General Questions

How do I do a shook swarm?
There is growing recognition of the advantages of a shook swarm as a way of drastically reducing the levels of varroa on bees and for the general good health of the colony. Previously, a shook swarm was only known as a treatment for European Foul Brood (EFB) but it has found wider application. Here in North Devon we can carry out a shook swarm in late March but elsewhere you may wish to leave it until later. The trick is to time it so the queen has already built up the colony to about 5 or 6 frames of brood.  At this point remove the hive to one side of the site and replace with a clean new hive body and floor for which you have 10 new frames of foundation, or in the case of our plastic frames, 10 newly waxed frames.  Put 5 frames in the hive body but split so 3 are at one side and 2 at the other with a wide gap between them.  to ensure the colony stays in the new hive insert a queen excluder between the floor and hive body. This will prevent the queen escaping and the bees swarming. You should later remove this queen excluder as soon as the queen starts to lay and in any event not later than 7 days after the transfer. We also advise inserting the varroa tray at this point in order to make the interior of the hive as dark as possible, this also aids settling down the colony. The tray should be removed at the same time as the queen excluder.
Ideally, find the queen and place her in a queen cage, she will not need any attendants for the short time she is going to be there. Then simply take each frame in turn from the old hive and shake the bees into the new hive body.  If you see the queen on a frame of young unsealed brood simply put her and the frame straight into the new hive.  Do not shake her or her accompanying bees off the frame. This frame will become your "bait frame" for a second mopping up operation on the varroa.  If you did not see the queen do not worry but after you have gone through all the old frames select one of unsealed brood (eggs and larva) and put this in the middle of the new hive and replace the remaining new frames, 2 to each side of the old frame, which will leave you with one new frame left over. Put this somewhere safe as you will need it later.

If you did not find and cage the queen check the old hive very carefully to ensure the queen is not still there.  She may be on the floor or climbing up the inside of the old hive.  Brush her into the new hive but avoid shaking too much debris from the old hive floor into the new hive. One of the benefits of this method is the bees start in new clean quarters so to speak and the levels of harmful bacteria will be much lower in the new hive - so try hard not to re-introduce any.

If you found and caged the queen introduce her back to the hive, letting her onto the bait frame.  If there were any supers on the old hive these can simply be transferred across now providing there is no brood in them.  Ensure a queen excluder is used to prevent the queen laying in the supers and then replace the roof, with one of our full width feeders under the roof unless there is a strong local flow of nectar on.The remaining brood you must now destroy. Either by melting if you have a wax steamer or simply cut out the comb and bury it in the compost heap.  Something like 80% or more of the varroa in the hive would have been in the sealed brood so by destroying the brood you set back the varroa population significantly.

The new colony needs to be fed 1:1 sugar syrup until they have drawn out at least half the new comb unless there is a strong flow and good weather. You can find our range of bee feed and supplements here. One of the advantages of doing this in the Spring is you may be able to take advantage of any Oil Seed Rape locally so saving on sugar and effort.

Assuming there was no sealed brood on the bait frame you put in the new hive leave it for about 7 days or until at least half of it sealed and then remove and destroy it. Under no circumstances leave it until sealed brood starts to emerge - about 12 days after the first cell is sealed. This manipulation mops up many of the phoretic (from the Greek for "carrying") mites which were physically on the bees and therefore were transferred across to the new hive. As the new brood reaches the point when it is going to be sealed by the bees the mites jump into the cells in preparation for completing their life cycle by breeding.

As a final hit for the varroa you can apply a varroa treatment such as oxalic acid or formic acid.  For maximum effectiveness these must be completed before there is any sealed brood - so within the first couple of weeks of the shook swarm. 

When should I not carry out a shook swarm?
Do not carry out shook swarms on weak colonies although if essential because of severe varroa levels shake the bees into a polystyrene nucleus box which will ensure they stay warm.

Also, do not destroy the bees which are going to bring in your main honey crop. If this is in July then around the middle of May is about as late as you can leave a shook swarm. After this you risk a severe depletion of foragers at the critical nectar gathering time.

What can I expect after a shook swarm?
Colony numbers will dip at first due to the break in brood rearing but after that expect colonies which have been shook swarmed to outperform those which were not given the treatment. This happens due to the combined effect of low varroa levels, low pathogen levels and perhaps most importantly the manipulation triggers the "swarm reflex" which is the reflex newly swarmed bee have to establish their colony quickly. The bees will work all hours of daylight to bring in forage to allow the comb to be drawn and thereafter expect the queen to go into egg laying overdrive. Within 6 weeks expect the bees to have filled all 10 frames in the brood chamber at which point you may wish to give them a second.

What do I do if I think I may have a case of EFB or AFB?
Contact your local bee inspector at once and follow their advice but be aware they may not be familiar with polystyrene hives. Draw their attention to the CSL leaflet reference on page 30 of the Foul Broods publication on chemical sterilisation. A strong bleach solution will kill AFB spores.

Does Apilife Var melt plastic?
Apilife Var will melt plastic if it comes into contact with it. The way to prevent this is to use part of the packet the strips come in by placing square of it above the strip and if using plastic frames do the same underneath. The manufacturers have approved this method. It is only direct contact with the strip, which can cause melting.  The vapours given off by the tablet do not cause any problems.

How do I light a smoker?
The easiest fuel to obtain and use are wood shavings which you can buy from pet suppliers, where it is sold for small animal bedding. Sprinkle a small amount in the bottom of the smoker, add a small twist of newspaper and light with a long match, gently squeezing the bellows until the wood shavings are burning well. Then slowly add more shavings, a handful at a time, on each occasion using the bellows to keep it alight, don't expect to see flames, just lots of dense white smoke. You can also start a smoker with a gas blowlamp, and this is probably the quickest, but do not push the end of the blowlamp too deeply into the smoker or it will go out. While doing your rounds of the hives give the smoker a puff of air from time to time to keep it alight and top up with shavings before it goes out!

When finished, plug the smoke outlet with some wet grass and lay the smoker down in an airtight and heat proof container, such as a metal biscuit tin. Alternatively, lay it on its side out of reach of children and where it can't set fire to anything and wait until it goes out and cools naturally.

Our full range of smokers can be viewed here.

I am a complete beginner what should I buy?
We offer a package called ‘beekeeping in a box’ which is perfect for a beginner however, we do recommend that you get in touch and go along to your local beekeeping association before purchasing any equipment, first and foremost to see if beekeeping is for you and to find out the type of equipment that you like to use. Most associations will welcome you to pop along to one of their meetings and will lend you a suit and some gloves to get your first look at the bees, they will also run practical beekeeping courses which really is a must when starting out with bees, once you are on your course a suit or jacket, gloves, disposable gloves, smoker and hive tool will be the first pieces of equipment that you are going to need.

Disposable gloves should be worn over your beekeeping gloves when you are visiting an apiary where there are lots of hives in the vicinity and changed when you move from one hive to another to prevent the spread of disease, always remember to clean your hive tool between hives with washing soda or similar.

Once you have decided that beekeeping is for you, you will of course need a hive!  You will probably learn with a certain type of hive with your local association and it is usually easiest to purchase the same size hive as what the local beekeepers are using in the area, especially if you plan to purchase bees locally on frames.

How much does it cost to get started with beekeeping?
The cost depends largely on the beekeeper and the choice of equipment that he or she decides to use and how many hives he or she decides to upkeep, we sell a starter kit for £380 but this does not include bees which are around £180 and a practical beekeeping course for a beginner is usually around £90.

An extractor is an expensive piece of kit and certainly doesn’t need to be purchased in the first season of beekeeping and some associations will have them to hire out to their members or have days where you can go along and use the clubs extractors for a small fee. Most beekeepers will tell you that one hive will soon become two and two will become four, so it can be an expensive but a very rewarding enjoyable hobby.

How much time does it take to keep bees?
Beekeeping is a seasonal hobby, during the winter there is little to be done however in spring the bees can take up a lot of your time! Going through a hive can take between 5 and 30 minutes.  

Where do I get bees from?
At Modern Beekeeping we recommend that you do not buy bees from the internet, you do not know what you are getting and it is often difficult to come to a resolution with the seller if there was to be a problem.

Purchasing local bees is advisable as you know that they do well in your areas climate, your local beekeeping association should be able to sell you a colony or be able to put you in touch with a local supplier that they approve.

Some new beekeepers look out for a swarm, or leave out their hive complete with frames inside in the hope that a swarm moves in. This sometimes works but in our experience for your first colony of bees you are best off purchasing them from an experienced beekeeper as they will be able to advise you on the temperament of the colony and if there is anything you need to look out for.

I have a swarm of bees in the garden, can you collect it?
Unfortunately we are unable to collect swarms as we are a supplier of beekeeping equipment only. However a local beekeeper will be happy to help, to find a local beekeeper that is happy to collect swarm please visit: http://www.bbka.org.uk/help/find_a_swarm_coordinator.php

Please note beekeepers are not usually able to get rid of wasps and if you have bumblebees nesting in your garden, please leave them where they are if possible.

How many treatments does a bottle of HiveClean do and how long does it keep for?
A bottle of hive clean will do around 30 treatments and will certainly last the whole beekeeping season and up to 12 months providing it is stored in a cool dark place, if it is kept in direct sunlight it will deteriorate fairly quickly and may only last a few months. HiveClean is available here.

Are your hives compatible with Swienty Hives and can I buy Swienty Hives from you?
Our hives are not compatible with Swienty hives as our Paradise Honey hives interlock which also means that our queen trap anti-swarm system cannot be modified to fit a Swienty hive.

However if you would like to order any hives from Swienty we are able to do this on your behalf, please contact us in the first instance and to discuss your requirements.

Do you sell wooden hives?
At Modern Beekeeping we specialize in polystyrene beehives, polystyrene hives have been used in Europe for 30 years where they have proven to be effective and durable. We do not stock wooden hives as we believe that polystyrene hives are much more superior to the wooden hives.