I must be missing a couple of fingers. When I wrote the last post on hive and queen numbering I counted off the days to the end of this week, scheduled the post and was then quite surprised when it appeared on Wednesday.
That Friday feeling
That’s spoilt the pattern a bit.
To get back on schedule here’s a note about the well-known trick to revitalise foundation 1.
Frames and foundation
It’s the time of the season when many beekeepers will be running out of frames as they try and keep up with splits and swarming.
It’s sometimes difficult to get new foundation precisely when you need it. The suppliers sell out or delivery takes a week and you need it that afternoon2. I therefore usually buy in bulk and store it somewhere cool and flat.
If you look after it properly foundation lasts for ages. Don’t go piling things on top of the stack and try not to damage the fragile edges. However, over time it becomes brittle and develops a pale waxy bloom on the surface. It also loses that lovely ‘new foundation’ smell.
The bees draw out this old rather tired foundation appreciably less well than they do new fragrant sheets. In my experience this is particularly noticeable in supers.
However, a few seconds with a hairdryer on a medium setting quickly restores the foundation to its original state.
Don’t overheat it. The sheet will bow slightly as it is warmed. Treat both sides to try and keep it as flat as possible. The foundation will become slightly translucent and regains that lovely ‘new foundation’ smell as oils are released from the warmed wax.
It’s easier to do this once the foundation is fitted in the frame. However, old, brittle foundation is less easy to work with when you’re making up frames in the first place.
The phrase ‘hairdryer treatment’ is most often associated with the last but one, two, three, four 3managers of Manchester United FC, Sir Alex Ferguson. The BBC’s Learning English website describes it very well … When Sir Alex Ferguson was angry with his players, he shouted at them with such force, it was like having a hairdryer switched on in their faces.
Since I’m interested in etymology 4 and not football I’ve no idea what prompted the rise in use of the term in May 2013, visualised below on Google Trends.
Hairdryer treatment – Google Trends
Perhaps the May 2013 peak wasn’t Fergie or football at all … perhaps it was a flurry of articles on restoring old wax foundation 😉
There’s something repetitively rewarding about building frames for the season ahead. It’s an activity I now tend to associate with early season rather than midwinter, mainly because I have to build them outdoors and it’s simply too cold or wet most winters (a misplaced hammer blow on a really cold fingertip is excruciatingly painful). Since moving to Scotland I don’t have the luxury of a garage/den and the bee shed has no power supply. I could build them indoors, but the incessant nailing/hammering can get a little wearing for other members of the family (as has been made very clear to me). Secondly, it’s the sort of activity that needs a little preparation – both in terms of collecting together the necessary tools, frame parts, nylon, nails, staples, foundation etc and organising them to be close at hand and in the right order during the building process. Good preparation goes a long way to making for a quick and efficient frame building. Finally, it’s repetitive and rewarding – repetitive because I usually set up to make 50-100 at once and rewarding because I get better at it the more I do in any one session. By the time I’m through the first couple of dozen I’m fairly whizzing along, with relatively few nails going awry or frames ending up askew. It’s actually doubly rewarding as the more I do before the season gets into gear the less last-minute panicky frame building will be needed mid-season.
Assembled frames …
Last weekend I built ~100 brood frames, approximately a 50:50 split between foundationless frames and those with a full sheet of foundation. This, together with about half that number of ‘leftovers’ from last year and some yet-to-be-built super frames for cut comb, should be enough to get me through the season. Remember that although super frames can generally be reused for years it is recommended that brood frames are replaced at least once every three years, usually by rotating out one third of the frames during the season and replacing with fresh ones. With about a dozen hives that means I can expect to use ~40 frames per year for replacements alone. In addition to those I need some for bait hives – for which I almost exclusively use foundationless frames for reasons I’ve previously discussed – together with sufficient frames for the nucs I expect to raise for sale or overwintering. Finally, almost all swarm control procedures (like vertical splits) will require additional frames. Far better there are sufficient in advance of the season than having to scrabble around at the last minute. Been there, done that 😉
Tools of the trade
Tacwise nail gun …
For a handful – or hive full – of frames a small hammer and gimp pins will do the trick just fine. It’s a beekeeping right of passage to get reasonably competent at this … and also a component of the BBKA ‘Basic’ certificate. However, significantly more than that and you’d be wise to invest in a nail gun. It turns frame building from a somewhat unpleasant, finger-punishing chore into a semi-automatic, smoothly efficient, digitally-undamaging experience. Honestly … your first 50 frames with a nail gun is one of those Archimedian “Eureka” moments that so rarely happens with beekeeping (though a huge prime swarm descending into your carefully-placed bait hive comes close). I’ve discussed foundationless frames at length before so won’t repeat myself here. However, it’s worth noting that an upholsterers staple gun – for example a Tacwise 140EL – together with a few hundred Arrow 8mm stainless steel staples is the easiest way to protect the softwood side bars from the taught monofilament support ‘wires’. These staples withstand the rigours of the steam wax extractor, allowing the frames to be re-used after extraction, though the monofilament stretches and does need replacing.
One nailed and glued …
For the last year or two I’ve also glued my frames. More specifically I’ve used a dab of waterproof wood glue before using the nail gun to join the side bars to the top bar and to join one of the bottom bars on. The second bottom bar – the one on the same ‘face’ of the frame as the removable fillet in the top bar – isn’t glued in place but is instead simply nailed on with a couple of gimp pins. That way this bottom bar can simply be pried up when taking the frame apart – having extracted the wax using steam – before adding a fresh sheet of foundation.
I do frames in sets of ten, laying out the top bars all orientated the same way (having removed the fillet and dumped them in a ever-growing pile next to me … don’t misplace these as you’ll need them when adding foundation which might happen much later in the season), add a dab of glue to either end where the side bars are attached. I then push side bars onto each, using a swift tap with the hammer to seat them properly, before placing them down top bar down, again all orientated the same way, adding more glue and one of the bottom bars. Since they’re all oriented the same way round there’s no need to check – after the first – which of the two bottom bars is the correct one to add. Then it’s a simple case of kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk with the nail gun, a quick eyeball that everything’s straight and true and onto the next frame. Well under ten minutes for ten frames plus a bit of tea drinking time. The ‘wiring’ of foundationless frames (which should be monofilamenting as that’s what I use but it sounds nonsense and isn’t a real word) takes appreciably longer than putting the frames together.
I still have to attempt to make my own starter strips for foundationless frames. I know how to and I’ve got the wax … what I don’t have is a deep enough heated container to melt the wax in. Until I get round to resolving this I purchase sheets of unwired brood foundation and cut it into 1-1.5 cm strips which are then inserted into the wired frame in the normal manner (after adding the monofilament as previously described).
Thorne’s premium …
It’s best not to work with foundation if the weather is too cold as it gets very brittle. This year I used up my old stocks of foundation from Kemble or Maisies, and started using a few packets of Thorne’s premium foundation. Irritatingly the latter was a couple of millimetre over-width, meaning that every sheet had to be cut down. Not the end of the world I accept, but nevertheless irritating. The old Maisies or Kemble stuff fitted perfectly. In the photo below it’s the near-white sheets covered with a wax ‘bloom’ … it’s still perfectly usable but just needs to have a hairdryer run over each side to warm it through to restore it to it’s fragrant best.
New and old …
It’s then just a case of finding a suitable place to store all these prepared frames and having a little more patience for the start of the season.
Wax can be relatively easily reclaimed from used frames, brace comb, cappings and – depending upon the quality – used for candle making, cosmetics, polish or traded in to buy foundation. Since I’m not interested in producing show quality candles or preparing vast quantities my wax processing routine is relatively simple.
Steam wax extractor …
Extracted wax …
Slow cooker …
Frames (brace comb, failed candles etc.) for processing are loaded into a home made steam extractor.
The molten wax is collected in a honey bucket containing a small amount of rainwater. If the frames have large amounts of stores, pollen, brood etc. in them the bucket will also contain all the big bits not filtered out … and can be pretty messy.
After a couple of rinses in clean water the set wax disc is broken into pieces and added to a slow cooker containing a couple of centimetres of rainwater. Slow (Slo?!) cookers go in and out of fashion and can be picked up at car boot sales or via Freecycle easily and/or cheaply.
After a few hours on the ‘high’ setting, perhaps with the cooker being topped up with additional wax, the slow cooker is turned off and the wax allowed to set overnight.
The resulting wax block can easily be tipped out and the dirty water discarded. The bottom of the block usually has a layer of crumbly propolis that has collected at the water/wax interface.
Wax block and propolis …
Wax block no propolis …
Filtered wax block …
Scrape the propolis off with a hive tool or paring knife to leave a block of sufficient quality for trade-in for new foundation.
Alternatively, having cleaned out the slow cooker, put the clean block of wax back to remelt (on ‘high’ again) then filter it through something suitable … 2-3 sheets of kitchen paper, J clothes etc. depending upon the quality of wax you want to produce. I do this filtering in my honey warming cabinet set on ‘high’ (about 60ºC) directly into an old ice-cream container sprayed with silicon release agent … ideally I’d do this in the kitchen oven at a slightly higher temperature, but wax gets everywhere. You have been warned 😉
The resulting wax blocks are easy to store and of good enough quality for preparing furniture polish and day-to-day candle making. Darker ones are used for homemade foundation strips or traded-in.