Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moving to an all Warre Apiary

After my losses and in hive problems this year in my Kenyan top bar hives, due to me leaving them untouched for 6 months every year, I have decided that the warre hive is best suited to these conditions. I have to leave them with enough space to expand as the season progresses, but the kenyan unless properly monitored, gets badly cross combed. It doesn't matter in a warre if they cross comb as you harvest one box at a time.

My first priority though is to get the bees from my two remaining Layens hives onto warre boxes. Having tried various methods, I have worked out the best way is to simply make a transfer box that will take several Layens frames and set it on top of a warre. I made one that took eight frames and one that took nine. At this time of year there are fewer bees and little brood. Easily enough room for them and some stores in the transfer boxes. Later when they start to expand their numbers again, they will only have one direction to go and that is downward into the warre box. I have put only one box on for now but will add another in early Spring (February).

This layens had some collapsed combs which meant I had to pry two frames out together. Luckily I was able to discard these frames.

Here the transfer box sat on its warre box is complete with the layens frames and all remaining bees shaken into hive. I harvested six frames of honey in the process, so I am now pressing that honey with my pan press.

The next item on the agenda for me is to make some kenyan transfer boxes. I initially thought I might make them in the style of the ones I made in Sweden (see earlier post) but I have come up with a better idea. All will be revealed when I have transfered the picture in my head to one I can upload here..........

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Warre with few varroa

I hefted my warre hives (and my layens) and found one of the warre's to be light. As they were only on two boxes, I decided I would feed them and give them another box. I removed the quilt to find they had all but completely propolised the mosquito mesh I had stapled to the top.

I lifted together both boxes and found they had only built on three of the combs in the bottom box. They didn't need the third box but as I had prepared it, I put it on anyway. In that bottom box I laid on the floor two parcels of a mixture of my own honey and powdered sugar. I mixed in enough sugar until the mix only just flowed. I parceled the mix up in kitchen roll and just laid it on the floor. The bees will tear up the paper and throw it out eventually so no need to open up again to remove anything. This feed is to tide them over. There are flowers out, lavender, rosemary & fennel but the season has been so dry, I don't think they are secreting nectar. When we have some rain that will change.

These bees were quite calm and I give them a 3 out of 10 for temperament.

Whilst adding this extra box, I also changed the floor. I swept all the debris from the old floor and put it into an envelope. I don't normally do mite counts but this was an opportunity to see what 6 months of debris would show. 7 mites is all I found! Yes only 7. I have had more on a 4 day count in the past. I know a lot of mite carcasses would have been turfed out during normal cleaning but in the entrance well, a thick layer of wax flakes and pollen had built up and I had expected to find dozens of mite bodies. Natural methods are working to keep mites at bay I think.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cutout from my Log Cabin

The bees were entering a minute gap at the top of one of the porch rafters. I had to remove a lot of siding planks to get access.

There was no way I could remove the OSB board once the siding planks had been removed, It had been nailed on before the porch was built so I had to cut out a hole where I thought the bees were. I banged on the board and listened to the roar which gave me an approximate area to cut.

I smoked the bees up and away from the comb so that I could cut the comb attachments at the top without cutting bees. I removed several combs with few bees.

These combs and bees were put in a warre box on which I had stapled a wire mesh on the base. The combs were simply stacked side by side on top of this mesh. The gauge of the mesh has about 1cm holes so all bees can pass through it. I left the warre box right next to the hole in the wall. I had to leave many bees in the hole and was doubtful that I had got the queen. Next morning, it was cold and the bees had all clustered back in the hole. I took a floppy hat and placed it at the bottom of the hole then with a 2" paint brush sort of scooped the cluster into the hat. I quickly placed the hat and bees on top of the combs in the warre box. Closed it up with a top board and put on an inverted jar of honey over the feed hole. I noted when I removed the combs, there were no stores, nada. They were on the point of starvation. More on this later. I left them another night and was glad to see that the bees were still in the warre box which is 3 feet from the hole so I am now confident the queen is in there. I will be gradually moving this hive to the apiary at 3 ft every 3 days. It'll take a while.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beeswax Utility Candles

When I am in Spain throughout the winter, I live in a log cabin with solar power. In the dead of winter there is often not enough 'juice' in the batteries to last the evening. I sometimes rely on candles and like to make my own. I do not need fancy candles or short duration candles but utility candles, long lasting with a good flame. I also like to re-cycle stuff that is normally thrown away as rubbish. I have devised a way of using the little yoghurt pots and cola cans as candle molds.

The procedure is about the same for both. I start by making a hole in the centre of the base of the pot or can. With the cans, I then cut off the top with a can opener. I thread a wick through the hole in the base and secure and seal it with a little bluetack. I then use a clothes peg to hold the wick at the top central on both types. The yoghurt pot size uses a standard no15 wick but I have tried two methods with the cola can size. First method was to plat the no15 size wick so that effectively it was 3 times thicker. I have also used a piece of oil lamp wick which was cut to length then cut into 4 lengthwise. These wicks were soaked in molten wax before fitting to cans.

After the molten wax has set in the cans and pots, they are just peeled off and thrown away. When peeling off the cans use leather gloves as the peeled metal is extremely sharp and liable to spring against your hand.

Result cheap & easy long lasting candles giving good light.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Little Honey

My first attempt at pressing honeycomb earlier in the Spring was done in a cool kitchen on a cold granite worktop. This time, I put the bucket and the press in a warm room by a large sunny window. Flow rate is important when pressing and a little warmth quickens flow tremendously.

With my filter cloth in place, I filled the pan with cut pieces of comb.

Fold over the cloth and set the circular pressing block and jack seat on top.

Sit the jack in place and wind it up.

Keep winding until honey starts to flow above the circular pressing block.

Checking the water content with a refractometer, perfect at 17.5%.

10Lbs of honey later, I now have to remove the sticky blocks, cloth and wax from the pan. I use a large glass bowl of water to initially rinse them and soak the wax in before feeding honeywater back to the bees. Clearly not the most efficient way to get liquid honey but it is a simple and cheap method for a small amount. Oh and the honey tastes wonderful, mainly lavender I think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Inspection & Harvest

Now the cleanup of the deadouts and the wax rendering has been done and as the weather is still fine I thought I would take a peek in a couple of hives.

The first hive I opened was a normal kenyan by the garage not in the apiary. It was populated by a swarm captured in my hexagonal bait hive earlier in the year. Very few bees and only built 8 combs. I saw some capped honey, open nectar, plenty of pollen and one comb of brood both capped and uncapped. I didn't see the queen or eggs. I think I may put this tiny colony in a kenyan nuc and gradually move it to the apiary. Temper rating about 3

The second hive is a catenary TBH also populated by a cast at the same time as the other. This hive had the same number of combs built but even fewer bees with no eggs nor brood. I didn't see the queen either. Again I will transfer them to a kenyan nuc and if on my next look there is still no brood, I may combine them with the first one. Temper rating about 4

The next hive I checked was the blue kenyan which was populated by a prime swarm in March or April. They had built out every comb in the hive and it had a full set of top bars on a 1m long hive. I harvested some honey from several bars and returned the bars to the hive. Some of the honeycombs had collapsed onto the floor of the hive and I needed to use my wide hacksaw blade to detach it. I got in a sticky mess so about 12 combs in from the end, and as I had a full bucket of honeycomb, I decided to close it up until another time when I was clean again. I never got to the brood combs with this hive so I will have to check it again and probably harvest another bucket of honey from it. Temper rating 3

There seems to be a comb collapse problem in most of the hives. These first two had a little collapsed also. These first two hives had good shade so in their case I can only put it down to an unusually hot summer and too few bees to cool a large hive. So there is the dilemma of giving them enough space to build up with and giving too much space in a hot year for a small colony. Next year, if I hive any swarms, I will judge the size of the hive space given to the size of the swarm.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wax Galore & Boiling Frames & Top Bars

Finally got finished rendering all the wax from the deadouts. I haven't weighed it but a good few kilos I imagine. Used all sorts for wax molds so various shapes and sizes. Not that it matters as this wax will be remelted and made into candles quite soon.

Because of all the mess and moth larvae hidden in the crevices of the frames and top bars. I have for a couple of years now boiled them in a large pan bought for the purpose. The pan is set upon the old gas BBQ and quickly comes to the boil. This does several things at once, cleans away all dirt, wax, propolis and sterilises the wood ready for storage. The grooves in the top bars are cleared of wax ready for new starter strips. I set the woodware out in the sun to dry before putting away. I will blow over them with a blow torch before rewaxing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fifty percent survival, Papercrete Hive & Drones

I was quite surprised today to see yet another hive I thought had died out to have flying bees. I think my initial quick check was a bit late in the day for these Spanish bees! Unlike my Swedish lot who will venture out as soon as it gets above 5 degrees!  This one is in a kenyan which is positioned directly under the canopy of an olive tree. It was probably the smallest swarm I hived so it will be interesting to see how much progress they have made when I decide to take a look inside. So I now have established that my survival rate is 50% which seems somewhat better than a few days ago.

One of the deadouts is my papercrete hive which I had populated for the first time this spring with a large swarm. I haven't had time to open it up yet but I can see quite clearly rodent damage of two quite large holes near the base. These are probably gerbils which are quoite common around here. So I now know that papercrete is no use for a permanent hive. They are though very good as bait hives.

Whilst taking up the kenyan carcass from the apiary to my workshop for cleaning, I did a quick check on one of the layens hives that is still flying. I was surprised to see drones flying! I can only assume that there is a late supercedure going on.

I am spending most of my time, cleaning frames and top bars and rendering the wax from the deadouts into wax blocks. I am not being too particular with it as this wax is destined for candles. I still have so much old foundation stock from my days as an agent for a beekeeping supplier that I doubt I will ever run out of starter strips.

I have been measuring the brood comb cells in these deadouts and they are all between 5.3mm and 5.5mm.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Missing photos from last post

These two photos show the kenyan deadout that had the comb collapse. Most of the comb was on the bottom of the hive. It seems I had not fitted the usual batten under the roof which allows about an inch air gap between the roof board and the top bars. Therefore the roof board was in contact with the top bars. I will not make this mistake again. This loss was clearly my fault and is unfortunate that it probably happened when the heat of summer usually meant drones had already gone and brood rearing had slowed or stopped.  The new combs shows me that the bees tried to rebuild and tried to raise new drones when the queen was lost.

Cleaning the Deadouts

Some good news, there are actually 10 surviving colonies. My brief entrance inspection of a few days ago didn't reveal that my hybrid kenyan which has half frames is still alive. This is indeed good news because the purpose of this particular trial was to see if I can combine the advantages of both types of hive without the disadvantages. Easily inspectable non attached combs which are as natural as possible.

The weather now is still hot getting to high 20's to 30 degrees by midday. Bees are all over the rosemary which is abundant on the hillsides. There is still some citrus in blossom too which I am sure they are taking advantage of.

The first deadout I dealt with was a layens which was previously populated by a swarm earlier this year. It was totally cotton woolled with wax moth damage. If you don't know what I mean and have never seen this here are a couple of photos to show the mess.

It is a truly horrible job and by the time you get the woolly gunk out and on the bonfire, there is precious little wax left to render. I will clean out the box, flame and boil the frames before refitting starter strips for re-use. I leave the box on it's side with the hinged lid open to allow the birds to peck out any moth larvae I have missed. I will then flame the box and steam clean the inside.

The first warre hive deadout is easy to work out why it didn't make it, it was on it's side with the boxes exposed. A simple case of disturbance leaving the hive wide open to attack by robbers and wasps.

The next one I dealt with was a kenyan. The demise of this one was obvious as soon as I lifted the bars off. Comb collapse over several combs. I think maybe the queen was killed in the collapse. They had rebuilt some comb and one was pure drone comb. Doing this in the height of the summer was desperate for them. Even then their new combs they were building were stretching. Here are photos of there new combs showing the stretching and drone comb.

I seem to have lost two photos from this post? I will publish it and see if I can add the missing one's later.