A Hive Full of Cracks

I noticed yesterday there’s significant gap between the bottom and top deep as well as between the top deep and the inner cover of one of my hives. Here are some photos:

Enough space between the inner cover and top deep to slip in my car key. (July 31, 2015.)

I noticed the crack between the deeps when I first installed the top deep:

Enough space between deeps to easily slip in my pocket knife. (July 31, 2015.)

Thinking it was the new top deep, I switched it with another one but the same gap (or crack) still appeared. Which leads me to conclude that the top edge of the bottom deep isn’t flat. And who knows what’s happening with the crack beneath the inner cover. The inner cover might be warped. I hope that’s all it is, because that’s one big massive crack.

I’m used to dealing with some cracks between the hive components from time to time. Most of the cracks provide ventilation that doesn’t hurt the bees. But the cracks in this hive are a bit much. I’ll probably fill them in with duct tape once I’m done tearing the hives apart for the year. Completely replacing all the deeps and inner covers with ones that still might not fit tightly together — I can’t be bothered. I have no interest in messing with the bees that much at this time of year.

Do other beekeepers worry about cracks?

Preview of Do-It-Yourself Escape Boards

Escape boards are used to separate the bees from the honey, kind of a necessary step before harvesting honey. So… I went ahead and made myself some escape boards, also known as clearer boards and possibly known as bee escapes. Here’s a shot of the first one I made:

2014-10-07 17.17.37

And it only took me three and a half hours. I didn’t have a model to copy or plans to follow. I sort of smacked them together on the spot using nothing but my brain and some pitiful carpentry skills. The next three boards took about 30 minutes each and the final collection looked like this:

2014-09-29 18.35.34

I won’t post a video or any plans that show how I made the escape boards yet because I want to make sure they work first and I’d rather fine tune the process before I say, “Hey kids, follow me!” This post is just a preview of what’s to come.
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Colour Blind Beekeeping Tip #1

If you’re a colour blind beekeeper who keeps dropping your hive tools in the grass, here’s a little trick that should help you spot said hive tool in the grass: YELLOW DUCT TAPE.



I should have taken a photo of one of the hive tools in the grass so people who are colour blind can see how well the yellow stands out, but you get the idea. Blue isn’t bad either, but yellow creates an excellent contrast.

DIY Honey Extractor

I’m more of a bee-visitor than a beekeeper these days. The most fun I had this past summer was when I made a 4-frame extractor with a friend of mine. I’m not posting the plans for it because it’s a prototype and the design has some minor flaws that need to be corrected first. But it works and is easily worth the $120 I spent on it. Here’s a demo video of its maiden voyage:

By the way, the heating gun method of uncapping the honey works great. No fuss, no muss and way cheaper than an uncapping knife.

AUGUST 13/14: I just uploaded these photos of the extractor for anyone who wants to try to figure out how I built it, though I don’t recommend it.

August 15/15: I trashed the DIY extractor and bought a professionally made extractor instead, the Maxant 3100p:

Maxant 3/6/9 Honey Extractor, Model 3100P. (August 12, 2015.)

Maxant 3/6/9 Honey Extractor, Model 3100P. (August 12, 2015.)

The Annoying Beekeeper’s Jacket

I wish we had a beekeeping supply store in Newfoundland so I could try on bee suits and jackets before I bought them. I have two beekeeping suits, one with an attached hood, one without. Both are supposedly exactly the same size, but one of them rides a little tight when I bend over or bend down. Very annoying. I keep that one around for guests who are shorter than me. I also have a hooded jacket that looks like this when I spread it out on our back deck at 5:30pm:

The jacket is my go-to suit now because the full bee suits are human-cooking machines when the sun is out. Here’s a tip for beginners: strip down to your underwear if you can before you put on a full suit. Because if you’re in it for more than 15 minutes on a hot a summer day, you’ll be sticky and stewed in your sweat by the time you get out of it.
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Notes on Warré

I recently read Beekeeping For All (8mb PDF), by Abbé Warré. He’s the guy who designed the “People’s Hive,” also known as the Warré hive. To condense what I said in a previous post, it’s a top bar and therefore foundationless hive with small, square shaped hive boxes, no top entrance and a quilt box on top to absorb moisture. Boxes are added to the bottom of the hive, not the top — the bees build comb downwards as they would in nature. Honey is harvested from back-filled brood comb at the top of the hive. Warré called it the People’s Hive because it’s cheap and easy to build and maintain. The beekeeper need only add boxes to the bottom to prevent swarming, which is done without opening the hive or disturbing the brood nest. The Warré hive, perhaps more than any other hive, emulates the conditions of a natural honey bee hive.

Photo by David Heaf from warre.biobees.com
(used with permission).

From what I can tell, the hive is designed to minimize interference from the beekeeper. The only time it’s opened is when honey boxes are removed from the top (at most, twice a year). That fact, along with the absence of a top entrance, helps concentrate the queen’s pheromones throughout the hive, which supposedly results in calmer bees. The regular rotating out of old comb from the top also means the brood are more likely to be healthy because they’re always raised in new, clean, natural sized comb.

Another key feature is the small square sided hive boxes. The height of each box is slightly less than a typical Langstroth, but the sides are each 30cm long (about 12 inches). The square shape allows for more even heat distribution and requires less work from the bees. Warré also claims that bees in a smaller, more natural sized brood chamber consume less honey over winter and are therefore less likely to starve before spring.

I’m not yet convinced that any kind of foundationless hive will do well in the exceptionally wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’ve only been at this for, what, 611 days, so I still have more than a lot to learn. But some aspects of the Warré design, such as the small brood nest area, seem to make more sense than the conventional Langstroth design, and I’m tempted to integrate them into some of my own hives.

I don’t agree with all of Warré’s claims. In some cases that’s because I don’t have the experience to know what’s what either way. In other cases I can confidently disagree because I know his observations are based on his local climate in France that has no correlation to my local climate where the bees do different things at different times of the year. Nevertheless, I think he came up with a thoughtful design and method that might appeal to beekeepers who aren’t so intent on the consistent hive manipulation that’s synonymous with many beekeeping practices today.

Note: This is an unusually long post, probably not much interest to general readers. I promise I won’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis. But I’ve been out of commission with a weird, rotten flu and I don’t have anything better to do. So without further adieu, here are some notes I wrote while I read the book on my Kindle:
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A Combo Bottom Board

I got creative this summer and built a solid bottom board and a screened bottom board from scrap wood in my shed. I can’t continue to use either of them for long because the wood I used is old and half rotted and I’m afraid the boards will collapse under the weight of the hives during the winter, and around here that means damp and soggy, great conditions for softening up old plywood. So I went ahead and got more creative with my limited carpentry skills and woefully inadequate tools (or maybe it’s the other way around), and I built a new and improved sturdy bottom board that is both screened and solid. I won’t have a chance to put it into action this year, but I’ll show it off anyway. Here it is as a screened bottom board:

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Improvised Screened Inner Cover


I noticed the bees fanning the humidity from one of the hives today and thought, “I wish I had a screened inner cover for that hive.” So I built one. (They’re also known as ventilated inner covers.) I had already built a rim or eke, constructed exactly like a ventilator rim, but only about two inches high and no holes in the sides. I simply cut an entrance at one end and stapled on some screen. It looks like this:

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