Monday 28 February 2011

12 March Reminder

(copy of email sent to all members)

Dear YABeeP Member

1. Next YABeeP meeting – Sat 12th March

This is a reminder that our first 2001 meeting will be on 12th March, a week this Saturday.

Because of the high numbers joining YABeeP this year I am having to consider holding the meeting in a nearby community hall. Can I please ask you to respond urgently letting me know whether you intend to come to this meeting so that I can gauge numbers. I will then send out a further message a few days before the 12th with venue details.

The 12th March meeting will focus on:
  • an introduction to natural beekeeping for those new to YABeeP 
  • winter review of our hives 
  • an introduction to the hive building workshops (solitary & Warré) 

2. Hive Building Workshop - 30th April
We have decided to build Warré hives again this year for those planning to build a hive at our 2011 workshop.

There is much work you need to do beforehand to prepare. Not only do you need to learn about bees and the Warré management philosophy, but you will also need to reach some decisions about the design of your individual hive – there are options. I have written some additional pages on our website to help you do this – follow this link. Please make sure that you read these and the information they point to and reach your decisions well before the workshop, though if you read these before the meetings you can then ask about anything that you don't understand.

You are still welcome to build a horizontal top bar hive if you prefer but I'm afraid that we cannot do this at the YABeeP workshop - see these pages if you want assistance in building one of these.

3. Other bits & bobs of interest

  • YABeeP poster – If you wish to help publicise YABeeP in the North Somerset area you can download, print out and display the this poster (168KB pdf file).  
  • Honey: The Golden Treasure. This interesting half hour programme was recently broadcast on th BBC's World Service. You can listen to it here on the BBC iplayer . 
  • Hanging Basket HiveThis 10 minute YouTube video shows this fascinating hive in use. I'm not suggesting that you all rush out for basket making materials and cow dung but it is of great interest in what a natural colony like looks like. Those watching the Bristol bridge colony will notice a striking resemblance. 
  • Bees fighting varoa – Another 10 minute YouTube video, this time showing that honeybees do groom these mites. 
  • And finally, can anyone get hold of an empty office/industrial water cooler bottle for me please? I want one to add to my kit for this year's swarm catching duties – see this 30 second YouTube video – what a brilliant idea! If you can supply one I'd be really grateful.

I look forward to seeing you on 12th March, meanwhile watch for a further email with details of where we will meet.
© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

Saturday 26 February 2011

Spring Pollen

Another reasonable day today and, despite the wind and damp, all 3 of the hives in my garden were flying.
hTBH in action
(click to enlarge)

The winter's far from over so they could still succumb but, at least they are busy and bringing in pollen. Not just one type either but many colours of pollen so I decided to try and seek out the sources.
Bee working pollen

Just outside on the green there are some spring crocus in full bloom and boy was it busy with bees.

Guard chickens!
What a joy to behold. Not long now and the bee season proper starts for us; though I'm sure that the queens are now frantically laying their spring brood. Let's hope we don't get another prolonged cold snap.

Our chucks are also full of spring, mounting an armed guard on one of our Warrés!Facebook smileys
© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

Thursday 24 February 2011

Starting a Warré hive

Our 30th April 2011 hive building workshop is drawing closer and although there are still a few weeks to go there is much to do for those starting their first bee hive or planning their first Warré:

Although we at YABeeeP practice the easier and less-interventionist natural beekeeping, we recognise that keeping honeybees is a responsibility so everyone intending to keep bees needs to do their homework first.

You need to learn about bees, their biology, physiology and needs. Whilst you will carry on doing this throughout your beekeeping life, you do need to learn the basics of bee biology, habits and behaviour to be a good beekeeper. A good basic grounding in how bees behave in nature and what they want, rather than what we as bee farmers want, will help you understand exactly why we favour sustainable beekeeping over the now outdated conventional beekeeping practices carried out in large highly managed colonies.

There are lots of books and websites on bee biology you can seek out. A good place to start is the US Cooperative Extension System - Follow the many links under Honey Bee Biology but bear in mind this is not a sustainable beekeeping website. For another great little summary, download this 9 page paper from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory -  pdf download (7mb)

You'll need to learn about the principles and philosophies of Warré beekeeping. This page has been written to help get you started in this. Please make sure that you read this page and the information it points to. Whilst you will learn much by being a YABeeP member, if you keep bees in a Warré without understanding the principles and philosophies you will be an irresponsible beekeeper.

You need to get ready for building your own hive. If you are doing this as part of our hive building workshop you will be making a Warré hive – the major decision about what hive type to build has taken for you by the group. The day will be challenging enough with one hive design without overseeing alternative hive models. Of course, if you want to build your own horizontal Top Bar Hive (aka Kenyan or long hive) or another variant you are free to do so - just follow the Starting a Horizontal Hive link instead.

However, there are elements of the build where you will have to make your own mind up regarding what you want. Let's call them optional extras, customisations or pimping, to give it a modern parlance. To make it easier for the beginner each option will have a recommendation, but you do need to consider whether you wish to go with that or not.

You must Choose......
The five choices you will need to have made by the day of the workshop are as follows:

1. Standard or modified Warré hive?
I have written a separate page on this topic here, please read it to make your choice. The recommendation is that you build the modified version, unless you are confident that you are going to be able to get hold of a swarm or you are prepared to wait a year or two for one.

2. Windows
Do you want to have windows in your hives? Windows aren’t necessary but they are useful to:
  • see what's going on inside the hive without opening it, 
  • checking whether boxes are occupied without hefting (partially lifting it)
  • showing friends, neighbours and particularly children who will be fascinated, a great educational tool.
If you have windows they should be used very sparingly - don't use often or for long periods; just an occasional quick peek should do and never in the December to February (inclusive) period. Remember any use of your windows disturbs the bees and effect the internal hive temperature.

So what's the downside of windows?
The main one is time. Building a Warré is relatively simple in that the main body is just a series of square boxes – 2 sides and 2 ends, simply glued and screwed together, quick and easy to make. By adding a window you are doubling the work involved in making each box. Please bear in mind that if you do choose to have windows then you probably won't finish building your hive at the workshop and will need to complete your hive at home. You will make a box or two and therefore know what to do and how to do it. However, it is  something to consider. Adding windows will also increase the cost as there is extra material required – that said the increase should be well under £10 per hive of 4 boxes. (We haven't yet priced the wood but I'm guesstimating that a 4 box hive with windows should come in at under £50 all in.)

Despite these drawbacks, I would personally always recommend windows.

3. Varroa inspection floor
Varroa is an insect parasite mite that attacks honeybees. Not natural to our native honeybee, it jumped species and was spread around the globe by beekeepers seeking a 'better' (i.e. more productive) bee'. Yes, man's greed actually introduced one of beekeepings biggest problems to Europe and the US. All honeybee colonies in the UK will carry the varroa mites, except for a few isolated pockets of the country. It's a problem that we now have to live with.
Warré Sump Floor
with optional varroa floor & feeder
(click to enlarge)
Update: I now use a single 25mm round hole
rather than the slit entrance shown

Conventional beekeepers and many sustainable beekeepers monitor their mite levels using a varroa monitoring floor – a fine mesh that allows the mite, but not the bee, to fall through to a sticky catching board. They can then, using tables that factor in the time of year, count the number of fallen mite to try and estimate their infection rate. If it gets too high they treat the bees with chemicals and other non-natural treatments which we think actually helps weaken the bees further. This page is not the place to debate the pros and cons of treatment but suffice it to say that in a Warré hive you will be relying on the bees rather than chemicals to manage their own mite infections which they can readily do if you don't open the hive to inspect them like conventional beekeeping demands1.

When Warré designed his hive varroa did not exist outside Asia where it only lived on its local species which had evolved over millennia to cope with it. I suspect that had that not been the case he would still have opted for his basic floor because of his management methodology. I choose to never treat my bees for varroa infection2 so I take the attitude 'why bother monitor them if I'm not going to treat?' A standard Warré floor is therefore quite suitable if you don't fancy the additional work and expense of a varroa inspection floor, unless you choose to feed.................

Personally I use a sump floor without a varroa screen on all my Warré hives as I believe it better replicates a natural tree cavity. There have been several reports of colonies dying over winter where the accumulation of bee bodies on the floor (they are not removed in the very cold weather) blocks the exit trapping in and starving the live bees.  If I need to I can still monitor the varroa drop in a sump floor without a screen - it works just as well.

4. Sugar Feeder
Most conventional beekeepers, and some natural beekeepers feed their bees. Sounds kind and helpful doesn't it? Well it's not. There is only one natural product to feed your bees and that is their own honey which they made themselves. What these beekeepers feed their bees is a sugar solution3. Now although sugar is a near-natural product and has similarities with honey, it's heavily processed and ain't natural to bees! Just study the way bees break down varying proportions of fructose, glucose, water, oil and special enzymes to see why they make honey, not sugar. Their honey also carries many other trace elements and beneficial bacteria which is good for them - it's a a bit like comparing mother's breast milk to formula, mum's has the beneficial microbes, anti-allergens, etc..

The reason why beekeepers feed sugar is that they have either stolen too much of their honey for their own use/sale or that they are too nervous to trust their own bees. They think that they know more about the bees needs than the creatures themselves do. You will work out from this that I am against feeding bees - I am!

That said there are those who do, especially those who feel that weak bees need help. If you want to join their ranks then you'll need a device to feed them inside the hive4.

There are two ways this can be done:

Top Feeder - Abbé Warré himself designed two of these, one for use for use in Spring & Summer and another for autumn feeding which you can see here. My advice is don't build or use one. You should already have read the Warré information signposted on a previous page, this explains the importance of retaining the colony's heat and scent; it's 'Nestduftwärmebindung'. This is key to a healthy Warré hive. Adding and changing a top feeder and replacing the quilt compromises this by opening the hive more often.
Warré's Spring/Summer feeder

Bottom Feeder - These allow you to put liquid or cake sugar (depending on the time of year) in the hive below the colony so not disturbing the Nestduftwärmebindung. The same feeding box can double as a Varroa Tray (see 3. above) so you could kill two birds with one stone. See this page for instructions on 'How to Modify Standard Warré Floor'. You can use it to either monitor varroa with the mesh screen in or feed sugar with the mesh out. The disadvantage of a bottom feeder is that in very cold weather bees won't go down to feed, only upwards. That said, their not feeding in the very cold is probably preferable to having no quilt and a void above their brood nest that you have with a top feeder.

As I don't feed then I'n NOT going to recommend a varroa/feeder box but it's your choice.

5. Top Bars
A Warré is a top bar hive so has bars at the top of each hive box - the clue's in the name! Unlike in a horizontal top bar hive (hTBH) the bars don't form the roof so they need spaces between the bars for the bees to pass up and down.

Warré's horizontal bars
(click to enlarge)
Horizontal Bars - Warré's design provides for horizontal top bars each spaced 12mm apart to allow the queen to pass between them. Many of us have success with this set-up. However, it is not uncommon for bees to fill the box they are in then stop building comb rather than move down to the next box, especially in their first year of occupation. If this happens then as more bees hatch they get overcrowded and swarm. Now swarming isn't a problem to a natural beekeeper but you don't really want a mass exodus of bees when there are more boxes below your colony for them to fill.

Why are we seeing this problem now when Warré didn't experience it? The answer to this is probably that in man's past greed to have bees that produce more honey we have introduced larger bees from around the globe. These have bred with our native bees to the extent that there are no untainted 'native' bees surviving other than in tiny isolated pockets of the UK. It may well be that these larger bees need bigger gaps. Because of this problem many Warré beekeepers have been experimenting with.......

Alternative vertical bars
(click to enlarge)
Vertical Top Bars - These are the same top bars but rotated around 90o to the vertical. These provide the same strength as the horizontal bars but a much bigger space between each one. Similar vertical shims under the top bars are also proving successful in hTBHs where the need to have straight comb is more important than in a Warré. There is some evidence to suggest that when crossing the bars from one box to the next the queen, who doesn't like to leave the safety of the comb, will gather a cluster of bees around her to make this passage. The wider spacing in a vertical bar hive more readily allows this.

Your final choice therefore is to decide whether to have the traditional horizontal bars or the verticals. If you want a recommendation then I would suggest trying vertical bars; at least that's what I'd do, but you pay's your money and takes your choice!

Whichever type you choose it is important that your bars are completely covered in bees wax when they are installed as there is strong evidence that the queen won't travel over bare wood to go down into the next box and this may be a major factor in premature swarming in a new Warré. It's easy to wax your bars, just buy a beeswax tablet from a reputable local beekeeper and rub it thoroughly all over your top bars when you install them.

It's usual to pin them with something like panel pins, just to stop them from moving when your shift the boxes about. Make sure that you leave the heads of the heads of the pins slightly proud so you can easily pull them out without damaging the bars when you eventually remove the comb to harvest.

Once you have weighed up the pros and cons of each of the above choices you are ready to build your Warré hive.

© Robin Morris - YABeePFacebook smileys

You may also be interested in these pages - Finishing touches to a Warré hive (2011) and the updated  Completing your Warré hive 2012

1 - Bees keep their hive temperature at around 35oC. The varroa mite cannot breed above 33oC. By not opening the hive the temperature is maintained above the varroa's breeding temperature so keeping them to levels the bees can manage. Is it any wonder that conventional beekeeping with its 'pull it apart each week' inspections have problems?

2 - This is not strictly true as I will sugar dust them if they are opened like at the annual harvesting/winter prep period. I won't open the just to treat them. Dusting bees with icing sugar stimulates them to groom the sugar off. It also clogs the sticky pads the mite use to cling onto the bees so the grooming knocks then off. It's considered to be the most 'natural' friendly varroa treatment so worth doing if you have access to the bees for another reason.

3 - Never, under any circumstances, feed bees honey you have bought. Most UK honey is blended with honeys from around the world. It is not sterilised as heat ruins the honey so may contain disease spores and pesticide from other countries and could well introduce diseases into your hive and the area. This is a very real threat so DON'T DO IT.

4 - Sugar must be fed inside the hive or you risk attracting bees from other colonies who will rob out your bees and leave them without any stores.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 1

Part 1 - Getting Started

This 'Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive' section is divided into 5 parts:
  • Part 1 - Getting Started - this page
  • Part 2 - Constructing your hive body - quick link
  • Part 3 - Completing your hive - quick link
  • Part 4 - Making the top bars - quick link
  • Part 5 - Adding comb guides - quick link
On this page:
  • What is a horizontal top bar hive? 
  • Getting the plans 
  • Useful additions
      1. What is a horizontal top bar hive?
      A horizontal top bar hive is basically a long empty box which imitates the natural space bees might find in an empty tree trunk where the tree has fallen. 

      The majority of horizontal hives in the UK have sloping sides and are also known as Kenyan hives due to their prevalence in Kenya where they were reintroduced and developed as a cheap efficient hive alternative for subsistence farmers.  An alternative straight sided horizontal hive version, known as a Tanzanian hive, can also be used though this is not very popular in the UK where we have a cool climate. The sloping sides of a Kenyan hive allows the bees the maximum space to build their comb which they naturally hang in a catenary shape (see side picture) without requiring them to fill out the corners with comb to keep in the heat.

      In nature bees tend to choose to build their nests in conical rather than square shapes and the horizontal hive allows them to do this.

      Horizontal hives have been in use for thousands of years - there are even examples in use in ancient Egypt around 2400 BC - follow this link. For the past hundred years they fell out of popularity being for the most part replaced by the now near internationally standard hive developed in the USA in the Victorian era by Rev. Langstroth. The Langstroth hive with its UK variants the National, Smith, Commercial and WBC hives so efficiently allowed man to intensively farm bees for their honey and other hive products.

      It is only relatively recently that horizontal hives have started to enjoy an upsurge of popularity as we have become more in tune with natural methods and beekeepers began to question the intensive farming practices of the modern hive and attribute some of the bees recent health problems to its practices and equipment.

      Today beekeepers are looking at how we can simplify beekeeping and give the bees what they would choose for themselves to flourish rather than thinking 'we know best', intensively managing them and treating them as a commodity to exploit. The simplicity of the horizontal hive makes it an ideal choice for any beekeeper seeking to practice natural methods. Additionally it is simple and cheap to make so removing the necessity to harvest and sell as much honey as possible to recover the not inconsiderable investment in a Langstroth type hive.

      2. Getting the plans
      The most common top bar hive in use in the UK today is designed by Phil Chandler, a Devon beekeeper who has practiced horizontal top bar hive beekeeping for over seven years. Phil has made the plans to his simple hive design freely available for download on the internet and you can download his plans here and it is these plans that I will be using on these pages.

      He has also written the Barefoot Beekeeper which I consider to currently be the best book on managing and using the horizontal top bar hive which you can order on his website here for £12.98 (as at March 2010). f you are building and taking up horizontal top bar beekeeping then this publication should be on your bookshelf, or rather well thumbed beside your bed!

      3. Useful adaptations
      Whilst I shall be using Phil's top bar hive plans as our main guide I also suggest a couple of additional 'extras' which are outlined on these pages. These extras I have added on my own versions of his hives as I think they make it far easier for the novice beekeeper. The extras include:
      • a viewing window to allow you to peep at your bees for a quick check on progress without opening the hive, 
      • a removable sump floor. This can be used to hold a sawdust/leaf mix to replicate the base of a natural tree cavity. Other beneficial organisms such as earwigs and micro-organisms will inhabit this floor and provide a living ecosystem below the bees. The sump floor can also be used to fit a varroa removable mesh screen & tray to allow you to monitor varroa without opening the hive. NB: I no longer recommend varroa monitoring/treatment but you may feel differently. Also any varroa screen & tray must be removed when not monitoring as there should be no part of the hive that the bees can't reach. 
      • front/back rims to contain any empty top bars and allow the roof to be hinged for both convenience and to provide an additional barrier between you and the flying bees when you are carrying out full inspections. 
      • end entrances, rather than central, to make your inspections, management and harvesting easier. 

      Of course it will be for you to decide whether you wish to incorporate these adaptations into your own hive or not. The following directions presume that you will but if not just leave out the relevant bits.

      © Robin Morris - YABeeP 

      Go to Part 2 - Constructing your hive body

      Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 2

      Part 2 - Constructing the hive body

      (Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

      Please note that the parts of this page in cyan are still under construction. 

      On this page:
      • The choice of materials
      • Pre-cutting the parts
      • Assembling the body
      1. The choice of materials
      Let's bet back to basics. Sustainable beekeeping is primarily about giving the bees what they would naturally choose for themselves. A great principle we must try to keep to but given their first choice would probably be a tree trunk with a cavity inside which are not readily available let alone portable, we are going to have to make some compromises. Your hive should be made of wood to help replicate that tree but what wood to choose from all the varieties available can seem quite daunting.

      Your first choice may be between new timber and old. If it is available old timber will probably have weathered and have given off any gases or poisons it was treated with in the manufacturing process. Yes, most timber is treated before sale especially to protect it against wood boring insects and fungus attack; after all you wouldn't want your new window sill to get dry rot or woodworm when you have just replaced it. In all probability the majority of these 'treatments' will not directly harm the bees but you never know so you may choose to avoid them.

      If you can't find a source of old wood then reclaimed timber has certain 'sustainability' advantages; it's certainly good for the planet. I successfully make hives from old pallet wood which gives me a feeling of pride and is certainly cheap. However, old pallets do come with certain disadvantages. It can be hard to get pallets of the required thickness (at least 3/4 inch), there is certainly more work in using pallets as you have to disassemble them which is no easy task and then you have more pieces to work with making construction more challenging. You also need to be aware that pallets that carry international goods have to be treated with pesticides by law - again countries don't want foreign wood boring beasts and fungi to hitch a ride on an imported pallet. If you choose pallets it is best to try and choose older weathered pallets from 'one off' sales i.e. the manufacturer does not expect it to be returned. Of course your choice will be limited so again you may have to make compromises.

      If you choose new timber it will mostly be treated. Bear in mind there is generally 2 choices between indoor and outdoor use timber. Outdoor timber will be tanalised (pressure treated with chemical preservative) to protect it from the wet, insects and rot. This is good in that tanalised timber does not need constant treating and will take years to rot. On the other hand it will be wet from the tanalising process and retain some of the 'nasty' chemicals that the bees may reject and abscond or worse (!) for quite some time. If you choose outdoor timber make your hive in plenty of time before the season starts so that it can weather for a few months to give off its damp and chemical cocktail. Also newly tanalised wood will be wet and heavy.

      Indoor timber will still be treated and may not last outside without repeated treatments so is possibly the worst choice of all, then again if it available and cheap it may prove to be your personal best choice.

      Arguably the best is untreated timber. You can get it from timber merchants but you have to order it specially and it consequently tends to be more expensive. I've never quite worked out why natural untreated wood is more pricey than treated! Ideally use seasoned untreated timber but this is very difficult to find. If you use new untreated timber it does warp and can arrive slightly warped and split so can be a challenge to work with. Be sure to do your construction as soon after delivery as possible or the warping will continue. Once glued in place it is less likely to warp. One trick you can employ with new timber is to 'toast' the hive by brushing it with a blow-lamp before using it - see this YouTube video (Fast Forward to 2:35 mins). Apparently this process reduces the volatile compounds in odoriferous woods such as pine.

      Finally, conventional beehives are traditionally made from expensive harder woods. This is because they needed to be machine made to tight tolerances with expensive jointing so are very expensive. If you buy an expensive hive then you don't want it to rot quickly because it is made from a cheap material. Of course, if it is available to you these better timbers like red cedar are suitable to use.

      In the top bar hive world we don't need these expensive timbers as the hives are uncomplicated and made with simple butt joints. They are easy to paint and will last for years if kept off the ground away from rising damp. Cheaper timbers like spruce or pine are sufficient for our needs and if you are really unlucky you don't mind replacing a cheap hive with a new one after a few years if it only cost you a few pounds and was easy to make in the first place.

      As to costs I have made recycled pallet hives for just the cost of some glue, some screws and my time and what satisfaction these hive gave me. Alternatively I have made them using new timber from my local merchants for around £30 to £40 each. Compare that to a Thornes National at over £260 plus internals or an Omlet Beehause at £465!

      You need to base your decision on the above and what is easily and cheaply available to you - as I said it's a matter of making compromises.

      2. Pre-cutting the parts
      Follow the guidance in the Biobees plan you downloaded in part 1 of this section.

      3. Assembling the body
      Follow the guidance in the Biobees plan you downloaded in part 1 of this section.

      © Robin Morris - YABeeP 

      Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 4

      Part 4 - Making your Top Bars
      (Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

      The top bars are really the key ingredient of a horizontal top bar hive - for the bees, they make up the roof of the hive. You will, of course, have a second outer roof to form a waterproof covering against the rain and sun, but to the bees the bars form the solid roof of the hive and replicate the top of the tree cavity they would be occupying in nature. The top bars should therefore be made of natural wood and no other man made material. You also need to be sure to your own satisfaction that the wood used is chemical and poison free – i.e. contains no treatments, insecticides or fungicides! Weathered wood is ideal.

      I will mention in passing that some Top Bar Hive users are experimenting with curved bars or gapped bars with a Warre style hessian quilt covering which may, in time, give us more options. However, for the purpose of this guide which is written for those new to this style of beekeeping we will stick to the tried and tested design of straight top bars forming a solid roof.

      What size should your bars be?
      The length and depth of your bars is the easy part, but the width is crutial - see diagram aside.

      The Length meeds to be long enough to span the width of your hive plus an overlap. If you are building to the Barefoot Beekeeper plans this guide follows this will be 17”, no longer or they won't fit between the front/back roof frame which we recommend. Click on any image to enlarge it.

      Height is not particularly important but does need to be at least ¾” or 20mm. The thicker they are the more insulation they give but you can add insulation above by way of a Warré style quilt box, using wool carpet or other natural insulating material so I would suggest that thicker than 1½” starts to get impractical. The ¾“/20mm minimum ensures that the bars don't flex when lifted with a full comb of honey attached. Any flexing will cause new comb to break and the collapse into the hive – something you want to avoid.

      The crucial measurement is the Width of the bars as the races of bees we have in the UK build combs that, together with their bee space, require a gap of between 32 to 36 mm – this varies as bees build different width of comb depending on where in the colony it is in relation to the brood nest and the time of year it is built.

      I suggest that you make your top bars widths to one of the two ways as follows - though I'm sure that there are others methods:-

      The All Bars Equal method
      This way you make all your bars all the same width at approx 35mm each and rely on your starter strips, plus the occasional inspection to keep them lined up. Of course the bees don't read the manuals and therefore often don't play the game to our expectations so you will get some cross combing but you can either 'mange' this by breaking off  the ends of the comb and bending to correct it when you do your occasional inspection or by just live with some cross combing. 

      The Adjustable Width method
      This way cut your top bars at approx 32mm width but also cut matching 4mm spacer bars. You can then place the spacer bars between the top bars where the bees require more space and are starting to build comb between bars. This is certainly the more flexible approach and allows you to adjust your colony as it grows but the downside is that in order to do this you have to monitor their comb building closely and consequently you are more likely to open the hive more to check on progress and interfere with your bees more – not exactly sustainable/ethical bookkeeping practice!

      Even if you use the All Bars Equal method it's always useful to have a couple of 4mm spacer bars to correct the gap if a run of comb gets out of sync with your bars.

      The simplified method is certainly easier to make and probably will result in your interfering with your colony less. NB: If you want to really minimise your interference then you should consider converting to a Warré hive.

      Once you have bars cut you then need to add some form of comb starter guide to try and get the bees to build on the bars. To do this see the next page.

      © Robin Morris - YABeeP 

      (Go to Part 5 - Adding comb guides to your top bars)

      Part 5 - Adding Comb Guides

      (Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

      Whilst the flat roof of your hive, provided by a set of top bars, is all the bees need. However, without some kind of starter guide the bees will build their comb in whatever direction they want. Whilst this is fine for them it will produce a nightmare for you if their combs don't follow your top bars; it will make it near impossible for you to remove bars and carry out an inspection. It is common practice therefore to add starting guides to try and encourage the bees to build along you top bars. There are several methods you can use. Some folk swear by one method whilst others think others are best. My own experience suggests that they are all about as good or bad as each other so you can choose the one you find easies to make or try a variety and see for yourself.
      The various methods involve using either physical protrusions or bees wax or and are outlined below. However, please read the Warning at the foot of the page before buying any bee's wax.

      For most of these methods you will need a small supply of bees wax as bees are attracted to build comb from a bees wax starter – presumably they think another bee has started the comb and they continue down.

      1. Sawn Kerf Top Bar 
      This is probably the most commonly used and is relatively simple to make.

      Basically what you do is saw a line about 2mm wide and 1-2mm deep along the centre of each top bar – see Diagram. [Click on any picture to enlarge it]
      You then dribble melted bees wax along this cut line which once set forms your starter line – see Diagram.

      As bees are attracted to work from a bees wax starter it generally seems to work. You will of course need a small supply of reliably sourced bees wax

      2. Waxed String Top Bar
      Waxed string melted to the top bar
      Possibly the simplest design, this involves dipping a length of natural fiber string or twine into melted bees wax then immediately, whilst the wax is still molten, stretching the string out and holding it in position along the center of a plain top bar whilst the wax hardens and sticks to the bar – see Diagram E.
      You will find that using rough-sawn rather than planed wood helps the waxed string to adhere.

      3. The Starbucks starter 
      Wooden coffee stirers or lolly sticks
      My favourite as it's easy to make is to use a supply of the wooden coffee stirrers (like long thin lolly sticks) you get when you by a coffee at a Starbucks, Costa or other coffee outlet. Just run a line of glue along one edge and stick this to the centre of a standard top bar. If you use a proprietary wood glue you only need to rub a thin film along the stick then hold it to the top bar for around 30 seconds. Once the glue goes off it will be really strong. To get the sticks to come to near the edges of your hive you may need to overlap them as shown in Diagram F though this probably isn't really necessary.

      To finish this off just rub bees wax along the protruding edge when the glue has completely dried.

      4. Hanging bar starter
      The best option for comb guide
      a hTBK (Kenyan)
      Some top bar hive beekeepers have been having success in preventing cross comb by experimenting with physical protrusions hanging down from the roof of the hive. Perhaps this replicates the lumps and bumps that you might find inside a natural tree cavity or maybe bees like to start building comb from an appendage. If you want to try this then you need to fit some shims below your top bars as in the diagram aside which is similar to the Starbucks starter method but with more substantial shims..
      The shape of the shims is not overly important but it is suggested that they need to be around 6-8mm wide and hang down by at least 15-20mm and have a flattened bottom. Stick these on with glue and rub bees wax along the protruding edge as you would for the Starbucks method.
      2 x 6mm dowels adds
      lateral strength to the comb

      Adding 2 x 6mm (no wider) dowels protruding just 100mm below the top bar provides more lateral stability for the comb to help save breakage on inspection. If the dowels exceed 6mm width (here's that magic bee space again) then the bees won't incorporate them in the comb but will instead stop the comb at the bars.

      5. Gareth's rotating shim method 
      This method, which is undoubtedly the best, was shown to me by Gareth John who uses the tapered guides with dowels shown above, but also employs an additional trick - he uses rotating shims.

      Gareth's rotating shims shown in yellow
      (click picture to enlarge)
      Bees space their combs depending on what purpose they serve. In the brood area combs tend to be spaced about 35mm apart whereas in the honey storage area they are wider, at about 40mm. So rather than have all the bars the same 'average' width which generally tends to lead to some comb crossing bars, he cuts his bars narrower at 28mm width and uses 7x12mm shims. The shims can be placed upright in the brood area (28+7=35) and sideways in the honey area (28+12=40), see picture. As the base of the shims are not as deep as the top bar they further discourage the bees from cross combing - result!

      Not only does this provide an adaptable comb width which helps prevent cross combing, it also has a couple of other significant advantages. First, when you wish to inspect a comb you just need to remove the shims either side of the bar. It is then easy to extract that bar without the need to slide all the other bars along  to create a working space. The gap created by removing the shims means you don't end up scraping bees or comb against the next bars. This makes for far less disturbance of your bees. Secondly, when replacing the bar you can easily replace the comb bar first then add the shims after. As the shims are narrow they make it far easier to gently nudge the bees, who by now will certainly be peeping up and in the way, back into the hive - you are far less likely to squash any bees - double result!

      6. Bait Hive method
      This method I developed for use in bait hives - small hives set out to try and attract passing swarms. The bait hives in question had top bars to fit a horizontal hive of the dimensions we are using here, but also had to be adaptable enough to allow the any bees caught to be transferred to a smaller Warré hive with minimal disturbance. The trick employed was to screw a Warré top bar with 2 short screws to the underside of the main horizontal top bar - see diagram. This way if the bar was subsequently transferred into a horizontal hive it just went straight in. However, if it needed to go into a Warré hive I just place it on the empty Warré box, then unscrew the two screws releasing the Warré bar and then easily took away the main horizontal bar. 
      For use in a bait hive .
      Warré bars below, attached from so can be released
      from above to drop into a Warré hive 
      By placing these bars in a horizontal hive I discovered that they made excellent starter bars. I suppose they are a cross between the Starbucks and Hanging bar methods above.

      All you need to do to complete these starter bars is rub bee's wax on the underside of the Warré bar as a starter.

      7. And finally.....
      The choice of what kind of starter you make is yours. In my opinion Garth's rotating shims is the nearest thing to a magic answer. However, bees don't read the books so will cross the bars in all types some of the time. If you really can't decide then I would suggest that you make the starters you find easiest to produce depending on your carpentry skills or materials you have to hand. Of course you could try making some of each type and experiment to see what kind works best for your bees. After all beekeeping is a learning process and we can all learn from your results!

      Note: You can download models of these top bars in the Google's excellent free Sketchup 3D drawing programme. Download a free copy of Sketchup here.

      WARNING about sourcing your bee's wax You need to be aware that there are risks involved when using bee's wax from an unknown source, i.e. any but your own. The wax in a hive absorbs chemicals and microbes from its environment. If the beekeeper supplying the wax used chemical treatments on his/her bees then this will present in the wax, or if the hive was diseased then it will carry microbes from the disease. Ask yourself – 'Do I really want diseased or poisoned wax in my hive?' 

      Unfortunately, it has now been shown that bees wax contains traces of any pesticides used on crops or plants that the bees were foraging on. This is beyond the control of the beekeeper but will be at increased levels where the beekeeper lived near to, or moved his/her bees to take advantage of, a large monoculture crop such as oil seed rape, etc. where you can pretty much bet that systemic pesticides (the worst!) were used on the planted crop.

      When starting out in beekeeping you won't have your own supply so you are best getting it from a very local beekeeper, one that you feel you can trust. You could even ask them what treatments they used on their bees and make your decision depending on the answer. I would strongly recommend that you do not buy wax or foundation (bees wax pre stamped in honeycomb shaped sheets for use in a conventional hive frame) from a large supplier or a local beekeeper acting as an agent for such a supply. This will have been sourced from around the world an who knows what nasties or foreign diseases are in it? 

      Robin Morris
      © YABeeP 

      Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 3

      Part 3 - Completing your horizontal hive
      (Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

      On this page:
      • Fitting varroa tray & drawer 
      • Fitting the window 
      • Making a roof 
      • Attaching the legs 
      • Treating the outside 
      • Making/preparing the Top bars 
      • Adding a landing board 
      • Weathering your hive
      1. Fitting the varroa tray & drawer
      If you wish to monitor for varroa you will need to fit a varroa tray and draw below your hive.

      NB:  2012 Update - I no longer recommend the fitting of varroa screens in hives as I believe that monitoring varroa is unnecessary; all it tells you is how many dead varroa are falling to the floor. Many interpret this as a rise in varroa infection so open their hive and treat their bees. However, it may also just mean the bees are getting effective at killing varroa - if you open the hive and disturb the bees with treatments you could actually be knocking back their good progress. If you don't monitor, you won't be panicked into a 'what shall I do?' situation - trust your bees!

       If you do make add a varroa screen, make sure that the mesh screen is removable or include an access point in the screen that the bees can use to get under the screen if they wish. Without this you provide a space in the colony that the bees cannot access, which is where wax moth and other nasties are able to breed and harm your bees. Let the bees police and deal with problems in all parts of their colony.

      I do, however, recommend that you fit the tray floor shown below (with all four sides added without removable varroa tray) as you can then sprinkle a small layer of sawdust and dry leaves there. This allows other beneficial microbes and insects to set up home providing a natural hive ecosystem.

      The tray has 3 sides attached, the fourth is loose so you can attach it to your tray – more on this below.

      The tray should be attached to the bottom of the hive. You can just screw it to the bottom if you wish, but the best solution is to attach it using 2 hinges as in the diagram as this will also allow you both look up into the colony from below should you need to check and also pump icing sugar up if you get high varroa levels. In extreme hot weather you could also open the floor to ventilate the hive though you must bear in mind that doing so will interfere with the colony's management - personally I would NOT recommend opening for ventilation as bees understand the thermodynamics of a hive far better than we can ever hope to and have managed on their own for >30m years without our help.

      Attach the hinges so it swings towards the front (the non-window side) and get a simple hook and eye clip from your hardware shop to attach the swinging end closed.

      Now cut a piece of thin material (hardboard, plastic sheeting as used in 'house for sale' signs, etc.) to fit inside the tray to make the drawer. Attach one end of the draw to the forth side so when it is closed the tray has 4 sides closing it – see picture. You can then slide out the tray to monitor varroa, a subject which we will cover at a later meeting.

      2. Fitting the window 
      This presumes that you have already cut a window slot in the back of your hive during construction - i.e. the opposite side to the bees entrance. Now cut a piece of glass or perspex to neatly fit inside this hole with just a couple of millimetres at most to spare around it.

      Now get some dowelling about 1/4” square (shown in yellow on side sketch - click to enlarge) to stick/tack around the inside of the window. Position the dowel in place so that it is twice the thickness of the perspex measured from the INSIDE of the hive. Then put a bead of sealant (green) around this dowling and sit the perspex (blue) on it so that it is flush with the inside wall of the hive – in the sketch the inside of the hive is on the right.

      Finally fit a window cover to keep the window closed and the bees in the dark where they like to be. You simply need to cut a piece of timber at least 12mm wider than the window on all sides, attach it with 2 hinges at the bottom then use a bolt or catch on the top to keep it closed - see picture below.

      3. Making a roof
      There are many designs and you need to choose your own – how simple or fancy you make it is up to you. To see some examples do a 'Google image' search using “top bar hive roof” and you'll see many options.

      For all roof types you need a simple 4 sided frame that fits on the sides and front/back rims of your hive body – I suggest that this frame need to be a minimum of 3” high to allow space for winter insulation and keeping tools, etc. inside your hive. The simplest design just attaches a flat sheet to the top of this frame to give a flat roof. If you want a pitch roof then make the ends to give the slope or shape you choose. However you construct it make sure that your roof overhangs the frame by at lease 2” to 3" all around to keep the rain away from the hive body.

      You can use any material for the roof from plastic sheet, 'for sale' signage, through hardboard and felt to timber or slate tiles or even thatch – use your imagination! I recommend that you hinge it at the front (i.e. the side the bees use) so when the roof is lifted you have an additional barrier between you and the flying bees.

      4. Attaching the legs 
      The hives are quite heavy so you need substantial legs to support it. I suggest 2”x2” or 3”x2” legs which you need to bolt or glue & screw to the sides as shown in the illustration. I use the brace pieces from pallets as they are strong, free and environmentally friendly as you are recycling.

      In my view bolting the legs to the hive is preferable as it is more secure and allows them to be removed to ease transporting should you ever need to move your hive. You can also loosen the bolts and adjust the rake of individual legs to compensate for uneven ground.

      Finally,  stand the legs on brick rather than grass to help prevent damage from damp. If you have a major ant or similar insect problem (not common in UK) then stand each leg in a pot of recycled oil to provide a protective moat.

      5. Weather treating the outside 
      Only treat the outside of the hive, the bees take care of the inside themselves far better than we could with a coat of propolis and other bee products. As new timber is often damp from it's treatment and storage before you bought it, for example it may still be wet from the tanalising (pressure treatment) process, I wouldn't recommend treating the outside until it has had at least one month to dry out after your manufacture.

      Once you are happy that it is sufficiently dry and aired then you can treat the outside if you wish to protect it from the elements or even decorate it, though many modern timbers don't need treating as their manufacture gives the timber the protection it needs. If you wish to colour your hive then use a plant friendly wash – the kind you can spill on plants without it harming/burning them – a lot of modern fence/shed treatments are suitable or use a whitewash. Remember some external emulsions have fungicides added to stop mould growth so best not to use them – read the tin before using. Also many gloss finishes won't let the hive timber 'breathe'.

      Painting colours/patterns around the bees entrance can be fun and is believed by some to help them recognise home though I've yet to see a naturally painted tree in the wild!

      6. Making/preparing the Top bars 
      The top bars are the key part of your horizontal top bar hive (the clue's in the name!) so two further pages have been added to this section advising on their preparation. I suggest that you finish you hive first so that it can start weathering before making the top bars. However, if you are in a rush to make them go to Part 4 here.

      7. Adding a landing board
      Let me be clear the bees don't need a landing board for their own use as they will happily fly straight in or land on the hives overhanging side without a second thought. However, if you think you will enjoy watching and photographing your bees they will happily alight on a landing board if fitted so it makes a useful addition for your benefit to observe your bees. You can also paint your boards different colours if you have more than one hive to save them any confusion as to which hive they have arrived at!

      To fit a landing board just glue & screw a small board about 1” x 6” x ½” immediately below the main entrance holes as in the illustration.

      8. Weathering your hive 
      As stated above new timber can still be damp or have chemical residues from its manufacture and storage process. It is therefore very important to allow it to dry out and vent off any noxious gasses in the wood, glue and any sealant you use to fit the window  before the bees go in - in other words it needs to weather. Ignore this stage at your peril or you risk your new bees absconding or worse being poisoned.

      To weather your hive simply place it outside as soon as you have made the main body, you don't need to wait until you've built the roof as rain won't hurt it, in fact it will help vent gasses as it wets then dries after rainfalls. Leave the floor tray hanging open to further assist ventilation. It may also be useful to leave sticking in the window glass/perspex until last so that the air can circulate through the open hole.

      Once you have made your roof you can fit it and the hive should start to fully dry out. The longer it gets before the bees go in the better. Once fully weathered you are now ready for your bees.

      © Robin Morris - YABeeP

      (Go to Part 4 - Making your Top Bars

      Tuesday 22 February 2011

      About the Author

      I have just realised that, although I was the main force behind starting YABeeP and write the great majority of the content on this site, there is nothing on here about me and my credentials for my work with YABeeP, so here goes..........

      Who am I?
      My name is Robin Morris, the good looking one (!!!!) in the picture....
      Skype Emoticons

      My interest in bees
      I have had a life-long fascination with insects and bees in particular. In the last few years I have also become much more aware of environmental issues and the damage that we as humans are doing to our planet. This increased environmental awareness further triggered my interest in bees and the thought of keeping bees myself.

      Having a reasonable sized garden, approaching early retirement and having a supportive wife who has a similar curiosity about beekeeping we decided to do something about it in the summer of 2008 by doing some research. I like to understand a subject before committing so, knowing no beekeepers, books were loaned from the library and I did much surfing of the internet.

      Through this research I learned about the complexities, huge time commitment and considerable expense of modern day intensive beekeeping. Being quite practical I started looking into ways to save some of these costs by building my own hive when I happened upon websites explaining natural beekeeping. I read into this more and was hooked! This cheap and simplistic approach where the needs of the bees is seen as more important than exploiting them for a cash-crop all made so much sense – it ticked all my environmental boxes. I determined to make myself a couple of top bar hives and get started.

      My Beekeeping Experience
      By August two hives were ready and, with some help from a friend I had made on the Natural Beekeeping Network (aka Biobees Forum), two swarms were installed – I was a beekeeper.

      As there were no natural beekeeping groups around I joined my local Beekeeping Association, though I have to say that having decided to be a natural beekeeper this was far from easy. My local branch just didn't want to know so I went to the next nearest where, although I was genuinely welcomed by most of the membership, I was vilified for my decision by its self appointed queen bee and honey farmer leader. I stood my ground and started to learn from them. Some of what I learned about bees was good, though everything I learned about their modern day intensive management methods only served to confirm to me that I had made the right choice with natural beekeeping.

      So why start a Bee Group?
      In 2009 I was forced to leave this Association when, on principle, I refused to rejoin the BBKA following their decision to continue endorsing the pesticide industry. I explained that I was happy to pay the full fee to my local association on condition that it all stayed with them, but they were not interested in creating a new membership category just for 'rebels' like me so I had no choice than to leave.

      Meanwhile, because I had been active on the Natural Beekeeping Network soaking up all the information I could I was invited to become a Moderator on their internet forum. My involvement in the forum convinced me that there should be enough demand to start a local group so what had I got to loose? I hadn't needed beekeeping 'expertise' to start as a beekeeper myself as I'd relied on the forum for support. I  therefore thought that we wouldn't need it for a group; again we could get all the global support we needed from this wonderful online community. What was needed was someone local with a passion for change which I was more than happy to supply.

      Consequently I got some posters put up on my Parish Council notice boards and spread the word on the forum and in March 2009 YABeeP was born. From this limited advertising  plus word-of-mouth publicity we had 25 people turn up to our fist meeting and were off and flying!
      Facebook smileys

      So as you can see I'm no bee expert with a long history of hives or beekeeping qualifications. I don't need to be to run a self-help peer group. Indeed I believe that the beekeeping exams that modern day beekeepers take mostly reflect their intensive bee-farming practices which we sustainable beekeepers totally reject. I want to keep bees not exploit them.

      What I do have is a good knowledge of Sustainable Beekeeping practices and Top Bar Hives. Not only have I learned through the forums and my own four hives (two Warré and two horizontal hives) but through the experiences of the 30 or so hives that our members now run and report back on at meetings. Add to this a growing knowledge of bumble and solitary bees through our project work which surpasses what most Beekeeping Associations know as they don't seem interested in bees that don't produce a cash crop.

      In addition our group now boasts very experience beekeepers with a wealth of knowledge who have themselves turned away from the modern day intensive beekeeping they were taught as they believe this 'one size fits all' approach has become unsustainable.

      What I bring is a passion for spreading the word about Natural Beekeeping and I make no apologies for that.

      I also take great pride that YABeeP also supports the bumbles and solitary bees.

      Robin Skype Emoticons
      Enjoying our bees