15 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 4: Beekeeping

The Basic Assessment's syllabus is very broad. In fact it's massive. It is an introduction to every aspect of beekeeping except microscopy.

The later, much more challenging, modules cover only one knowledge area at a time and in much greater depth. The module exams are written papers, taken under exam conditions.

Assessing a beekeeper's knowledge for the Basic comprises a practical hive inspection followed by oral questions. Both should be completed within an hour - the examiner is expected to cover as much as they can, to make sure there are no serious knowledge gaps. So it's a fairly quick sweep through as much of the syllabus as possible, otherwise the examiner will end up running late which can prove stressful for candidates who are waiting for their assessment.

The Candidate will be:
4.1 able to give an elementary description of how to set up an apiary;
Location should be suitable for the bees:
  • Have a nearby source of water. (Bees need water to rehydrate their honey)
  • Be protected from cold northerly winds.
  • Be within easy flying distance of good foraging opportunities.
  • Be protected from livestock.
Location should be suitable for the beekeeper:
  • Convenient for the beekeeper, and
  • not too far from their home or
  • from where a vehicle will be parked. Hives and honey are heavy, so
  • no stiles or other obstacles en route.
  • Vehicle access is important to the beekeeper, so the apiary site also needs to be
  • securely behind locked gates, or concealed from potential thieves or vandals.
Hives need to be placed on stands, to keep them off the ground :
  • To avoid beekeeper's back;
  • To keep hives above wet ground or possible low level flooding and away from wet vegetation.
  • So that hive debris and live varroa can fall through open mesh floor.
  • So there is adequate ventilation.
Hive stands need to be strong, but needn't be specially made. A couple of fence posts resting on bricks or breeze blocks will be strong enough to support two large colonies, plus honey supers. 

4.2 able to describe what precautions should be taken to avoid the honeybees being a nuisance to neighbours and livestock;
  • Around the apiary use screening, fencing or tall plants (shrubs/hedge) at least 6ft high to ensure the flightpath is above head height.
  • Face hives towards a tall hedge or tree to make the bees fly upwards and over adjacent gardens or allotments.
  • If on a farm or common land, the apiary should be securely fenced to ensure neither livestock nor wild animals can rub against the hives and irritate the bees - which will sting.
  • Don't put hives near footpaths or bridleways.
  • Move hives to a more remote out apiary if there are complaints.
4.3 able to describe the possible effects of honeybee stings on humans and able to recommend suitable first aid treatment;
Mostly there is limited reaction, the area around a sting will redden, swell and be itchy for a day or so. Treatment can be as simple as using ice to cool the area, but antihistamine will help reduce the itching.

Some individuals suffer anaphylactic shock, which is seriously life threatening. Medical help should be sought immediately. More information, including symptoms, from BBKA.

4.4 able to give an elementary description of the annual cycle of work in the apiary;
This will covered in more detail in later blog posts, but, in brief:

(written as if dating from being a brand new beekeeper onwards)
  • Nucleus arrives in late Spring.
  • Transfer to nice new hive.
  • Feed. Give new, undrawn frames - do not split brood area; add dummy board(s).
  • Inspect in a week. Check queenright (eggs and young larvae), stores and space.
  • Move to full size box when appropriate, use dummy boards.
  • Keep checking BIAS and for queen cells.
  • Monitor varroa drop.
  • Treat for varroa August/Sept if not taking heather crop.
  • Remove heather honey.
  • Treat for varroa.
  • Feed for winter. 
  • Oxalic acid in late December/January. 
  • Check stores throughout winter, give fondant if necessary.
  • Cover hive with wire or thick plastic netting against Green Woodpecker attack.
  • Beekeeper gets restless waiting for spring - so reads books, watches youtube, thinks about starting a blog, makes more equipment.
  • Spring - early feed.
  • First inspection - check queenright, check stores, check space.
  • Spring build up and early honey flow - add super.
  • Check space and for swarm cells.
  • Inspect weekly during swarming season.
  • Monitor varroa.
  • May need to artificial swarm of some sort - but if no new colony needed can recombine to ensure colony large enough for honey production and overwintering. Old queen can be overwintered in a nuc as 'insurance'.
  • Check if supers needed.
  • If lucky, take a honey crop.
  • If very lucky, get a heather crop.
  • Prepare bees for winter by feeding and treating for varroa.
  • Monitor level of stores throughout winter, get frustrated by late arrival of spring; think again about starting a blog; buy and read yet more books and repeat until you ... 
  • Start the beekeeping year all over again, and worry like mad because Spring doesn't want to be even vaguely warm, in fact at the moment it's below 10C during the day, raining hard and blowing a gale.
Poor bees!
4.5 able to describe the preparation of sugar syrup and how and when to feed bees;
White, refined, granulated sugar should always be used. Icing sugar can contain anti-caking agents which bees find unpalatable.

*** Never 'raw cane', unrefined, demerara etc. sugars.***
These sugars contain too many impurities and can cause dysentery.

BBKA advises using different strength syrup solutions at different times of the year.
  • 1:1 sugar : water is easy for the bees to use straight away, so is given as a spring booster feed, to a new nucleus, or to a swarm three days after capture.
  • 2:1 sugar : water is given in late summer or early autumn, after honey supers have been removed. Because it has a higher sugar content, less water needs to be removed before cells can be capped.
  • Fondant can be fed all year round, but especially in the winter as an 'insurance' feed.
During preparation the sugar needs to be dissolved in warm water, it should not be boiled because this can produce HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) which is harmful to bees.

Feed using inverted jam jars with holes punched in the lids, or commercially produced contact, frame or hivetop feeders. (You can make these, if you have the DIY skills.)

Some beekeepers buy commercially produce invert sugar syrup.
Some buy fondant, or baker's fondant, which they use as a feed throughout the year.
Some beekeepers give granulated sugar, which they pour directly onto the crown board for winter feed.

4.6 aware of the need to add supers and the timing of the operation;
On my large hives I add supers in lateish Spring, when the bees start storing nectar on the last two frames. Once this honey is removed I replace with cut comb foundation, ready for heather.

I never take honey from the brood box, that is for the bees.

4.7 able to give an elementary account of one method of swarm control;
The idea of carrying out any type of 'artificial swarm', and there are many ways to achieve this, is to mimic a real swarm by taking the queen away from the brood and any queen cells the colony has created, along with enough bees to found a new colony.

A real swarm may contain as many as 70% house bees - they can fly from 4 days old - and are essential to a new colony because they perform all indoor duties. They make wax, store and process nectar, nurse developing brood etc., and will become foragers at 21 days.

Separating the flying bees from the rest and leaving them with the queen can set back a new colony's development because it takes a number of days for foragers to revert to house duties, and for some of these bees re-develop the ability to make wax - whilst this is happening they are getting older and are dying, so the flying force is depleted and has no replacements for at least 21 days which is why some methods of artificial swarm involve 'balancing' colonies to increase the number of flying bees in the box containing the queen.

Here are some options:-
1. Pagden
This is the preferred method of swarm control for some BKAs, in fact it is the only method taught by some BKAs. With Pagden's Artificial Swarm the queen must be found, which can be a lengthy process for a new beekeeper and is why a number of groups teach other methods first - because they are less stressful for both bees and beekeeper.

The Pagden method of swarm control separates the flying bees and the queen from the house bees and involves lifting and moving brood boxes several times over a number of days. New beekeepers often get it wrong when they try it on their own.
  • When the first swarm cells are seen, check for young larvae and eggs - to be sure the queen is still there, and the colony has not already swarmed.
  • Move colony at least 3 feet away, or if closer turn the entrance through 180 degrees.
  • Put a new brood box, complete with frames of foundation or drawn comb on the existing hive site.
  • Remove two central frames from this box, and put to one side.
  • Find the queen.
  • Take the queen on her frame and place this frame in the space in the new hive.
  • Make absolutely sure there are no queen cells on this frame - if there are then either destroy them (only if there are more queen cells on other frames) or move the queen onto a different frame of BIAS.
  • Any flying bees will return to this queen+ hive.
  • Carefully close the gap in the frames to avoid damaging the queen, and add the other new frame (two were removed at the beginning) into the space left at the end/side of the brood box. 
  • Now carefully check every frame in the 'old' colony, and leave one (some BKAs recommend leaving two) unsealed queen cell(s). This will be easier now, because the flying bees will be returning to the q+ box on the old site.
  • Mark the frame(s) containing queen cell(s) with a drawing pin.
  • Carefully check this colony in 3 - 5 days to ensure no more queen cell have been made. Ditto original colony - and to be sure the old queen is continuing to lay.
  • At this time, swap the position of the boxes, which will force the newly emerged foraging bees to return to the box containing the queen - this 'balances' colony numbers and may prevent further swarm preparations. 
  • This series of actions depletes the original colony and should reduce swarm impulse. Bees will raise a new queen, and old queen will continue as before, but with more space.
  • Any honey supers go with the non-flying bees, which are not yet foraging.
  • The queen+ colony needs a syrup feed to help wax making, because it has no stores.
2. Walkaway split - without finding the queen. Sometimes called the "Nucleus Method of Swarm Control".
  • When swarm cells are seen, check for young larvae and eggs - evidence that the queen is still there and the colony has not swarmed.
  • Take half the frames of brood and some stores and put in another brood box.
  • Move this brood box to another place within the apiary.
  • Add a couple of new frames to each box, to make sure neither gets too crowded.
  • Check both boxes within the next couple of days - the box with new swarm cells should be the queenless one, the one with eggs will contain the queen.
  • Flying bees will return to the original site, so swap the boxes over if this is where the queen is, otherwise the large number of bees may induce further attempts to swarm.
3. Taranov split - the queen is isolated along with a large number of house bees. (I described this when I did my Basic, and passed.)
  • Either make a ramp using a piece of ply and two legs about 9" long, or prop the forward edge of a crown board on a couple of bricks so the top of the ramp is at least high enough to reach the hive floor.
  • Move the brood box to one side, replace with a clean empty box.
  • Place the sloping board, or ramp, in front of the brood box being sure to leave a gap of at least 10cm.
  • Cover the ramp with a clean cloth, but ensure the cloth does not conceal the front end of the ramp. (the cloth stops bees getting lost in the grass)
  • Shake all the bees from all frames onto the cloth and place empty frames into the new/empty box on the original site - except for the frame with a queen cell which should be carefully brushed clean of bees to avoid damaging the developing larva.
  • Brush and shake all bees from the old brood box onto the cloth.
  • Go away for at least ten minutes, have a cup of coffee or inspect another colony whilst the bees settle.
  • On your return, the majority of the flying bees will have returned to the original site, the queen will have hidden beneath the ramp and will be surrounded by a cluster comprising house bees and flying bees.
  • Put new frames into the old box, along with one frame of brood.
  • Gently put the Q+ cluster into this new box and place it on a separate hive stand somewhere else in the apiary - none of those bees will return to the original site because the flyers think they have swarmed, and none of the non-flyers will have located to the previous site.
Read more about swarm control and artificial swarms on Dave Cushman's site - including the Demaree, using a Snelgrove Board, a Horsely Board etc.. All are acceptable for the Basic, although some are complicated to describe during assessment without equipment to hand.

Roger Paterson from Wisborough Green BKA, who now maintains Dave Cushman's site, prefers the Wakeford Method of swarm control, which is described here .

4.8 able to describe how to take a honeybee swarm and how to hive it;
You need suit, boots, gloves, smoker, brush, secateurs or loppers, skep and/or large box, large cloth or sheet.

Be confident that the swarm is in a place you can reach using the equipment available, that it will fit into the container you have. If neither apply, then leave it to somebody else or come back later with more equipment.

Removing swarm
A swarm is usually docile, but best to wear protective clothing and have smoker lit - just in case something goes awry.
  • Make sure the swarm is in a safe-to-reach place.If not, leave it there.
  • Knock, or brush, bees from the branch or wall into a skep or similar container.
  • Upend the container over a cloth, leaving a narrow entrance at ground level to let any flying bees join the rest of the swarm.
  • Leave until dusk, if possible, to collect all flying bees.
  • Close box and seal (make sure there is air), or tie a sheet round the skep.
  • Take away from the swarm site.
At Apiary
  • Tip or 'march' bees into a hive + frames.
  • Once inside, some people like to put a queen excluder beneath brood box or across entrance to reduce risk of absconding.
  • Some people like to offer a frame of brood, to 'anchor' the swarm.
  • Feed swarm in three days - any disease they may have been carrying will be sealed in wax.
  • Can use oxalic acid to treat varroa, because there will be no sealed brood.
  • Some people always take swarms to an isolation apiary, in case they are carrying a serious disease.
  • If concerned, wash protective clothing before handling other colonies.
4.9 able to describe the signs of a queenless colony and how to test if a colony is queenless;
A queenless colony can be restless and noisy. The bees can become 'followers' and more likely to sting unprovoked. Inside the hive there will be no eggs or young larvae and incoming supplies are often stored randomly on the comb.

A frame containing eggs and young larvae can be taken from another colony and put into this hive (without attendant bees). Mark the top of this frame - use a pen or a drawing pin.

Check the frame in 3 days:
  • If there is a new queen cell then the colony is trying to replace a lost queen, and should be left alone for 3 weeks. (Shortest time for queen to emerge, take mating flights, and start laying.)
  • If there is no queen cell, and still no sign of newly laid eggs or young larvae, repeat.
4.10 able to describe the signs of laying workers and of a drone laying queen;
A drone laying queen will lay only single, unfertilised eggs, which will develop into drones. The brood pattern may be solid.

A laying worker may lay several eggs per cell, which may be part way down the cell because her abdomen may not be long enough to reach the bottom. The brood pattern will be patchy, may be a 'pepper pot' pattern - with drone brood, and only drone brood, dotted about on the comb.

4.11 able to describe a simple method of queen introduction;
No method is infallible, but this is one method if introducing a bought-in, caged, queen.
  • Create a small queenless nucleus colony - 2 frames of brood, 1 frame of food. Add more house bees.
  • Leave for a couple of days, then remove any queen cells they have created. (After 5 days there should be no eggs or larvae for them to use to create any queen cells.)
  • Suspend the queen cage between the two frames of brood.
  • Leave for a couple of days, then remove the stopper and place a plug of newspaper in the gap (so bees do not have immediate, direct, access to the queen.)
  • Replace cage - the bees should release her.
  • In 2 or 3 days gently remove cage to be sure queen has been released.
4.12 aware of the dangers of robbing and how robbing can be avoided;
Bees from one colony can suddenly decide that another colony is a good source of food.
  • The robbed colony will try to defend itself, but a serious attack from a larger colony can mean the 'robbed' colony will be destroyed.
  • A robbed colony can become very defensive, and agressive towards any thing that approaches, which can be dangerous.
  • Even if the robbed colony successfuly defends itself, it can lose all, or almost all, its' stores.
Robbing can be avoided by:
  • keeping entrances small and easy to defend;
  • never open feeding;
  • never leaving frames in the apiary area for 'the bees to clean';
  • being careful with syrup - avoid spillages;
  • not using entrance feeders;
  • pointing hives in different directions may help because there is less drifting (and so neighbouring bees don't find a new 'food source' by mistake);
4.13 able to describe one method of uniting colonies;
  • Place the two hives next to each other for a couple of days, then 
  • Place a piece of newspaper over brood box of strongest colony.
  • Pierce the newspaper a couple of times so pheromones can move through both boxes as well as offering ventilation.
  • Place weaker colony/brood box above newspaper. (Better for the bees, less heavy for the beekeeper.)
  • Feed from above (feeder or super from the same hive) because upper box bees will not be able to forage until they have worked through the newspaper.
  • Leave alone for a few days, scraps of newspaper will be thrown out of the entrance if 'combine' is successful.
  • Remove the rest of the newspaper before they stick it down.
4.14 aware of the reasons for uniting bees and the precautions to be taken;
A colony may have become queenless at a time when it cannot raise a new queen, or may have become too small to survive winter. The beekeeper may wish to introduce a new queen via a nucleus or from an earlier split.

Colonies have to be combined carefully, and slowly enough so that the bees get used to each others' pheromones before they are in contact with each other, otherwise they will fight - and both colonies could be lost.

4.15 able to describe a method used to clear honeybees from supers;
  • Place an empty super beneath the one to be cleared of bees - gives space for bees to move.
  • Place clearer board beneath full super.
  • Leave for a couple of hours if using lozenge-shaped bee escape, overnight if using Porter bee escape. (Porter escapes can get jammed by drones or propolised closed)
  • Check no bees in super, cover it with cloth and take it away or
  • Remove frames to a container, replace with fresh frames.
  • Do not put super or honey frames onto the ground - they contain food.
4.16 able to describe the process of extracting honey from combs and a method of straining and bottling of honey suitable for a small scale beekeeper;
Wash hands (hygiene), then do not touch anything other than comb and honey-extracting equipment whilst extracting, otherwise there will be honey absolutely everywhere.

Comb to jar Method 1.
  • Hold frame of honey over a large clean food grade container - bucket, large plastic box or a preserving pan..
  • Cut all comb from all frames.
  • Crush and or mash the comb.
  • Pour crushed comb into a sieve suspended over another clean, food grade, container.
  • Put into a warm place and leave overnight.
  • By morning almost all the honey will have dripped from the cut and crushed comb.
  • Leave to settle for from a day to a week, then put into jars.
  • Place crushed cappings in container above crown board for bees to retrieve honey.
Comb to jar Method 2.
  • Support frame over a large container and cut off wax cappings.
  • Let cappings fall into container.
  • Place frame in extractor. (If tangential make sure cell openings are pointing outwards)
  • Check honey gate (valve) is securely closed.
  • Put clean bucket/box/settling tank + strainer beneath honey gate - in case.
  • Spin gently.
  • When some honey is in bottom of extractor check honey gate again.
  • If tangential extractor frames must now be turned through 180 degrees and replaced, to extract other side of frame.
  • Spin gently until extractor is balanced, then speed up - not too fast you will break the gears.
  • Continue until either all frames are done, or the honey is touching the bottom of frames when placed in the basket.
  • Make sure the collecting bucket & strainer are beneath the honey gate.
  • Open extractor's valve - check position again, otherwise honey will end up on the floor.
  • Resist urge to eat too much fresh honey.
  • If using a small bucket/container to collect the honey make sure it doesn't overflow.
  • Leave to stand in 'settling tank' (bucket), until bubbles rise to top of the honey.
  • Carefully position clean jar beneath honey gate (valve).
  • Slowly open valve and fill jar.
  • Turn off valve / close honey gate.
  • Put lid on jar
  • Repeat the last 4 items until all honey is in jars.
Heather honey is less easy to extract.
  • It is thixotropic and can only be extracted using either a special honey extracting equipment, or a tangential extractor whilst the comb is warm. 
  • Using a simple press the comb needs to be warmed, cut from the frames, put into filter bag and into a warm (heated) press. It can be poured from the press directly into jars - it will quickly turn back into a gel if left in honey buckets.
  • Bubbles are normal for heather honey, they will not rise to the top of the jar.
  • It takes ages the first time you try, especially when the comb and equipment is too cold. 
  • Heather honey is often sold as cut comb.
4.17 aware of the need for good hygiene in the handling of honey for human consumption;
Food production needs to be done in a clean, and easily cleanable, bee-proof place - not in a garden shed or a dog-friendly kitchen.
Equipment should be food grade plastic or stainless steel.
Clean hands and clean clothing do not transmit bacteria and disease.

4.18 aware of the legal requirements for the labelling and sale of honey;
If the honey is being sold away from the beekeeper's apiary or home address, or through a third party (shop), the labels should include:
  • The word Honey.
  • Producer's address and contact information.
  • Country of origin.
  • Weight - metric (and imperial) - must be one of 57g, 113g, 227g, 340g, 454g, 680g, or a multiple of 454g.
  • Best before date.
  • Batch number.
  • The label and associated statements must be clear, legible, indelible and in a conspicuous position, either on the container, or securely attached to the container, so that it will be readily visible and easily read by an intending purchaser under normal conditions of purchase or use. 
  • Picture must not be misleading, e.g. a flower should be the nectar source.
If honey is being sold directly to the consumer from the apiary or beekeeper's home address (quote):
Under these circumstances the Food Labelling Regulations provide some flexibility for the way in which the required labelling information is presented.
For honey the essential labelling information is: the name of the food, a weight indication (prescribed quantity), country of origin and price per jar.
The labelling information for these products may appear either on a label attached to the food or on a notice, ticket or label that is clearly visible to the intending purchaser at the place where the food is selected please refer to our non pre-packed guidance notes).
Please note: Selling food loose or pre-packed for direct sale does not require a minimum durability date. However, we would recommend the use of a 'lot' or 'batch' identification to help facilitate a recall of the product if one were necessary.

It is worth periodically checking your local trading standards website for any changes in regulations.

4.19 able to give an elementary account of the harvesting of beeswax;
  • Put old frames, scraps of wax, residue from honey production into a solar wax extractor.
  • Make sure lower, mesh, end of wax basket is above the wax collecting tin.
  • Put cover on top of extractor, and check it is pointing towards midday sun - about 60 degrees above horizontal and due south.
  • Leave for a few days (or weeks, if it's perpetually cloudy)
  • Collect cake of wax from extractor, scrape off and discard any obvious debris.
  • Melt again, gently, in a bain marie.**
  • Filter (through old, clean, tights or muslin) into a clean mould.
  • Leave to cool
 ** Beware - wax can self-ignite if heated in a microwave.
4.20 aware of the need for good apiary hygiene;
  • Keeping clothing and equipment clean will limit the transfer of disease from one apiary to the next. (Bees drifting between hives will transfer disease and parasites within one apiary site.)
  • Washing clothing, especially after bees have stung, will remove pheromones.
  • Wearing thin disposable gloves will save the need to worry about washing propolis from thicker leather or latex gloves.
  • A container of washing soda and bleach solution can be used to clean hive tools between hives - important if disease suspected in one hive.
  • Honey supers should not be put directly onto the ground, always at least on an upturned roof or a clean polythene tray.
4.21 aware of the need for regular brood comb replacement.
To reduce pesticide residues in wax/comb, limit storing of wax-transferred disease, easier to see eggs in new comb.

4.22 aware of the various web based resources relating to beekeeping such as BBKA and Beebase.
See list in this blog's sidebar >>>

There are 'notes' for each section of the 'Basic Assessment' syllabus:
BBKA Basic Assessment : Syllabus 2013
Basic Assessment notes - Part 1 : Manipulation of a Honeybee Colony
Basic Assessment notes - Part 2 : Equipment
Basic Assessment notes - Part 3 : Natural History of the Honeybee
Basic Assessment notes - Part 4 : Beekeeping
Basic Assessment notes - Part 5 : Disease and Pests
BBKA Basic Assessment notes : On the day


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