Hive Ester II is Dead

We aren’t doing very good at this whole beekeeping thing.  We checked our hive just over a week ago.  They showed some signs of mite issues, but otherwise were laying a lot of brood and had a decent looking population.  Today they are nearly all gone.  I bagged and sealed up the frames and left them in the yard.  We are having some pretty harsh sun which should kill the small hive beetle larva and other nasties that were starting to take hold.

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I am very seriously considering getting rid of these frames and starting over again.  It is horrible to see, but below is a picture of one of the brood frames.  Poor little girls.

 

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Bee Rescue #2, Frame Capture

My friend found another hive setup in the floor of a piece of industrial equipment nearby. They were going to rebuild the equipment and wanted the bees gone.  Imagine an ISO shipping container with two layer thick plywood and a load of bees setup underneath.

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I can see a few of them, I wonder how far back they are?

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Oh boy, that is looking like a lot of bees!  There was a lot of equipment inside that couldn’t be moved, so I had to do some creative crawling and cutting to get into the floor.  Lots of cutting and prying later we had pay dirt!

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There was about a foot of space between the two floor bars, and they went back about 4 feet from the outside wall with comb and bees.  We came up with a new technique for getting the comb back home.  Put them in empty frames, and use string to bind it in place.

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This worked really well.  One person would hold the frame upright and keep the comb in place while the other would wrap the string around.  At first we were trying to be really careful with clove hitches and half hitches to keep it all together.  After a while, everything got so sticky in honey that you could kind of just wrap a few times and it would all stay put.  Hopefully the bees will expand that comb out and cement it in place.  Later they will either chew through the string, or you can remove it yourself.

There were a lot of bees around.  I will try to update in a few months when they get well established to see if the string trick works.

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Bee Rescue Rangers

We had a first in our beekeeper careers.  We helped rescue a wild hive that was setup in someone’s shed.  Lots of mistakes were made and a considerable amount of improvising occurred.  Here is the scene, a shed next to someone’s house has a very active hive coming and going from the corner.

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It was hard to get a picture of, but there were a few bees coming and going every second.  This was obviously a big active hive.  A bit of work on the outside panels led us to thinking that they were probably setup under the floor.  A stethoscope would be helpful next time.  We did some cutting between the joists and came up with this chunk of floor.

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Lots of slow careful work got all the comb out and into a medium box.  We should have brought a bigger boat!

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This was the only box I had spare, so it will have to do.  In addition we did a lot of really careful vacuuming with a shop vac.  We were able to grab thousands of bees this way, and they all seem to have survived the encounter.  This hive was found by our friend Willow, and it is going to live in her yard.  She has a thing for hot pink.  Good luck in your new home bees!

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Bonus Farm Tour

I got to start the bee rescue day off with a short lecture to the Melbourne Village  community garden about beekeeping.  They were very interested in beekeeping, but had a lot of questions.  After a bit of chatting they are on board and are looking into doing a few hives as a community.

After the rescue we were invited to one of the garden member’s backyard.  We got to see chickens and sheep and goats oh my!

The best part of it all was the dozen eggs I got as thanks from this backyard farm for giving my little bee talk.  Fellow beekeepers should seek out local community gardens.  They would probably be interested in hearing about beekeeping as a matter of interest if nothing else.  Some might be into it enough to start their own community bee hive!  Seriously though, check out these eggs!

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The Queen is Dead, Long Live The Queen!

It is official, we lost our first hive.  I had hopes that maybe we could do something to revive them, but no.  Our friends at Trevena Fee Farm were able to provide us with a nuc of russian honeybees.  The original idea was to combine the new nuc with the old hive by separating them with newspaper.  They would chew through the newspaper slowly and eventually the new queen would be bonded onto the old bees.  I went in to inspect before opening the new nuc.  There were no old bees… well that makes the combining easy!

I was getting slimed however.  When there is nobody home to watch the house lots of nasty critters descend.  Specifically small hive beetles (SHB) had started to setup residence.  About half the frames in the deep had small but noticeable levels of SHB larva.  I think the new hive could take care of them, but decided to pull those frames.  I will reintroduce them after a day or two in the freezer.  No beetle larva problems then!

The great news is that the new nuc was absolutely packed with bees.

We gave him our #4 box with 5 of our drawn, but empty frames.  He have us back a box that must have been completely packed with bees.  If you think that is a lot, there were tons more inside.  I am floored.  We might have been having problems for a long time, I don’t remember the last time I saw that many bees.  At any rate we are very happy to be solidly back in the beekeeping business and can’t wait for them to settle in.  Ester 2, long may you reign.

Honey Harvest 2015

We had our first full harvest of hive Ester.  20 frames went by really quickly and easily with our home built honey spinner.  It was a bitter sweet harvest though.  I am pretty sure our queen is dead.  The hive population is very low, there is no capped brood, no signs of new brood, and we found a wax moth larva.  We had 6 weeks straight of rainy days, and near the end a serious brood problem showed up.  I couldn’t find any straight answer as to what it was.  It must have been some serious problem with the hive/queen.  Luckily some new friends from the beekeeping group might have a nuc for us.  Hopefully they come through before I have to freeze all the frames and give up for the year.

Back to the harvest, look at all these gorgeous frames!

All our equipment performed really well, and we ended up with about 37 pounds of honey. That looks pretty serious when it is all in one 5 gallon bucket.

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We bottled everything into 12 ounce bears to have enough small quantities to give away to friends and family.  That worked out to 50 bears, each with their own smart little label.

Now time to enjoy some honey.  Thanks bees!

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Wax Refining

I used a plastic tub to catch all the decapping debris.  There is a lot of honey mixed in, so a session sitting in the strainer is warranted.  Once drained of honey, it went back to the tub, and through multiple soak and drain cycles before the water ran clear and free of honey.

I was able to pack the wax into a single jelly strainer.  The strainer sat in an old pot and slowly melted away.  Once completely melted the nasty jelly bag gets tossed, and the wax can go into old containers.

The finished product was 9.5 ounces of wax.  It looks decent, but might need another strain.  Next time I might break it up into multiple runs to see if that helps the cleanliness of the finished product.  Still, it is perfectly good wax for use in all sorts of projects.

DIY Drill Powered Honey Spinner

There comes a time in every beekeeper’s life where he or she will want to harvest some honey.  This is usually done with a centrifuge extractor.  These start at a few hundred dollars for a very cheap unit, and the price goes astronomical from there.  I spent quite a bit of time and money building test articles and doing mini test extractions, but ended up with a really good design that can be had for 50 dollars and a minimal set of tools.


VIDEO UPDATE

Due to the attention on this post I felt a video was needed to help with some of the questions.  Enjoy and thank you for watching.


This spinner is specifically designed to hold medium super frames.  Slight adjustments will be needed to make this work for shallow super frames.

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The above images show what a loaded out spinner looks like.  The spinner now needs a container to catch all the honey.  I really wanted to use 5 gallon buckets for their price and size.  One bucket isn’t deep enough, so I cut the bottoms out to use them as height extenders.

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I used a mix of firehouse pickle buckets and white food grade buckets I bought at the hardware store.  I cut the bottoms off of two buckets to stack them inside each other to increase the height and allow for a good spin without messing up your kitchen.

The bucket with all the holes in the bottom holds the bottom shaft from the spinner and keeps it stable during a spin.  The center hole is just big enough for the 3/4″ PVC pipe.  The others are there to help the honey drip down into the white bucket with the honey gate.

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The stack up is: White bucket with honey gate, red bucket with holes, and two bottomless buckets for height.  It is a very small setup that will quickly process two frames at a time.  I just did 20 frames with this tool and had a really good time with it.  Best of all it doesn’t take up much space in the house.


The Spinner Build

You will need the following items for the spinner.  I included the prices I paid for everything, though your prices may vary.  Not included in the list below is the buckets and the honey gate.  The white food buckets can be had for 4-5 dollars each at lowes.  The firehouse pickle buckets can be had for 2 bucks each!  They do require a bit of soaking to get rid of the vinegar smell though.  Honey gates can be had for 5-10 dollars.

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In total you will spend about 50 dollars on the whole setup.  Filters, a capping knife, honey bears, and others will cost you more, but a whole extraction and bottling setup for under 100 dollars is very attainable.

From a tools standpoint you will need PVC pipe cement, a saw or PVC pipe cutter, tape measure, and a marker.  The pipe parts should look like those shown below.

UPDATE: Fresh PVC cement can be helpful.  Fresh glue allows longer open working time than old glue.  You only have a few seconds to get it right, so if your glue is old, get a new one.

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While assembling the sections be mindful of how much cement you use.  Too much will drip on your work surface, and will drip down inside to the sections you want to glue in the future.  Work slowly and purposefully.  Once you put two segments together, they are permanent in just a few seconds.  Dry fit everything beforehand to make sure it all fits with your frame hardware.

UPDATE: Dry fitting is really important!  Some stores may sell fittings with different sizes and depths.  Dry fit every stage and check it often with your frames and bucket.  Use multiple frames, as there can be variation in their construction as well.

Bottom Hooks

These features are the depth stops for the frames.  Gather a cross, two elbows, two plugs, and cut 2x 1.75″, 1x 1.5″, and 1x 3″ sections of pipe.

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The 1.5″ section of pipe will connect to the bottom guide, the two 1.75″ pieces will hold in the bottom hooks that keep the frames from sliding down any further.  I used plugs to keep honey out of the lower section of the spinner.  This is what the finished part should look like

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Bottom Guide

Next comes a bottom guide to keep the frames from sliding left and right.  This step requires a cross, two tees, and two 2.75″ pipe sections.  Be careful with this step.  Too narrow and your frame will not fit, too wide and it will not fit in the bucket.

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Assemble the sections and attach it to the bottom hook as shown below.  Now the frame will come down into the hook and be held from sliding left and right.

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Top Guide

The top guide will hold the top end of the frame and prevent it from going out during the spin, and from going left or right.  Gather a cross, two tees, four elbows, 2x 2.75″ pipes and 4x 1.5″ pipes.

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It is probably best to assemble the two outer arms first, then attach them to the central cross.

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Drill Post

A short 3 inch section of pipe and the threaded pipe fitting goes on top to allow for the drill to be attached.  I chose 3inches for that length, but it could honestly be longer or shorter.

 

Central Post

A single 14.5″ piece of PVC attaches the top and bottom half.  Dry fit this piece to make sure it holds your frames correctly.  The two sets of guides should line up so that a frame can be slid down through the top guides into the bottom hook.

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Drill Barb

A threaded coupling was installed at the top of the spinner earlier.  Now comes the final piece of the puzzle.  An iron pipe threaded adapter takes the size from 3/4″ to, I think, a 3/8″ female thread.  That allows a brass barbed fitting to thread in.  The brass fitting is small enough to fit into my drill.  Most drills can chuck onto anything smaller than 3/8″ in outer diameter.  I used a hose clamp around the PVC threaded fitting to help reinforce it.  My dewalt drill runs it pretty well on the lower speed setting.  Just accelerate slowly, and stop slowly and everything will be ok!

Update: A good alternative is to cut the barb off and use the remaining brass hex portion as a nut.  Get an adapter for your drill and put the appropriate socket on there.  Now you don’t have to tighten your chuck every time, just slip on the socket and drive!

Bee Storage Cabinet

Our back porch is a hodge podge of furniture, bbq stuff, and bee equipment.  The bee equipment is starting to get in the way and makes it harder to use the porch.  In comes a bee stuff storage cabinet.  It will have enough room to store extra hive body equipment, my scale, the tool tote, our veils and the other odds and ends.

I started with a 3/4″ plywood open faced box.  The box is 4 feet tall, which made dimensioning from a 4×8 sheet of plywood easy.  The legs are there to allow for a plastic straw storage tub to sit underneath.

A morning of cutting and assembling and I was ready to paint.  I moved it out to the back porch and began to prime and paint it along with another project.  I am working on hurricane supply storage boxes that got made at the same time.  More on that at a later date.

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I couldn’t help the use of that wild yellow paint again.  Anything bee related gets it!  The black strap hinges, handle and bee spray logo really pop and give it some life.  I might have to come up with another spray pattern for that big untouched left side.

Everything went inside just as planned.  The straw tub (smoker fuel) fits perfectly underneath.  The bottom shelf has our feeder, an extra super, winter inner cover and bottom board, and the mite screen equipment.  The other shelves hold our protection gear and some odds and ends.  On the right side a set of decorative plant hangers holds the tool tote, and a less than decorative shelf bracket holds the hive body scale.

Everything we need is exactly where we want it and there is storage room to grow.  The total cost was probably under 50 bucks assuming you don’t count labor.  I doubt I could find anything out there for that cost that fit my needs so perfectly.

Full Sized Mite Board

I built a small mite board using sticky pest strips a while back.  It worked, but you had to keep buying the strips, and the sample area was small.  The new mite board is bigger and instead of sticky strips uses white coated masonite board and spray oil.

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The bottom board (right) is the white coated masonite with a 1×2 cleat attached to the bottom.  Its purpose will be more obvious later.  The top that holds the screening is a 1×2 ripped in half and held together with small angle brackets.  Everything got a coating of bright yellow spray paint as much for ascetics as for environmental reasons.

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Once the paint had cured I put down more of my aluminum 1/8″ screening.  Looks good, but I am starting to wonder if my use of yellow for every bee related article is over doing it…  NAHHHHH!

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Now to put it under the hive.  Before I do, I gave the mite board a heavy spray of cooking oil.  The coated masonite shouldn’t soak anything up, so when I am done I can clean it and use again as many times as I want.

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It looks good under the hive, and the cleat is more obvious now.  Just sit the top on there, and slide it back until you hit the cleat.  It also gives you something substantial to quickly grab and get away.  Trust me, you don’t want to spend a lot of time messing around under there.

The board works perfectly, I am really happy with this design.  It installed quickly, caught the mites, didn’t cost much, is super reusable, doesn’t trap bees, looks great, and makes it very easy to see mites.  The only problem is that I have a lot of mites.

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It is hard to distinguish in the above picture, but there are dozens from a single day of monitoring.  We are going to have to start doing something immediately.  I have read good things about the powdered sugar treatment.  I still have honey supers on, so I can’t use some of the really aggressive stuff.  A single powdered sugar treatment isn’t highly effective, but done consistently week after week, it can supposedly knock down the population.  Our starting numbers are really high, so hopefully it can only go down from here.  Look at those horrible buggers!

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Mini Test Extraction

There is a lot involved in extracting honey.  You have to get the frames into your house without them being covered in bees, there is the removal of capping, the extraction, filtering and bottling.  Lots of steps with lots of potential for disaster and hang ups if you are new.  We are very new, so I thought a 2 frame mini test extraction would be worth a shot.  The girls are busy filling up the empty frames we added a few weeks ago, so we picked two (mostly) ripe frames to test my home built extraction rig.

This is the spinner portion of the centrifuge extractor.  I built it to go inside 5 gallon buckets so they would be easier to store.  There was an issue though, I didn’t give myself enough room on the bottom set of guides, and it didn’t fit.  So I started cutting and modifying and came up with an even better version that requires fewer parts.

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While modifying I broke the blade off my PVC cutters =(

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Now that I have learned how to properly build the bottom section I will make another and post it with full plans (parts list, lengths to cut, etc.).  Until then, just see what the results are from an extractor that cost less than 50 dollars in parts.


The Extraction

We took a set of full frames, de-capped both sides with an electric hot knife, and gave them both a spin.  The result was a pretty thorough extraction.

Once the honey settled and went through a filter we got some really amazing biscuits and honey.

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One frame was completely packed on both sides.  It lost 2lb 10oz going through the spinner.  The other was a bit lighter to start with and still had some open cells.  That one lost 2lb 1oz in the process.  We were able to bottle about 3.5lb of honey and 1oz of wax.  There is about a pound missing that probably got lost in the filters and side walls.  That will probably happen for extracting 2 frames or 20.

Assuming you do a pile of frames you can expect around 2.5lb of honey per full frame, or 25lb per super.  I have 2 supers full, and a 3rd on the way.  Oh boy, that is a lot of honey.


Wax Refinement

After letting the cappings drain through the filters for a bit I put them in a tub and did a series of rinses and soaks.  After a day of rinse and soak they appeared to be free of honey.

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A jelly strainer bag turned out to be perfect for refining.  It has a fine mesh on it, and you can toss it when done.  Basically dump everything inside, put it in an old pot and set the stove for low.  After a while the wax will all melt out and the junk will be left inside.

There will likely be some water in there from all the rinse cycles.  No bother, it will separate from the wax naturally.  Once you get everything melted, dispose of the bag and pour the pot contents into a form.  I used an old yogurt cup.

The hot wax will separate and float to the top.  Once cooled, break the wax out.  I ended up with a fairly clean chunk of wax weighing just over an ounce.  Bees are the best pets ever, thanks girls!!!

Raised Bed Clover

The variety of flowering plants we have been putting down over the last six months has started to bare pollinator fruit.  There have seen a number of bumble bees in our yard, and of course our own honey bees have something close to snack on.  I thought adding some clover would help out.  I picked up a pound of white and yellow clover and got going on a raised bed garden.

I considered tilling up some of the back yard and trying to plant where the grass had been.  I might give that a shot sometime, but doing a raised bed garden seems to be more of a guarantee of success.  I picked out enough cedar to make two joined 4ft x 8ft raised sections.

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12 foot board cut nicely down to 8 and 4 foot sections.  The corners and centers that tie everything together were made up of 4×4 pieces.  I went with galvanized lag bolts with washers with the hope that it will last longer than screws.  Time will tell.  Once assembled the thing was bigger than my garage, and almost too big to carry to the back yard.

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Before putting it in place I gave everything a coat of waterseal to add a little extra life to the cedar.  Once in the backyard weed screening was stapled to the inside to form a sealed area.  This meant I didn’t have to tear up the grass or worry about it growing up into the bed.  In all a serious time saver.

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A million trips wheelbarrow trips of dirt later and the beds were full.  I sprinkled down a few hands full of seed and mixed it into the top inch or so of dirt.  The picture below is about a week old with a few little sprouts start to poke through.

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