October 11, 2016

Lighting and Using a Bee Smoker

The smoker is one of the most important pieces of beekeeping equipment and is essential for controlling the bee’sbehaviour. Moderate amounts of smoke applied to a bee colony will repel any aggressive bees and reduce defensive behaviour in general.

Smoke makes the colony believe there is a fire and they rush to save their honey stores by ingesting it into one of their stomachs. As well as occupying the bees attention, as their stomachs become full of honey they become less flexible and as a result less able to sting.

Lighting the Smoker

Light a small quantity of fuel, such as dried dead wood, starting it off with some lit paper or card and puff the bellows until the material flames. Continue adding more fuel slowly, packing it down with a hive tool while puffing the bellows, until the fire-pot is full. When the smoke is hot add a handful of green grass or damp leaves on top to cool and increase the quantity of smoke emitted. Always check that the smoke is not too hot so as to burn the bees, damaging their wings and body hair. A properly lit and well-packed smoker should provide enough smoke to inspect several colonies.

Using the Smoker at the Hive

As you approach the hive to be inspected, blow several puffs of smoke into the hive entrance and underneath the bottom of the hive if you are using an open meshed floor. Wait for about 30 seconds and then remove the roof of the hive and inner cover or crown board, puffing some smoke over the top as you do so.

While you remove frames for examination and as you separate the hive bodies, direct more puffs of smoke onto the top bars to repel bees downward. One application of smoke usually lasts several minutes and as bees move back up to the tops of the frames, it is normally possible to direct them back down with a couple of puffs of smoke. Use the same procedure when reassembling and closing up the hive to help avoid unnecessarily crushing bees..

As you gain more confidence you should aim to reduce the amount of smoke you apply to your hives as the less that is used the less disruptive it will be to the bees. Experience will help you judge the mood of your bees better and allow you to judge the smoke levels accordingly.

The amount of smoke needed will vary with the strain of bees kept, the weather conditions and the nectar flow. On warm, sunny days when a nectar flow is in progress, very little smoke may be needed. More smoke than usual will be needed during cool, cloudy weather. If you apply too much smoke the bees will start to pour or boil out of the hive. Smoke is not usually needed when installing packages of bees or collecting swarms and only small amounts of smoke should be used when removing honey supers and searching for the queen.

More about Bee Hive Inspection

Smith Bee Hive

The Smith Hive was designed by Scotsman Willie Smith last Century .The Smith Hive is essentially just a smaller and more simplified UK National Hive. The use of the Smith Hive is almost exclusive to the UK and in particular Scotland, where its smaller size is seen as an advantage when transporting to the heather. The frames are the same size as the National but have shorter lugs, that is , the bits that stick out at the top of the frame, are shorter.

As the Smith Hive has flatter sides than the National Hive it does not have indentations for lifting and carrying, so although lighter can be trickier to move around.

More Bee Hive Information

Cleaning Leather Beekeeping Gloves

Leather beekeeping gloves are often the first choice for new beekeepers as they do give the wearer a sense of being protected. Leather beekeeping gloves also tend to be included in a lot of beekeeping starter packs. The problem with wearing gloves while beekeeping is that they do get very sticky with honey and propolis (bee glue) and removing the propolis in particular is very difficult. It is important to keep gloves clean to reduce the chances of spreading diseases, especially from colony to colony. In addition the presence of previous stings on gloves can agitate the bees as they act as an alarm pheromone. However the application of smoke from your smoker usually does a good job of masking those scents.

We are often asked about keeping leather beekeeping gloves clean, so here are our tips for extending the life of your gloves. This will also work for goatskin beekeeping gloves.

If your leather beekeeping gloves are covered in propolis rather than trying to wash it off which will probably only make it stickier and spread it out more, put your gloves into the freezer until they are just about frozen, you don’t want them deep frozen. On removal from the freezer you will find that the propolis will crack away from the gloves.

You can then wash your leather beekeeping gloves in a solution of washing up detergent. We suggest you do this whilst wearing them as this will help maintain the shape. A medium bristle nail or toothbrush will help move some of the trickier stains. You can then hang them up to dry, do not put them into a tumble dryer.

Once dry put your hands into them to ensure they have stayed in shape. We then suggest a light application of olive oil to soften them up nicely and prevent them from cracking. Any unscented natural oil can be used for this. We understand mink oil is popular for softening leather beekeeping gloves in some parts of North America, but we haven’t tried this ourselves.

Do let us know if you have any other tips for keeping those leather beekeeping gloves in tip-top condition!

More Information about Protective Beekeeping Clothing

Quick Look at Protective Beekeeping Clothing

You should wear a bee veil at all times to protect your face and neck from stings. There are three basic types of bee veils  available: those that are open at the top to fit over a hat, completely hatless veils and veils that form part of a bee suit. It should be noted that a wire or fabric veil that stands out away from the face worn over a wide-brim, lightweight hat that fits securely offers the best protection. Veils without hats, although lightweight and fold easily for transport, do not always fit as securely on the head as they should. The elastic band that fits around your head often works upward, allowing the veil to fall against your face and scalp as you bend over to work with bees, allowing the possibility of bees being able to sting on contact.

A wide variety of coveralls or full bee suits are available to beekeepers in a wide price range. The most expensive bee suits are not always the best or easiest to use. Full bee suits are useful to avoid getting propolis on your clothing and greatly reduce stings if maintained properly and laundered regularly. Shirt veils or smock veils are also very popular, these usually have attached/ removable veils. Smocks are easier, especially for quick bee hive inspections as they can just be pulled on without the need to remove footwear or struggle into the bottom part of a full suit.

White or tan clothing is most suitable when working bees, although other colours are acceptable and multi colours are becoming more popular as beekeeping becomes more fashionable. Light coloured suits make it easier to spot the bees, especially on removal of the suit. Bees also react unfavourably to dark colours, fuzzy materials and clothing made from animal fibres.

Beginners who fear being stung should wear canvas or leather gloves, until they gain confidence. Although many experienced beekeepers find gloves cumbersome and are happy to risk a few stings for the sake of easier handling. Surgical or lab type gloves and some household chore gloves are probably best as they still allow ease of movement but keep the fingers from becoming too sticky from honey and propolis, they are also easier to keep clean.

Ankles with dark socks and open wrists are areas vulnerable to stings. Angry bees often attack ankles first as they are at the level of the hive entrance. You should secure your trouser bottoms with string, bicycle clips or rubber bands or tuck them inside your shoes, boots or socks. Again make sure your wrists are protected and most suits will have tight elasticated wrist bands, which can be tucked into gloves for extra protection.

You should avoid using strong-smelling perfumes, cologne and cosmetic products when working with bees as strong smells tend to attract bees. You should also regularly launder clothing and gloves used in inspection to eliminate the odours from old stings which might attract and irritate the bees. Consuming alcohol or bananas before examining your bees it is generally believed, also irritates them.

More about Protective Beekeeping Clothing

Bee Brush – Beekeeping Equipment

A lot of beekeepers say they could not be without their bee brush. The purpose of a bee brush is to gently brush the bees from off the comb to better aid inspection or to remove frames for harvesting honey. The bee brush cannot be any old brush, otherwise the bee will be damaged, but a specially made one with silky soft bristles. The shape of the brush has also been designed to reduce the friction on the bodies of the bees.

We rarely use a bee brush as we have found that the bees do not respond well to them. Usually the same result of clearing a frame can be achieved with some vigorous shaking, or a feather or a leaf for smaller numbers of bees.

It should be noted however that bee brushes are probably more essential for top bar hive beekeeping, as they do not have frames and the comb needs to be handled more delicately, as it does not have the supporting structure that the frames provide.

For clearing larger numbers of bees off large numbers of frames of honey, then a bee blower is recommended.

More BeeKeeping Equipment Information

Hive Tools for Beekeeping

The hive tool is an essential tool for the beekeeper. These are specially designed metal bars which you will not be able to manage without as they are a ‘must have’ for prying apart frames in a brood chamber or honey super, separating hive bodies and scraping away wax and propolis. Never be tempted to make do with a screwdriver or putty knife or similar, as you will only end up damaging your frames and hive boxes.

Hive tools are usually 9 to 10 inches long and may look like something you would find in your local DIY or builders store but are in fact only available from beekeeping suppliers. The shiny thinner end is primarily used for separating the hive bodies and supers, as the bees gather propolis and use it as glue to hold their boxes tightly together. So when inspecting your hive, you will need to use this hive tool to separate stuck together pieces. The hooked end of the hive tool is used mostly for scraping off the propolis and it is important to scrape off as much excess propolis as you can to prevent build up and to keep a cleaner hive. The small hole in the hive tool is for pulling out nails if required.

We prefer a J shaped tool which is shaped as the name suggests. It can do everything the standard tool can do but the J shape makes moving and gently prizing up stuck frames easier, but it is up to the individual. Most people tend to start with one type of tool,often as a result of using it at an introductory beekeeping class , then buy it, get used to it and then just stick with that type of hive tool.

You can buy a holster for your hive tool but most beekeepers prefer to hold the hive tool in the palm of their hand to keep it accessible, while still keeping their fingers free for lifting boxes and frames. The hive tool should be cleaned regularly to remove propolis, wax, and honey and most importantly to prevent the spread of disease. Ideally you should clean your hive tool after inspecting one hive and before moving onto another. This may be done by burning it in the hot fire-pot of a smoker, or we use a solution of washing soda (sodium carbonate) which is also great for shifting propolis. Apart from your hive tools you should rinse your gloves in this solution between hive inspections as well and we carry a bucket of this solution with us when inspecting, to reduce the risk of the spread of diseases.

More about Beekeeping Equipment

Where to get your Bee Hives

The actual bee hive is the most expensive piece of equipment for a beekeeper and it is this cost that can often put off many from starting beekeeping.  A good quality redwood  bee hive will set you back at least $300 and since it is recommended that you ideally start with two hives or colonies then that figure is doubled. However if you look after your hives and treat the wood regularly they will last for years. If you decide later that beekeeping is not for you there is usually a good second-hand market, so you will recoup some of your original outlay.

Hives components are usually unassembled or ‘flat packed’ when purchased, but most suppliers offer an assembly service for a higher price and shipping fee. If you hate DIY this extra charge will be well worth the lack of stress. However full assembly instructions are supplied by bee supply dealers and are usually easy to follow. If you are putting the hives together you will need to familiarise yourself with the parts of a hive first, preferably seeking the help of a more experienced beekeeper in assembling the hive components for the first time. Also if you are just starting out you will need to ensure that you have your hives ready in plenty time for the arrival of your bees. Remember spring  is when everyone orders and a lot of suppliers have a problem keeping up with demand, so order early!

Some beekeepers find they can save money by making their own equipment or by purchasing used equipment. With both approaches, the equipment must be a standard size. When constructing beekeeping equipment, a thorough understanding of bee space is a necessity. Many beekeepers find they can economically make covers, hive bodies and bottom boards, but frames are more difficult and time-consuming. Success depends on availability and cost of materials, proper woodworking equipment and the beekeeper’s woodworking skills.

Purchasing used equipment can present problems and is not recommended for the beginner. Initially you may have problems simply locating a source of used equipment and determining its value or worth. In addition, secondhand equipment may be of non-standard dimensions or contaminated with pathogens that cause various bee diseases, despite considerable time in storage. Always ask for an inspection certificate indicating that the state apiary inspector examined the hives and did not find any evidence of disease. In addition we recommend that you clean all secondhand wooden hive parts yourself, a blowtorch carefully applied is ideal for this and is what most experienced beekeepers use.

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Bee Hive Parts – Frames and Comb

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and . The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a , to prevent the queen entering and laying.


The suspended beeswax comb held within a frame is the basic structural component inside the hive. In a man-made hive, the wooden or plastic beeswax comb is started from a sheet of beeswax or plastic foundation. After the workers have added wax to draw out the foundation, the drawn cells are used for storage of honey and pollen or used for brood rearing.

Frames are 17 5⁄8 inches long and either 9 1⁄8, 7 1⁄4, 6 1⁄4, or 5 3⁄8 inches high to fit the various hive-body depths. Each frame consists of a top bar, two end bars, and a bottom bar. Top bars may be either grooved or wedged; bottom bars are split, solid, or grooved. Some types may have advantages over others, but the choice is generally a personal preference that includes consideration of cost. Top bars are suspended on ledges or rabbets in the ends of the hive body. V-shaped metal strips or metal frame spacers (castellations) are often nailed into the recess for reinforcement.

The size and number of frames used will depend upon the type and size of hive. There are basically two types of frames; self spacing frames often called Hoffman and Manley frames and conventional frames that require separate spacers. Having the correct space between the frames is important to ensure the correct ‘bee space’. That is there is enough space for the bees to crawl freely through but not so much that they will fill the space with comb or propolis. Self spacing frames have slightly tighter spacing than that given by conventional frames using spacers.

The comb foundation consists of thin sheets of beeswax imprinted on each side with patterns of worker-sized cells. Foundations are often reinforced with embedded wires, thin sheets of plastic, metal edges, or nylon threads. When deciding whether to invest in plastic beeswax foundation in plastic frames versus pure beeswax foundation in wooden or plastic frames, initial cost, assembly time, durability and length of expected use are all factors you should consider. Plastic foundation and frames are however becoming increasingly popular.

More Bee Hive Information

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and . The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a queen excluder, to prevent the queen entering and laying.

Queen Excluder

The primary functions of the queen excluder is to confine the queen and her brood to certain areas of the hive. The queen excluder is constructed of a thin sheet of perforated metal or plastic with openings large enough for workers to pass through, but not the larger queen.  Other designs consist of welded round-wire grills supported by wooden or metal frames.

The excluder is usually put on the top of the hive bodies but below the supers. The idea being that the queen will not enter the supers and lay eggs there, thereby leaving all the cells free for honey for the beekeeper.

It is however an optional piece of equipment and is used by less than 50 percent of beekeepers. Many beekeepers refer to queen excluders as ‘honey excluders’ because at times workers are reluctant to pass through the narrow openings of the excluder to store nectar in the supers above, until all available space in the brood chambers is used up. To minimise this problem, allow the bees to begin storing nectar in the supers before installing the excluder. Nectar stored in drawn comb will entice the bees to pass through the excluder. You should never put supers of empty (that is not drawn out) foundation above a queen excluder.

A queen excluder can also help in finding the queen. If you place an excluder between two hive bodies, after 3 days you will be able to determine which hive body contains the queen by locating where eggs are present.

More about Bee Hives

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and inner and outer covers. The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a , to prevent the queen entering and laying.

It might seem unusual to have two covers on a hive, the inner cover and the top cover. However in most bee hives the outer cover is the roof and the inner cover is a board that sits on top of the frames on the top most hive box.

Inner Cover

The inner cover or crown board rests on top of the uppermost super box and beneath the outer telescoping cover or roof. There are two main reasons for having this board the first being it prevents the bees from glueing down the outer cover  or roof to the super with propolis and wax. It also provides an air space just under the outer cover for insulation. During summer, the inner cover protects the interior of the hive from the direct rays of the sun and during winter, it prevents moisture-laden air from directly contacting cold surfaces and soaking them.

The hole in the inner cover may be fitted with a device known as a Porter bee escape (usually white plastic) which is an aid in removing bees from full supers of honey. This device is designed to allow the bees to go through it one way but not to re-enter, so that gradually all or most of the bees will have exited the honey box, making it easier to remove the frames for honey extraction.

Outer Cover or Roof

An outer telescoping cover protects hive parts from the weather. It fits over the inner cover and the top edge of the uppermost hive box. It is called a telescoping top cover because it hangs over the hive body and most telescoping top covers hang over between 1-2 inches. The top is normally covered with a sheet of metal to prevent weathering and leaking. Removal of the outer cover, with the inner cover in place, disturbs few bees within the hive and allows the beekeeper to more easily smoke the bees prior to colony manipulation.

Roofs do not have to have metal tops on them, but it does protect the wood from the weather. It is also very important to allow for some ventilation at the top of the hive in the winter as without some top ventilation, condensation can develop on the inside of the top of the hive and drip cold water down onto the winter cluster of bees. This can cause the bees to die and a little ventilation at the top can help the condensation to evaporate. Pre made hives will come with room ventilation.

Beekeepers that routinely move hives use a simple cover, often referred to as a migratory lid. Covers of this type fit flush with the sides of the hive body and may or may not extend over the ends. In addition to being lightweight and easy to remove, these covers allow colonies to be stacked. Tight stacking is important in securing a load of hives on a truck.

It is a good idea if you live in an area prone to high winds and storms to put a brick or a rock on top of the roof to weigh it down especially in winter, or when the hives are left unattended for any length of time.

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