Buying Early Saves Money

Bees on Ivy
Bees on Ivy

Now is the time when I buy lots of bee stuff. It’s better to buy things when items are being discounted than wait until spring when suppliers run out of stock. I know that beekeepers are not well known for getting their wallets out, but I’m okay with investing for the future. It all starts with having a plan.

You need a plan

My plans for beekeeping don’t stretch much beyond next season. I was often responsible for putting together budgets and forecasts in my former life (when I had a proper job). It makes me laugh when I reflect on the battles fought between departments at budgeting time because once the plan has been submitted and accepted, it becomes gospel. Something that is essentially an informed guess becomes the guide by which all actions are judged. Grown-up, intelligent business people spend weeks of their lives agonising over creating these works of fiction. I always found it a bit silly.

Right, back to the bees. At this stage, I don’t want many more production hives. My newest apiary is still growing so I will promote some nucleus colonies into full-sized boxes at that place. Once I’m up to eight production hives per apiary I’m fine. As long as my nucs survive winter, I’m ready to move them, so that’s easy. That will be 24 honey making colonies. In a terrible year, I’ll probably make 240lbs of honey. In a great year, it could be 2,400lbs. That sounds like a lot of work!

Queens and Nucs

For me, the area of expansion next year is going to be making queens and nucleus colonies. I just bought another ten polystyrene nucs and the frames to go in them. I don’t make frames; for National hives, I buy frames already assembled with the wax foundation. It’s not cheap, but nucs sell at a great price and life’s too short to spend it making frames – especially National frames, which are horrible. My Langstroth frames are chunky and robust; they last ages, but the Nationals are rather pathetic. It’s what the majority of UK beekeepers want, so who am I to argue?

Poly nucs painted brown
Poly nucs

I learned from Murray McGregor to paint poly hives with exterior gloss paint. The solvent interacts with the surface of the polystyrene resulting in a rock hard finish. I did five green and five brown, and very fetching they are too. However, I let the side down by painting the supers (yes, supers for nucs) with a bright colour called ‘Purple Berry’.

Oxalic Acid using Sublimox

I also bought some timber and plywood so that I can build stuff over the winter. Mostly I make floors, cover boards and ekes. I like floors which have an under-floor entrance, and I play around with areas of mesh to provide ventilation. Today I made something to help me with my oxalic acid treatment in December. It’s a cover with deep sides and a hole in one side, through which I can poke the nozzle of my Sublimox machine.

Vaping cover board
Vaping cover board

Some time ago, Peter Little told me that he ‘vaped’ his colonies from above rather than below, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It works well as the vapour is heavier than air and falls through the hive as a dense fog before drifting out of the bottom. My deep-sided cover board allows me to vape from above successfully. With my floor type, I cannot easily vape from below anyway.


There was an Amazon Prime sale event recently, so I purchased a thermal imaging camera. I’ve seen several thermal images of beehives and find them fascinating, and now I can do them myself. Hopefully, I can get a lovely colourful shot for the cover of the association magazine that I edit. We use the queen marking colour for the year as the accent colour throughout the magazine, but next year it’s white, which is not very exciting. I will therefore endeavour to use incredibly vibrant images to compensate.

Thermal imaging device
Thermal imaging device

What else? I ordered a load of fondant, in case bees need feeding in February or March. If they don’t, which is hopefully the case, the fondant can go in my mating nucs at my mating station. Maybe I’ll ask for another smoker for Christmas, and perhaps another bee suit. There is one thing I could buy, but I’m waiting until I need it; an uncapping machine. If I get a mega honey crop, I’ll take the plunge.

Swarm Control (new book)

Oh yes, I bought a book from Northern Bee Books called ‘Swarm Control‘ by Richard Ball, who was once the national bee inspector for England and Wales. Kim Flottum mentioned it on his podcast, so I thought I’d take a look. There are only 37 pages, but the information is presented clearly and straightforwardly. I like it. Nice and simple, like a walrus.

In the Pod

Speaking of the Beekeeping Today podcast, I was interviewed by Kim Flottum and Jerry Ott on 8th October. I hope they can edit it into something that makes me sound sophisticated and debonair, but I doubt it. They will broadcast it in late November or early December. Who knows, somebody might listen and decide to buy my book. Kim is a wealth of knowledge, and I’m a big fan, so it was a pleasure to meet him (on Zoom). I’m pretty sure I said, “just because I interviewed great beekeepers doesn’t mean I’m a great beekeeper,” which is true, but it might not be the best way to build my ‘brand’, whatever that is.

Pity the poor beekeepers of Suffolk who have to listen to me do a Zoom talk to their association on 25th November. I’m going to call it ‘Learning from my Heroes’ and will try to distil some tips and tricks from ‘Interviews with Beekeepers.’

So there you have it: buy stuff early, build stuff over the winter, have a plan for next year, and be ready to go as soon as the days warm up in spring.

6 thoughts on “Buying Early Saves Money

  1. Hi Steve … I also use underfloor entrances on ‘kewl floors’ but just drill a 7mm hole through the rim of the floor and poke the Sublimox through it when treating. It works well and means I don’t need to open the colony at all. I join two 9mm bits of stripwood to make an L-shaped entrance block which is slid into place, vape them and then move onto the next colony, removing the entrance block a few minutes later ( My goal is to have no vapour escaping … I want it all deposited around the inside of the box. In my view the Sublimox forces the vapour in with such force it makes no difference when done from below or above. The hive is filled within seconds.

    However, it’s always worth remembering that it’s still faster to trickle OA than use a vaporiser 😉


    • Hi David, thanks. You mean my genius piece of carpentry is a waste of time?! haha.

  2. Hello Steve
    Recently I’ve been hearing a little about vaping from above so it was interesting to read what you have to say. Could you say a little about your procedure, please? Do you remove the roof and the crown board and then place your vaping eke over the bees for the process? Or do you have one in place over each colony permanently?

    • Hi Archie. I’m not saying this way is better than any other & many people think that removing the cover is a bad idea in winter. But yes, I remove the roof and the cover board (or more likely the poly feeder sat on top of most hives), stick on my contraption and blast in the oxalic vapour. Then put back the cover & roof. The bees tend not to fly much in the cold but they certainly perk up a bit after vaping.

      • Ive been using an eke for top down vaping for about 10 years. I dont use it for my (double) winter broodless treatment to avoid disturbance. No point in breaking seals on crown boards etc when perfect hive wide dispersal is not critical as bees are essentially clustered .
        Trickling faster than vaping ? Using a gas vap ,through the entrance in winter I’d be finished before you got the crown board off.

      • Hi Stuart. Interesting point about clustered vs. not. My only consideration has been to use OA when I think they are mostly broodless & I had not considered cluster tightness. I know that what I do seems to work & I only have to treat in winter with oxalic & in August/Sept with Thymol or Amitraz. As I only have 40 colonies the speed isn’t such a big concern for me, I just need it to work.

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