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Resources for Beekeeping

Here you will find many of your questions answered, and useful information written by beekeeping experts.

​Whether you are a beginner or a master beekeeper there is always something new to learn or a technique to discover. We have categorised the information into simple groups, which includes beginners information, must have equipment, diseases, feeding and many more.

Check back regularly as we add more information to this area. Please let us know if there is something you would like to see added here at sales@thorne.co.uk.

Bee breeds

In this folder you will find information on some of the different strains of honeybee. This is purely for information purposes only as we would always advise you to use British bees wherever possible. We believe these bees will have the best adaptations to their surroundings and come with less risk of importation of non-native pests and diseases.

Italians are the most popular honeybee here in the UK; they build large colonies, have a low tendency for swarming, produce lots of honey and have a gentle temperament.

However, we are going to delve a little deeper and go into some more characteristics of the Italian bee.

Firstly, appearances. Italian bees are generally yellow with brown or black stripes. The queens and drones are perhaps the most recognisable though with their large, golden abdomens. The queen is often easy to spot as she looks so different from the workers. Coupled with the fact that she walks and acts differently on the comb, this makes finding her much less of a struggle than with other strains of bee.

Italian bees are adapted to long summers and mild winters as they were bred in the semitropical Italian peninsula. If we have a mild winter here in the UK, the bees may continue their brood cycle, entering the spring a really strong colony.  However, it does also mean that they are not particularly winter hardy. The colonies start to build up in the latter part of winter, but they can completely collapse if they run out of food to sustain them or we get a cold snap after a mild period. A contributing factor to this can be that Italians doesn’t tend to cluster down tight, which means they lose heat and consequently consume more and more stores to keep the large nest warm, potentially leading to starvation.

In the same vein, Italian bees can starve quickly after any type of honey flow, for example after the oil seed rape has finished flowering or during the June gap. This is partly due to the huge nest size but also because they don’t react to the nectar flow as other bees do, meaning that even if there is a dearth in nectar, the colony keeps growing. Similarly, if honey is taken off and if there is no rain which would encourage a nectar flow afterwards, the bees can quickly starve out. During early spring however, these bees are very proficient at bringing in oil seed rape, because of their early build up, which can be an advantage over other strains of bee.

As mentioned, Italian bees have a low tendency for swarming, which is a welcome relief for the busy beekeeper. That said, due to its large colony size, these bees always need lots of room inside the hive to keep them happy. They don’t produce the traditional, compact oval nest shape with pollen and honey around the outside either. With lots of brood, the pollen often gets pushed up and stored in the supers, and as such they can also be a bit messy in terms of where they store their honey. Due to a constantly increasing brood nest, they are forever moving pollen and honey around, which can lead to an untidy storage pattern. If they have too many supers on the hive, they may have several frames with honey in, but none of them in one box and none of them capped.

Italian bees are very proficient wax builders, use minimal propolis and produce very little brace comb. Their white honey cappings also make nice cut comb.

Drifting can be a problem for the Italian bee, because they do not have the best sense of orientation. This can, especially during a gap in the flow or when taking off honey, lead to quite severe robbing. With that in mind, it is very important to consider the layout of the apiary and avoid spacing hives all in a row.

As with all strains of honeybee, there are advantages and disadvantages of the Italian bee. However, we would always encourage beekeepers to use British bees, as we believe that these will have the best adaptations to climate and local weather whilst avoiding introduction of non-native pests and diseases.

Beekeeping in general

 

Congratulations on purchasing a six-frame nucleus from Thorne Beehives. Please read these instructions before hiving your bees.

All our nuclei are bred in the UK from reputable bee breeders with whom we work closely to ensure they comply with FERA guidelines. The breeding stocks are regularly checked for signs of disease and all nuclei have been checked and/or treated for varroa with approved varroacides.

Your nucleus of bees is made up of 6 British Standard self-spacing Hoffmann frames, a mated and laying queen and 3 to 4 frames of brood in various stages with a regular brood pattern. The remaining frames will be made up of a balanced mixture of sealed stores and pollen. Approximately half the combs will be covered with adult bees of different ages.

 

 

Always keep the travelling box in a cool place, never in direct sunlight.

 

It is not imperative to hive the bees on arrival at your apiary - in fact we do not recommend this.

 

 

  1. Place the travelling box close to the side of the hive in which the bees are to be hived.

 

  1. Cover the travelling box with a hive roof to stop the rain getting in and uncover the entrance hole at the front of the box so the bees can fly.                                                                   
  2. After a few days, and when the weather is favourable, the bees can be hived. Make sure that your hive is ready for the bees to move in to.                                                                                                       
  3. Puff a little smoke through the top wire mesh and through the side holes of the travelling box. Remove the screws securing the lid using a screwdriver.    

 

  1. Carefully lift off the lid, check the queen is not there and place upside down nearby.

 

  1. Starting at one side, and using a hive tool, carefully lift out the frames. Place the frames gently into the 14”x12” brood box in the same relative position they were in the traveling box. Make sure you see the queen on one of the frames and place that frame in very gently, taking care not to squash her.     

                                                                                               

  1. Shake out any bees into the hive that are remaining in the travelling box and the lid.

 

  1. Place one assembled 14” x 12” frame (preferably with drawn comb but with foundation if not) on each side of the nucleus frames.

 

  1. Gently push all the frames to one side of the hive. Place a dummy board on the outer side of the 14”x12” frame and push it right up to the frame. Make sure all the frames are pushed up nice and tightly to the side of the box and to each other.

 

  1. Fill the outer space with insulation to stop the bees drawing out brace comb.       

 

  1. Replace the crownboard and feed your bees a thick sugar syrup using a feeder. This will help the bees to draw out the large volumes of wax in a 14” x 12” frame. You will need an eke or spare brood box to create the space for the feeder. Now reassemble the hive.

 

 

  1. Check the hive after a week and if they have drawn out the new 14”x12” frames, add another couple at either side. This will almost fill the brood box at this point.

 

  1. As the colony gets established and the sealed brood hatches, you can work the old frames from the nucleus out towards the sides of the hive and you will eventually be able to substitute them for new 14” x 12” frames. Take care not to isolate frames with brood in – steadily move frames further to the outside so the process is gradual.

 

 

Depending on the weather and available forage, a nucleus of bees can build up very rapidly for which you must be prepared. Your initial 6 comb nucleus of bees can become a 10 or 11 frame colony in a very short space of time, so ensure they have plenty of room to expand by adding supers as soon as convenient. Please remember bees are livestock and as such require care and attention on a regular basis. Keep feeding your nucleus until it has become well established and able to forage for itself. Remember that when there is a shortage of nectar, they will rapidly consume any stores they have accumulated. Bees have often been known to die out due to starvation in the middle of spring and summer when it has been assumed that there is a plentiful supply of nectar.

 

 

 

Congratulations on purchasing a six-frame nucleus from Thorne Beehives. Please read these instructions before hiving your bees.

All our nuclei are bred in the UK from reputable bee breeders with whom we work closely to ensure they comply with FERA guidelines. The breeding stocks are regularly checked for signs of disease and all nuclei have been checked and/or treated for varroa with approved varroacides.

Your nucleus of bees is made up of 6 British Standard self-spacing Hoffmann frames, a mated and laying queen and 3 to 4 frames of brood in various stages with a regular brood pattern. The remaining frames will be made up of a balanced mixture of sealed stores and pollen. Approximately half the combs will be covered with adult bees of different ages.

 

Always keep the travelling box in a cool place, never in direct sunlight.

 

It is not imperative to hive the bees on arrival at your apiary - in fact we do not recommend this.

 

  1. Place the travelling box close to the side of the hive into which the bees are to be hived.

 

  1. Cover the travelling box with a hive roof to stop the rain getting in and uncover the entrance hole at the front of the box so the bees can fly.                                                                   
  2. After a few days, and when the weather is favourable, the bees can be hived. Make sure that your hive is ready for the bees to move in to.                                                                                                       
  3. Puff a little smoke through the top wire mesh and through the side holes of the travelling box. Remove the screws securing the lid using a screwdriver.    

 

  1. Carefully lift off the lid, check the queen is not there and place upside down nearby.

 

  1. https://discourse-cdn-sjc1.com/business6/uploads/honeyflow/optimized/2X/3/3f0603e04768334506cb535ec93812bc98a8573b_1_666x500.jpegStarting at one side, and using a hive tool, carefully lift out a frame from the outside. Take a Langstroth top bar and cable tie it to the top of the nucleus frame top bar. You can add side bars as in this photo, but they are not strictly necessary.

 

  1. Place the frame gently into the Langstroth brood box and repeat for the remaining 5 frames. Place them into the hive in the same relative position they were in the traveling box. Make sure you see the queen on one of the frames and place that frame in very gently, taking care not to squash her.            

                                                                                               

  1. Shake out any bees into the hive that are remaining in the travelling box and the lid.

 

  1. Place one assembled Langstroth frame (preferably with drawn comb but with foundation if not) on each side of the nucleus frames.

 

  1. Gently push all the frames to one side of the hive. Place a dummy board on the outer side of the Langstroth frame and push it right up to the frame. Make sure all the frames are pushed up nice and tightly to the side of the box and to each other.

 

  1. Fill the outer space with insulation to stop the bees drawing out brace comb.       

 

  1. Replace the crownboard and feed your bees a thick sugar syrup using a feeder. This will help the bees to draw out the large volumes of wax in a Langstroth frame. You will need an eke or spare brood box to create the space for the feeder. Now reassemble the hive.

 

 

  1. Check the hive after a week and if they have drawn out the new Langstroth frames, add another couple at either side. This will fill the brood box.

 

  1. As the colony gets established and the sealed brood hatches, you can work the old frames from the nucleus out towards the sides of the hive and you will eventually be able to substitute them for new Langstroth frames. Take care not to isolate frames with brood in – steadily move frames further to the outside so the process is gradual.

 

 

Depending on the weather and available forage, a nucleus of bees can build up very rapidly for which you must be prepared. Your initial 6 comb nucleus of bees can become a 10 or 11 frame colony in a very short space of time, so ensure they have plenty of room to expand by adding supers as soon as convenient. Please remember bees are livestock and as such require care and attention on a regular basis. Keep feeding your nucleus until it has become well established and able to forage for itself. Remember that when there is a shortage of nectar, they will rapidly consume any stores they have accumulated. Bees have often been known to die out due to starvation in the middle of Spring and Summer when it has been assumed that there is a plentiful supply of nectar.

 

Honey

Firstly, you need to get the bees out of the super which is full of honey – there are quite a few ways to do this. The most common way is to use two bee escapes (a one-way valve) in a board. The bees can go down but cannot come back up into the super.

 

Then you will need to remove the super and take it to a bee-tight clean room. Carefully remove the wax cappings using an uncapping knife or fork. Then put the frames into an extractor (you can usually borrow one for the first year) and spin out the honey. Strain it using a good quality filter into a tank with a valve and leave it to settle. Once settled, pour out into the jars and label them.

Yes. Put up a sign at your front gate or take some jars to work with you. There is a big demand for local honey. Some say that local honey helps with hayfever as it contains a small amount of local pollen.

 

All honey that is to be sold needs labeling. There are a few regulations regarding information you must have on your labels which you can find here: Honey Label Regulations.

Sometimes we simply don’t want set honey and the only way to ‘un-set’ it is to gently warm it. If it is already in a jar, this can be easily remedied by placing the jar in a pan with a small amount of water in the bottom and heating gently. It may take some time but don’t be tempted to blast it with heat; this will ruin the honey and burn it, tainting the flavour. Whatever you do, don’t put it in the microwave!

If the honey is in a larger container like a bucket and you want to liquefy it, this can be a bit trickier without the right equipment. One solution is to put the entire bucket into a warming cabinet. This can be a mess and stress-free way to deal with set honey but may take a few days to totally un-granulate.

Another way to un-granulate a bucket of honey is to use a Pedestal Heater which will do the job quickly and easily. The element simply stands on top of the honey and as it warms up, works its way down into the bucket, liquefying the whole lot.

An even more economic way to do the job is to use a Mini Honey Liquefier. This will liquefy set honey stored in a bucket up to 10kg.

New to Beekeeping

The cost of a beginners kit varies from around £220 to £750 depending on your personal preferences. This gets you set up with everything you need to start your beekeeping adventure.

 

From around £165, you can start with one of our budget hives made from British Cedar. If you are after something a little more traditional, you can get a beautiful cottage garden design beehive manufactured in Western Red Cedar (W.R.C) and painted white, for around £600.

 

We do not recommend buying second hand equipment unless you know the source and it has been thoroughly checked for disease by your local bee inspector.

 

You may be able to find a swarm of bees in your area - your local Beekeepers Association may be able to help you. Alternatively, a six frame nucleus from Thornes will cost approximately £300.

It is down to personal preference as to which hive you think is the best. It may depend on aesthetics, weight, size etc. Below are listed the hives we make here at Thorne Beehives.

 

The most popular hive in the United Kingdom is the National hive. This is a square hive which is very practical and easy to use. National hives also have the option for a deeper brood body, a 14" x 12", which gives more space for brood. The frames of both the National hive and WBC hive are totally compatible.

 

The traditional looking hive is the WBC. This comes with an inner hive surrounded by lifts which are often painted white. If you want a couple of hives in your garden and want them to look good, go for the WBC. This hive also comes with the option for the larger 14" x 12" brood body. The frames of both the National hive and WBC hive are totally compatible.

 

The Commercial hive is similar to a National - still square but with a bigger brood area. This means that you can fit a stronger colony of bees into the hive with a reduced risk of swarming. If you live in Essex or Ireland, this hive is used quite widely. The reason for this is that one or more local experts have promoted it in the past. The floor, queen excluder, crownboard and roof of the Commercial hive are totally compatible with the National hive as the footprints of both are just about identical. A popular combination with the Commercial hive therefore is the use of National supers on a Commercial brood body. The Commercial hive is often referred to as a 16" x 10" because of the frame size, and the supers can also be described as 16" x 6".

 

The Langstroth is similar in size to the Commercial but rectangular. It is the most popular hive in other countries of the world. It also comes in a deeper size - the Langstroth Jumbo. This gives larger colonies extra space for brood.

 

The Dadant hive is the biggest of all – so watch your back! This hive is particularly popular in France, but not so much here in the UK.

 

The smallest hive we manufacture is the Smith. It has the same brood space as a standard National but smaller overall dimensions so the frames have smaller lugs. It was invented by Willie Smith and is now widely used in Scotland. This hive also comes with the option for the larger 14" x 12" brood body.

 

The OSB or One Size Box hive was developed in Ireland by Tim Rowe. Basically it is a very simple hive as described without the need for a dedicated brood body. It has the same footprint as the National hive so floors, queen excluders, screens etc. and roofs are compatible.

 

The Layens hive was developed in the 19th century by a Frenchman, George Layens. It has very thick walls for insulation and it can hold anywhere from fourteen to thirty or more very large frames. The cavity size and wall thickness are intended to mimic a hollow tree, a very popular nesting place for feral bees. Keeping bees in this type of hive is akin to Top Bar or Warre hive beekeeping.

 

Our advice would be to start with a National or WBC.

 

If you are interested in keeping bees for pollination purposes and letting them live as naturally as possible, there is a couple of options available. The Warre hive is tall and thin and the Top Bar hive is a similar design but horizontal like a baby's cradle.

All our top quality hives are manufactured here at Thorne Beehives from Western Red Cedar. WRC is renowned for its natural beauty and outstanding physical properties. It is a highly durable timber and has one of the longest lifespans of any softwood with natural decay and insect resistance. Its low density gives it an insulation value far superior to most other species of timber. It is light, attractively coloured and possesses outstanding dimensional stability All our Budget hives are made from home-grown cedar. Both timbers are sourced from sustainable forests.

 

There are other hives on the market made from pine and polystyrene. Pine warps and splits and is very heavy; polystyrene is not very good for the environment and is easily damaged during manipulations. Both of these hives need regular treatment.

The best way to learn about beekeeping is to join a beginner's course. Most local beekeeping associations run a beginner's course at least once a year and they are an excellent way to learn in a friendly and hands-on way. They usually start early spring and finish in time for the beekeeping season to begin. There are some great beginner's books and resources online but they can’t answer your “silly” questions!

You will need a hive, a hive tool, a smoker, a veil, a pair of gloves and, of course, some bees!

 

You will also need other equipment during the season such as a feeder, mouseguard, bee brush and a record card but these are things you can accumulate along the way.

You can't call yourself a beekeeper until you have been stung! Treat the bees gently, do not wear strong perfume or aftershave and do not look in the hive if the weather is overcast, rainy or windy. This way you can keep stings to a minimum.

 

There are many claims of cures for bee stings. The most popular methods for reducing the red, itchy and swollen symptoms are to take an antihistamine and some ibuprofen as well as laying ice on the affected area. It is certainly true that bee venom has curative properties. For example, bee stings can reduce the negative effects of arthritis.

 

Some people are allergic to bee stings or can suffer from anaphylactic shock. If in doubt, seek medical help.

No. During the active season, which is normally from about April to September, you will need to inspect the hive about once a week. During this time, activities may include swarm control, feeding and treating for Varroa. In the winter, the main job is to make sure they have enough food. This can be done by hefting the hive every two to three weeks to see how heavy it is, which avoids having to go into the hive during cold weather.

The best thing to do when starting out as a beekeeper is to join your local beekeeping association. These clubs welcome new beekeepers and often run beginner's courses. They usually meet once a month and hold talks and discussions on all things beekeeping-related, which are an invaluable source of information. Becoming a member of your local association means you will be part of the umbrella group British Beekeepers Association, whose website is another good source of information for beekeepers.

 

The National Bee Unit hosts a website called BeeBase to which all beekeepers should be registered. Bee inspectors who work under the NBU are an excellent source of information if ever you should need it.

Yes. Beeswax is used in many different ways - it can be made into candles, polish and cosmetics. Other hive products include propolis and royal jelly, both of which have medicinal qualities.

This depends on the forage available to your bees at different times of the year. If there is plenty, you may not need to feed them at all. However, most beekeepers will find that during certain times of the year forage is light and the bees may need supplementing.

 

In the spring, if you need to encourage colony growth, you should apply a thin sugar syrup. This can be given via a rapid, contact or frame feeder. During summer, you may experience the June gap where there is very little to forage on and you need to feed the bees. Feed syrup, but be careful not to spill it as this may encourage robbing from other bees and wasps. In autumn, to feed any hives that are light going into winter, use a thick sugar syrup.

 

During winter, you should heft the hives every two or three weeks. This means lifting one side gently from the bottom of the hive. It may take some time to get used to how heavy each hive should feel, so get used to doing it throughout the year. If they feel light, put on some fondant, to keep them going into spring. This may be placed on top of the brood frames or above the crownboard with an eke.

British ones, of course! Queen bees can be imported from Italy, Greece, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Canary Islands etc. Some of these bees may struggle with our inclement weather which is why we would always advocate British bred Queens over imported ones.

Yes, they will help pollinate your fruit trees and soft fruit as well as the flowers in your garden. The crops will be bigger, better, tastier and more regularly shaped.

Keeping bees is not only rewarding but also immensely interesting. Beekeeping practices are constantly changing so there is always something new to learn. Of course some beekeepers successfully keep bees using old and trusted methods. New and modern isn't always the best!!

 

Managed appropriately and treated properly, healthy honey bees contribute to our environment by providing pollination for many crops and fruit that we rely upon in our diet. Of course, they also make honey, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly, all of which have their own individual uses.

Wax from cappings or old brood combs can be melted down into beeswax blocks and then exchanged for foundation. This can be done in one of two ways:

 

1. Conversion. This is the most popular way to exchange wax. You pay for the conversion and the wiring but get the same weight of foundation as the wax exchanged.

 

2. Straight Swap. This is where no cash changes hands. You get fewer sheets per pound of wax than on conversion but you don't pay a penny.

 

Alternatively, we will buy your beeswax outright or set it against purchase of goods.

 

If you prefer to use your wax yourself, there are some crafty options which include candles and cosmetics. Thorne sells a wide range of candle moulds as well as extra beeswax, should you need it.

Equally, beeswax can be used in furniture polish, moisturisers, lip balm, soap etc. Recipes and instructions may be found on the internet and Thorne has a selection of books on beeswax uses and recipes.

 

The beekeeping year really starts in winter, when all hives are being shut up ready to go into the cold winter months. Bees cluster when the weather is cold so they do not do much over this period. During winter, hives need to be hefted in order to see whether they are light on stores. If they are, they need to be fed fondant. Other than feeding, winter jobs include cleaning and repairing equipment, reading and preparing for spring.

 

Spring comes round and the bees start to become more active. The Queen will start laying once the temperature has risen and the colony numbers will begin to increase. The colony may need treating for Varroa and may also need a stimulative syrup feed or pollen supplement to give them a push. As spring continues, the colony should build in numbers. Any comb changes should take place once the weather is consistently warm. Inspections should start to take place once a week.

 

Early summer is swarm season. During this period, the beekeeper may have to perform artificial swarms to make the bees think they have already swarmed, therefore avoiding large losses of bees and Queens. Inspections should still be once a week. There may be a period in June called the June Gap where, despite the good weather, there may not be a lot for bees to forage on so they may need feeding. Wasps can become a real nuisance towards the end of summer so Wasp-Outs should be deployed and other deterrent methods should be put in place. At the end of summer, there is normally a good honey harvest where you can take off the supers and extract the honey.

 

Autumn usually sees the Varroa numbers increase so this is a good time to treat before winter. As the weather gets colder, mouseguards should be attached to stop mice entering the hive and causing havoc over the winter. If any colonies are looking particularly weak, they can be united with stronger ones to ensure they will make it through the winter. Bees may need to be fed again before winter so that they have plenty of stores going into the cold weather.

We recommend starting with two hives. This enables the beginner beekeeper to compare their colonies which gives a better idea about what is normal and what is not. It is also very useful during manipulations. For example, if one colony is queenless, a frame of eggs can be taken from the queen-right colony and added to the queenless colony. This will give the bees a chance to raise their own Queen and hopefully save the colony.

In the first year, do not expect to take off too much honey from a new colony. It takes an awful lot of honey and energy for bees to make wax and if they are put onto new sheets of foundation, drawing this will be their first job. A nucleus will have to build up its colony numbers before it starts to produce any surplus honey that the beekeeper can harvest. Any honey you do take off is an unexpected bonus but remember never to take away all their stores as they will need them for the winter.

 

The second year is when you could expect more honey from the hive, providing the bees are healthy and have built up into a full size colony.

Generally, hives are made up from the same components. This excludes the Warre, Layens and Top bar hives which are slightly different.

 

Stand: This keeps the hive off the ground and away from any pests that may be able to enter the hive. It also keeps the hive off damp grass which can cause bees many problems.

 

Floor: This can be open mesh or solid. Solid floors are the traditional option but with the modern problems with Varroa, open mesh floors provide an easy way to monitor the level of infestation. This comes with a removable correx insert underneath the mesh onto which dead or dying Varroa drop. They can then be counted and disposed of.

 

Entrance block: This comes as part of the floor but you may not want it in all year round. While the hive is busy and strong, you can leave it out. Once wasps appear, you will need to put the entrance block in to reduce the entrance to a size the bees can easily defend. It will also cut out draughts if it is windy.

 

Brood box: This is where the Queen lays her eggs and is therefore where all the brood is reared. It is where eggs turn into larvae, then pupate and emerge as adults. The brood is normally towards the middle of the hive with frames of honey towards the outside. A healthy frame of brood should have a rugby ball-shaped brood pattern surrounded by cells filled with pollen and honey.

 

Queen excluder: This stops the Queen from traveling around the hive and laying her eggs in the supers. The last thing you want when going to remove supers full of honey is to take them off and realise the Queen has been in there and instead of honey, you have eggs and larvae!

 

Supers: These are smaller boxes than the brood boxes and therefore the frames are also smaller than the frames in the brood box. Bees like to keep their stores above the brood so this is where they put their honey. When ripe and/or capped, the supers can be taken off and the honey extracted from the frames.

 

Crownboard: This is a piece of wood with holes in, which is normally placed on top of the supers or brood box (in the winter). It provides cover for the inside frames. It can also be used when feeding the colony. The feeder is placed over one of the holes and the bees will come up to feed from it. Porter bee escapes will also fit in the holes if you are looking to clear the bees from the supers and will allow bees to go down into the hive but will not let them back up.

 

Roof: These come with a galvanised metal or copper cover and protects the hive from adverse weather.

There is a wealth of books about bees and beekeeping out there and it is a great idea during the colder, quieter months to do some reading. It will help you to prepare for the coming season. It is always a good idea to read lots of different books as all beekeepers have different opinions and it will be up to you whose advice you follow.

 

The following books are a good place to start when you begin or are thinking about keeping bees:

 

Haynes Bee Manual - Claire and Adrian Waring

 

At the Hive Entrance - H. Storch

 

BBKA Guide to Beekeeping - Dr Ivor Davis and Roger Cullum-Kenyon

 

Bees at the Bottom of the Garden - Alan Campion

Yes. A female honey bee (worker) has a barbed sting. Because of this, when she stings you, she cannot retract the sting. As she tries to escape, the organs that pump venom are ripped from her abdomen. This is fatal for the bee as her insides have now been ripped apart. The sting and the venom sac can be seen stuck in the skin. The sac will continue to pump venom into the skin for a couple of minutes after the rest of the bee has departed so it is really important to get the sting out as soon as possible. Scrape it out quickly, ideally with a sharp knife or the edge of a credit card. Do not pinch it as this will squeeze more venom into the skin.

 

The male honey bees (drones) do not have a sting and therefore are harmless. The queen does have a sting but it is normally used in battle with another queen and very rarely used on humans.

One of the most frequent questions we get asked is about frames. What is SN1 and how is it different to SN4? What is the difference between SN frames and DN frames? What is a Manley frame? What does Hoffman mean? The variety of frames can be overwhelming so hopefully we can bust some myths without confusing things further!

So, to start with, we will deal with the frames that are exclusively used for National or WBC hives, called British Standard frames. These are the most common frames in the UK as the National is our most popular hive. Frames for a Smith hive are very similar in that the actual frame space is the same but the lugs are just slightly shorter. In a standard brood body for a National or WBC hive, you need DN frames. If it helps, you can remember this as Deep National. In a super you need SN frames and this can be remembered as Shallow National.

The variations in frame are due to a slight difference in width of top bar and whether or not the side bars are self-spacing or not:

Self-spacing is also referred to as Hoffman (named after Polish beekeeper, Julius Hoffman), where the side bars stick out from the top bars and then taper towards the bottom. On one side the side bar is flat and the other is pointed. This means when they are placed into the hive next to each other, the frames space themselves. (This is important because it keeps the correct bee space, meaning the bees can get around the hive easily without leaving so much space that they build brace comb).

Non-self-spacing side bars are the same width as the top bar, meaning they cannot space themselves and require other means of spacing such as plastic or metal ends or castellations.

Narrow top bars are the most popular but the wider ones are used as well to stop brace comb being built in between frames. The following table outlines the different parts of each British Standard frame.

SN1

Super frames with narrow top bar and flat side bars. Need castellations or spacers.

DN1

Brood frames with narrow top bars and flat side bars. Need castellations or spacers.

SN2

Super frames with wide top bar and flat side bars. Need castellations or spacers.

DN2

Brood frames with wide top bar and flat side bars. Need castellations or spacers.

SN4

Super frames with narrow top bar and Hoffman side bars.

DN4

Brood frames with narrow top bar and Hoffman side bars

SN5

Super frames with wide top bars and Hoffman side bars.

DN5

Brood frames with wide top bars and Hoffman side bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the SN frames are the same as the DN frames, the only difference being that the side bars on the DN frames are longer to make a deeper frame.

Hoffman side bars are also found in Langstroth, Commercial and Dadant frames which means these frames are automatically self-spacing.

Manley frames are a type of frame for the super and we do these for British Standard hives (National or WBC), Langstroth, Commercial, Dadant or Smith hives. The main difference on these frames is that the side bar is wide all the way down, not tapered like the Hoffman side bars. They also have broader bottom bars. These differences are said to encourage the bees to draw out the wax further and be easier to uncap the frames, as it gives the beekeeper a solid support to lean on. As the bees can draw the wax and honey out further, it also means less uncapping as you need fewer frames per box.

In a nutshell, yes!

As beekeepers, we know that bees need food. We move our bees to places where there is an abundance of nectar in the hope that this will sustain the colony. When there is a dearth of forage, we supply them with syrup or fondant. What we often forget about however is that bees need water! This is not just because they need to drink but for several other reasons outlined below.

 

  1. To keep the hive cool: When it is hot outside, you can be sure it is hot inside a beehive! Bees use water to cool the hive using evaporative cooling; they spread water around the hive, mainly over sealed brood and around the rims of cells with larvae or eggs and then vigorously fan their wings, evaporating the water and in turn cooling the inside of the hive.

 

  1. To control the humidity: In a similar way to controlling the temperature, the worker bees use water to control the humidity inside the hive.  Both temperature and humidity are crucial to have under control so that larvae develop properly, and bees do not overheat.

 

  1. To make use of stored food: Bees need water to dilute stored honey that has crystallized because they can’t use the food in this form. Without water therefore, they can't access these food sources.

 

  1. To feed the larvae:The nurse bees who feed the developing larvae eat large amounts of pollen and nectar but also water. This is so that their hypopharyngeal glands produce the royal jelly that is used to feed the larvae.

 

  1. To aid digestion: As with most animals, honeybees need water so that they can metabolise and digest their food.

 

 

So, make sure there is a water source nearby. This could be a naturally occurring one like a stream or pond, or it could be a little bowl with stones in that you put out yourself. Make sure any water you leave out for the bees is clean and that it is reasonably close to the hive so that, especially in winter when it is cold, they don’t have to fly far to reach it.

Not everyone wants to keep bees and the reasons can be varied and personal. But one way to help bees of all types is to create a bee friendly garden! 

As we all know, or should do by now, our green spaces and gardens are extremely important for all wildlife: for habitats, forage, shelter and nesting. This of course, includes bees.

The topic of Bee-Friendly Gardens has come up again and again in the last few years with people from all sectors and walks of life pleading with the public to leave their gardens just a little bit wilder in the hope that this will help to save our natural environment…to the point where it becomes almost like white noise.

But how many of us still mow our lawns as soon as the grass ‘looks a bit long’ without taking note of the clover or dandelions that have also taken root there? How many of us buy beautiful flowers for our gardens without realising that bees and other pollinators can’t actually forage on them? And how many of us use weedkillers to get rid of ‘unsightly weeds’ without a second thought to how the chemicals affect our local wildlife? There are so many small changes we can all carry out to make a huge difference!

 

Why gardens are so important for bees

While there is much commercial attraction to single flower honeys, for example heather, blueberry or borage, these are honeys which have been produced by presenting the bees to a specific monoculture: orchards or crop fields for example. However, most honey will be the result of a blend of flowers and gardens play a huge role in providing the flowers necessary to create this blended honey.

Honey aside, gardens can provide a diverse landscape, small or large, of plants, flowers and places to shelter, offering a natural haven for bees and other native species. The variety in plant species also gives the bees a wide range of nectar and pollen sources and as a consequence, a longer foraging time. This means that gardens are one of the most important places bees can get this natural diversity of forage.

However small your garden, you can always make a positive difference!

 

Flowers

Flowers are obviously very important to honeybees (and other bees and pollinators too). Honeybees are looking for nectar and pollen to take back to the nest for their colony. Simple flowers are usually best, as double or multi-petaled types can be hard for the bees to penetrate. So, while they might not look quite as spectacular in your eyes, make sure you have some simple flowers to make it as easy as possible for the bees. Some flowers you might like to include are bramble, cherry and clematis. Also, plants that have multiple small flowers are highly attractive to bees as they can visit several nectaries from just one landing, for example, globe thistle and goldenrod.

It is always best to use a variety of species and sizes of plant because not only do they provide a plethora of nectar and pollen sources, but they will flower at slightly different times of the year, providing bees with a good forage coverage throughout the season. Native plant species are best as they are usually better adapted to local climates and weather than non-native species.

Some common garden plants you might want to add to your bee-friendly garden are:

 

Globe thistle

Ox-eye daisy

Sunflower

Borage

Hop

Teasel

Broom

Currant

Mint

Grape Hyacinth

Hollyhock

Evening Primrose

Phlox

Polyanthus

Cotoneaster

 

 

Wildlife nature corner

Leaving a corner for nature in even the most pruned garden will have a profound effect on the wildlife in your garden. Bees of all species will come to forage on the flowers, butterflies will lay their eggs on the plants and birds will come for berries and seeds. It also provides an area where mammals such as hedgehogs can shelter, rest, or hibernate over winter.

 

Pond

If you are lucky enough to have a garden big enough, why not go for a pond? As well as providing a habitat for pond creatures such as snails, frogs, fish and a plethora of water insects, ponds also provide an invaluable water source for many other animals, including bees. Just make sure there is a little ramp so that if any small mammals find their way in, that they can get back out again. Bees use water to cool the hive down using evaporation and also to dilute stored honey when feeding it to the brood. It is a good idea to have a shallow area with stones in so that the bees can properly land and take their fill, without the risk of being drowned.

 

Note

Honeybees and other types of bee are susceptible to pesticides, in particular systemic poisons which enter all parts of the plant and kill any insect which eat the leaves, flowers, seeds or fruit. When the honeybee collects nectar from these plants, it takes it back to the colony and shares the toxins with other bees, killing many very quickly. With that in mind, try to avoid garden sprays.

And it’s as easy as that!

Castellations are generally used in supers and not in brood boxes. Beekeepers mostly prefer to be able to slide the frames up and down to where they want them and so choose runners. However, supers do not need to be inspected as often or as in depth as brood boxes. Castellations are therefore useful because they keep the frames locked in place at the correct bee space.

When you insert foundation wax into a hive, you need the frames close enough together that the bees draw it out nicely. They tend to make a mess of any foundation frames that are spaced too far apart. If you have Hoffman super frames (SN4s or SN5s), you should be able to fit 12 frames in your super, which is a good initial spacing for foundation. You can also stretch to using 11 space castellations when inserting foundation into your super, which means you can fit 11 frames in a box. The frames are slightly further apart from each other, but the bees should still be able to draw the foundation out properly.

Once the bees have drawn the foundation out, you can space them further apart. So, at the end of the season, for example, when you have uncapped and extracted your honey, you can space the frames on 9 or 10 space castellations, i.e. further apart between each frame. This means the bees should draw out the wax even further into the gap. You should then be able to take off more honey per frame and therefore per box, without using any more equipment. In fact, you will be using fewer frames.

 

As all of our hives are made from cedar wood, there is no real need to paint or treat your hive. Both Western Red Cedar and British Cedar will provide good protection against the weather for many years. Painting will help preserve the wood for even longer, but it is not strictly necessary.

However, of course over time the wood will deteriorate in appearance and will fade to a greyish colour. Some people prefer to leave the wood to turn this colour, others prefer to paint or stain it. Some go for a more natural looking stain where you can still see the grain of the wood, others prefer to give it a full coating of coloured paint.

A cleansing flight is when the bees, after being cooped up for so long inside the hive during winter, leave the hive, basically to go to the toilet. You will normally see this on a relatively warm, sunny day, especially after a spell of colder, even snowy days. Even if you don’t see the bees flying, you may see droppings or dead bees on the ground outside. This is normal. The dead bees are usually the older bees who become chilled and cannot make it back to the safety of the colony. They would have died soon anyway so this is nothing to worry about. Cleansing flights are important to prevent any disease being harboured and spread around the hive. 

In the UK, we are lucky to have seasons where different plants and flowers become available for the bees to forage on at different times in the year. Below you will find a basic guide as to what plants you might find useful to have in your garden or near your apiary, to encourage almost year-long forage.

 

Early spring: Apples, Pears, Clover (white), Dandelion, Gooseberry, Sycamore, Rosemary

Late spring/summer: Blueberry, Borage, Bramble, Buckwheat, Oil seed rape, Hawthorn, Lavender, Lime tree, Thistle

Late season: Fuchsia, Goldenrod, Heather (Bell and Ling), Ivy

Poisonous / unappetizing honey: Mountain laurel and Rhododendron are both poisonous.  Ragwort produces rank, bitter tasting honey and Privet also unpalatable but can be mixed with other honey to produce something more edible.

Pests and Diseases

Like all pets and livestock, bees have their own pests and diseases which the beekeeper should look out for. One major pest is the varroa mite, which you may need to treat twice a year. Other pests include wax moth, which can be treated by using a biological larvacide, and wasps which can be kept at bay using deterrent methods such as traps, entrance blocks and only feeding bees at dusk. Woodpeckers may also be a problem as they can bore holes into the sides of wooden hives if not protected.

 

Currently, a pest on high alert is the Asian Hornet. This non-native invasive pest has been found several times now in the UK and poses a huge threat to our native honey bees. If you find one of these pests, contact the National Bee Unit who will verify the insect and carry out their contingency plans from there.

 

By maintaining strong, healthy colonies headed by young, prolific queens, your bees will stave off most diseases. It is also important to make sure the hives are positioned towards the sun, have plenty of ventilation and that they do not get damp. Old combs should be replaced with fresh foundation every couple of years. This is because old comb can harbour lots of pathogens which can cause a variety of brood and adult bee diseases.

 

Please see the pests and diseases FAQs section below for more information.

Most colonies in the UK now have Varroa. Infestations are often missed by the beekeeper until the problem has reached a critical level. If mites are actually seen in the hive and on the bees, the infestation is already severe. The beekeeper needs to be looking out for signs such as deformed wings (caused by the Deformed Wing Virus transmitted by Varroa mites), patchy brood patterns, short adult life span, reduced weight and reduced resistance to infections.

 

One of the best ways to check the level of Varroa infestation is to use an open mesh floor. This is the most popular type of floor because of its role in Integrated Pest Management against Varroa. To determine the mite load in your colony, carry out the following:

 

1. Using the open mesh floor, rub Vaseline on the correx insert so that when mites drop, they cannot escape. 2. Check the insert every day for seven days, each time counting the number of mites, then wiping the insert clean. Keep a record of how many mites have fallen onto the insert each day. 3. At the end of the seven days, add the total number of mites and divide it by seven. This gives the average daily mite fall. 4. Multiply the mite drop by one of the following numbers:

 

Winter i.e. November to February x 400

 

Summer i.e. May to August x 30

 

March, April, September and October x 100.

 

If the number is over 1000, it is considered a severe risk to the colony. Action will need to be taken quickly to save the colony from collapse. Luckily, there are many treatments available which are outlined in detail in this folder.

 

Another way to check for Varroa is using the Varroa Easy Check. Beekeepers simply collect 200 or 300 bees and shake them for 60 seconds in the EasyCheck shaker with a solution of alcohol or winter windshield washer fluid. Mites separate from the bees and fall to the bottom of the transparent bowl where they can be easily counted. To calculate a percentage of mite infestation for a sample of 200 bees, divide the number of mites seen by two. If the sample is 300 bees, divide the number of mites by three.

Varroa destructor is a mite that is more closely related to spiders and ticks than to insects. It is an external parasite of the honey bee and multiplies rapidly within the colony. Varroa cannot be completely eradicated but successful colonies can be kept despite the presence of the mite. Levels of infestation can be monitored and controlled by use of appropriate methods to keep mite numbers below levels that are harmful.

 

Varroa mites reproduce in the capped cells of honey bees and feed off the haemolymph of developing bees. This not only damages their development into adults but the mite also acts as a vector for viruses such as the Deformed Wing Virus. Bees usually live long enough to emerge as adults but suffer from a variety of ailments including shorter lifespan, reduced weight, shrunken and deformed wings and reduced natural resistance to infections. Varroa infestations can lead to the collapse of a colony if left untreated.

The Asian Hornet (Vespa Velutina) is a non-native invasive species originating in Asia. It is believed to have arrived in Europe on a ship containing pottery from China. Since then, it has become widespread in France and is now a major problem in Jersey. Over the last couple of years, the UK has had a small number of confirmed sightings of the Asian hornet and the National Bee Unit has launched contingency plans to deal with the invasive pest. The Asian hornet hawks outside beehives, killing bees as they attempt to defend their hive.

 

The hornet can be identified by the following characteristics:

 

  • Queen up to 30mm long, worker up to 25mm long
  • Legs yellow at the ends
  • Dark brown / black abdomen with a yellow /orange band on 4th segment
  • Head dark from above, orange from front
  • Dark coloured antennae
  • Entirely black velvety thorax
  • Never active at night

 

The Asian hornet should not be confused with the European hornet which poses little or no threat to our honey bee population. The European hornet is larger with almost an entirely yellow abdomen.

 

If you think you have seen an Asian hornet, please notify the Great British Non Native Species Secretariat via this link to report your findings.

 

Alernatively, you can send an email to the following address: alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk.

 

You can now buy Asian hornet identification aids from us. These are real hornets suspended in clear acrylic. Verified by the National Bee Unit and NNSS (Non-native Species Secretariat).

 

We also have an affordable hornet trap on offer. These are widely used in France and are known as the most effective trap for the Asian hornet.

There are two types of Foulbrood - European and American. The names bear no resemblance to where the Foulbrood can appear; we can get both types here in the UK. Both types are mainly transmitted by the beekeeper's poor hygiene practices.

 

European Foulbrood is caused by a bacterium that multiplies inside the larval gut before the cells are capped. This then competes with the larva for nutrients and the larva can die as a result of starvation. EFB will normally affect colonies that have been weakened. This could be due to stress of no nectar flow, being moved to another site or being under attack from Varroa. The main symptoms are a molten appearance of the larvae before being capped. After the dead larvae have died out, they can form brown scales which are easily removable by the bees. There may also be a sour smell to the frames. If you suspect EFB in your colony, you should contact your local bee inspector immediately.

 

American Foulbrood is caused by a spore forming bacterium which invades the larval tissue, normally after the cell is capped. These spores are the infectious stage of the disease and infection begins when food contaminated with spores is fed to larvae by the nurse bees. Once in the gut, the spores germinate, bacteria move into the larval tissues, where they multiply enormously. Infected larvae normally die after the cell is sealed and millions of infectious spores form in the larval remains. These spores remain viable for many years and are very resistant to extremes of temperature and to many disinfectants. If you suspect AFB in your colony, you should contact your local bee inspector immediately.

 

EFB and AFB test kits are available to determine whether you have these diseases in your hives. These are Lateral Flow Devices and work in much the same way a pregnancy test works. The best thing to do if you think you may have either of the diseases is to contact your local bee inspector and they will be able to advise you.

There are two types of wax moth that can cause problems within the beehive: the Lesser and the Greater Wax Moth. They are not generally a big problem for strong, healthy colonies but can be problematic for weaker colonies. The larvae of both species can cause damage to comb by burrowing through the wax and feeding on impurities, especially in old brood combs. Greater Wax Moth will also make furrows in wood where they build their pit to pupate. The most obvious sign of infestation is a white silk trail left by the larvae who travel below the brood cappings. It is possible to catch these larvae but you have to be quick because they move fast!

 

In extreme cases the whole of the comb will be destroyed. Boxes that are lightly infested may be placed on top of a strong colony to clean out but combs that are heavily infested and beyond treatment should be burned.

 

Infestations are generally caused by unhygienic beekeeping practices such as leaving burr comb and exposed supers or broods with drawn comb lying around the apiary.

 

There are 3 main ways to treat for wax moth. All 3 treatments can be used on drawn honeycomb supers or brood. The most common is to treat supers as brood boxes tend to have bees in over winter. These treatments are:

 

1. Certan  (currently unavailable)

 

2. Acetic Acid - Collection Only

 

3. Sulphur Strips

 

The instructions of use for all three of these products can be found in this Wax Moth folder under their respective headings.

Sacbrood- This is a virus passed from nurse bees to developing larvae by feeding them infected pollen, nectar or water. Larvae typically die before fully transforming into pupae and fluid then accumulates between the body of the larva and the skin. This forms a sac like a 'Chinese slipper' in the cell. It is a relatively common disease during the first half of the brood-rearing season and can often go unnoticed, affecting only a small percentage of the brood. It does not usually cause severe colony loss. Some cells may have pin sized holes in the cappings and the larvae turn from gray to yellow to brown to black. The virus is transmitted by the beekeeper through transportation and extraction practices but can also be worsened by damp weather and a queen that is not very resistant to disease. Re-queening the colony can help to alleviate symptoms, and keeping Varroa to a minimum will help to control the spread of the virus.

 

Chalkbrood - This is caused by a fungus called Acosphaera and is ingested by the larvae through feeding. It penetrates the gut wall and in doing so, it absorbs essential nutrients that the larvae need to develop properly and they die of starvation. The dead larvae get covered in a cotton wool-like growth and may swell to fill the cell. They then shrink to form a chalk-like mummy which can be found on the hive floor or at the entrance of the hive if the infestation is bad. Infestations can occur in early spring as the colony grows, especially in damp and cold conditions as these promote spores. Most colonies will be able to deal with a small infestation of chalkbrood and overcome the symptoms, but if it is bad, make sure the colony is not under stress and that the hive is not in a damp spot. If it persists, re-queen with a more resistant strain.

 

Baldbrood - This is not usually very serious but can point to an infestation of wax moth. The wax moth larvae within the hive tunnel below the surface of brood cappings, leaving a trail of silky web behind it. The bees will sometimes uncap the cells leaving perforated and exposed cells, particularly in a straight line. Sometimes the partially uncapped cells have a slightly raised edge to them. The developing bees normally hatch out as adult bees but sometimes will have slight deformities. Occasionally, due to the silky web, the bees can get trapped inside the cell when they try to hatch and can end up starving inside the cell. Keeping strong colonies will help to keep wax moth under control.

 

Chilled brood - This is basically when the developing brood in a colony gets too cold and dies. It mostly occurs when there are insufficient numbers of bees to cover the brood frame and can therefore be caused by the beekeeper trying to expand the colony too quickly. The appearance of the larvae is that they have turned from pearly white to black.

 

Dronelayer/Laying worker - A drone laying queen can occur when the queen is insufficiently mated or if she is old. She may still lay in a nice brood pattern, but most or all of her eggs with be unfertilised, leading to a mass of drones which will not be able to sustain the colony. The only option open to a colony with a drone laying queen is to re-queen with a young, prolific, mated queen.

 

Laying workers occur when queen pheromone is absent and this can stimulate their ovaries into laying eggs. These eggs will only ever be unfertilised, and develop into drones. Therefore the comb becomes a patchy, lumpy mess of drone brood and the colony is doomed. The only option for colonies worth keeping is to unite them with a queen-right colony, but this can be difficult.

Certan is a biological larvicide, formulated to control wax moth larvae. This is sprayed directly onto the combs after the honey harvest, in order to protect them from wax moth infestation whilst in storage. It must be eaten by the wax moth larvae to be effective and once eaten, the larvae will die 2 to 3 days later. It does not affect adult moths but does give protection against larvae right through the season. Certan will not negatively affect the bees or honey and any resistance to the product is very unlikely.

 

Certan is used by spraying a mixture directly on the face of the frame on each side of the comb.

 

How to use:

1. Dilute 10ml of Certan in 200ml of water. This amount will treat 9-11 National super frames or 7 Langstroth super frames.

 

2. Spray on to both sides of the comb on each frame

 

3. Allow frames to dry before storing.

Burning sulphur strips will kill all stages of wax moth present at the time but does not guarantee long lasting protection. It will also prevent stored pollen from going mouldy.

How to use:

1. Place a piece of newspaper on a concrete or wooden floor, preferably outside.

 

2. Stack 6 supers with empty combs on top of the paper and seal round the sides with tape.

 

3. Place an empty brood body on top of the stack.

 

4. Place a sulphur burner inside the brood body on top of the super frames.

 

5. Hang 2 sulphur strips in the sulphur burner and fold the strips in half.

 

6. Light the strips and quickly close the burner. When lit, the sulphur dioxide sinks through stacks of supers, treating all super frames.

 

7. Place a sealed hive roof over the brood body and leave quickly.

 

8. Repeat every 4 weeks whilst in storage and leave for a few days before putting into use.

 

Safety warning

Sulphur dioxide is toxic when inhaled so only use sulphur strips outside or in a well-ventilated area. Causes burns. Keep out of reach of children. Use protective clothing and seek medical assistance in case of an accident or feeling unwell.

Acetic acid can be used to sterilise combs against wax moth, Nosema and chalkbrood. 80% acetic acid should be used with absorbent fume pads as well as proper protective clothing and containers because it is highly corrosive and will burn skin and corrode metal hive parts.

 

How to use

 

1. Place an absorbent fume pad saturated with ¼ pint/125ml 80% acetic acid onto the floor. This can be a solid wooden hive floor or any timber or earth floor. Avoid concrete as acetic acid will corrode it. Remove or coat with Vaseline any metal ends or frame runners as it will corrode these parts too.

 

2. Place a brood box with frames to be fumigated on top of the fume pad. Then place another saturated fume pad on top of the frames. Do this for each box of frames you wish to treat.

 

3. Place a lid on the stack and seal the joints between the boxes with gaffer tape. As an easier alternative, it is possible to stack the boxes inside a wheelie bin liner which provides a good airtight seal.

 

4. Leave for 1 week.

 

5. Remove the acid-soaked pads carefully and air the boxes and frames for a few days before putting into use.

 

Safety Warning

Acetic acid is highly corrosive and will easily corrode concrete and burn skin. Avoid contact with the eyes and fumes being inhaled into the lungs. Always wear overalls, protective gloves and goggles when using this acid.

Wasps can be a major problem for honeybee colonies in late summer and autumn. Throughout the spring and summer, they may prey on honeybee colonies, looking for dead bees to use as food. The biggest problems come in the autumn, when they are intent on robbing honey from hives. You may see them flying round the entrance of the hive or under the roof, trying to find a way to get in.

 

Strong, healthy colonies are better able to defend themselves whereas small, weak colonies are more vulnerable. This includes nuclei. However, there are measures that can be taken by the beekeeper to reduce the negative impact of wasps on their bees. These include:

 

1. Making sure colonies are strong all year round, particularly in late summer going into autumn.

 

2. Not feeding syrup during the day or spilling any in the apiary as this encourages robbing by wasps but also other bees.

 

3. Reducing the entrance to one bee space to help colonies guard their hives more effectively.

 

You can also put out wasp traps in the apiary to stop colonies getting overwhelmed. But remember, destroying large numbers of wasps may be detrimental to the environment.

Siting your beehive

No. Of course, if you live in the countryside with a large garden, you have an ideal location. However, beehives can be found on numerous roofs and balconies in cities. With the parks and small town gardens packed with plants, there is excellent forage for bees in built-up areas. And if you’re lucky enough to have a large country estate, an apiary is a must-have!

 

However, if you do have a small garden, considerations must be made to minimise any impact the bees may have on neighbours. Place your hives facing a fence or climbing plant to force bees upwards before they fly off. This means people will not be in the flight path and therefore will be less likely to be stung. Keep friendly bees and manage them properly so that any swarm activity is kept to a minimum. And of course, keep neighbours stocked up with plenty of honey!

Not necessarily. Ideally, they should be faced either south-east, south or south-west on level ground. It is easier for the beekeeper when inspecting an apiary to have all hives facing the same way because you do not end up stood in the way of the entrance to one hive while you are inspecting another.

 

However, to minimise the impacts of drifting and robbing, many beekeepers organise their apiaries so that their hives face in different directions. In this case, ensure that all hives get plenty of sunlight and that they are spaced out sufficiently for easy inspections.

No. However, common courtesy applies. If you are wanting to place your hives on someone else's land, for example in an orchard or the edge of a farmer's field, you will need to get permission to put them there. You will often find farmers very agreeable to accommodating bees as they help to pollinate many crops. It is customary, however, to give a jar or two of honey each season to the people whose land you keep your bees on.

Possibly. With the right management, however, this can be kept to a minimum. Make sure you keep friendly bees and site the hives so that the bees will not fly out of the hive and straight across your neighbour’s garden - facing them towards a fence or tall plant will force the bees upwards before they fly off. Bees do go on cleansing flights and are prone to “doing their business” over the neighbours' washing lines. They may also swarm from time to time so try to chat to your neighbours about your interesting hobby. Encourage them to put on your spare veil and look into your hive and of course, make sure they are well supplied with honey!

Varroa treatments

There is a variety of treatments available to reduce the number of Varroa mites in your hives. They are listed below with the main active ingredient.

 

Apivar - Amitraz

 

Oxybee - Oxalic acid

 

Api-Bioxal - Oxalic Acid

 

Apiguard - Thymol

 

Api Life Var - Thymol

 

MAQS - Formic Acid

 

Apistan - Tau Fluvalinate

 

Individual details on each treatment, when and how to use it can be found in this same Pests and Diseases section.

You can still drastically reduce the number of mites in your hive without using chemicals. Bio-technical methods include using an open mesh floor, sugar dusting, frame trapping, drone brood removal and using artificial swarms to bait Varroa into cells about to be capped. These are all part of Integrated Pest Management methods which can also be used in conjunction with chemical treatments.

 

Frame trapping, drone brood removal and artificial swarm methods require strict timing and may set your colonies back a few weeks in terms of colony build up. An assessment would have to be made as to whether sorting out the Varroa problem is the most important job (which it normally is!). These methods are available to view in great detail on the National Bee Unit website via their 'Managing Varroa' advisory leaflet.

Apivar is newly licensed in the UK but has been around for some years in Europe. The active ingredient is Amitraz which paralyses the mites and causes them to fall off. Bees walk upon strips impregnated with the chemical and transmit it throughout the colony through contact with each other. Each Apivar pack comes with 5 x 2 strips which is enough to treat 5 hives.

 

Supers should not be used whilst using Apivar. However, they can be fed during treatment, which is an advantage over other products. There is no real temperature restraint but the strips do work better when the bees are more active because they walk over the strips more often and therefore transmit the chemical more readily. The strips should be left in for 6-10 weeks depending on the size of the brood nest.

 

Instructions for use

 

1. Separate the double strip.

 

2. Push the strip’s V-shaped die-cut outside.

 

3. Push each strip between the top of two frames inside the brood area or the bee cluster with a minimum distance of 2 frames between strips. The strips should be placed in such a way that the bees can have free access to both sides.

 

IMPORTANT: Remember to take Apivar strips out at the end of treatment time. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

Oxybee is an easy to use oxalic acid treatment for Varroa. Each pack comes with a 1 litre bottle of oxalic acid and 2 sachets of sucrose powder. The acid is believed to kill mites on contact. It should be used when there is no brood in the hive so the period between Christmas and New Year is a good time. The reason for this is that oxalic acid does not treat mites within capped cells. Treatment should only take a few seconds so opening the hive should not disrupt the bees.

 

Instructions for use

1. Place bottle containing oxalic acid in lukewarm water (30-35°C).

 

2. Pour all sucrose powder into the bottle.

 

3. Close the bottle tightly and shake until powder is fully dissolved.

 

4. Use a trickle 2 bottle, syringe or drenching gun to trickle 5-6ml of solution per seam of bees (between the frames).

 

IMPORTANT: It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

Apiguard is a popular, thymol-based product which will kill Varroa mites in honey bee colonies. It is a four week treatment and each pack comes with enough to treat 5 hives. It should be used without supers and the temperature should be consistently above 15 degrees Celsius. You should not feed whilst the treatment is on.

 

Instructions for use

 

1. Open one of the foil trays so the gel inside is revealed. Place this on top of the brood frames. You will also need to use an eke to provide a bit of room under the crownboard. Leave for 2 weeks.

 

2. After 2 weeks, take out the used tray and replace with another opened one. Leave this in for a further 2 weeks and then remove. After a total of 4 weeks, the treatment is complete.

 

IMPORTANT: Remember to take Apiguard out at the end of treatment time. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

Api Life Var is a thymol-based Varroa treatment. It should be used without supers and when the temperature is consistently above 15 degrees Celsius. Each pack contains two biscuit type strips. Four strips are needed per hive meaning two packets per hive are required. You should not feed whilst this treatment is on the hive.

 

Instructions for use

 

1. Open one packet and take out one of the strips. Break the strips into 4 parts and place them on top of the brood frames, not too far away from the brood nest. Leave for 1 week.

 

2. After 1 week, take out the pieces and replace with another strip broken into 4. Repeat every week until you have completed a 4 week treatment.

 

IMPORTANT: Remember to take Api Life Var strips out at the end of treatment time. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

MAQS is a varroa treatment based on formic acid. It should be applied when outside temperatures are between 10 and 29.5 degrees and can be used when supers are on the hive. It is quite a strong treatment so should only be applied to strong colonies (covering a minimum of 6 full sized brood frames) and there should be plenty of ventilation. Pack sizes come in 2 dose or 10 dose, treating 2 and 10 colonies respectively.

 

Instructions for use

 

1. Open one packet per hive. This will contain 2 strips. Lay the strips across the frames at opposite sides so that all the frames are covered.

 

2. Leave for 1 week then remove and dispose of in the compost.

 

IMPORTANT: Remember to take MAQS strips out at the end of treatment time. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

Api-Bioxal is a licensed oxalic based product with added glycerine for the treatment of Varroa in honey bee colonies. Glycerine is said to help with the adhesion of the oxalic acid onto the Varroa, which increases mite deaths. It can be distributed via two methods: trickling and vaporising. Packs come in 35g, 175g, 350g enough to treat 10, 50 and 100 hives respectively if trickling. Do not treat hives when supers are on if you are taking the honey off for human consumption as oxalic acid ages honey, so cannot be sold commercially.

 

Trickling:

 

1. Pour all powder into 500ml 1:1 warm sugar syrup (308ml water and 308g sugar).

 

2. Using a trickle 2 bottle, trickle 5ml solution in between each frame that has bees on. Maximum dose is 50ml per hive.

 

Vaporising:

 

1. Measure out 2.3g of Api-bioxal powder and place in the pan of a vaporiser (Vapmite, Varrox or Sublimox).

 

2. Place the appliance in the entrance of the hive avoiding contact with frames.

 

3. Close up entrance to stop bees escaping.

 

4. Turn on the vaporiser and leave on for around 3 minutes according to the vaporiser instructions.

 

5. Keep the hive shut for a further 15 minutes.

 

6. Cool down using clean water and clean the vaporiser after use.

 

7. Repeat for each hive you wish to treat.

 

IMPORTANT: It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites. Full protective mask, gloves and glasses should be worn when using oxalic acid products.

Apistan is a treatment for the control of Varroa in honey bee colonies. Its active ingredient is Tau fluvalinate which is a pyrethroid. It should not be used whilst there are supers on the hive or when feeding. It is best used in late summer after the main honey harvest but can be used any time of the year in the case of a severe infestation. Each pack comes with 10 strips which is enough to treat 5 hives. The treatment time is 6-8 weeks depending on the size of the brood nest.

 

Instructions for use:

 

1. Tear 2 strips off the sheet per hive.

 

2. Suspend the strips between frames 3/4 and 7/8 within the brood chamber.

 

3. Leave for 6-8 weeks depending on the size of the brood nest. After the allocated time, remove the strips.

 

IMPORTANT: In many places, through misuse, mites have developed resistance to pyrethroid based products such as Apistan. Remember to take the strips out at the end of the treatment time. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage for the correct amount of time to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

We often get queries about how to use oxalic acid as a winter varroa treatment. Here is a few of our frequently asked questions.

 

When is it best to treat with oxalic acid?

It is best to treat with oxalic acid in winter when the colony is broodless. The basic principle is that oxalic acid cannot penetrate the wax cappings and it is in these sealed cells where varroa reproduce. Therefore, the best time to treat is when the queen has stopped laying over winter and there are no capped cells for the varroa to hide in. Some say the best time to treat is after two weeks of consistently cold weather, on a dry, still day. Any phoretic mites i.e. any mites on the backs of bees and walking around the hive will be targeted and killed.

 

What oxalic acid treatments are available?

We supply two different oxalic acid treatments. The first is the licensed crystals, Api-Bioxal, which can be used in a pan on a vaporiser or mixed together with sugar syrup to be administered as a trickle treatment. The other product is Oxybee, which comes as a bottle of oxalic acid and two sachets of powder. These are just shaken up together and used as a trickle treatment also.

 

Can I treat with supers on?

We believe you can, as long as the honey in the hive is left solely for the bees. Any honey in the hive may be at risk of becoming contaminated, particularly honey in uncapped cells. We do not recommend treating with any oxalic acid product while you have honey stores on that you intend to take off for human consumption. Keep in mind that Bee Inspectors carry out spot checks on honey to test for contaminants and there may be repercussions for any beekeeper whose honey is found to be contaminated.

 

Can I treat when feeding?

As oxalic acid is normally administered in winter, you may have already given the bees some fondant. There is nothing to say that feeding fondant will affect the efficacy of the oxalic acid treatment. If you are trickling, placing fondant on top of the hole in the crownboard will be much easier. This is because if it is placed directly on top of the frames, you will have to scrape it off before trickling between the seams, which is a messy job sure to annoy the bees.

 

How long will oxalic acid last once it is mixed up?

Oxybee is the longest lasting oxalic acid on the market. It will last for two years unmixed and one year once mixed, as long as it is kept in the fridge. Any other products should be used immediately once mixed up.

This treatment works on mites ON the bees. Mites in capped brood are protected. Therefore, sublimation is most effective when carried out in winter. However, it can be done in the autumn when varroa infestations get particularly bad.

 

Winter treatment – single treatment

A single oxalic acid treatment in winter can knock back the varroa and give the hive a chance to go into the new season in good shape with minimum impact to the bees.

 

Autumn treatment – multiple treatments

Varroa can get out of hand in autumn. At this time of year, treating with oxalic acid requires multiple treatments because there is still brood present.

The maths:

  • Brood is capped for 12-14 days (workers & drones)
  • Varroa mites stay on the bees for an average of 7 days between breeding cycles
  • Oxalic acid vaporisation is considered 95% effective on phoretic varroa mites

Therefore 3 oxalic acid vaporisation treatments, 5 days apart will ensure that every mite in the hive is exposed to the treatment. Any treatments after this will see fewer mites each time.

 

Pros

  • Effective at lower doses, causes no harm to bees and results in colonies with more brood in the spring. Application of 2.25g oxalic acid via sublimation to broodless hives in winter kills 97% of varroa
  • Hive does not need to be opened for application and it is generally the quickest method, taking about three minutes per hive

 

Cons

  • Oxalic acid vaporisation is potentially more hazardous to beekeepers than other oxalic acid methods
  • Vaporisers can be expensive – costing up to £100
  • Like all oxalic acid treatments, it is not effective against mites in brood cells

 

Treatment Guide

Make sure there is not too much wind and pick a time when there are not too many bees flying. The temperature should be above 4°C. You will need at least the following items:

  • A vaporiser and oxalic acid crystals
  • A 12v battery for powering the vaporiser
  • Damp cloths or foam for blocking / plugging all entrances and ventilation gaps in the hive
  • Bee suit, safety mask, goggles, equipment & gloves
  • Determine wind direction if any (and make sure you stay “upwind” when vaporising)

 

The actual process of vaporisation is simple:

  • Seal the screened bottom board if present and block rear inspection area with damp cloths or foam
  • Wearing gloves, measure 2.25g of oxalic acid into the vaporiser
  • Insert the vaporiser into entrance and block with damp cloths/foam around it. If the entrance is too small you can insert it through the screened bottom board inspection tray entrance. At this stage the vaporiser should be resting at the bottom of your hive and the hive should be completely sealed.
  • Connect the vaporiser to the 12v supply. You should be standing upwind and as far away from the hive as possible to avoid any vapours that leak from the hive. Two minutes should be sufficient time to burn off all the oxalic acid. Vapour can sometimes be seen leaking from some areas, re-plug any big leaks but stay upwind!
  • Disconnect after 2 minutes and leave for another 2 minutes before withdrawing the vaporiser. Re-plug the gap immediately. Cool the vaporiser in water if you have other hives to move on to.
  • Leave the hive sealed for 10 minutes, then remove all the damp cloths/foam from entrances and other gaps. JOB DONE!

Varromed is a liquid treatment which contains both formic acid and oxalic acid dihydrate. Each 555ml bottle will last for up to 30 days after opening. The treatment is trickled onto bees down the seams between frames and can be used in winter, spring or autumn.
Supers should not be used with Varromed and it is best to treat when there is little flight activity e.g. late afternoon/evening. After treatment, you may find bees with their proboscis sticking out and the simple solution to this is to make sure they have a water source nearby.

Instructions for use

  1. Warm the bottle up to between 25 and 35 degrees so the liquid is not cold when you pour it on the bees.
  2. Shake the bottle well.
  3. Trickle the treatment onto the bees between the seams of frames, adhering to the dosing instructions.

IMPORTANT: You will need to wear protective clothing, gloves and glasses. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage at the correct times to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

 

Formic Pro is a varroa treatment made from formic acid in the form of soft gel strips. It should be applied when outside temperatures are between 10 - 29.5°C with 3 days of no rain. Supers should not be used whilst using this treatment. This treatment comes in 2, 10 or 30 dose packs.

Instructions for use

  1. Open one packet per hive. This will contain 2 strips. DO NOT remove the Eco-paper wrap. Lay the strips flat across the frames of the brood box (the bottom one if double brood) so they cover the full width of the brood nest, 5cm between strips.
  2. Ensure the hive entrance is fully open across the width of the hive.
  3. Leave for one week then remove strips from the hive. They do not have to be removed immediately but they must be taken off before supers are added to the hive.

IMPORTANT: You will need to wear protective clothing and chemical resistant gloves. Flush the eye in case of accidental contact and avoid inhalation of vapour. It is imperative that beekeepers use chemical treatments responsibly, using the correct dosage at the correct times to avoid developing resistant strains of mites.

 

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