Frequently Asked Questions

This is where you will find a selection of frequently asked questions about beekeeping. The information is intended to provide new beekeepers with advice  and information relating to beekeeping, beekeepers and honey bees. Remember the old adage that if you ask two beekeepers the same question you are likely to get two different answers!

Extracting Honey

This is done using an centrifugal extractor, (the Association has one for hire). First the frames are uncapped, that is the layer of wax covering the cells is removed, then they are placed in the extractor. This can either be tangentially or radially according to the make of machine. The Association extractor is tangential. The frames are then rotated to spin the honey out. Frames in a radial set up can be cleared in one operation, frames fixed tangentially have to be reversed and spun again so as to clear both sides.

Cleaning the extractor

Before use the extractor has to be cleaned and dried and again after use it should be cleaned straight away. Only cold water should be used for cleaning, a garden hose is ideal. The extractor can then be dried with paper towels. If hot water is used, any wax particles present could be smeared over the surfaces, and become difficult to remove.

Jars and containers

Only food grade containers should be used to store honey, and they should be thoroughly washed and dried before use. Filtered honey is drained from the extractor into plastic honey buckets and allowed to settle for a couple of days, this lets air bubbles rise to the surface, where the scum can be removed if necessary before jarring. To sterilise your jars, wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly. Preheat the oven to gas3 170C and place in the oven to warm for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven using a clean cloth and avoid handling too much once sterilised, they can be stored ready for use upside down on cardboard base. A dishwasher machine can be utilised for this process.

Storage of honey

Jarred honey can be stored as it is, un-bottled honey should remain in the sealed honey buckets until required. Honey is liable to crystallise and solidify over time, in which case very gentle heating will be required to restore it to its liquid state. A warming cabinet or bain-marie can be used. Maximum temperature should not exceed 45 – 50 degrees Centigrade.

Records of honey sales

Throughout the year a record should be kept of all treatments given to the hive, dates administered, name and batch number of any chemical formulations used. These records should be added to the records of honey extracted and when bottled the batch number on each bottle should enable these records to be identified, so that in the event of any problem the history of the honey can be traced back to individual hives. Any food producing animal comes under the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, if residues are found in your honey, you could be liable to prosecution. Regulations apply whether you give away the honey or sell it. Keep honeys separate e.g. spring/summer, Trading Standards Officers can sample honey and remove a whole batch from sale. Therefore it is better to have small batches.

Dress for an apiary visit

Remember bees are inquisitive insects that will find an aperture to crawl through. A bee suit with head veil are essential, this may consist only of jacket and veil or a complete smock with veil. The suits are invariably warm to wear in hot weather so be mindful of what you wear underneath. “Wellies” or boots with high ankle protection are advisable as bees do go for ankles and it is advisable to have your trousers tucked inside. For added confidence it is best to wear gloves either the leather bee keeping type or  the yellow ‘marigolds’ which will tuck inside your jacket sleeve.

Assemble a hive

There are many types but the most common in this area is the National and Langstroth which are basically an assembly of wooden sided boxes, i.e. no lid or bottom. The hive must have a stand some are made for purpose or improvisation used i.e. building blocks. Sat on this will be the floor either open mesh or solid which will incorporate an entrance fitted with a block so the opening can be adjusted. The box that sits on the floor section is the brood box and in height is significantly bigger that a super. Above the brood box is placed a queen excluder which is a framework of bars to prevent the queen getting through and into the supers. The super or supers will be placed above this and finally a crown board, which is a flat board usually with apertures cut in it. The final section is the roof.

Assemble a frame and fit foundation

A frame will consist of a top bar, two side bars and two bottom bars. When assembling it is important that everything is square so the use of an  engineering square is useful. The top bar will come with a removable section that is easily cut out with a Stanley knife. Run the blade along the cut removing the section and clean up the area with the blade. The side bars will have a section cut out that fits tightly over the top bar, push fit them making sure they are square and nail through with frame tacks/nails. With the removed section uppermost fit the furthest bottom bar and then slide the foundation into place ensuring the largest wire loops on the foundation are at the top. The loops are trapped under the section you removed when replacing it. Nail diagonally securing this top bar so the frame tack also passes through these three loops. Then nail the bottom bars down into the side bars

Where do I find fuel for my smoker / what to burn?

Any solid material that lights easily and smoulders well, producing plenty of cool smoke, like corrugated paper i.e. egg cartons, dried grass, dry rotten wood, sacking (make sure it hasn’t been treated with any chemical), and horse nuts.

How do I light the smoker and use it during an inspection?

Ignite a small amount of the material and drop it into the smoker, adding a little bit more at a time. Pump the bellows to keep the contents smouldering as you are not aiming to have flames but add enough material to last your have inspection. The idea is to pump the smoke gently into the hive entrance and then wait a minute before starting an inspection of your bees. The smoke at the entrance will drive the bees up so it is sometimes wise to blow the smoke over the top of the frames once the roof is off and therefore driving the bees downwards. After use block the nose of the smoker with a small clump of long grass.

Making syrup for feeding

For autumn feeding bring 1 pint of water to the boil turn off heat then slowly add 2lb of white granulated sugar (cane or beet) stirring until all sugar is dissolved, allow to cool before use. For spring and nucleus feeding the ratio is 1 pint of water to 1lb of sugar. Note: do not use brown sugar as this is poisonous to bees and if using aluminium utensils do not leave the sugar syrup in for any length of time as a reaction takes place which can produce compounds poisonous to bees.

Sugar comes in 1Kg bags so for ease the following ratios although not 100% accurate can be used in practice. Spring feed 1Kg of sugar to 1 Litre of water.  Autumn feed 2Kg of sugar to 1 Litre of water.

Cleaning a Bee suit, hive tools and gloves

A bee suit should first have the veil removed. The veil should be washed in hand hot soapy water then rinsed and allowed to dry naturally.  The bee suit can be washed in a washing machine at high temperature, add a cupful of washing soda to the normal detergent this will ensure the removal of propolis. A hive tool is cleaned in a solution of washing soda using a stiff brush. Leather gauntlet gloves are difficult to clean and make handling bees a clumsy operation (handling bees demands a steadiness and accuracy) it is much better to use disposable latex gloves (if you are allergic to Latex then Nitrile or vinyl gloves are available). If you still prefer to use leather gloves then disposable gloves can be worn on top of the leather gloves and disposed of at the end of hive inspection.

Clean and sterilise boxes and hive parts

Boxes and hive parts are best scraped in the winter when the low temperatures make wax and propolis brittle; this is best done over a large box so the wax can be later recovered from the scrapings. Once scraped sterilisation is carried out with a blowlamp to scorch all the internal area of the boxes. Hoffman type queen excluders can be carefully sterilised in this way. Frames can be scorched with a blowlamp but this is slow and laborious, it is much easier to boil in water with washing soda added. Zinc queen excluders will melt if heated by a blowlamp but can be sterilised in boiling water. Alternatively all the above can be sterilised by steaming.

Getting propolis off your fingers / clothing / carpet

Removed the excess propolis first with a hive tool and the remainder using a cloth soaked in methylated spirits.

Removing bees from honey supers for extraction

1. Brushing. If only a few combs are required, bees can be removed by holding the required comb over the box and brushing the bees off with a bee brush. The comb is then quickly transferred to an empty box and covered with a cloth to keep bees out. This is repeated for subsequent combs.

2. Porter Escapes. Remove supers and place an empty super on top of queen excluder on the brood box. Put the escape board on top of this super, check operation of escapes and fit to board. Put supers on top of escape board put inner cover on top, cover top of inner cover with several sheets of newspaper then add roof (the newspaper is to keep out any light that might come in through roof ventilators.) Walk around the hive twice and check there are no gaps between the supers or holes in the supers, cover any gaps / holes with a generous length of duct tape to prevent entry of robber bees. After a few days remove supers, make sure they are covered and bee tight. A contact feeder could be put inside the empty super with the inner cover and roof on top. If not remove empty super and return roof and inner cover to hive.

Inspect a hive when / why and what to check for

A bee keeper never opens the hive ‘just to have a look’. The bee keeper will always have a good reason for inspecting the hive. The brood nest is the centre of the colony and an inspection is looking for: Brood Pattern – concentric rings, semi rings or arcs of eggs, larvae and sealed brood. Eggs confirm that the queen is laying. If there are eggs then there is a queen. Stores – sealed stores of honey surrounding the brood. The Queen – always a pleasure to see her majesty but not always necessary if there are eggs. Queen Cups/Cells – a sign of a healthy colony making preparation for swarming or supercedure. Disease – signs of chalk brood, EFB, AFB and wax moth. Varroa – monitoring varroa mite infestation and integrated pest management (IPM). Room – check the bees have sufficient room to in the brood. Strong colonies may need to go on a brood and a half or double brood. If there is a honey flow then more supers may need to be added. For most bee keepers from April to the early autumn inspections will take place on a weekly basis. For those who can, the period between inspections should be ten days. This allows for the development of worker brood, drone brood and queen cup/cell development.

Set up and lay out an apiary

An apiary is ideally sited in a area shaded by trees, away from any public areas and facing east, south or west. If the apiary is in a garden then a screen should be erected around the apiary at least six feet high to force the bees to rise over head height when leaving the apiary. Hives should be sited so that entrances do not all face the same directionThere should also be a water source nearby whether it be a natural source or a maintained source. Access to the apiary needs to be adequate for the movement of equipment and, hopefully, full supers of honey without too much hindrance. Access should be available for the hive barrow at least.

Site of hive, direction of hive and use of hive stands

Hives should be sited facing west, south or east and in pairs with both hives facing slightly different directions. Having two hives together assists inspections. Ideally the hives should be shaded by branches of trees or hedges affording some protection from the elements. A hive should be placed on a stand at least nine inches high and a maximum of fifteen inches high. A pair of nine inch concrete blocks set on edge make good hive stands. Milk crates also make excellent hive stands but are discouraged on Association apiaries as the brighter colours clash with the natural colours of the apiary. Commercial stands may be purchased from bee equipment suppliers. Some bee keepers prefer to make there own hive stands. The use of a hive stand raises the brood box from the ground making inspections easier but not too high for the addition of supers.

Moving bees, including a moving a swarm in a box and bees in a hive

Hives should be closed when the bees have stopped flying for the day. This is true of collected swarms and established hives. Bees stop flying around dusk. Therefore it is best to close the entrance at dusk or just after. The hive entrance may be closed with a cloth, foam rubber jammed in the entrance or a commercially available entrance closure. Ensure that the entrance is securely closed. The hive or box must be secured with hive straps to ensure that the bees cannot escape during transport. Driving with escaped bees in the car is not recommended! Once the hive is closed and securely strapped it may be moved by means of the hive handles. Do not lift the hive via the hive strap. If the strap gives way the bees will escape and bees that have been shut up are not in the best of tempers.

Feed a colony, types of feeders and syrup strength

There are various types of feeder on the market but the bees prefer contact feeders rather than rapid feeders or Ashcroft feeders. An eight pint (4.5 litre) contact feeder is ideal for a national hive. Syrup strengths depend on time of year. A stimulating syrup for the springs is a weak syrup of 1lb of white granulated sugar and 1 pint of water. An autumn feed will be 2lb white granulated sugar. The spring syrup is designed to be fed and consumed, fuelling the bees and not putting the syrup in the super or brood for stores. The autumn feed is designed to be stored to provide winter food for the bees. Using a National hive, place the crown board on the brood and an empty super on the crown board. The queen excluder should be removed. The contact feeder is quickly upturned and placed over the feeding hole in the crown board. A colony may need to be fed in the spring if the stores in the hive are low. The syrup should be weak to reduce the tendency to store the syrup. In the autumn the thicker syrup should be fed which will be stored by the bees for winter use. If there is no honey flow and stores are low in the spring then the hive should receive up to sixteen pints of weak syrup in two feeds. Similarly in the autumn but fed with the thicker syrup. Some beekeepers prefer to use fondant paste such as Ambrosia. These products contain fructose, glucose and sucrose. The fondant is simply fed on top of the hive frames. Fondant does not need further dilution or treatment.