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
I think there are 4 stages to harvesting your honey –
- getting the supers off the hive, and transporting them to your extraction facility
- 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 ….
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
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.
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 mite drop on a monitoring board
...but not everything on the monitoring board is varroa!
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:
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
OBKA Tutors Blog #10 – 2 Metre mentoring
or Conducting A First Inspection
Friends Henrietta and John had acquired a Nuc. Of bees, A Hive, and (before lockdown) my services as a Mentor.
With the relaxation in lockdown, and maintaining a strict 2 m separation, a Mentored hive inspection took place on Sunday 17th May. I took a camera with reasonable telephoto, and was able to take photos to help with this article.
Henrietta & John’s Hive is beyond a pond – a great source of water for thirsty bees, and a good 2 metre wide barrier!
John got the smoker going – using grass pellets, which is fine – anything dry and burnable works as smoker fuel – my favourite is hessian (sacking, burlap to our American friends). Feel free to experiment – corrugated cardboard, rotting wood, hay, straw, wood shavings.
Supplement with sprigs from Rosemary if you don’t want to come home smelling like a bonfire!
Lighting the smoker is a bit of an art, and keeping it alight surprisingly difficult … after 29 years beekeeping, they still go out on me! Always have your lighter in your pocket!
After smoking the bees, Henrietta took the roof off and put it where no one was going to fall over it!
Its good to smoke the bees and wait a couple of minutes after, so that they have time to respond to the smoke.
The generally used explanation for the effectiveness of smoke is that it stimulates their flight or fight response, naturally bees would live in woodland, and the smoke simulates a forest fire; they can not fight, so they prepare to flee, filling their stomachs with honey; this makes them more docile, and also less able to sting as they can not bend their abdomens. The smoke also interferes with their ability to sense the alarm pheromone, which may be a more scientific explanation. Whatever, it works!
Off with the Crown Board – often we’d leave inspecting the supers till last, but we wanted to find out what was going on and so have a good look now!
The super was only put on the hive a week ago, so we were delighted to find that most of the frames had been drawn out into honey comb, and there was nectar, and even some sealed honey, on the frames.
In order to “encourage” the bees, we moved a couple of undrawn frames to the centre, where they’ll draw them out, and the full frames to the edge – they’ll finish them off over the next 10 weeks.
Question – This hive is a “National” with a single brood box and a single super; what are the alternative hive types, and brood box configuration.
Good use of the hive tool, to lever up frames for inspection.
The frames here are fitted into “castellation” type runners, which hold them in position at a precise distance apart, so that the all important bee space is maintained. There are other ways of spacing the frames.
We took one of the super frames out, just to see what was going on; the frame went in with undrawn comb 7 days ago, so in 7 days the colony have
- drawn the frames out and
- filled with nectar (the shiny liquid you can see in each cell is nectar – honey in progress!).
And they've been working on the other frames in the super too!
Great work Girls!!
We moved unused frames to the centre to encourage the bees to start work on them, and put the “filling” ones in their place – there’s about 10 weeks till the end of July when the harvest comes off and hopefully the bees will completely fill this super, and another in that time! Perhaps 50 Lb (25Kg) of lovely, local honey …. what will it taste like? What colour will it be?
Question … why is honey different colours and flavours?
When we took the super off, we found wild comb on the queen excluder; this is slightly annoying (making wax requires a lot of energy on the part of the bees) and will be in the way.
We cleaned this off – wax is a valuable bye product – think candles, think furniture polish, think lip balm or hand cream.
With the queen excluder removed, we had access to the brood box; the real interest.
The history of this colony is that it came as a 5 frame nuc 5 weeks ago, and you can see that Henrietta and John put the 5 frames in the centre of the hive (the darker ones with the coloured ends) and then put new frames on each side (so from left to right you can see the dark brown “dummy board”, 3 new frames, 5 older frames, and then 3 more new frames).
QUESTION: you can see the old frames are marked with paint; why do you think that could be? What colours are used here, and why?
Henrietta took the “dummy board” out and again some wild comb had been formed on that – we cut that off and set it aside with the other wax.
This makes a bit of space so you can remove the other frames without rolling bees against each other.
Question: why did the bees make the wild or “brace” comb?
This was frame 3, and the bees have been working hard. In 5 weeks, they've drawn this comb out. Filled it with brood, nectar (uncapped) and honey (capped); you can see that the colour of the (wax) cappings is different for honey and brood.
Henrietta shook the bees off so we could see the frame better, and here it is again. You can see a bit more wild comb at the bottom of the frame too – we left this.
The lines in the brood area are where the wire in the foundation runs; the queen has chosen not to lay eggs in those cells. The wire will not be completely embedded, so the queen will reject the cell when checking it before laying an egg into it.
Henrietta shook the bees off this frame and is looking for eggs – which are a sure sign that the queen has been there in the past few days and generally, if you find eggs, you can be sure that the colony is queen right without needing to find the queen.
Eggs are very tiny (about the size of the eye of a needle) so hard to see – I have to be wearing my reading glasses, and need good light! The mesh of the Veil does not help either!
You can see that the brood under the bottom bar on this frame is different from the brood above, This is “Drone” brood. - drones of course are the male bees, and they are a bit bigger than the workers, so need bigger cells to develop in. When capped, they have “domed” cappings, and are very distinctive.
Question: what do drones do? And what happens to them in the autumn? Why is Drone Brood useful?
We wanted to find the Queen – of course – she had been marked and clipped, and so was relatively easy to find.
Question – why would you mark, and clip the queen??
Is it significant that the queen is marked with green paint?
And this is why the queen is hard to find; she’s right in the centre here, but other bees are on top of her! You can just see the green mark, but what is usefully shown is that her abdomen (back end) is much longer and differently marked than the other bees. This is what I look for when looking for an unmarked queen.
Since we’d not been able to find eggs, and wanted to, we tried using a small torch to help find them – a magnifying glass would have been useful too!
We went right through the “brood” are of the hive, and the last frame was this one; there’s no brood here, but the bees are very organised, and are using it to store pollen, nectar and honey, very close to the brood nest where they’ll need it.
Pollen comes in many different colours, distinctive to the flowers the bees have collected it from. Here’s a detail so you can more easily see the different pollen colours.
Question: Honey comb is made from bee’s wax – but where does the bee’s wax come from?
Job done, and the hive is carefully put together. This roof is pitched so its put on this way round so the rain is shed to the sides, not on the entrance and “alighting board”.
Inspection over, a chat …. lots of questions!
- What about Varroa, and varroa treatment. And other disease
- What can you do with the wax- why is wax valuable and not to be wasted
- How do you tell the difference between the queen, drones and workers
- When do we get the honey harvest (and why)
- When do we put the second super on?
So we ‘ll try to answer those in future blogs, and if you've other questions, then pose them in the OBKA Beekeeping Q&A section and we’ll do our best to answer!
This is the Mentor’s side of the story, Henrietta will write it up from the “Victim’s” point of view, and it will be published in Kidlington News Online https://kidlingtonnews.org/ !
Need to borrow a honey extractor?
Please see our new page on arrangements for borrowing a honey extractor this year.
World Bee Day – Wednesday 20 May 2020
Wednesday 20th May 2020 is World Bee Day, celebrated every year.
For more information see:
World Bee Day website: https://worldbeeday.org/en/
United Nations World Bee page: https://www.un.org/en/observances/bee-day
OBKA Tutor’s Blog #09 – Catching my bees swarming!
Swarm Collection – Saturday 2nd May 2020
I have been a member of OBKA since 2018 and keeping bees for 12 months. My one colony survived winter and looked very strong when I conducted my first inspection at the beginning of April. A great feeling of pride that I had got through my first big challenge of beekeeping. During my visit on 16th April I spotted a Queen cell, plenty of capped brood and a large number of drone cells and stores.
I made the decision to perform a split, (an operation to divide the colony leaving the Queen cells in the new half) and transferred the split into a Nuc box. During a brief inspection on 23 April I noticed the increase in the colony had been quite dramatic, I transferred the colony into a Brood box.
On Saturday 2nd May I attended my hives with a view to only conducting an inspection of the Hive with the original Queen. That hive was all fine, everything was as expected -plenty of stores, worker brood and drone cells and evidence of fresh eggs. During that inspection I noticed a lot of flying Bees around the area of my split colony.
I soon realised I was observing a swarm, presumably from that split colony. Fortunately, after a short period of time they decided to land on a nearby hedge. Once they appeared to calm down and cluster, I moved closer to get a better view.
With assistance of my son who was with me ( his first time of wanting to come with me to check the bees – lockdown for you !) we were able to capture the swarm safely into a Nuc travel box. Once most (almost all) were safely inside the Nuc box I sealed the entrance for 24 hours. I placed the Nuc box with my other Hives, in the location where I would eventually transfer them into the empty Hive.
I returned the following day and was able to transfer the colony into a brood box. I placed a rapid feeder (1:1) with homemade sugar syrup above the brood box; because they were my own bees I didn't need to isolate them and treat for varroa but was able to feed them straight away to encourage comb building.
In the space of two weeks I have gone from one strong Hive to three potentially strong colonies. I am looking forward to checking the colonies and watching them thrive. I have enjoyed the experience of splitting the colony and dealing with the swarm. I am sure I have made mistakes along the way but I will learn from them, such as leaving too many Queen celIs in the split.,With just one Queen cell they should not swarm but she may not be successful mated whilst with more than one Queen cell you may have a swarm with a Virgin Queen. As you can see in the first picture two swarms so perhaps two Queens left at the same time but in reuniting them the Queens will sort themselves out. It has been a great start to the season, I will be happy to provide an update as to how I get on throughout the summer.
Stay safe and well.
For more information on putting a swarm in a Nuc see this video from Stuart at the Norfolk Honey Company: https://youtu.be/nqVeNpC0aVY
OBKA Tutors Blog #8 – Bait Hive
Bait hive, now is the time! A few days in the back garden.
Last year I collected several swarms of honey bees, plus advised on a few bumble bee nests, but this year I decided to cut out the middle man and make a bait hive.
I used a rather broken old brood box, drilled a hole in the side and put it on top of a pile of slabs, the highest spot in the garden. For bait I started out trying to make my own by infusing oil with some real lemon grass from the garden. However, I couldn’t smell anything, but put it on the box anyway.
I also added a lump of old empty drawn comb rubber banded onto a frame. Following the usual advice this frame was put against a wall. When I did get to the shops I bought a pot of lemon grass oil so added a couple of drops to the frame inside the box.
After a week or so of fine weather I noticed some bees flying round the box. They went in and out and in and out on seemingly random flights. The second morning I peeped inside before they were about and found not a swarm but about 20 bees on the comb. How disappointing!
However, much later that day I heard a lot of buzzing and went to look at the part of the garden where the box is. The air was filled with a cloud of bees flying in all directions up to about 15 ft hgh. It was not something you would walk through. When I approached from the side with the entrance hole in I could see there were bees going in and clinging on to the outside walls.
After several hours I returned to find the frenzy had subsided with just a few on the outside.
Next morning I dashed out for an early peek inside and saw there were not many bees in the box. Then, looked down to see them clustered on the side of a compost bin. After much scooping up with flower pots I got most into the box and removed most of the bits they had settled on. I did add some more frames with just a starter strip to help them.
It was interesting to see that the side of the compost bin had a lot of blobs of comb attached, so house bees definitely fly off with swarms.
Now, there are a few bees flying around and coming in and out. Will they stay? Who knows? I am leaving them alone as advised until I see pollen coming in meaning they have got some larvae coming.
Exciting times! However what would I do next time? Firstly make sure the box is properly repaired so there are no little holes that I have to stuff earth into. Also, fix a proper floor to the bottom to just seal it off, so picking it up will be easy and have brood frames with short starter strip in ready.
It has been very interesting especially finding out just how much recce the scout bees do before bringing the rest of the swarm. I might get a colony of bees out of this and they might not sting as much as one of my other colonies. Definitely worth a go. My garden is not very big and although the arriving swarm did spill over into a neighbours garden they didn’t stay long and I was able to say that they weren’t my bees escaping. They will be taken up to the farm in due course and the trap reset! Remember always check for disease once the bees have been rehoused, a good time to treat for Varroa as there is no brood. You can feed after 3 day when they have used up the store they have brought with them.
OBKA Tutors Blog #7 – Catching swarms
To catch a swarm……
This article is not about swarm prevention or swarm control: that`s a whole different subject. This blog will be about what happens after they have swarmed.
Collecting swarms are good way of building up your stock, but you must register with BBKA to get your public liability insurance . I also would recommend you have experience handling bees before attempting to collect a bee swarm. A large swarm can contain 30,000+ bees with a weight off over 10lbs.
When you receive the call, try to make sure from the caller that they are honey bees and not bumble or solitary bees. This is a common mistake among the general public. Ask about the position and height off the ground of the swarm and reassure the caller. Always explain to the caller what you plan to do, and that it may involve cutting tree branches, for example. You will need their permission to enter their property, and to cut back plants or trees.
Bear in mind bees don’t read the bee manuals. The chances of your swarm being located in the middle of a conveniently low-ish hanging branch, (as illustrations like to show,) is slim, and no two swarms are the same. Usually they will first settle fairly close to the hive-nest and wait for the queen to arrive. They can settle on almost anything and any height during this period while scouts are looking for some where to live ...this can take minutes or days. When enough bees have decide that they like a spot they move towards it in a series of short hops where they wait for the queen to rest until they arrive at their new home.
(If at this point they have entered a tree cavity, for example, you can sometimes drive them out by putting heavy smoke into the entrance.)
They are not always this easy....
A large swarm
If you catch them resting, place the sheet under the swarm. If they are low down and on bush or tree place the swarm box underneath. Give the branch a sharp shake and the most of the bees will drop into the box. Place the box on the sheet and put the lid on. If you have got the queen in the box the rest will follow. On my swarm box there are 2 entrances when the vast majority have gone in I close the main entrance. (The second entrance has a rhombus bee escape.) it also has several holes covered with varroa flooring mesh for ventilation.
It will take about 2 hours for the bees inside to work out how get out. This method is good for getting a quick capture.
Swarms which are located on other objects, such as garden tables can be brushed into the box or if they are on the ground, place the box next to them and they should walk in.
Always cover the swarm box with a sheet to keep it cool and spray water in the air vents if it is very hot. I have caught swarms at dusk or later without a bee taking to the air - they are always very quick. One in particular I remember was on a weeping willow branch which I cut and lowered into the box, branch and all: not one bee flew up. The capture took one minute, and I got home in time for tea.
Rhombus bee escape
Swarm on a sheet
I love to walk the bees into the hive by putting a plank of wood up to the hive entrance. Cover the board with the sheet. If you have moved the bees gently they should be hanging inside the lid of the box.
Lift gently and shake them onto the ramp, placing a few bees by the entrance. You can then watch them walk up into the entrance. If you didn’t manage to get the queen, keep a careful eye out for her now. Remember she will be a lot smaller then when she is laying eggs. If you spot her now, it’s quite a good idea to put her in a queen catcher and place it between two frames. (Be sure to free her 2 days later when they have settled in). This is just in case they decide they don’t like their new home and take off again! An alternative to this is to put a queen excluder between the floor and brood box to keep the queen in, and after 2 days put back between the brood box and supers (making sure she is not on the supers.)
After a week I give them a feed of syrup and check for any signs of pest and disease. DON’T feed until they have used up the food in their stomachs, this minimises the risk of them bringing disease from their old hive.
Walking in the bees
Inside the lid
This is a list of the tools I carry in my car for catching a swarm.
- Catching box – I made it large enough to take 6 standard frames. As I previously mentioned it has 2 entrances and 4 air holes. It’s large enough to catch awkward swarms very quickly with no bees flying from the box.
- Straw skep. This is a tightly woven woven upside-down basket- the traditional vessel for catching a swarm. Open at one end, so needs to be covered with a sheet.
- Old bed sheet. - placed on the ground under the swarm it helps stops bees getting lost and it’s easier to spot the queen
- Queen catcher- if you spot the queen and can catch her and place her in the swarm box, the others will follow.
- Secateurs and small saw- you may need to prune branches close to the swarm for access, or even remove the branch they are on.
- Bee brush or large (gooose/swan) feather. To gently remove bees.
- Thin rope - for shaking branches at any height.
- Water sprayer – to stop the bees flying and keeping the bees in the swarm box cool.
- Swarm catcher - made from a old bed sheet and gazebo poles which allows me to reach about 20` (much higher and it gets unstable.) I can knock bees into the swarm catcher and then tip them into the swarm box or onto a sheet and let them walk in. This method does put bees in the air!
Swarm collecting equipment
Peter Hawkins' patented swarm catcher
Remember to always work safely and think of the property and residents. You may well also have an audience who will watch in amazement! Keep your feet on terra firma - ladders and step ladders are unsafe.
One word of warning. While swarming bees are generally docile, because they have gorged prior to leaving the hive, they still can and may sting. Bee gentle!
OBKA Tutors Blog#6 – Hiving a Nuc Part 2
Follow up to ‘Hiving a Nuc’, 25th April.
Sunny, warm, (low 20s) still.
Purpose of inspectio: To remove brace comb, put in QE, repair frame lug, check feed, check for bias and queen cells.
This hive is home to the nucleus which arrived 10 days ago. I did a VERY quick check of just a couple of frames after 6 days, to check that the queen was present and laying, but not a full inspection, so this is the first.
When I topped up the rapid feeder 2 days ago, I noticed that the bees have built brace comb up through crown board and up the side of the rapid feeder.
I didn’t put in a QE when hiving them, as there are no supers on, but this was probably a mistake so I decided to put one on and remove what they’d built- hopefully this will encourage them to draw comb in a more useful place! What a waste of lovely fresh comb on top of the crown board!
When I removed the crown board, there were bees on on all 10 frames, which is good news. They have 2/3rds drawn both sides of the 2 frames on either side of the nuc frames, and begun on one side of outside frames. I also spotted eggs on the newly drawn frames, which is great: the queen is extending her laying into the new space. Queen seen on one of the nuc frames. Lots of stored nectar and pollen, including some dark red, which I believe at this time of year is likely to be dandelion.
There were a few drones, but no play cups or queen cells.
When I hived the nuc, I noticed that a lug on one of the frames was broken, and on moving it on the last inspection, the whole lug broke off. I left it as it was at the time, as I didn’t have anything to repair it with, and didn’t want to leave the hive open while I went in search of something to bodge it with. This time I was prepared, and after making sure I knew where the queen was, I removed the frame and gently screwed in a screw to hold it. It’s an old, dark frame, so I will swap it out ASAP, but while the colony is building up and there is brood on it, I want it in the hive. It’s definitely a bodge, but it’s holding!
They have used all the feed, so I will top up later when they’ve settled down after the inspection. With a rapid feeder, I just need to remove the roof and the lid of the feeder, so they’ll hardly know I’m there.
Just one more job while I have my bee suit on: to cut the grass around the hives with shears. I’m not going near them with the strimmer or the lawnmower!
Neatly trimmed grass!
OBKA Tutors Blog #5 – Inspections
The Sun is out with a light breeze and the bees are flying well. Taking time to watch the hive entrance for a moment, I give it a light smoke. (With good-tempered bees it is hardly needed, but I find it polite to ‘knock at the door’, so to speak.) Plenty of pollen is going in and I can see the heavily laden bees trying to make the alighting board and not always adjusting their flight in time! The front of the hive is free from bee poo which, if in any quantity, can be an indication of trouble. On the paving slab around the hive are a few corpses of worn-out worker bees who have done their best for the colony: this is a sight you do not see if your bee hives are on grass. The best sight to watch at the hive entrance is lots of bees taking their orientation flight. They fly facing the hive, zigzagging across the hive entrance and slowly moving further away.
The smoke by now will have circulated within the hive: it take less than a couple of minutes for the bees to fill their honey stomachs and any alarm pheromones released when you open up the hive will be masked by the smoke.
Bees orientating in front of one of David's hives
The roof is lifted off and turned upside down on the ground. As I have some supers on, the crown board is just loosened but not removed. Next, I place the hive tool into the corner between supers and gently lever the supers apart. Once free, I drift a little more smoke between the supers before lifting them off and placing across the upturned roof. The crown board is then taken off and placed on top of the second super which is still on the hive and the process repeated to expose the Queen Excluder.
Two things to bear in mind: you want the supers exposed as little as possible so as not to attract robbing, wasps, etc, and smoked honey will not taste good and you won’t get repeat customers!
Webmaster placing crown board on top of supers in the background
I give a couple of puffs over the QX to get the bees down onto the brood box ( if the bees are in the box they are not flying around bothering you). The QX is levered off, (a good tip is to twist slightly as you lift.) I check the QX for the Queen, then place it edge down with the inner facing side facing the hive, just in case I missed seeing the Queen.
With the dummy board removed and checked for the Queen I place it on the other side of the hive.
Inspecting the QE - just in case she is on there somewhere
So what am I looking for?
H. Home. (space)
V. Varroa (disease)
Have the bees enough room, are they increasing, are they healthy, are there eggs and larvae, do they have enough stores if the weather changes?
The first couple of frames were stores with plenty of pollen. The brood nest started next, with a just few capped cells near the middle and larvae around. As I check further in, the frames became full of brood with a small arc of pollen and Honey at the top. Where the brood comb had become damaged over time, the bees took the opportunity to adjust the cell size to take drone brood, a good sign the colony is progressing and a sign that they are getting in to a position to swarm later on. A few play cups were to be seen waiting for the Queen to lay in them and start a Queen cell, but after checking them all and finding no egg inside, I just continued to check through the rest of the frames. I then reassembled the hive and made a few notes as a reminder. (Hive notes are an important habit to acquire while everything is fresh in your mind.) This colony could be in a position to swarm in a few weeks once the the drone brood has emerged and matured.
By the time this appears on the blog I will have already completed my first swam control of the year on my largest colony.
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!
OBKA Tutor’s Blog #3 – A SUPER time of year
In light of the present warm spell and above average seasonal temperature on occasions, the spring flowers are out and a lot more nectar is available to be collected. The Queen will be stimulated by the extra feeding she is receiving and in turn will lay more eggs. Remember that a large healthy colony going into winter will be stronger in the spring and when the nectar flow starts will be in a prime position to expand quickly.
On looking through my hives in the out Apiary (keeping to social distancing guidelines, which is not usually a problem once the roof is off and the bees are out) one colony was further ahead of the rest with 8 frames of nearly full out brood. The remaining frames were full of Pollen and Honey giving the Queen nowhere to lay until more capped brood hatches. I removed a couple of frames of stores and replaced with some drawn-out frames, Giving the queen more space to lay, and the super above will ensure that the bees still have enough stores if the weather changes. The removed frames will go into store ready to put into a Nuc in a few weeks time.
All of my hives now have at least one super on, as the brood boxes frames are all drawn out and I don’t need the bees kept in the brood box to draw out more.
If you are keeping bees away from home you can always put a couple of extra supers on above the crown board (with the porter bee escape holes open). The bees will not use this extra space unless it’s needed and this is just in case you are unable to get to see them. Remember a full size colony can fill a super in a matter of days on a strong nectar flow.
OBKA Tutors Blog #2 – Bee Prepared
As I look out across the garden, 4 goldfinches are sitting happily on the feeder and a blue tit is inspecting our bird box, reminding me that nature runs on a different clock to our own. Things may have slowed down or stopped for us at the moment, but nature moves on relentlessly with one eye on the weather.
You only have to read some of the old beekeeping books and you will find references to doing tasks ‘when the currant is in flower’ or ‘when the red clover is out’ rather than on a particular date. It’s a good reminder that it’s better to do jobs ‘in time’ rather than ’on time.’
With this in mind, now is a good time to make a plan for this years beekeeping if you have not done so already. Certain events will happen. The bees will expand, the supers will go on and the bee may swarm.
Being ahead of the game in beekeeping is a pleasure: playing catch-up is a task. The bees are expanding now, and soon the Queen will be up to full laying rate. So check you equipment, make sure it is clean ready to use. (Suppliers are still fulfilling orders for home delivery and seem to have plenty of stock.) There is nothing worse than going to get a stored super out and finding it full of wax moth… believe me, I know!
When you purchased your hive it probably came with 2 supers, and in your first year, 2 supers may be enough. But in a good year with good stock you will need more. In the time it takes to remove, extract and return a super, the hive may become congested. The more space you can give your bees in late spring/early summer, the better. More space as the bees expand and undrawn foundation gives the nurse bees something to work on, and can help to delay the swarming tendency. So if you have the equipment, get it made up and ready to use. Some beekeepers like to put the foundation into the frames just before putting onto the hive so that the wax is fresh, but if you have a lot of frames to make up this become impossible. If they have been made up and waiting around for a while, the surface of the wax tends to dry out: running a hairdryer quickly over the surface will bring the oils back to the surface, making it more attractive to the bees. Remember it’s the nurse bees that draw most of the wax, and they need a good supply of feed and warmth. Bees will not draw out foundation if there is not a need for it.
So with your equipment clean, frames made up ready to go have you made a plan?
- What will you do if or when the bees swarm?
- Have you got the necessary gear to catch them with?
- Do you know how to catch them?
- Have you got spare equipment to keep them in?
- Are you going to keep them?
A few minutes of forward planning now may save a great deal of effort (and panic!) later.
OBKA Tutor’s Blog #1
This is the first in a regular series of blogs by the Tutor’s on the OBKA Beginners Course.
I have 3 colonies at home tucked into the bottom corner of the garden against a drystone wall on a patio area. Taking advantage of the recent warm days and sheltered area I complete my first inspection of the year – a health check on each hive. It is still early in the year and the brood can die if they get chilled. Be prepared: make very sure you know what you are looking for (see YouTube link below) and ‘bee’ quick! The best time to check is when it’s warm enough to wear a T-shirt (15 degrees plus). The temperature is far more important than the date of this first inspection.
No1 hive. Capped brood on 4/5 frames about half of each frame, building up, plenty of stores.
No2 hive. A little ahead of no1 with more capped brood. But the queen was unmarked, so they must have superseded in the autumn (new queen is a good size and a light golden colour). I had my marking kit out ready to go: it’s much easier to find the Queen and mark her now than later on when there are more bees.
No3 hive. Well there is always one! No BIAS (brood in all stages) No Queen, but one Queen cell capped, 3 drone larvae capped and alive.
What to do? The colony is a good size, but the Queen cell is not, so even if it’s viable and managed to get mated (with not many drones about and changeable weather) it may well be replaced later, leading to a another period of slow build up. With low numbers of bees through the season honey surplus will be low.
On the next warm day I will unite hive no3 with a Queen-right colony, which will then build up quickly and start bringing in a surplus. I can then split it later in the season when queen rearing is more viable. At the moment it’s important to make sure the bees have enough stores.
Useful Videos: Have a look at
First inspection by the Norfolk Honey Company: https://youtu.be/Ryki5pjawHA
Uniting two colonies: https://youtu.be/9c2q9CsarRg
If you have any questions resulting from this blog, or indeed just any beekeeping questions, head over to our Q&A page in the members area.
Thoughts on beekeeping equipment following ITB Fri 28 Feb….
If you attended out Introduction to Beekeeping session last night (Fri 28th Feb) you will recall the information on getting beekeeping equipment, hives, bees etc.
OBKA Beekeeping Improvers Course
For some time, OBKA has been mindful that we offer no training beyond our very successful Beginners Course. In view of this, and with the support of OBKA Trustees, a one day classroom based course has been developed aimed at people who have completed the Beginners Course, have had bees for a year or two and would like to increase their knowledge of beekeeping. This course, which is loosely based on BBKA training material, will be known as the OBKA Improvers Course.
The course will be delivered at Marlborough School, Woodstock. We will limit the course to 15 members and it will be an intensive one day session. Tea and Coffee will be provided, but you are asked to bring your own lunch.
The cost of the course will be £15, which covers the room hire fee. Participants will be asked to complete a detailed course feedback questionnaire to help us improve the course for the future. We plan to run the course once this spring but if there is sufficient demand, we will run a second session later in the year.
The course will be held on Saturday 28 March 2020 starting at 9.30.
For further details including how to apply and the course flyer please see the Members Area.
BBKA Basic Exam passes 2019
The BBKA Basic Assessment is a practical examination that covers basic beekeeping skills, including inspection of a colony, and a short oral examination covering a range of topics, including swarm control and basis disease identification and control. Congratulations to the following members who successful completed this assessment in 2019 (NB. All four passed with Credit):
Julia Colston, James Anthony Downs, Christine Melia and Tracye Jane Sharp.
We also offer congratulations to our Webmaster, Gary Thomas, who passed the Basic Assessment with Credit through his membership with Warwickshire BKA.
The assessment takes place in July or August and we normally offer one session of training before the assessment to familarise you with the process. If you are interested in doing the Basic Assessment in 2020, please contact Carl Goodman, firstname.lastname@example.org
We encourage all our members to attempt this assessment. The only requirement is that you have kept bees for one year. Further information can be found on the BBKA Qualifications section of this website.
Apiary visits Summer 2020
In summer we like to offer our members to opportunity to visit other members’ apiaries. We have had a couple of offers already but if you are interested in hosting such an event please contact Elly Pattullo. If you need to limit numbers or impose other conditions tell Elly and she will ensure your wishes are
Elly Pattullo via email@example.com