Show me the Honey !!!

They say ‘Time flies when you are having fun’. I also find the same true when you beekeep!

Once again the months have flown by and I not kept up with posts. Well it’s time for an update…

It all started in the first week of September on a cool Monday evening. It was the first monthly (Winter) meeting of my local BKA (Barnsley Bee Keepers Association). As well as the AGM we had, instead of a guest speaker, the Yorkshire Bee Keepers Association (YBKA) area representative Dave Shannon to give us an update on the upcoming education and training programs.

In addition to these details Dave also gave us a ‘heads-up’ on the Countryside Live event to be held 19th/20th October at the Great Yorkshire Show ground in Harrogate.

Countryside Live – YBKA Honey show

The YBKA Annual Honey show is part of this event and this year YBKA had also been asked to provide a honey tasting table and honey sales for the public. As chief steward Dave explained that they had enough volunteers this year for the show stewards but could do with 1-2 people more to help with the Honey tasting / sales.

To cut a long story short I decided to volunteer as I saw it as a good chance to help out and meet other beekeepers from Yorkshire and help educate the public about the importance of eating real local honey!

Dave suggested that as I would be there helping out I might as well enter the honey show. I have never really given much thought about entering honey shows before and didn’t really consider it ‘my thing’. I decided I might as well give it a go!

So jumping forward to Saturday 19th October, I had an early start to drive to Harrogate in time to submit my entries into the show and prepare myself to help out with the public honey tasting.

I had, in the end, entered 6 entries in 5 classes! The Yorkshireman in me didn’t see the point in paying the minimum entry fee of £6 (£1 / class entry) and entering less than 6!

Needless to say having only practiced a few times my Honey cake wasn’t anywhere near the best!

My serious entries were:-

2 jars in the Novice Class

2 jars in the Soft set honey Class

6 jars in the For Sale class (Jars labelled and presented ready for sale)

and to make the numbers up 2 separate entries in the Photographic competition.

Bearing in mind that the YBKA is the largest area Bee Keepers Association in the UK with 1600+ members I had hoped to gain some good comments / pointers regarding my exhibits from the show and maybe a placing with one of my photographs!

I was nervous when the judging started but soon forgot about it whilst keeping busy convincing members of the public to try some of the 14 varieties of honey we had on the tasting table!

It was only later that I found out the results. The blood drained from my head and I started to feel dizzy as I went round the exhibit tables.

I had taken 1st prize for one of my photos!!!!

First place in Photographic class

On top of that I had also taken 1st prize for ‘2 jars of soft set honey’!

First placing in 2 jars of Soft set Honey

I didn’t think it could get any better, it being my first ever honey show and I had won 2 of the classes until I came to the table containing the ‘6 Jars for sale’ class. Not only had I taken 1st prize but my exhibit had been given Supreme Champion (Best exhibit in all classes)!

First place and Supreme Champion (Best Exhibit in all classes in show) for my entry in the ‘6 Jars for sale’ class

In effect I had won the top prize in the whole show. I was unable to think never mind speak as  some of the other beekeepers congratulated me.

I  was presented with the ‘Coutryside Live 2013 Champion’ engraved pewter tankard and Blue Ribbon award (BBKA / National Honey Show). Afterwards I was interviewed by a reporter from the Yorkshire Post and needless to say the rest of the day and the following day I had a permanent grin on my face!

The moral of my story is that it really doesn’t hurt to enter a honey show as you never know what might happen. Don’t assume that the same group of experienced beekeepers always win the prizes.

Back in the real world my hives are all prepared for winter with only a little feeding required as most had plenty of stores in the brood boxes and besides adding top insulation and strapping them all down I will just visit the apiaries occasionally, especially after strong winds, to check the hives are upright and there is no damage.

Although this marks an end to the ‘active’ beekeeping season it marks the start of planning and preparation for next year.

Equipment has to be maintained / repaired / built. Any new purchases have to be made / assembled.

It is also a time when it is perfect temperature for making my ‘award winning’ soft set honey. It needs the cooler temperatures for the setting process.

I will finish this post with the photo that gained me First in the photographic class.

Each year the fields around my hives turn yellow with Oil Seed Rape flowers which signal a time of plentiful nectar and rapid colony expansion.

Posted in 2013, Countryside Live, General, Shows | 7 Comments

48hrs in a day, Please!

It seems so long since I wrote my last post but I literally have just had no time to write an update! Between working, beekeeping and other activities I feel like I need more hours in the day at the moment. On the beekeeping side, all of my hives are doing pretty well. I have lost a couple of swarms and one hive seems to have swarmed / re-queened without me even noticing! The fantastic sunny, hot weather certainly has had a lot to do with it. After the initial (Autumn sown) Oil Seed Rape (OSR) had finished I thought things would settle down and the bees would collect nectar and fill supers at a slower pace but then I saw more Yellow!

Yet more OSR!

A closer look revealed that the field just over the road from one of my apiaries is Spring sown OSR that had just come into flower!

Flowering Spring sown OSR

So rather than the bees slowing down in filling supers they were yet again filling supers at lightning speed. So the hives began to grow in height / size again. The two nucleus hives that I started during the my first round of demaree manipulations had a 50:50 success rate.

Successful Nucleus hive

One has a great queen that was laying a lovely brood pattern and expanded fast so was transferred to a full size hive.

Transferred into full size hive

Since the above photo was taken they have expanded and brought in enough stores so that I have already had to add a super! The other nucleus turned out to have an unmated queen laying drone brood only and was shaken out in the field in front of the other hives so that the worker bees would join one of the existing hives. In the hives that haven’t swarmed and have been demareed at least twice, the colonies have become very big!

Large coloney

Large colonies, if you can prevent them swarming, require large amounts of space and when there is a decent nectar flow they can fill supers really fast as I have found out!

Hive on double brood with 4 supers

As the supers fill it is essential that new supers are added to give the bees space to store and process incoming nectar. I have taken the decision on most of my large colonies to goto double brood in an attempt to give the queens enough space to lay and allow the bees more room to store some nectar before it is, hopefully, moved into the supers. It has become a waiting game as the bees filled more and more supers but none of the honey was capped and frames, when tested with the shake test, dripped too much nectar to consider extracting!

1st hive to have 5 supers!

The shelves full of supers in my store room, that I considered at the start of the year to be more than enough, were emptying fast! Yet more of the yellow fields had appeared between two of my apiaries!

More Spring sown OSR

One good point is that I currently have an apprentice. A colleague who is thinking about becoming a bee keeper himself and finds time to accompany me on some of the inspections and it really helps when lifting the heavy supers!

Ian next to another 5 super hive

Just for reference Ian is 5’9″ tall and we have reversed the supers with the full ones on top ready for clearing and extraction so the top 3 supers weight 15-20kgs each! I will not say I was starting to panic but I was starting to consider plan B or even C,D,E in terms of how I would manage if I ran out of equipment! Then I decided to check a few supers on a couple of hives after work just a few nights ago and found that finally the bees were busy capping the full supers!

Almost fully capped frame of honey!

What a beautiful sight it was and with relief I have started to plan a long weekend of clearing supers / extracting and replacing them back on the hives. Also, probably due to the extremely good and hot weather we have had, the Spring sown OSR has already gone over.

OSR finished flowering

As for the hives that lost a swarm all now have laying queens and fingers crossed they are properly mated. In at least one case the Queen was mated within just a few days of emergence and is already laying before the sealed brood from the previous queen has hatched!

Besides all of the normal inspections and adding supers I have also collected one swarm after receiving a call from a public house. The swarm was hanging under the end of a table in a children’s play area. Unfortunately they could not get hold of a local (Doncaster) beekeeper willing to collect it and in the end I drove a 70mile round trip!

Swarm at a Pub

I hope Doncaster BKA can sort out some swarm collectors as I have had more than one phone call from that area now! The swarm is now resident in my isolation apiray (otherwise known as my back garden) and will stay there until I can inspect it and be sure it is clear of disease. On the subject of my back garden (not a very large one) I have yet again found a great excuse for not cutting the lawn and providing a mini-meadow of flowering plants for pollinators! Following on from the success of last year, we have seen a succession of flowering plants including dandelion, white clover, daisies, buttercups and meadow vetch become alive with lots of bumblebees and butterflies.

My very own mini meadow

You can just about see the poly nuc hidden by the tall grasses. I have also become a Bumblebee keeper! I often get calls from members of the public that have found my number from my own website regarding bees swarming round the gable end of houses or bird nest boxes. After asking a few questions I can usually determine that they are bumblebees and I am usually able to convince the people just to leave them where they are as they will be gone by the end of Autumn. In one case of bumbles in a bird nesting box the couple were concerned by the numbers they had seen and their young daughter and asked if there was any way for them to be removed as they did not want to get a pest controller to kill them. In the end for the cost of some petrol money I carefully removed the nesting box from their wall at night and it now resides on the back fence on my garden! Now a few photos of bees foraging on plants that I have noticed recently.

Cat mint

There are two bushes of Cat Mint in my mothers garden that are at present alive with all kinds of bees every time I walk past.

Bumblebee on Meadow Vetch

Not sure what the next plant is but the bees seem to like it!

Another favorite with the bees

Blackberry flowers

Finally to finish my post, I ask the question “How far has your honey travelled?” By special request I have recently sent a jar with a work colleague to Japan for his wife!

My Honey in Tokyo!

Does this qualify me as an international exporter???

Posted in 2013, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Equipment, Hives, Queen, Sealed brood, Swarm, Workers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two becomes One

As the weather wasn’t best for beekeeping the last weekend I was very happy that I had got ahead of my schedule with inspections during any weekday evening that was sunny and warm!

Hive with 2 supers ready to be removed

On Saturday I did remove 2 supers from the Poly hive in the upper apiary and staggered down the field to my car with them!

One of them weighed in at just under 12 kgs in the other one just over 13 kgs!

Unfortunately I had assumed that both were ready for extraction after only checking the upper super (which was added after the lower one)! When I got to my extraction room I found that the lower supper was unfortunately not quite ready and so I ended up carrying that one back up the field and placing back on the hive later!

Frame of partially capped honey before uncapping for extraction

The one that was ready for extraction weighed 13.15 kgs before extraction and 3.85 kgs after! This is a Poly box including the frames and empty comb. So that makes a difference of 9.30 kgs. The actual amount of Honey that was extracted and stored after filtering in the bucket was 8.60 kgs.

Closeup of the comb after extraction

Just another note that the SN1 frames (shallow super) were spaced with normal plastic spacers with 10 in the super. One end frame only contained a little nectar and I didn’t bother extracting it.

The difference of 0.7 kgs is down to the wax cappings mainly and the very small amount of honey that is lost during the extraction process either left in the extractor or in the sieves / strainers.

Now I normally wouldn’t bother with the setting up of the extraction room and cleaning down afterwards just to extract one super but I had originally planned on two.

Hive with the super replaced that was not ready for extraction

There are a few more supers that are almost ready and I am hoping to get these extracted over the next week or so, so that I am pretty sure all OSR honey is out of the supers and I can then let the bees get on with collecting honey from other sources.

Sunday brought high winds and rain showers so the only beekeeping that I managed was a quick combine of two weaker colonies. One had started to advance but the other seemed to be going backwards so it was time to remove that queen and combine!

Finally for those that were interested in the final photo in my last post!

I recently purchased a Solar wax extractor and have been busy, when we had enough sun, melting down old brood comb and all the bits of wax that I have collected during inspections over the last few years.

Solar wax extractor loaded up ready

Although it does need a good sunny position and good weather!

After a good sunny day all that is left

When I removed the big wax block one evening it was very sticky with residual honey that must have been left over in some of the comb.

Wax block left after melting down the old combs

As soon  as I had managed to get the block out of the collecting tin then a single honey bee arrived and buzzed around me before settling on the block of wax.

Honey bee eating the honey coating the wax block

I stood and watched for a minute and then started taking photos whilst it feasted on the sweet sticky coating. Only after it had had enough and flew off did I wash the wax block and store it with the others!

Posted in 2013, Apiary 4, Bees, Equipment, Hives, Queen | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A long weekend with my bees and the extractor

“There’s gold in them thar Hills Hives !”

How my hives looked on Friday

As the field of OSR that my hives are next to has  gone over (finished flowering) and turned from bright yellow to a shade of green  it was time to check and extract the honey from the hives before any of it crystallizes and sets rock solid in the comb.

OSR has all but finished flowering in this field

So it all started early Friday morning for me with a couple of hours beekeeping before work!

I had to add a new super to each hive, for space and something for the bees to work in, whilst I put the other three supers that were on each hive above a clearer board. Just to complicate things, three of the hives also still had top brood boxes (BB) above a division board after a demaree!

It all looked very tall and almost impressive until I wondered how I was going to shift so many boxes for extraction!

Come Saturday morning and I had a cunning plan!

The problem with plans is that they can always go wrong! I hadn’t checked the new porter bee escapes when I added them to the clearer boards.

It is ESSENTIAL that the spring gap is set so that the ends are accurately 3 mm apart and the springs are central between the top and bottom plates.’¹

So on three of the five hives the supers were still full of bees! Plan B and I removed the four supers from the other two hives that were almost empty of bees besides a few stragglers. I then attempted to encourage the bees to leave one of the other supers with a puff of smoke and some removal of frames and shaking of bees off of them. I managed to clear one super but it was hard work and taking too much time.

So I decided to swap the top BB below the supers. add another clearer board to each hive and come back later to see if it was working.

A load of full supers in the back of my vehicle.

With the supers loaded into the back of my car I set off to extract them.

I use an electric powered 9 frame radial extractor that I purchased a couple of years ago from Maisemores at the BBKA Spring convention.

Empty clean extractor before starting

Then of course it was a case of wheeling in the supers and uncapping any frames that needed it (not too many in this case) and putting the frames into the extractor.

Supers ready to be harvested

As the majority of this honey is from OSR and it is important to judge the right time to take the supers off and extract, when the honey has reached a low enough percentage of water content but before the honey starts to crystallize in the comb, I performed a shake test on each and every frame (over the sink!) before deciding if the frame was ready for extraction.

Fully loaded extractor

The other important factor in using an extractor, especially a larger motorized one, is to make sure that, as much as possible. the frames are balanced by weight around the extractor. Once it starts to spin and gain speed you will know very soon if it is not balanced as it will try to dance around the room!

Honey dripping from the farmes

I try to be as efficient as possible in that as soon as I up-cap a frame I place it straight into extractor as it often starts to drip honey.

Also it is worth mentioning that honey extraction can be a very messy job and honey / wax does not come easily out of fabric / carpets. I use some clean dust sheets to cover the floor and clean down all surfaces I am using before and after extraction!

Now most frames in a super should look something like this (Pic from 2011)

Fame full of honey but not yet capped

You may have a certain amount of honey that is already capped if you are lucky.

Partially capped frame of honey

However what I had not expected to find in a super frame was this

Super frame with queen cells!

I have encountered some brood, namely drones laid in super frames before and when I asked online, have been told that in any hive there will always be a few laying workers. These workers can only lay unfertilized eggs and therefore they all turns into drones.

I have never seen queen cells on a super frame! I double checked the hive that the super was from and confirmed the marked Queen was still present in the brood box so I will mark this down to experience.

Yes the cells that were sealed did contain larvae!

Anyway back to the extraction and after some hard work un-capping the frames and extracting I always love the moment that I open the honey valve on the extractor the first time.

Honey flowing from the extractor into the coarse sieve / bucket.

I like to run the honey straight from the extractor through a coarse sieve to get rid of most of the larger particles of wax and any other bits before tipping it through a double strainer into the bucket it will be stored in.

Honey dripping from the double strainer

Once strained the honey will now be left to settle in the sealed buckets where it will solidify over the next month or so before I can then create soft set honey from it.

Honey in it’s storage bucket

With the extraction part of the process over and the cleanup afterwards the last thing left to do was to replace some of the supers back on their hives for the bees to clean them up and hopefully refill them!

Extracted supers placed back on the hives

That was Saturday done with and I then repeated the process again with the remaining supers on the Sunday!

A lot of hard work but very rewarding to have taken the first honey harvest of this year.

I’ll finish this mammoth post with an interesting photo I took, see if anybody can guess what is happening / the circumstances?

Mystery shot

¹David A. Cushman –

Posted in 2013, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Drones, Eggs, Equipment, Hives, Lavae, Queen cells | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Demaree vs swarm 4-1 + 2 more

Last time I wrote about carrying out the Demaree manipulation on my five strongest hives. This is the progress so far on those hives.

I took a day off work last Friday as it was a glorious weather and I wanted to get started with my hive inspections. Of the five hives that I Demareed four seem to have worked ok and one (the Poly hive that I had found a couple of charged queen cells in before the Demaree) still seemed intent on swarming!

Poly hive during demaree

I have made two nucleus colonies from two of the hives, selecting a nice queen cell and taking another one to two frames of brood and two frames of food and placing them into Poly Nucs. All these frames came from the top (Demareed) box on the hives and I just replaced the frames with frames of foundation.

Poly Nuc hive

On checking the bottom brood boxes on those hives, four of them were doing well with no signs of queen cells. The Poly hive however had several more charged (containing a bed of royal jelly with a lava) queen cells! So it seems that I hadn’t quite got them timing right on the demaree for this hive.

I have now removed the queen and two frames of brood + two frames of food to another Poly Nuc and moved that to another apiary! I then carefully inspected the remaining frames and left just one good open queen cell. I also decided to remove one of the two brood boxes as all of the frames containing brood / food fit into one brood box and I would rather the bees fill the supers with honey than the second brood box!

Poly hive after aborted demaree + Poly Nuc

The good news from that Poly hive is that at least one of the supers is almost ready to take off and extract.

Bees capping honey frame with white wax cappings

If you compare the above photo with the one below you can see the progress the bees have made in capping the honey in just 3 days!

Frame 2/3rds capped

So with any luck there will be some supers of honey to take off and extract soon.

A week later and the four demareed hives seem to be fine, they have between 4 and 8 frames of new brood in the new bottom brood box and the brood in the upper box is hatching out.

4 Demareed hives

The only side effect is that the top box tends to fill up with honey as the brood hatches but I can live with that!

The queen that I removed from the Poly hive and placed in a Poly Nuc went from 2 frames of brood to 4 in just a couple of days so I am really happy to have kept the queen and have now transferred that colony into a full size Poly hive.

Of my other hives I have now demareed 2 more in the other apiary and some of the weaker / slower to build up hives have finally started to fill out fast.

Another Poly hive in a different apiary now being demareed

A lot of the supers that I have on the strong hives are filling fast and as I said will hopefully be ready to extract soon! As they contained mainly honey from OSR it is important to remove and extract them before the honey crystallizes in the comb!

Bees busy capping honey with wax

It is certainly a very busy time for me at the moment!

Busy hive entrance

To finish off a couple of closeup shots of bees.

Bee covered in pollen

Bee’ing watched!

One very last thing, I had a very nice email from one of the blog readers asking if I would write a post on a specific subject, which I am now planning to do. If anyone else that reads this blog would like me to cover a subject, that I know about, let me know either by a comment or email and I will try my best to include it.

Happy beekeeping.

Posted in 2013, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Equipment, Hives, Queen, Queen cells, Sealed brood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

D-Day for the strong hives.

It was D-Day for the strongest of my hives on Saturday.

D being for Demaree, the swarm prevention (or at least delay) method that I currently use. The strongest of my hives (five in total) in the field apiary that has OSR (Oil Seed Rape) planted in it this year got to the point that I believe they would start to think / prepare to swarm over the next week or so. In fact I found two charged queen cells (still fairly fresh) in one of the five colonies.

So with my car loaded up with the equipment I needed I headed out to the field just after midday to begin.

Polyhive on double brood + 2 supers prior to Demaree

Two of the colonies were still on double brood (2 national deep brood boxes) and for these two colonies it was simply a case of finding the queen and moving her to the bottom of the two brood boxes. In both cases she was fairly easy to find (mainly because earlier in the season I had marked all my queens) as she was on only the 3rd or 4th frame in.

Upper brood box getting pretty full

Once found I put the frame she was on in a Polynuc and put the lid on for safety as I moved the top brood box to one side and checked all the frames in the lower brood box for any queen cells and to see what the frames contained. Satisfied that there was plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs I then put the frame the queen was on into the lower brood box (after checking that there were no queen cells on that frame!). The queen excluder went on top of this then the honey supers and then my demaree board and the original brood box on top. Next the task of checking all of the frames in this top brood box and removing any signs of queen cells.

Polyhive after Demaree with 1 brood box above supers + demaree board

The demaree boards, I made myself, are a crownboard with a section of queen excluder cut to size and covering the feed hole(s) with a entrance cut into the side of the board that allow bees from the upper brood box to exit / enter.

Rear entry / exit on demaree board

The theory is that the queen, now in the bottom brood box with 11 frames of drawn comb in which to lay will have plenty of room to lay as fast as she wants and therefore the bees will not be inclined to start swarming. In the meantime the brood in the top brood box will hatch out over the next three weeks and as the brood reduces in this top box the nurse bees will move down to look after the new brood in the bottom brood box. The foraging bees will leave the top box to forage but return to the bottom box as that is the entrance they know.

Busy skies around the hives

If you get the timing right and the weather is good and there is a decent flow happening, the number of bees in that colony will increase rapidly and the supers will fill up!

Supers are filling up!

After 3-4 days the top brood box will need inspecting again and at this point thee will be queen cells drawn as the bees are separated by enough distance from the queen to feel that they have no queen! At this point you have a choice of making up Nucs with the best looking queen cells or removing them all.

For the other 3 colonies in that apiary I had prepared a 2nd brood box with 10 frames of drawn comb and 1 frame of foundation (as this is swapped with the frame the queen is on).

The procedure is the same except obviously once the queen is located and put into the Nuc, the original brood box is removed from the floor and moved to one side and replaced with the brood box with drawn comb.

The other advantage of this procedure is that you can remove any old comb / frames that you want to after all the brood is hatched. I was told by a more experienced beekeeper that it is important that most if not all of the frames in the new brood box as already drawn as if most s foundation the queen will have nowhere to lay and the bees could swarm anyway!

Calm bees

A few hours work later and all five colonies were done. I must say that in 18+ degs. with sunshine, blue sky, little wind and the nectar flow from the OSR all of the colonies were very easy to work on. I almost didn’t need to use the smoker at all.

Hives after the Demaree procedure

With the good weather comes another important resource the bees need. Water! Bees use water in many different ways but when there is not a natural supply nearby it is important to give the bees some.

I use possibly one of the simplest water sources I can think of.

Bee water station

An old (preferably black) bucket into which I put a piece of stone. The stone weighs the bucket down in high winds and gives the bees something to land on to take the water. The reason for the bucket being black and another reason for the stone is to heat the water from the sun so that it is not so cold for the bees to take. The other advantage is that if it rains it should refill the bucket by itself!

Bees drinking water

Finally I was very happy to see that all of these colonies are filling the two supers they have on. At the rate they are going they will need a 3rd super next weekend (if the weather holds).

A bee on OSR

Posted in 2013, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Equipment, Hives, Queen, Queen cells, Swarm, Workers | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Non-Beekeeping Saturday – How to assemble a flat pack Super

I am currently sat inside watching as the temperature hovers around 11 degrees celcius outside with alternating bright spells and showers. Definitely NOT weather to go beekeeping. I have one apiary that I really want to check and will rush off if the weather improves as I suspect that some hives may need another super.

In the meantime I thought I would write about how I build some hives parts starting with a super.

First I should say that I would love to have the time / skill and equipment to be able to make my hive parts from scratch but I don’t!

The next most satisfying for me is to buy the parts in flat pack for self assembly, it is also a lot cheaper than buying them ready made. I would say it is relatively simple, needing just a few tools, a place to work and the time. When I first started to buy and assemble hive parts I wasn’t 100% sure and did make some mistakes so just in case anyone reading this blog hasn’t tried it and would like to know how I will document my method.

First of all a bit of a disclaimer, I say ‘my method’ as always in beekeeping there are different ways to achieve the same result and it comes down to personal preference. For example a lot of the flat pack parts (supers / brood boxes) are supplied with all the nails required for assembly. I do NOT use any of them as I prefer to glue + screw my boxes.

The main reason for this is that I am not a confident hammer user and I believe screws hold the boxes together longer.

Enough of the pre-talk onto the method I use!

This is a typical flat pack super + the castellated spacing strips that I personally use in my supers. (If you don’t use or intend to use castellated spacing then I will talk about that later)

A Flatpack super + castellated spacers

As well as a flat clear work space large enough for an assembled super I use the following tools.

The tools I use

  • Wooden mallet
  • Exterior (waterproof) Wood adhesive
  • No.4 x 40mm Wood screws
  • No.4 x 50mm Wood screws
  • A drill (with suitable sized bit for the screws)
  • A screw driver (I use, for ease / speed a 2nd electric drill with cross-head screwdriver bit.)
  • A small hammer (*I only use this for the castellated spacers*)

Once unpacked the flat pack super should consist of the following elements:-

2 x Side sections with slots cut for the joints with the rails.

Side sections

2 x Front / back sections

Front / back sections

4 x Rails (2 top + 2 bottom)


The difference between a top rail and bottom rail is that the bottom rails have one face that is slanted. This faces the outside so that rain will run off the box rather than the top rail which has a more square cross section.

After un-packing the bits it is worth the time to check for any loose pieces of wood that want trimming off with a knife or any bits that may need a bit of a rub down with sand paper.

The next step is to start assembly by selecting one of the side section (both are identical . I generally check all the parts and decide before hand which way up I prefer to assemble the side sections and which side of the front and back sections I want to face outside, The main reason is that I generally buy 2nd’s (2nd quality hive parts) in the sales and sometimes they have a knot or other imperfection that I prefer to be on the bottom or facing inside away from the weather.

After having selected one of the side sections and decided which way up you would like it the next step is to apply some glue to the top of the slots where you will mate the rails.

Glued applied to side section slots

Note I have laid the piece on some paper towel as when the joints are made some glue will be squeezed out!

Also I try to apply the glue at the top of the slots where the rails will slot into so that as they are pushed in the glue will be spread down the joint.

Next taking one of the rails, in this case a top rail, push it home into the slot. I find sometimes you can push them in but most of the time I use the wood mallet to make sure it’s firmly in place and also give it a tap on the side to make sure it is fully mated into the joint in both directions!

Top rail slotted into place.

Then repeat the above procedure with the bottom rail.

Top and bottom rail in place

*You can see in the above picture the bottom rail (on the left) has the sloping surface facing the top rail (left to right in the pic)*

So now you have the first 2 rails slotted into the slots with glue in the joints and it should look like this.

2 rails slotted into one side

Next I should mention the most important tool that I missed from the list above!

Very important

A set square for checking 90 degree right angles!

Next we need to check that the rails are square (at 90 degs.) to the side section.

Checking the joint is square

Normally it’s not 1st time so it is easy to move the rail gently in or out until it is exactly square to the side section.

Rail is square (90 degs) to the side section

Do this for both rails and only when you are happy proceed further.

Next you can gently turn the parts upright and rest them on the work surface with the rails facing you as below.

Ready for drilling and screwing

Carefully drill 2 holes through the rail into the side section as below

Holes drilled

It is important to drill straight (vertically and horizontally) and I generally drill deep enough for the longer of the screws I use for assembly (50mm).

Then screw in the 50mm screws into the 2 holes you have just drilled.

Screws through the rail into the side section

The screws are counter sunk and care should be taken to screw them in just enough that the heads are flush (level) with the surface. If you go too far or too fast it tends to splinter the surface of the wood!

Once this is done turn it back onto the side section and repeat the process with the other 2 rails and you should end up with this.

All 4 rails attached to one side section

At this point check again all the joints are square and gently adjust any that are not.

Another shot showing the rails attached.

4 rails attached to side section

In the above you can see the upper rails have a rebate cut on their inside where the super frames rest and the bottom rails have the slanted surface facing outwards.

It’s time to attach the 2nd side piece, so turning the 1st side piece with the rails attached so that the rails point up in the air I then apply glue to all the mating surfaces of the rails that will go into the joints with the other side piece.

Glue applied to the mating surfaces

After applying the glue rest the 2nd side section onto of the rails and align as best you can the rails to the slots.

2nd side section aligned with rails

It is now a case of using the wood mallet to gently tap the side section down onto the rails whilst holding them in the right position. I find it easier to start at one side and get 2 of the rails started and then start the other 2 and then go round all 4 in rotation until the side section is firmly mated with all 4 rails. Don’t forget to tap them from the side to make sure they are fully in place!

It should now look like this.

2nd side section mated with all 4 rails

Repeat the process of drilling and screwing the rails to the side section as you performed with the first side section and it now looks like this.

2 side sections and 4 rails all attached

Again check all four corners are square.

Checking for squareness

If you find corners are not square you can usually adjust them by squeezing gently of diagonal corners across the box.

Once you are happy that all four corners are square I then drill and screw the side sections to the rails.

Side sections screwed to rails

So far you have used 4 of the 50mm screws at each corner of the box.

Again check the corners are square and now you can wipe off any excess glue with paper towels or a damp cloth.

Excess glue

You do not have to remove all the glue as that left around the joints will dry and act as a weatherproof seal.

Glue sealing the joint

Now I slot in the front and back board by locating it into the rebates (slots) cut into the side sections and pushing it down. Generally I use the mallet for this as most of the time it is a tight fit!

slotting in a front / back section

Now depending on whether you are using castellated spacers or runners and whether you use top or bottom bee space will dictate how far down you hammer / push the section.

In this example I am using castellated spacers so I line the front / back section up with the lip on the inside of the top rail.

Front / back section in place

Repeat this for the opposite end and then the super should look like this.

Super box with front / back sections in place

Turning the box on its side I drill 6 holes (not too deep) through the front / back sections into the top /bottom rails (3 top and 3 bottom).

6 holes drilled through the front / back section into the rails

They don’t have to be in a specific place, I generally space them roughly equally along the length of the section and just ensure that they go through into the front / back sections.

Into these holes I screw the shorter (40mm) screws.

40mm screws through the front / back section into the rails

I like the heads of these screws to be just below the surface of the wood so that when you come to scrape the inside of the box clean from any wax / propolis, the hive tool / paint scraper does not catch on a screw head.

Screws heads driven just below surface

Now the main construction of the super is completed, I check one final time that all the corners are still square.

Woodwork completed

At this point I will explain how I fit castellated spacers. Also for the purpose of this post the castellated spacers are a little to long for the wide of the box. This I believe depends on the supplier of the different parts and whether the super is a first or second quality!

Anyway there are various solutions for fitting them and I will describe the method I am currently using.

Taking one of the castellated spacer place it inside face of the front section and you will find it will fit when you use the rebates cut on the inside of the side sections.

Initially lining up the castellated spacer

Once you have the strip centered use the small hammer to hammer it down the side of the front section repeating the process on the other side of the castellated strip.

Castellated strip being hammered into place

As I am using bottom bee space on this super I hammer the castellated spacer down until the top of it is flush with the top of the super.

Lining up the castellated spacer with the top edge of the box

When you have done this on both side you will see that the spacer is bowed in the middle.

Castellated spacer bowed

Don’t worry about this! Turn the box back on its side and using small nails you can secure the spacer strip flat along the wood section. Start in the center and just push the strip flat and nail it to the wood with a suitable small nail. Working out from the center until all the pre-punched nail holes are used you should find the strip is now pretty flat against the front of the super.

Castellated strip nailed in place

At any point before you can use a spare super frame to check that the strips are at the right height for your bee space convention.

Checking the height of the castellated strip

And now you have a finished super!

Finished super

I then treat my supers with my preferred wood stain / protection. Giving them several coats to protect them from the weather!

Painted Super

Like anything with practice it gets easier. It takes me approx 30mins to complete a super now.

Stack of supers waiting to be painted

One final point is as I said at the start of the post, this is my own personal method and I am sure other beekeepers have theirs and their own opinions on if I am doing it right or not!

I thought this may be of help to someone, apologies for the extremely long post!

Posted in 2013, Equipment, General, Hives | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

A very busy Bank Holiday Monday – Updated

With the great weather over the weekend I was able to get round to full inspections on my hives and catch up with the tasks I wanted to perform including cleaning the rest of the floors on the hives and marking all the queens.

As I mentioned in my last post the hives in the apiary on the field of OSR have now leapfrogged ahead of the other apiaries and are already storing nectar in their supers!

I personally believe that a stock of drawn comb, brood or super, is like gold dust!

A drawn super comb

In the picture above you see one of the super combs drawn out by the bees last year and after extraction it was given back to the bees to clean up before storage over winter.

Depending on which book / reference you read it takes approx 6-9 lbs of honey for bees to produce 1 lb of wax so you can easily imagine that when the bees don’t have to drawn the combs out before filling them this greatly increases your honey crop potential.

Over the last two years I have slowly but surely built up a stock of drawn comb and now the art is maintaining that stock by knowing when the best time of year is to get the bees to draw out new comb and when to replace old comb.

Comb in supers can be used for several years so long as it is maintained and stored properly over winter. In fact I have some frames of comb in my supers that I inherited from my father and only retire them when the wooden frames finally break!

Brood comb needs changing more often for hygiene to prevent disease buildup or increased doses of pesticides building up in the hive.


Also in brood comb when a new bee hatches it leaves behind a very small lining in the cell from its cocoon and if the cell is used too many times the bees will eventually become smaller as the cell gets smaller!

I have now read from a professional beekeeper that says the above is actually a myth and that they had previously comb that had been used for brooding for 50+ years prior to having to refresh comb due to disease protection etc.

In my experience the bees eventually make a mess of brood comb by changing cells to hatch drones or chewing holes in the wax and / or adding queen cells.

I was once told by a very experienced keeper that a good large swarm is one of the best comb building machines! By this he meant that a swarm are expecting to build new comb as soon as they find a new home. I can say that last year one swarm I housed in a 6 frame polynuc (during the OSR flow) was drawing out full brood frames from foundation in a matter of days. So much so that I was having to replace 2 frames each time I inspected as they had not only drawn the frames out but filled and capped them with honey and there was no space fo the queen to lays eggs!

Bees don’t drawn comb out for fun! They drawn it out when they require the space, either for the queen to lay eggs in or for storage of nectar and pollen. So a good strong nectar flow is ideal.

Back to my Bank Holiday beekeeping and as I mentioned the OSR field is getting more and more yellow each time I visit.

Bee on OSR

You would think it would be easy to photograph bees on OSR, believe me it took me quite  few attempts!

The bees seem to realise that the combination of good weather and OSR flowering is time limited and I swear they work faster than at any other time in the year.

Nectar starting to be stored in the super

In the above photo you can just see the reflection on the surface of the nectar that the bees are starting to store in this frame from the super.

In general all 5 hives are already working the 1st supers that were added just 2-3 days before!

Having seen the weather forecast for the rest of this week I hope that the rain we get helps as the fields are extremely dry at the moment and hopefully the OSR will give more nectar if there is some rain.

As I mentioned I managed to find and mark / re-mark all the queens in my hives. I still have a couple of queens from 2011 going strong in the hives which needed re-marking as most of the paint had worn off. The rest of the hives all have 2012 queens which had never been marked. It’s a lot easier to find and mark queens at the start of the year as there are physically a lot less bees on the frames to look through. Marking them now should make it a lot easier when it comes to swarm prevention manipulations in a few weeks time!

Speaking of which I saw the drones that have hatched out in the hives. Still only a few per hive but I expect the number to increase now the flow has come.

I am happy to say that the weaker colonies are now starting to slowly buildup and with luck there will be no more dead hives this year. Across the 10 hives I currently have the amount of growth (measured by the increase in brood) varies greatly between hives with some having doubled their brood nest since last inspection whilst others have just a small increase.

Finally for this post I hope that we have a great summer ahead of us, as well as the OSR flowering (I know that not everyone has some near their bees) there seems to be a lot of plants coming in to bloom in quick succession including Hawthorne,  Apple and Dandelion.

Another bee collecting pollen from OSR

Posted in 2013, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Drones, Eggs, Lavae, Queen, Sealed brood | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spring short-shifted into Summer.

It seems like we have had a very short Spring time this year, later than normal, and now the temperatures are rising and it may be the start of Summer already.

At least that is what it feels like looking at my colonies.

Due to the weather and various other reasons I have only really inspected my colonies once so far this year. With the majority of the ones surviving looking like they are building up fine and the 3 weaker colonies looking like they will survive but will not be large anytime soon.

I had planned to try and get organised with Queen marking and tidying up the hives before it was time to put supers on or even think about swarm prevention!

And then we have a few days of sunshine and warmer temps and this happens!

Yellow peril time

OSR (Oil Seed Rape)

Yes the field of OSR (Oil Seed Rape) is starting to flower and when I visited the hives that are at the edge of this field they were working the flowers for pollen and nectar like crazy!

So my best laid plans of being organised went out of the window and I have now put supers on the hives at this apiary.

Even though I hadn’t done a second inspection to determine exactly how much brood they have I am pretty sure they are ready / need the space of a super as each crown board had brace comb built between it and the tops of the frames containing mainly honey and unfortunately in one hives case some brood!

Brace comb built on the underneath of the Crown board

This to me is a definite sign that they are ready for a super!

The queen marking will have to wait for the next full inspection, as will checking the brood levels. There are also a few mixed frame hives that were left over from late combinations last year.

Mixed frames and brace comb

In the above picture you can see that I had to use both DN1 (with plastic spacers) and DN4 (self spacing) brood frames after I combined a 6 frame nucleus with another colony late last year! This is also a colony that had built the brace comb on top of the frames.

So after last nights urgent activity my apiary looks like this.

Supered Hives

And not forgetting the Poly Hive

Poly Hive on double brood + 1 Super

Just as I was about to leave the sun came out one last time and I paused to watch the bees foraging and take a few photos.

Closeup of a bee

Finally I hope any beekeepers reading my blog / diary have a good beekeeping bank holiday weekend! I have lots of beekeeping planned myself!

Posted in 2013, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Eggs, Equipment, Hives, Lavae, Queen | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring is finally here and it’s time to get busy!

It has been a long drawn out winter and even when we thought it was over. along came a surprise in the form of last big snow fall or at least snow drift!

Hard going getting to the Out Apiary

Even just getting to one of my out apiaries was not so easy and these photo’s are from a week after the snow first arrived!

Hives in the snow

Half buried

Obviously at the height of the snow drifts I can only imagine that most of my hives in this apiary were in fact buried.

Jumping ahead a few weeks we have seen the temperature finally rise and the bees start to become more active. I have still been maintaining my weekly checks to ensure that the hives had some Neopol left as emergency food and that they are intact and upright with the strong winds we have had the last couple of weeks.

On one inspection I was pleased to observe how busy one hive was until I realised that the hive in question was a ‘deadout’ that had dwindled and I had turned the entrance block round on a previous visit to seal the hive! It seems the windy weather had blown the entrance block out and the nearby hives had found the remaining stores in the hive and were busy robbing it! I had to replace the entrance block and secure it and then shake all of the robbers from the frames before sealing the hive once again!


Needless to say that it caused confusion for a while afterwards whilst all the robbers tried to get back in. The main concern would have been if the original cause of the colonys demise had been disease related, however I am pretty sure that they just lost critical mass, probably due to the Queen not laying any eggs. So I am fairly confident that the robbing episode, although not good, has caused no problems to the other hives. It would have been better to remove the hive sooner however I am not able to gain vehicle access to this site at the moment so it has to wait until I can.

The weekend just gone saw me attend the 2013 Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Annual Conference at York College on the Saturday, more about this in another post!

On the Sunday I managed to inspect, for the 1st time this year, some of my hives.

The remaining hive in my garden apiary is relatively weak. The Queen is still present and marked with last years colour (Yellow) and there are still enough bees but she must have stopped laying again, probably due to the weather and lack of forage. There is still some sealed brood and hopefully when that hatches it will boost the foragers and enable the queen to start laying eggs again.

In the one field apiary I checked all five remaining hives were looking strong with plenty of bees and between 4-5 frames of brood is all stages (eggs, larvae and sealed). Most of the hives also have enough stores left and even seemed to have collected fresh nectar so I removed any remaining Neopol from these hives.

As the weather wasn’t perfect the inspections were kept relatively short and to the point so I didn’t search for the queens and the ones that I did spot were still marked from 2011/12.

Now I just hope the weather keeps on improving and I can get round to checking the hives in my other out (field) apiary!

Busy Spring bees

Posted in 2013, Apiary 1, Apiary 4, Apiary 5, Bees, Brood, Eggs, Equipment, Hives, Lavae, Queen, Sealed brood | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment