Tuesday, 20 December 2011

2012 Meeting Dates

YABeeP aims to provide peer support to individuals and families who want to encourage both wild and honey bees and maybe keep bees themselves. We advocate using bee-friendly natural bee-keeping methods. Where our members keep honeybees they do so primarily for the benefit of the bees themselves, not in order to exploit them for forced honey production or personal profit1.

For 2012 we will continue to hold our informal meetings at 10:30am on the second Saturday of each month during the bee season - March to October. Meetings last about 2 hours and, weather permitting, usually include a chance to see bees in action:-

2012 Dates:
  • March 10th - Meeting - Download note of meeting here - LINK
  • April 14th - Meeting 10:30 - Please note,this meeting is specifically for those new to natural beekeeping or wanting to start keeping honeybees. We will talk about the life cycle of the bee and what they need for healthy survival then overlay on this the various beekeeping methodologies. This will help you make an informed choice of the management regime and hive types most suited to your aspirations.
  • April 28th - Warré hive building workshop (all day). Members who have booked a space will be able to build a hive. However, the day is open to all members who want to drop in and join the fun or see the build so they can do their own.  
  • May 12th - Meeting - This month's topic is "Getting your bees" - followed by solitary bee box workshop
  • June 9th - Meeting followed by Barbecue picnic lunch - This month's topic is "Protection & equipment"
  • July 14th - Meeting 
  • August 11th - Meeting NB - the August meeting has been cancelled as it clashes with the Natural Beekeeping Conference and many members will be away. See you in September.
  • September 8th - Meeting
  • October 13thMeeting
If you wish to join one of these meetings we'd love to see you - please email YABeeP@googlemail.com or tel: 01934 876275 to let us know who you are, how many will attend and to get directions to the meeting. We hope to hear from you.

Why do we meet?
Meetings allow us to:
  • welcome new members to learn about our aims and principles and decide whether they wish join us;
  • provide an environment to network with each other to expand our knowledge, ask questions and share new ideas and thoughts on helping bees;
  • provide an opportunity to get hands on with bees (dependant on weather of course) and see into a working hive/bee box;
  • meet socially and enjoy the occasional BBQ, picnic, etc., after all life’s not all about bees.
Where do we meet?
Meetings take place in the Yatton area as this is central to our North Somerset patch, either in a local home or a local venue. The venue details and a map are emailed to members the week before each meeting.

... or in the Library
We meet outside......
Meeting format
YABeeP believes in holding informal meetings; we don't instruct our members or provide formal training courses but use a 'learning through doing with support' philosophy. Meetings are used to provide peer support and help for those new to bees as well as share experiences and learning amongst those who already keep them. We also often have short themed talks at our meetings, mostly given by our own members (volunteers always needed!) but occasionally bringing in a local(ish) expert. Weather permitting, we also use meetings to let members get up close and personal with bees and experience the workings of the various bee homes we use.

In addition to our monthly meetings we also arrange practical workshops as demand dictates. These tend to be half or all day affairs which allow members to build their own hives for honey bees or homes for bumbles and solitary bees. As well as being highly productive – you should expect to complete your project within the day - the workshops held to date have all been great social events! These workshops will be listed in the Dates section above in green when arranged.
A full day's Hive Building Workshop.......
(click to enlarge)
......or a 2 hour Solitary Bee home gathering.

Training Days
Where demand dictates we also arrange small group training days using guest trainers with expertise in their field, a small charge is made for these to pay for the speakers. For 2012 our good friend Gareth John has again agreed to provide workshops on Kenyan hive manipulations. These will be published to members as and when arranged.
Gareth John's 'How to Split a Horizontal Hive' training day 2010

Robin Morris

1For a fuller explanation of what we mean by bee-freindly 'natural beekeeping' see this page.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Future

It's all gone quiet
Several non-members have commented that there have recently been few posts on this website/blog and were wondering whether YABeeP had wound up. I'd like to make it clear that this is certainly not the case.

Given its success and steady growth the amount of work it was taking to run the YABeeP group was getting too much for one person (me!) so something had to give. I did some thinking and reconfirmed that my priorities had not changed  - to establish and help run a local bee-friendly peer support group. Our website/blog was being used mostly by non-members from across the globe so should no longer be my priority - hence few posts.

The Future
We are going to look at the future of YABeeP and how we should go forward from here, hopefully at our next meeting in September. I am optimistic that one or two volunteers will come forward to help share the load running whatever vision for our future that we decide upon.

Maybe part of this will be an update and re-write of the website; some of the earlier stuff certainly needs redrafting.

My own view is that this site should be a description of who we are and what we stand for, it should give information on when we meet, how to join us, our local swarm catching service, plus also some basic information on bees.

I have always felt that the "how to..." part of keeping bees using the bee-friendly methodology we employ should be for others better qualified than us to advise on in books and websites. That said, I find that there are still no comprehensive books or websites aimed specifically at new bee-friendly beekeepers, it's still a case of gleaning some information from here and some from there - very confusing for someone new to this world.

Consequently we may also have to continue plugging that gap ourselves for our members by providing signposting/guidance drawing on this piecemeal advice and our own experiences along the lines of some of our existing pages such as our Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive series of pages.

If we do this then, of course, it would make sense to publish it on our site so a wider audience can take advantage of it should they want to. It's even been suggested that we should make such advice available as pdf downloads so that it can be easily printed and used away from a pc.

All of this involves quite a lot of work, much of which I guess will be done over the winter when our bees are less of a distraction, so don't expect huge change soon. Rest assured however YABeeP is alive and well, if you want proof come to our next meeting!

Robin Morris – YABeeP - 15th August 2011

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Feeding your bees in an emergency

[Copy of a message sent to all YABeeP members - 8 June 2011]
You will probably be aware that I am generally anti feeding sugar syrup to bees; in my clear view there are some very valid reasons why they should not be fed, especially by 'natural' beekeepers. In particular I disagree with feeding a new swarm as the bees have prepared to leave, chosen the right moment for them to do so, and bring their own start-up stores with them in the form of consumed honey from the mother hive's stores. I also take the view that in the wild individual bees, swarms and even whole colonies often die out quite naturally – it's all part of the post-Darwin 'survival of the fittest' argument. I especially don't agree that we should be supporting poor genes by artificially keeping weak colonies alive . As a natural beekeeper we should be prepared to suffer losses and not feel guilty about it.

However, not everyone in the natural beekeeping arena agrees with me and there are many who will particularly feed in what they see as times of 'emergencies'. For more information on this you may want to check you books or the internet for guidance.

The purpose of this email is to alert those of you who are in the 'emergency feed' camp that we are now in what is generally agreed by all to be a period of emergency. This has been caused by the abnormal spring drought which has cut short and in some cases completely stopped the nectar flow – we seemed to have entered the dearth period really early. I am getting reports that in some cases nectar rich trees like Lime and Sycamore have flowered for just a few days rather than a few weeks as usual! For about the last month bees in this area seemed to have ceased comb building and in many cases the queens have slowed down or even stopped laying. I have also had reports of 2 new colonies started from swarms in the last month dying, in all probability from starvation.

Let me be clear that I am NOT advocating that you should feed your bees. It is a personal decision you need to take for yourself. However, I don't want people to feel that their bees have died 'just because Robin said we shouldn't feed them'.

Established colonies - year 2 onwards
Those with established hives should have no problem whatsoever so no action should be needed, provided that you haven’t recently excessively harvested honey. Natural beekeepers should err on the safe side of harvesting – emergencies like these is a good example of why!

The best place to check your bees is at the hive entrance – you should be constantly observing your bees for continued 'normal' behaviour and be on the watch out for differences – e.g. excessive removal of adult carcases or culled brood, build up of bodies on the hive floor, etc.

If you actively manage horizontal hives you may want to check that your bees have sufficient stores.

Warré keepers should also be OK as the harvest on a Warré is done in late summer (for good reason!) so again their bees should have sufficient stores to cover them. However, if you are an 'emergency feed' interventionist Warréor then again you can check using your windows if you have them or by peeping up under the boxes.

New colonies at risk
Those most at risk are new colonies started this year, especially those started from swarms. The fantastic weather and healthy early nectar flow caused an massive build up of numbers resulting in many swarms. Although healthy at the outset the recent drought and switching off of the nectar tap has meant that these swarmed colonies have simply not had the resources to make comb and build up stores and brood in sufficient numbers. Lack of nectar has meant that the little comb they did manage to build was probably used for brood leaving no larder to fill and therefore no resources to fall back on. This is why swarms appear to be dying or at the very least suffering.

In terms of bee numbers overall this will have little impact – more swarms will die now but later in the season or next year the numbers will increase form the healthy mother stock and bees will continue to survive. In nature some years are bad and some good – taken over a few years numbers generally remain the same. On the other hand those of you with new colonies may take a more interventionist view “I don't want MY bees to die!”. Although less 'natural' this view is understandable.

What can I do?
The choice of whether to 'go with nature' or intervene is a personal one. You must follow your own conscience. If you do decide to feed then you need to take action now and feed either honey or sugar syrup. There are many arguments as to which is best, but I am going to presume that those with new colonies do not have access to their own honey (do NOT use shop bought honey under any circumstances!) so syrup is the only option.

For a summer feed use 1 part refined white cane sugar to 1 part water – 1Kg to 1Ltr mixed. Do not use brown or alternative sugars as they have impurities that can harm the bees. Cane as opposed to beet sugar, it will say on the packet, is generally less likely to have been grown with systemic pesticides. Gareth John also suggests the addition of a drop of organic rose or geranium oil to give it a scent. He also adds Vitamin C to his mix to ease digestion.

How do I administer?
Feeding must take place inside the hive as you don't want to attract bees from other hives who may spread disease or start robbing your weakened colony.
Warré sump feeder
(ignore Varroa screen)

Those who built Warré hives at our workshop this year were 'influenced' to build a sump floor. It was suggested that the rear side of this sump floor was screwed but not glued. If you did this then you can simply unscrew the rear section and remove it to fit a feeder tray then replace the back. A simple tray such as a plastic takeaway carton can be used but you need to float something on the surface to prevent the bees from drowning in it!

Home made follower feeder
 for horizontal hive
Those with horizontal hives can either slip a narrow tray on the floor of the hive inside the follower boards or build a feed station into the follower board itself or even build a follower board adapted as a feeder.

Further information
Please use your books (you should have some if you have bees!) and the internet for additional information – remember, Google is your friend. The topic of feeding bees is always a hot one on natural beekeeping forums like http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/warrebeekeeping/ and http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/warrebeekeeping/ though if you use fora like these please be aware of posts from North American beekeepers who, in a very different environment from us, seem to feed as if it were natural.

The Future
Hopefully the recent rain will keep up and the situation will change, though at the time of writing we have only experienced showers – certainly nowhere near what is required for the flora.

© Robin Morris – YABeeP - 8th June 2011

Friday, 20 May 2011

Alternative Warré hTBH

Last Sunday we held a very successful training day on the management of horizontal Top Bar Hives and our thanks go to Gareth John for sharing his extensive knowledge.

Gareth John's
hTBH training session
(click any picture to enlarge)
Those present learned how to inspect a neglected hTBH hive and how to perform a split. The hive used for the training was a biobees style Kenyan hTBH.

The need for a new hTBH
At the wash-up session at the end of the training the discussion turned to adaptations to the hive design to minimise the problems encountered when working with horizontal hives. Whilst no absolute conclusions were reached the group agreed that the straight sided Tanzanian hive offered less problems than the angled catenary shaped Kenyan hive.

In addition, because at YABeeP we err on the more natural side of 'natural beekeeping', we generally favour the Warré hive over the hTBH because of its minimising disturbance on the bees. One benefit of the hTBH is the ease with which splits can be made to raise further colonies. However, because of it's size and shape, splits raised from a Kenyan hTBH with a wider top and sloping sides cannot be easily transferred to a Warré. Garth reported that Quentin had been experimenting making a hTBH using Warré comb dimensions. This news provided one of those 'eureka' moment for the group - why had we not thought of this before?
Typical Kenyan style hTBH (biobees
 model) note sloping sides resulting
in wide top bars - 430mm

Making a horizontal hive, using the Warré dimensions, would make usable breeding hives from which to make splits to go into Warré hives. It would also create a simpler to manage horizontal hive for those 'hands-on' beekeepers who like the horizontal style - in case you were not aware the surface area of Warré combs are a near match for the comb size on a Biobees hTBH which is probably the main hTBH of choice used in the UK. It

An additional bonus for a group like YABeeP would be that the frames/bars would then be interchangeable between hTBH and Warré hive types should emergency action be necessary e.g. providing emergency queens, etc.

The model
Fired by enthusiasm I have been experimenting with a design that would facilitate this and have arrived at this model which is simple and heap to make using the same seasoned untreated 25mm timber we used at the recent Warré hive building day.

This is not necessarily the best design, but it is simple to make, easier that the biobees model due to the 90 degree angles, and is constructed using glue & screw technology or glue & dowels for those non-metal converts.

The full 3D model of this hive can be viewed and downloaded here in Google Sketchup . (Google Sketchup is an excellent free 3d modelling programme which you an download here).

Showing roof and floor open
Roof and floor closed
(roof cover  omitted for clarity)

Note: Warré hive body dimensions
Width 300mm + (25mm x 2) / Depth 210mm + 25mm
presumes 25mm timber used

Standard Warré rebates
to hold top bars
Side bottom panels (shown in yellow) glued
 & screwed to provide bottom re-enforcement
and prevent sides warping
Version with windows
Left open; right closed
(click to enlarge)

  • Internal height/width = 210mm x 300mm - pp Warré design
  • Length = variable as dictated by timber but a suggested minimum of 1,000mm
  • Sides rebated 10mm x 10mm to hold Warré top bars (see below for info' on top bars for this hive)
  • Top re-enforcing = 25mm x 40mm strip around top end/sides set 20mm below side walls. As well as re-enforcing to prevent warping this recess keeps rain out of top section and provides an anchor from which to hinge the lid.
  • Bottom re-enforcing provided by 2 glued & screwed base pieces - shown in yellow in above illustration.
  • Lid hinged to hive body - no lifting/storage required. Hinge stops provided by pieces of nylon strapping screwed one end to hive body the other end to lid.
  • Follower board used as per other hTBHs
  • Entrance holes in both ends plus centre and each end of non-opening side. Other than user selected entrance these are all plugged but provide alternative options. (Author suggests use of end rather than central entrances for less experienced beekeepers).
  • Single 35mm entrance hole used rather than 2/3 smaller entrances at each point as bees naturally choose and control a single entrance.
  • Opening base to give beekeeper access options in an emergency
  • No varroa screen but varroa can be counted using hinged central floor piece - an optional varroa tray and draw can be added below this base opening if required
  • Space above top bars for insulation and storage.
  • Requires less inspections as attached combs are more easily cut with a short straight side - especially if using half frame top bars - see below. This allows bees to naturally attach their comb to the hive sides so they an more easily control their hive atmosphere (Nestduftwärmebindung).
Half Frame Top Bars
The top bars used in a standard Warré hive provide both an anchor for the bees to build comb in that box plus a space to allow them to pass vertically from box to box. This hive however is operated horizontally so a different technique is required. 

The suggested solution is to use standard sized Warré top bars (W24mm x D10mm x L320mm) with comb guides - either a short vertical bar or a truncated triangle added below - see illustration below. As with other hTBHs this encourages the bees to build along the bar to prevent cross-combing. The 12mm space between each bar  is then filled with a 12mm shim - see the following illustrations.

This not only allows bars to be transferred to a standard Warré if you are making breeding splits, but it also allows more flexibility those choosing to operate this as a stand-alone hTBH as shim sizes can be varied to accommodate comb different width between brood and honey storage areas.
Top bars types
Left: with bar  - Centre: standard Warré - Right: with triangle

Showing top bars with shims (in yellow) between
Finally, Quentin & Gareth are also experimenting with half sided frames to their top bars to a) make them easier to remove without damaging comb and b) provide a more robust anchor for the new comb. Remember in the hTBH arrangement, unlike in a standard Warré, the combs are occasionally inspected and moved. New honey comb can prove weak and break under load, especially if cut or moved.

Their design provides dowels at each end as shown in Quentin's photos below. These dowels fit fairly tight to the sides of the hive so the bees can propilise them to the sides to control hive atmosphere. The beekeeper therefore needs to cut the propolis between the dowel and hive to free them. 
Sets of half sided Warré frames
(Picture © Quentin Jordan)

Dowels extend approx 135mm
(Picture © Quentin Jordan)
Quentin's version:
Quentin's version to
Warré's 300 x 210 dimentions
(Picture © Quentin Jordan)

(Picture © Quentin Jordan)
Quentin's even has a Warré style
roof & quilt box
(Picture © Quentin Jordan)
Simon's version:
Simon makes one as well!
(Picture © Simon Billett)

Now doesn't that look easier to make
than a Kenyan? Room for deep top bars as well.
(Picture © Simon Billett)

(Picture © Simon Billett)
© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Installing a Swarm

(click any photo to enlarge)
Shaking bees in.
Following our the recent Hive Building Day some have been lucky enough to get swarms - a few within a week!

Emma kindly sent me some photographs showing how they were installed into her new hive so rather than just add them to that page I thought that it would be useful to post this as a separate page showing the methods of installing bees.

Basically there are several methods for installing a swarm of bees.

Tip: Have you seen this series of 10 short videos by Prof. Tom Seeley on swarm behaviour? 

Shaking them in
Walking them in - 1
The ramp is prepared
The easiest though less gentle method is to shake or tap them straight into their new hive. To do this hold the  upturned swarm container above the hive and sharply shake it or give it a hard tap to dislodge the bees - see the 'Walking Them In' video at the foot of this page which shows shaking and taping. If you are using this method please put some cut long grass in the bottom of your hive to soften the fall when the clump of bees falls onto the hard surfaces of the hive - if you damage the Queen you're in trouble! The bees will later chew up the grass and expel it from the hive.

Walking them in - 2
Bees are shaken
onto cloth
If it is a horizontal hive then the roof is removed, enough bars to make a gap big enough for the bees (around six)  and the bees are shaken out through the gap into the hive by giving a hard knock on the base of the upturned swarm container which usually sufficient to dislodge them - the bulk of them will fall with a hard 'clump' into your hive. Then replace the top bars.
Walking them in - 3
The journey starts.

With a Warré hive you just remove the top box which has the hessian ceiling stuck down with flour paste, turn it upside down then shake the bees into that. Once the mass of bees have fallen in gently turn the box the right way and put it back on top of the hive stack - usually 2 boxes in total for a new swarm. Add a third box at the base of the stack after a week once they are fully settled.

Provided the Queen was in the bulk of bees which were initially shaken into the hive several worker bees should emerge at or outside the entrance and start fanning (see photo & video at foot of page) to summon all the stragglers. With either hive type you use you then need to put the swarm catching container, which will still have many bees in it, on its side by the hive entrance so they can walk in. By dusk they should all be inside.

Walking them in
Walking them in - 4
See them go!
With this method a temporary ramp is made leading up to the entrance of the hive (hTBH or Warré) using pieces of wood or similar to support a clean soft sheet. Bees will instinctively climb upwards and if the end of their climb meets a hole into a potential hive they will go in.

Once the ramp is ready the bees are then shaken out by turning their container upside down and sharply knocking the base of it to dislodge them onto the soft sheet. Their fall onto a sheet is far more gentle than onto a hard hive floor so there is less chance of damaging them.

Walking them in - 5
Going, going.
Over the next half hour or so you can observe the bees fanning to attract their sisters and slowly walking up into the hive - it's great to see. With this method you can sometimes see the Queen, but if you don't spot her individually you'll know she is there as a clump of bees will accompany her as she walks up.

Walking them in - 6
And don't forget
those stragglers!
My thanks to Emma for supplying the 'Walking them in' photos.

Drumming your bees inYou may also wish to read this post of the Warrébeekeeping Yahoo group about drumming to encourage your bees to walk up into their new hive - I've not tried it yet but it sounds worthy of a shot! If you do try, please let me know your results so they an be added here. - YABeeP@gmail.com.

The YABeeP Warré Way
Because both of the above methods involve disturbing the bees twice - once when they are knocked into the hive swarm box then again when they are transferred into their hive - we have developed a method for those with Warré hives to collect them in their final home. This is explained on this page. There are a few  advantages. The bees are installed into their final home at the swarm site so don't need to be moved again - any work they do comb building and propilysing whilst in the swarm capture box is not wasted effort. It also means that they can be collected from the swarm site by their new owner - the swarm catcher doesn't need to return a second time in the evening - they should always be removed at dusk or later to ensure that all the scout bees have returned.
Bees fanning to attract sisters.
They are wafting a pheromone signal into
the air saying 'come and join us girls'.

This method can only be used where top boxes have been left with the swarm collector.

© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

2011 Hive Building Day

Friday's prep' work.
Our hero, Pete, in the foreground

Yet another great day's weather greeted this, our third annual hive building day, with glorious sunshine most of the day plus a reasonable breeze to clear the sawdust and help dry the glue.

The biggest event so far in our history we had 18 hives ordered with many more people building on the day

Shall I drill this arm?
Because of a problem with the order caused by a mix of a protracted recovery from my operation and a delay with the sawmill the timber (seasoned, untreated British Douglas Fir) only arrived the day before - luckily just after the Royal couple had tied the knot and got back to the Palace. The delay also meant that they were unable to pre-cut the timber into my specified lengths. I learned about this problem only a day or two in advance and consequently was going to cancel but was persuaded to go ahead by Ray who, along withPete came all the way up from Plymouth a the day before with all Pete's gear to get things ready for Saturday.

Mass production
in full swing
True to form Ray & Pete arrived on Friday just after the timber delivery and under Pete's direction (or should I say control - he was a hard task-master!) the 3 of us set about turning the 57 planks delivered into 300+ prefabricated Warré components. We worked from their lunchtime arrival into the evening and this paid off big time when everyone arrived on Saturday able to start construction right away.

Without Pete's tireless efforts both on the Friday and again all day on Saturday we would not have made the fantastic progress we did - basically completing 15 x 3 box Warrés complete with full Warré roofs, quilt boxes and sump floors - what an achievement. All thanks to Pete's tireless (and very patient) cutting to demand - in it's literal sense as some were most demanding!
Work spills onto the pavement

Thanks must go to everyone - to those who brought biscuits, cake and drink to share, those who weren't building but came along to lend a hand, those who made tea and generally cheered us all on when things got a little tetchy. Too many to mention generally but I am sure that everyone would agree that we should specially single out Pete for his endless and tireless cutting to order without whom the day would not have happened and Jon who not only went out for more timber when needed but had done a load of work with his father the week before when we had expected to receive cut pieces which needed routing.
Injured man takes flack!
(Click any photo to enlarge)

I got the impression that everyone enjoyed themselves despite all the hard work and effort but feel free to post a comment if you disagree.

And Finally...
To all those who went away with hives don't forget to finish them off quickly - they may as well be out there in case a passing swarm is looking for a home!

To complete your hive you still need to:
  • get that floured hessian cover over the top bee box
  • hessian floor and fill the quilt box
  • add top bars to the second and third boxes - if you can wait Kevin has kindly offered to make these which can be distributed at the next meeting
  • add lifting handles

For how to do this  see this Finishing Touches to a Warré page.

All finished:
And now the pictures of the completed hives start to roll in. Send me yours and I'll add it here:

Kevin's hive - 2/5/11

Emma & Dave's entry.....

Fiona's - set up as a bait hive
Fiona's in situ

© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys