Hints and Tips

This page contains hints and tips to make the beekeepers life a little easier. Letting you enjoy the craft a little more.

Buckets:

Buckets are very useful to beekeepers especially if they have tight fitting lids. Use a small bucket with a well fitting lid as a wax bucket and a medium sized one as a washing bucket (water tight lid essential).

Use the wax bucket to collect any brace comb pieces/fragments during an apiary visit. The lid will prevent any of the sticky fragments embedding themselves in your car upholstery or spilling anywhere else. Making sure all comb fragments are collected from around the hives as its good for hygeine, preventing robbing and when the pieces mount up they are a valuable resource when melted down.

Fill the washing bucket with a teaspoon of caustic soda (NaOH) crystals and a drop of washing up detergent dissolved in warm water. The solution is useful for washing hive tools and any other kit. The caustic soda will help get through wax and propolis deposits and provides a minor sterilising effect.

Wooden Wedges:

Wooden wedges are very useful and can be implemented in a number of ways to help the beekeeper.

Sometimes if you havent been vigilant with vaseline on woodwork and squirting some liquid parafin then boxes and frames can get stuck together. Sometimes resulting in lifting a heavy super and the top bars of the box below being pulled up too. However if caught early you can jemmy the box up with your hive tool and use a handy wedge to hold it in place, then take your hive tool again and drift some smoke in. Then you can get on your knees and gently free the stuck frames without hassle to you or the bees. Sweet!

Other times wedges come in useful is when a hive is found to be a bit unstable. Jamming a wedge under one or two of the legs should steady it.

Wedges should be not much shorter than your hive tool and cut at shallow angle.

CD’s:

Everyone has old scratched cd’s that will not play anymore. Dont throw them out! Why not use them to cover up feeder holes in the cover board? The holes can be filled by glueing a 1 pence piece over it.

CD’s can also be used to put bee candy on instead of grease proof paper.

Collecting Young Bees:

If young bees are required for the purpose of building a nucleus, non-flying bees are required, otherwise the bees wil simply fly back to the original hive. Collecting these non-flying bees can be done by laying a cloth, sack or sheet on the ground. Then shake several frames of bees onto it, be careful not to shake a frame with the queen on it, keep her inside the hive. Leave the bees on the sheet/sack for 15 minutes, the older bees will have returned home leaving the younger non-flyers for collection.

Bait Hives:

Setting up a ‘bait hive’ is when a beekeeper sets up an empty hive in the hope of catching a local swarm.

When bees swarm they send out scouts to look for suitable locations for the new hive. These scouts fins suitable places and convey their findings via a dance. Each scout will visit the other scouts location and do the dance of the best location until all the scout bees are doing the same dance.

So the hive must be as attractive as possible to the scout bees so they guide the swarm there. Bees prefer a cavity that is large enough for them to make a nest that will provide space for honey storage to get them through the winter. A broodbox is about the right size. The hive should be easy to defend, so the entrance should be quite small, less than 2 square inches.

Use a hive that has had bees in it before (check out our classified ads to find second hand hives) making sure it has been cleaned of wax and propolis. Place one to four old combs in the broodbox. Foundation is not attractive and should be avoided as it may go stale. Makes sure and check the hive regularly for greater wax moths as they wil destroy old combs in hot weather.

Make sure the bait hive is set up in the shade and cover up all the feedholes in the crown board. If at all possible placing the hive at or above head height could also be appealing to scout bees.

When you see bees visiting the bait hive you can be sure there is a colony locally that is preparing to swarm. Make sure it isn’t one of yours! There could be frantic activity for several days, and then you will either end up with a swarm or all activity will instantly stop. This will be because the swarm has found somewhere else, or the beekeeper has dealt with the swarming colony.

If a swarm does arrive try to remove the old drawn comb as quickly as possible by shaking the bees off it, fill the broodchamber up with frames of fresh foundation, and clip the queen as it is always possible the swarm will abscond until there is brood to ‘hold’ them.

It is possible that a swarm could bring foul brood spores with their honey supplies, so avoid feeding for about 3 days so they convert all their honey into wax.

Pheromone lures can be used to increase the likelihood of capturing swarms or retaining them in your own hives. ‘Swarmit’ is commercially available, the lure is a synthetic pheromone that mimics the nasanov scent. Simply dab it on the woodwork of the hive.

Finding Queens:

Finding virgin queens is notoriously difficult as they can be anywhere in the hive. However there are some tricks to help the beekeeper:

Virgin queens shy away from the light and can normally be found on frames of brood.

It is rare that laying queens cant be found but occasionally they can be very small and difficult to find. Check through the hive including the crownboard, floor and inside the broodchamber. If the queen is still proving illusive then leave the hive for 30mins and try again. If you are still unsuccessful then take a spare empty broodchamber and place it on a floorboard. Split the frames into pairs and put them in both broodchambers, with a gap between each pair. This is an attempt to drive the queen away from the light so she will go between the frames, so don’t cover them up. After 20-30 minutes the bees on the pair of frames where the queen is will be quiet and all the rest will be agitated. You have narrowed it down to one pair of frames.

Another method is to shake all the bees off the frames onto a cloth or sack. Put the frames back into the broodchamber with a queen excluder above and an empty broodchamber on top of that. Shake the bees into the empty broodchamber and the bees will go down to tend the brood, and leave the queen behind. Unless she is small enough to fit through.

Drone Culling Frames:

The culling of drone brood is an accepted IPM technique for helping to control varroa, but some beekeepers are concerned that if done as a matter of course could reduce the number of healthy drones. The usual method is to put one shallow frame in every broodchamber, then when the bees have built drone comb on the bottom and it is sealed cut it out.

A variation on this is to take a standard empty brood frame and slightly modify two extra side bars, and nail them in the frame vertically so there are three equal parts. In the first part put a full sheet of drone foundation, in the second put a half sheet, and in the third put a starter. When put in the hive the bees will complete them at different times, allowing the beekeeper to deal with each section on a three visit cycle.

If the varroa level is low then the comb can be left, but if high it can be cut out. Leave just enough for the bees to rebuild the comb. It should be noted that occasionally young queens are reluctant to lay drone eggs, but this is a problem with any drone culling method.

Capturing Swarms from Difficult Places:

Swarms will often get into difficult places such as a thick hedge. In this case an old brood frame can often be used to entice them out. If you can get some bees from the swarm and put them on the comb they may start fanning and attract the swarm out of the difficult place.

Crownboard Slots:

Many beekeepers have the slots in crownboards running parallel with the frames. If the broodchamber has an odd number of frames, then one frame is directly under the slot and in winter you won’t be able to see if there is any sealed food. If you turn the crownboard so the slot is at right angles to the frame then it is easy to see the food situation.

Robbing:

If robbing starts in a colony or when extracting honey it can be stopped by moving the colony or extracted honey and replacing it with a teaspoonful of honey in the same spot. This is important because if you simply remove the source the bees will continue to look for it and if it cant be found they may start robbing another nearby hive. Replacing the source with just a teaspoonful of honey allows the bees to deplete the source quickly and calm down when the source is gone.

Filling Holes and Gaps:

Propolis is used by bees and readily available so why not make use of it? Warm the propolis in your hand, rolling it until it’s softer and pliable. Repair leaks in hive roofs by placing the propolis in and over the hole, spread and flatten it over the area. Small holes and gaps in the boxes can similarly be treated until permanent repairs can be carried out. These repairs will often last for several years.

Protecting Hives from Woodpeckers:

Woodpeckers can cause a lot of damage to hives in Winter months. To avoid this use builders polythene sheeting to protect the broodchambers by cutting it to fit and pinning it with drawing pins. Make sure the polythene is tight and will not flap in the wind.

Foundation Fitting:

Wax foundation expands and contracts considerably due to temperature variation. For this reason make sure it moves freely in the bottom bars otherwise buckling may result. Often on a warm day the foundation won’t go in the grooves of the frame side bars, and it will have to be trimmed with a knife or scissors. Foundation that is fitted on a cold day should be a loose fit otherwise it will expand when warm and will buckle. If the loops of the wiring stick through the bottom bars they will cause problems at extracting time, and will not allow you to run the uncapping knife along the bottom bars. To avoid this pinch the bottom bars together by the wire, and with a hive tool fold the wire back between the bars.

Cleaning Up Supers:

If you replace wet supers directly on the colony after extracting the bees will probably put most of the honey in the bottom super above the broodnest. To avoid this take a piece of thickish polythene, such as an animal food bag, and cut it slightly larger than the outside dimensions of the broodchamber. Cut a small hole in it just large enough to get your finger in, and place that over the broodchamber before replacing the supers. The bees will think they are divorced from the honey and will clear it from the supers. Make sure the hole isn’t covered up by the frames below, and do it at dusk to avoid excitement.