Oxleas Wood Apiary
Beekeeping & Apiary
Apiary DIY Projects

Oxleas Wood

There's lots of Do-It-Yourself beekeeping projects available for Introduction to Beekeeping course class members, ranging from lipworking a traditional straw skep, construction of hornet traps, and design and build advanced electronics to Wi-Fi a hive to transmit data.

From below you can select a project that best suits your skills and talents, where we can we will help you with these, or you can learn to DIY from scratch yourself.

DIY projects are not limited to those listed below - we are open to your suggestions.

Solitary Bee Nest Plans

DIY build plans for post or wall mounted bee nest that will attract solitary Mortar or Masonry bees (Osmia rufa or Osmia bicornis).

Mortar or Masonry (Osmia) bees are slightly smaller than honey bees but similar in appearance. Like all bees they are important pollinators of plants, but unlike honey bees and bumble bees Osmia are solitary having no workers and no collective nest. Mortar bees excavate chambers in soft mortar joints in brick walls (approximately 20mm deep) and mining bees will excavate chambers in soft/sandy soil. Although they are solitary they do excavate their chambers close together and thus give the impression of being a colony and occupying the same habitat. The males and females are active from late April - mid June. On warm sunny days during this period they are busy constructing their chambers in mortar joints or soft/sandy soil. Despite popular belief mortar/masonry bees do not damage brickwork and mortar, and only take advantage of existing decay. They invariably choose areas that get a lot of sun and are frequently seen on south facing elevations of building.

With this project you provide the Osmia bees with an ideal nest site with ready made crevices fashioned from hollow bamboo cane, although other to hand materials will also provide the home that the bees are looking for. During the early Summer the female bees will work tirelessly to fill the stems with their offspring, laying an egg in a specially chamber stocked with food and sealed with a mud plug - successive egg chambers are laid in a horizontal stack on a first-in last-out basis.

chloes Bees
chloes Bees
chloes Bees

Drone Mating Congregation Areas

From around the onset of the swarming season continuing through to late June-July, the drones from colonies located in the general locality congregate in particular areas to await the passing of virgin Queens for mating. These aerial mating congregations are believed to occur at the same locality every year so. with the drones and Queens being in their first year, there is great mystery of just why, how and where the locations of these congregations arise.

What is known is that the congregation occurs usually late morning to early afternoon; that the eager drones await at an altitude of between 8 to 40m above ground in an open area of up to 3km distant from the natal Apiaries; and that the activity is promoted by pheromones excreted by the Queen during her nuptial flight. Once a Queen has entered the congregation the drones form an affray in tracking behind the Queen until a successful candidate grasps the Queen in flight in an explosive act of union, so violent that the drone is left bereft of his genitalia falling to the ground yielding to the ultimate sacrifice passing to the transcendent state of Nirvana. It is at this point, when the drones are individually positioning themselves in tracking the Queen that a dense cloud of drones can be seen.

After a successfully mating the Queen will return to her natal colony where the workers remove the previous suitor's genitalia, readying her for flight and mating again. This polyandry is deployed by the individual Queen up to 20 or so times during the first one or two days from her emergence - it is done so that she might harvest a genetic diversity of the sperm from many drones storing this in her spermatheca for future use during her remaining fertile life of up to 4 to 5 years.

The aim of this project is to locate one or more congregation sites in the locality of Shooters Hill - potential congregation sites are Oxleas Meadow, the nearby Golf Course, Shrewsbury Park and the fields of Woodlands Farm.

Using a virgin Queen (supplied by the Apiary) as a lure contained within an airy transportation cage, she is suspended under a helium filled balloon that is tracked across the potential congregation areas. If the lure enters the air space of a congregation then the drones will be excited into a great hub-hub which should be readily discernible from the ground.

Developments of this experiment could be to tether the virgin Queen lure to a kite for greater control over the altitude and, particularly, the speed of the Queen's flight. Also, it should be possible to suspend a smart phone shortly ahead of the virgin Queen lure and, via an App, remotely sound record, photograph and/or video the event.

Finally, you will also need a credible explanation to offer to any bewildered onlookers who might consider your activities of wandering across open land with a tethered balloon somewhat bizarre!

An alternative tether is the adaption of an angling Perch Pole although will also require a particularly convincing explanation because of the absence of any course fishing in the vicinity!


Traditional Straw Skep

Why not try your hand at some lip work and weave together a traditional straw or grass skep.

Skeps were used extensively throughout Europe until the development of Langstroth's framed hive in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike the framed hive where the individual honeycomb frames can be removed for honey extraction, the honeycomb built by the bees in a skep has to be cut out and irrevocably damaged. Nevertheless, an upended well-stocked skep reveals the natural precision with which the bees construct the well ordered nest.

If you complete your skep early in the season, say by mid-June at the latest, then the Apiary will stock it with a home-grown nucleus of bees with a fertile, egg-laying Queen, finding a home for it in the custom-built skeppery in the Apiary.

You can model your skep on a couple of examples already installed in the Apiary.


V. velutina

V. crabro

Asian Hornet Trap

Vespa velutina, the yellow legged hornet, commonly known as the Asian hornet, is native to Asia and was confirmed for the first time in the UK in 2016. It was thought to have been imported from Northern France where it became established in 2004, thereafter becoming quickly spreading to many regions of France. The hornet preys on honeybees, Apis mellifera, and other pollinating insects.

In appearance and biology of the Asian hornet V. velutina is smaller than the UK's native hornet V. crabro, with adult workers measuring from about 25mm in length and queens measuring 30mm. The abdomen is mostly black except for the fourth abdominal segment which is a yellow band located towards the rear and it has characteristic yellow legs - the face and impressive mandibles are a striking orange with two brownish red compound eyes.

Now the hunt is on the track the establishment of V velutina in the UK by trapping the foraging workers and, if lucky, the Queen in Spring as she forages to feed and build up the nest before she retires to and remains in the nest laying worker hornets. The means of detection is to trap the hornet in a homemade hornet trap but freeing the harmless and quite docile UK V. crabro which contributes positively to biodiversity.

There are various designs of hornet trap, mostly fashioned from plastic 1 liter drinks bottle loaded with a sweet lure - beer and sugar seems to work for V. crabro at least. Trapped V velutina hornets should be alert the relevant authorities as soon as possible. It is important to note the location as accurately as possible as well as obtain a photograph to confirm its ID.


Uploading Davis Vantage Pro 2 Weather Station Data

Rising above the Apiary Green Shed is a Davis Weather station. The station transmits meteorological data to a separate and independent module via its own wi-fi link from which we get invaluable weather extant and forecasting data so that we can plan the apiary management programme.

What is required is to real time uplink this data to the Oxleas Wood Apiary website so it can be shared by all and sundry or at least those of us interested in fine weather beekeeping - the station logs wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, pressure and rainfall.

However, there is no mains electricity, broadband line or wi-fi link available to the apiary so, tentatively first thoughts are to set up a solar panel and battery power source and uplink via an adapted Raspberry Pi module connected to a mobile phone link or plug-in data gizmo with some Python software. The power source will be a relatively straightforward arrangement of existing equipment but setting up the Raspberry Pi might require some background research and novel creativity.

Oxleas Wood Apiary will bear the costs of equipment purchasing but you will have to provide the soldering iron and patience.


Beeswax Candles

Young worker bees produce beeswax by secreting platelets from eight wax producing glands located in the abdominal segments. Other worker bees collect up these glass clear platelets, masticating these with a mix of pollen oils and the plant resins or propolis that is collected during the day-to-day foraging activities.

The wax is used for a variety of roles in the hive: the strongest wax, reinforced with propolis and hewn into a rich brown colour, is used for the brood honeycomb where the bees metamorphose from the larva phases; the honey and pollen cells are constructed from a lighter coloured wax; and the cappings that seal the cells full of ripe honey is very fine and almost transparent, being quite distinct from the tough cappings of the brood cells. Also, the wax is used for a variety of housekeeping purposes, for example the bees deploy the wax in a structural role to brace the honeycomb like the buttresses countering the roof thrust on a cathedral; and for humidity and ventilation control by blocking or clearing the holes and cracks around the hive.

During the beekeeper's honey extraction process the fine wax cappings are sliced off with a hot knife to access the honey stores; honeycomb bracing and filler pieces are removed; and older honeycomb frames are replaced on a regular, hive maintenance basis. These 'waste' wax arisings are placed in a special solar extraction box where the waste wax slowly melts and drips into a container The final processing stage involves wrapping the desired quantity of wax in a muslin cloth and allowing it to filter through when placed in hot water at no higher than 60 to 66oC, at higher temperatures the wax will discolour and drive off the aromatics.

Beeswax candles can be cast in quite elaborate silicone rubber moulds or in ad hoc, everyday objects such as glass tumblers, used glass jars and similar, or simply rolled from sheets of wax foundation.

A word of caution: when dealing with hot, liquid wax always wear protective gloves and when burning candles observe commonsense fire precaution rules.


Pollen Trap

Honeybees feed the developing brood larva on a complex mix of pollen and nectar, referred to as ambrosia (Gr. ἀμβροσία) or food of the Gods. Honeybees and bumblebees belong to a class of bee known as pollen basket or corbicula bees because of their specialised ability to gather up pollen and place it as gooey lumps on the tibia of the hind legs for carrying it back to the hive. Once in the hive, the pollen is stored in open cells, arranged in colour sequence, nearby the developing brood.

The study of pollen reveals much about these male microgametophytes of seed plants, it tells us of what the bees are foraging on at different times in the beekeeping season and, what's more, palynology is great fun.

However, for this we need collect the pollen from the bees returning to the hive. The traditional method is to inset a box under the hive and force the bees to enter the hive through some restriction in order to dislodge the pollen loads adhering to the pollen baskets. The problem with this approach is that it interferes with the role of the open, gauze floor of the hive that serves as the first line of defence in the control of the Varroa destructor mite population; the hive has to be disassembled to retrieve the collected pollen; and if the entrance restriction is too small, the larger drone bees may be trapped in the hive.

So, the first challenge is to design and build a pollen trap that can be easily fitted and removed from the hive. The second challenge is identifying the pollen and tracing the sources of this in the surrounding flora environment and then relating the pollen source to the particular honey hues and tastes that the bees have produced over the season. Making rough and ready microscopic slides of pollen is really easy and, what's more, the Apiary has a lab quality Beck microscope for viewing purposes


Pollen Sources

Not only would it be of interest to identify which plants are attracting the bees foraging for pollen but, also, where this pollen is located within the foraging range of the Apiary. The obvious sources are the insect pollinated trees in the Oxleas Wood, such as Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), the local grasses in the meadows and fields such as Shrewsbury Park and the apple orchard of Woodlands Farm.

This project involves some fieldwork, that is going out and about collecting samples of pollen from blossoming crops throughout the Summer nectar flows. The pollen samples are then prepared as microscope slides for comparison with pollen that has been collected by the bees and stored in the hives.

A parallel approach is when, during the fieldwork, a bee is spotted visiting the blossom it is marked with a dab of harmless paint on its thorax - if a few such bees are marked then there is a good chance that we can spot the same bees coming back to the hives in the Apiary. Then, as luck would have it, then it might be possible to witness a returning bee 'waggle dancing' telling the other bees in the hive where the source of pollen is and, hence, put our somewhat simplistic data together to identify at that time which bees from which hives are foraging on which blossom and at which locality.


Grafted Queen Cell Raising Nuke Box

For raising new virgin Queens following grafting of 1 day old larva into the artificial queen cups the frame carrying the grafted cells is transferred into a 4 or 5 frame nuke (nucleus) box or mini-hive.

The nuke box is prepared about 1 day before the transfer, being filled with about a kilogram of young nursery bees, some stores, including honey and pollen but, importantly, with no open brood present. The nuke box is sealed, but with adequate ventilation for about 24 hours before the transfer of the grafted Queen cells takes place. Obviously, the queenless bees are very agitated being locked up without a Queen and with no mean of producing one, so insertion of the frame carrying the grafted cells can be somewhat 'tricky'.

What is required is a modified nuke box that facilitates the transfer of the grafted cells frame without the risk of mayhem breaking out.

This might be achieved by, first, using two castellated strips to maintain the dummy and blank infill frame in the central position. For inserting the grafted cell frame into the nuke box the crown board could be fitted with some form of trap door, covering a long slit aperture that enables the dummy board and the frame holding the grafted cells to be exchanged with the minimum escape and loss of bees.

Once the transfer has been completed, given an hour or two for the nursery bees to get used to their new Queen cell charges, the nuke box can be opened on a new hive site some distance away from the original colony from which the nursery bees were gathered.

Another DIY project associated with this is to construct a 'bee-funnel' that facilitates the transfer of the nursery bees into the nuke box. The funnel sits snugly over crown board trap door with its upper and widest mouth ample enough for a frame of bees to be shaken down into it - a simple hinged cover flips over to temporarily seal the funnel whilst another frame of bees is collected for the shake-down.



Hive Monitoring with a Raspberry Pi

A host of DIY electronic projects can be completed with the Raspberry Pi underlying the electronic information retrieval and data transmission, including:-

Hive Weight: It is really important to track hive weight, particularly during early Spring when stores may be low when the colony is becoming active with open brood to feed. The actual weighing device could be fashioned from a Wheatsone Bridge of 4 load sensors.

Hive Acoustics: There is a great deal of acoustic hustle and bustle goings-on in hive, For example, when the first new virgin Queen emerges from her sealed Queen cell she seeks out her virgin Queen sisters by rendering a piping sound, they each respond from within their sealed cells, thus giving away their exact position so that the eldest sister can move in and execute them each with a sting through the wall of the cell.

Hive Brood Chamber Humidity and Temperature: Brood chamber temperature is raised to between 32o to 35oC in early Spring when the Queen commences laying and there occur subtle temperature changes when the colony is preparing Queen cells prior to swarming - being able to track the temperature as the colony manages its own hysteresis environment greatly improves knowledge of the health of the colony.

Forager Flying Rate: A quite challenging project would be to electronically count the bees as they pass to and fro the hive entrance. More challenging still would be to differentiate between those bees leaving and those re-entering the hive, and even more challenging would be to detect the bees carrying pollen, then to distinguish the color of the pollen basket (use the centre pixel group from a camera HAT) and from this and a prepared data base, determine which plants are being raided by the bees at that time.

All of the above projects could be linked to the Oxleas Wood Apiary website. However, there is no mains electricity, broadband line or wi-fi link available to the apiary so, tentatively first thoughts are to set up a solar panel and battery power source and uplink via an adapted Raspberry Pi module connected to a mobile phone link or plug-in data gizmo with some Python software. The power source will be a relatively straightforward arrangement of existing equipment but setting up the Raspberry Pi might require some background research and novel creativity.

Within reason, Oxleas Wood Apiary will bear the costs of equipment purchasing, including any specialised HATs (hardware attached on top) but you will have to provide the soldering iron and patience.



Top Bar Hive

A top bar hive is a back-to-basics hive that allows the bees to run free with their honeycomb building. Rather than provide the bees with frames of prepared wax foundation the nest space starts off empty save for a series of bars laid across the top on the hive - the bees draw down their own wax from these bars in a natural formation filling out the space below with suspended 'ears' of honeycomb.

The hive construction is simple and straightforward with just a few helpful pointers to the bees. For example, the lateral spacing the top bars is such that the developed comb will leave an intervening bee space of around 4.5 to 8mm; the sides of the hive are usually slanted inwards following the 'ear' shape of the naturally developed honeycomb; and unlike a framed hive, the top bar hive is not square in plan but longer than it is wide to allow the colony to expand out the division between the brood and honey storage areas.

It is quite practical to adapt the brood chamber of a British Standard National hive to top bar - for this, simply lay just the suspension bars of conventional frames across the top of the hive, perhaps using 9 slot castellated spacers; as encouragement each top bar could have a thin starting strip of wax foundation tacked along its underside; and boards inserted at about 30o slant will provide about the right confinement space for the developing bee nest. Better to use a deep brood chamber to maximise the honeycomb space and for this a standard brood chamber can be deepened by adding an oddly named eke or an empty super. Even so a bee colony occupying in the adapted National top bar hive will quickly run out of space and since it is a sometimes thankless task encouraging the bees to repeat the process above, and expansion lengthwise is not possible, it might be wiser to construct a long bodied top hive from scratch.

Although some beekeepers wax lyrical (excuse the pun!) about top bar hives there are number of disadvantages over the conventional framed hive. For example, without rigid frames the honey harvest cannot be extracted in a radial extractor, so the developed honeycomb cannot be reused, instead the honey has to be pressed out of the cells after the messy task of removing the wax cappings; since the bees determine the spatial distribution of honey and pollen stores, brood and, particularly, drone brood the honey harvest sometimes has to be taken from here and there within the top bar hive; also there is little opportunity to use the bio-technical approach for Varroa destructor management by raising surplus drone brood; and, generally, if the bees deploy excessive bridging comb between the honeycomb ears then inspection for new Queen cell activity and swarming preparations becomes a chore with much damage to the brood honeycomb at successive 7 day inspections.



Swarm Buster

Sometimes swarming bees settle in difficult or inaccessible places without any apparent rhyme or reason. Almost every beekeeping is eager to relate the most unusual or novel swarm situations - mine is a swarm collected from a thorn bush in the garden of a house of ill-repute in ********.

The traditional method of swarm collection is to shake the swarm into a suitably sized and beeproof box conveniently at hand but this takes time, particularly in collecting up the stragglers even once the Queen is safely in the box. However, shaking down the swarm is difficult when the bees are clustered high in a tree or in a confined space so some enterprising beekeepers have taken to vacuuming-up the swarm.

The general approach is to gently suck the bees into a plenum chamber that includes a large area of open mesh, with the ratio of the areas of outlet to plenum and the inlet suction pipe being sufficiently large to prevent damaging the bees once they have been drawn into and trapped within the plunum. When all of the swarm bees has been collected, as an intact colony with the old swarm Queen, it can then be safely and sewcurely transported away from the clustering site.

One means is to adapt the crown board of an existing nuc box that has a Varroa mesh floor so that it forms a snug, airtight fit to the box; make a secure, reasonably large-diameter hose connection; and provide a sliding, airtight seal for the entrance. A new, open-top box of the same plan dimensions as the nuc box sits underneath, airtight sealing to the nuc box, and houses an electric fan that draws down the vacuum through the Varroa mesh floor of the nuc box. Ideally, the fan is powered by a 12 volt direct current motor, preferably variable speed, operated by a compact (motorcycle) battery so that the Swarm Buster is truly portable.

Alternatively, it should be possible to adapt an existing mains powered tub-like, semi-industrial vacuum cleaner powered via a long extension lead on the assumption that mains power might be expected to be reasonably nearby the swarm cluster. For this, an inner container with lots of open mesh walling, is required to fit snugly inside the cleaner tub, automatically seal onto the incoming vacuum pipe, fitted with some form of self-closing trap door to seal in the bees when the container is being removed from the tub.

This could be a real Heath-Robinson project!


Queen Cell Grafting

Grafting Queen cells involves the delicate operation of lifting a 1 to 2 day old larva from its brood cell and transferring this to an artificial single cell to be placed, along with other grafted Queen cells, into a special nuc box containing a Queenless and broodless colony of nursery bees. The delicate larva has to be literally manhandled from one cell to another, during which it can be injured; it can dry-out whilst held out of the hive brood humid and temperature controlled environment; and fail to have sufficient ambrosia or feed for its rapid adaptation to a Queen larva. Each larva so transferred has to lure the nursery bees into adopting it, and others, to be raised as virgin Queens - the egg to larva, to sealing of brood stages take just 7 days so any short period of failure of the nursery bees to attend their charges results in failure.

The earlier in the egg-larva life cycle that this transfer can be achieved, the better although the traditional grafting method cannot commence until the egg has completed its transmogrification to larva simply because it is far too fragile to move out of the host cell for 1 to 2 days.

However, it should be possible to streamline this traditional, segmented approach by taking complete the cell containing the egg or larva and transferring this and its contents to the nursery bee Queen raising nuc box - this might entail trepanning out a group of seven cells with the centre most containing the egg or larva, then cleaning out the surrounding cells leaving just the prized centre cell egg-larva intact.

The challenge is to devise and develop the cutting out technique of the delicate wax walled cells without distorting the centremost cell, providing a means of support for the host honeycomb, and then fashion a reliable method of adhering the transferring cell to the frame to be transferred to the nursery nuc box.

This project requires steady hands and excellent eyesight.



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