I’ve been keeping honeybees mainly in Breconshire for around 10 years, pretty much obsessed by them for most of those years. There is something about beekeeping that really grabs some of us and doesn’t let go. I want to write a short blog post about once a month to talk about what this particular Breconshire beekeeper might be doing in that particular calendar month. In my experience beekeepers love to chat to each other, but we tend to do things ‘our’ way, based on what we have learnt from experience and read in the many books that are available. I love to experiment whilst keeping an eye on current practice. I am not suggesting that you should do what I do, but you might add my experiences to yours or build up a gradual understanding of beekeeping if new to it. When starting out in beekeeping I would always recommend following the advice given from a training course or from a mentor.
As we approach the end of February, the weather is wet and windy as it has been for much of the month. The bees are still in the hives keeping warm and eating honey or fondant depending on their predicament. All so far are coping and waiting for the weather to improve and the blossoms to come out. They have ventured out a few times when the sun has been on the hives which is great to see. They come out to defecate and also to start foraging in some cases.
There are some things in flower this time of year; crocuses, snowdrops, mahonia, hellebore, winter jasmine where I live, and in nearby Brecon town I saw a Blackthorn bush in flower. A bullfinch stared back at me momentarily before making itself scarce; no time to even get my phone out let alone take a photo.
Apart from checking the colonies food levels by ‘hefting’ the hives I have been pottering about in what has now become my beeyard, doing general maintenance. I am waterproofing hive boxes; both brood and supers as well as floors and stands with Cuprinol or equivalent. I recently made up some cover boards (also called crownboard) from recycled wood, simple enough particularly if you have a power drill and chop saw to cut wood at right angles (I am ok with hand saws but prefer an electric chop saw to maintain those right angles).
The cover board sits on top of the highest box in the hive and just under the roof; it stops the bees making wild comb up to the roof which can be a real pain for the beekeeper, it usually has an opening in it so that food can be placed over the hole when and if needed, it can also be used with an escape to get the bees out of the honey supers when harvesting the honey. When not using the hole I put a small piece of slate over it, but others leave it open.
I make a round hole in the cover board as its easy to do, then use a ‘rhombus‘ escape beneath the hole when I want to get the bees out of the supers. I use slightly larger wooden battens to allow for the depth of the rhombus whilst still letting the bees crawl away easily underneath it. However, when used as a cover board with these deeper battens the bees will invariably make wild or brace comb in the space, but I am happy to live with this as I can scrape it off every now and then.
The rhombus creates what we call a ‘one way valve;’ the bees crawl to the end of it where there is a small hole for them to get out. If they try to get back up to the honey supers they head for the hole in the cover board, the rhombus has many tiny holes in it, too small for the bees to get through but enough for them to smell the honey. The rhombus only works for a small while (couple of days) in my experience as the bees eventually learn to get back up via the small escape holes filling the rhombus’ tiny holes with propolis, but one night is usually enough for the supers to become empty of bees. There are other bee escape methods that others prefer but this one for me is simple.
I had a super of honey in natural comb that I’d kept back for natural honeycomb, but found it had granulated. I used an uncapping tray borrowed from a friend, to slowly melt the comb. The tray splits the liquid honey and wax, photos below. Wax can be difficult to clean off, best to use cold water or scrape it off as hot water causes the wax to become very sticky.