Do-It-Yourself Escape Boards

June 2019 Introduction: I’ve been using these homemade escape boards since 2014 and they work. They would probably work better if I used “#8 hardware cloth” (the standard mesh used by beekeepers for most things requiring ventilation), but #8 hardware cloth seems to be an American invention; whenever I ask for it in hardware stores, nobody knows what I’m talking about. Then I try to explain what it is and what I want it for and they usually look at me like I’m talking in tongues. So I don’t even bother trying anymore. I just buy regular metallic screen mesh (the plastic stuff disintegrates quickly).

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.

DuctTape01

DuctTape02

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.

Another pro tip: When I’m done for the day, I just leave my hive tool on top of a hive. That way I always know where I left it, though dropping it on the ground and even inside a hive is not unheard for me. I’m pretty goofy with my hive tools.

Uncapping With a Heat Gun + DIY Extractor

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 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.

Hacking a Beekeeper’s Jacket

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 my back deck at 5:30pm in April:

The jacket is my go-to suit now because the full bee suits are human-cooking machines when the sun is out.
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The Warré Hive

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. 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 supposedly 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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Homemade Bottom Board

I made this bottom board from scrap wood I found in my shed today:

Bottom boards made from scrap lumber. I’m so proud of myself. (August 12, 2011.)

I cut the thick plywood 16.5 inches wide (about 42cm) and 2 feet long (70cm). The brace wood, if you want to call it that, was the same dimensions as a super, 20 inches by about 15 inches, something like that. The hive entrance (once a hive is placed on top) is about 1 and a quarter inches high, which is fine. It’s not pretty but the bees don’t care about pretty. I think it’ll work. I’ll post a photo of it in a day or two when I put a hive on top of it. I should have been making these all along. It’s way cheaper than ordering them from a supplier and having them shipped here. If you had to pay for the raw material, though, I’m guessing it would be less than $5.

February 9th, 2013: This bottom board has worked out fine. It’s ugly and half rotted now, but the bees don’t seem to care. Today I would use thick plywood instead of chipboard, and I’d paint it, but there’s nothing wrong with getting by with one made from cheap scrap wood.

January 20th, 2015: Don’t lay this flat-bottom bottom board on a pallet or any kind of flat surface (like a pallet), if that makes sense. The wood can easily become moist, and you don’t want moisture in the hive. You want the hive off the ground, but preferably with something that makes minimal contact with the bottom board. And by “you,” I mean me.

Improving Ventilation in a Langstroth Hive with the Patented World-Famous Mud Songs Ventilation Rim™

I’ve since converted all of my fabulously patented ventilation rims into moisture quilts. See the updates at the end for more details. And of course I’m joking about the trademark… and the patent. A fun update: It’s 2021 and I’m still using the same rim, the act one shown in this post, though I don’t use moisture quilts as much as I used to.

I made some improvements to the design of my ventilation rim (also known as a ventilation eke; also known as a vent box; also known as a whole bunch of other things because beekeepers are the worst for settling on a single name for one thing). It’s still cheap and easy to make and should do a fine job at improving the ventilation of any Langstroth-type hive. First, I cut four pieces of wood for the front, back and sides of the rim. Here’s a shot of the side pieces:

Side pieces for the ventilation rim.


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Making and Using a Ventilator Rim

Well, not really making a ventilator rim. I already made it and it looks like this:

My first ventilator rim. (August 2, 2011.)

Like the name implies, it provides ventilation for the hive. And as far as I know, it’s good to have on the hive any time of the year, though for the winter I might stick with my insulated inner hive covers. They worked out well this past winter.
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Building and Using Follower Boards

It’s February 21st, 2019. I’ve rewritten this post because it was too long. Follower boards are used to prevent swarming and help regulate ventilation inside the hive.

Imagine a regular deep frame. Then imagine it has thin flat board in it instead of foundation or comb. Then imagine it’s half the width of a regular frame. That’s a follower board. My first homemade follower board looked like this:

In a typical 10-frame deep, one frame is removed and the follower boards are placed on the edges. So you’ve got a follower board, 9 regular frames, and then another follower board. Every deep in the brood chamber is configured in this way. Here’s what my first two follower boards looked like installed in a regular deep super:


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Frame Feeders Have Arrived

I plan to install these frame feeders as soon as possible. They arrived today from BeeMaid. The feeders have bee ladders: tubes of plastic mesh the bees crawl down as a way of drinking the syrup without drowning in it. The feeders hold 7 litres of syrup and take up the space of two frames in the brood chamber. (7 litres = 1.85 US gallons.)

My Boardman feeders attract ants, wasps and even big ugly slugs. (The Boardman feeders also encourage robbing at times from other bees.) It’s not a problem for the bees in Hive #1 because their numbers are so high, they can take care of themselves. But Hive #2 is weaker and having wasps around probably doesn’t help.

Not having to poke around the hives as much may be another advantage of switching to frame feeders. Hive #1 sucks up about a litre of syrup from the Boardman feeder every three days. If the bees continue at that pace, it could take them up to three weeks to empty 7 litres from the frame feeder, though we’ll likely refill it every two weeks after regular inspections regardless. (UPDATE: The bees drink much faster from the frame feeders. I should have had these things in from the start.)

2-frame frame feeder with bee ladders outside to show how it works. (September 6, 2010.)


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Assembling My First Beehive

It’s November 2018. I’m slowly rewriting this blog and this is the first post from the very beginning that I’ve decided not to delete. The original post from May 2010 was a bunch of photos of me smacking together my first hive with nails and glue. Not much to see, really. Not much to talk about either because most people starting out will buy pre-cut wooden hive components just like I did and simply nail or screw them together. It takes a lot of work to goof it up seeing how there’s only one way the pieces fit together. So I won’t bother with detailed instructions. I’ll briefly touch on hive design instead, explain some confusing terminology and then show how all the hive pieces go together.

New beekeepers have more than a few types of hives to choose from. Some include Warré hives, horizontal top bar hives, vertical Langstroth-type hives and even skeps for those ready to dive off the deep end. But hey, whatever turns your crank. I was initially attracted to the so-called natural approach to beekeeping promoted by Warré and top bar hive beekeepers, but I’m not sure there’s such a thing as natural beekeeping because when you get right down to it, beekeeping by definition is unnatural, just like carrots growing in a row is unnatural. We’re harnessing a force of nature. That doesn’t make it natural. Beekeeping, gardening, all those outdoors things, can create a more personal connection to nature, but I’m wary of calling it natural. In any case, looking back, I’m glad I chose a type of hive that has a good track record in my local climate, which happens to be the totally unnatural Langstroth hive, the most commonly used hive in North America. It looks something like this:


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