Tim Toady

Synopsis : The large number of beekeeping methods is both a benefit and – for beginners particularly – a distraction. Learn methods well enough to be confident when you apply them. Understand why they work and their pros and cons.

Introduction

In an earlier life as a junior academic I was generously given a crushingly boring administrative task. The details don’t matter 1 but it essentially involved populating a huge three-dimensional matrix. The matrix had to be re-populated annually … and, when I was allocated the task, manually.

To cut a long story short I taught myself some simple web-database computer programming. This automated the data collection and entry and saved me many weeks of tedious work.

Geek alert …

This minor victory resulted in me:

  • writing lots more code for my admin and research, and for my hobbies including beekeeping and photography. It’s been a really useful skill … and a lot of fun.
  • inevitably being given an additional mundane task to fill the time I had ‘saved’ 🙁 2.

The programming language I used was perl. This is a simple scripting language, which although now superseded in popularity by things like python, remains very widely used. All proper computers 3 still have perl installed.

Perl is perfect for manipulating text-based records. The name is an acronym for ’practical extraction and reporting language’ … or perhaps ’pathetically eclectic rubbish lister’, the latter reflecting its use to manipulate text (‘garbage in, garbage out’ … ) 4.

Perl was (and remains) powerful because it’s a very flexible language. You can achieve the same goal in many different ways.

This flexibility is reflected in the perl motto: ’There’s more than one way to do it’, which is abbreviated to TMTOWTDI.

TMTOWTDI is a mouthful of alphabet spaghetti, so for convenience is pronounced Tim Toady … the title of today’s post.

Why?

Because exactly the same acronym could be applied to lots of things in beekeeping.

Ask three beekeepers, get five answers

But one of the five is wrong because it involves ’brood and a half’.

Anyone who has attended an association meeting and naively asked a simple question will understand the title of this section.

’How do I … [insert routine beekeeping problem here] … ?’

The old and the wise, or perhaps the old or the wise, will recommend a series of solutions. Some will offer more than one.

Each will be different.

Many recommendations will be perfectly workable.

A few might be impractical.

At least one will be just plain wrong.

How do I avoid brace comb?

Confusingly … despite all being proffered solutions to the one question you asked, many will appear contradictory.

Do you move the queen away (the nucleus method) or leave the queen on the same site (Pagden’s artificial swarm) for swarm control? How can they both work if you do such very different things?

Ask twelve beekeepers, get nineteen answers (ONE IN ALL CAPS)

Internet discussion forums (fora?) are exactly the same, but may be less polite. This is due to the absence of the calming influence of tea and homemade cake. At least one answer will include a snippy suggestion to ’use the search facility first’.

Another will be VERY VERY SHOUTY … the respondent either disagrees vehemently or has misplaced the CAPS LOCK key.

Actually, in many ways internet discussion forums are a lot worse … though not for the reasons you might expect.

It’s not because they’re populated with a lot of cantankerous ageing beekeepers and arriviste know-it-alls.

They’re not 5.

There are some hugely experienced and helpful beekeepers online, though they probably don’t answer first or most forcefully.

The internet is worse because the audience is bigger and is spread over a wider geographic area. This is a problem as beekeeping is effectively a local activity.

If you ask at a local association meeting there will be a smaller ‘audience’ and they should at least all have some experience of the particular conditions in your area.

Včelařské fórum … and something you won’t see on the BKF … a whole sub-forum on subsidies

But if you ask on Beesource, Včelařské fórum or the Beekeeping & Apiculture forum the answers may literally be from anywhere 6. The advice you receive, whilst possibly valid, is likely to be most relevant where the responder lives … unless you’re lucky.

On one of the forums I irregularly frequent many contributors have their latitude and longitude coordinates (and sometimes plant hardiness zones) embedded in their .sig.

Geeky perhaps, but eminently sensible … 7

Tim Toady beekeeping

Let’s consider a few of examples of Tim Toady beekeeping. I could have chosen almost any aspect of our hobby here, but I’ll stick with three that are all related to the position or fate of the queen.

Queen introduction

Perhaps this was a bad option to choose first. Queen introduction isn’t only about how you physically get the new queen safely into the hive e.g. in some form of temporary cage. It’s also about the state of the hive.

Is it queenless? How long has it been queenless and/or is there emerging brood present? Is the brood from the previous queen or from laying workers? Is it a full hive or a nuc … or mini-nuc?

Successful introduction ...

Successful introduction …

And it’s about the state of the new queen.

Is she mated and laying, or is she a virgin? Perhaps she’s still in the queen cell? Is the queen the same (or a similar) strain to the hive being requeened? Is she in a cage of some sort? Are there attendants in the cage with her?

And all that’s before you consider whether it’s ‘better’ to use a push-in cage, a JzBz (or similar) cage or to omit the cage and just rely upon billowing clouds of acrid smelling smoke.

Uniting colonies

This blog is nothing if not ’bleeding-edge’ topical … now is the time to consider uniting understrength colonies, or those headed by very aged queens that may fail overwinter.

Uniting two weak colonies will not make a strong colony. However, uniting a strong with a weak colony will strengthen the former and possibly save the latter from potential winter loss (after you’ve paid for and applied the miticides and winter feed … D’oh!). You can always split off a nuc again in the spring.

All the above assumes that both colonies are healthy.

There are fewer ways of uniting colonies than queen introduction, and far fewer than the plethora of swarm control methods.

This is perhaps unsurprising as there are fewer component parts … hive A and hive B, with the eventual product being A/B.

Or perhaps B/A?

United we stand …

But which queen do you keep? 8

And does the queenright hive go on top or underneath?

And how do you prevent the bees from fighting, but instead allow them to mingle gently?

Or do you simply spray them with a few squirts of Sea breeze air freshener, slap the boxes together and be done with it?

Swarm control

If you find queen cells in your colony – assuming they haven’t swarmed already – then you need to take action or the colony will possibly/probably/almost certainly/indubitably 9 swarm.

The primary goals of swarm control are to retain the workforce – the foragers – and the queen.

There are a lot of swarm control methods. Many of the effective ones involve the separation of the queen and hive bees (those yet to go on orientation flights) from the foragers and brood. Some of these methods use unique equipment and most require additional boxes or split boards.

Split board

Split board …

But there are other ways to achieve the same overall goals, for example the Demaree method which keeps the entire workforce together by using a queen excluder and some well-timed colony manipulations.

No landing boards here ...

confused.com

And then there are the 214 individual door opening/closing operations over a 3 week period (assuming the moon is at or near perigee) needed when you use a Snelgrove board 10.

Like any recommendation to use brood and a half … my advice is ‘just say no’.

Just because Tim Toady

… doesn’t mean you have to actually do things a different way each time.

The problem with asking a group – like your local association or the interwebs – a question is that you will get multiple answers. These can be contradictory, and hence confusing to the tyro beekeeper.

Far better to ask one person whose opinion you respect and trust.

Like your mentor.

You still may get multiple answers 😉 … but you will get fewer answers and they should be accompanied with additional justification or explanation of the pros and cons of the various solutions suggested.

This really helps understand which solution to apply.

Irrespective of the number of answers you receive I think some of the most important skills in beekeeping involve:

  • understanding why a particular solution should work. This requires an understanding of the nitty gritty of the process. What are you trying to achieve by turning a hive 180° one week after a vertical split? Why should Apivar strips be repositioned half way through the treatment period?
  • choosing one solution and get really good at using it. Understand the limitations of the method you’ve chosen. When does it work well? When is it unsuitable? What are the drawbacks?

This might will take some time.

More hives, less time

If you’ve only got one colony you’ll probably only get one chance per year to apply – and eventually master – a swarm control method.

With more colonies it is much easier to quickly acquire this practical understanding.

Lots of learning opportunities here

Then, once you have mastered a particular approach you can decide whether the limitations outweigh the advantages and consider alternatives if needed.

This should be an informed evolution of your beekeeping methods.

What you should not do is use a different method every year as – unless you have a lot of colonies – you never get sufficient experience to understand its foibles and the wrinkles needed to ensure the method works.

Informed evolution

If you consider the three beekeeping techniques I mentioned earlier – queen introduction, uniting colonies and swarm control – my chosen approach to two of them is broadly similar to when I started.

However, as indicated above, there are still lots of subtle variations that could be applied.

With both queen introduction and uniting colonies I’ve more or less standardised on one particular way of doing each of them. By standardising there’s less room for error … at least, that’s the theory. I now what I’m doing and I know what to expect.

In contrast, I’ve used a range of swarm control methods over the years. After a guesstimated 250+ ‘hive years’ I now almost exclusively 11 use one method that I’ve found to be extremely reliable and fits with the equipment and time I have available.

It’s not perfect but – like the methods I use for queen introduction and uniting colonies – it is absolutely dependable.

I think that’s the goal of learning one method well and only abandoning it when it’s clear there are better ways of achieving your goal. By using a method you understand and consider is absolutely dependable you will have confidence that it will work.

You also know when it will work by, and so can meaningfully plan what happens next in the season.

So, what are the variants of the methods I find absolutely dependable?

Queen introduction

99% of my adult queens – whether virgin or mated – are introduced in JzBz cages. I hang the queen (only, no attendants) in a capped JzBz cage in the hive for 24 hours and then check to see if the queenless (!) colony is acting aggressively to her.

If they are not I remove the cap and plug the neck of the cage with fondant. The bees soon eat through this and release the queen.

Checking for aggression

I used to add fondant when initially caging the queen but have had one or two queens get gummed up in the stuff (which absorbs moisture from the hive). I now prefer to add it after removing the cap. The queen needs somewhere ‘unreachable’ in the cage to hide if the colony are aggressive to her.

It’s very rare I use an alternative to this method. If I do it’s to use a Nicot pin on cage where I trap the queen over a frame of emerging brood 12.

Nicot queen introduction cages

I use this method for real problem colonies … ones that have killed a queen introduced using the JzBz cage or that may contain laying workers.

Doing the latter is a pretty futile exercise at the best of times 🙁 .

Uniting colonies

Almost all colonies are united over newspaper. A sheet to two of an unstapled newspaper is easy to carry and uniting like this is almost always successful.

The brood box being moved goes on top. I want bees from the moved box to realise things have changed as they work their way down to the hive entrance. That way they’re more likely to not get lost when returning.

An Abelo/Swienty hybrid hive ...

An Abelo/cedar hybrid hive … uniting colonies in midsummer

I don’t care whether the queen is in the upper or lower box and, if there’s any doubt that one of the colonies isn’t queenless, I use a queen excluder over the newspaper. I then check the boxes one week later for eggs.

I’m not absolutely certain one of the colonies is queenless

At times I’ve used a can of air freshener and no newspaper. This has worked well, but it’s one more bulky thing to carry. I also prefer not to expose my bees to the chemical cocktail masquerading as Sea breeze, Summer meadow or Stale socks.

Since uniting doesn’t necessitate a timed return visit there’s little to be gained from seeking alternatives to newspaper in my view. Perhaps if I lived in a really windy location I’d have a different opinion … placing the newspaper over the brood box can be problematic in anything more than a moderate breeze 13.

Swarm control

Like many (most?) beekeepers I started off using the classic Pagden’s artificial swarm. However, I quickly ran out of equipment as my colony numbers increased – you need two of everything including space on suitably located hive stands.

I switched to vertical splits. These are in essence a vertical Pagden’s artificial swarm, but require only one roof and stand. If you plan to merge the colonies again i.e. you don’t want to ’make increase’, vertical splits are very convenient. However, they can involve a lot of lifting if there are supers on the colony.

Vertical split

Vertical split – day 7 …

Now I almost exclusively use the nucleus method of swarm control. Used reactively (i.e. after queen cells are seen) it’s almost totally foolproof. Used proactively (i.e. before queen cells are produced) also works well. In both cases the timing of a return visit to reduce queen cells is important, and you need to use good judgement in deciding how strong to make the nuc.

Here's one I prepared earlier

Here’s one I prepared earlier

The nucleus method has a couple of disadvantages for my beekeeping. However, its ease of application and success rate more than make up for these shortfalls.

Tim Toady is ‘a good thing’

I love the flexibility of perl for programming. I can write one-liners to do a quick and dirty file conversion. Alternatively I can craft hundreds of lines of well-documented code that is readable, easy to maintain and robust.

Others, in the very best tradition of Tim Toady, might write programs to do exactly the same things but in a completely different way.

The flexibility to tackle a task – the three used above for example, or miticide treatment, queen rearing, uncapping frames or any of the hundreds of individual tasks involved in beekeeping – in different ways provides opportunities to choose an approach that fits with your diary, manual dexterity, available equipment, preferences, ethics or environment.

In this regard it’s ‘a good thing’.

Choice and flexibility are beneficial. They make things interesting and, for the observant beekeeper, they provide ample new opportunities for learning.

… and a distraction

However, this flexibility can also be a distraction, particularly for beginners.

That is why I emphasised the need to learn the intricacies of the method you choose by understanding the underlying mechanism, and the subtleties needed to get it to work absolutely dependably.

Don’t just try something once and then do something totally different the next year 14. Use the method for several years running (assuming it’s an annual event in the beekeeping calendar), or at least on a lot of different colonies.

Choose a widely used and well-documented method in the first place 15. Read about it, understand it and apply it. Tweak it until it either works exactly as you want it to i.e. reliably, efficiently, quickly or whatever, or choose a different widely used and well-documented method and start over again.

Get really competent at the methods you choose.

Once your beekeeping is built upon a range of absolutely dependable methods you have the foundations to be a little bit more expansive.

You can then indulge yourself.

Explore the options offered by Tim Toady.

Things might fail, but you always have a fallback that you know works.


Note

The Apiarist is moving to an upgraded server in the next few days, If the site is temporarily offline then I’ve either pressed the wrong button, or the site will be back in a few minutes … please try again 😉

Footnotes

  1. It is still a painful memory.
  2. Now, as a crushingly boring senior academic I generously dole out these mundane tasks to others.
  3. Running Unix/Linux or OS X …
  4. The name is also a biblical reference to the ’pearl of great price’ in Matthew 13:46 … Larry Wall, the inventor of perl, is a linguist and Christian.
  5. Well, they are, but not exclusively.
  6. In one or two cases, seemingly the Planet Zog.
  7. Writes The Apiarist from 56°40’N, 5°50’W, Zone 9b.
  8. That at least should be obvious …
  9. Delete options from the left to reflect how precious your colony is and/or your risk tolerance.
  10. For those unfamiliar with a Snelgrove board it’s a clever way to confuse the bees into not swarming.
  11. Almost because I’ve done one “can’t find the queen split” in the last 3 years.
  12. The 99% above is a guess, but I’ve not used this alternative for at least 5 years.
  13. Drawing pins help.
  14. Unless it was an abject failure I suppose.
  15. Building a Taranov board isn’t the most obvious way to get really good at swarm control.

26 thoughts on “Tim Toady

  1. Robert (Bob) Storey

    A good read. I am into my 2nd year with one very strong colony and one in death-throws, I think, after queen took swarm away.
    I know very little and suffer memory loss so need clear guidance for each required action so hope you can help. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Bob

      Not clear where you are but it’s getting late in the season to get a queen mated in the swarmed colony (might be OK in Cornwall, but there’s no chance where I am in Scotland). If the queenless colony is healthy, definitely queenless and not full of laying workers, you could unite it with your strong colony.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Bob Storey

        The strong colony are just now massing on the weak one (robbing or moving?). Took away the reduced entrance to let them at it on the basis that they know what they’re doing better than me. It’s West Cork so wild things happen here but let me know if you have a better idea on what to do. Otherwise will keep you posted. Regards

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          I suspect it’s now too late to do anything that would avoid the inevitable carnage … look after the strong colony, prepare it well for winter and you should be able to split off a nuc from it next season.

          Cheers.

          Reply
  2. Janet L. Wilson

    The problem of getting “6 answers from 5 beekeepers” is very often a result of failing to define your goals when you ask the question. One of the most engaging features of beekeeping is that you can take identical colonies and manage them toward very different outcomes: do you want more honey? more queens? more colonies? less beekeeping time? more beekeeping time? the fun of testing a management theory? “Successful” means different things to different beekeepers, indicating that management technique/decisions should always be made in service to a specific goal.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Janet

      I agree … but ‘successful’ to most beginners means a) stop them swarming, b) getting them successfully requeened if they do swarm, and c) surviving the winter. It’s usually no more subtle than that.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think the huge variety in beekeeping is both interesting and useful. However, I often hear beginners saying they tried X and it didn’t work, so they’ll try Y next year instead. X being something used by beekeepers for decades that – done properly – is entirely dependable. Y might be something being currently promoted or in fashion. None of this stuff is rocket science, but getting a thorough grounding in a few key methods that you can rely upon goes a long way to achieving points A to C in the first paragraph.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Amanda

    Just wondered why adamant “no” for brood and a half. I use 14 x 12. Taken supers off to treat against varroa, there are so many bees in the hive that it is mayhem when I take lid off to top up feeder as there are thousands of bees in the roof!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Amanda

      I think the mix’n’match of brood and super frames is all a bit confusing. 14 x 12 is fine if you have prolific bees. There’s always a lot of bees in the hive at this time of the year – mine, most of which are on single or double brood nationals, have the ‘headspace’ in the empty super surrounding the fondant block festooned with bees. But it won’t be for long … the summer bees will be dying off fast and in a few short weeks the cluster will easily fit in the box.

      Of course, one answer is to just feed them once and not have to return. I usually added 12.5 kg of fondant and then leave them untroubled until I remove the empty plastic wrapper when I move the Apivar strips in late September. It might be mayhem in there … but I don’t have to deal with it 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Michael Thick

    Good evening David
    Please may I pick your brain?
    I know you are a fondant man, but hopefully you can shed some light?!
    I use commercial feeding syrup from an IBC. I have a little left, but it is now three years old. I asked the suppliers, and they said that it will now have high HMF levels in it, and kill the bees. Well, they would, wouldn’t they! I cant find any help anywhere on line, so my questions are:
    Do you know what the real shelf life is?
    Does HMF kill bees?
    If it is so,can i get and assay done, and what is the LD50?
    Best wishes

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Michael

      I’ve written quite a bit about HMF here. This includes a graph of time vs. levels and an indication of lethal levels for larvae and adult bees. However, I’m not sure how much I would trust the graph as you’d need to be pretty certain about the temperatures the IBC was subjected to over the storage period. I don’t know what the shelf life of syrup is and testing HMF levels is not straightforward (I’ve certainly never done it). If it was me I think I’d probably not risk it unless I had a vast amount remaining.

      I suppose there’s a faint chance the manufacturer has a chart of storage temperature vs. HMF levels? You could ask them. If they haven’t, how do they know the levels are too high? Perhaps they’re just a) wanting to sell more, and b) not wanting to be liable if there’s a problem.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. James

    I think you should come off the fence and say what you really believe about brood and a half, David 😀 Actually, in my location, brood and a half feels like it might well be about the right size for my colonies though I don’t use it. My intention for this year was to experiment with replacing the outer frames in each box of my double broods with 35mm(-ish) wide insulated dummies to reduce the overall size to something nearer brood and a half but keeping standard brood frame sizes everywhere. Sadly I didn’t get that far, so it’s now on the list for next year.

    I remember Larry Wall announcing Perl to the world on USENET and have used it a fair bit since. Even now it’s probably my language of choice if I have to do lots of text-wrangling or just want to quickly test my thinking on the solution to a problem. It’s probably fair to say that the syntax can sometimes be quite obtuse though. I have no issues with Python, but having spent part of a past life working on COBOL development systems, languages that use spacing as part of the syntax cause me to start twitching 🙂

    Looking back to the time when I did my basic training, I think that one of the failures at the time was to address the fact that there are different ways to do almost anything you might need to do. I recall a number of points at which we were taught that “X is the solution to problem Y” when I later discovered that there were many possible solutions, some of which may have been easier for me had I known they existed. Mentoring didn’t seem to be very common back then though (certainly not around here, where the population density is quite low) and there wasn’t very much information available on the internet. The situation is much improved now, for which I am very grateful.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello James

      I still use perl on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis … though almost much of the work-related stuff is now python. Fortunately I’ve never had to use COBOL though I do vaguely remember (with horror) Fortran.

      The narrow/tall colony was much recommended by the late Ian Craig. You may be familiar with his writing already, but if not I recommend My Beekeeping Year.

      The ‘brood and half’ thing is partly for artistic effect. It’s not my choice because I don’t like mixing brood frame sizes, but I realise it suits some people and – if it works for them – who am I to criticise. I do think a Rose hive or Langstroth mediums format with brood and super frames of the same dimensions makes sense. My concern would be overly-heavy supers (in my dreams!). However, for better or worse, I’ve got Nationals and have too much kit to change now.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. James

        I wasn’t aware of Ian Craig, so thank you for the recommendation. Gives me something to read whilst honey is slowly dribbling off the cappings from today’s extraction run 🙂 From frames pre-warmed in their supers using a warming cabinet that I built only last week, roughly based on your design published here, no less. I couldn’t find the heating element so used a 120W greenhouse heater controlled by an STC-1000 instead, but it appears to work a treat so far. The big test of course will be when I want to warm buckets of honey.

        You’ve missed nothing with COBOL, believe me, and I too remember the horrors of Fortan. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear though perhaps because even lacking any other value books actually work quite well as insulation, I still appear to have a copy of Metcalf’s “Effective Fortran 77” on my office bookshelves. Right next to “Oh! Pascal!” which is another that probably hasn’t been opened since the first term of the first year of my degree 😀

        James

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi James

          I think the STC-1000’s are well thought of. I think a 120 W element should do the business as long as the box is well insulated. I’ve recently calibrated my cabinet and run few tests on evenness of heating etc. Mine reaches 60°C in a room at 20°C which is more than hot enough. I’m pretty certain the late Pete Little told me that the Ecostat element I use is 100 W.

          Unfortunately I also have a number of dusty programming books that keep the bookends well separated … Mastering Algorithms in Perl is one of many I regretted buying as it made me realise how woeful my calculus was 🙁

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  6. Ian Robinson

    Thanks for this weeks posting – made me reminice about how confused I was about all the different approaches when I started. After starting with Pagden (that’s what was taught) dabbling with Snelgrove for a while (too many manipulations when you are running multiple hives!), like you I have settled on the nucleus method of swarm control. I was interested in your comment that the “method has a couple of disadvantages for my beekeeping” and wondered if you could expand on what you feel these disadvantages. Many thanks.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Ian

      Briefly (as I want to write a post on this) it comes down to … a) you end up with a nuc containing the old queen, when a nuc containing the new queen is sometimes more useful to me, and – more importantly – b) I think the success of the method hinges on the skill with which the nuc is prepared. Too strong and it outgrows the nuc box very fast, too weak and it takes ages to get going. All of which is also influenced by whether you have an out apiary sufficiently far away that the flying bees don’t return to the original hive.

      However, particularly if you have a distant out apiary (which I have), it’s almost foolproof 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Ian Robinson

        Thanks – yes to “b” , I now try to err on the side of trying to keep the early nucs a little on the weaker side to give more time while everything else is so busy. I don’t really have a problem with “a” as these colonies can bring in a lot of honey and if it is a partiularly good queen line I sometimes split them into 2 or 3 nucs. I look forwatd to your post on this. Best wishes

        Reply
  7. Andy Belcham

    As always – very readable, informative and simple – and I almost certainly owe you another coffee by now as a thank you…
    I try to note a reflective log (alongside the basic record keeping) in my attempts to get better at keeping up with the bees superior knowledge. I always write myself a ‘DO NOT DO THIS AGAIN’ note each season which is usually due to me not knowing the ‘why’ before doing the ‘what’ let alone getting the ‘how’ right!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Andy

      Thank you for the coffee 🙂 I usually try and review how the year went after the season ends. I don’t go so far as to write critical warning notes to myself, but I do find it helps distil my thoughts for the season ahead. It’s also been informative writing posts for The Apiarist every week. The less ‘How to … ‘ they are, the more anecdotes I need to illustrate some of the things I’m discussing. Inevitably, some of these are my recent apiary-related snafus.

      It seems there’s no shortage of them 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  8. Michael Thick

    I think you are all being a little unfair to Fortran! As an undergraduate (late 60’s), it was the best available then, and for a trainee medic, a great introduction into logical thinking. Now at the far end of my career, Python and Raspberry Pi’s are wonderfully flexible in monitoring hive behaviours. What will the next 60 years of development bring? Let’s hope bees remain part of it!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      “What will the next 60 years of development bring?”

      Whatever it brings I’ll be sticking with perl and as little python as I can get away with … and I remain in awe of the applications a Raspberry Pi can be put to. I’ve got half a dozen in daily use, running the weather station, webservers, my ‘hifi’ and filtering all adverts from the home network.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. Mike S

    Tim Toady is a great thing to live by. My rural Kentucky grandmother always reminded me “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And that phrase seems to have British origins (as did my grandmother’s family.)

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Mike

      I did a quick search on ‘more than one way to skin a cat’ and several of the sources quote The Money Diggers (1840) written by the American humorist Seba Smith as the first publication using the phrase. It was also used by Mark Twain. However, there are alternatives like ‘there are more ways to kill a dog than hanging’ which date back to the 1670’s.

      Whatever … it is a great thing to live be 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  10. Kasia Walker

    Thanks for an informative (and funny) read, as always.

    So this is about brood and a half. Sorry!

    I don’t use a Raspberry Pi (although there is one in the house somehwere) but I do have 3 hives all are a brood and a half. I have changed all my old WBCs to polys as build up was a struggle each spring. This has all happened in the last 16 months; now I have so many bees I don’t know where to put them. I will be brief. The reason I changed to poly was to increase the bees more quickly in spring plus other benefits that come with a poly eg weight etc. My friend lives in a cold dark place and during winter never sees the sun (near Loch Ness) and has always kept a brood and a half. They overwinter well so thought I would try it as a belt and braces approach. I also moved house where the bees are now in a warmer sheltered woodland spot. I do find a brood and half a pain in the ….. possibly because the half is neither one thing nor the other. I find the bees all move from the bb up into the half by Spring which does not leave much room as I remove the excluder so they have access to a super of honey and then supplementary feeding when needed. I will probably move to a double brood but where do you find your bees and queen in the Spring? Are both full of bees or do they move to the upper chamber and therefore the lower bb is acting as insulation?

    I don’t think there is one particular reason why the bees have expanded as they have this year; strange things with the weather, poly hives, new location, good foraging etc etc. I will be keeping a close eye to see what changes but let us face it, every year is different. That is what makes it fun?!?

    Apologies, I was not brief.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Kasia

      About a quarter of my boxes are double brood, though this number may reduce as I prefer to overwinter on single brood if I can. In the spring the queen is almost always in the top box of the double brood hives. All my hives have a thick block of insulation under the roof. This makes the warmest place in the hive directly under the crownboard … this is where they cluster in winter and they work down from there as the season warms. If the first inspection is early enough then I can often remove the lower box before the season picks up (sometimes it is still stuffed with stores which are then used when I make up nucs).

      All my bees are native blacks or ‘Heinz 57 varieties local mongrels’ … however, I select the latter and prefer those that overwinter in a single box and that are pretty frugal with their stores.

      My ‘opposition’ to brood and a half is mainly for comedy value … there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it. I don’t use it as I find the mixed frame sizes an irritation. If my bees were that prolific I might go to 14 x 12 instead. However, although weight is an issue, I’d probably prefer a single frame size throughout. National brood frames are too big (heavy) and it’s a change that’s not going to happen with me as I’ve got so much National equipment.

      Every year is different and I suspect it’ll be a year or two until we have one that was as good as 2022 🙂

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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