Archive For The “Tutors Blog 2020” Category

OBKA Tutors Blog #15 – Honey Harvest 2 – Uncapping and Extracting

If you have been following the OBKA Tutors Blog 2020 you might notice that this is the second blog that covers uncapping and extracting.


The first blog was by David Lord, our Senior Tutor for the Beginners Course. This blog is by Andy Pedley. As always with beekeeping, especially as a beginner, it's always good to see different ways of doing things and picking put the elements that work for you (for example I always use a heat gun to melt the wax cappings.....)


So you’ve got your supers back home (or wherever you do your extracting) and they are stacked, probably on the floor, hopefully in a gravel tray to keep them off the floor surface and catch the drips, and covered to keep bees out (or in, perhaps); clean cloth is good for this!


You’ll need to be organised to extract – and a few words of warning …

  • First, honey is very sticky. If you think I am stating the obvious, then its because it needs to be said! It gets on your hands, the door knob, the phone, your mugs, kettle, and from there transfers ALL round the house. So be very careful – I go into “extracting mode” and don’t answer the door, the phone, or do anything except extracting until the job is finished.
  • If honey drips on the floor it will get on your shoes and then be tramped through the whole house; so minimise movement out of the extracting room, consider slippers to be taken off when you leave the room, dust sheets outside the room. Avoid dripping honey on the floor and wipe up any drips that do happen. When I was shown extracting, my mentor covered the kitchen floor with newspaper (remember that!!) and if there was a drop on the floor, put an extra sheet of news paper down to cover it. The paper was burned at the end of the exercise.
  • Honey flows silently. It makes no noise if it overflows or spills, so be very careful about not over filling buckets.
  • Honey is hygroscopic, so it absorbs moisture from the air; in order to keep, it needs to have a water content of 20% or less, and so the extracting room and all equipment needs to be as dry as possible.
  • Honey smells and will attract bees, so the extracting room needs to be bee tight – windows shut, and if there are airbricks they may need covering. Working in a room full of bees is not fun!
  • Finally, honey is veryheavy …. do not overfill buckets for that reason (you’re going to need to lift them when you are thinking about bottling the honey) and DO NOT STACK BUCKETS – buckets have been known to collapse under the weight of a bucket above, spilling the contents of the bucket on the floor …. 


Remember too that if you are going to sell honey, then food safety and trading standards law applies; everything needs to be food grade, clean, and you need to be healthy, clean and wearing appropriate clothing …. (picture, a well prepared food handler) – gloves are a good idea, some kind of overall, head covering and if you have a beard, a beard snood -all can be bought on line. During these COVID-19 Days, a mask is desirable.

A well prepared food handler

I find working left to right is good, so the super’s are stacked on the left; one is promoted to the worktop, and the frames are extracted one by one for uncapping.


Uncapping is done over a tray of some kind (I use a stainless steel baking tray with a wooden “bridge” to rest the frame lug on)as the cappings, dripping with honey, need to be collected.

“Cappings honey” is drained off later, and some say it especially good to prevent hay fever. Cappings themselves of course are bees wax, and clean, white, new, so some beekeepers keep it separate and use it to make their blocks of bees wax for the honey shows. 


There are lots of tools that can be used for uncapping … for hobbyists, then you can use a knife (bread knife, carving knife, or bee keeping suppliers sell special uncapping knives); a heated uncapping knife (I used to have one, but stopped using it as the honey could be seen boiling under the heat) uncapping fork, spikyroller, recent device is an uncapping plane). Each has their pro’s and cons, which I ll not go into here. Some also use a hot air gun – which can be very quick, but I can not make it work reliably! Commercially uncapping machines are available too.


Uncapping is done holding the frame so that the top overhangs a bit; the cut is then made and as it is overhanging, the wax drops clear into the tray. It’s good to minimise the bits of wax on the frame, as they ll clog in your strainers later.

Uncapping tools

Once uncapped, the frame can be put in the extractor; and the next frame prepared until the extractor is filled. Extractors spin the frames, and centrifugal force spins the honey out. Make sure the tap is closed when you start! There’s a video of a rather fun (but not recommended) transparent honey extractor on Thorne’s YouTube channel 


Extractors come in different types and sizes (in the Thorne’s video it’s a tangential, where frames have to be spun twice, with the frame being turned round in between); there are also Radial Extractors where the frames are like the spokes of a wheel, and both sides are extracted at once. Manual extractors are cheaper, but need hand “winding” . Electric extractors have a motor with variable speed, so save much effort, time (you can be uncapping the next batch of frames while the extractor spins all by itself) – but are of course much more expensive.


Frames need to be balanced in the extractor – full frame opposite full frame – as extractors will vibrate and move round the room – start on a slow speed and increase the speed as the honey comes out of the frames.


Once uncapped, the frames are put back in the super, stood out of the way (on a tray to catch drips) and when done, returned to the bees (for apiaryhygiene reasons, ideally the same hive that they came from) where the bees will clean off the residual honey) so you can store the frames for winter.


The honey is run out of the extractor, though some kind of strainer (see the video) and into buckets for storage; put the lid on the bucket and ensure it is sealed – make sure it is airtight! I cling film mine as a belt and braces approach.


(Next… straining and bottling.)


Andy Pedley

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OBKA Tutors Blog #14 – Harvest – getting supers off the hive

So you keep bees – probably – as you want a honey crop, and this is the time when you’ll be thinking about harvesting.



Some beekeepers harvest “as they go” so when you ‘re inspecting, if you find a frame that is fully capped, then its taken out of the hive so the honey can be harvested from it.



Others may take off both a spring and a summer harvest, if the area they are in has a good “honey flow” in the spring – or if there is Oil Seed Rape grown nearby, as OSR honey crystallises very quickly and can set in the frames. You can also get a “flow” in the autumn, and some may harvest this, or you may want to leave it for the bees, to save needing to feed them, either at all or so much. Sometimes there is a late heather crop, but that needs special handling as the honey is thixotropic (jelly like) and won’t extract easily.

Ling Heather Honey

Ling Heather Honey

I think there are 4 stages to harvesting your honey –


  • getting the supers off the hive, and transporting them to your extraction facility


  • extracting,


  • straining and “ripening” and


  • packing for sale.


And in this blog I ll deal with the first stage, getting the supers off the hive.


When you are working your hives, you will have noticed that the bees are always in the supers, so the first step in taking honey off is to “clear” the bees out of the supers.


Traditionally this is done with a “Clearer Board” – a spare crown board can be adapted by fitting a “Bee Escape”, and this is then put in the hive, with the supers to be removed above it. Make sure the supers are bee tight …. once the bees are out of the supers, the honey is undefended and wasps and robber bees will find any hole, and you will lose an amazing amount of your crop in a very short time! Typically a clearer board is left in place for 24 hours, and ideally you remove the supers in the evening when bees are less active.


There are other methods of clearing bees from supers – from brushing each frame (time-consuming, but may save you a second trip, and feasible if you've only got a small number to process), using a repellent (not very effective in my experience) to using some kind of blower to blow them off (not a happy experience for the bees).


And of course there are several types of bee escape – the traditional one is the “Porter” bee Escape, which fits neatly into the precut holes in a proprietary crown board, but rely on the bees going through a pair of springs which need to be adjusted. Better in my experience are the “lozenge” escapes, which works more like a lobster pot – and has the advantage of not needing a perfectly sized and shaped oval hole.

National Crownboard with Porter bee escapes

Rhombus bee clearer board

Rhombus clearer in action - rhombus cut in half and put in opposite corners

Clearer board with 8-way clearer

8-way clearer - the exits!

It’s important is that when you remove the supers, that they are taken away to a bee proof location quickly; again the bees will find unprotected supers very quickly and will rob it out – this includes from within your kitchen or where ever you do your extracting. If you are removing several supers, put the crown board on top of the supers that waiting, or a cover cloth, to prevent bees getting back i while your back is turned!


If you ‘re using a barrow or transporting the supers in a car or van, then that needs to be clean (and the car/van bee tight – shut the windows and doors unless you are actually putting stuff in it.


Ideally put the supers in a tray (60 cm square gravel trays are good, and make good emergency roofs for hives too) in the boot, and again when you are stacking them on the floor waiting for extraction. Certainly stand them on something clean, and that will accommodate any slight leakage / drips.


You are unlikely to clear EVERY bee from the supers, and may find a few in the car with you – they ll fly up to the windows and if the windows are opened a crack, should leave. A small brush will help you flick others out. Cover the supers with clean cloth when in transit, but don't be concerned if you find you have the company of a few bees as you drive – opening the car windows while you are actually driving will help them out! There will be stragglers, and they’re very unlikely to be any bother (other than pooing on the car upholstery!).


If you are putting the supers in a car on a hot, sunny day, with the windows shut the car can get very hot, very quickly …. so park in the shade, otherwise your precious crop could become a sticky mess, as could your car.


Do remember that each super can weigh about 15kg (30lb) and should yield about 12kg of honey (25lb); heavy …. you may need assistance lifting and carrying them. And you may want to have records of which honey came from which apiary (if you have more than one), or hive, so fixing a label on each super with information on it can help here – a drawing pin and a bit of card is enough on wooden hives. Ideally put the label on before the supers are taken off the hives, very easy to get confused!


NEXT Post… Extracting ….


Andy Pedley

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OBKA Tutors Blog #13 – Varroa Monitoring

Monitoring Varroa is an important part of beekeeping. It gives you an insight into when treatment may be required. If left unchecked varroa mites will build up exponentially to a point where the colony becomes nonviable.


Varroa affects the colony in many ways.


  • Deformed wings which are shrivelled and adopt a ‘spaghetti’ like appearance;
  • Stunted abdomens;
  • general weakening of the colony;
  • Patchy/ pepper pot brood patterns;
  • High level infestations can be a direct cause of colony loss;
  • The mite is also a vector of a number of viruses. Although bee viruses usually persist as unapparent infections and cause no overt signs of disease, they can dramatically affect honey bee health and shorten the lives of infected bees under certain conditions.


Source of information: Beebase

Left untreated varroa mites will expand exponentially and overwhelm a colony



One of the easiest methods of estimating the number of varroa is by inserting the varroa board below the open mesh floor. Before you do, it’s worth drawing squares on to your board, as it will make counting easier. If you also give it a light coat of Vaseline it will hold any mites dropping onto the board.

Varroa board marked with a grid to nake counting varroa drop easier

The board is then inserted onto the runners under the mesh floor and left for 7 days, then removed, a count can then be made. The lines on the board aid counting. Many events though the year have an effect on the number of mites in a colony so the number you get now needs to be entered into a ‘varroa calculator’ follow the link below and follow the instructions.


The result will advise when you will need to treat your bees. Keep checking the varroa count through the season but don’t leave the board in when not in use it defeats the object of open mesh floors.

Varroa drop

Varroa mite drop on a monitoring board

What you might find on a varroa monitoring board

...but not everything on the monitoring board is varroa!

David Lord

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OBKA Tutors Blog #12 – Honey Extraction

I keep all of my honey extracting kit in large plastic box, which I also use as the uncapping tray.


The kit consists of: knife, newspaper, towels, wood bar with hole (for the frame ends to sit in,) and frame rests.


The conservatory is a good place for me to extract as it is bee-proof and hot when closed up. I work in a line, with full supers one side, then the uncapping ‘tray’, extractor and finally empty super to put the extracted frames back into. The newspaper is for the table and floor, as it’s easy just to place another sheet on top once it’s messy and sticky.

Honey extracting kit

Extracting setup - plenty of newspaper!

As soon as I get the supers home I start removing the capping before the temperature drops in the honey. Working while it is still warm in a warm room makes everything so much easier. I like to cut the cappings off with a knife, but you can use an uncapping fork, bread knife or any thing that opens up the cell. The trade suppliers will even sell you a heated knife for the purpose, but it’s not really necessary!



Make sure you open all the cells on the frame. The cappings will drop down into the tray and at the end of the session I will put these into a sieve to drain.




Once uncapped I try to load the extractor evenly to balance the weight as it spins. The extractor sits on a 3 wheeled wooden frame. I put a folded towel under 2 of the wheel which help dampen the imbalance when starting. My extractor is a home made job, comprising of a Thorne 9 radial frame which is mounted in a food safe barrel driven by 180w sewing machine motor.

Removing the cappings

Home made extractor

Once loaded I spin slowly at first and increase speed as the frames empty. As usual with spring honey, some has started to set in the cells and will not extract. I will have to dealt with this separately by scraping down to the mid rib of the frame and putting it into a warming cabinet to melt the honey then putting thorough a sieve.


Once the honey has filled the extractor I drain it off into (food grade) buckets. I do all of my filtering at a later stage as trying to filter now is too slow and holds up the process. Once I have finished extracting I leave the cappings in a sieve to drain overnight. The extractor I lie on top of the plastic box to drain. To clean up I just wash down with cold water and allow for dry ready for the next time.

To see how a commercial bee farmer extracts honey see the following video by The Norfolk Honey Company on YouTube:




David Lord

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OBKA Tutors Blog #11 – Managing a colony preparing to swarm – the Pagden method

How to manage a colony which is making preparations to swarm.


Swarming is a natural part of honeybee behaviour, it is how they reproduce. However when they swarm you lose a great deal of your foraging force, and may cause nuisance or alarm to the public, so to avoid that happening here is an explanation of how to do a simple artificial swarm which manages the bees’ instinct to find a new empty home, and manages where the bees end up.


When you inspect a colony and find queen cells are being made, there are a number of different methods you can use to avoid a swarm emerging. Essentially if you keep in mind the 3 entities in the hive of the Queen, the flying bees, and the brood, if you remove one of these entities away from the others then a swarm is averted.


Here is a simple description of the Pagden method which I use a lot.


If you consider that a prime swarm is the old Queen emerging from the hive with a large number of her flying bees looking to set up home somewhere such as a big hollow tree, then this method replicates the conditions that those bees seek but avoids the need for them to leave home to achieve it.


Honeybees will typically swarm when queen cells(s) get capped in the colony. This will happen on day 8 from when those eggs were laid. As a new beekeeper you want to take action when you first spot that queen cells are being made, do not wait for them to be capped as that can often be too late.


You will need a second floor, brood box full of frames of foundation, crownboard, roof and stand. For this method you need to find the queen.


Here are daft pics to try and help it stick in your mind.

This pic shows your colony, complete with Queen, flyers, brood (represented by lots of c-shaped cashew nuts in a bag), and also queen cells (represented by knobbly unshelled peanuts).


Move the original brood box to the side onto your spare floor, and put the new brood box with fresh foundation in the original position. Find the queen and put her in this new box.


As the location of this hive stays the same, all the flying bees which are orientated to this position will join the queen in the fresh box. You have given them a new empty box and moved the brood away, thereby mimicking the effect of the queen and flyers landing up in a tree, but they have actually gone nowhere, so they are happy and you are happy.


The original brood box that contains the brood and the queen cells are now in a fresh location. Any bees that have already learnt how to fly will return to the old queen’s position when they next fly as that is the location to which they are already orientated.

This pic shows the outcome that you are aiming for – the queen and the flyers remain in the same location with a different brood box which is full of foundation. The brood box that contains the brood and queen cells is in a new location.


There are additional considerations, but that is the bare bones.


You need to consider how many queen cells you leave in the new location. If you leave multiple cells then you may suffer from multiple virgin queens hatching out and emerging from the hive as casts ie small swarms of bees with a virgin, which can be excessive and can deplete the colony to nothing. If you have a choice of either open or capped queen cells, the advice is to leave 1 or 2 open queen cells. Leaving 2 allows for ‘an heir and a spare’, i.e. reduces risk of a single cell not successfully hatching at all. Choosing the open cells over capped ones means you can better judge when they will hatch, and also avoid instances of a capped cell not containing what you anticipate eg it’s an empty old one.

If the box of brood & queen cell(s) is to remain in the same apiary then it may be argued that you should shake additional young bees from the supers of the original colony into this brood box to make allowance for all the bees that will fly back to the original site, and ensure that enough bees remain in the brood box to care for all that brood. If however the brood & queen cells are being moved >3 miles away then there is no need for this as the flyers won’t find their way back to the original location and will stay in the new location.



When you moved the queen into the new box you may choose to move her on the frame that you find her. If you do this it is essential that there are no queen cells on that frame, otherwise they will still swarm. Some argue that if the frame contains any eggs and/or very small larva then they might make more queen cells from these and still swarm. Personally I choose to transfer the queen along with a frame of large larva as I take advantage of the opportunity to use that frame as a sink for varroa and dispose of it when capped. Alternatively it could be argued that transferring a frame of sealed brood which will soon hatch will make cells available for the queen to lay in soonest which is advantageous. But all this complicates the bare bones.



You need to consider whether the original brood box has enough food stores. Bear in mind that the flyers in that box will return to the old queen’s position if staying in the same apiary so no nectar will be brought into it until the young nurse bees in there learn to fly – they will be orientated to this new position only. Assess how much stores are in the original brood box. If not much then you can move 1 or more supers across to provide stores to tide them over until their bees are old enough to forage.



Having ensured that the box of brood in the new location has enough stores, and only 1-2 queen cells, you would then try to avoid disturbing them for 3-4 weeks to give the virgin a chance to hatch and get mated and start laying before you inspect them again.



There are further optional complications which you will come across as you progress with your bees, such as moving the brood box & queen cell(s) to the other side of the original hive after a few days, but that is optional and therefore enough said.



Finally here’s some pics of queen cells, they hang vertically whilst worker and drone brood are horizontal. If you only have capped ones to choose from, go for a big one with good dimpling ie it looks like effort and care was taken when building it rather than a smooth small one. If your queen cells are open then they won’t show the dimpling so much. Avoid choosing only a queen cell that is surrounded by drone brood, as sometimes bees make a mistake and will try to create a queen cell from a drone larva so don’t rely on that one.

Good looking sealed queen cell

Oops, lots of swarm cells!

Open queen cells from below

Helen Raine

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OBKA Tutors Blog#4 – Hiving a Nuc

Wednesday 15th April. Hiving a nuc.


Today was the big day... the arrival of my overwintered nucleus of bees from Honeybee Suppliers. Usually you would be offered a collection date for bees, (from the Hook Norton area) but with current restrictions, they are being delivered, movement of livestock being an exception to lockdown regulations.

I spent the run up to the big day scrubbing and scorching various hive parts, making up frames, and giving the lifts a coat of linseed oil, (I have WBC hives.) The bees arrived at 4.30, hot and cross, though Dave who delivered them had recently sprinkled them with water (he shouted to me from a safe distance!) They are delivered in a small wooden nuc box, with a wire mesh panel in the lid.

I moved the nuc to the (home) apiary, which by this time of day is quite shady, gave them another spray of water, and went to light the smoker. Some advise to wait a day before placing a nuc into a hive, but since late afternoon is supposed to be a good time for hiving bees, and the conditions were perfect, I decided to get on with it. By the time I had gathered all the bits I needed and suited up, the bees were much calmer in the box, probably thanks to being out of the car and in the shade.

Placing the nuc box close to the hive stand, I gave them a few light puffs of smoke through the mesh vent, and then removed the top of the nuc box. Obviously, the flying bees were off straight away, so I waited a moment for them to leave, and then it was much calmer. This nuc was 6 frames of BIAS (or Brood In All Stages) and stores, and my WBC hives are 10 frames. Again, I’ve seen advice to limit the number of frames to begin with when hiving a nuc, so that the bees aren’t in a big, echoey, empty box. But since my brood box would only have 2 frames either side of the nuc frames, and the time of year and weather forecast are good, I reasoned that it would be good for them to be able to expand quickly.


I really only needed to use the smoker to clear bees from the lugs when lifting out the frames, because these Buckfast bees generally have a lovely temperament. Removing the first frame from the box is the hardest thing, as there’s no dummy board, so not much room to manoeuvre. Just be slow and gentle so as not to roll the bees. You want to be moving the frame as short a distance as possible from the nuc box to the hive, as there is a slight danger that the queen could fall off into the grass. Once the first frame was out everything was pretty straightforward, just gently removing the frames from the box and placing them in the hive. I wasn’t really inspecting the frames as I did this, as Honeybee Suppliers are very thorough, but I did spot one or two bees just emerging from their capping, and on the last frame, the queen with her green mark for 2019.

Before putting on the crown board, I turned the nuc box upside down and gave it a good hard shake over the frames to dislodge any stragglers. There were still about 100 bees left, so rather than brush them in and risk damaging them, I placed the nuc box next to the hive so that they can fly or crawl in. The order in the brood box is now: 2 fresh new brood frames, and then the 6 frames from the nuc box (placed in the same order they are in the nuc,) followed by 2 more fresh frames and the dummy board.

All that was left was to give them a feed to supplement their stores and support wax production for drawing out the foundation. This is very easily made up with 1kg white granulated sugar to 1 litre of hot water, stirred to dissolve. I use a rapid feeder, as a frame feeder is very messy, invasive (you have to open up the hive to refill it) and bees can very easily drown in it. I am also trying a product called ‘Hive Alive’, a concentrate added to the feed in tiny quantities, which claims to increase colony size, reduce disease and increase honey yield. Watch this space!


Alison Rosby

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