Archive for Hive Reports

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

That’s the power of video! If you are ever looking for someone to produce a YouTube or website video for your business or products I’m your man!  Please check out my main business website at Video Artisan!

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!

Hive Inspection – 15 07 2012

Despite our hopes for better weather things have continued in a similar vein… rain, more rain and yet, more rain!  I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can remember such a wet and miserable summer as this – and there doesn’t seem to be much change in the near future.  But despite this, the moment the clouds take a moment off releasing their soggy wares the bees are out on the wing and gathering their stores.  As bad and boring as all this rain is for us humans, the plant-life seems to be flourishing – and when they are doing well so too will the bees… if they get a chance to fly that is!

Work and weather kept us a away from the bees for a couple of weeks but an unusually dry Sunday on 15th July enabled us to get into the bees and see how things were progressing.  It wasn’t all good news!

Hive 1
From the moment we took the roof and crown board off we knew this was a thriving colony.  It was absolutely rammed with bees at all stages of development.  We didn’t spot the queen but there were plenty of eggs present.  When we’d hived this swarm in June they were on a couple of standard National Frames – which I’ve been gradually moving to the outside of the main cluster in the colony.  On this inspection I moved them right to the edge to encourage the queen to lay on the main 14×12 frames.  I’m tempted to leave one standard National frame in as they draw out the wax below as drone comb which helps control Varroa levels as the mite tends to prefer drone cells.  This comb extension, and the developing larva it contains, is removed from the hive on each inspection and therefore reduced the number of Varroa mites in the colony.

The super we’d added a few weeks back was almost full and they’d started capping it off.

Honey being capped off

Castellated super about 3/4 full and getting capped off

This is a castellated super (ten frames per super) so it’s going to take a while for them to fully draw the comb out and fill with honey, but when they are full the frames are very impressive (and heavy).  Once full and capped each super will contain about 30lb of honey.  A pre-drawn super was added to this hive but I suspect, with the number of eggs and bees about to hatch, we’ll be adding more supers to this one over the next couple of weeks.  Fingers crossed!

Hive 2
Gone – well almost! Less than a handful of bees left in this one so the plan is to bring home to swarm that’s sitting in the nuc box at home.  However – what we found in Hive 3 might change this.

Hive 3
I gave a hint of my worst fears for Hive 3 last month, in that whilst we was really happy in finding eggs our mood stood a chance of being dampened if it turned out to be a drone laying worker. Well… that’s what it turned out to be.  From the number of capped drone cells I suspect we’ve actually got a whole load of drone laying workers doing their thing.

Drone laying worker cells

Drone cells laid across about 5 frames!

In the absence of a queen and her pheromone nurser bees can develop ovaries and start laying unfertilised eggs.  Unfertilised eggs will only ever develop into drones – which spells disaster for the colony.  This is such a bad situation that the late Ted Hooper, one of the leading lights in modern day beekeeping and author of one of the finest book on the subject (Guide to Bees & Honey) believed that this was pretty much the end of the colony.  Adding a new queen rarely works as the bees will tend to ball her (kill her in other words).  Adding a frame of eggs doesn’t usually work as you’ll still have the laying workers present.

The only action that seems to have any level of success is to take the hive about 50-100 meters from its original position and shake all the bees out on to the ground.  You then take the hive (making sure there is not one bee left on them) and place it back in its original position.  The flying bees will then return to the hive, leaving the laying workers where you left them.  The reason they do not fly back to the hive is that as nurser bees they have never left the hive and therefore have no navigational experience.  You can then re-queen the colony and hopefully they will accept her. Alternatively you can omit the part of replacing the hive in its original position and the bees should just go into one of the adjacent hives.

This is what we’ll be doing as soon as the weather allows – and maybe we’ll be using the swarm from home to re-queen.

Hive 4
This was doing well, and the queen was spotted.  Super was about 3/4 full so added another.  Again – this was packed with capped brood and looks like its about to explode!  I think we’ll be adding more supers on this in the next couple of weeks.

Until next time!  Hope to film the Hive 3 experiment too!

Hive Inspection – 24 06 2012

Another windy, and not very warm, Sunday morning but we felt the need to have a look at what’s going on in the hives.  The weather this week has been all over the place again and I suspect the bees are consuming far more honey than they are collecting.  I’m not sure we are going to have much at all to harvest and we’ve got a growing list of people wanting to buy from us – mainly repeat customers wanting to double their orders!

Extracting honey from the supers

Honey – as natural as you can get.

I often get asked how we make honey.  The short answer is “we” don’t – the bees do!  That’s a detailed subject that I want to cover in one of the BeeMovie films that I will get round to producing at the end of the season, but explaining how we harvest and process the honey is quite simple.

First we take off the frames (stored in ‘supers‘) of capped honey from the beehives and de-cap them with a fork-like tool (see above left).  These frames are then placed in a centrifugal spinner which empties all the cells of honey.  The honey is then run through a triple filter system to remove wax and other debris.  The final stage is to pour into jars for resale/storage.  We don’t apply any other treatments to the honey – not even heat – so its about as natural as you can get.

I do hope there’s a late honey flow and we can provide all the honey we have on order – and get some for us too!!!  For those interested we sell off the doorstep at £5 for a 1lb jar – or £20 for 5 1lb jars.

Now on to what we found on this inspection…

Hive 1
Just a quick look to make sure the queen was still laying – and she was, with great gusto.  We didn’t spot the queen herself but there were plenty of eggs across about 6 frames.  If you spot eggs the queen was there three days ago and I’ve no reason to believe she wasn’t there on this inspection too.  Nothing much in the way of honey in the super but there was stores in the brood box and all seemed well.  It was windy and not too warm so they were a bit on the grumpy side – so we closed it down pretty sharp.

Hive 2
The end is nigh!  In the past 7-years of keeping bees we’ve only ever lost a couple of colonies.  This is going to be the third.  Whilst its not a nice thing to happen I don’t think we are doing too bad when you consider all the nasty things happening to bees at present.  Unless there’s a miracle about to happen I don’t think you’ll see any reports about this Hive 2 in future blogs. RIP

Hive 3
Where there’s dark there’s light!  I was keen to see what happened to the frame with the solitary capped queen cell on it.  However, on taking out the frame the cell was still there – capped as before.  This was too long for a live queen to be in there still so she had to be a goner!  However, I moved on through the hive and there we eggs on two of the frames.  We have a queen!  We didn’t actually spot her but there was definitely eggs and unless there’s a egg laying worker we now have three queen-right colonies again.  There were still plenty of bees and the three supers seemed to have about the same amount of stores in them.

Hive 4
Just a quick dip inside on this one as by now we had a few buzzers hitting our veils – just to make sure we knew they were not happy with our intrusion on a windy and not so warm day.  Eggs spotted and plenty of capped brood.  This one is going to get big pretty quickly and we’ll need to keep an eye on their levels of stores.  If the weather doesn’t improve and they have nothing to forage for we might have to put a feed on.

As a positive final comment – the weather forecast for the coming week looks promising!

Hive Inspection – 18 06 2012

The weather was mild on Sunday and the wind had fallen somewhat so it was a good day to have a look in at the bees.  Not much change from last week really.

Smoking up the hives keeps them calm

We was hoping to take our young nephew Josh with us as we were looking after him that day but he didn’t think it was a good idea.  This is strange really as he’d always seems fascinated by them in the past and would want to “get up close and personal” with them. Maybe in a few years – he is only 8!

Hive 1
Good tempered and queen still laying well with eggs and brood now on five frames.  There was ample stores and signs of them starting to fill the super too.  Not much more to do in this one so we shut it down.

Hive 2
Nothing happening in this hive at all and no sign of the small queen that dropped in there a couple of weeks back.  There are now too few bees to worry about uniting with one of the other hives so its all over for this hive I think.  There was plenty of stores on the brood frames so I took one out and placed in Hive 1 and another two out and placed in Hive 4.  Obviously left some stores in just in case the queen was there and not yet laying – but very doubtful.

Hive 3
Still no sign of a queen or eggs but the frame we dropped in from Hive 4 last week now only had one capped queen cell left on it.  Not quite sure why the hatched queen wouldn’t have ripped down the remaining cell… maybe she was about to when we poked our noses in!  We didn’t want to rip it down ourselves just in case the hatched queen wasn’t any good or had already met her end. The bees were still a bit grumpy so the could still be queenless. Anyway, clearly marked the frame with the un-hatched queen cell and closed up the hive.  There was plenty of store on this one and they had started working on the super we added last week.  If the new queen does not take we will probably unite this hive with hive 4.

Hive 3 – still no sign of a mated queen

Hive 4
All looked well in this hive and the queen had laid up on about 4 frames.  Spotted her and she was looking fine.  There wasn’t a great deal of stores in this hive hence taking two frames out of the dwindling hive 2.