Ahhhh, so sorry handsome Queen

Where to start? Perhaps with the miraculous power of aloe vera to soothe a fingertip burn from a smoker. I’m tempted to grow some at every apiary I visit, or in the car perhaps? My poor old hands aren’t going to survive beekeeping at this rate.

But more importantly, BEES. I met a recent addition to our group and a slightly more seasoned member at our Barsham Apiary in glorious sunshine. These were the 2 hives I was concerned I had inadvertently lost Queens from at the last visit. As it turns out, the first hive was thriving and will need another super putting on at our next visit. There was also plenty of brood and eggs. In fact they were a model hive today with not a queen cell to be seen and lots of stores being taken in.

But my first real beekeeping sadness was to come. There was indeed no evidence of superhive Queen, no eggs or uncapped brood anywhere in the hive. There was one solitary sealed Queen cell, so fingers crossed she will be the saviour of the hive. I’m so glad we have those pictures of my favourite Queen from last time – before I lost her. A hard lesson learnt.

At the Flixton Apiary Queen Choas reigned as usual. The colony overwintered in a nuc box is rapidly expanding and thriving, eggs were present alongside 2 Queen cells with larvae in, whilst the ‘problem hive’ that built Queen cell after Queen cell last year was still eggless and broodless so I put the frame with Queen cells on from the other hive into it. My logic being that the queen larvae were older than the eggs that were also present and so the first hive already had a functioning Queen. More fingers crossed.

The last colony was looking alright, not much expanded since last time, but some eggs were present. There were 4 Queen cells in this one – unsealed with larvae in. Lets see what happens.

They’re finished! The first 2 “BCB Top Bar Hives” are complete and ready for some bees.

Mike has written an account of his venture making Bungay Community Bees 2 (fantastic) horizontal Top Bar Hives (hTBH’s), here it is:

I have always loved working with wood and have in the past made all sorts of things, but never a bee hive.

So when, at the October meeting, the discussion turned to this years activities and Top Bar Hives I offered to help design our own version of a TBH and then to initially make 2 for the group for the cost of the materials. Happily, although no one in the group had any previous experience of my woodworking skills my offer was enthusiastically taken up.

The first challenge was to learn enough about TBH beekeeping so I could understand what the key features of the hive needed to be. I started with Phil Chandler’s book ‘The Barefoot Beekeeper’ which provided a very good grounding along with extra information from his website http://www.biobees.com/ formed the basis of our design. I also took inspiration from ‘http://www.backyardhive.com/’ site and several other designs found via Google image searches.

After several discussions and many emails Elinor, Gemma, Hugh and I arrived at a design that included all the features that we felt were important to give the bees the very best chance of looking after themselves with minimum intervention.

TBH’s really do make a lot of sense, they allow the bees to do their own thing when it comes to building comb as they aren’t following the spacing on an embossed foundation sheet, this in turn helps them to reduce the impact of the varroa mite and be free to produce drone cells when they feel it is necessary. The queen is also free to move around the whole hive which can help to reduce the possibility of swarming.

I was very keen that our design should be distinctive; I personally felt it was important that the joint
between the sides and ends of the hive should be interlocking in nature but relatively simple and quick to cut.

The story of building the hive is best told in pictures ………

We wanted to use as much reclaimed timber as possible in the hive, I couldn’t believe my luck when after phoning around some reclamation yards I found that 3rd Hand Recycling in Norwich had some boards just the right width and so I paid them a visit on the way to work. The boards had been fencing around a horse paddock and were very green but looked sound enough, they also had quite a quantity of roof truss and stud work framing timber so I left with a car full of timber.

After the old fencing had been machined up it became clear that over the years it had become saturated with creosote. This posed a dilemma, although some bee keepers regularly creosote the outside of their hives we wanted to provide the bees in our TBH’s with a completely untainted space. A compromise was reached, the reclaimed timber was to be used for hive parts that the bees wouldn’t come into contact with, while the timber for the main hive body was to be Scots Pine, also known in the timber trade as ‘Redwood’. It is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified as coming from a source that is managed in an environmentally sensitive way.

As well as looking good the pitched roof will shed the rain and provide a space for some natural sheep wool, the ultimate renewable insulation (what a great idea Elinor).

The FSC timber came from A.W.Cusions in Norwich and after another detour on the way to work to collect the timber I made a start gluing the 7” boards together to form the 14” wide hive sides and ends.

The most distinctive feature of our hive is how the sides and ends are joined together; the mortises and tenons were cut using a router and a template, it takes a while to make the template but once it’s done the joints are quick to cut.

This joint provides a strong and secure method of fixing the sides and ends together, it also means that the hive will provide service for many years to come.

It was really exciting to see the hive taking shape and once the tenons had been trimmed off, the ends were cut to shape and the viewing window aperture was cut in the side.

I had a measure up and got enough timber together to make the 52 top bars for both the hives; it came from a variety of sources including reclaimed roof trusses, stud work framing, an old bed frame and part of an unwanted sliding door frame. The bars were cut to length then ripped up on the circular saw to rough dimensions before finally being passed through the thicknesser to provide a smooth accurate finish. The bevelled shoulders were cut first, then the ‘V’ was machined on the underside of the bars, this encourages straight comb building and provides a greater surface area for attachment of comb.

The size and position of the entrance holes closely follow Phil Chandler’s recommendations, small enough to be easily defended but flexible in number to allow for greater activity during peak nectar gathering. There are 2 further entrance holes on the other side of the hive to allow the main body to be divided in two and used to house a split colony. A varroa mesh floor is essential for monitoring Varroa mite levels and allowing the beekeeper to be very specific about applying treatment only when the bees are struggling to stay on top of the problem.

Hugh came across this elegant feeder design built around a top bar, I have lined our feeders with Formica for a long lasting, waterproof and maintenance free life. I made this version our own by including a filler tube and dip stick to check how much feed is left and top up without disturbing the top bars or drowning any bees! There is a wooden raft with holes drilled in that goes inside the tank for the bees to stand on whilst feeding – I just hope they get their sea legs quickly!

The outside of the hive is protected with a linseed oil and bees wax mixture here seen drying out in the sun, there were a few foraging honey bees buzzing around when I was applying the coating but they went on their way after a quick inspection.

The roof is topped off with a sheet of 0.5mm galvanised steel to give a smart weather proof finish. Due to the weight of the roof it was decided to hinge it so that one person could easily open up the hive.

I was pleased to have been able to make these 2 hives for the group, the materials came to just over fifty pounds per hive and they took a combined time of 50-60 hours to make which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Whilst making the hives I have had many ideas for improvements and ways to make them much more quickly but still keeping the key features. I will make some notes and sketches of the new improved Mk II design and bring them along to a meeting in the future. If anyone else has ideas for further improvements then please get in touch.

If you have been inspired by this blog to have a go at making a TBH (either for yourself or BCB) but feel that you don’t have the skills/tools/confidence to tackle it unaided then watch this space……I am currently in discussion with Lowestoft college looking at the possibility of offering a basic Top Bar Hive building evening class locally in the autumn


If you would like to see Mikes full set of photo’s they can be found via this link

Sunshine and Bees: there will be a summer after all…

With the advent of warmer weather came our chance to open the hives. We wanted to assess what state the colonies were in and get them ready for spring. Seven of us met at the Barsham Apiary and after a chat whilst getting suited up – with the 2 boys in the group desperate to get on and use the smoker – we entered a cloud of buzzing bees. They were quite active but not as cross as we thought they may be (bearing in mind one of these colonies is the only one we have had to run from previously).

These 2 hives were both wintered as a brood and a half (a brood and a super), with no queen excluder on. We wanted to find the Queen, make sure she was in the bottom box and pop a queen excluder on. Unfortunately although there were plenty of eggs and brood we didn’t find the Queen in the first hive, so shook the bees from the super into the brood. Also unfortunately I got a little carried away with the force of the shake and scattered several bees onto the floor. It remains to be seen whether or not I have lost the Queen.

We found the Queen in the ‘Superhive’ (well done Mike) but whilst keeping a most diligent eye on her and turning the frame carefully I managed to lose her. I am REALLY hoping she dropped into the brood box. She is a fabulous and beautiful Queen, losing her would be devastating. Especially as she is our most likely candidate for increasing our bee stocks.

Hives sorted and Queens hopefully not disposed of we gathered our stuff and repaired to the cars for a quick sticky guzzle of some very tasty honey – just a little – before giving the frame back to the bees.

Flixton Apiary was more of a mixed bag, the nuc box colony was absolutely bursting at the seams and ready to move into a brood box, which we managed relatively easily. However, the hive containing ‘old bluey’ (one of our nuc queens from last year) was once again looking to be in trouble. There were no eggs present and a very large Queen cell, hopefully she will hatch and take the colony forward. The last colony initially looked to have some kind of bizarre brood disease, but it wasn’t foul brood or sac brood – or any other kind of ‘brood’ that I could find out about. The contents of the cells were white and granular and after confirmation from one more intrepid among us that it tasted sweet, we are now working on the assumption that it may be crystallised ivy honey.

So, time and the next inspection will determine whether or not I lost 2 Queens, whether the failing hive will regenerate with a new Queen and if we have combated Varroa in the last hive. I’m happy to report I didn’t get stung on this occasion, although a couple of others did!

Read All About It – Our Spring Newsletter is Here!

Here it is, hot off the press, our Spring Newsletter (No 9) with all the latest news and reviews from Sustainable Bungay – including the Save Bungay Library Campaign, new film nights, climate action, biodiesel, bees, Green Drinks, community cafe, Give and Take, Give and Grow and some great green growing tips! 

Written by Josiah, Nick, Eloise, Elinor, Lesley and the Comms crew. Designed and typset by Kris, edited by Charlotte, subedited by Mark. Many thanks to Helen and the Southwold Press for the printed versions (now around town).

Click on the following for the .pdf version (2.72mb) of  SB_Newsletter_9