Monday, 6 October 2008

Repairing a Bee Feeder

If you put off fixing old tired bee feeders, your not alone! I get caught out too. I have a list of beekeeping repairs to do and the list gets bigger and bigger. So the pile of feeders I was looking at repairing last spring are now needed and I am slapping myself on the wrist!- should have done this earlier James.

So here's a few tips on bringing your old feeders back to life and what to avoid when buying a new feeder. I bought many Miller feeders (a central access for the bees with 2 filling chambers) Not a great design. Some say this is better because your bees will find the syrup easier via the central entrance, as apposed to the Ashford feeder with only an access for the bees at the extreme side of the feeder. Nonsense-bees will find it no matter.

I love the Ashford feeder (photo 3) as there is only one big filling chamber making it easy to fill and more importantly to empty. The Miller as illustrated in photos 1&2 above have two chambers and when you try to empty it, the syrup runs over the central access for the bees and you end up spilling quite a bit.

Also the Ashford feeder is simply built better. The wood used to wall off the syrup is not plywood, but 8mm solid pine and lasts longer. Hence you may not need to do the repairs I am about to explain!

The plywood walls of wood that separate the bees from the open filling chamber will rot and the ply will separate it time due to the on going exposure to moisture from the sugar syrup. So do not toss your feeder away, it can be fixed and serve you for many years to come.

First gently remove the old plywood dividers and use one as a template to create an exact copy. I bought a 4ft x 3 ft 6mm plywood board from Wicks for £5.00 ( Homebase wanted £9.95!) I was able to get 20 dividers from that. If you only need to repair one or two feeders you can use the rest of the wood to make a coverboard, roof  liner etc. Have a look at my first photo, this shows the tools needed to do the job.

Now all the suppliers of feeders seem to supply a central GLASS panel piece to view the bees, Miller or Ashford. This will always break in time. Dumb design fault. I break them by accident when I am cleaning them, using my hive tool, trying to remove it, set something on it, it falls out and breaks... Why do they not use perspex! So in time I am forced to replace them myself with perspex that then lasts forever. Photo 2, shows cutting new viewing windows. The trick to cutting perspex is to use a Stanley knife and score the perspex several times, cutting deeper each time. Then lay it on the very edge of a table that has a Sharp corner. Use a fully supported downward force to snap the plastic. Do not attempt to saw the sheet-it will break everywhere but where you want it to. Once you get the confidence its easy.

I use a flame torch to clean and sterilise the wood before each feed. I paint the inner chambers in December. This gives me 4 months for the paint to dry and fumes to clear before I use them for a spring feed if necessary.

So get to it if you haven't already!

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Honey Harvest Time.

This is one of the last of my annual harvests. I did manage to get a bit of spring honey. The city sites in and around Wandsworth produced well. I can always count on my city sites each year as there is an abundance of nectar producing flowers in the city and the temperature is warmer and more consistent.

Just a few tips about extracting honey and hygiene: keep your extracting room spotlessly clean! I stack my supers on the trailer and before bringing them into the extracting room, wipe them down on the outside with a mild disinfectant and rinse with clean water. It's just nice to know that no mud, grass, twigs or bees will be brought into the building. Health & Hygiene laws set out useful information to follow when designing your extraction room. 

A modern kitchen will in most cases do. The basic requirements are wipeable walls and  floors. The ceiling should be clear and free of dust collecting items. Hot and cold water supply. Your extractor should be stainless steel, not the basic metal ones of days gone by. They are nice to look at, but as honey is corrosive and reacts to metal-not a safe idea. Food grade plastic has replaced metal for that very reason.

Now lets talk about Ripe Honey! I have a vast private collection of honey from all over the world and I am amazed at how many on offer for sale have fermented in the jar. If the lid is slightly convex (bowed) its a sign that there is a build up of internal pressure in the jar. If the water content in honey exceeds 20% there is a good chance that the shelf life of that honey will be greatly reduced and natural fermentation will occur. The honey is spoilt.

So to avoid this, here are few tips.
1- If the frame of honey is predominately uncapped, it might be a sign your bees have not driven out the water from the nectar yet. Bees are remarkable little creatures and if left to their own devices they will 'ripen' the honey by removing a vast amount of the water contained in the nectar, reducing it to around 20-18% water. The lower the percentage of water the better. Shake the frame of honey downwards if any nectar falls out, the honey is not ready to extract.

2- Buy a refractometer
This is a simple little telescope like device. It has a flip lid and you simply put a drop of honey on the inside of the flap. Look through the lens which has level lines showing 1-60%. It measures the water in the liquid. Quick and very accurate. 

3- Wash and DRY all jars. You don't want to contaminate your perfect honey with water at this point.

Filtering your honey.

There is a lot of controversy over this issue. At present the EU are setting new guideline laws in respect to the filtering of honey. They want to see producers label their honey with, ' Filtered Honey' if they use a fine filtering system. The idea is that consumers should be made aware of this fact, as fine filtering does filter out a considerable amount of the nutritional value of the honey. Fine filtering consists of heating the honey, pumping it under high pressure through a micro mesh filter system. Most hobbyist beekeepers will never have to worry. Like you, we use a gravity system using muslin cloth of a wide grade. It allows trace elements of pollen and propolis through, which most consumers will want and appreciate.

Filtering also ensures there will not be any surprises in your honey. Your honey should be clear of wax and foam bubbles. To avoid the foam ( air bubbles trapped in the honey during the extraction process) decanter the freshly extracted honey into a large food grade bucket. Allow this to stand for 48 hrs before bottling. All the trapped air bubbles will rise to the top of the bucket. Your tap is located at the bottom, so all the honey that comes out will be free of bubbles and crystal clear!

Store any jars of honey out of direct sunlight. Its funny how many times I see shops displaying their honeys in the windows of their shop. It looks great but UV sunlight ruins honey and should not be sold thereafter. Avoid this please. 

This should be enough for now. I'll tell you more about the storage of supers, feeding and closing your hives down for the year next! Let me know what you have collected this year and how your bees are!

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Friday, 29 August 2008

Honeybees starve to death!

Now is the time to take any surplus honey off your beehives and feed your bees. This year has been a relatively poor year and your bees could starve to death if you do not feed them now!

Late August if a perfect time to feed your bees and take any measures to rid your bees of Varroa. Remember-NEVER feed your bees with supers (honey boxes) on! Remove all your supers and only feed when you have the brood breeding box in place to avoid a cross contamination of sugar or medication with your honey.

For those of you reading this and not hands on beekeepers I will explain.

We are asked all the time by the general public if we feed our bees sugar. They assume that if we feed our bees sugar then our honey must contain the sugar that we feed our bees. People hear about bees being fed sugar and again assume that there must be a percentage of sugar (refined processed cane sugar) in the honey as a result. NOT TRUE!

Professional, responsible beekeepers will NEVER feed bees a sugar solution during a honey collection period. They will only feed their bees a sugar feed AFTER or BEFORE that period. All the honey boxes (supers) will never be placed on a hive during a feed period, thus avoiding any possible contamination of processed sugar within the pure honey.

The European Commission (EC) have VERY strict laws governing this and frequent random tests are carried out throughout the EU states. Heavy fines and prosecutions are enforced if any high levels of sucrose are found within a sample of honey for sale. These measured are welcomed by the UK honey community to ensure a pure natural product throughout the UK & Europe.

With that said, why feed bees? Well one theory is that in the middle of a wet cold winter, bees can find honey too rich and this can trigger Nosema and other stomach complaints. By feeding your bees CANE SUGAR, ( beetroot sugar is a no no!-too complicated for bees to metabolise) this will be in abundance in the brood area ( breeding area) and your bees will find it a simple sugar, easier to digest in the winter months. Your are also topping up their food supply. In recent years many bee colonies just do not collect enough honey throughout the year to see them through the winter, even if you leave them ALL the honey they collected.

So feeding-no harm to your honey or bees, great because your bees will not starve to death. GREAT because this August feeding will encourage your queen to lay, thus ensuring lots of young bees going into the long winter period. We need young bees late in the year because they will need to survive the six months of winter to see the new generation of young Spring bees get going.

Now here's a TIP! Make your own DIY sugar syrup container and keep it filled throughout the year! Having a ready supply of sugar syrup on hand will make your life SOOOOOO much easier. At this time of year it is a must, in the spring it will be a life saver!  You will need to feed your bees approx 2 gals of syrup per colony. I just keep feeding them until they stop taking it down. In the spring I begin feeding again once the days become a bit mild. I do this to promote colony growth and avoid starvation. Feeding is vital. I get people suggesting to me that it is unnatural to feed bees. Yes this is true and in nature they would starve to death and die. Nature is cruel, I am not. Bees die on mass each year and are under threat at present. I afford them every luxury and tend to them with the utmost respect and attention. I do not subscribe to the theory that just because they are wild insects they should be left to their own devices and chance. I believe, when necessary, we should intervene to help the survival of these wonderful creatures by means of feeding, monitoring, cleaning and eradicating any parasites or diseases.  

But I digress. How do you make sugar syrup? Take 2 kilo's of CANE sugar to one pint of hot water. Mix well until it is crystal clear. I make over two tons of this per year! So now what container to keep your sugar solution in? Well EBAY is a great place to start! Many food companies get large food grade drums sent to their factories containing lime juice, lemon juice etc. These drums are offered on EBAY and are perfect to store your sugar solution in. You might be thinking, but James I only have two hives! Once you make up the solution, it never goes off and if is better to have too much in store than not enough! 

I just did an EBAY search on, 'Plastic drums' and 33 items came up. Average price was between £2.99- £7.99 for a 238 liter food grade drum. (not bad) I just cut a hole near the base and inserted a water butt tap. BINGO you have a very professional syrup storage unit. 

This can be easily upgrades to a mixer unit as well by simply buying a small motor and have a shaft with a paddle made to insert on the motor shaft. (its easy and costs around £70) The motor is mounted on the drums lid. I'll show you a photo of this next week.

The beauty of this unit is that you can keep it on site, in the outdoors, ready within reach when you need it. So feed your feeds now. 

PS. do not feed syrup in the cold months of winter. It stimulates the bees to fly out in search of nectar-feed fondant instead. Don't worry, I'll tell you about this in December.

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bespoke Period Beehives now available!

Now in its 5th year Custom Timber Build are makers of bespoke period beehives. They specialise in reproduction period beehives, but are happy to quote to build a beehive from your own personal drawings.

Some of the beehives built for clients are the Stewarton Hive. Invented in 1819 the Stewarton possed a unique management system. Movement of bees in the hive was controlled by beech slides set between the top bars of each box. With the centre most slide left in to create a solid roof to the brood area.

The queen was inhibited from moving into the honey supers. The outer sides were withdrawn during a nectar flow forcing the bees to draw comb from the sides inwards.

The beekeepers could monitor progress through the windows on both sides. This hive is truly a show piece and is fully functional. All boxes are adjusted to give a degree of interchangeability with the modern British standard shallows. They are made to order and can be finished in your choice of colours from the Fallor & Ball historical colour range, waxed or stained. Assembled the price is £1800 delivery POA

Have a look at their website. See
email info@

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Sunday, 10 August 2008

James and the Wild Honey Hunters

I was really disappointed  to see that my original film concept of the last 12 years appeared in the form of 'Jimmy and the Wild Honey Hunters, BBC1'! I have spoken to so many corporate and freelance film makers over the last decade trying to convince them to tell the story of The Honey Hunters of Nepal, after my trek there in 1996, sponsored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Scholarship Trust.

It was a project idea that was now out there, and it was a surprise for me tonight to see a farmer from Suffolk present a beekeeping trek to Nepal. 

I worked in the same village, with the very same head beekeeper (now in his seventies). I documented the entire trek, beekeeping traditions and methods in ten hours of personal film footage, interviews and stills. I brought back original native Apis Cerana beehives, log beehives, hand made cliff honey hunting tools and more.

I was so thrilled to see how well filmed the documentary was. It was beautiful to watch and well portrayed. It was encouraging to see that nothing had changed in the last twelve years. It was like time had stood still. All the images brought back to life my wonderful experience and friendships that I formed there.

The original Nepalese honey hunting tools and hives are on display at The Hive Honey Shop for public viewing each day. 

Special August Opening Hours: Please call to confirm opening hours before travelling to the shop. on 020 7924 6233. 

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Wasps kill bees- what can be done?

I was in at the orchard all day yesterday pruning the apple trees. Quite a job considering there are over 200 trees! One of my jobs is to cut away diseased wood, primarily Canker. Canker is like cancer to trees and if you leave the infected wood, it will continue to spread throughout the healthy wood. So today I have blisters!

I noticed that wasps are now out in force. Time to put out the wasp traps! Wasps can and will rob honey from your hives but will also eat your bees. They have strong sharp mouth parts that can cut a bee in half. They carry this back to their nest and offer this to the wasp larva, who in turn secrete a sugar substance that the foragers are addicted to. It is this relationship that keeps wasps on the move, as they rely on this larva food secretion to survive. In the Autumn the queen wasp will stop laying and there are no wasp larva around to produce food for the foraging wasps. Hence they are desperate for food. It is this time of year when we begin to notice wasps, they are bolder and more aggressive looking for food. 

If you sit outside for a few minutes enjoying your lunch, they will find you and try to rob whatever you are holding. At this time of year people get stung and mistaken the flying attacker for honeybees. Poor honeybees get a bad rap as a result. If you are stung by a flying insect the chances are it was a wasp.

A simple Eco-friendly wasp trap can be made by taking a large plastic water bottle, cut the top off at about 15 cm down from the top. Invert this upside down so the neck of the bottle is now inside the base. Staple the sides so its fixed in place. BINGO you have a wasp trap.

Now to lure the little robbers. Pour half a can of beer, a cup of water and 4 tbs of jam. Stir well. Your bait is ready. The nice thing is that there are no harsh chemicals used, safe for animals, humans and the environment. This bait will attract moths, flies and wasps-not bees. DO NOT USE HONEY.

You can staple a piece of round plastic over the gap at the top to stop rain water from getting in. I place these all over my apiary sites. Yesterday I made up 3 and by the time I left it had caught around 20! Remember if you catch a scout wasp, then you deduce the amount of wasp activity in your area. Once a scout finds you, your hives, your picnic, they will rush off and gather reinforcements. Hence you sit down quietly to enjoy your pub lunch and you notice one wasp. You fan it away and shortly there are two, then four, six.... Finally they win and you move!

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Sunday, 3 August 2008

London swarm of honey bees saved

Here are a few photos of my removing a colony of honey bees from a garden in London. They swarmed into a pine tree and the home owners were both amazed and alarmed! The garden was a typical small London terrace house garden and not suitable for 50,000 + bees! So with a little smoke and balancing on a ladder I was able to coax the bees into a box.

The bees were really claim and good natured. I always coat the inside of the box with melted beeswax and honey. This make a tempting retreat for the bees from the openness of a tree branch, and soon they were happily taking up residence in the sweet box.

I have a policy of taking unknown swarms to an isolation site where I can monitor them to make sure they are disease free before introducing them to one of my apiary sites.

These bees are doing well and growing in size. I believe they will be strong enough to make it through the winter and will be in a position to gather honey for us in the spring.

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Time to remove and add honey supers

Its Saturday, weather does not look great. Overcast and windy. However this is England and we should not be surprised by now. I tell people most of my beekeeping is done in either the rain, at twilight or sunset and not by choice. Sometimes you just need to inspect your bees and you know if you don't they could swarm, starve or they need more room, time to re-queen, add clean frames etc. 

So I'm off to inspect a few sites. Lets hope this hot sticky weather has benefited the bees. This is the perfect weather condition for nectar production. flowers rely on a few factors, heat, humidity, moisture & little or no wind. If these conditions are met, flowers are able to yield nectar. So on Hot dry windy days, it looks and feels great, but your bees are flying around in search of nectar that just is not there. They end up eating their honey stores to create the energy they need to fly miles in search of nectar. They end up consuming more honey that they can gather. June time is a perfect example. There are thousands of flowers to see, yet there is a gap in the nectar production of those nectar producing plants. They have been pollinated and have fulfilled their biological task. So not much nectar is about at this time of year.

Hence you will notice your bees are a bit more touchy then usual, perhaps signs of robbing in their frustration to try and find a food source. Remember prior to this time the flowers were flowing with spring nectar and your bees were in full swing. Now its like a tap has been turned off and all those foraging bees have nothing to show for their hours of flying around and searching. You would be frustrated too! 

Friday, 1 August 2008

Norwood Bee Rescue

Well I have just got back from my bee call out. I get calls to rescue bees from weird and wonderful places. Today a building firm called because their builders, while removing the lead roofing sheets, disturbed a bees nest. The roofers got stung and abandoned the job until help could be found.

Calling The Hive Honey Shop! I spoke to the lovely Natasha, the firms company secretary. She was keen that the bees were removed ASAP as the roof was exposed and it looked like rain was on the way. I cancelled my other appointments so I could get to this job before the rain did. 

Natasha and her colleague Cliff, popped by the shop to finalise the details at 6pm. Cliff was very interested in bees and beekeeping. We spoke about what bees do and how one can keep bees in the city. I think Cliff will be getting his own bees in due course. Cliff if you are reading this, take the plunge! Get the DVD I suggested and join the craft.

The traffic across London was terrible! Is it me or are people driving more aggressively these days. I arrived in South Norwood, the building was scaffolded, but the bees were at the very top. I hate heights and this was HIGH! Going up was not fun, but once up there the view was amazing. I could see the tops of the houses surrounding Crystal Palace. Beautiful area.

Once I was at the top and stepped forward onto the flat roof, I could see at once that the flying insects were not honeybees, but were in fact WASPS. That very moment as I identified them, a wasp stung me on the face. I had my beesuit on but the veil was flipped back as I was expecting honeybees not wasps.

I threw the veil down over my face, only in doing so trapped the wasp inside my veil. It proceeded to sting me repeatedly. I had to keep my wits about me as I was three floors up and no guard rails around me. I was more concerned about falling to my death!

I managed to squash the wasp and quickly put on all my protective gear. The wasps were swarming around my head. I could see the roofers hand tools and gear strued about the roof. It looked like they had been dropped and they had left in a hurry. They must have disturbed the nest and the wasps were defending the area in force. Please note- DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Wasps can kill. Call a professional. Look at this! Unbelievable!: See

I located the nest under two heavy sheets of lead. In order to get to the nest I had to cut away a section of the roof boards. I removed the nest (after sustaining more stings through the suit!)

The area is now safe and I put back all the lead sheets and made good. Thank god it didn't rain much. Another day in the life of a beekeeper!

Big THANK YOU to Tim & Julie Kirby

I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to Tim Kirby for helping me to set up this blog. Tim is in IT and a Beekeeper! I met Tim & his wife Julie on one of my beekeeping courses. I run Adult beginner beekeeping courses each year from April to Sept. 

Tim and Julie signed up for my weekend course and it was soon apparent that they were serious about beekeeping. They excelled during the course showing intelligence , common sense and compassion for the craft. They committed to buying a colony from me last year. That colony under their care has grown and they have successfully divided it this year, adding a new colony to there apiary. Both have healthy mated queens. They are feeding them well at present and no doubt next year they will be dividing again! They are a tribute to beekeeping.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Rescuing Bees In Norwood

I'm off to Norwood to save some bees from a roof. The roof of the building is being repaired and I have been contacted to safely remove and rehouse them. I'll see if I can take a few photos and post them tonight!

BBC Newsnight

I was just called by a researcher for BBC Newsnight. They are doing a piece on CCD and the decline of British bees. I will keep you posted as to the out come.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Honey Shop in full speed.

I've been very aware of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in the US, but reports from my beekeeping friends here around the country this year tells another story. Many have had wonderful harvests with their bees going from strength to strength.

This year I have been called out to remove swarms of honeybees like that of ten years ago. This tells me that bees are healthy, growing and multiplying to such a size that swarming is triggered. I made divides in the spring and they are strong now and gathering honey. Its a sign that we are doing something right here in England. 

And well done to all you hobbyist beekeepers out there. I applaud your hard work, devotion to your craft and helping to safeguard the survival of our honeybees.

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Fresh Pollen, our traps are full!

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

Here is one of our National Pollen Traps. There is nothing like the taste of fresh pollen. You can smell the sweet honey/blossom aroma as you near the hive. The trap drawer is accessed via the back of the hive. No need to get in protective gear. Just pull the drawer out and empty. I freeze the pollen and use it in our HayfeGUARD product. I eat spoons full each day. Lovely taste!

If you use a trap, only keep the trap on for 10 days and then remove. Your bees will have noticed the lack of pollen coming in and will recruit a large number of bees to become pollen gathers. Once the trap is removed you will get a big influx of pollen coming in, which will compensate for the amount you removed, weather permitting. Spring is a great time to put traps on.

July Honey Harvest

It's sunny weather and we've been out at 'Bee Heaven Farm' gathering honey. My Son of 9 is a big help! He supervises and is quality control. I have a mix of hives, this one is a Langstoff hive. The bees have done well this year, strong, healthy and gathering 3-4 supers of honey each! Like I always say, look after your bees well and they will look after you!

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop