Thursday, 23 December 2010

Winter - Trying my patience!!

The bees seem to cope with the cold better than I do! We've had about a month of below zero (C) temperatures now, which is unusual for England! Snow has caused disruption to rail and road travel, but I've still been able to get to work (an hour by road)    :-(

There have been quite a few drones expelled from the hive since the snow started. It's a shame to see the bodies lying in the snow!

My first thoughts were that it was very late in the season for the drones to have been allowed to stay, but a post on the Natural Beekeeping forum soon elicited a response. It seems that as the colony was fed quite late into autumn, they tolerate the drones for much longer. I guess they see that food supplies are still coming in so the season isn't ready to change!

My neighbour has commented that a few still come out for a short flight around mid-day if the sun is on the hive, even when the temperature is around zero (C)! Hardy little girls!!

After work, although it's dark, I always walk over to the hive  and with my ear close to the entrance I can still hear that wonderful contented hum, so I feel that all is well with them.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Winter - a time to be patient

The first three weeks of November saw some frosty nights, but many of the days were sunny and warm enough for the bees to fly. A few had been spotted coming back to the hive with small amounts of pollen.

This week, winter has arrived with a vengeance! We've not had as much snow as the north east and Scotland, but now have around 6 inches laying in the garden and temperatures have plummeted to as low as -8 C at night and daytime temperatures barely make 0 C.

Now is the time to hope that they have stored enough honey to see them through the winter. I'd like to see them survive without any supplementary feeding, but not having had them when it was warm enough to check through the hive, I've no idea of how much they have. Just have to hope for a break in the weather at some point so that I can check, I guess.

It is reassuring to be able to hear their hum by listening at the entrance!  I check every morning and evening at the moment....

Now to practice my patience!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Comb or Art?

When I bought the hive, the previous owner had moved a piece of "problem" comb to the back of the hive. My better half is a science teacher and as soon as she saw it thought it would be good to show the children at school something of the secret life of bees. 

She is now armed with this beautiful creation and a few dead bees (drones and a couple of workers) collected from outside of the hive. This and use of the school microscope will hopefully open the eyes of a few of the children to a fascinating new world!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Orientation Flights

Despite a cold, frosty start to the day, the sun came out and hit the hive. By mid morning the girls were out to play and looking around the garden. Lots of bees hovering in front of the hive, so they can recognize their new home, and gradually moving away in increasing circles. It didn't take long for them to disappear back in to the hive when the clouds came along!

Orientation Flights

Friday, 5 November 2010

Bees - At Last!

During the swarm season the excitement rose as bees showed interest in the bait hive and the garden hive, then dropped as swarms failed to appear........ repeatedly!

August and the chance of a swarm gone, but another new beekeeper a few miles away thought they had some swarm cells and would I like one with some bees? WOULD I LIKE SOME???? Well, a more experienced beekeeper went to my friends hive to help harvest the swarm cells, but couldn't find a single swarm cell in the hive! Another disappointment!

This beekeeping is full of highs and lows!

We are well into autumn now and given up on the idea of getting bees, then, on the Natural Beekeeping forum a post offering a colony complete with a National to top-bar conversion hive, and only 10 miles from where I work! Contact made and a visit on November 1st. A few bees had been flying during the day and collecting.pollen. A colony of Carnolian bees installed from a nucleus in June and looking well. Almost no evidence of Varroa, but having a small amount of supplementary feed going into winter. Offer made, deal done.

I collected the bees on November 4th after work. The hive was sealed and put into an old duvet cover which was then tied shut. The journey home (50 miles) although nerve racking was uneventful. Soon after arrival the heavens opened and dropped a rain storm of biblical proportions! Result, the hive was carefully placed in the garage, the duvet cover removed and some syrup added to keep them going.

Next morning, the weather is cool, but dry. Upon opening the garage door I was greeted with a loud buzz. A closer listen and I could hear them chewing on the tape that was still over the entrance. After the final prep of the area, we carried the hive to it's new location.

Removal of the tape over the entrance resulted in a lot of bees coming out to see what was going on. Realising they were now in Yorkshire, not Lancashire, they started to circle to re-orientate. As the temperature wasn't great they soon started to head back into the hive and hang out at the entrance.

It wasn't long before the weather came back - it's now raining again and I'll have to revert to patience mode!

Feeding 2:1 syrup for a while to make sure they have enough stores to get through the winter. They were being fed by the previous owner, but I'll make a judgment if/when I can get into the hive for a brief inspection (weather being the issue at this time of year in the north-west of England!) or when they stop taking it.

As well as a first colony I also now have the conversion hive. An ingenious device that looks like a Kenyan top-bar hive but,  at one end is a vertical sided box that can take 5 National frames from a nucleus. In their own time the bees can expand into the top-bar part of the hive. Bars can the be moved to a normal top-bar hive.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

At last the hive and bait hive are positioned and waiting for bees. Both are baited with lemon-grass oil and a pheromone phial.

I fear I am now a hive building addict; I've decided to build another hive in case I am lucky enough to get a swarm in the bait hive AND in the main hive. I always was an optimist! 

There was a little bit of interest shown in the bait hive yesterday, so who knows! 

Main Hive

Secret weapon to prevent ant access

Bait Hive location

I am also now on the list of two local swarm catchers. Keeping my options open!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Bait Hive

The next step is to double my chances of catching a swarm, with a bait hive. It's built to the same design and dimensions as the main hive (Phil Chandler's design), but half the length, that's 18 inch sides instead of the 36 inch of the main hive. The roof is a single slope on this one, too.

The Bait Hive

 This will have no legs, but will be placed a couple of metres above ground which is where the bees apparently (hopefully!) prefer their nest.

Just need to weather proof them both and I'm ready for bees!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Wax Guide for the Top Bars

As previously described, I have now filled the Top Bar grooves with bees wax. The smell of honey as the wax was melting made the whole process worth while. I used a small pyrex (glass) beaker (an advantage of living with a science teacher) to hold the wax and placed it into a pan of boiling water to make sure that the wax didn't get too hot.

Melting the wax

Pouring the wax was a challenge. Not, as I expected, getting the wax into the groove, but just pouring it! Pyrex does not conduct heat very well, so despite containing molten wax, I could pick it up without any gloves or other protection. However, as the wax reached to cooler parts of the beaker, it set very quickly. As a result I was constantly returning it to the pan, scraping off the set wax and waiting for it to melt again. I must get a stainless steel jug for the next time!

Completed Top Bars
But what a delightful result! The colour of the wax against the wood combined with the aroma of honey and wax made it all worthwhile!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Roof

The roof needs to slope to cope with the British weather (rain!). I've decided to go with a ridge roof so that the water is not all shed on one side.



Fortunately, I inherited a lot of strips of galvanized steel in the green house when I bought the house! One has been used to weather-proof the gap in the marine ply roof.


Just need to melt the wax into the top-bars, then coat the exterior with bee wax and linseed oil, then get some bees!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Top Bars

After much thought and research, I decided to spend extra time on the top bars in an attempt to discourage the bees from building each comb on more than one bar. This is necessary to allow the bars to be raised for inspecting.

View of the Underside of a Top Bar 

The groove along the centre of the bar will be filled with bee wax. The bees should build their comb using this as a guide. As a secondary precaution, the chamfer on the edges of the bar will also help to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Using my trusty router, a full set of bars, plus a couple of spares, took about an hour to complete. Most of that time was used in setting and adjusting the router.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Looking like a hive!

Tonight I've added the mesh varroa screen, cut a bottom board to size, put the legs on and cut the top bars to size.

It's looking like a proper hive now!

Must trim those bolts before someone walks into them!

Two decisions still remain to be made:
  • top bar shaping - I will have a wax-filled groove, but am also considering tapering the bars to the groove to (hopefully) encourage staight comb from the bees
  • roof design - ridged or sloping and what material, my usual construction methods result in robust but heavy!!
Time to think while doing other jobs over the week-end!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


After a few days of being busy with other stuff, I made a few hours to get to grips with construction. The hive building instructions from Biobees  is easy to follow with good photos.

The end board shapes were marked and cut. Holes were then drilled through the legs and end boards ready for assembly.

Then I marked out and cut the shape of the follower boards. The top bars were then created with the use of the table saw to get the right size and attached to the body of the followers. 

 Next step is to assemble the body of the hive using the follower boards as a template to ensure the correct shape. Beginning to look like a hive at last!!

I have cut an opening into one side for the observation window. The window is perspex, sealed with wood adhesive and held in place with flat head pins through drilled holes in the perspex.

To save wood and for ease, I've decided to use the wood cut from the side to make the window opening to make the bulk of the window closer. It has an oversize cover over it to exclude all light and is hinged with slide bolts to hold it closed.  

Hive inverted showing the cut-out for the window back in place to provide insulation

Hive the right way up showing the window cover over the replaced cut-out
Detail of window cover, hinges and bolt latches. Follower boards are visible through the window

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Beeginning!

The table saw arrived on time and was duly assembled. Screwfix are great! 18 hours from order to delivery!

The planks for the sides and ends of the hive are sawn to length and glued together and held with sash-cramps while the glue is drying (to be left for 24 hours).

The legs have been cut to length too.

I hope to make the follower boards soon, which will be used as a profile for the assembly of the main hive box. I think I'll make a spare follower to use as a template for further hives and for a follower/feeder.

Should be something worthy of a photograph soon!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Plan

So I fancy my chance at beekeeping.

I started with "an Introduction to Beekeeping" courtesy of the Lancaster Beekeepers Association in November 2009.
Being impatient, I've been doing a lot of research on the interweb, and found biobees, the home of natural beekeeping! With all of the question marks around bee diseases and insecticide use, and being an organic vegetable gardener, I feel these principles are more sustainable and therefore the ones I'll try to follow.

I now have a pile of wood in my garage that will shortly be transformed into a "Kenyan Top Bar Hive" (KTBH) roughly following the Phil Chandler plans (Biobees) but with a few tweaks and extras.
The main addition will be a viewing window with aim of entertaining the grandchildren. 

This is how it should look when completed, except I will have side entrances (not holes in the end as seen here, but in the middle of the long side opposite the viewing window, which must have a cover to keep the hive dark!):

My bench saw arrives tomorrow, then battle will commence!

Coming soon - KTBH Construction