The bare necessities

It’s that time of the season when the increasingly bloated Thorne’s catalogue crashes onto the doormat.

The timing is impeccable.

Through the long winter, experienced beekeepers have busied themselves with the unpleasant jobs ignored all last season; the painting and decorating, the tax return, tidying the loft or even gardening.

There’s only so much procrastination you (or I) can get away with …

More recently, if they’re like me, they will have been planning for the season ahead.

What didn’t work last year and needs to be changed? Which new method worked well and should be used on more colonies this year?

A different queen rearing strategy? A simpler method of swarm control?

Not enough frames, foundation, hive tools or labels?

Thank goodness, here’s the Thorne’s catalogue to save the day 😉

Like lambs to the slaughter

And, if you thought the Thorne’s catalogue was tempting for the experienced, imagine how it is viewed by a beginner.

They’ve spent the winter doing nothing but dream about balmy spring days with the bees 1.

The six week ‘Beginning beekeeping’ course will soon be over and they must be ready for the season ahead.

They’ve promised honey to all their friends and family … and that’s not going to happen unless they’re properly equipped.

Thank goodness, here’s the Thorne’s catalogue to save the day 😉

Getting started

I started beekeeping with secondhand everything … hive, smoker, hive tool, beesuit, feeders, the lot. It was all reasonable quality equipment and was being sold because a beginner had reacted badly to a couple of stings and decided beekeeping was not for them.

My original smoker

I’m still using most of the kit.

The hive was a Thorne’s ‘Bees on a budget’ offering. It is made of cedar, but is paler and lighter (and frankly less good) than western red cedar boxes. It had been stained a weird red colour, so is still obvious in my – now mountainous 2 – stack of green-stained cedar and painted poly boxes.

More of a problem was that the supers had been assembled incorrectly and the beespace was all over the place. I pulled them apart and reassembled them.

It was probably the best £125 I’ve ever spent 3 … firstly because it was a very fair price for some barely-used kit, and secondly because it got me started with a hobby obsession that has engrossed me ever since.

Lots of people don’t find beekeeping engrossing 4.

Most who start, give up.

Usually sooner rather than later.

You simply need to look at the number trained every winter.

My alma mater BKA (Warwick and Leamington beekeepers) trained about 40 new beekeepers a year from 2012 to 2020, but their membership grew by only ~120 during that period. 

It’s a bargain … but caveat emptor

If you’re starting beekeeping this year take advantage of this high ‘drop-out’ rate. Buy some little-used equipment from a trusted source e.g. someone who trained in a previous year with the association … rather than from a dodgy bloke down at the allotment.

Equipment can carry diseases which is why I stressed a ‘trusted source’.

Even if you know something about the source and history of the kit, clean it thoroughly.

Flame a cedar box with a blowtorch, ensuring you get into all the nooks and crannies. Soak and scrub poly boxes with a strong soda solution.

Treat hive tools and smokers with soda in the same way.

Wash the beesuit thoroughly.

And throw away any gauntlet-type leather or faux-leather gloves. I’ll return to these later …

And, while you’re at it, discard any used frames and comb. 

Beekeeping is an expensive hobby

If you don’t buy secondhand, the necessary equipment can be expensive.

And that’s before you get any bees.

I’ve seen plenty of 5 frame nucleus colonies being offered for £240-300 this year. Because of the Brexit import ban nucs are likely to be in short supply, particularly early in the season 5.

Which means that the hive, suit, tools and bees might cost the best part of £750 … on top of the training course.

That’s a significant outlay.

And remember, for reasons explained elsewhere, it is always better to have two colonies. 

With one colony you have no ‘internal controls’ – to use science-speak.

Is it bad tempered because it’s queenless, or simply because a strong nectar flow has stopped? If both hives are tetchy it’s likely to be the latter as you’re unlikely to ‘lose’ two queens simultaneously. With one colony, the loss of a queen can be terminal, with two it can almost always be easily rescued.

So … two complete hives, two nucleus colonies, frames, foundation, beesuit, tools etc. … which together will cost well over £1000.

And that’s before you consider the additional equipment you will need for swarm control.

And you will need it 🙁

The non-essentials

What do you need and what is superfluous?

Don’t be led by what’s in the ‘basic kit’ offered by beekeeping suppliers.

After all … their business is selling you stuff. 

For example, most ‘kits for beginners’ I’ve seen include gauntlet-type gloves and a bee brush.

You won’t need a bee brush; you can either shake the bees off the frame, or use a tuft of grass or a large feather.

Gauntlets are an abomination.

They are impossible to clean and provide zero manual dexterity. Because you have no sense of touch you’ll inevitably crush bees. You’ll get stung, but will feel nothing as the gloves are so thick and protective.

Good?

No, bad. 

The sting pheromone will soak into the glove and you’ll get stung more. You’ll have to wash the gloves every time you use them, so they’ll get cracked and hard so making handling frames even more difficult.

Not only are gauntlet-type leather gloves non-essential, I think they’re actually a serious impediment to new beekeepers. They provide the impression of safety and protection, but in practice prevent the safe and gentle handling of bees.

Kimberly-Clark Purple Nitrile-Xtra … perfect, long-cuff nitriles for beekeeping.

Instead use easy-to-clean (or disposable) long-cuff nitrile gloves. Add a thin pair of Marigold-type washing up gloves over the top if you need some additional confidence for your first few forays into a hive.

Boring boxes

A hive (or two) is essential. Your choice should be based upon what the local association members use. I would strongly suggest you don’t go off piste until you know what you’re doing.

If everyone around you uses National hives, don’t buy a Warré. 

As soon as you use something ‘a bit weird’ (with apologies to Warré hive users) you’re stuck if you need a frame of eggs to rescue a queenless hive.

Or you want to sell an overwintered nuc.

You are at an immediately disadvantage. 

By all means try these things after a season or two … but when you’re starting out it pays to be boring and mainstream and vanilla.

Which isn’t easy as the Thorne’s catalogue lists a lot of different hive types – National, 14×12, Dadant, Commercial, Langstroth, WBC, Warré, Layens, Smith, Drayton, Rose … at anything from £160 to – gasp – £700. 

Some of these are compatible, others are not. 

The association apiary is not filled with Layens’ hives, so don’t buy one as your starter hive. 

For swarm control, I’d recommend buying a compatible polystyrene nucleus hive. This enables one of the easiest and most foolproof methods of swarm control, which has the advantage of needing the least additional equipment.

A reputable supplier, or – even better – local beekeeper, should be able to provide your first nucleus colony in a suitable nucleus box.

The additional £30-50 is an excellent investment.

Polystyrene hives are used increasingly and are generally very good quality. Again, compatibility is essential. Avoid anything that you cannot mix with other boxes like the plague … like overhanging lips or rebates.

Do as I say, don’t do as I did 😉

And you’ll need frames … lots of frames.

The horizontals

The boring boxes are topped, tailed and separated with the horizontal bits of the hive – the roof, floor and the queen excluder. 

Roofs and floors can be made cheaply and easily if you need them. Crownboards can be as simple as a sheet of thick polythene, or something more complicated.

It’s likely that these things will all be with the hive you buy … but if they’ve gone missing it’s not a dealbreaker if you’re buying secondhand. Just offer a bit less.

Plastic queen excluders can be purchased from about £4.

Framed wire QE ...

Framed wire QE …

However, I’d strongly advise buying (or building) a framed wire queen excluder. These are more expensive, but far better in use. Their integral beespace means they are much easier to place back on the brood box, particularly if the colony is really strong.

Investing for the future

Framed wire QE’s are 3-5 times the price of the plastic alternatives. That’s a substantial additional cost. However, it’s one that will more than repay the investment over subsequent years … in terms of fewer crushed bees, easier colony inspections and more enjoyable beekeeping.

Of course, it’ll only repay the investment if you keep on beekeeping … but I’d argue you’re more likely to do so if your colony inspections are easier and you crush fewer bees 😉

There are a few other things where items can be purchased relatively cheaply (or perhaps inexpensively might be a better word here), but that – over time – benefit from spending a bit more.

The three most obvious (to me at least) are the hive tool, the beesuit and the smoker.

Hive tools

I know beekeepers who use an old screwdriver as a hive tool. They work, though the box edges are a bit tatty.

For years I used Thorne’s ‘budget’ claw hive tools (second from the left in the picture below), always purchased for £2 at conventions or during the winter sales.

Hive tools ...

Hive tools …

I owned better quality hive tools – like the ‘Frontier-type’ German-made hive tool (second from the right, above) – but found them too big and heavy. They were also inconvenient to pick up as they lie flat on a surface. 

More recently I’ve purchased a few of the non-budget claw-type hive tools. These look very similar to the one above (again, second from the left) but are made of much better quality stainless steel and have an excellent sharp edge and strong claw. They were over six times the price, but fit my hand nicely and should last a lifetime until I lose them 6.

Hive tools are a very personal item.  Some offer more leverage than others, some suit smaller (or larger) hands, some are comfortable, others awkward.

Pre-Covid you could try a range of hive tools at any association apiary session to find what feels right. Those days will return … but in the meantime you either have to stick with your first choice or buy a few over time and decide what works best.

You’ll lose them in the long grass anyway 😉

The smoker

I’ve discussed smokers before and so won’t go into too much detail. 

Like hive tools, there are good and poor quality smokers. Unlike hive tools (which all more or less do the job intended) some smokers work very poorly.

My original smoker (pictured above) is still used now and again. However, it’s too small for extended use and needs work to keep it going.

Dadant smoker

Dadant smoker …

I now use Dadant smokers and – when I next reverse over one in the car – will again (!) replace it with another Dadant smoker. 

The large Dadant smoker is outstanding and the smaller one (which is still not very small) is just very, very, very good.

Smoker still life

Smoker

These are easy to light, they stay lit and they just keep on working. 

I’m not recommending these as a necessary initial outlay … but if and when you need to replace your smoker they are a very worthwhile investment.

And, while we’re at it, I’d recommend a box to store the smoker in safely.

After prolonged use smokers get very hot. You either:

  • dump them in the back of the car and risk a major conflagration while driving back from the apiary
  • wait until they cool sufficiently to avoid a fire, but risk a later conflagration when you arrive home so late your dinner is ruined (since you prefer to spend all your time with your bees”)
  • stick them in a smoker box and avoid the risk of conflagrations of any sort 😉
An ideal Christmas gift for a beekeeper

An ideal Christmas gift for a beekeeper

Again, perhaps not essential, but not far off …

Beesuits

There are some pretty fancy beesuits available these days. Ventilated, multi-coloured, stingproof … or even all three together.

When you’re starting beekeeping, the really important thing about a beesuit is that it provides you with the protection you need to gain confidence when working with bees.

The stingproof ones tend to look very bulky 7. I’ve never used one or even tried one on, but I presume they don’t impair your movement too much.

The only beesuits I’ve ever used are by BBwear. These, and the not quite separated-at-birth BJ Sherriff, make excellent beesuits for UK beekeepers. 

Their products are a bit more expensive than the budget offerings from eBay or those sold with ‘start beekeeping’ kits. However, the investment is probably worthwhile. Ask your association whether they can arrange a group purchase – you can usually negotiate a worthwhile discount. 

Both companies will also repair the beesuits as they, inevitably, get worn or torn, so your are essentially purchasing something that should last a decade or more.

My full suit (A BBwear deluxe suit) is approaching 15 years old and needs some repairs, but has lots of life in it yet. I supplemented it with a deluxe jacket which I wear for 75% of my beekeeping.

Neither is stingproof. 

If I’m getting stung through the suit it’s because the colony has lousy genetics and urgently needs a new queen, or I’m being sloppy or hamfisted in my colony manipulations … or it’s raining hard and I really shouldn’t be opening the colony anyway.

Of course, none of these things ever happen 😉

In an emergency I can always wear a fleece under the beesuit to provide additional protection.

But what about … ?

The overweight Thorne’s catalogue lists a further 23,759 other ‘useful’, essential’, ‘practical’, ‘convenient’, ‘clever, ‘helpful’, ‘beneficial’, ‘functional’ or ‘serviceable’ items almost none of which are needed when first starting beekeeping.

And some of which are never needed … ever.

But what about a … 

  • one handed queen catcher?  Check the ends of your arms … do you have 5 digits on each? You therefore have a one handed queen catcher already built in. You need to be able to find the queen first. And, with luck, the one in the nuc you purchase will already be marked.
  • mouseguard?  Some floors don’t need mouseguards at all. Those that do, don’t need them until November which is a very long way off. 
  • fancy multifunctional floor or crownboard?  Purchased with all the add-ons these cost more than a standard hive. They might be useful, but they tie you into a particular format which may, or may not, be available in subsequent years. I’d recommend waiting until either a) you decide to build your own, or b) you realise you don’t need them anyway 😉
  • combi brush?  Er, no 8

Enjoy all 94 pages of the Thorne’s catalogue.

Read it and re-read it. 

But save your money until you better understand what you really need.

As I said before … Do as I say, don’t do as I did 😉

Buy the bare necessities and, if possible, invest in quality items that will last you for years.

Even if your beekeeping doesn’t last for years, they’ll have a better resale value 9.

And if you carry on beekeeping – which, of course, I hope you do – those bare necessities will be your trusty companions through season after season, making them exceptional value for money.

Except for the hive tool you lose midsummer in the long grass 🙁


Notes

Other catalogues are available … online, even if not in print. My Thorne’s catalogues arrived this week and, until recently, I lived 10 minutes from Thorne’s of Scotland. If I’d lived in York I’d have offered the same advice but substituted Abelo for Thorne’s throughout.

Footnotes

  1. Which, in fairness, is pretty much what I’ve done as well …
  2. Mountainous in an amateur, few hives in a few apiaries, sort of way … not the floor-to-ceiling barn full I’ve seen in commercial operations.
  3. Though it was so long ago I probably paid in groats.
  4. What’s wrong with them?
  5. I’m going to discuss this in more detail next week …
  6. Truth be told … I ordered these as part of a large online order during the sales. I’d intended to order the budget model but selected the wrong item. D’oh! It was a large order, so the additional cost of a few quality hive tools was ‘lost in the noise’.

     

    It’s a mistake I don’t regret.

  7. No beesuit is ever going to look elegant or well-tailored … get used to it!
  8. I could explain why, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
  9. Think back to the disconnect between trainees and membership numbers … at least 50% of people who attend a start beekeeping course probably stop beekeeping within 2-3 years.

30 thoughts on “The bare necessities

  1. Richie

    Bravo! Best article for new beekeepers ever. Wish I would have known this before I started my adventure. Now I have items used once or never, sitting in the bottom of a bucket or on a shelf. As they say, keep it simple stupid.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Richie

      Having just moved house I’m acutely aware of the ‘stuff’ I’ve accumulated over the years – I had to box it all up and then find space to store it again (just in case it comes in). Some dates back to the year I started. The day-to-day essentials comfortably fit into my bee bag, and that includes much of the stuff needed for grafting and queen rearing.

      Of course, sometimes you need to try (or build) things to find out they’re a bad idea, don’t work or are unsuited to your bees or beekeeping.

      Perhaps I’ll add some of these unwanted and unloved items to my ‘For Sale‘ page as I try and rationalise things for the season ahead (and to make space for more essential purchases 😉 ).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Paul Honigmann

    Useful post, thank you. Look forward to hearing about driving over your gear. Talking of cars, have you ever seen a swarm in a car? Someone left it in the swarm capture box in the car overnight and they found their way out… his wife was not impressed.

    I was just looking for my favourite hive tool, must remember to check the long grass, thanks for the reminder!

    But why have you not discussed the queen alignment laser or drone centrifuge? And surely the mournful tone of the Polynesian bagpipe smoker attachment is an essential addon? I thought you conventional beeks had a toy for everything. I look forward to you covering these in the next instalment.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Paul

      My stuff required a van to shift it … and I’ve yet to move the majority of my bulky items like boxes, hivebarrows, hive stands etc. I’m running a very lean and mean beekeeping setup on the west coast for the next 18 months, though it will inevitably grow faster than intended/expected.

      I’ve seen swarms on cars, but not in them. I’ve seen bees in cars … when transporting them with ill-fitting entrance blocks, or when poorly strapped together (‘because I’m only going a couple of miles’). Fortunately, the escapees are numbered in the dozens, not thousands 🙂

      I was going to edit your final paragraph as I don’t like giving away too much information about future articles. Although not quite a drone centrifuge, we’re hoping to do some collaborative studies this year using a flight mill which has bees flying in circles …

      Flight Mill - from Tosi et al., (2017)

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Emily

    Not quite as impressive as your 15 years, but my only suit is a Bee Basic one which was bought back in 2008. It’s had a bit of stitching repair around the veil and pockets, but other than that still going strong.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Emily

      Actually, probably more impressive. Firstly, I suspect the Bee Basic one is constructed a little less robustly than the BBwear offerings (but might be wrong) and secondly, I wear a jacket for much of my beekeeping. The full suit is only used for the multi-hive inspections, or when I feel I need a bit more protection (e.g. poor weather or when I’m wearing shorts) or to keep propolis off my trousers.

      I’d meant to get my beesuit mended this winter but wasn’t organised enough. The veil has a couple of bee-sized holes in it. What’s weird is the bees can sometimes find their way in, but never find their way out again.

      One of those beekeeping conundrums.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Fred

    Hi David,
    Inevitably another fun, relevant post.

    Can I mention ‘hive tool anxiety’ my continual feeling of where have I put the hive tool (once, actually more than once, even managed to leave inside reassembled previous hive I had checked😳)

    It’s not curable by buying low cost tools cos you still have to find the lost ones (they’re a landmine for lawnmowers) and anyhow I would like to give ‘a shout out’ to my personal favourite, Reassuringly stamped with Made in Sheffield , the simple but brilliant Taylor’s Eye Witness hive tool (link if allowed. https://taylors-eye-witness.co.uk/tew-news/taylors-eye-witness-hive-tools-still-available/) There’s just something about it (though gives a lot of added Hive Tool Anxiety)

    Love the combi brush but will wait for upgrade model with smoker attached .

    Thanks as ever!

    Fred

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Fred

      Links are allowed (other than when it’s promoting something made/sold by the commenter … unless it’s me 😉 ) though I’m not confident those hive tools are still available … that blog post dates back to 2016 and a quick Google search turned it up, in several incarnations, but didn’t indicate where they could actually be purchased.

      I’ve an issue with the colour (red?) as I’m colourblind. Once dropped into the long grass it might as well be on the dark side of the moon as far as I’m concerned. Worryingly, they look very robust and running one over with the lawnmower could be catastrophic.

      The smoker/combi brush/backscratcher will be in the 2022 catalogue 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Dex

    First off I’d like to say what an excellent article this is, and I’ve shared it with my Mentees.

    Th is is not a criticism, and I may well be talking out of the top of my veiled hat, but – leaving an Association does not necessarily mean quitting bee keeping. Many people join as part of getting on the course, and leave once they feel they have a reasonable level of competence. I’m about done with mine, but the insurance is useful and I like helping Newbees as a Mentor, otherwise I’d be long gone: I have the lowest level of contact possible.

    Anyway, you’ve gained a new fan – and I’ll no doubt drag in a few more.
    Dex

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Dex

      You are, of course, completely correct. Some train and then leave … and are very successful and eventually experienced beekeepers. I know of several who have done this. However, in a time-limited if not word-limited post there are only so many caveats and provisos I can include. There are also many people who start beekeeping without ever attending a course, or having anything whatsoever to do with a BKA. I’m sure some of these also ‘make the grade’, but I suspect a lot don’t … crashing and burning in their second winter when the mites take over, or being defeated by a drone laying queen in their only hive.

      I received a lot of help and support from my BKA when I trained, but am no longer a member having moved away from the area … another group unrepresented in current membership figures.

      Some find the ‘association’ bit of a BKA really enjoyable … others find it stifling and a reminder of the petty office politics they struggle with throughout the week. I enjoyed the camaraderie and some of the teaching/mentoring and I really like the cooperative purchasing schemes 😉 The committee stuff and the minutiae of a small, charitable organisation was a bit less appealing … but I’m very grateful to those who do it so much better than I could.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Dave Stokes

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your usual informative post. The only thing I have lost in the long grass was my spectacles at a cost approaching a beginner’s starter kit. The queen of the colony that were chasing me didn’t last long after that!
    Our local association is planning to reduce the cost of starting bee keeping this year using a strategy promoted by Roger Patterson. We will be “lending” each new member who wants it, a nuc, containing a colony of locally bred bees. We will help them to build it up and get it through the winter and then breed their second colony from it. In their second year, they will breed their second and third nucs and use one of them to pay off their debt and, we hope that, by then they will be committed members of our club.
    Cheers,
    Dave.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dave

      That sounds like a good scheme. I’ll be interested to hear how you get on with it. I’ve previously written about a way of mentoring that involves working with the mentor and a colony, splitting a nuc off the colony and then building it up for winter. Normally mentoring starts with the acquisition of a nuc, doing it this way would also cover swarm control/queen mating etc.

      I’m going to return to nucs and mentoring and sustainable beekeeping later this year … it’s something that’s easy with experience, but many beginners never reach that stage.

      The other thing I’ve dropped in the long grass at my feet was a clipped queen I was trying to mark … without my glasses and with my size 10 feet it was never going to end well. And didn’t 🙁 In contrast, I don’t remember an unclipped queen that ‘escaped’ when being marked that hasn’t eventually returned to the hive. If I lose one I usually beat a hasty retreat and come back the following day …

      First lot of orientation flights for early season brood day today. It was a great sight 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Alan

    Hi David

    I’m very happy with my BJ Sherriff suit and I find it’s really useful if you remember to zip up the hood, which I didn’t when I inspected one of my colonies a few days ago, hopefully the rest of the season will go a bit better.
    The reason I inspected was because the queen had stopped laying on the 13th of August when I put in a tray of Apiguard. They remained broodless throughout the winter but I’m happy to say that I now have brood in all stages and I think the queen probably started laying at the beginning of the month. The adult bees are now getting on for six months old and it made me recall an article you wrote called Diutinus Bees, which I’ve just re-read. It seems to me that when the queen suddenly stopped laying there wasn’t the opportunity to move from raising summer bees to winter bees so they had to work with what they had and the absence of brood pheromone caused the young bees to retain their juvenile characteristics. A similar thing happened to a colony last summer when it was without brood for some time and although the colony dwindled there were a lot of bees that outlived their normal summer life expectancy.
    I think the term “winter bees” is a bit misleading because it’s all to do with the way that the bees adapt to the needs of the colony and it’s something that can occur at any time, it’s just that we notice it more in the winter.

    Many thanks for all your good work.

    Alan

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Alan

      Good to see a plug for the Sherriff suits … thank you.

      Apiguard often inhibits the queen from laying, particularly if the weather is warm enough to make it ‘pong’ very strongly.

      Do you know that the queen didn’t restart laying after the Apiguard treatment? I’d be surprised if there were sufficient young (winter-like) bees in the colony in early/mid August to get the colony through to the following Spring. There may be, I’m not sure. Another possibility is that the Apiguard came off after 6-8 weeks and the queen, either then or earlier as the temperature dropped and the thymol smell waned, started laying again. This would be in mid/late September into early October. Depending where you are, there’s still sufficient time to generate quite a population of winter bees.

      I agree about the term winter bees being misleading … that’s why diutinus bees is more accurate. I made the point in that post that bees raised in colony stripped of brood in midsummer physiologically resemble ‘winter bees’. This showed the importance of brood pheromone and ethyl oleate in winter bee diutinus bee induction.

      However, a bit like ‘phoretic mites’ being incorrect terminology, I suspect the name ‘winter bees’ is going to continue to be used.

      Beekeepers are very conservative (with a small ‘c’) … which is probably why we don’t all use Langstroths 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Alan

        Hi David
        I’ve been fascinated at how my bees have survived so far and I thought that I would give you a breakdown of events as you might also find it interesting.
        I inspected the colony on the 10th of Aug. and at the time they were quite strong and had nine frames of brood. I put the Apiguard on on the 13th and I remember that it was quite a warm day, 25 days later, on the 7th of Sep. I inspected the colony and they were broodless, all of the young bees had emerged and the cells were being filled with nectar. I was concerned that when the queen restarted laying there would be no space for her so I exchanged two frames of nectar for two of drawn comb. My next inspections were on the 28th of Sep., 11th of Oct., and the 16th of Dec. and each time they remained broodless. I admit that it’s possible she could have restarted laying at the end of October and then stopped again before the end of November but It seems unlikely to me as I think I would have noticed the difference in colony size. After the 16th of Dec. it became too cold to open the hive but by copying your use of insulated perspex crown boards (thanks for that) I was able to check them each week and although the colony had dwindled I now noticed that the size of the cluster seemed to remain constant. A mild day on the 16th of Jan. allowed me to check again but still nothing and then another mild day on the 23rd of this month, bingo, there was a small amount of brood spread over three frames, eggs, larvae and capped brood, not a huge amount but enough to give me hope that they are going to make it. I’m on the south coast of England and it’s warm and sunny here at the moment and the bees are busy bringing in pollen so all I can do now is wait.

        Alan

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Alan

          You’ve done more inspections since September than I did on some colonies in all of 2020 😉

          It’s possible the queen was laying from mid-October until it got too cold. I’m not sure you would notice much change in the cluster size. The summer bees would be dying off and replaced by new winter bees. Overall bee numbers could remain largely unaltered. However, you might well be correct in thinking that there was no brood rearing during this time.

          If you had capped brood on the 23rd there should have been eggs or possibly even larvae on the 16th as worker brood is capped 9 days after the eggs are laid.

          Your bees have had a busy winter … I’d leave them in peace until the season picks up a bit. I’ve opened one or two colonies since October, but the majority of mine will not be inspected between late August and early April (though I check colony weights and open the hive to add fondant etc.).

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  8. Frazer

    Hi David,
    Thanks as ever.
    This idea of scorching wooden hives seems to have appeared during my last 2 descades in the beekeeping wilderness, soas to speak…
    However, in the matter of all things to do with disese, where one cannot say for certain if there is/is not a disease asapore / microbe/ bacteriia/ thing, I wonder if this is really always a good thing..
    I was looking at https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0003 which was pointing out the use of propolis, therefore if we go burning all the propolis off our boxes, we could be doing our bees a dis-service perhaps…

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Frazer

      I think it’s a balance between potentially losing/removing/damaging (the protective properties of) the propolis, which can and will be replaced when the hive is reoccupied, and the devastating consequences of residual foulbrood spores infecting the colony.

      Of the two, I’d prefer to give the bees the opportunity to re-cover the hive inner walls with a thin layer of propolis, rather than risk exposing them to foulbrood.

      Tom Seeley had some interesting suggestions in The Lives of Bees on roughening the inner walls of the hive to encourage the bees to fill all the nooks and crannies with propolis. He did it with offcuts of queen excluder. I think I’ve seen someone suggesting doing it with a wallpaper ‘tiger’ scoring tool.

      I’m not underestimating the importance of propolis to the colony, but it’s also important not to underestimate the consequences of some of the ‘nasties’ that might lurk in old boxes (particularly those of unknown provenance).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. Sam

    Talking of hive tools, the two best beekeeping buys I ever made were a mini hive tool and high strength neodymium magnets. Placed in the top pocket, the magnets ‘stow’ the hive tool on your chest – always on hand (unless you’ve already lost it in the long grass, in which case it is only a couple of quid to replace!)

    (hive tool: https://www.thorne.co.uk/index.php&product_id=7195)
    (magnets: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007UOXS1M)

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Sam

      I’ve got a couple of those mini hive tools … somewhere. They’ve got a wickedly sharp edge on them when new and have a tendency to cut their own way out of the beesuit pocket.

      The magnet idea is a stroke of genius 🙂

      Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery … so don’t be surprised if I give this a try later in the season.

      Many thanks
      David

      Reply
  10. Helen Howarth

    I once tried tying my hive tool onto me via a clip on coily stringy thing …. it did nt work! I now paint them bright colours including my name … (oooops yes them) so I can spot them in the grass (ooops them again) but mostly I never let go even to the point when I find myself back home still clutching the hive tool
    my latest bit of rather expensive kit is a leanto bee house … . no more ropes tying down the hives all winter sorry all year!
    welcome to windy west coast of Scotland
    Helen Isle of Mull

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Helen

      My hives are also all securely strapped down. Despite living in a relatively sheltered part of the peninsula I’ve had to recover heavy wooden garden furniture from down the hill somewhere a couple of times this winter.

      My bee shed is little more than a decorative backdrop at the moment. The shed is here and the bees are here, but there’s currently no room in the shed for the bees 🙁

      No room in the inn ...

      Actually there’s almost no room for anything in the shed at the moment … however, the long term goal will be to replicate something similar to my ‘work’ bee shed which has been a great success:

      Foragers returning to the bee shed

      Foragers out and about collecting gorse pollen today. A lovely sight.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Helen Howarth

        indeed, a neighbour lost his bees the other winter after being blown over, and they were strapped down,.. just not enough bottom weight,. the shed looks lovely, …. mine has a slight issue which I have not yet worked out why! as in some bees inside ooops … but yes flying yesterday collecting pollen from the snowdrops

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Helen

          Another fabulous day today 🙂 If your shed has windows you can easily convert them into bee escapes that keep the weather out and let the bees exit. I’ve written about these previously. No moving parts and nothing to open or remember to close 🙂

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
          1. Helen Howarth

            discovered the issue …… school boy sorry girl error, I had not got a super that was being used as an eke with a lining of insulation in down far enough to meet the brood box after popping some candy in…. the bees had come out of the top instead of out through their proper tube…. Being a Yorkshire girl I am waiting on some S/H windows that I have been promised which will enable me to let the bees out should they make the wrong exit in the future. The main problem was being a new shed they had not really learnt the tube route ….. but there are gaps at roof/wall joints so in future I think it will work properly

          2. David Post author

            Well done … working out the cause is half way to solving the problem … by which time you’ll be well on your way to the next one 🙁

            Cheers
            David

  11. Calum Grigor

    Hi
    I recommend the queen clasp. You can pick up the queen if you happen to see her. And store her safely while you finish the inspection, not forgetting to release her back before you close everything up….
    Sure I can pick her up with my 5 digits, but the clasp stores her, I need my digits for other stuff. Stainless steel is worth the few cents extra
    Br
    Calum

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Calum,

      I can’t bear those things … if I need to remove the Q I’ll either take the frame she’s on out and put it in a 2-frame nuc/carry box, or I’ll cage her. However, I very rarely do this and do my best not to handle her unless needed.

      I heard that some beekeepers hold the Q between their lips to protect her … again, something I’ve not done (and wouldn’t do!).

      I hope you’re having a good start to the early season.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  12. David Jones

    I’ve heard of people putting nitrile gloves over Marigolds, to keep propolis off the Marigolds and reduce the need to clean them. I’ve never considered putting the Marigolds over the top. Does the extra nitrile layer add any value in that case?

    I’ve also heard of people wearing silk gloves under either nitrile or Marigold. Possibly adds a bit of protection, but mainly it helps soak up the sweat, they say. I’m content to pour it out at the end – before I get to the bee shed if I remember

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello David

      I now where nitriles 90% of the time. I only add Marigolds over the top if they’re agitated. The nitriles add nothing much, but it saves trying to get the damp nitriles back on afterwards.

      Silk gloves? Wow! Never heard of that. I also empty out my gloves … and, on a really hot day, my wellingtons.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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