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.