Tag Archives: hive

Google maps and apiary security

The increased interest in beekeeping over the last few years has meant there is considerable demand for bees, either for beginners or to replace stocks lost over the winter. The impatient and unscrupulous have resorted to bee rustling, either directly or indirectly. It is therefore sensible to take precautions to prevent the theft of your hives and nucs. This subject was covered extensively a couple of years ago in a post on Beekeeper UK which described branding, locks, ground anchors and other deterrents and is recommended reading. However, one aspect of security worth reinforcing is the impact of new digital technology – specifically smartphones and satellite imagery – which can be used to locate hives.

GPS-tagged image

GPS-tagged image

Smartphone cameras (and many new digital cameras) embed the GPS coordinates into their images. This information is contained within the exif (an abbreviation for exchangeable image file) data in the image, which also includes details of the camera, exposure etc. This can be readily viewed using online tools such as Jeffrey Friedl’s Exif (Image Metadata) Viewer. To illustrate this I’ve uploaded an image (right) taken when out cycling – so not compromising my own apiary security – with an iPhone a few years ago. If you point the Exif Viewer at the image you can extract all the embedded information, including both the GPS coordinates and a Google Maps view, as shown here. You can then use Google Streetview to see the, er, street view of the scene (if their little cars have visited).

Google Streetview

Google Streetview …

So what? I don’t share my images online …

OK, so much for the introduction to a potential problem, why should it be of interest or relevance if you don’t post GPS-tagged images on your personal blog, Facebook page, Instagram account, internet discussion forums, Flikr, 500px etc.?

… three rows of hive stands, cars provide scale

Baton Rouge labs

The real problem isn’t the GPS-tagged images at all (I’ll describe an easy solution to this later in this post), rather it’s the resolution of the online satellite images provided by Google, Bing and others. These are good enough now to locate apiaries relatively easily and to see individual hives in certain circumstances. They’re also going to get a lot better soon. Rather than compromise an amateur beekeeper, or publicise an otherwise hidden apiary, here is an image containing  three rows of hives (on rail stands) at the ARS Honeybee breeding, genetics and research labs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA … I think it’s fair to say it’s no secret that they’ll have apiaries on site 😉  And below is the view from ground level, taken in a different season with the trees in full leaf. The cars in the satellite image provide a sense of scale.

Baton Rouge apiary

Baton Rouge apiary …

Google Maps (and Bing and others) satellite imagery are of similar resolution for the USA and the UK. The satellite image above is not even at maximum size … when it is you can pretty easily count individual hives. This was brought home forcefully when processing a smartphone image (with embedded GPS coordinates) in Adobe Lightroom. The Map module showed a neat row of hives in the corner of a field. Google updates the images they use reasonably frequently, so even if your colonies are not visible now they might be soon after the next satellite passes over.

Security by obscurity

How can you prevent your apiary from being detected? Of the local apiaries I’m aware of I couldn’t detect those that:

  • were located under light tree cover. This would seem to be both practical and relatively easy to achieve. As long as they are not in deep shade it can also make for a much more pleasant inspection experience on a sweltering hot day, and the trees or hedges can provide shelter from strong winds.
  • contained only individual hives. Whilst absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence it is certainly easier to detect neat rows of hives along field boundaries or angled across the corner of a meadow.
There you are!

There you are!

The most obvious hives were those in which the roof contrasted with the ground. This was particularly marked with bright, shiny, metal roofs glinting in the sun. Older, tattier, hives or those with roofs covered in roofing felt were more difficult to find. Perhaps it might be worth applying camouflage paint to new hive roofs. Irregularly placed hives in dark or muted colours that didn’t contrast with the ground were generally tricky to see.

None of these precautions are foolproof. None of them negate the need to keep your colonies in secure, private locations, preferably behind locked gates. However, they might be useful in preventing unwanted attention.

But what about my online images?

Some image hosting sites automagically strip location-sensitive information from uploaded images. Others do not. On the principle that it’s better to be safe than sorry it’s worth always ensuring the uploaded images do not contain this information. Phones usually have an option to exclude GPS data from images. Alternatively (and to avoid omitting the location information from all the images you want to keep it in) it’s easy to strip unwanted exif data, including all the GPS data, using software. If you’re an Adobe Lightroom user this is an option under the ‘export’ menu. Alternatively, ImageOptim is an excellent (and free) Mac application that compresses images, strips out unnecessary metadata including all the location information and removes unnecessary colour profiles. This typically reduces the file size by 10-20% and works with a range of graphics format images. The image per se is unaltered. It runs as a Service on the Mac, which makes it even easier to use.

Not GPS-tagged

Not GPS-tagged …

The GPS-tagged image of the bike on the fence at the top of the page is 242 kB. After using ImageOptim this is reduced to 213 kB in size. More importantly, as far as security is concerned, Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer now shows no geographical information. It even hides the embarrassing fact that my smartphone is over four years old 😉

There are also ways of removing exif data from your images if you use Windows. I’ve not used these and cannot comment on how well they work.

Bait hives – success

Bait hive …

Bait hive …

Sometime in the first week of May two of my bait hives were occupied by swarms. One was knee-height in a field and the other was above head-height on top of my greenhouse. I was away all week so cannot be sure the date the swarms moved in (though looking back at the weather records I suspect it was mid-week). The bees seem to be drawing out the frames well but it’s been too cold to do an inspection. This is a good example – both my absence and the lousy weather – of a situation when a box full of frames allows the bees to get established, rather than adding the frames after it’s occupied. The clear ‘crownboard’ on these Modern Beekeeping poly Nationals make it simple to take a quick peek without disturbing the colony too much.

Occupied bait hive ...

Occupied bait hive …

In the larger swarm (right) the colony has divided to occupy the two frames of old tatty drawn comb I left on either side of the box. In retrospect I think only one manky old brood frame is probably needed, so when I transfer these to new boxes I’ll re-populate the bait hives with nine foundationless frames and one old frame. Despite the temperature (which has hovered between 11 and 13oC most of the last few days) there’s a reasonable flow on from remaining OSR, so I’m not feeding them. Pollen was being taken into both colonies today when I checked, suggesting there’s a mated, laying queen present.

Lemongrass oil ...

Lemongrass oil …

The forecast looks to be improving for the end of the week. A lot of colonies appear to be delaying swarming because of the inclement weather. Several inspected at the weekend in the association apiary had sealed QCs but the queen still present (we couldn’t avoid the bad weather as we were running a queen rearing course and needed larvae for grafting). Therefore I’m going to empty these bait hives as soon as possible, move the captured swarms to a temporary apiary, refill the boxes with more frames, add a drop or two of lemongrass oil and put them back in position.

Finally … I’m not aware I’ve lost a swarm as my queens are all clipped (I think) so these two are likely from one of the many other beekeepers in the area. Thank you!

Floor change

Old floors …

Old floors …

At the beginning of the season it’s a good idea to move colonies onto a fresh, clean floor, removing the old one for cleaning and sterilising. Having built a number of new Kewl floors this winter I made did the floor change a fortnight or so ago. A couple of colonies had clear evidence of a chalk brood problem which should be rectified by requeening later in the season. The new Kewl floors have a Correx landing board with a large gap separating it from the hive stand. Colonies that had previously had floors with other types of entrance, particularly where the bees had landed on the stand and walked up and in, experienced some confusion with the new raised entrance. To avoid the bees clustering under the floor I pinned a strip of DPM (damp proof membrane – used to wrap the hives up in winter to avoid woodpecker damage) across the front and so encouraged them to choose the correct route home.

Kewl floor - fixed ...

Kewl floor – fixed …

Bait hives

A small swarm


The swarming season is almost upon us. Colonies now have good levels of drone brood and increasing numbers of mature drones. The weather is improving. There’s a good flow on from the oil seed rape and colonies are starting to get overcrowded. Inevitably this means that colonies will start making preparations to swarm … recent inspections show increasing numbers of ‘play cups’ and a few charged queen cells.

I usually leave a couple of empty boxes in likely spots to act as bait hives, primarily to catch swarms from my own colonies but – with the concentration of beekeepers in the Kenilworth/Coventry area – possibly to attract a swarm someone else has lost. I try and clip my own queens to prevent losing a swarm … in a semi-urban environment I don’t want to bother my neighbours. However, there are always a couple I’ve missed, perhaps due to late supercedure or simple forgetfulness.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading

The requirements for a bait hive are beautifully described in Tom Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy. They can be summarised as a south-facing, National-sized, solid-floored box, small entrance, preferably located high off the ground. To make them more attractive they should contain a frame or two of old manky drawn brood (no stores though as this encourages robbing) and have a dab or two of lemongrass oil added. I’ve previously used spare National brood boxes containing only two old black frames. However, if a swarm takes up residence they can build comb very quickly, so this year I’m experimenting with a full brood box of foundationless frames.

Bait hive

Bait hive

I have a couple of Modern Beekeeping National poly hives. These are high quality but – in my view – poorly designed. The brood box is fractionally too narrow, meaning that frames fit well until they’re propolised after which everything gets too tight to move. The external dimensions are about the same as a cedar National but the walls are thicker meaning they can only take 10 frames. The floor is mesh and the crownboard is a simple sheet of semi-rigid clear plastic. The supers have an overhanging lip which makes re-assembling a hive after an inspection fraught. These are being used as bait hives this year.

Old brood frame in a bait hive

Old brood frame …

I’ve covered the mesh floor with cardboard, added the two old frames (in retrospect only one is really needed) on the outside and filled the space in between them with foundationless frames – a standard brood frame with 15kg fishing line horizontal supports and a 2cm starter strip of foundation. Tom Seeley describes how scout bees measure the volume of a potential new home by a series of walks and short flights. The hope is that the foundationless frames will provide the guides for the new drawn comb, but that most of the ‘space’ will appear empty and so of an attractive size for the swarm. It also saves on the cost of seven sheets of foundation.

Waiting … bait hive waiting to be populated by a swarm

Waiting …

I’ve added a few drops of lemongrass oil to the top bars of a couple of frames (take care, it dissolves poly hives) and strapped the entire thing together securely. I’ve placed one on the top of my garden greenhouse, about 8 feet off the ground. The other is about 30 metres from my out apiary, on a normal height stand. I’m not sure I’m convinced about the need for height … the swarms I’ve caught in the last couple of years have all been in bait hives at or below waist level.


It must be the season … a post on bait hives has also been made on the Beekeeping Afloat blog.


Both these bait hives were occupied by swarms in the first week of May.

Ben Harden queen rearing – intro

Locally bred queen

Locally bred queen

The ‘Ben Harden’ method is an approach used to raise queen cells in a queenright colony. It offers a number of advantages that make it particularly suitable for relatively small-scale beekeepers, for beekeepers who want only a limited number of queens (10’s rather than 100’s, though the latter is possible if well organised) or for beekeepers who are taking their first steps in queen rearing. Consequently, it is also suitable for using within an association during queen rearing courses.

The advantages include:

  • it requires only a limited amount of additional equipment, including a spare brood box and two overwidth “fat dummies
  • it uses honey production colonies in a way that has little or no impact on foraging, and hence nectar collection
  • it uses a queenright colony which does not need to be “boiling with bees” and which is both easier and more pleasant to handle
  • it requires only limited manipulations of the colony

The general principles of this approach are straightforward and are reasonably well described by the late Dave Cushman modified from an article by Ben Harden in Bee Improvement (the BIBBA magazine). Further information is available in A simple method of raising queen cells written by Ben Harden (#59 in the Beekeeping in a Nutshell series available from Northern Bee Books).

This is the first in a short series of posts covering the basics of queen rearing using the Ben Harden queenright method. Each post covers one of the key stages in the method, which are:

  1. Preparation of the equipment and setup of the colony for queen rearing (part 2; Ben Harden queen rearing – setup)
  2. Grafting larvae (part 3; Grafting) and production of queen cells (part 4)
  3. Getting virgin queens mated (part 5)

It is possible to use this method to raise queens if you start with a single colony, using it as a source of larvae, the cell raising colony and the colony used to harvest nurse bees for populating the mini-nucs from which the virgin queens will be mated. This is not really recommended … at the very least you need a range of colonies to judge and choose the best as the donor for the larvae.

It is a also very good method to use in associations running queen rearing courses. Individuals taking part prepare a colony for cell raising, grafting is done communally using good stock and cells are distributed 24 hours after grafting.

Checking grafted larvae

Checking grafted larvae

Poly nuc insulated eke

Insulated eke with block of fondant in place

Insulated eke

The lid on Paynes poly nuc boxes is very thin.  This, and the internal feeder, are the weakest features of what is otherwise a well designed, robust and useful box.  You can improve the box hugely by butchering it removing the internal feeder.  This generates an eight frame nuc box which is also a good size (and weight … when struggling up or down a ladder) for housing all but the largest swarms. However, other than during the summer, the lid is far too thin.  On a morning with a heavy frost the thawed patch above the cluster is very obvious.  I’m convinced that top insulation is very important; I build crown board with internal insulation or roofs with integral Kingspan insulation for all my full-size hives.  With a little ingenuity and some primitive woodworking skills it is possible to construct an insulated eke for these Paynes poly nucs that has the additional advantage of allowing you to feed fondant to the colony.

Construction details

Construction details

Kingspan and most other expanded polystyrene-type (that’s probably not exactly the correct term, but it’s a description most will understand) insulation is 50mm thick. Since my woodworking skills are limited and I lack anything other than a simple saw I have to work with the softwood  sizes available off the shelf (at my excellent local Shepherds DIY store). Therefore, using 46 x 21mm softwood I build an eke, with simple rebated joints, that fits onto the nuc box, outside the short raised lip. This then needs an additional shim of 9 x 21mm softwood around the top edge. I add a thin strip of 3mm thick stripwood to the inside top edge of the eke and then create the raised lip (over which the lid will fit) using 32 x  9mm softwood (this is much easier to show in a photo than to describe). The intention is that the lid fits neatly over the ‘new’ raised lip, forming a reasonable seal against the weather.

Jablite cut to fit

Jablite cut to fit

After adding two to three coats of a suitable bee-safe wood preservative like Ronseal Fence Life I prepare a block of Kingspan or Jablite insulation, carving out a rebate to fit the raised lip of the eke … again, the photo should make this much clearer. FInally, cut a hole in the insulation to take a “carry out” food container with fondant. Don’t discard the piece you cut out … use it to fill the space if you’re not going to be adding fondant.

Inner corner detail

Inner corner detail

In the summer I usually use 2mm Perspex crown boards on these poly nuc boxes. After an inspection they can easily be slid across the top of the box, pushing bees away and down out of the way. These crown boards have no feeding holes in them. Therefore, in the winter I prepare a sheet of thick translucent polythene with a suitably placed flap over the top bars, add the fondant block and the insulated eke, topping the entire thing off with the 2mm Perspex sheet and the poly lid. The latter can easily blow away – make sure you strap it down or add a brick on top.



Kewl floors

Kewl floor

Kewl floor

Floors can be as simple as a sheet of ply with three lengths of softwood to raise the brood box up slightly. However, open mesh floors are increasingly preferred, providing good air circulation and easy Varroa monitoring. Inevitably the design of the floor also influences the entrance to the hive. Dartington-type hives incorporate an underfloor entrance that offers several advantages. They negate the need for mouse guards in the winter and provide additional protection against wasp attack. I’ve used this type of entrance on floors of National hives for a few years having read a description of them online by Graham White of Edinburgh beekeepers. The style I now use is slightly improved (or at least altered) and is inexpensive and easy to construct.

Note … I’ve recently discovered that these floors and entrances have been referred to as Kewl, for reasons that are not entirely clear, in posts on the BKF by Hombre and others. This is certainly less of a mouthful than ‘Dartington-inspired’.

The key feature is the L shaped entrance. Bees land or enter via a narrow, horizontal aperture, walk to the back wall of the entrance and then climb vertically to enter the hive somewhere in the region of the second or third frame (warm way). The vertical part of the entrance is no more than 8-9mm wide. My preferred floors also have the horizontal aperture only 8-9mm high. I also like landing boards despite the fact they make hives more difficult to transport. I’m slowly converting the landing boards on these Kewl floors to Correx … they are easy to replace, totally weatherproof and come in a range of colours.

No mouse guard is needed because a mouse cannot squeeze through the tight angle in the L-shaped entrance. In addition, bees are able to defend the entrance against wasps both at the external opening and at the point at which the entrance joins the brood box. However, if wasps are really troublesome,  you might still need to reduce the entrance to a single bee space and this is easily achieved by simply blocking most of the external aperture with a piece of 8-9mm softwood.


Construction is simple. Two side rails of pressure-treated wood, cross pieces from readily-available softwood, some scraps from the offcuts box, a piece of Correx and a suitably sized piece of mesh. The following list of parts is for a National hive (planed softwood unless specified) :-

  • 2 x 46cm long 38mm x 63mm pressure-treated decking wood (B+Q)
  • 2 x 46cm long 46mm x 21mm
  • 1 x 46cm long 21mm x 21mm
  • ~1m of 21mm x 9mm
  • ~2m of 21mm x 21mm
  • Correx sheet 10cm x 45cm
  • A few 40mm x 4mm screws, four 50mm x 4mm screws, a few gimp (frame) pins, exterior wood glue, a bee friendly preservative, a drill and bits, tenon saw, small hammer, knife,  screwdriver, Elastoplast (just in case)

Remember, with woodworking for beekeeping, propolis is your friend.  Build flat and square and the bees will fill in any imperfections in the joints!

  1. Join one piece of 46mm  x 21mm and one of 21mm x 21mm (both 46cm long) with two short pieces of 21mm x 9mm, each 60mm long. Glue and screw as appropriate. This forms the vertical part of the entrance (shown second from the right in Fig. 1).
  2. The pressure treated decking wood forms the side rails of the floor. This is the only part of the floor in contact with the hive stand/floor. Cut a 76mm x 21mm section from one end of each piece and a 46mm x 21mm section from the other end. These respectively form the front and rear attachment points for the cross pieces and are also shown in Fig. 1.
  3. Using a flat, square and true template (such as a 46cm square piece of ply; Fig. 2) glue and screw the cross pieces to the side rails. Clamp everything down and leave it all to dry.
  4. Turn the floor upside-down. Add 21mm x 9mm spacers to the underside of the entrance cross piece (see Fig. 3) using gimp pins only. The landing board will be attached to these spacers in due course. Only fix them in place with gimp pins so you can replace them should the wood rot … they are exposed to water if rain is driven in through the entrance.
  5. While the floor is inverted add two short (16mm) screws equally spaced as ‘stops’ to prevent an entrance block being pushed back too far.
  6. Turn the floor the right way up again and add a strip of 21mm x 21mm all around the edge, glued and screwed down (see Figs. 4-8). The brood box will stand on these. The easiest way to do this is to cut them a few millimetres too long (say 45cm or so) then cut them down to length after fixing them in place (I never suggested this was going to be ‘proper’ woodwork!).
  7. Give the entire thing a couple of coats of bee-safe preservative such as Ronseal Fence Life (Fig. 9). Once it has dried cut the Correx landing board to size and fix it in place using gimp pins (Fig. 10 & 11). I usually have the landing board can protrude from the front by a couple of centimetres. However, if you move your hives a lot it can get in the way (and prevents them being packed together in the trailer) and so can be simply flush with the front of the floor. If it does get damaged it can easily be replaced.
  8. Cut a piece of mesh to fit and fit it in place with roofing nails. Remember to leave the upper entrance to the L-shaped entrance slot clear!

You can create an entrance block from an offcut of 21mm x 9mm softwood, about 1cm narrower than the width of the entrance slot. When in place this provides a narrow entrance on one or other side of the hive front (Fig. 12). To allow the use of a Varroa monitoring board add horizontal runners on either side of the side rails.  Make the board out of Correx.

When you first switch over to this type of floor bees may cluster under the entrance, particularly if they’ve been used to landing on the hive stand and then walking up … help them by packing the space under the landing board with grass for a few days (or use this quick fix).  They soon learn.

Check the entrance remains clear in the winter …

The only problem I’ve encountered using this type of floor is that, rarely, the entrance gets blocked with corpses during a long, cold winter. The best way to prevent this is to periodically clear the entrance using a bent piece of wire – a cut down coat hanger is ideal. If you do this on your fortnightly checks things should be fine.

A version of this article first appeared in Dr. Bodgit’s DIY column in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter from Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.