Practical techniques

From woodworking to beekeeping

The best thing about buying and selling old tools is that you get to meet some very interesting people. The most recent encounter was with a gentleman by the name of Mel McMahon, who purchased some G.Steadman round moulding planes from me.
Our conversation about woodworking and respect for traditional craft led to an interest in ecology and it turned out that Mel was also a beekeeper. Not a man to go out and buy hives, Mel had constructed his own
and gave me lots of information about the hive construction, the colony, varieties of different bees, the reasons for current reductions in bee populations, so much fascinating stuff. I asked Mel if he could possibly photograph some of his bees for the blog with some caption information and this is what he sent.

‘This image shows one side of the frames we use. Drones (male bees), (sized foundation) cells and used in this case by the bees for honey stores, capped honey to the upper part of the frame. The bottom left hand corner shows a section of the wax foundation we use to start/direct the bees and just to the right, along the bottom bar two of the wire re-enforcing strands in this foundation.

These frames are approximately 14″ x 8.5 (brood size) and the shaping of the top end of the side verticals ensure these frames are self spacing i.e. a constant gap between all. The brown colouring on these frames is propolis, a gummy resin secreted by trees and collected by the bees as a cement; used for gap filling and sticking these frames down. The bees don’t like movement inside the hive (like us with that wobbly bench). Similarly the yellow plastic ends, just a slightly wider spacing’.

‘Above is a similar frame but with worker sized foundation, capped brood to the majority with stored/capped honey to the upper. The empty ‘W’ shape cells are where the wire foundation runs through; the queen is selective enough not to lay eggs in these cells, but all made of new wax and a nice compact brood pattern’.

‘This image is even more interesting, no frame just a top bar, so the bees have built their comb off this, hanging down in the dark. It is fixed at both sides to the inner walls of the brood box, hence a long thin (sharp) ham knife works fine.

Double sided (maximum use of their valuable wax),a better compact brood area with no wires. All looking more natural, multi-coloured pollen (the protein in the bees diet) to the left hand side and upper left hand side of the brood area, some pearly white (not yet capped) larvae.

Probably 3lbs of honey in this frame, not that it would ever be extracted as it’s the brood area. Full, maybe 5lbs+!
As summer turns into Autumn and the queen decreases her egg laying, this brood area would similarly decrease and become further honey storage for the winter months ahead’.

‘The last picture shows how these frames hang and are removed from a colony; not recommended practice you understand, but one learns good handling and the ability to read a colony and its mood.

Not such a good photo; some years old and a laminated scan, but clearly not the “Killer Bees” we hear about!’

Words & pics – Mel McMahon