Lost and found

It was the Welsh Beekeepers’ Convention last weekend 1.

This is a convention I’ve previously enjoyed attending. I remember strolling through the daffodil-filled Builth Wells Showground in lovely spring sunshine to visit the trade show.

And I remember staggering back to the car, laden with items that were:

  • too inexpensive (not cheap … there’s a difference 😉 ) to ignore,
  • exactly what I’d been searching for, or
  • essential. 

Some items qualified on all three criteria, so I’d bought two of them 🙁

And then ‘at the death’ I did a quick trip again around the trade stands buying a few things I’d spotted and dismissed earlier as not absolutely essential, not inexpensive enough or not quite what I’d been looking for.

It would be another year until the next convention … it would have been rude not to 🙂

None of these things were big ticket items.

Although I’m naturally drawn to the gleaming stainless steel extractors, the settling tanks and the wax separators, I’m a small-scale beekeeper and cannot justify (or afford) these sorts of luxuries.

Instead I browse the ‘show specials’ bin, the remaindered items and the shop soiled or ex-demo stock.

And, like a moth to a candle, anything to do with queen rearing.

Non, je ne regrette rien … but

All this purchased ‘stuff’ takes up space.

Normally this isn’t a problem. It migrates from the car to the workshop to the bee bag

Or just as far as the workshop.

Or – I’m ashamed to say – it’s forgotten for years and discovered in the glove compartment when I’m searching for something else entirely.

But I’ve just moved house. 

And when you move house you have to pack everything and, worse, unpack everything and find somewhere for it to be stored 2.

And it became very clear, very quickly, that I had a large amount of beekeeping essentials that were anything but essential. You could tell this because they were still wrapped, still had the price-tags attached, or were otherwise very obviously unused.

And, it turns out, it wasn’t clear how to use some of them … or even what they were used for.

Which begs the question ‘Why did you buy it in the first place?’

I know this because I was asked it.

Several times 😉

So I’ve had a clear out.

Some of the things I unearthed were essential, or at least very useful.

Others were useful, but might be improved upon for this season.

And a soberingly large number of items were now – and in retrospect never had been – any use whatsoever 🙁

The Why did I ever buy that? category

I’m actually going to ignore most of the stuff in this category. Other than teaching me a bit more wallet-control there’s little to learn from it. Also, the stuff with the price tags still attached is a rather pointed reminder that I should increase the price of my honey or risk penury. 

Ventilated queen cages and two spirit levels

Strange oversize ventilated queen cages. These are a bit weird. They have a fixed mesh side and a twist open cover. Inside is a rather ugly plastic queen cup and the other end has a loose-fitting plug. I have no idea how to use these, or even what they are really for. Discarded.

In the same box were two small spirit levels. These are invaluable if you use foundationless frames because the hive needs to be level to get the comb drawn vertically. Most smartphones have a spirit level function, but these are a bit more propolis-resistant and were put into the bee bag … where they should have been in the first place. I’d lost them.

Plastic bits

I have a suspicion these rather lurid plastic bits are from Paradise Honey hives. If so, the boxes have been in use for about a decade (mainly as bait hives) without needing whatever function they provided. They’ve gone for recycling …

Plastic frame runners

These plastic frame runners should be in the Why did I buy so many? category. I suspect they were inexpensive (or, in this case, cheap). You can’t flame them with a blowtorch 3 but they are resistant to acetic acid 4. I use a couple each year when upgrading the feeder on poly Everynucs. I’ve kept them as I’m sure they’ll come in”.

The ‘Big mistake’ category

Castellated frame spacers are an abomination. I know because I tried them and abandoned them. But, to emphasise what a failure they were I kept them as a reminder … periodically cutting myself on the sharp corners as I rummaged through the box of bits they were in, looking for something else.

Just say no

Rather than just try them on a super or two, I fitted them to a dozen or more. They do exactly what they’re supposed to; they keep the super frames separated by a set amount.

The problem is they provide no flexibility to space the frames by different amounts. Your super can only be fitted with 8, 9, 10 or 11 frames. With brand new frames I routinely fit 11 in a super until they’re drawn out. But as the nectar flow continues I remove a frame or two, usually ending up with 9 frames per super. 

More honey, less wax … and a convenient extractor-full of frames per super.

I now just manually separate and arrange the frames and the bees helpfully propolise them in place. At £2.04 a pair (there are some with the price sticker still attached) it wasn’t a cripplingly expensive mistake … but it was a mistake. 

Crack pipes and queen marking cages

The final entry in the this ‘mistake’ category are the budget versions of queen marking cages. The budget ones are the two unused looking ones in the middle of the photo above. These work, but less well than the full-fat non-budget version (clearly used, on the left) mainly because they have a coarse inflexible plastic mesh covering them, making marking the queen difficult and clipping her wing nearly impossible.

I now prefer the turn and mark cage … and discovered an unused one (on the right, above) in my spring cleaning.

Handheld queen marking cage

Handheld queen marking cage

The ‘crack pipes’ are what Thorne’s call a plastic queen catcher 5. These actually work pretty well but were replaced by my index finger and thumb several years ago.

Useful discoveries

Not everything I found was an ill-considered purchase or a mistake.

Thankfully 😉

Ratchet straps … tamed for now

I discovered a spaghetti-like mess of ratchet straps and tidied them up with some reusable zip ties. These straps work well when new, or if well maintained. However, there are too many moving parts for my liking and they often eventually fail. They are excellent when transporting hives and allow the hive to be strapped together and attached to something immovable in the van. 

Standard hive straps

Better still, I found some standard hive straps. With no moving parts these are essentially infallible if you can remember how to use them properly 6. Unlike ratchet straps they have the additional benefit of laying completely flat against the side of the hive when in use. This makes stacking hives together much easier.

These four hive straps look almost unused and I suspect they arrived on nucs I collected some time ago … so technically weren’t a purchase in the first place. Lost and now found 🙂

Apinaut queen marking kit

The final item in this category of ‘useful discoveries’ was an Apinaut queen marking kit. These are quite clever. Instead of marking the queen with a Posca water-based pen (or Tippex), you glue a small numbered metal disc to the top of her thorax.

The kit contains the glue, a set of coloured and numbered discs and a pen with a magnetic tip. Rather than chasing the queen around the frame trying to pick her up by the wings you simply use the magnetic pen. By retracting the magnetic tip you can then ‘drop’ or place the queen wherever you want 7

This was an impulse purchase which I’d lost. And forgotten. I rediscovered it, still in the bag it was supplied in, at the bottom of a box containing the components for ~200 frames. D’oh!

Queen introduction cages

Amongst all the queen rearing paraphernalia 8 I’ve collected were a number of items that are used quite often.

I usually use JzBz queen cages for introducing queens to queenless colonies as I inherited a bucketload 9 of them many years ago.

However, with very valuable queens or very unreceptive colonies 10 I prefer to use these Nicot queen introduction cages. These cages are about 13 cm square, with a short plastic leg at each corner that can be pushed into the comb. There is a cap on the front that can be removed to introduce the queen to the cage.

Nicot queen introduction cages

The idea with these is that you fix them over a patch of emerging brood and introduce a mated queen whose acceptance is guaranteed 11 by the newly emerged bees. After a few days the queen has often laid up the empty cells under the cage and has usually been ‘released’ by workers burrowing under the edge of the cage.

The problem is that there’s a tendency to lose the legs and the cap for the cage (I’ve lost one or both for all those above … so these should be in the ‘Lost and lost’ category). I therefore improvise, using a small square of silver foil-backed adhesive tape in place of the cap and strapping the cage to the frame with a couple of elastic bands.

Mini-nucs for queen mating

I’ve got a dozen or so Kieler mini-nucs which I sometimes use for queen mating. These are small top bar hives that are primed with a few hundred bees and a ripe queen cell. I’ve not used these mini-nucs for about three years, but hope to again this season … so the next two finds were most welcome.

Kieler mini-nuc top bar frames and starter strips

The first was a box of Kieler mini-nuc frame bars, some with a small strip of foundation carefully glued in place with melted wax. Except many of the wax strips had become unattached or been damaged 🙁

This year I’ll try using the wooden tongue depressor starter strips I use in my foundationless frames. I see no reason why these won’t work for mini-nucs as well, and they’d have the advantage of being a lot more robust.

Kieler mini-nuc frame feeders

Kieler mini-nucs are supplied with a polystyrene feeder that occupies one third of the hive volume. That’s an awful lot of food for four tiny isosceles trapezoids of brood. I prefer to replace the poly feeder with a small fondant-filled frame feeder. This only takes one sixth of the hive volume and works very well. I was therefore pleased to find half a dozen well-used frame feeders built to my usual high standards and exacting tolerances 😉 12

Queenless colonies

When a colony is suspected of being queenless (and lacks any eggs or young larvae) the normal advice is to donate a frame of eggs from another colony. If queen cells are produced on the introduced frame the colony is queenless.

Is the colony queenless?

You might not have a frame of eggs to spare, or want to transfer an entire frame from another colony. Instead, these Nicot queen cell cups glued to a small aluminium tab can be used. You graft day old larvae into two or three of these cups and insert them, open end down, near the centre of the brood nest. The aluminium tab (butchered with only minor blood loss from a soft drink can) holds the cell cup in place.

If the colony is queenless they will start to draw out queen cells from the cup.

Conversely, if the larvae in the cup is ignored they are queenright … stop worrying 🙂

Unless, of course, the grafted larvae are duds 🙁

To use this trick – which isn’t my idea 13 – you need to be good enough at grafting to be certain that >50% of the larvae grafted would be accepted in a queenless colony. With a little practice that’s easy enough to achieve.

Putting the cleaning into spring cleaning

The final things unearthed during my tidying was a lot of queen rearing cups, cup holders, cell bar supports and cages.

The cups – the same as shown in the picture above – are usually supplied in 100’s or 500’s and cost a penny each. I use them only once.

Nicot cup holders in the bath

The cup holders, cell bar supports and cages 14 – you need one of each per queen cell – often end up encrusted with wax or propolis. They’re not expensive (~75p for one complete set) but they can easily be reused.

Nicot queen cell protection cages being washed

I simply soak them in very hot water with some mild detergent and then rinse them really well. Most of the wax and propolis is removed.

If you’re worried about the smell of detergent lingering and inhibiting queen rearing you can add the cell bar frame to the hive 24-48 hours before grafting. To be absolutely certain it gets lots of attention from the bees in the hive ‘paint’ it with some sugar syrup. The bees will clean this off and it will then be ready for use.

After a few happy hours sorting through boxes I feel better prepared for the season ahead. I now have a much better idea what I’ve got and where it is.

I’ve also usefully freed up some more space for future conventions 😉

And I know I’ll never need to purchase another rhombus escape 🙁


 

 

Footnotes

  1. Held virtually this year.
  2. Anyone who has moved house will know that this isn’t entirely true. There are some things you never need to unpack. You just leave them in the box and move them to the next house when you next move. Been there, done that.
  3. Well, you can, but it doesn’t end well.
  4. Unlike metal runners, unless they’re stainless steel … which are the sort I use for preference. Acetic acid is used to inactivate Nosema spores.
  5. Or more correctly, a queen catcher plastic, as the queen is not plastic … but you know what I meant.
  6. And if you can’t there’s a useful video on Thorne’s website.
  7. I’ll leave it up to the reader to think of applications you might need this for …
  8. Rather appropriately derived from Medieval Latin meaning the bride’s property beyond (para-) her dowry (phernē).
  9. Literally …
  10. This deserves a post of its own … a colony with no queen or brood (terminally broodless) is often very difficult to requeen. These cages are the answer.
  11. Well, perhaps not guaranteed, but I’ve never had a queen introduction using these cages fail.
  12. Just look at that shocking workmanship, with bent nails holding everything together … if I cared I’d be embarrassed. I don’t care.
  13. I have a vague recollection of being shown it on a German beekeeping discussion forum.
  14. These are respectively Nicot part numbers CNE1, CNE2 and CNE5.

24 thoughts on “Lost and found

  1. Frazer

    Thanks for highlighting the Api thingy. I guess once my queens are tagged a Neodymium wand waved over each frame will find the q. even if she is under a pile of bees. She will simply levitate from underneath her invisibility cloak!

    Best regards and thanks as always

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Frazer

      And if you strap a neodymium bar across the hive entrance you’ll never lose a swarm … 😉 The Apinaut does work very well for picking up the Q, but you need a good reason to do so. An example would be a high-quality breeder queen being placed into a Nicot Cupkit system (not something I’ve ever used).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Frazer

        Strangely, I am going to use Nicot for the first time this year!
        I remember Snelgrove, in Queen Rearing mentioned a bloke who lived not far from me who was using Radium and a Geiger counter to detect his Queens…..
        It never seemed to get to market for some reason (eyes rolling emoji (if I could be bothered to find it)).

        Keep well and thx again!

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Radium?! I’ve heard it all now 🙂

          In my early days as a scientist we used a lot of radioactivity in molecular biology experiments (mainly 32-P and 35-S). These days it’s all non-radioactive assays. I remain convinced that the experiments now are much less sensitive (and a darn sight more expensive 🙁 ) …

          Radium has a half-life of about 1600 years which should be long enough for most queen marking 😉

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  2. vince poulin

    Always some good tips David. We’ll trash the junk as you have – but keep what works! Your queen cups glued to aluminum tabs caught my eye. Despite many attempts at grafting – building “cell-starters” my success rate on queen cells has been – well – rather dismal. Out of 8-12 grafts maybe I’d get 4-5 “takes” but then few hatches. Fed-up I once quickly – graft several plastic and wax (my favourite) cups and placed them in my waiting queen-less NUC. And they worked! Two cells were capped and out came two queens. First one out went to another hive the other stayed with the NUC. I have repeated that several times making all my previous work look discouragingly hard. Your tip – I glued my cups to small wedges of wood (Thailand method). However, wiith bamboo – so easy to split nice thin mounting wedges. Not so from logs, branches or boards. Call them finger challenging. But, your aluminum tabs? Easy – cut them with a pair of snips. A lot safer on fingers for sure! Also – a pretty neat Fondant feeder. I can see you slide the fondant down from the top. After messing with internal feeder designs – and once drowning more bees than I want to remember I solved the problem by stuffing the feeders with dried Hydrangea flowers. But even then I get some dead bees. That does not happen with your fondant. Pretty nice design. Worthy of some shop work and buying a block of fondant. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      I like the idea of bamboo slivers for the Nicot cups. The metal is a bit too thin. See also the comment from Patrick who has located a commercial alternative.

      I usually move my mini-nucs from the apiary I make them up in to another site for mating. The last thing I want to do is go slopping syrup all over the place. The second last thing I want to do is to open the mini-nucs to add syrup when I have just moved them (as the bees will all be disoriented). Fondant is the answer! I’ve overwintered queens in these boxes. I can replace a feeder in seconds. I just fill them in advance and then wrap them in clingfilm which I remove just before using them.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Dave Stokes

    Thanks for amusing me for 10 minutes.
    Roger Patterson swears by castellated spacers for brood boxes; probably the only thinghe says that I violently disagree with.
    I use what we used to call “wide plastic metal ends” for spacing super frames – you get 8 frames in a super!
    Cheers – until next Friday.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dave

      I chucked out all the wide and narrow plastic/metal ends when I last moved house in 2015! I rarely get as low as 8 frames in a super, perhaps other than the Swienty poly boxes I’ve got which are a little bit narrower.

      Pleased you enjoyed the post … the page access stats have gone AWOL and the system tells me the page has only been read 3 times since posting it yesterday. I assume that’s wrong as more than 3 have now commented. Puzzling.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Elaine Robinson

    Shame you’ve recycled your yellow bits of plastic – I could do with a few spare Paradise entrances. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure! Alternatively if they haven’t been collected yet happy to cover the postage and treat you to a (virtual) coffee?!
    P.S. have just fitted all my supers with either 10s or 9s castellations 🤣

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Elaine

      Apologies, I think they’re now languishing in the Fort William municipal recycling facility 🙁 If they were Paradise entrances you can probably botch something together from Correx … I’ve done that on Everynucs (which have a stupidly cavernous entrance) and on Paradise 6-frame nucs, most of which I converted into 2 x 3-framers.

      Good luck with the castellations. I know many beekeepers who use them very successfully, but they drove me nuts.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Dorothie Jones

    Thank you David, this made me laugh!

    All so familiar, esp the queen marking cages. I have a drawer full but still only use the turn and mark one. You used to get ones that had a grid of thread at the end (much like a crown of thorns) but now they’re all close plastic grid, rendering them useless! I’m practising picking up queens with my finger and thumb, but still get the shakes! I think if you can perfect this it’s less stressful all round.
    How are things in Scotland? Looks like you’ve got some snow coming. How will this affect your colonies?
    Dorothie

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dorothie

      The used cage in the photo is as you describe – a mesh of fine plastic netting. The rigid close plastic gridded ones are rubbish.

      It’s only 48 hours of poor weather on the way. Colonies here (west coast) appear to be doing OK, though they’re less well advanced than those on the other side of the country. The bees here are pretty hardcore and will forage in very borderline conditions. They’re hammering the gorse at the moment …and probably some willow as well, though the ~50 or so I’ve planted are too small to be much use yet.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Patrick Lemmens

    Hi David,

    Those aluminium tabs you made to hold a Nicot queen cell cup reminded me of a similar thing in plastic I had seen on a website somewhere.

    I couldn’t remember where I saw it but after a short search I found that they call them Weiselspitzhalter (and Weiselnapfhalter) in Germany. See for instance:

    https://www.holtermann-shop.de/Koeniginnenzucht/Weiselaufzucht/Weiselspitzhalter-neongelb.html

    or https://www.bienen-ruck.de/imkershop/koeniginnenzucht/koeniginnenaufzucht/1993/weiselnapfhalter

    According to the description it is used to stick a natural queen cell or a Nicot (or other) queen cell cup into the frame. The neon colour probably helps to find it when it would drop to the bottom.

    Cheers, Patrick

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks Patrick

      I’d not seen those before. Somewhat safer than using tinsnips and an empty can of Irn-Bru! I don’t think I’ve seen those for sale in the UK and I’ve looked at several of the more esoteric catalogues of queen rearing stuff.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Alan Jones

    Hi David
    I like the push in Nicot Queen cup idea, I will pinch that if you don’t mind.
    Cheers
    Alan

    Reply
  8. Jim Stuart

    David Happy Easter to you and yours, kindly do not post this kind of blog again! It resulted in my wife, a long suffering bee widow, standing with hands on hips saying “Well it’s a long weekend, and Spring, so why not follow David’s example and clear out the bee shed?”!

    But thank you for highlighting our frailties when a bargain is on offer.

    Jim

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Jim

      I strongly suggest you disable your internet for the next few weeks or these planned future posts might cause untold grief:

      • The best 9 frame extractor for £1200
      • Do you want wax with that? Domestic strife and candle making
      • How £400 breeder queens can improve your beekeeping
      • How to invest the excess(ive) profits from your honey sales
      • The ultimate beemobile, the £160,000 Bentley Bentayga

      None of these are a bargain, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a sound investment 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. Fred

    Hi David,

    I think I enjoy your teetering on off topic writings the best, perhaps because they shine a light on the natural eccentricity of most beeks.

    I love the concept of tin can Nicot cup and was about to bodge some when joyously we already have an upgrade with bamboo splinters (why would we ever bother with a shop bought German version which will of course be will be very slightly but uselessly better but more importantly will not have that delicious amateur vibe going 😊)

    I too struggled with the gridded plastic q markers bought as show specials , I even went as far as cutting out the horizontal cross bars leaving parallel bars behind and that does improve them for marking but once you use a turn & mark they are gently retired to box at back of shed.

    Previous post pointed me towards goat willow and I planted 30 bare rooted which amazed me by providing surprising amounts pollen just 4 months later (and I can take cuttings off them at season end = the infinitely splittable colony …… or even better could provide willow splinters for another upgrade of the bamboo Nicot cup ? 😄) so thank you for great advice.

    I sympathise with the allure of buying queen rearing gear. I use a 000 paintbrush for grafting , it’s perfect and quite literally impossible to upgrade but I know, I just know, that someday in the future I will be seduced by some eye watering expensive precious metal thing that will be no better and possibly worse than the 000 and will also continually try to lose itself….. until it succeeds.

    Thank you as always for the weekly column that makes us eccentrics feel somehow a bit less eccentric.

    All best

    Fred

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Fred

      I think we’re going wrong with the statement “gently retired to box at back of shed” … if they’re useless they should be discarded 😉 But, of course, most beekeepers are stingy careful and tend to hold on to things just in case there’s a use for them in the future.

      Delighted the willow worked. Mine are going OK despite the depredation by never-ending herds of bloody deer. I’ve planted some goat willow (bought in) and a few other – probable hybrids – just taken as cuttings from the neighbourhood, as I know when these flower and what sex they are. Most recently I’ve tried very large cuttings with the hope that they outgrow the deer a bit faster. Willow, wild cherry and a lot of aspen have gone in as well. The aspen grown best from root cuttings and I sourced a known west coast supply that should do OK out here.

      Don’t ‘upgrade’ your sable grafting brush. It really is the best tool for the job. I’ve bought/tried most of the other types and it beats them hands down. The metal dentist-type tool is awful …

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  10. Jessica Searle

    Thanks for the joyful post. So many bee sites seem to be full of bad tempered men. Any idea why this is?
    Cleaned out my own bee house this weekend. Found no end of stuff that seemed a good idea at the time.Do we really believe that 2016 APIGUARD will be out of date?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Jessica

      I’ve no idea what the answer is to your first question … but I agree with the observation. Maybe that’s part of the reason I tend to stick around here. Anyone being too grumpy or rude in the comments – and there are a few – just get filtered out 😉

      I doubt the thymol component of Apiguard goes off over time. However, the slow-release gel matrix it’s supplied in might break down, resulting in overdosing at higher temperatures. I’ve just recently chucked a half-used bucket of the stuff away as it appeared to have changed consistency. It was pre-2016 though as that’s just after I moved back to Scotland and I’ve not used it since getting here (too cold). If it’s trays you have I’d check the consistency of the matrix when you open them. If it seems OK then I might risk it (remembering of course that VMD requirements are that you record medine usage, batch numbers and dates … I’d better be careful or I’ll start to sound like a grumpy old man 😉 ).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  11. Judith

    Hi David
    Thoroughly enjoyed this weeks post. Your gentle sense of humour prevails as always. I always end up linking back halfway through the current to previous posts to see what you were saying in that post in 2019 or whenever.
    I am thinking I might try the foundation less broodframes with bamboo skewers and tongue depressors ( off back to 2017). I have a question about this process you could maybe clarify for me. Will the bees reliably draw these frames without dipping the top bar strips (tongue depressors) in “new” molten wax? I have had very mixed results from wax strips on top bars in the past. Many thanks and fingers crossed for a good beekeeping year. Temperatures are positively Baltic again here today in central West of Scotland after balmy bbq weather on Saturday.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Judith

      In my tests I’ve compared the speed with which they start on (or their preference for) commercial wax foundation, wax-painted wood or just wood. They’re all the same. I never bother with anything but wood these days. The problem I found with plain wax foundation strips was that they would often fall out … or I’d break them if the frame was cold, or mangle them if the frame was warm. No issues like that with a tongue depressor!

      Pleased you enjoy the posts. I should look back at old posts a little more frequently – either to find link to what I’ve written before, or to avoid contradicting it 😉

      We’ve had snow/hail showers off and on all day, with ~4°C temperatures (but warmer with the sun out). I spent some time trying to photograph returning foragers in the snow. Looks like I’ll get another opportunity tomorrow.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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