A new honey warming cabinet

I was fortunate a couple of months ago to find this mobile catering cool box on a pile of rubbish destined for the tip or recycling. I checked it over and immediately thought, that could easily be turned into a nice warming cabinet. So after checking if it was ok for me to take it I grabbed it.


It’s almost perfect with only the black finish that I find slightly annoying, however it’s good points are –

The door has a rubber seal and sprung catches making it almost airtight.

Its double walled construction is filled with insulation.

It’s very light and moulded handles makes moving it easy

It has moulded shelf adjustments built in.

So once I gave it a good clean and figured out how I was going to wire it, it was reasonably straight forward thing to do.

Its relatively straightforward, a power supply via rcd plug runs to a STC 1000 all purpose temperature controller, then power feeding two 60W tube heaters. With the two shelves fitted I have estimated it can take approx 48 jars and with one shelf a single 30 lb bucket of honey and if needed a few jars of honey.


The STC 1000 was a bit tricky to work out the correct wiring but following a bit of internet digging I soon found the correct wiring diagram.

The housing for the controller is a drill box, the sort of ones that when you open the box all the drills stand up presenting themselves to you. With the rivets holding the drill cradle drilled out the drills just lifted out. I then drilled two holes and fitted two cable clamps. To strengthen the box I fitted a small piece of ply around the hole for the STC 1000. Two more smaller holes were drilled, one for an earth clamp to the metal box and another in the bottom so I could feed the temperature sensor down into the cabinet. Finally the lid was fixed in position with a self tapping screw.


I settled on two 60W tube heaters after first fitting one. Although a single tube heater was working ok I thought it was taking to long to reach 45*C. I also thought the tube was slightly too small for the space and could create uneven heat in the cabinet so I decided to fit a 2nd to see what that did. The 2nd tube made a big difference, the cabinet heats up faster and the STC controller was able to control the temperature without any problems.


I have now warmed a number of jars and four buckets of honey and it does it without any problems. Most pleasing is after warming the buckets I have tested the temperature of the honey against the set internal temperature of the cabinet. I tested the temperature of the honey in the bucket, at the bottom, side and in the centre and it’s extremely consistent reading 45*C when the set temperature was 45*C.


This consistent temperature of the honey has told me, first the bottom of the bucket is at the right distance away from the tube heaters so as not to create a hot spot on the bottom of the bucket and that the insulation of the cabinet is so good that there is a very good even heat throughout the whole cabinet.

Another experiment I did was to warm some jars of honey over night, in the morning I turned the cabinet off and eight hours later I opened the cabinet and the jars were still slightly warm showing the cabinets good insulation properties. This was also on a cold winter’s day with the cabinet in my cold unheated workshop.

It does take about 24 hours to fully warm a 30 lb bucket but also needs no attention during this time so can be left. My other system of warming a bucket is much faster but requires you to keep an eye on it. So with the two systems I have options on how to warm honey.

Posted in Insulation, Warming Cabinet | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Four years and still counting


Don’t let that faint green mark on this queen fool you as she is actually a yellow queen and therefore four years old. It’s a good age but by no means exceptional but it’s the journey myself and this queen have had that makes me look back on her life.

Spring 2012     She was born, created from a split from my TBH that was going through an AS.

Spring 2013      After overwintering well she was given to a friend who lost his TBH and so she had her first move and went on to give good service and a surplus of honey.

Spring 2014      Over wintered well but following a house move she and her colony in the TBH came back to me and mentioned in my post what goes up has to eventually come down.

Summer 2014     The colony was converted back into a national hive and went on to produce a good crop of honey and once again mentioned in a post converting a TBH back into a national framed hive.

Spring 2015     She was on the move again and given to another beekeeping friend to make up hive numbers after a couple of winter losses. The only problem was, my friend had langstroth hives and I use national so the colony and queen were converted into a langstroth with the use of a board converting the different shapes of the national and langstroth and the queen and bees moving up into the langstroth with a bailey comb change .  

Spring 2016     The colony didn’t over winter so great and as my friend had plenty of hives she offered me the queen back and she returned back once more in a langstroth nuc.

Summer 2016    Having built up nicely in the nuc I removed the queen and introduced her to a national hive that had a poor queen via an introduction cage and in no time she went on to fill the brood box with brood.

Late summer 2016    The first queen cells produced in four years and although not classic and four over two frames. I suspected supersedure and confirmed when I held my nerve and she was still in the hive after they were sealed. So I decided to remove her split the hive and queen cells into two strong nucs and introduce her into a third nuc to see if she will overwinter. She definitely moves a bit slower these days but still has a very impressive laying rate and brood pattern so if she does overwinter she will be top of the list as the queen I will use for next year’s queen rearing but if she fails or is superseded I won’t be disappointed and only grateful she has been such a great queen.

UPDATE 03/05/2017   

Finally got around to updating and as expected the old queen didn’t appear to make it through the winter. I say didn’t appear to make it, as there was a queen in the hive come the spring, that looked very similar but without any evidence of a green mark. This queen also had a fresh look to her and moved about the comb steady and much faster than the old queen.

So following the split after the supersedure cells the previous summer the bees failed to supersede her a 2nd time. I say failed as this queen was a drone layer and probably missed a window of opportunity to go on a mating flight.

It’s not all bad as the splits from the previous supersedure attempt has produced one queen that is showing almost the same traits as her mother so the good genetics can continue.  


Posted in Queen Rearing | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Bait hive success 2016



Wow a great result and real thrill to be at the garden at Brentford just as a swarm arrived and moved into a bait hive I set up just that very morning.

Standing in the centre of thousands of swarming bees is a wonderful experience and the noise they make something else.

I had been slow setting a bait hive this year and was thinking about giving it a miss but when a converted 14 x 12 BB that I had used to convert my TBH back to national hive suddenly became interesting to a few bees I thought a swarm could be close by so I moved the 14 x 12  BB to one side and set up a bait hive in its place with frames and starter strips to see what may happen.

It was pretty clear that these were not just a few bees checking out a box that smelt attractive and could hold some goodies but scouts on the lookout for a new home with typical scout bee activity, checking the entrance, all around the hive and investigating the interior, checking the size and to see if it’s a nice cosy space.

With the increasing number of scouts I knew my bait hive was gaining favour amongst the scouts over any other potential nest site. Scouts during swarming communicate between each other identifying various possible nest sites. They do this by performing the same beedance they do to identify new plants to forage. Each scout in turn visits these sites and if a scout favours one site they perform the same dance identifying that site. Eventually the vast majority agree and with the majority of scouts doing the same dance it triggers the swarm to move to the new location.

You get a good indication your bait hive has been chosen as all the scouts leave in a very short time indicating the scouts are going to collect the swarm and guide it to your bait hive. If the hive started to go quiet slowly with fewer bees at the entrance and eventually no bees then this could indicate a more favorable site has been discovered by the bees and slowly they are switching to that site, or someone has collected the swarm from a tree or wherever they were clustered. It is also possible the beekeeper has inspected the hive and found advanced queen cells and performed an artificial swarm.

So I was very pleased when I spotted the hive had suddenly gone quiet with no bees and I spent the next 15 minutes looking up into the sky and then I spotted this dark cloud of bees moving along the rooves of the houses towards the garden.

Well I thought how easy was that a nice big prime swarm that came to me and from the looks of it at this early stage very nice bees but the bees were determined to make me work a bit harder as I found this the following morning.


Don’t exactly know what happened here but I do remember seeing about five excitable bees low down on the stack as I was going home and although I looked at them I didn’t notice a queen but it was possible she never went into the hive and the bees left to be with her. I soon scooped them up and put them in the hive and they seemed to be very happy with many bees fanning at the entrance showing their nasonov gland guiding in any bees away from the entrance.


To help them settle in for the 2nd time I gave them a frame of honey and for a bit of security I fitted a small piece of queen excluder over the entrance for a couple of days until I could see a reasonable amount of pollen going into the hive.

Overall I feel very lucky to have been there at the right time and day and it’s been an ambition of mine to experience this for many years and now I want to do it again.

If interested to learn more about this fascinating part of the bees life then the book Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D Seeley is the perfect book.


Two weeks after the swarm arrived at the bait hive I carried out my first inspection and the bees are just lovely. The queen was unmarked and going about her business calmly and efficiently with several frames of brood and eggs. Of the ten new foundationless frames all but the outer two were fully drawn with the most wonderful white wax. Without doubt you get the most wonderful white wax from swarms on foundationless frames and also very little drone comb compared to the normal 20%. I can now make arrangements to move them and if the emerging brood continues to be so calm I may move them again to one of my more public apiaries. They will also need a super very soon and even a 2nd BB if the queen continues to lay at the rate she is.

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Posted in Bait hives, Foundationless frames, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Solar Wax Extractor



It’s been two years in the planning but finally got around to building a fancy solar wax extractor based on an old wheelbarrow. Solar wax extractors don’t need to be fancy and a piece of glass over an insulated box or not insulated if the temperature and strength of the sun is strong enough will work. However I fancied something a bit different with more capacity and efficiency of my smaller extractor I made a few years earlier.  


I already had two of these wheel barrows both pulled from skips and have served me well as I would leave them on various apiary sites. The one in the photo is very rusty with holes in it but works fine. The other one the handle had rusted through and was broken but the galvanised lining was in almost perfect condition.

I initially thought I would  repair the handle and put the wheelbarrow to one side ready for repair. This just so happened to be the summer and at the time I was feeding my small solar wax extractor with old comb and it felt it was going to take ages and very time consuming.

So over a cup of tea thinking how I could improve and speed up my wax recovery the wheelbarrow caught my eye and I thought that’s the perfect lining. A bit of head scratching over a few cups of tea trying to work out how I was going to construct it and eventually came up with a plan.


The lining had capacity for a large amount of combs but so therefore the extractor needed a large area to collect the wax and fortunately I had salvaged a few old pans and one was the perfect size at approx 5L. The large collecting pan was not just for wax but also the large amount of old stores in the combs that if you are not careful can overflow your collecting area, but no danger with a 5L capacity.  With the large pan and liner it was clear this was not going to be a small extractor.


I also realised it was going to take a reasonable amount of plywood and a good exterior plywood. As I like to make things like this from salvaged or leftover materials I would have to wait until I had the materials to progress. So when I had a job to make a large outside beekeeping storage shed using ten sheets of plywood in its construction with just about enough offcuts to make the extractor I was good to go and no excuses. Also the prospect of some hot weather on the horizon to test it helped with the enthusiasm.


The construction was reasonably straight forward and the offcuts of ply worked in my favour. It’s basically a box with the bucket of the wheelbarrow fitting  inside and fixed in place. The back and surrounds are then filled with insulation, again salvaged. There is a removable door so as to remove the pan containing the wax and waste stores. There is a gap so you can see down into the pan and monitor the levels. The wheel of the wheelbarrow has been refitted so the now heavy extractor is easily moved around, handy as you don’t want to carry it far. The handles also form as clamps to help hold the triple glazed polycarbonate cover in place. The oak edging fixed to the three sides of the polycarbonate prevent it warping and the polycarb  sits down into a rebate.


The polycarb was given to me in a larger sheet from a beekeeping friend Andy Pedley after breaking the glass cover on my smaller extractor with the instruction to return what I don’t use. Woops like so many of these situation the polycarb sat in the garden with every intention to be returned but I clearly I owe Andy a favour, but it has been put to good use. Polycarb works extremely well and is way lighter and safer than glass. It does however need the ends sealing up as I found out on my smaller extractor air is drawn up through the cavities of the sheet and actually has a cooling effect rather than transferring heat to the extractor. I found good old duct tape to be sufficient to seal the ends. It is also slightly opaque and if you like to watch the combs slowly melt makes that bit harder but the advantages outweigh this.

Posted in Solar wax extractor, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments

Let’s remove the word feral from beekeeping

Approximately two and a half years and 41 posts and it’s my first rant so please just bear with me.

One word I would like to remove from beekeeping is the term feral when used to describe colonies or nest sites other than in managed hives. I hear it all the time, a feral colony, in a tree, a swarm, from a feral colony, feral colony etc etc.

The origins of the word are from the early 17c and the Latin words, ferus and fera meaning  ‘wild, fierce, untamed, uncivilized and savage’

In the Oxford dictionary the  description for feral is “in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication”

These days the word feral is used to describe something that is bad, out of control and vicious, feral cats ect and sad to say sometimes difficult families.

It all suggests that a colony of bees not managed by a beekeeper is a negative thing and we have somehow domesticated this fascinating  insect and its not able to survive without our help and once back out in the wild are a nuisance and not welcome.

Cats and dogs who after centuries of breeding have changed from the wild animal almost beyond recognition especially in the case of dogs and they turn feral when back in the wild calling on some deep seated instinct of survival but in no way near their true wild state.

Bees on the other hand are very much the same insect they have always been. This despite man’s attempts to breed bees to favour a particular desirable character and some would say this has only contributed to the problems bees face today. But despite all this the honey bee remains a wild insect and always will.

I realise some people use the term without fully understanding what they are saying about the colony and the image they are portraying. But some people use it and insist on using it. These beekeepers fall into the, I know best camp, and I am the master of the bees and not a partner with the bees.

Man has made the same mistake over and over again when it comes to nature in the mindset of “I know best” sometimes with disastrous consequences.

We should consider our relationship with the bees as a partnership and the bees are very much a wild insect either in a managed hive or a wild colony in whatever cavity they chose.

We are so fortunate that nature has given us this wonderful insect that allows us to work with them, harvest lovely honey and recover beeswax so we should respect them more and stop referring to wild colonies as feral.

Posted in Feral Colony, Wild Colony | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Warming honey

With increasing regular customers I am having to develop a system of efficiently warming honey in 30lb honey buckets so it can be fine filtered and jared when needed.

It’s a natural process for honey to crystallise with sugar crystals forming in the honey and the result is a solid honey. Actually crystallisation is a sign of purity in the honey and should be welcomed. This crystallisation can happen very fast or can take many months depending on the particular nectars the bees have been foraging on.

By gently warming the honey it will turn back into a liquid honey and providing you don’t exceed 50*c you won’t damage the honey and the enzymes within the honey. Following this gentle warming the honey will in time recrystallise but sometimes slower than at first.

A lot of the cheap supermarket honey is heat treated up to 75*c and this damages the honey. Also at this temperature they force the honey through extremely fine filters removing all the tiny pollen grains . The result of the excessive heat and filtration is a honey (if we can call it that) that will seldom crystallise and is only a sweet syrup with little and no health benefits.

Some beekeepers jar all their honey and either sell the honey as naturally crystallised or warm the jars to turn the honey back to liquid or prefer to keep their honey in larger honey honey buckets for storage. I have decided to store my honey in large 30lb honey buckets and warm and jar when needed. I keep some jars of naturally crystallised honey as some customers, myself included like it.


A 30 lb honey bucket of solid crystallized honey

To warm the honey most  beekeepers use warming cabinets with some sort of heating element and this can be something as simple as a 40w light bulb to an advanced heating mat thermostatically controlled. The cabinet itself can simply be a converted fridge or a diy built insulated box. These warming cabinets work great but it can take up to 48 hours to warm through a 30lb buckets of set honey.

My simple honey warming cabinet on my boat works a treat and easily softens a few jars of honey but way too small to deal with a big buckets of honey. Also the lack of 240v power on the boat is something of a disadvantage so I have to rely on a friend or two and in this case its my long suffering friend Guss who I call upon for yet another favour.

The thought of leaving a bulky warming cabinet in a friends kitchen turned on for up to 48 hours does not sit right with me and could stretch our friendship so I had to come up with something else and following some information from the internet I came across this simple efficient way to warm a 30lb bucket of honey.


Very simply it’s a water heater/boiler that has  thermostatic controls. It was originally sold through the supermarket Lidl as a jam maker?? a bit odd as I find it hard to see how you would make jam in it. It’s made by Silvercrest in Germany who would not ship a single item to the UK so I had to get this one from Ebay and paid more for it 2nd hand than when it was new and reflects the demand for them and not just beekeepers but apparently the homebrew crowd like them also.

So how do you use it?

You place the honey bucket inside the heater and it sits on a wire shelf in the bottom to keep the bucket off the bottom and you then simply fill with water to approx three quarters up the side of the bucket and set the desired temperature and I like to set it at 40*c. It has an alarm that lets you know the temperature is reached that thankfully you can turn off. One thing you must do is ever so slightly break the seal on the honey bucket lid  otherwise pressure would build up and you could end up in a sticky mess.


As the bucket is in water the heat transfer to the honey is very efficient and I have found a solid bucket of honey is warmed right through and runny in about four hours.

The lid gets wet from the small amount of steam generated and you have to wipe the lid before removing to check on the honey and to give it a stir. As you only slightly break the seal on the bucket you still get a slight pressure building up in the bucket causing a slight bulge in the lid and I see this as a good thing as it is still a good seal to keep any water vapour out.

Once the honey is fully warmed and liquid it quickly passes through a straining cloth into a bucket with honey tap, left overnight to settle the air bubbles on the surface removed and then it’s a simple process to fill the jars and label as per normal.


Overall it works well but you have to check the temperature of the water against the setting on the heater as I found this one to be out and I was getting hotter water than the setting indicated but once I found the right temperature it was easy to mark the dial.

I think if my situation was different and I had the room I would make an all singing all dancing warming cabinet along with this water heater to cover all possibilities and who knows one day the situation may arise but for now I am happy.

Posted in Honey Harvest, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Apiary revue 2015

As we have moved into a new year and 2016 has just started it’s a good time to reflect back on the past season and take a walk through the memories of each apiary.



With new hive stands constructed this apiary expanded from two to four hives although it actually had three full sized hives and a number of nucs moved in and out throughout the year. With the permission of Cultivate London whose site it belongs to I plan to create space for two extra hives or nucs that I can use for short term use.

The bees performed well again and produced a good crop of honey. They also provided my cell raising colony for my queen rearing as a convenient hive started to think about swarming and a good opportunity to have a queenless hive all ready and keen to build queen cells and as a result of the queen rearing this hive and the nuc I am overwintering both have queens from the successful queen rearing and very much looking forward to seeing how they and the other queens  perform this coming season.

One problem was with the hive furthest in the photo became progressively aggressive during spring and early summer. The hive had superseded late the previous year and during build up of 2015 they became more difficult to deal with and once the decision to requeen was made they were becoming quite difficult. In the end I combined this colony with the swarm I collected in my bait hive after they proved healthy nice bees and once combined soon settled down to a nice gentle colony.  I have a very low tolerance to aggressive behaviour in my bees following a bad experience in my 2nd year. Although I am now more experienced and confident around aggressive bees it’s no fun and would recommend any new beekeepers to seek advice if their bees start to get grumpy as things can go from bad to dangerous if not careful especially bad if innocent members of the public are close by.



This apiary started 2015 in a bad way with two winter losses and a DLQ but after moving a few hives around it was soon back up to full strength with five hives and went on to perform extremely well and had its best year out of the previouse five years. The only problem came from a very early supersedure that the queen became a victim of the poor May weather and disappeared and the bees turned to laying workers very fast but a strong nuc with good queen ready to move into a full hive was used to combine and the hive never looked back. The nectar just kept coming nice and steady at this apiary and along with no swarm intentions the result was some very strong hives and very good numbers regarding honey. This apiary also provided the queen that I grafted from for my queen rearing and a lovely queen she is and the bees are a dream to work with. This queen was a result of another supersedure towards the end of 2014 and unlike the queen from Brentford she is a lovely queen and if the queens she produces are half as good of her then I may consider using her again.


A mixed bag this year and these days not my best apiary despite it been my longest running site of ten years. It’s now shared with three other beekeepers and seems to add more complications, worry and questions than straightforward beekeeping. This was the site where I had my TBH and this season decided to convert it back into a national hive but not before missing an inspection and yes it swarmed and one of my best queens to. However it sorted itself out and produced a lovely queen and for the first time I named a queen, Dianna Dors, as she was so blond, obviously a few Italian drones in the area, although the swarm delayed my plans to convert it back into a national it is now happily in a national with only a couple of manipulations come the spring to finish the job. My other hive on site produced a couple of supers despite me removing the queen and a good few frames of bees to populate an observation hive in a local park. I am hoping that next year with two good established hives both with young queens the site will produce a good honey crop as I know from previous years with this site there is one out there.



Established midway through 2014 I finally moved two hives on site early 2015, a reasonably strong hive headed by a lovely expensive buckfast queen and a smaller building up colony with a local queen. The buckfast queen did what they generally do and produced a strong hive full of lovely bees and for the size of colony produced an impressive honey crop. When you see colonies perform this way it does make you think bought in queens from good breeders can be a good way to go but then is it a form of lazy beekeeping or good economic common sense? I guess the answer for me is, for the keen hobby beekeeper as I am you develop an interest to try and master the queen rearing techniques and hopefully produce excellent queens that rival or outperform the queens from breeders, but if your interest in beekeeping is more towards max honey yields then you are steered towards the £30-40 queens available. The other hive also performed well although showed signs of swarm preparations and I resolved this by simply removing the queen to a nuc and leaving a queen cell. This seemed to be the best solution as I was struggling for spare kit at the time and would have been fine but I missed a queen cell and a call came saying a swarm sitting in an apple tree. Woops but no harm done and the people concerned were more interested than alarmed and the large cast swarm safely collected.

The other hive on site, the one on the right, was a completely different story. This hive at the time belonged to my good beekeeping friend Emily as we share the site but both of us had no idea what was going on and in the end I think it went through about 4-5 queens with queens appearing and then disappearing and definitely lost count towards the end. Following weeks of trying to get to the bottom of what was going on we finally sorted it by combining one of my other colonies from another apiary and everything settled down. Emily gave me the colony towards the end of the year as she is taking a back seat on the beekeeping on this site and instead will be popping round from time to time to sit and watch the bees and look at the fabulous wild flowers we planted this year along with her soon to be newborn baby boy and wishing her and Drew all the best with the baby boy.



I have two hives in the shed along with two others managed by to other beekeepers. The two hives performed well although not without a bit of worry during the start of the year but picked up only to cause more worry towards the end of the year. The first hive closest to the door started the year in reasonable shape and steadily built up and performed as expected and produced a reasonable crop of honey although I was expecting a bit more from this hive given its strength. The 2nd hive however was slow to build up but once the warm weather picked up and May was out of the way it improved dramatically and soon started to fill supers and move into a 2nd brood box. But come the end of summer it started to reduce in size at a rate that made me concerned. As I had started to treat for varroa I suspected this but although the drop was reasonable it was not so great to be the cause. The hive continued to reduce in size and came to the conclusion it’s the queen so took the decision to remove her and combine with the other hive to form a strong hive and bring in another colony.  Following the combining I tested for nosema as to see if this could be an issue with the sudden reduction and less than perfect performance of both hives and it tested positive although seemed to be reasonably low level. So back to my beekeeping shed and I mixed my thymol formula given to me by a very experienced beefarmer to treat for nosema that worked on a number of hives some years ago heavily infested with nosema. So over the next few weeks I was able to treat the bees a few times and time will tell if successful or not but it was possible to see an improvement in the bees towards the end of the treatments in their activity and the increasing amount of brood so I am reasonably confident but with fingers crossed all the same. Should I have tested before combining? perhaps but then both colonies did not seem right to me with one in not great shape and both could have also been infected.

Kew Gardens


My last mention of Kew Gardens and the two hives myself and two other beekeepers volunteered to look after. The reason for this is after two and a half years managing the bees I was simply finding it hard to find the time to inspect every week so after extracting this year’s honey crop from the bees and giving it to Kew I said sorry but I will have to stop volunteering. It’s a shame as it had its moments and the people you deal with are very nice but simply taking too much time for little reward. The bees will be fine as there are still two beekeepers still left to look after the bees.

New apiary in Perivale

Exciting times ahead a new apiary for 2016 and a shared site with another good beekeeping friend Elsa and Ealing member. Its another allotment site although this one requires a bit of work as it has been neglected, trust me there is an apiary in there but does needs a bit of imagination and it’s how it looked when we first took it over but will be fully up and running come the spring.

It comes with its own  partly abandoned hive who the owner is contactable but somewhat distant at the same time and in time the hive will be sorted but for now has been removed off site. Allotment sites are becoming a bit of a thing with me as this will be my fourth. I think I work well on allotments because I have this low tolerance of slightly aggressive bees and handy with plenty of people on site, as a joiner and woodworker I can easily construct fencing, gates ect to screen the bees and make it safe for people to stand and watch the bees, I don’t like to overpopulate sites and allotments like low hive numbers also and most importantly I love allotments and I make sure all the immediate neighbouring plots, everyone who shows an interest or is inconvenienced in some way with bees, drinking from water butts or puddles ect gets a complimentary jar of honey from the bees. Actually I find most people on allotments are fascinated by the bees and enjoy it when you tell them just how special these small insects are as they all work together as a team.

Well that’s it and good memories with the ups and a few downs and just thoughts of what 2016 has in store for the bees and us beekeepers trying to keep up.

Wishing everyone a wonderful beekeeping 2016 season.




Posted in Apiary revue | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Spoon carving update


The spoon carving has been progressing nicely and have found time to carve in spurts when the mood takes and in that time I have been concentrating on styles, forms and improved techniques.


Large serving spoon in cherry

I have two great beekeeping friends and spoon carvers Bill and Jude and we have been meeting up approximately every few months to have a good chat and carve the odd spoon. We all like these crafty days and looking to start a small club meeting on Horsenden Hill and also have gone as far as a name Middlesex Spoon Carvers (MSC) only the three of us at the moment but will welcome anyone along to join in. The emphasis is light hearted fun and enjoying a nice chilled day in the open.


Two spoons started during one of the MSC 🙂 days a small coffee scoop in burr sweet chestnut and a japanese rice serving spoon from sweet chestnut

I have also enjoied popping round to friends houses for an afternoon showing them the techniques and carving a spoon. One such friend was my good neighbour and beekeeping buddy Sara Ward at Hen Corner whose husband Andy was keen to expand his spoon carving following a day in the woods carving spoons recently. We had such a good time that Sara who runs loads of great workshops suggested we do a spoon carving workshop next year from her wonderful garden with me doing the carving and a plan was formed and can be booked here.


There is something very relaxing and therapeutic working a small piece of wood with simple hand tools creating a simple but very practical and useful utensil and definitely taps into a part of the brain that all crafts do and modern life supressess.


It’s not all spoon carving as I have started on shrink pots!! yes the first time I heard the name I thought what are shrink pots? and once I found out what they are knew I will be making them in the future. They are lovely and relatively simple storage containers or pots. Probably would take too long to go into the fine details of making them and best for their own post in detail at another time.


Very simply they are a section of a branch hollowed out to form a sort of cylinder, a groove is cut into the base about half an inch up from the bottom and a thin piece of timber fitting the bottom of the pot is moved up and left inline with the groove. You then put this to one side for a few weeks and as the pot shrinks it tightens onto the base and it locates in the groove. You then have a container that can be decorated fitted with a lid if you want to and finished.


One of the more satisfying bits apart from creating a new spoon shape has been the selling of the spoons and just lovely and a bit surprising at first when people pick them up say how wonderful they are  and want to buy them. I have not pushed the selling of them but have displayed them alongside honey when doing small fayers and table top sales  and people clearly like to hold them and a few buy them.


My shared honey stall and spoons at the Brentford festival on a lovely day and great honey and good spoon sales.

Something else new along with the shrink pots is some decorate the spoons with a type of decoration called Kolrosing. Kolrosing is a very old method of giving fine line surface decoration to wood.  It started centuries ago by simply using the tip of a knife to make fine cuts and then rubbing charcoal or more popular these days ground coffee into the cuts to bring out the pattern and finally sealed with oil. Kolrosing is an old Scandinavian tradition dating back to Viking times and was quite common on spoons and wooden ware with geometric designs very popular and can give big impact to a spoon or other wooden ware.



My first finished piece of Kolrosing, a scoop from cherry with its younger brother waiting to be finished and decorated.



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Honey harvest 2015

Way behind with updating the blog and not helped with a laptop break down with a long repair and eventually the manufacturas admitting defeat and refunding me my money. So with new laptop it’s time to catch up on back posts.  

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The honey harvest is a strange time of year for me as I don’t enjoy it one bit and once I get to the point of removing supers I start to feel as I could dislike beekeeping and often think honey gets in the way of a good hobby. It’s also not a good time to ask me for a beekeeping favour as I could be a bit short tempered. But there’s that deep seated male competitive gene that also has me trying to increase the crop each year without compromising the bees that only makes this time of year more difficult.

So regarding my honey crop this year my bees have performed well and supplied me with a similar surplus to last year and unlike last year where I was very slow to extract this year with my new 2nd hand shiny nine frame radial extractor I made a big effort to get it all extracted earlier and either jarred or stored in honey buckets for later sales.

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I like to separate my honey from various apiaries so it requires a bit of organisation keeping supers stacked in groups depending on apiary and after  extracting marking the buckets to specific apiaries. This way I can adjust each label showing a more precise location to the hives and sell as local as you can get to that apiary.

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So after extracting and calculating I have extracted 630 lbs of honey  from 11 honey producing hives at an averaged af approx approx 57 lbs per hive. I had a few of hives that produced approx 125 lbs and obviously others less.


It’s important to me to only try and take a surplus of honey but as we do this towards the end of the year judging the best time can be a gamble and weather can play a big part. Get the timing wrong and take the honey to late with a turndown in the weather and you will have to feed or give back some of the honey. Take the honey to early and the weather and forage is good you could run the risk of cramping the hive for space and risking a late swarm. Thankfully I only had to feed two hives but the goal is zero. I may have to give some hives some fondant in the new year but will only know closer to the time. 

Overall very pleased with this year and quantities are not the best way to judge a season as there are so much more enjoyable parts to beekeeping and a big highlight for me this season was the queen rearing and watching the virgin queens on orientation flights and very much looking forward to building on the success next year.

Another late highlight the bees from Northfield Avenue allotments produced an award winning honey with a third place at the National Honey Show Middlesex class for two jars of medium honey and with luck the bees may improve on that next year.



Ok following MerryBee and Emily’s request to see my other “Highly Commended” award for a practical invention related to bees or beekeeping at the National Honey Show I have added it to this post.

It’s not strictly speaking an invention but then it’s hard to think of anything that can be invented that is new in beekeeping.


So basically its a jig to help attach labels to various sized jars all level and in the same position. It is designed to accommodate six of the most popular sized jars with the three different levels on the jig. The first and raised section for the 8oz hexagonal, 8oz square and the 8oz traditional honey jar The middle section for 12oz hexagonal and 12oz square jars. Finally the recessed section for the standard 1lb honey jar.

The perspex straight edge is first set to the correct height from the bottom of the jar to the bottom of the label and then the selected jar depending on size is positioned in one of the three areas so the jar is sitting just behind the perspex straight edge and you simply align the label along the straight edge and stick it to the jar. To centralise the label I simply go by eye but it is very easy to put some marks on the straight so as to position the jar and edge of label so they will be perfectly central.


Without doubt it speeded up my  fitting of labels to jars and turned a fiddly awkward time consuming job into something enjoyable and an ability to daydream and think of other things also nothing more rewarding than seeing a whole line of jars and labels all the same and level.

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Queen rearing 2015

So a little late in the season I started my 2nd serious attempt at queen rearing following last year’s first attempt and something I am keen to get to grips with over the coming years. There are several methods of queen rearing but the method that interests me is known as grafting and it’s where you graft the tiny no older than 24 hours larvae into a specially prepared frame fitted with small plastic cups mimicking natural queen cups.  You then place this frame into a queenless hive with lots of young nurse bees and no other young larvae to raise themselves any queen cells other than your frame of grafts

Queen cells empty after the queens have emerged

Queen cells empty after the queens have emerged

You cannot do any of this queen rearing without following a strict timetable as certain processes have to be followed and performed on specific days even am and pm can come into play. Obviously you are following a queen’s development from egg to emerging queen that is nearly always 16 days. Also mixed in with this timetable you have to start and prepare mating nucs and have them ready for the ideal time 24-48 hours before the queens emerge so you can safely handle the cells and place them into the mating nucs to continue their development to mated queens. I won’t go into the processes of setting up the mating nucs this time but basically they are a very small nuc’s containing a mug and half of bees and just enough to look after themselves and the virgin as they develop into mated queen.

To help me work out the timings and work to a calendar I found this website and their queen rearing chart a great help you simply enter the date you wish to start and it does the rest although I have made one alteration to it and transfer the cells a day later to the mating nucs as I think they are a bit early with their timings.

Three of my mating nucs and I have three different designs two bought apideas and two different homemade designs and in total I have nine mating nucs and wonder in time if they will increase.

Three of my mating nucs and I have three different designs two bought apideas and two different homemade designs and in total I have nine and wonder in time if they will increase.

The biggest worry I had last year on starting this was how do you know what a larvae 24 hours and ideally less looks like. Select larvae to old say 30-48 hours and not only will your timetable be out you risk queens emerging early and killing the other queens or possible cast swarms but also and importantly your queens will have a reduced time to be fed royal jelly and therefore not the best possible queen the bees can produce.

The way I overcame this problem of teaching myself the age and size of larvae 24 hours and younger last year was to place a nice drawn ideally new comb centrally into the hive I wanted to graft from four days before I intended to graft. The idea is the bees first clean and prepare the comb and the queen is attracted and starts to lay in it so on the fourth day you remove the frame and you are presented with a frame covered in eggs and a small patch of tiny larvae and a few slightly larger and you know none of them can be more than 24 hours old and assume the very small ones are only a few hours old. Basically I have learnt that if you can easily see the larvae in the bottom of the cell then it’s probably too old.

So after selecting a suitable frame with the right sized larvae from the hive I wish to breed from and my best performing and gentlest hive I sat myself into my van with brood frame resting on the steering wheel that just so happens to be a good angle and height for the job in hand. With torch in one hand and the tiny artist brush in the other it’s possible to lower the brush into the bottom of the cell carefully slide the tip under the larvae and lift it out and transfer it to the bottom of the plastic cup on the cell raising frame. I have found it helpful to slightly push away the side of the cell wall allowing for a better angle so as to pick up the tiny larvae.

Sorry a very bad photo the brush is way to close the  camera giving an oversized impression of brush and larvae.

Sorry a very bad photo the brush is way to close the camera giving an oversized impression of brush and larvae.

Once you get the hang of transferring the larvae it only takes a few mins to do the 14 grafts and then placing the grafted frame into the cell raiser colony and replacing the donor frame back into a hive.

After four days you can check the grafts and if they are accepted the bees would have started queen cells and thankfully out of the fourteen I had nine accepted.  I was very happy with the nine as I was only wanted about five to six queens so had a few spares. In time with more practice I should hope for a better acceptance rate as my handling of the tiny larvae will improve.

Nine queen cells started but to delicate and risky to brush bees off them

Nine queen cells started but to delicate and risky to brush bees off them

So the frame is placed back into the hive to continue their development and when they are 24-48 hours (I estimated I did this at about 30 hours) to emerging you remove the frame and place one queen cell into the prepared mating nucs to hatch and then continue into fully mated queens.  It’s at this time that your timings have to be accurate, move the cells too early and you risk damaging the underdeveloped queen and too late and a virgin could emerge and kill the other queens before you transfer to the nucs and especially as my plastic cups don’t have allocation to fit plastic cages to hold and keep separate any early queens attacking the other queens.  I am thinking about changing my cups next year so I can fit the plastic cages for added security.

The nine queen cells capped and approx 30 hours before emerging

The nine queen cells capped and approx 30 hours before emerging

The mating nucs are small and vulnerable and ideally want to be away from large colonies so this year I placed them in the garden at Brentford as I had moved a large colony I had in the garden a few weeks earlier. They were still at risk from wasps or larger colonies close by but I could keep an eye on them and I also wanted to watch them closely.

Queen cell removed from the frame ready to be placed into a mating nuc

Queen cell removed from the frame ready to be placed into a mating nuc

From the nine queen cells I left one in the cell builder hive so as to requeen that hive and then placed seven into the six mating nucs. The reason for seven was I managed to drop one of the queen cells into the bottom of a mating nuc so gave this nuc a 2nd. The last queen cell I performed an autopsy so as to look at the queen’s development at approx fourteen days.

A bit sad but if my timings are right this should be a queen at approx fourteen days

A bit sad but if my timings are right this should be a queen at approx fourteen days

So a few days after the estimated emerging time and watching the nucs I started to notice something different at the entrances. I have been use to seeing three or four bees hanging around the entrance and the bees foraging but on a couple of hives I noticed about 15-20 bees outside the entrance looking rather excited and challenging the returning foraging bees.  I kept watching to see what they were up to when I noticed the queen walk out and around the front of the hive and a real thrill to see.  Sometimes the queen would walk straight back into the hive and then a few minutes come back out and then take to the air for a short orientation flight and really exciting to see. Over the next couple of days I was able to watch five out of the six queens take increasingly longer orientation flights up to about two to three minuet’s and just lovely to watch.

Not a great photo but a queen resting on the bit of foam blocking a ventilation mesh after returning from a short flight

Not a great photo but a queen resting on the bit of foam blocking a ventilation mesh after returning from a short flight

A few days later and the nuc entrances  changed once more with a good amount of pollen entering the hives so it looked as though mating had taken place and another week should hopefully reveal all.

So about a week later I decided to check for eggs and glad to say all six nucs had laying queens and one with larvae. Just another six days to see the brood capped and confirm worker brood and the queens can then be moved into larger nucs to overwinter or colonies I want to requeen.

One of the laying queens and a beautiful looking queen she is to

One of the laying queens and a beautiful looking queen she is to

And a frame of eggs from one of the apideas

And a frame of eggs from one of the apideas

Overall its felt like a great success and a real thrill especially watching the queens on short flights and looking forward to next year already with a much earlier start and perhaps a couple of attempts but don’t know what I will do with all the queens. I have a few adjustments and improvements to do that will hopefully make the process a bit easier and plans to set up the mating nucs so they are reasonably close to each other and easier for me to watch them with the hope to get some good photos and even try for a short video or two if lucky enough to be present when the queens take to the air.

If the queens I have raised this year go on to be half as good as their mother then they will be lovely to work with and only time will tell on that as I know I have little or no control on the drones they have mated with but time will reveal all.

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