Honeybee Swarm Control

This has got to be one of the best demonstrations on how to perform an artificial swarm.  Such a simple idea – simply executed – and simple to follow.  Why on earth didn’t I think of this?

DIY Steam Wax Extractor

As if I haven’t got enough on my plate at the moment I turned my hand to building a DIY Steam Wax Extractor last weekend!

Steam Wax Extractor

First trials and my DIY Steam Wax Extractor seemed to be working!

Inspiration for building my DIY Steam Wax Extractor

With the winter preparations for the bees almost complete – with Apiguard Varroa treatments done and the bees taking down the last of their winter sugar syrup feed – my mind was turning to cleaning up all the hive parts ready for next season.   It was then that I spotted the Easi-Steam wax extractors in the Thorne’s online catalogue which retail for about £90.  We tend to stick our honey money away in a special account for such occasions/temptations so I was almost ready to place an order but thought… “That looks like it could be built as a DIY project!”

We’ve not done much in the way of serious wax harvesting before but this season we decided to re-foundation quite a lot of super and brood frames at once.  We would normally reclaim the wax from these using our solar wax extractor (another DIY effort) but we didn’t see much in the way of sunshine here this year (here being on the Essex/London border). This resulted in a stack of frames and a box of wax parts doing nothing more than encouraging the expansion of the local wax month population!  Something needed to be done.

I don’t know about you but whenever a DIY thought enters my head these days the first thing I turn to is Google.  Typing in “DIY Steam Wax Extractor” threw up a brilliant YouTube video produced by Michaelmas Blackman from Brighton Hove Beekeepers (apologies if I got your name wrong!).  It’s not a complicated thing but Michaelmas explains the process so well that I needn’t give you any more details about the build – just watch his video!

What was really nice is that all it cost me was a sheet of mesh flooring as I already had a steam wallpaper stripper and all the spare hive parts mentioned in the video.  With all the parts on hand it takes only minutes to put together and the wax starts to flow as soon as the steam builds up in the enclosure.

My effort worked brilliantly and over the weekend I managed to process all of the old frames and wax.  Not only that but the steaming process also sterilises the boxes and frames at the same time – so with just a quick scrape after they were ready for storing away for use next season.  All I need do now is to decide if I’m going to further filter the wax and produce some nice candles for Christmas presents or just simply exchange the wax for new foundation.  I’ve not weighed it but my guess is that I’ve ended up with about 3 kilos of wax – which is quite a bit of free foundation.

Wax Extractor

DIY Steam Wax Extractor in full swing

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Honey extraction and winter feeding

That’s it, our beekeeping season is all but over – and to be honest it’s not been the best year for us and many other beekeepers.  Early swarms, damp summer whilst the nectar was flowing – and then two strong colonies whilst there was little or no nectar flow at all meant that we ended up with a very poor honey harvest this year.

Despite our optimism and the adding of supers in the warm spell we had towards the end of July, the net result for us from three surviving colonies has been just 50lb of honey.  Compared to our best year (2011 – with about 180lb off three hives) that’s a pretty depressing crop.

Honey for sale

£5 per 1lb jar or £20 for 5 x 1lb jars

On our last visit to the hives on 27th July we were adding more supers because the weather seemed to have turned and the bees were out in force and filling up the cells with honey.  That soon passed though, and within a couple of weeks we were seeing bees bearding on the front of hive 4.

Bees Bearding

Like many things in the world of beekeeping there are a number of beliefs about why the bees “beard”.  This basically means you get a gathering of bees on the front of the hive not doing much at all.  I tend to subscribe to the theory that this is not related to swarming (certainly not in the latter part of the season) but is a sign of very poor nectar flow.  The beard is made up of mature worker bees who, without sources to go forage on, remain at the hive when they would normally be out on the wing.  If they stayed inside the hive itself it would cause an overheating problem, and they’d also be getting in the way of the house bees in the discharge of their duty. In colder weather these bees do go into the hive, but gathered together they could easily survive outside on a moderately cool evening.

The downside to this is that bees at home means less honey.  Instead of being out there gathering additional nectar these bees are back home, chilling out, and eating stores.

Honey Extraction

By the time we got to do our first extraction on second weekend in August the honey store level since our last visit had already started to deplete.  We took off that which what was ripe (nectar that which had been reduced to around 19% water by the bees) – but left on a super on each of the three active hives in the hope that they would find a nectar flow in the next couple of weeks.  Not all the super frames that we extracted on this visit were capped – but they all passed the ripeness shake test.  This consists of holding the frames horizontal and vigorously shaking them.  If honey runs out of the cells then its not ripe.

That first extraction resulted in just 40lbs of honey – the vast majority of which came off hives 1 and 4.  Having given them a couple of weeks to see if they could fill up the remaining supers, our second extraction (26th August) resulted in just another 10lbs.

A poor year indeed – but I have to say that the honey itself is very nice. We’d normally sell through a couple of retailers as well as off the doorstep but there’s not enough this year.  I will always keep back about 6-8 jars for my own consumption, plus the landlord where the hives are kept gets his share – and then there’s a whole bunch of regulars who have bought our honey from day one who I’d not want to let down.  Our tiny stock is already disappearing fast.

Honey for sale

Honey for sale – but it’s going to be gone very soon!

Winter Feeding

Our priority now was to get a winter feed on ASAP – which we started on 28th August. Our first syrup mix (roughly 2kg of granulated sugar to 1-litre water) was made up from 5 x 5kg sacks Tate & Lyle sugar that we’d bought earlier in the year when it was on special offer.

Syrup mix for bees

Kenwood Chef used to mix sugar and boiling water to create the syrup

This made up roughly 40Kg of syrup which we pour into Jumbo Feeders on top of the hives. The bees will take this down into the hive over the next few days, then reduce the water content down to just below 19% before capping off to store for winter. If they take all this down we’ll have to mix up some more and keep adding until they no longer take it down.  In order to last the winter each hive should have at least 30lb of honey.

We are going on holiday for a week in the beginning of September after which we’ll do a final Varroa mite treatment which should be our last duty before it all starts again next February/March.

Adding more Supers

Not a Hive Inspection report as such as we’ve not been in properly since 15th July, but we have done some things which are worth noting since then.

Firstly, having moved the swarm from the nuc box to a full 14″ x 12″ National at home a week or so ago, I subsequently brought it over to the Apiary and placed it in Hive 2 position.  We are now, temporarily, back up to four hives!  I’ve still not dealt with the drone laying workers in Hive 3 and  its looking more and more like I’ll be following Ted Hooper’s approach of just letting things take their natural course.  With no worker brood coming through this colony is set to expire.

Back up to four hives

Swarm no installed in its permanent position in the apiary

Hive 3 still has supers on top but I’ve now put a clearer board under them. One of these is pretty much finished off with capped stores and the other is about a third full.  I’ll give this a couple of days and then move the third-full super on to the swarm in Hive 2.  The queen in there is laying like a maniac at the moment and whilst by all accounts we shouldn’t get a crop off this hive – you never know!  At worst they’ll take these stores down and use it themselves.

With our present spell of glorious weather hives 1 and 4 have been going absolutely bonkers. With all the rainfall we’ve had, followed by amazing sunshine, the plants have been in full bloom and the bees have gone out and made the most of it.

Bees approaching landing board

Air traffic control could learn a thing or two from bees!

On our last inspection the supers were full of bees on these two hives so we added another one to each.  This is the point at which I’ve been taught you should be adding more supers (when they are full of bees rather than full of honey).  If you leave it to the point that its full of capped honey they’ll start putting stores below the queen excluder and, if they do this for long enough it might result in the queen not having enough room to lay eggs – which could ultimately result in swarming (and the loss of half your honey store as they’ll take that with them!!!).

Despite the additional supers added last time with all the present activity I was still not convinced that they had sufficient space to cater for a decent nectar flow.  In perfect conditions a full colony can fill a super with honey in a few days – which I think is pretty amazing.  So early this morning I added another super to each of these hives (not shown above) and I’m hopeful they’ll fill them up to the brim.  It should at least give them enough room until we can do a proper inspection next week.  The weather is supposed to change again in the coming days – back to our usual “sunshine and showers” – which should slow the bees down somewhat.  We will see!

Honeybees and Washboarding

This is the first time I’ve ever seen bees ‘Washboarding”.  I would normally put a link in here to Wikipedia as there’s always a page explaining such things – but alas no!  Washboarding is one of those things that bees do that is a complete mystery – that is until my amazing discovery!!!

Getting serious again, I didn’t really capture this terribly well only having my mobile phone with me to film it, but its an unmistakable act when you witness bees doing it.  Heads down, as if licking the surface they are on, rocking back and forth over repeatedly over the same area.  There’s no fanning of their wings and it seems to be only a certain group of bees involved in it – as the others seem to be going about their usual business.

The strange thing is that they were only doing it on the unpainted part of the nuc.  This has been noted by other beekeepers who have seen bees washboarding on one super but not another.

This activity has been captured much better on camera by other beekeepers – and probably the best example can be found on YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbwumXVTOz8

There are also many threads on forums discussing this (just type “Bees Washboarding” into Google) and beekeepers theorising as to what might cause bees to do it – but no solid answers that I could find.

Beekeeping… a mystery wrapped up in a riddle inside an enigma!