Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Candy feed.

Its now the shortest day of the year. Things from now on are on the way up. Within the next 12 weeks the queen will have increased her laying to nearly full speed and subject to some mild weather in February and March,  we will  see the first noticable amounts of fresh pollen start to come in to the hive.
Initially it is mainly from the hazel Catkins, then as we move in to March you will see the wild willow (salix or pussy willow) start to flower. Following that,  many more plants become pollen bearing  and we are then in rich food gathering times for foraging bees.

Untill that lovely time, the bees have only their limited reserves to survive on. We can be positive that most colonies have gone in to this winter with well filled frames. However,  we must also bear in mind that because the weather has been so mild the queens may have actually continued laying well in to December. It  has also been suggested that some queens may keep laying during the winter months. We can only assume that the queen is able to match her egglaying levels to the amount of food coming in to the hive but ,just in case there is a short fall in stored sugar in the hive we generally like to give bees candy ( or what is also known as bakers fondant or sugar cakes)

The beauty of this food is that it is soft enough for the bees to actually eat straight away but it is also low enough in water content that it stable within the hive. It will not ferment or go off before the bees consume it or move it around the hive to a place that is more accessible for them. The other very practical thing about sugar candy is that it is very easy to give it to the bees. A slab of this candy can be either placed on top of the hive over the feeder hole, directly in a feeder tray or even over a hole in the crown board or frame cover.

The most important thing about where you put  your sugar is that it is placed in the upper or top part of the hive. Logically heat rises. This is why most overwintering bees huddle together right in the upper middle of the hive and form a ball shape covering 2,3 or 4 frames depending on the size of the colony. The honey  that the bees have naturally  stored is within these frames and throughtout the rest of the hive but many a lost colony is through starvation.

When the weather gets really cold and we have a period of sustained temperatures below freezing the bees generally go in to a semi vegitative state, in which they consume less honey. This is  good for the management of stores but  the downside is that they are unable to relocate their managed stores through  the hive to places closer to where it may be needed as they become virtually immobile. It it  not uncommon to open a hive in early spring and find the bottom of the frames full of  honey and pollen and the top of the frame full of empty cells and bees that have died with their heads in a cell, in a desperate attempt to find sufficient sugar to eat to produce heat for the colony

We give sugar in a liquid form in september immediately after the honey harvest. This gives the bees time to dry it out further and create necessary stores for winter. We give further sugar candy to hives that are smaller in size and that may be more vulnerable to starvation for the reason above and also to colonies that as beekeepers we feel they may need a little more feed availible ie not a large colony, a late swarm or an under performing colony  during the previous season.

You can make your own bee candy but it can be a little tricky when you are making up large volumes. It is availible at your local bee store. I buy my own. I find it more economical and less time consuming and  it works out actualy quite cheap per hive.

The 3 pictures below demonstrates just how quickly bees get stuck in to their sugar.
This picture was taken in early January.

 Close up of the above picture.

 This picture below  was taken the middle of march.


If you want to look at your bees eating their way throught their candy cut a hole in the reveres side if the bag. This means that when you apply it to the hive or nuc you will be able to see through the clear plastic top of the bag and the writing on the bag stays underbeath on the frame cover side. 

Bag with hole cut in to the top and candy exposed.

Place the sugar on top of the hive . When ready slowly remove the plug in to the top frame cover. you should find this glued down by the bees in preparation for sealing off the hive for the winter. it will come out with a frame lever.

Once you have levered out the plug flip over the sugar slab and slide it in to position so the candy is in directly over the hole. You will probably not need a suit on for this if you are quiet and quick. Dont be alarmed if you dont see bees rushing around. Its December and they are pretty quiet this time of year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Putting together, Wiring and fitting wax sheet to Dadant Frames.

This is a standard Dadant frame for the body of a hive obviously in kit form.
The four pieces of wood are a frame top with a grove down the middle .Two sides with pre drilled holes for the wax support wire to thread through and a recangular bottom piece that basically holds the two sides apart when fitted together.

The first thing is to take the two side pieces  and in the two flat ends hammer in 2 x 40 mm panel pins (preferably galvanised for extra longevity)
Put them in nearly all the way through but at a slight angle as below,  in order that they are easier to hammer in and cross the joint in to the top frame at a stronger angle.

Place your top frame in a vice or similar holding  device with the grove down the middle facing upwards, holding the frame side as below , Hold it to the frame top at 90 degrees and hammer the two nails in. Try using a pin hammer. If the vice holds the top frame well you will find the nails go in smoothly and  quickly.

Complete the same with the other sides , creating  the u shape as above.
Next, take the bottom bar and place it between the un- attached ends of the two sides. There will be a nail sticking out of each end. Hammer these in one at a  time, using the vice as a base as support  while you work. This will make life easier.
You now should have a fully constructed unwired frame.

Place the frame back in the vice but this time upside down.Wire up the frame going in from one side , out the other , then up or down the frame depending on how the holes are configured for the frame you have.
Some Dadant frames have different configurations of wiring. The ones I use most often are wired horizontally. Some I have used are wired vertically . Whichever frame you have always make your start knot and end knot finish on either the sidebar ( in my case thats always the case)or the bottom bar. This is  very important when  fitting the wax sheet.
Use a pair of pliers to cut the wire and a pair of long nose pliers to tighten the end wire before tying it off. It saves your fingers and makes much tighter frames.
Wax sheets.

I buy my wax sheets ready made. They are sold by the kilo, but basically 50 sheets weigh 5 kilos and 50 sheets covers 50 frames. If you are making half sized frames for honey supers then all you do is cut one sheet in half, so 50 sheets in this case gives you 100 frames. I will be making some honey supers at a later date this winter.
In the picture above wax sheet in just sitting on the edge of the frame. I put it like this so you can see the groove that the wax sheet sits in its really simple.
The picture below shows the wax sheet just sitting in the groove.
I have shown this in detail so you can see how it all fits together. Its not rocket science but if you have never done it before you dont want to mess up too many sheets!

Next cut a piece of wood or ply at least 20mm thickness and just smaller than the inside of your frame by about 1cm each side. Place your wax sheet underneath your wired frame, and place the frame over the top of piece of wood . Now you are ready to melt the wires in to the wax.
Fixing in the sheet.
Its very difficult to describe this process but first you need to get hold of 12 v  battery charger. At the end of eack croccodile clip, clamp in a sharpened piece of metal. In my case I use 2 six inch nails and it works just fine.
The idea is that you put your 2 metal electrical probes on to  a piece of wire within the frame. You will need to leave at least  15 cms space between the 2 probes otherwise you find that  the wire heats up too quickly and its also likely that your wire will melt or actually stick on to the electrical probes, causing a short, the wire will get too hot and melt the sheet in half.  The best way is to touch the wire with one probe and have the other in your hand to lift away quickly when the wire becomes hot.  When you have done this  a few times you will self learn with you particular machine when to stop heating the wire.
When you have fiished the wire should generally be melted in to a position inside the sheet of wax. Sometimes it may appear more one side than the other but this dosent matter as long as the sheet is secured along each wire fairly universally throughout the frame.
The wood underneath the sheet actually will hold the sheet in place and apply a gently pressure between frame and wire while the proccess is complete. Its really simple and takes a little practice.

The wax sheet is now in position. The wires are fixed in to the wax.
Finally if you have some spare wax and a small bain-marie you can melt a small line of wax in to the jont between the frame.this will give you extra strength but Its not essential as the bees will do the same job in time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Preparing for next year.

The bees have finally been forced to retreat to their hives. The temperature has now  dropped to around a maximum of 10 or 11 degrees. Its cold, damp and not beekeeping weather.

Its now the time to start to prepare frames, hives and traps for next years season, which will hopefully start around the first week of March. All that is left to do is to give my 5 framed hives a feed of candy or bakers fondant next month. This slab of sugar should help the smaller sized colonies through the winter. I have fed all my colonies with liquid  sugar earlier in september but its far too late for the bees to be able to dry sugar syrop this time of the year. They can eat sugar candy anytime providing its warm enough for them to get to it.

Winter Jobs

All hives that are empty and have been used should be disinfected by passing a blowtorch flame over the surface of the interior. Not too much though, you dont want a charred interior and to burn off all the lovely propolis that the previous inhabitants have left. This is a great resource if a swarm becomes availible. They are much less likely to absconde if a hive has a good smell . Heating  up  the surface to just see the propolis become liquid is usually sufficient. You dont need a fancy blowtorch either. I use one that runs off replacable  gaz cylinders. Obviously, remove your base and each subsequent part of the hive. The Nicot plastic base is not very blow torch Friendly.  For this you can clean this on bleach and hot water. Also hives are very good at catching fire. Always leave your hive outside to cool off. The environment of "shed world" is such a great place for a fire to start.

Jobs to do around the Apiary

Check around all of your hives for overhanging branches than might tap against the hive. If they become laiden by snow it is surprising just how far a branch can be lowered by the weight of snow.
Here is a picture of my hives last year on 2nd december when we had 35cms of snow overnight. You can see that the shrubbery around was knocking on the hive body due to the weight of snow.

In the next post I will show you how to put dadant frames together, wire them up and fit them with their wax sheet ,ready for the season.. I buy my frames not put together (in kit form). They are cheaper like this and what else would you rather be doing over the winter months?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

End of the season

Hello and welcome to Bees in Bittany.

Over the next year I want to try and show all the things I do with my bees, from management, to building swarm traps, hives and 5 framed mini hives. How and when to carry out an artificial swarm , how and when to put on a honey super and how to extract and jar up the honey and many more small things that I could not find out when I started beekeping but just had to learn for myself. I am hoping all these small things will build into a good years blog and someone may find it really useful for their beekeeping practices.

 A standard 10 framed Dadant hive with Nicot Base and mouse guard fitted

The situation Today!
It is technically the end of the year in the beekeeping calender. The bees have been fed and treated against mites, the mouse guards are going up and the bees are stocking up their larders with the now dwindling supply of food from their last remaing source of Ivy. It has been a good start to the autumn for the bees with record temperatures giving the bees good access to Ivy as well as an unusual bonus of flowering green manures planted by the farmers at the end of their oil seed rape and wheat crops. Some rain and good temperatures have unusually brought these in to flower. These usually grow well in the autum but rarely flower due to poor autumn weather. So despite it being a very dry year with a poor summer honey crop the bees are going in to winter in good form. Good strong hives that are well stocked up.
From now on apart from a few winter flowering shrubs, the bees will have to depend on their carefully stored pollen and honey to get them through the winter.

 Typical Ivy plant in full flower attached to a ruined building.