Christmas is coming. I was in London in late October and there were already decorated trees in some of the shops around Regent Street. Far, far too early in my opinion. Bah Humbug!
Nevertheless, it’s not too soon to be thinking about Christmas presents and what could be more appropriate to wear under your beesuit than a beekeeping T shirt? There are loads available. Relatively few are hugely original, relatively few are outrageously funny (or rude) but some are at least vaguely entertaining or clever.
March of Progress
I’ve got a couple of the ‘evolution of a beekeeper’ T’s bought, I think, from Amazon. These are pretty good quality but come up rather smaller than expected. They’ve been washed loads and haven’t shrunk or faded. The image is one of thousands of parodies† of the 1965 Time-Life books-commissioned ‘March of Progress‘ drawing by Rudolph Zallinger that showed 15 evolutionary forebears of modern humans – from Pliopithecus onwards (i.e. covering ~20 million years from the Miocene onwards) – marching from left to right. There are several variants of this design, including versions with the beekeeper attending either Warré hives or skeps‡.
Here are a random selection of other options – all can be found with a little careful googling, though some are from US suppliers.
I’d smoke that
I’ve got hives
Be like the bees
Outside the box
I’d rather be
Finally, here’s a design worn by a few contributors to the online beekeeping forums (fora?) … you know who I mean 😉
† If you’re interested in more detail on the March of Progress you might like to read a discussion about how misleading it really is (it suggests a linear evolutionary path for modern man which is certainly not the case) and about the pre-1965 evolutionary history of the image itself written by Brian Switek in ScienceBlogs. Alternatively, if you just want to be entertained by a few parodies of the original drawing try this collection on MentalFloss, these on MyModernMet (some of which are also reproduced at 123inspiration).
I particularly like this one in Lego, which is a parody of a parody …
Lego evolution parody …
‡ It could be argued that use of skeps represent a less well evolved beekeeping activity.
I bought a few of these Ashforth-style feeders† when I standardised on using Everynucs from Thorne’s a year or two ago. They’ve sat more or less unused since then, largely because the design of this poly nuc – a Langstroth-sized box adapted to take National frames – includes an integral feeder. This year I’ve used these nucs for queen mating and holding ‘spare’ queens when undertaking swarm control. Most of these have either migrated up to a full colony or been returned to the original hive, but I have a few left to take through the winter. These are now being fed up for the coming months. All are, or will be, housed in the bee shed overwinter for additional protection, though I’ve previously overwintered colonies in them outside reasonably successfully.
Everynuc feeder …
Syrup and paint
The feeder is well designed, with an opening at one end leading to a good-sized reservoir for syrup or fondant. The volume of the reservoir is a little more that 3.5 litres when filled to dangerously near the brim. When using syrup – which I don’t – there’s a folded wire mesh screen that should prevent the bees drowning. They can climb up and over the dam to reach the syrup, but don’t have free access to the reservoir. This should reduce that distressingly high ‘body count’ sometimes seen with badly designed feeders. Additionally, the mesh screen prevents bees from leaving the hive when the clear plastic crownboard is removed to top up the reservoir. Convenient 🙂
Rodent damage …
Like all poly hives, and particularly poly feeders, these should be painted before use (remember, Do as I say, don’t do as I do … some of mine aren’t painted due to poor planning). Syrup soaks into the poly if the surface isn’t sealed first. This can lead to problems with fungus growth and attack by rodents when the feeders are stored. As an aside, I try and remember to seal the entrances of my poly hives when not in use to prevent mice from destroying them … they seem very enthusiastic about having polystyrene chip parties at my expense. A couple of my poly bait hives have already been attacked this autumn – these just smell of bees and propolis (and now strongly of mouse 🙁 ) without the added attraction of syrup residues which would just make things worse.
The wire mesh screen on the Everynuc feeders is a bit ‘springy’ and probably needs holding in place with a couple of drawing pins (see image above). Additionally, both sides of the dam wall should also be painted and, when still wet, sprinkled with sand to improve the grip for bees accessing the syrup (as I show on the landing boards on my kewl floors).
Feeder with fondant …
At one end of the feeder, opposite the syrup reservoir, is a well that can be filled with fondant if the wire mesh screen is fitted. My crude measurements suggest it should hold about 1.5 kg of fondant if packed in tight. It might be possible to directly carve off suitably sized lumps from an intact block but it’s easier to pack it with a variety of offcuts and squeeze them down. Bees are be able to access the fondant from underneath and adjacent to the dam wall. As with syrup, feeding them like this means the fondant can be topped up without bees escaping.
Alternatively (and see the next section) you can simply stuff a big lump of fondant into the well of the feeder and omit the wire mesh – as shown above.
Easy top-ups …
I had a few concerns about how well the bees would access the fondant through the mesh – might the fondant dry out too quickly, would access be restricted as the fondant block shrank in size etc? Therefore, before it got too cold I set a couple up of feeders with or without the mesh fitted to see how readily the bees could access and take down the fondant (this post was started in mid-September). Both methods seemed to work fine though I suspect feeding through the mesh directly above the frames is likely to work better as the weather cools further, simply because it’s less far for the bees to travel and likely to be a little bit warmer.
Peter Edwards has recently written a short article in BIBBA’s Bee Improvement on modifying the Miller-style† feeder supplied by Maisemores for their poly nuc. He simply drilled a series of ~25mm holes through the bottom of the one side of the feeder, leaving the other side unbutchered for delivering syrup if needed. A simple but effective solution ideally suited to Maisie’s double-sided feeder. Since I’m so wedded to the use of fondant for my autumn/winter feeding I may do this on a few of these Everynuc feeders as well … accepting that they’ll be trashed for use with syrup.
That’s all folks
The last week has seen temperatures peaking in the low teens, with the first overnight frosts of the year. Active beekeeping is effectively over for the season. Colonies checked at the end of last week are taking fondant down well and two that I briefly inspected had reasonable levels of brood in all stages, wth the queen laying at a consistent rate albeit much less than earlier in the season. These new bees will help the colony get through the winter and – because mite treatments were completed several weeks ago – will have been reared in a hive with very low Varroa levels, ensuring they are protected from virulent strains of deformed wing virus. I have a couple more colonies to check in the next few days and one more nuc to move to the bee shed.
However, before the autumn tidying and winter tasks are started there’s still some reasonable weather to get out and enjoy the beautiful Fife countryside.
Ballo Reservoir and West Lomond
† The Ashforth-style feeder has the entrance at one end or side, the feeder with the double entrance in the middle is the Miller feeder.
Following the Wild Bees† by Tom Seeley is an entertaining little book that would make an ideal Christmas present for a beekeeper. It describes the methods used to locate feral colonies (or any colonies actually) by bee hunting or bee lining, so called because you follow the line or direction they return to the colony from a nectar source you provide. It’s an ideal Christmas book for two main reasons; it’s a summer activity, so will remind the reader that balmy sunny days will – finally – replace the cold, dark days of winter and, secondly, it will allow the enthusiast the time to build the essential two-chambered ‘bee lining box’ which is used to trap, feed and mark the bees being ‘lined’.
I don’t intend to provide a précis of the method … you should buy and read the book for that. However, as a taster, you can visit the companion website to the book or watch a short video of Tom Seeley bee hunting …
Tom Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour at Cornell University. He is a highly respected entomologist and, unlike many scientists, writes in an engaging and accessible manner. He explains complicated experiments in layman’s terms and makes parallels between his observations on honey bees and wider societal issues. Anyone who has read his book “Honeybee Democracy” will appreciate how simple and elegant his description of the science is.
His explanation of bee hunting is no less clear. Following the Wild Bees is really a ‘how to’ guide, rather than a popular science book, though each chapter does contain a separate section on the science behind the ‘how to’, together with lots of anecdotes. The book is subtitled “The craft and science of bee hunting”. If you’re not aware of feral colonies in your own area this book might help you find them … however, if you live in an area with lots of other beekeepers it will probably just help you find their apiaries (and you can also do that with Google maps).
Wild? They’re livid feral.
The most up-to-date review of feral colonies in the UK can probably be found in Catherine Thompson’s 2012 doctoral thesis (brace yourself … this links to PDF of the 173 page thesis!). Catherine surveyed a number of feral colonies in the UK and showed that, although there were limited but significant genetic differences between feral colonies and managed colonies, the feral colonies were no more ‘native’. Catherine also neatly demonstrates the limitations of studying wing veination (morphometry) as an indicator of genetic purity – it usually isn’t. Feral colonies are essentially relatively recent swarms lost by local beekeepers.
Why ‘relatively recent’?
High levels of DWV …
The feral bees Catherine studied had much higher levels of deformed wing virus (DWV), both indicative of – and as would be expected of – uncontrolled Varroa infestation. Therefore, whilst it might appear appealing to have colonies of wild bees in the local church tower they’re almost certainly riddled with DWV and Varroa. This presumably explains why so many of the feral colonies Catherine analysed died during the study period (2.5 years). The swarms lost by beekeepers (that occupy the church tower for example) quickly succumb to the detrimental effects of uncontrolled Varroa replication and the consequent transmission of viruses. Furthermore, through the activities of robbing and drifting that feral colony is likely to act as the generous donor of viruses and mites to the local managed beekeepers hives.
Perhaps not so appealing after all.
I recommend you read Following the Wild Bees. Do so sitting in front of a roaring log fire in mid-winter. Plan and build a ‘bee lining box’ (or buy one) and consider where you might go prospecting for ‘wild’ bees once the long summer days return.
But also plan to put out bait hives to catch swarms (yours or others) and clip your queens … every one ‘lost’ is an opportunity to establish a future source of Varroa and virus infestation.
Under offer …
† ISBN-10 0691170266 … it’s worth shopping around for a copy as the prices vary widely (at the time of writing). WH Smiths had it for well under a tenner recently.
This is the second full year that this site has been running. Visitor numbers to the site wax (no pun intended) and wane with the beekeeping season – lower in the winter and higher in the summer. This is perhaps not unsurprising … the online forums are much the same, though there’s a lot less bickering here in the winter and no-ones actually been banned. Yet 😉
Visitor statistics wax and wane with the beekeeping calendar
The site has been visited by beekeepers (or visitors, or at least robots … ) from 132 countries over the course of the year. The most popular individual articles are on honey warming cabinets, Paynes poly nuc boxes, steam wax extractors and the one article I posted on the Saf Natura honey extractor (which continues to perform really well … the extractor, not the article). These were all originally posted in 2014 so have had time to permeate deep into the Googled-psyche of the internet. The most popular 2015 post was about avoiding – or removing – frosting in honey. Tim Foden posted some useful additional comments on this when I recently discussed making soft set honey. There’s also been quite a bit of interest in recent posts on oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal and the relative costs of the various Varroa treatments. Disappointingly, my semi-rants on the need for more sustainable beekeeping practices – including training and controlling imports – particularly in relation to stopping pathogen imports (both the visible ones like small hive beetle and the invisible, and untested, ones like new virus strains) have received relatively little attention (though they do appear to be recommended course material for a Masters degree of some sort). Maybe next year …
The search terms make interesting reading though Google (by far and away the most frequent referrer accounting for 96% of direct searches) hides these for commercial reasons and I can’t be bothered checking Google Analytics. I hope the person who searched for a “cow dummy board” found what they wanted but suspect the visitor who searched for “how to build your own collapsible bin 1.2m by 1.2m plans and designs” was disappointed. There’s been some recent interest how to “demaree nucs” which is a combination of terms I’d not expected to see and can’t see a need for. Can you? If the spelling errors that appear in the visible search terms are representative then it’s fortunate that Google and Bing both use algorithms to take into account common typos, fat fingers and the spektackularly poor spelling of many internet users. I use Akismet for spam filtering of comments and it’s amazing the garbage it’s successfully prevented from appearing online … any number of “free pianos”, “genuine Louise Vuiton” (really?) bags and RayBan sunglasses. Most recently was a long and fascinating post (er, not) about “making your breath smell good” in response to my overview of foundationless frames (shurely shome mishtake?) I’m grateful to those who negotiated the “are you human?” Captcha tests and posted a comment or two. Without using Captcha tests I’d be swamped with more free pianos than I’d know what to do with …
I’ve managed to post a bit more than the once-per-week target I’d set myself (64 posts in total). I suspect this will be throttled back a little next year, though I have a range of new things (oxalic acid/Api-Bioxal treatment regimes, homemade label printing, DIY hive monitors etc.) that I’d like to cover. I’ve tended not to write purely topical posts (“My hives this week”, which sounds more like something you’d find in the comments pages of NHS Choices) – there are much better writers out there already doing this* – instead concentrating on more practical aspects of beekeeping. It’s sometimes difficult to achieve a balance between the ‘flow’ of the beekeeping year – the inactivity of the winter months vs. the never-quite-keeping-up activity in May and June – and writing practical and topical posts, after all, most practical beekeeping happens in that 2-3 months between the OSR starting and the end of the swarming season. I’ve already had some interest in discussing the bee shed (and will try and respond to other requests) and want to expand some aspects of queen rearing as I get more experience of different approaches. In particular I’m interested in looking at practical solutions – like vertical splits – for small scale beekeepers who don’t want to graft but do want to improve their stocks. Having moved to Scotland I also now have potential access to some very scenic apiary sites (at least used by friends, even if my own are relatively dull and boring) and I’m hoping to combine visits to these with my photography interests.
It’s never too late to join the 21st Century …
I’ve finally got round to including a widget (right) to mirror my Twitter account @The_Apiarist. This was created way back in January 2014 but got forgotten and was subsequently suspended by Twitter … presumably due to inactivity. More topical things might end up there (if I remember), leaving the more practical stuff for these pages …
Mid-April 2015 queen … I hope to see her again in about 4 months
As the year draws to a close I hope that in 2016 your mite numbers are low, your colonies docile, your queens visible and your supers heavy.
The winter solstice seems like a good time to look back over the 2015 beekeeping year. With the day length about to start increasing, what went right and what went wrong? Back in March I wrote that my plans for the year were different from the usual OSR – swarming – queen rearing – summer flow – harvest – Varroa treatment – feed-’em-up and forget ’em routine as I was moving to Scotland in the middle of the season. Some of these things happened, though perhaps less than in a usual year.
Mid-season memories …
Spring – better late than never
Cloake board …
The OSR yielded poorly as the spring was cold and late. I didn’t even look inside a colony until mid-April. Colonies were only getting strong as the OSR flowers went over meaning that most of it was missed. The weather was unseasonably cold, with mid-May being 2-3ºC cooler than average. Queen rearing started in the third week of May and although grafting went well, queen mating was really hit and miss, with low temperatures and lots of rain lasting through May and June. On a more positive note, I used a Cloake board for the first time and was pleased with the results (I’ll write about this sometime in 2016 after using it a bit more). I didn’t use any mini-nucs this year as I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with them mid-season when moving North. Instead, I did all of my queen mating in 2-5 frame nucs, often produced as circle splits from the cell-raising colonies. This worked well … and considering the lousy weather was probably a lot less effort than using mini-nucs which would have required constant attention and lots of feeding. Using poly-nucs I could prime them with a frame of brood and a frame of stores and adhering bees, dummy them down and leave 3 frames of foundation (or wherever possible, drawn comb) ready to be used on the other side of the dummy board. Once the queen was mated the colony would build up well and if – as often happened this season – the queen failed to get mated or was lost (drowned?) during mating flights it was easy to unite the queenless unit with a queenright one, so not wasting any resources.
Go forth and multiply
Split board …
Beginners often find the coordination of colonies for queen rearing, and the apparent difficulty of grafting (it isn’t), a daunting prospect. When I’ve been involved in teaching queen rearing it’s clear that the relatively small scale approach I use (queenright cell raiser, grafting and – usually – mini-nucs) is often still too involved for the very small numbers of queens most beekeepers with just a couple of hives want. It was therefore interesting to raise a few queens using vertical splits, simply by dividing a strong colony vertically and letting the bees do all the work of selecting the best larvae, raising the queen and getting her mated. It has the advantage of needing almost no additional equipment and only requires a single manipulation of the hive (and even that can probably be simplified). Having documented the process this season I’ve got a few additional things I’d like to try in 2016 to make it even easier and to allow better stock selection. After that it will be incorporated into queen rearing talks and training.
Changes in Varroa treatment
The big change in Varroa treatment in the UK was the licensing of Api-Bioxal. Whether or not you consider the 50-fold or more cost of VMD-approved oxalic acid (OA) over the generic powder is justified is really a separate issue. Oxalic acid is an effective miticide and, if administered appropriately, is very well tolerated by the colony. Despite the eyewatering markup, Api-Bioxal is significantly less expensive than all other approved miticides. For the small scale beekeeper it’s probably only 20% the cost of the – often ineffective – Apistan, or either Apiguard or MAQS. Under certain circumstances – resistant mites, low temperatures or the potential for queen loss – there are compelling reasons why OA is preferable to these treatments. If we hadn’t been using OA for years the online forums would be full of beekeepers praising the aggressive pricing strategy of Chemicals Liaf s.p.a in undercutting the competition. Of course, if we hadn’t been using generic OA for years Api-Bioxal would probably be priced similarly to Apiguard 🙁
Sublimox in use …
I’ve used OA sublimation throughout 2015 and been extremely impressed with how effective it has been. Mite drops in colonies treated early in the season remained low, but increased significantly in adjacent colonies that were not treated. I treated all swarms caught or attracted to bait hives. Some were casts and there were no problems with the queen getting out and mated (though the numbers of these were small, so statistically irrelevant). Late season treatment of colonies with brood also seems to have worked well. Mite drops were low to non-existent in most colonies being monitored through late autumn. Colonies get mildly agitated during treatment with a few bees flying about under the perspex crownboard (you can see a couple in the image above … this was a busy colony) and a few more rapidly exiting the hive after the entrance block is removed. But that’s it. The colony settles within a very short time. I’ve seen no loss of brood, no obvious interruption of laying by the queen and no long-term detrimental effects. Sublimation or vaporisation of OA can – with the correct equipment – be achieved without opening the hive. I expect to use this approach almost exclusively in the future.
Moving colonies from the Midlands to Fife was very straightforward. Insect netting was an inexpensive alternative to building large numbers of travel screens. It’s the same stuff as Thorne’s sell for harvesting propolis so I’ve got enough now to go into large scale propolis production 😉 The colonies all settled in their temporary apiaries well and I even managed a few supers of honey during the latter part of the season.
Small hive beetle reappeared in Southern Italy shortly after the honey harvest was completed there. Che sorpresa. This was disappointing but not unexpected (and actually predicted by some epidemiologists). As I write these notes the beetle had been found in 29 Calabrian apiaries between mid-september and early December. It’s notable that there’s now a defeatist attitude by some contributors to the online forums (when not if the beetle arrives here) and – since not everyone are what they seem on the interweb – there are some playing down the likely impact of the beetles’ arrival (and hence the demand to ban imports) because they have a vested interest in selling early season queens or nucs, either shipped in or headed by imported queens. I don’t think there’s any sensible disagreement that we would be better off – from a beekeeping perspective – without the beetle, it’s just that banning imports of bees to the UK (admittedly only a partial solution) is likely to cause problems for many beekeepers, not just those with direct commercial interests. I remain convinced that, with suitable training and a little effort, UK beekeeping could be far less dependent on imports … and so less at risk from the pathogens, like small hive beetle. Or of course a host of un-tested for viruses, that are imported with them.
And on a brighter note …
Bee shed …
The new development in the latter part of the year was the setting up of a bee shed to house a few colonies for research. This is now more or less completed and the bees installed. It will be interesting to see how the colonies come through the winter and build up in spring. The apiary has colonies headed by sister queens both in and outside the bee shed so I’ll be able to make some very unscientific comparisons of performance. The only problem I’ve so far encountered with the shed was during the winter mite treatment by oxalic acid vaporisation. In the open apiary the small amount of vapour that escapes the sealed hive drifts away on the breeze. In the shed it builds up into a dense acidic hazy smoke that forced me to make a rapid exit. I was wearing all-encompassing goggles and a safety mask so suffered no ill effects but I’ll need an alternative strategy for the future.
Due to work commitments, house, office and lab moves, things were a lot quieter on the DIY front this year. The Correx roofs have been excellent – the oldest were built over a year ago and are looking as good (or as bad, depending on your viewpoint) as they did then. They’ve doubled up as trays to carry dripping supers back from the apiary and I’ll be making more to cover stacks of stored equipment in the future. Correx offcuts were pressed into service as floors on bait hives, all of which were successful.
With well-fed colonies, low mite counts, secure apiaries and lots of plans for 2016 it’s time to make another batch of honey fudge, to nervously (it’s got hints of an industrial cleaning solution) try a glass of mead and to finish labelling jarred honey for friends and family.
Which is the best poly nuc? Over the last few years a number of manufacturers and suppliers have started selling polystyrene nucleus (poly nuc) hives in the UK. Some of these are specifically designed around the popular British National frame dimensions, others take advantage of the larger size of Langstroth frames to provide a box that will accommodate National frames, or that can be readily modified to take them.
I’ve used three of the most widely available – in order of increasing price – from Paynes, Modern Beekeeping and Thorne’s. I’ve also commented on the use or modification of each of these poly nucs elsewhere on this site. To simplify the comparison I list below what I consider to be the best and worst features of each of these poly nucs, with a few additional comments on their use.
Integral syrup/fondant feeder (users of Langstroth frames can buy a nicely designed polystyrene Miller-type syrup feeder)
Smooth roof and side – easy to paint
Entrance reducer …
No convenient handholds for carrying
Entrance is much too large and no entrance block supplied
Bee space is a bit wayward in places
Langstroth (but already converted to National, so not really a con at all)
You will likely see lots of the Paynes poly nucs in visits to apiaries. They were one of the earliest to the market and can be bought in bulk at a big discount. However, price aside, there are too many compromises in my opinion to make them a good investment, particularly if you intend to routinely overwinter colonies. Nevertheless, when converted to 8 frame boxes (as originally described on the BBKA forums), they are excellent for collecting swarms – light enough to carry up a precarious ladder, no removable floor to drop and large enough for all but the very biggest prime swarms. Some people also use them as bait hives, though the volume is not ideal according to Tom Seeley.
Quality-wise there is little to choose between the MB/Paradise Honey and Thorne’s Everynuc. Other than the issue of painting, if you use Langstroth frames, either would be an excellent investment. However, the Thorne’s Everynuc can be purchased with an integral feeder that also converts the box to take National frames “off the shelf“. Despite the higher price, this convenience and the removable Varroa tray, probably makes the Everynuc the best choice. The deficiencies of the Everynuc can be readily fixed. With care, poly nucs should last a couple of decades at least, which makes the price premium for the Thorne’s offering (actually built in Germany) pretty much irrelevant.
This is a review of a 9 frame radial motorised Saf Natura Ritmo extractor, prompted by a recent discussion on the SBAi forum and the absence of many other reviews when I was researching the purchase. I hope it’s useful to others thinking of purchasing a machine.
Extractors are probably the single most expensive item purchased by the majority of beekeepers. Actually, that should have started “an extractor” because a well-chosen machine that suits your beekeeping should last a very long time. Try before you buy … borrow one from another beekeeper or, if your association owns one or more, book or hire one for a weekend to see how it suits your beekeeping needs. If your association is reasonably large it’s likely that demand will be high as the OSR finishes – honey must be extracted promptly or it will crystallise in the comb. Be prepared. Book the machine in good time and keep the removed supers warm to make extraction easier.
You may not need to buy an extractor at all. Many don’t. If you’re flexible about when you can extract, or well organised, you might be able to share with friends or use the association machine(s). I’m certainly not well organised and often have to fit extraction around inflexible work commitments …
Extractor size – 3, 4, 9, 18 frame?
This is my second machine … the first being a 4-frame Lega manual tangential model which, although excellent quality, was simply too small for the number of colonies (~10) I now have. Small or large extractors (in terms of number of frames) take about the same time to extract the honey per spin, so buy a larger model if you want to spend less time extracting. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Since I extract twice per year (OSR and late summer) from about 18-24 supers (~200+ frames each time) and don’t intend to scale up I’ve decided a 9 frame extractor will suit me for the foreseeable future. Famous last words.
Manual (hand cranked) or motorised?
Charles Atlas …
Motorised. End of discussion. Seriously. Unless you’re built like Charles Atlas, or want to be, I would strongly recommend a motorised extractor if you’re considering a 9 frame or larger model. My manual tangential model was hard work after a couple of dozen frames. 200 would have been purgatory. Remember that if you’re handling 20 or so supers you will already be moving about 1000 lb. of boxes around, before you start extracting, often in a warm room. For the model I discuss below the price differential between the manual and motorised version is about £280. I think this is a good investment. You can often retro-fit motors to manual models, but I have no experience of this.
Why a Saf Natura extractor?
After outgrowing my manual four frame tangential extractor I’d borrowed a polythene-barreled radial 9 frame motorised Thorne’s extractor from our association. I was convinced about the capacity and the motor but disappointed about the signs of wear on the polythene barrel. The machine had been used pretty hard by the association and would have become increasingly difficult to properly clean, so I wanted a stainless steel machine. All the standard suppliers sell these, at prices – for a 9 frame radial model – ranging from about £600 to £1600. The Thorne’s polythene-barreled model has a list price of approaching £800. I looked carefully Abelo extractors on show at the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Spring meeting. Abelo sell 8 frame tangential and 12 frame radial models, but there were some rough edges on the stainless steel barrel of the model I inspected which put me off. I finally purchased a Saf Natura Ritmo extractor from Bee Equipped in Derbyshire. It was close enough to collect, so I wasn’t committed to purchasing until I’d checked the quality.
Ritmo motorised radial extractor
Manual motor …
The Saf Natura website provides details of this model. It is 52.5 cm in diameter and – once the bent angle coated steel legs are assembled and attached – stands 102 cm high at the top of the closed lid. The motor extends the height a further 12 cm. Note that the model illustrated on the Bee Equipped and the Saf Natura websites both show what is variously termed a Saf Natura motor, or – I think – a digital motor. These have an additional control box on the side, presumably controlling time of spin etc. Bee Equipped only sell this extractor model with a more basic manually controlled motor as shown in the images here. I presume this helps keeps the price down to a very attractive £620.
Resin cage …
The other clear cost-saving is the cage for the frames. In this model the top and bottom sections are moulded out of some sort of plastic or resin, rather than being constructed from stainless steel. The top and bottom sections are joined by stainless steel rods. The honey gate is also plastic. Half of the perspex (?) lid hinges up to add and remove frames for extraction, in doing so the motor safety cut-out (red and black in the image on the right) is engaged. The overall quality, rigidity and finish of the stainless steel is excellent. It looks and feels like a solid, well made, machine that should last a long time. I use Nationals and the extractor I purchased was set up for this frame size. By using longer stainless steel rods holding the resin cages apart it is possible to use Langstroth frames in the same model. I also purchased three mesh frames for tangential extraction from brood frames (deeps). Unfortunately these are only supplied in Langstroth dimensions so will need some minor butchering before being suitable for National frames (I’ll describe this later if I ever get round to it … the tangential meshes were only £25 for three and I didn’t want to have to pay postage at a later date).
In use …
It works well. The motor makes the expected whining noise as it speeds up or slows down. It sounds strained but I’ve heard exactly the same thing with other extractors and you soon get used to it. Full speed is amply fast enough to clear filled supers, even of viscous OSR honey. There’s nothing to stop you opening the lid or slamming the machine into reverse when it’s going full speed ahead … other than common sense and a small adhesive label stuck on the lid. I’ve not tried and I suggest you don’t either. As with all extractors it wobbles with an uneven load. I’m going to investigate castors or foam blocks under the legs. However, if the wobble is bad enough it’s worth rearranging the frames to sort the problem, rather than simply hanging on for dear life as it dances around the room. The worst wobble I’ve experienced, which got progressively worse as the length of spin increased, was due to my forgetting to uncap one side of one frame … D’oh! Crystallised OSR honey in part of a frame often causes problems for similar reasons.
I run the machine with the honey gate open, directly filtering the honey through coarse and fine stainless steel filters above a 30 lb. honey bucket. As long as you keep a careful eye on the level of honey in the bucket this method works well. A contributor to the SBAi discussion commented on the relatively short distance between the bottom of the barrel and the cage, causing the long frame lugs on National supers to foul the accumulated honey. This is avoided by leaving the gate open.
I’ve only had the machine for a season so cannot comment on longevity, spares etc. Dot at Bee Equipped told me they’ve been selling this model for at least a decade with no significant problems, other than some models damaged in transit. Redesigned or stronger boxes appear to have sorted this problem out.
In conclusion … highly recommended.
Note that many suppliers aggressively discount extractors in the spring shows (BeeTradex or the BBKA convention) and that the very worst time to buy an extractor is at the end of the summer 😉
Thorne’s have introduced two new poly nuc hives recently – one called the Polynuc (~£27) and the other the Everynuc (~£47). Both are available in British National dimensions. I’ve not seen the Polynuc but consider the walls, at 22mm, to be a little on the thin side for overwintering colonies (perhaps about the same as the Paynes poly nucs). However, I have recently taken delivery of half a dozen Everynuc poly nucs with the intention of expanding my stock, by splitting production colonies (after the honey harvest) and using mid/late season-reared queens to take them through the winter. Here are my first impressions.
The Everynuc is an interesting design. It’s available in a range of different sizes; Langstroth, National, Smith, Commercial, 14×12, Dadant etc. All have a rectangular, preformed (i.e. no assembly required) brood box with 40mm thick walls and neat metal runners at each end for frames. I suspect this box is the same size for all frame sizes. To accommodate smaller frames e.g. National in the Langstroth-sized box, they supply a slot-in feeder that takes 2.2 pints. The deeper frames e.g. 14×12 and Commercials also include a 40mm or 60mm eke that presumably goes between the brood box and the removable floor. The latter is sloping, with open mesh and has a removable tray for Varroa monitoring. There is a clear plastic crownboard and a thick roof. The exterior of the box is commendably smooth, so much easier to paint than the Modern Beekeeping/Paradise Honey boxes).
Thorne’s claim the Everynuc is top bee space. Well, it is and it isn’t. In the National size, the top edge of the feeder sits 2-3 mm above the frame runner, meaning that the top bar slopes. To rectify this I’ve cut a couple of millimetres off the bottom of the feeder lugs, effectively lowering the feeder sufficiently to restore top bee space. While we’re on the subject of bee space, it’s definitely wrong at the end of the box without the feeder where I measure the gap at 1.5cm. This is poor and may reflect some sort of compromise to accommodate the different length lugs on National and other types of frames. For the moment I’ve not done anything about this, but if brace comb becomes an issue I intend to skin the inside end panel with some 8mm ply to restore the correct bee space.
Er, no …
The Everynuc is designed for 5 frames and a dummy board. With brand new frames you can just about cram 6 frames in, but as soon as the Hoffman spacers get a bit of propolis on them it’ll definitely be a 5 frame box. With good thick walls and a solid roof this is a good size to overwinter.
FIve frame poly nuc …
Everynuc feeder …
In addition to lowering the feeder I’m looking at ways to add a metal or plastic runner to the inside edge of the feeder, fitted just proud of the cut ply, to make frame manipulations easier. I’ve also added a thin piece of stripwood across the top of the feeder to stop the frames sliding backwards and forwards when the boxes are being moved. There is a small wooden spacer on the bottom edge of the feeder, but this additional cross brace should add a bit more security and prevent bees getting crushed. On the subject of moving colonies, I routinely make up 2-3 frame nucs for queen mating and then transport them from one apiary to another. Rather than letting the frames slide about side to side I’ve cut small blocks of dense foam to wedge them tightly in place for travel. An additional block of foam will be required for the entrance, which is wide and, with the short ‘landing board’, an awkward shape to block with mesh held in place with drawing pins (my favoured solution to transporting nucs).
Open wide …
First impressions of these nucs are reasonably positive. The beespace might be a problem, the frame feeder really shouldn’t need lowering and the entrance is likely to require some sort of reducing block to prevent robbing. However, the poly is dense and well moulded, with no real nooks and crannies to harbour pathogens. Cleaning should be straightforward. The boxes will stack if it is necessary to unite colonies.
Finally, I wonder how many beekeepers noticed the name of the manufacturer of the clear plastic crown board …
This is a beautiful coffee-table (and nearly coffee-table sized) book by Eric Tourneret and Sylla de Saint-Pierre with accounts of beekeeping and honey gathering (the title translated) from around the world – Russia, Nepal, New Zealand, USA, Mexico, Argentina, Cameroon, France and Romania. The text is in French. The images are stunning, both photographically and in the way they capture the individual – and very distinctive – cultures of honey gatherers from different countries. Definitely ‘honey gatherers’ and not beekeepers, as many collect honey from wild colonies. Wild, and in some cases, livid.
Those in the west will easily recognise beekeeping practices in the USA (“Nomads of pollination“), shifting thousands of hives to the almonds, David Hackenberg, forklifts, industrial scale operations. We’re also familiar with the rooftop beekeeping in great cities like Paris, with hive designs we recognise, though perhaps less familiar with the architecturally breathtaking backdrops to their day-to-day colony inspections.
Other countries will be even less familiar. Mexico, with small black stingless bees (Trigona scaptotrigona) or Romania, with bright painted ‘bee sheds’ on the back of flatbed trucks and lorries, being moved around to the nectar. Some of the most impressive images are from Nepal* where they harvest honey from open colonies of Apis laboriosa hanging from cliffs. These are far from stingless.
Even if you don’t speak French it’s worth trying to get hold of a copy of this book for the images alone … Waouh!! is the view expressed by one of the reviewers on amazon.fr
Honey and Dust
*Anyone interested in reading more about the Nepalese honey gatherers is recommended to also read Honey and dust: Travels in Search of Sweetness by Piers Moore Ede, which has a very good account of the risks taken to secure the honey.
Paynes make a reasonably robust 6 frame polystyrene nucleus box complete with an integral feeder for syrup. Having used these for a couple of seasons I’ve ended up modifying them to better suit my beekeeping. The resulting box now has eight frames, runners, a clear crown board and much improved roof insulation.
Before providing the grisly details I should add that my Paynes poly nuc boxes are first generation models. The current ones have a different type of entrance.
The entrance is the first thing for modification. I use gimp pins to add a small Correx landing board. This encourages the bees to climb back into the hive, rather than accumulate under the mesh floor. It’s a daft design on the original, but easy to rectify. As an aside, when transporting the nucs I stuff the entrance with a single block of dense foam, cut slightly oversize. With this wedged in place all is secure. When painting the nucs I add some colour to the entrance in the hope it provides a pattern that is easy to recognise.
Frame runners and bee space
I install frame runners to make moving frames around easier. If you don’t do this you will need to thoroughly varnish the ‘lug rest’ or the bees will propolise everything together. Gorilla glue seems to work fine when gluing metal or plastic runners to the polystyrene. Adding frame runners makes the nucs bottom bee space … or at least removes the top bee space they started with.
Crown boards will be needed, if only to stop the bees propilising the roof down (and it’s so flimsy I’d worry about it breaking when trying to lever it off). The cheapest and easiest solution is to use a sheet of thick clear polythene. Cut it exactly to size or the roof won’t ‘sit’ down properly. This works well – just lift the corner and give them a gentle puff of smoke when inspecting them, then peel slowly back. Alternatively, I’ve used 2mm Perspex sheet (just about visible in the photo above). Since this has some rigidity it can be gently slid back over the top of the frames and the bees will be pushed down or away.
That hopeless internal feeder
Look … no feeder!
All the changes above convert the poly nuc from being OK to actually useful. However the weak part of the design is the inbuilt feeder. It’s rubbish. It needs thorough painting before use or the syrup soaks in and goes mouldy, it’s far too narrow and it can’t be emptied without tipping everything upside down. It ended up being a fermenting grave for bees. At first I simply used duct tape to seal it off (remembering the entrance over the wall needs sealing as well) but then read posts by Adam on the SBAi and BBKA sites about converting the nuc into an 8 frame box. Using care and a considerable amount of brute force, a bread knife, a Stanley knife and a small saw it’s possible to remove the wall of the feeder completely. You’ll discover that the (inevitable) blood cleans off the poly relatively easily. By butchering the removed poly you can then rebuild the ‘lug rest’ region, sticking everything in place with one of those space-filling glues (I’ve used Mega Grip). Sand everything level and replace the frame runners.
Remember it doesn’t have to be pretty … just functional. I smeared the inside joins with wood filler to try and exclude any crevices that could harbour pathogens and to discourage the bees from nibbling the exposed, rough, polystyrene.
Packed 8 frame nuc
The end product is a very serviceable 8 frame poly nuc box. Much improved over the original design. You can use a standard frame feeder for syrup if needed, or bodge together an eke to both improve the roof and allow fondant to be fed.
Being lightweight and of reasonable capacity these make ideal swarm collection boxes. They can easily be held one-handed while balancing precariously on top of a ladder … at least when empty! I usually shake the swarm into the empty box, gently add eight frames with foundation, pop the lid on and either put them on the ground on a sheet or securely balance them somewhere suitable to allow the stragglers to arrive, then seal them up with a foam block and move them.
Improving the roof and insulation
Eke and fondant
The roof is a weak point in the design, being much too thin to provide really useful insulation. Using a little ingenuity, some strip wood and a block of Kingspan it’s possible to construct an insulated eke that can house a 1kg block of fondant in a fast food container. Using new materials I reckon these cost about £5 to make, much less than the price of the Paynes eke alone (which still has the problem of the thin roof).
In the future I’m considering converting one of these boxes into a twin 4 frame design, by adding a Correx divider, sealing the original entrance and adding new entrances at opposite ends of the box. This would be a useful size as a mating nuc, or could possibly be used to overwinter bees in a sheltered site … watch this space.
It turns out that these modified boxes are a fraction too small to be split into a twin 4 frame design. Although a newly converted box will comfortably fit 8 frames, once they are propolised there’s too little space – even using a very thin central divider made out of Correx.