with a couple of frames of brood, and the original containing the rest of the brood and flying bees placed to one side.
As I said, this would seem to be one of the most recommended methods and most books on the subject go into it in some detail. The main drawbacks , it seems to me, are the facts that you need a spare hive at your disposal at the start of the procedure and enough space and hive stands to accommodate the original .
There was an excellent article on swarm control in last months Beecraft magazine, which dispenses with the need for a second hive and the associated manipulations. It involved what is best described as a modified Snellgrove board and the whole operation involved only the board and an additional brood chamber, and these were placed above the original swarmy colony. The only drawback as I saw it was that at the start of the operation the hive floor had to be revolved through 180 degrees which if the hive has supers, could make it a bit of a pain. I have decided that this method of swarm control is to be the one I use here at Mendip and to assist the operation have set about modifying all my hive floors to have an adjustable entrance opposite the main one. A similar arrangement is required for the Cloake board method of queen rearing so, we’ve killed two birds with one stone so to speak.The board is very simple to make, the main requirement is that it has two adjustable entrances opposite each other and on opposite planes. I have made two of these boards from a £12 sheet of exterior ply from B&Q which incidentally they cut to size for me and there was enough over to make three dummy boards. Good value I thought.
Modified floor with swarm board
There are several bits and pieces which we use here at Mendip, some my own ideas and some modified to best suit us here. I’ll share some of them with you in the hope that you might find them useful. I’d also be very interested to hear of any of your ideas which assist your own operations.
Over time, here at Mendip I have tried a variety of feeding methods and all have their merits. The main drawback with most, and I’m thinking particularly of frame feeders here, is the disturbance to the hive. Contact feeders can be a bit messy and involve the provision of an eke. What I had in mind was a feeder which was able to hold a reasonable quantity of syrup so not to require constant attention, a feeder which did not involve constantly disturbing the bees when being filled and one where I could see at a glance how much feed was being used.
Ever since reading “Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey” I have been a follower of Brother Adam and one could do worse than have a read of his book. In there, apart from many other things, he describes his philosophy towards feeding and the feeder he developed to meet his needs. These, or my version of them, are the feeders now in use here at Mendip. They are easy to make, easy to use and if required, can stay permanently on the hive in place of a crown board.
They basically comprise a base of exterior grade ply cut to the dimensions of a hive with a 3″ rim around. In the centre is fixed a 2×2″ post about 2 1/2″ high with a 1″ hole drilled through. The whole thing is then sealed and painted. I sprinkle a little sand on the post before the paint dries and I think this provides a foothold for the bees. A small Tupperware or similar container to go over the post completes the job.From memory I made ten of these from a sheet of ply from B&Q, cost about £18 and they cut it to size for me.
There is a very good description of the Adams feeder on David Cushman’s web site.
During early Summer last year, whilst carrying out a routine examination, I discovered a queen cell almost at the point of being sealed. It was on it’s own and central on the frame. Probably a supersedure cell, larger than average and beautifully formed. I had no plans for further increase at that time but couldn’t bring myself to break it down. I did fortunately have, on it’s stand, an empty Nuc. so I took the frame with the cell and a couple of other frames of brood and stores, put them in there and carried on with my inspections. I have to admit, from there I pretty much forgot about them. I did notice the odd bee coming and going from time to time and decided to leave them, at least for the present, to it. Gradually over the next couple of weeks I noticed pollen being taken in. Small amounts at first and then, almost over night, it seemed that every flying bee was returning with copious amounts. A sign that the little colony now had a queen in full lay and time for me to take a look. It was just as well I did. There were only four frames in the Nuc. and they were all completely full with brood and stores. In the space where the fourth frame would have been, suspended from the crown board, they had built wild comb which completely filled the space and this the queen had filled with eggs.
No time to lose, I transfered everything from the Nuc into a spare hive and placed it on the nuc stand. So what to do now, they couldn’t stay on the Nuc stand which was only the width of a Nuc. To say the whole thing looked somewhat precarious would be to understate the case but no time now other than to prop the whole lot up, retire and pray for light breezes all night.
Nuc on stand
I decided to house the new colony somewhere to the left of the two hives you see in the picture but how best to do it. The total distance was little more than ten feet but to do it wasn’t straight forward.The new hive would first have to be moved forward about four feet and then across in front of the other hive to it’s new resting place. I considered a succession of temporary stands but quickly discounted that idea. Then suddenly a brainwave, why not use a wheel-barrow. I only had a small barrow at my disposal at that moment but with the addition of a couple of strategically placed pieces of wood it was pressed into service. Heath Robinson doesn’t adequately describe the effort but I did eventually get the hive onto the barrow but this was even more precarious than the Nuc stand. I couldn’t take a picture of the barrow with the hive on board as I was afraid to take my hand off the thing for long enough.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever
And that’s how the whole thing remained, propped up with all manner of bits of wood and the like, for the next few days while I prayed for good weather and inspiration. I felt the idea was OK. it was the execution which was flawed. A bigger barrow was called for and a little more finesse on the design front, and so to the MK 2 version.
The new version sits tightly on the barrow and the hive strap ensures that nothing falls off while being moved. I used it to move the new colony to its final position and since have used it to transport hive parts up and down the meadow without a single catastrophy.
The MK2 in all it’s glory
My solar wax extractor is simplicity itself to construct and cost virtually nothing being constructed in the main of reclaimed materials. It is basicly a wooden box approximately 30″ long x 15″ wide and 10″ deep on legs angled to face the sun at mid-day. It has a hinged door of translucent roofing plastic.
I tried various ways to get the wax to melt and finish up where I wanted it and finally decided upon an old metal oven dish to which I have fixed a kitchen seive. I bent the dish to have a lip from which the melted wax drips into the container below. When the seive needs cleaning it is a simple matter to remove it and scrape it clean. I then run a gas blow lamp over it for a minute or two and the job’s done
I am very pleased with the end result which works very well. I am amazed at just how hot it gets. Touching the tray at mid-day on a sunny day will definitely result in scorched fingers, a fact to which I can testify. I intend to paint the interior black at some time which should increase the efficiency even more.
I’m sure most would agree with the importance of keeping a check on Varroa this is one of the ways we attempt to achieve this here at Mendip Apiary. The original idea is not mine, what I’ve done here is to modify the original to suit us best. It comprises two honey jars the lids of which have been drilled out and a piece of mesh flooring inserted between them, the lids are then soldered together.
Pic.1 Showing the three component parts.
Pic2 Mesh lid now fitted
Pic3 Varroa counter now ready for use
So, how to use our varroa counter.
Well, I think most would agree the bees most likely to be carrying varroa would be the nurse bees. So. imagine we have the hive open having just completed our routine inspection. Have to hand a packet of icing sugar, a teaspoon and an empty margarine container or similar. Shake the bees from two or three brood frames into the hive and place to one side. Taking our container scoop up a quantity of bees from the hive floor ( these will in the main be the brood bees you have dislodged from the brood frames) and tip them into the jar adding a level teaspoonful of icing sugar.( Here we are looking for about three hundred bees, I’ll explain how we achieve this at the end of this article). Now screw the lid on,(pic 2)followed by the second jar (pic3). Lay the container on it’s side and roll backwards and forwards for a few seconds, this to evenly distribute the icing sugar and then stand back upright for about 30 seconds. This will give time for the bees to warm the icing sugar which will then adhere to them better. Now turn the jars over so that the empty jar is at the bottom and leave for a couple of minutes. All that remains now is to remove the top jar to release the bees and tip out the contents of the bottom jar onto a clean piece of card or similar and count the varroa drop. If we started with three hundred bees in the jar then a drop of three varroa will sugest an infestation of one per.cent and so on. This is a very accurate way of monitoring varroa and well worth the effort. It might sound a lengthy operation but in reallity adds only a couple of minutes to each inspection.
So, how do we account for 300 bees. Well fortunately someone has already worked out that a kitchen measuring half-cup holds approximately 300 bees so before you start using this method tip a measuring half-cup full of water into the jar and with a felt tip marker pen or similar, mark the side of the jar. You will then see at a glance how many bees you have in your jar.
Here a Mendip I favour the Rhombus escape board and their construction is simplicity itself as the pictures will testify. The boards are of external ply cut to hive dimensions with a 1/4″ lip all round, top and bottom. There are three holes in the board, the centre one covered in mesh and the other two allow the bees access to the escapes. The plastic escapes cost about three pounds each from memory and are held in place with drawing pins. This makes for easy removal for cleaning.
One of the messiest chores in beekeeping is without a doubt, uncapping. Here at Mendip, I have tried various knives and the like but always seem to end up in a mess. And. what to do with the cappings afterwards. Most writers on the subject advocate giving them back to the bees to clean up. Fine, but do we ear-mark which cappings came from which colony and return them accordingly. No, I think not, as they all end up in one bucket, that is how they will be returned to the bees and with them the chance of cross infection.Once again, what we do here at Mendip, is not my idea but it works so well that I’m going to pass it on to you. Here I use an electric hot air paint stripper. “Don’t like the sound of that” I here you say and I have to say, my first thoughts were the same. I imagined ending up, at worst, with a glutenous mixture of wax and honey, or honey that was, at best, tainted and unusable. Nothing of the sort, I have used this method here and have assisted others do the same, the honey is unaffected, but the time saved is immeasurable and there is little or no mess. So, what to do ? Hold the full frame in one hand and with the other hand, switch the stripper on and pass it backwards and forwards across the front of the comb. I find a distance from the comb of about 8-10″ about right. The cappings will disappear before your eyes, of course, they don’t disappear but being so fine, they recede into the comb. This is the time to remove the heat. The time taken on one shallow frame, about 10 seconds to do both sides. MY ADVICE TO YOU. Remove the heat as soon as the cappings disappear or you will end up with a glutenous mess and wear a glove or other protection if you’re at all unsure of using this method, the stripper does get very hot. I have to say, neither I or any others I’ve assisted with this method have ever needed any protection. As with most things, just a little common sense is called for. Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The purpose of a bait hive, is as you will know, to attract swarms. Mine here at Mendip Apiary is constructed of mainly reclaimed materials as you will see, and sits upon a six foot pole. It is roughly the same size as a five frame nucleus. Inside there are three used brood frames, the smell of which I’m reliably informed attract scout bees looking for a place in which to take up residence. I have to say, thus far all that has shown the slightest interest has been a pair of amourous blue tits. I’ll let you know if I’m successful in attracting a swarm in the future, but like me, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
There are times when it would be helpful to be able to examine a bee or for that fact a number of bees without the risk of damaging them. Imagine how much easier it would be to just pick a sleeping queen off the comb. mark and clip her and then return her as if nothing had happened. Well, I’ve seen it performed and here’s how.Firstly. let me say that this is not my original idea, I have just modified it slightly to suit us here at Mendip. The first thing to know is that a short whiff of CO2 will anaesthetise a bee, so armed with this knowledge this is what we have produced. It is simplicity itself to make comprising a small CO2 canister, similar to those used in soda syphons, a valve to control the gas and a short length of plastic tubing which connects the valve to a transparent plastic cup. I’ve used a trifle container, ( other dessert containers are available ) The tube enters through a hole cut in the base and fixed using a contact adhesive.
So, having located your bee, place the cup over her, the diameter of the cup is about 2″ so you have plenty of room and give her a 5 second whiff of gas.It won’t matter if a few surrounding bees are affected as they will be no worse off for the experience when they awaken. You will have about a minute to work on your bee before returning her to the comb. This done I give the comb a quick dusting of icing sugar or fine spray of water, this to occupy the other bees on the comb so they don’t notice their queen taking an impromptu doze. As soon as all are up and moving around quite naturally the comb can be returned to the hive.