Hardwood Hive

Hardwood hive in situ June 2022. Pictured with Clematis montana along the fence, Cornus kousa “China girl” top left, Prunus incisa bottom left, Rhododendron bottom right

The hardwood hive is another modified Golden hive using Einruambeute frames and includes a Warre style quilt and inspection hatch. As this was the third hive I built, there were a few modifications I made from the experience of building the previous two hives. Like the Manchester hive, I used rough-sawn timber for the inner walls as this resulted in very good propolisation compared to the plywood walls of the Cherry hive. The narrow-end inner walls remained made of 12mm hardwood ply for ease of measurement (to allow for bee spacing, the width of the narrow walls needed to be 301mm). Bracing of 38mm thickness was then built around the inner hive, allowing for insulation. This was done sparingly to maximise insulation and minimise weight of the chassis compared with the Manchester hive. The dimensions of the inner cavity allows for 20 ERB frames with an approximately 12cm deep void at the bottom. The bottom was also made of plywood. 50mm wool insulation was used. This could easily be squeezed into the 38mm space. The outer shell was made with 12mm hardwood ply. Hardwood ply has better weather resistance compared to normal ply. They did not have marine ply available when I was building, otherwise this would have been even better.

The entrance holes were drilled cold way for this hive. This was purely due to practical reasons as we knew exactly where we wanted to place the hive in the garden. Two Warre style quilts were constructured with 75mm depth and hessian bottoms. Below them, a synthetic propolis screen. Hessian is a naturally-occuring alternative but requires starching. The roof unit is gabled, and sits on top of and covers the Warre quilts. The roof itself was made of scrap polycarbonate, secured using roofing buttons which allows the screws and their holes to be waterproof. An alternative would be to use phenolic resin plywood, but these are expensive.

The Hardwood hive was finished with Osmo basecoat followed by Osmo UV protection oil. It sits on top of low density blocks, in our front garden alongside a fence. Propolis was rubbed onto the inner walls and old brood comb was tied to several frames to act as attractants and starter combs.

Journal

2022

The hive was put out in January 2022. Propolis was rubbed on the inner surfaces and several frames of old brood comb were inserted. A single entrance was opened in March 2022 awaiting a swarm or a transfer of a swarm.

17 May 2022

The sky peppered with bees. A spectacular display of organisation, solidarity and unity. Heard before they were seen, a mighty swarm descended from the South,

“A swarm is coming,” I whispered as I looked up, searching for a visual confirmation of that familiar growl my ears recognised. I had Lydia our two year old daughter with me.

Then I saw them, racing towards the house, past the Southwest corner towards the patio. The lowest of them brushed my hair, but the highest I could not make out. Some of the bees got side-tracked by the identical swarm trap on the Western wall of the house as they zoomed past the patio. It had already been inundated by a good quorum of scouts earlier that day, so I knew a swarm was imminent. In fact, there was even the “calm before the storm”, when presumably the scouts returned to the swarm to guide them, manifesting in a dramatic decrease in scout activity at the trap. After they skimmed past the patio, the entire garden was filled with a melee. They were loud, seemingly chaotic and determined. Even though they zoomed around at head height, none of the bees got caught in my hair. Lydia, marvelled by the fanastic display, raised the piece of wood she was playing with in squeals of “honey. bee! honey. bee!”. For ten minutes they filled the sky like a plague of locusts. The neighbours came round to witness the natural phenomenon, but we could not stay through the entire matinee as Miriam needed picking up from school.

When we got back from the school run, the cluster continued to slowly enter the swarm trap, but the extravagent throng of insects had calmed to a civilised queue and took several more hours to completely enter the trap. By 5pm, orientation flights began, but we needed to feed the girls and get them to bed before handling the swarm, so they had to wait.

At 8pm, after the girls had gone to bed, I climbed up a ladder, closed the entrance (there were still a handful of bees on the disc), cam-strapped the lid and took it down. It felt heavy. Since I tend to write the tare weights of my swarm traps on the back wall, I knew this was 5.9kg, but I did not believe the scales when it read at 10.6kg, on several attempts. I questioned the accuracy of my tare weight. The hardwood hive was prepared by moving the follower board and frames (although on retrospect I probably should have fixed the follower board and put the frames out of the hive). The weather was not fantastic, with drizzles and short bursts of showers.

Putting the trap on top of the open Hardwood hive, I lifted the lid and remarked on their size. After I shook the lid, the bees landed with a thud and immediately started to crawl up the walls. Next the box was inverted and a further two thuds were heard before I noticed the bees had made it up the walls to the rim of the hive and were crawling out! This was when I realised the weighing scale was right and I had underestimated the size of this swarm. I had to work quickly. First I brushed the bees off the rim into the hive, then I replaced the frames, which felt tighter than I remembered due to the sheer number of bees. Before they could run out again, I opted to close the hive rapidly, leaving the follower board far from the last frame (I went back in later that evening to replace it with another follower board and got stung).

A potted plant was put near the entrance and the box was leaned against the entrance to allow the stragglers to run in. I stayed around for about an hour after that, but there was still a significant cluster at the bottom of the trap, so I decided to revisit in the morning. However, the small cluster remained even in the morning, so I was forced to shake them out again, this time on a plank I placed leading to the entrace. As soon as I did this, they started running in and signalling to the others.

The empty swarm trap was re-weighed, and as usual, the machine was right and I was wrong: the swarm was 4.9kg! I should’ve listened when the neighbours said “this one looks much bigger than the swarm last week [which was 2.5kg]”.

Over the next couple of days, the bees seemed very settled, with both orientation flights and foraging. We were convinced that they would not abscond, so the swarm traps were eventually replaced up on the walls of the house and the potted plant at the entrace removed. Now we let them organise their home (with some restriction about furniture placement by us I guess).

10 June 2022

Just over 3 weeks after installation of the 5kg swarm, we inspected the Hardwood hive. We had already observed good foraging activity at the hive entrance, along with orientation flights, since installation.

There were 8 frames. All were almost fully drawn, with some uncapped honey and lots of brood. There were capped drone cells on one frame. There was a bit of cross comb at the edges of 2 frames. This was corrected. 1 frame contained comb which protruded out towards the edge, causing the adjacent frame to have incomplete comb towards the top bar. Plenty of propolis was seen on both the walls of the hive and the top cloth. The bees were calm. We did not see the queen. 2 frames were added according to Les Crowder’s alternating method. Total 10 frames.

27 June 2022

Limited inspection to see if more space needed. Bees had already started building comb beyond the follower board, perpendicular to the frames. There were two virgin combs of about 6-7cm diameter and two combs of 3cm diameter, partially filled with honey. These were removed and placed at the bottom of the hive for the bees to recycle. There was an additional piece of broken comb which had dropped at the previous inspection, at the bottom of the hive. The bees had actually started filling this up with honey and even built some comb upwards. This was also removed from the hive. All 10 frames were drawn and partially filled. 3 frames were added to make 13 frames. No further inspection required.

05 July 2022

Limited inspection. Some cross comb which needed to be removed and corrected. Some were buttered. Previous comb built beyond follower board was now removed. 2 further frames added. 15 frames in total.

18 July 2022

At this time of the year, the hives kick their drones out. This is done for several reasons. They are no longer required. The mating season has generally passed. Heating the hive is less of a priority since environmental temperatures are high. Honey is being stored for winter, and fewer bees in the hive means less consumption and more storage. So unfortunately, the drones are left for dead. The robins and goldcrests pick off the weak drones to feed their young in the hedge. Wasps descend and in a cruelly fascinating manner eat the drones alive. The abdomen of the drone, half eaten, exposes its pale white intestinal tract and milky organs, and is hungrily consumed, as if like sweet nectar, by the wasp, thankful for the bountiful harvest which mother nature has bestowed upon it. All the while, the former’s legs flail in distress, its wings quiver with fear, and its large eyes seem to stare right at me, begging for relief, only to succumb to the jaws of death. The drone’s sisters, mere centimetres away, carry on foraging and orientating, seemingly unaware and blissfully blasé about the tragedy right on their doorstep. The content hum of the busy colony drowns the silent scream of suffering, and life goes on. Nature possesses ruthless economy. Our girls squat at the side of the hive, and watch on in awe and fear.

5 Sep 2022

Having left the hive alone for the last 2 months, and with the generally hot weather of the season, significant foraging continued. While I opted not to inspect due to aggressiveness I witnessed in August, and the lack of significant comb building from previous two inspections, I was worried that the bees would have built further comb past the follower board. After all, over the last month, the willowherb and himalayan balsam were in bloom along the river Mersey, which is in close vicinity to our house. So we suited up fully, anticipating anxious bees keen to protect their winter stores. Fortunately, they had not, and were content with preparing for winter. The last frame, furthest from the entrance, was completely full of capped honey bar a small patch of comb 6cm in diameter. The penultimate frame was, interestingly, only partially drawn, in the same state I left it in 2 months ago. We did not inspect further (and probably could have gotten away with no inspection at all considering we observed comb building had stopped previously).

We plan to wait till the cold weather sets in before harvesting. In this way, the bees are more likely to have clustered, which makes harvesting easier. There are fewer bees to sweep off the frames and less physical disturbance to the colony. However, this is balanced with a potentially mild winter, delaying harvest, and loss of heat during opening of the hive, which in turn may affect both the rate of honey consumption at best, or brood viability at worse.

22 Sep 2022 – Harvest

A week after harvesting the Manchester hive, we harvested from the Hardwood hive. Despite only being in their first year, they were numerous and prolific, growing from a 5kg swarm to 15 frames. The weather was good, but cold at about 12C.

The last frame was fully drawn and capped. There were then 2 frames of mildly crossed and partially drawn comb with little honey available, sandwiching a full but thickened frame with plenty of capped honey. After that, there were at least 2 further almost fully capped frames. We did not inspect further and did not meet brood nor cluster.

That made 4 frames, but we decided, due to significant amount of uncapped honey on frame 13, to return them to the bees. That left them with 12 full frames to overwinter. Very generous.

Of the 3 harvested frames, 2 were only half drawn and capped. We were more effective in terms of pressing intermittently and mashing before pressing. We extracted about 2.5kg of honey and rendered 140g of beeswax.

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