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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.

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!

The arrival of a swarm of bees

We had a small swarm of bees arrive at home on Sunday.  You can watch the short movie about it if you like, or read the blog…. it’s up to you!

One of our neighbours pointed this out to us on Monday evening.  In his words…  “A massive and deafening swarm of bees darkened the skies over Loughton and settled on our shed.” This was strange as we’d not noticed it ourselves but, true enough, a swarm had found its way into a stack of hive parts we had brought back home at the end of last season for cleaning and storage.  I had forgotten about this and had stupidly left a handful of old brood frames in there too that needed new foundation.  The swarm found this space totally irresistible.

The shed and hive boxes where the swarm of bees settled

A swarm of bees will rarely be as easy as this to collect and hive

I normally seal the bottoms and tops of these stacks of hive parts with unused crown boards and sheets of cardboard so as to avoid this very thing from happening – and to also avoid the dreaded wax moth from making home in there too.  However, at some point this stack had been moved and there as a little gap at the bottom that the bees obviously found to be the perfect entrance to what they thought was a perfectly good new home.  They were only beaten there by the wax month who had demolished most of the brood frames – but obviously not quite enough to determine the swarm!

We waited for the sun to go down so that most of the bees would be inside their temporary squat.  We then got our nuc box ready with a couple of frames of foundation and another of drawn out comb with some stores – which is the poorly constructed white thing on top of the cedar hive parts in the above picture.  This was originally a standard national nuc box but we have since moved over to 14×12 frames so I crudely extended the depth of it earlier in the season when I had to catch a swarm at the apiary. I never did get round to doing a proper job on it – so its yet another thing on my list of things to do.

Anyway, we started lifting out the old frames from the stack and, “bingo”, Tiff spotted the queen almost instantly.  Light in colour, but a good size, and the bees attending her were as calm as you get.  We took this frame (which was not badly wax month damaged as the others) and popped it straight in the nuc box.  We then proceeded to shake the bees off the other frames and spacer boards stored in the stack.

We then waited, and whilst the queen didn’t pop straight out again the remaining bees (now up in the air and crawling all over the remaining stack) seemed reluctant to go into the nuc.  So, up for a bit of experimentation, we laid out some sheets of white paper around the sides and leading up to the entrance of the nuc.  This seemed to work very well – and in no time there was a team of workers merrily fanning their queen’s pheromone at the entrance and beckoning in the remaining bees.

Bees arriving at the nuc entrance

Bees fanning the queen’s pheromone to the stragglers

You can see my lack of carpentry skills and poor materials have resulted in a gap on the right side of the nuc box which is obviously confusing some of the bees as they can detect the queen but can’t work out  how to get to her.  Who says bees are intelligent?

We’ll let them settle in for a day or so and then put a sugar syrup feed on as they will need some instant stores to draw out the new foundation.  I suspect this is a virgin queen by the size of the swarm (really only a ‘cast’) and the speed at which she was dashing about, so its going to take at least a couple of weeks to get her mated and settled in. Once that’s done we’ll install this colony into the vacant Hive 2 position.

It’s all go this beekeeping malarkey!