A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Natural or National

After doing lots of research into becoming a Beekeeper I have come across an alternative to the national hive that I have already posted details about. The hive I talk about is The Top Bar Hive or TBH. Unfortunately I started reading about this hive design after I had purchased my National hive or I would have strongly considered the TBH option.

For the hobbyist beekeeper the TBH has lots of advantages over the National standard option.
  •  The first obvious one is the cost. My National hive was a budget option that I had to construct myself and was over £100 (£190 including suit, smoker etc), while a TBH can be constructed using spare wooden boards or the timber can be purchased relatively cheap, even as flat pack they can be bought for £60 or there about.
  • The second major advantage for the hobbyist is lack of heavy lifting involved. With a National hive if you want to inspect the brood body you have to lift off the supers above and if there is a large amount of honey in them they can be heavy, also by removing a large section of the hive you have a risk of annoying the bees more than needed. With the TBH there is little to no heavy lifting, once the lid is taken off you can lift each individual bar one at a time to inspect the colony, the only weight being lifted is the weight of the bar and the weight of the comb (plus any bees that stay on the comb).
  • The third reason is ease of harvest. With the TBH all you need to do to harvest is to remove the comb that has honey stored in it and cut the wax away from the top bar then place the bar back in place for the bees to remake the honey comb, you then can mash up the honey comb and strain to separate the honey from the wax, this also gives you more beeswax than a national hive and removes the need for expensive equipment to spin the honey from frames like in a National hive.
  • The fourth reason is probably the most important reason and that is the Bees health. A TBH seems designed to be healthier for the Bees. The Bees make their own comb with a TBH so you don't have to buy wax foundation, further decreasing the cost. Bought comb can contain residual traces of disease or pesticides that shouldn't be put in a hive and when the honey is released from a National hive frame you put the comb back in. This apparently has the advantage to the Bees in that they have already got their comb built so can concentrate on collecting honey thus giving a higher yield, though I have read somewhere that there isn't a great difference in yield. With a National hive the tendency is to remove large quantities of honey at a time by taking off full honey supers and with TBH you take it as it's ready, 1 or 2 combs at a time. By taking it in small quantities at a time you a leaving the Bees with more of their natural food, honey, thus keeping them healthier. Also due to Bees making their own comb in a TBH they make it to their own size that they require unlike National where the foundation is already pressed out to a size defined by the manufacturer of the foundation. The Bees that make their own size comb are usually healthier and manage pests, such as Varroa, better.
There are other advantages and disadvantages but these are the main ones from my point of view. As I already have my National hive I will be sticking with that for the first year but come the next one will be looking into building my own TBH and putting Bees from my National hive into the TBH. I will post photos of the TBH when I start making it. For now I have a couple of photo's obtained from The Natural Beekeeping Forum.

These pictures have been kindly supplied by user tonybloke from The Natural Beekeeping Forum.

The picture on the right is a unoccupied TBH. This image is lifted straight from Phil Chandlers Natural Beekeepers site. The main page for Natural Beekeeping is here and includes free plans to build your own TBH.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: September Meeting

Yesterday I attended my first Beekeepers meeting at Newmillerdam. I would say I was definately the youngest person there by several years so felt a bit out of place at first. The meeting had a guest speaker who was talking about candlemaking and the properties of Beeswax. I found it very informative and when I finally get some bees and eventually have a bit of spare wax, I will then have a go at making a candle or 2!

After the meeting I got talking to someone who does beginner courses in beekeeping starting in May and I was surprised to find they only cost about £35!! Bargain! They also come with the option to buy some Bees at a discounted price at the end, approx £75, however by the end of the course it would be too late in the year for a new colony to produce enough honey for the beekeeper to take. I told the guy I intended to get my Bees prior to the course starting and do the course alongside being a first year Beekeeper and he said this isn't a problem. Maybe I'll still take advantage of the discount Bees with a mind to have a second hive up and running by the summer. One of the main questions I had to ask when at the meeting was whether members of Wakefield Beekeepers had access to a extractor for when the honey crop was ready, unfortunatly that question slipped my mind at the time and I forgot to ask. Oops!! I told the guy who hosts the course that I had already bought and assembled my hive and that I'd already made the frames including putting the foundation in. Unfortunately this was the wrong thing to do as the wax foundation can spoil if taken out of it's protective plastic wrapping. Oh well, I was excited about it all arriving and the foundation isn't the most expensive if I need to replace it. He did say that as long as I don't store it somewhere too cold it should be ok. I will see in the new year how big a mistake I made!!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


One of the reasons I have decided to get into Beekeeping is obviously for the honey but there are other uses to honey than just spreading it on your toast. One of these uses is for mead production. Again with mead I have no experience making it but decided to give it a go anyway. It will be about a year before I can get started though as without any bees there's no honey and with no honey there's no mead but thought it was a good idea to start researching now.

The process for making mead looks relatively simple once you have all the equipment needed. It basically the same equipment used in making wine. It involves heating up honey and water so that all the honey is dissolved into the water, some people advise to boil the mix to kill any natural yeasts, some don't. When it has cooled you add yeast and leave to ferment for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. I will continue to research this over the coming year and find a recipe that would be suitable to me and publish my findings. Once the mix has fermented the mead can be left for a considerable length of time, periodically racking your mead (racking is where you siphon from one container to another leaving the sediment behind), until it is ready to be bottled.
Various things can be added to mead in its production to aid fermentation and help the brew clarify but these aren't essential and I will look in to the various options closer the time.
There are many different variations of mead and one that interests me is Melomel or mead made with fruit. As my dad has a allotment that always has a abundance of plums I think at some point I will try a plum Melomel!

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Hive

This is my first hive (not including the Smith hive mentioned earlier) and I have built it myself. In this picture there is just the hive floor, the brood box, a super and the hive roof.

  • The hive floor is the bottom of the hive and is made from wire mesh so any bee debris and mites that fall will go through it and land on the inspection sheet
  • The brood box sits on top of the floor and is where the bees live. When the time comes I will put a queen excluder on top of this so the queen can't get into the supers and lay her eggs
  • The super sits on top of the brood box and is where the bees store the honey! I read somewhere that it is called a super from the Latin word for above as it sits above the brood.
  • The hive roof goes on the top of all this and seals the hive shut from the elements. It has built in ventilation and is waterproof (with any luck)

To the left is a better picture of the hive floor with the inspection sheet pulled half out. It is bright yellow to help identify fallen mites as they are dark red usually but white in their infancy. The design of this also helps ventilate the hive.

To the right is the brood box and a super both full with frames and a frame on top so you can see the size difference. The frames for brood box are bigger in height but the same width. Their side bars are also wider and this is so they self space, meaning that they are all the same distance apart. The smaller frames in the super sit in metal holders to keep them separate. Hopefully next year I will have pictures of these frames from the supers full of honey!!

The complete hive! In this picture there are both supers and you can see the ventilation hole on the hive roof. If you look at the bottom you will also see the hive entrance block in place. This restricts the size of the entrance thus giving the bees a better chance of fending of any would be intruders such as wasps or hornets. All that's left to do now is preserve it. I have read that cuprinol clear is the best for this as it doesn't contain insecticides which could be harmful to bees!

The Suit!

This is me in my Beekeeping suit. The jacket and the veil are combined but can be separated as there is a zip for removal. The jacket has several pockets at the front for carrying your hive tools and any thing else you think you'd need when inspecting your hive. The gloves have incorporated gauntlets with elastic at the end so bees will find it tricky to get in there and sting me (I HOPE!!). There was no bottoms included in the kit I got and i prefer it this way. I think it will be easier getting in and out of the suit if it doesn't have trousers as well plus jeans offer very good protection as long as you ALWAYS make sure your fly is pulled fully up!!!!!


Hello. I started to get interested in Beekeeping several months ago after seeing something on TV about keeping hives. Nature has always interested me but never really considered Beekeeping. In the days that followed I kept thinking it over in my head and as time went by I decided that it could be the hobby for me. Since getting the idea I have been researching as much as possible about as many aspects of Beekeeping as I can. One of the first things I did was ask my father if he'd be interested in helping and he also seemed keen so he got in touch with the people who run the allotment and several weeks or even months later we got the response that it was OK to keep bees on the allotment. I also tried to find my closest Beekeepers club. I managed to find one close to me but couldn't find contact details for them so I found another one that's fairly close and got in touch with one of their members asking about membership and how much it costs and what you get for that. She responded to me very quickly and was very helpful and advised me that they provided a honey extraction room included in membership. I then started looking into buying a hive and bought one from eBay that I believed would be good to start with. I really should have done a little bit more research first as the hive I bought was in OK condition but was a Smith hive so I may have had problems if I later bought a National hive due to different sizes. The hive I bought also didn't have a varroa floor (varroa being the nasty mite that can potentially ruin your hive) again something I should have researched before opening my wallet! Since then I have purchased a National hive that I have built myself which also included my suit, smoker and hive tools!
My objective of this Blog is to put my thoughts and experiences online so hopefully at some point someone may find something useful and also to keep records of what is going on in my hives and for others to pass on their advice!
I look forward to hearing peoples comments.