Winter and summer bees

Winter and summer bees differ significantly in how long they live; 4-10 weeks (usually 6) for summer bees and up to 7 months for winter bees *.

What I didn’t know is that this is predestined from their time as a pupa (I had thought they just changed as an adult based on conditions). Apparently the temperature of the brood nest defines their physiology. Bees raised at 36°C will be summer bees, but raising them at 34.5°C will result in winter bees.

Cite : BBKA No223, pg381. HOBOS.

* winter bees are also noted for growing ‘fat bodies’ which allow them to store energy for longer periods which helps them get through the cold of winter.

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are the foremost pest of western honey bee colonies. They inhabit nearly every honey bee colony in most of the world, transmit deadly viruses, shorten bee lifespan, limit productivity, and cause severe economic damage every year. Maintaining Varroa populations in the hive below the economic threshold is a primary activity of beekeepers and eradication of the pest is unlikely any time soon. Below are articles that detail the life cycle and biology of varroa, monitoring and treatment options, selecting for resistant stock, and impact of varroacides in the hive…

National honey show videos

This year I attended the National Honey show. I readily attend the lectures, except when I can’t because the room gets too full. As I missed 2 and one was cancelled I was determined not to miss Mr Goulson’s lecture on pesticides and pollitics; I was in my seat 30 mins early. Unfortunately Mr Goulson had a double puncture on the M25 and was 30 mins late. We had an excellent impromptu talk about honey hunters in Nepal, and then the original lecture started. Unfortunately the camera people who video all the talks in the lecture hall had decided to take an early end to the day in light of the late start, so there is no record of what was a very good talk.

For other talks you can see them on the lectures videos page. At time of writing it has just got some from 2014 and 2013, but the others should arrive soon for 2015.

Supercedure and too many supers

For the first time I have 2 queens running side by side in one of my hives. I was looking through my hive the other day and saw the queen and was quite happy that she was doing well, this year’s blue queen, born about the end of May. Then I turned over the frame and randomly spotted another queen, in lay, by the size of her, and unmarked. Now I have enough fun finding queens at the best of times, so I have no idea how I spotted her and I don’t know what they are playing at superseding so soon, especially as the first is laying quite nicely. Well I am sure they know what they are about…

In other news, I have found k-wing in 2 hives and as such have started treating for varroa, as it happens I also found a bit of deformed wing on the other 2 hives on that site. I have swapped to apiguard this year from my usual api life var, just cos I had it to be honest. A few weeks ago I went round and cleared off what I had assumed would be the last of this year’s honey; the borage was cut and everything was slowing. Or so I thought. I went round and took off another 4 supers in total. Due to a backlog I now have 17 waiting for me to extract – I had to climb a step ladder to get the top ones on the stack – sigh… I appreciate for many this may be a welcome problem, too much honey, but it takes a long time to decapitate (sic) & spin. And its a sticky job. And then you have to put the supers on a hive to pull the remains of the honey out (As such I have left a couple of hives without treatment for now). And filter the honey into buckets. And this is all before jarring, labeling, selling, etc.

Oh and for those who think “oh that’s a good amount of honey”, it all comes at a price. I’m looking down a £350 sales shopping list at Thorne’s sale this weekend and at some point I want to get a motor on this extractor so another £350. And earlier in the year I paid about £300 for jars, and £70+ for turpentine and linseed oil – it never stops just keeps going around… Vicky ( the other half) is going to start a spreadsheet, as I think I spend more than I get back. Still its a hobby and my other hobbies I have would cost far more if I was doing them instead (yacht sailing is very far from inexpensive and the bees have kept me off that for 2-3 years now).

Using pollen patties

Regarding pollen patties, I made a discovery. I had been putting them on with some cuts in the paper to allow access, over the crown board hole. Some loved them, others ignored them pretty much completely.

Then I put some on the top bars; there was more interest and they were getting into them.

Then I pealed them completely and pushed them down on the top bars. This resulted in them being rapidly consumed in all hives.

(At least I assume they were eaten – and not just thrown out.)

Lesson learnt.

Also I have artificial swarmed two hives, so I am going to add additional patties to those to build up the numbers.

Making bees wax polish

Cake of pink-ish beeswaxI have this 1lb block of bees wax (or is that beeswax?) and it is pink / red tinged with propolis so I decided not to use it for lip balm like last time.

Now last year, on a whim I bought a couple of boxes of wax tins with the theory of making some polish. I figured to make some polish at some point, seemed like another nice side hobby / feature of  beekeeping. There are so many : woodwork, food handling, advertising and selling honey, etc

Turps and linseed oil bottlesThe thing that held me back was trying to find turpentine which I read was the other ingredient. Everywhere I looked it was turpentine substitute. Finally I found the real thing and it wasn’t cheap, about £8 per 500ml bottle, no wonder they have turpentine substitute, it is only about £1.50 for that much.

With the red wax that I didn’t have another clear use for I decided it was time to bite the bullet, so I bought the turpentine.

Today when I finally decided to get to doing it I looked on the internet for ratios and to check ingredients. At this point I found LOTS of recipes, lots of different recipes with very little in common.  Turpentine, beeswax, carnauba wax, olive oil, essential oils, soap flakes, water, linseed oil, other non-turpentine solvents (arghh !).

Various recipes here and a no solvent recipe with olive oil

In the end I decided to make two batches, each with a different recipe and see how it would turn out.

Recipe 1

  • 1 part Bees wax
  • 1 part Turpentine

Then I decided to cut it with linseed oil to make it go further (based on a recipe, not just to make it less expensive), not to mention that I already had some of this to hand; I have bought bottle after bottle for treating the outside of wooden hiveparts to protect them from the weather.

Recipe 2

  • 1 part Bees Wax
  • 1 part Turpentine
  • 1 part Linseed oil

I would have liked to use…

Recipe 3

  • 1 part Bees Wax
  • 4 parts Olive Oil

…but I didn’t have enough olive oil in the house. I also thought about using essential oils, but I figured that might not work for the usual carpentry buff who might buy it, and I would need to use a fair bit to get over the smell of the turpentine (phew!).

bees wax metin in a bain-marieI melted the bees wax in the bain-marie (not to hot or it will degrade). A bain-marie is just one saucepan that fits inside another saucepan with boiling water in. So the inner pan can never get warmer than 100C (212F), because the water boils off. Then I added the turpentine and mixed it in. On the second recipe I further added the linseed oil, which incidentally made for a much better looking product.

I made myself a paper funnel to help pour the hot polish into the tins. Note for those who might try this, if you do so, bind it with selotape, like I did the second time. The first time I held the cone in shape with my hand, hot turpentine and wax soak into the paper a bit and paper is not the best insulator in the first place. Only a bit Ouch! And I only missed a bit, cough… well the chopping board looked like it needed a polish anyway 🙂

On the first batch I just poured the polish in and filled the tins, by eye, to what I felt was a sensible level. On weighing this later it was fairly consistent in weight, but not the 100g they are supposed to weigh.

102g of molten beeswax in a tinOn the second recipe / attempt I thought I should try to get them to be the right weight and so carefully weighed them on the electric scales. Getting all 100g in was not that easy, it was right up to the lip of the tin. But I managed it

Good plan doing it on the scales and getting it right to the lip with exactly 100g of polish in, right?

bees wax overflowing from a tin

Wrong ! Filling hot molten polish into tins, obviously in hindsight, makes the metal tin expand. What happens when the metal cools and contracts? That’s right, less space for the polish and so it overflows… Darn ! This photo was actually one that overflowed not very much, but I forgot to take a photo earlier on the one that went across the counter and headed for the cupboard. Luckily you can just scrape it up with a knife and re-melt it again.

finished bees wax in a tinIn the end the linseed version came out a better colour. I can’t speak to how wel it will work as a polish, not having experience in using beeswax polish before as a comparison, but its made a nice sheen on the chopping board 🙂

Using a quilt while feeding with a candy board

An interesting piece on winter feeding just with fondant, and a moisture quilt to ensure it doesn’t dry out; which also retains moisture from wintering bees.

I quite like the model of using the moisture for a purpose rather than just seeking get rid of it. As I have experience bees struggling with hard dried fondant before I can see sense in the model.

More on biological Varroa control

So, as I haver been telling everyone who will listen, I am planning to trial biological control of varroa on my bees this coming year.

‘Hypoaspis miles’, also known as ‘Stratiolaelaps scimitus’, are a mite found in leaf litter naturally. They have been readily used for a number of years in controlling parasites on other ‘pets’ including rats, tarantulas, snakes and snails (and recently red mite control with chickens), also in controlling pests on crops such as strawberries.

Their use has been recognised in conjunction with controlling varroa since at least 2008 that I have found. They have also be successfully tested at Buckfast abbey and in conjunction with Devon BKA.

They do not predate on bees, larvae or eggs, and their numbers die out naturally when they run out of food (aka the varroa mites).

Anyway enough of me, here is a link to a video all about them, including more details and real world trials on bee hives. Enjoy…

Bio control for the Varroa Mite

Some light reading

Snelgrove books


I have purchased two Snelgrove books, “Queen Rearing” and “The introduction of queen bees”. I am expecting them to be anything but light reading; but also to be very inspiring, instructive and useful.

Winter Antics

Well it has been a while since I posted, highlighted by me wiping out my site but managing to get most of it back by the wonders of google cache. So what have I been up to in the bee world, well I have :

– been reading Snelgrove
– bought far too much bee woodwork from Thorne‘s sales, given I don’t want to increase from 10-12 hives
– bought an electric staple / nail gun and put plywood trim on plastic excluders to give them bee space
– found that said nail gun made putting together super frames very quick and easy
– put together lots of supers and dremel’d my initials into the side (hives do get stolen)
– fed my bees lots of sugar syrup and treated them with Api life var
– insulated inside the cover with hessian sacking
– insulated outside the hive by cutting up sheets of solid insulation board (20mm celotex) to make a cube shape that fits over the side, with correx on top with an overhang to keep the rain off.
– last but not least bought myself a 9 frame radial manual honey extractor. Finally, using my “honey money” to pay for it.

And next?

– Well, more woodwork assembly, coating with linseed.
– I am going to try to get hold of some acetic acid to protect the supers and other foundation from disease and wax moth.
– The big experiment next year is to try hypoaspis mites, a biological control for varroa mites. A naturally occurring mite that usually lives in leaf litter, which feeds on varroa mites.

Wish the bees and me luck.