July Notes from Abbey Beekeeper

What a wonderful ten days sunshine we have just had. It has given my bees new heart and they are working hard. There was still no sign of swarming last week but with the change in weather and the easing of the blossom nectar flow, it would not be a surprise to find queen cells when I do my inspection later this week (June 10th).

July 1st . No sign of my two hives swarming. I am hoping, that with the flow on, they will be too busy gathering nectar to consider swarming.

I have ordered two Black Galtee Queens and plan to split my hives in Mid-July. I will use these queens to head the half which has no queen.

I have not done this before and am excited to see how it goes. The queens will arrive by Swift Post from Co. Tipperary. She will be housed in a small cage together with some workers to care for her. If it is the sort of cage I think it is, it will have a stopper at one end which I will remove and replace with fondant. The bees will gradually eat through the fondant and free her. By the time they have liberated her, they should  be well acquainted and happy to accept each other.

It is important to leave the nucs queenless for a while so that they realize they are queenless and thus happier to accept the new queen. Many years ago I was given a present of a Buckfast queen but when I introduced her my bees balled her and she did not survive.


The sunny weather had my solar wax extractor working full time. The beautiful fresh, pure beeswax is a joy to smell, touch and to look at. A solar wax extractor is a simple device for melting beeswax from old comb that is powered by the sun, has no moving parts and can be left unattended.

There are many plans regularly published in beekeeping magazines. Mine is rather small as I was working around an existing metal tray. If I were making one now I would make it larger.



It is a simple box with a hinged lid that is double glazed. There is a collector for the melted wax and a metal tray that has an “8” mesh filter at the bottom end.

My device is similar to the diagram, but the box is insulated by expanded polystyrene sheets on the inside. Even with this extra insulation it only runs well on days with clear blue sky and summer sun.

Greenhouse glass is recommended for the glazing and the uppermost sheet overlaps the bottom part of the box to allow rainwater to run off.

The mesh along the bottom edge of the melting tray is to strain out any large particles of debris and stop them reaching the collecting tray. The large particles and cocoons remain on the metal tray and is scraped out and can be used for garden compost or as a fire lighting medium.

Ladies’ tights (panty hose) can be utilised in Solar extractors… The rough quality wax and old comb are stuffed into the legs and then tied off. The sausages so formed are put in the extractor and the fine mesh retains a good deal of the debris whilst the molten wax runs easily out.


This is the busy time for a beekeeper and it is important to learn to handle bees correctly. It is hard to learn this from a book! The best way to learn is to work with an experienced beekeeper and watch them as they work their bees under varying conditions.

Many factors affect bee behaviour – weather, temperature, time of the day and time of the year. Bees hate thunder and it is wise to leave them alone until the thunder has well passed and they are back at work.

Generally bees are easiest to handle during the day when they are flying freely. Don’t go into a hive when the temp is below 60F or when there is a cold wind blowing. But don’t neglect bees during a bad spell of weather if they need attention.

You need to be in full control when handling bees. For me this requires wearing a bee suit, bee gloves and having a smoker producing plenty of smoke. Do check that the zips on the bee suit are fully closed – all too often bees have found their way into my suit and it is extremely unpleasant to find a bee or two inside your veil especially in the middle of manipulating a large colony.

The natural habitat for bees is a hollow in a tree. These are prone to lightning strikes and catching fire.  Smoke alerts the bees to flee and seek out a new nest. Before leaving, they gorge themselves with honey and with full bellies they are less aggressive and less likely to sting.

It is important to have an efficient smoker and vital to keep it full of fuel.  It is best to buy a big smoker even for small apiary.  Before lighting it make sure the nozzle is clear. With the beginner it often happens that the smoker goes out just when it is most needed.  Keep spare fuel close by! I carry some in my bee tool box.

Materials used in a smoker vary – old sacking, dry wood chippings, bad hay,  corrugated cardboard. I use wood chippings as they are readily available and it is easy to top up the smoker when the fuel is running low.

Don’t open a hive before the smoker is well lit. I am told that a wisp of grass inside the nozzle keeps the smoke cool. If sparks or burning fragments appear it is an indication that refuelling is needed.