Spring Hive Inspections

Having left it a bit late this year (in part waiting for a delayed order of oxalic acid from Thornes) I decided to finally grab a gap in the wind and rain to get up to the apiary to inspect my hives.

First off was the wee nuc which I decided to overwinter, as it got going too late in the year to sell. I had expected this one to have failed, but it was fairly lively, and didn’t seem short on supplies. Added a spot of fondant any way - with a bit of luck and not too much cold it will make it through.

Willow is a single hive, and doing well - again a good number of quite lively bees and reasonable amounts of stores - but put on 2 fondant blocks any way - they’re more of an Italian strain, so tend to build up rapidly coming out of winter, and ran low on stores in March last year.

Finally, Yasmin - a double hive as an experiment this year. Having popped off the cover, there was no sign of life, so I expected the worst. However, pulling out a frame from the top box and I could see a tight-knit, quiet colony sitting by the entrance in the bottom box. Furthermore, the top box was completely full of untouched stores, and the whole hive was very heavy to heft (and it’s polystyrene!) Any colony that forms tight balls over winter, is happy in the bottom of a hive on a day when it’s hovering just above freezing with rain threatening, and hasn’t touched half of its stores is a good wee colony to keep an eye on and, cross fingers, one to breed on when the spring comes along.

All in all, 2.5 for 2.5, so I’m quietly confident (weather permitting) that I might be starting off well in 2013… touch wood!


HA Virtualisation with Pacemaker and Ceph

I’ve recently begun playing with ceph’s rbd pool as a way to provide network block devices for libvirt guests managed through Pacemaker, having had success with drbd and iscsi. This post should be considered notes of my ongoing experiments, and not a hard-and-fast ‘howto’ for this concept. Nevertheless, it might be useful to someone!


Busy bees

Today felt like the first ‘proper’ spring day of this summer, and so I wasted no time in getting to the apiary to have a proper sort out of all the hives.

I found and marked the queen in my final nuc of the spring - ready for selling, and then did some splits and manipulations in others to get them ready for the potential summer flow.

Willow had finally died out (a cupful of bees and no signs of a laying queen) so I cleared them out of the hive (they’ll no doubt venture into the neighbouring hive). I then used this hive (which has stayed mostly undrawn since they superseded just after a swarm in spring) to split Amelia using pagden, as she had started to build lots of play cells and queen cups everywhere.

I then inspected Yasmin, who is also very busy (3 supers full of bees) and split out a nuc of brood, stores and nurse bees to both give Yasmin some space to manoeuvre, and possibly bring on a spare colony for selling (if it mates in time!) or overwintering.

All in all a successful and surprisingly easy day - with 6 supers on the colonies, himalayan balsam, lime and rosebay pollen coming in and a slightly better weather forecast there might be a summer honey crop!


Hanging in there...

Despite the atrocious summer we’ve been having here in Edinburgh, the bees have somehow managed to hang on, more or less, with minimal intervention on my part.

A quick inspection today told me that the last of the 4 nucs I brought on in the spring was still nice and strong, though needed a good feed, as foraging has been non-existent in the rain. 2 of my hives (Amelia and Yasmin) are nice and strong, and though light on stores, most bees coming in the front door are carrying white and blue pollen (himalayan balsam and rosebay willow herb) so shouldn’t need feeding unless rain continues.

Both of these hives have 3 supers on, and the bees are up in them drawing them out, so I’m hopeful that a dry August might get them filled for me! Either way, I might have swarms from one or both of these hives, so late nucs are a possibility.

The final hive (Willow) has been weak ever since a supersedure attempt failed. I think I’ll be checking for a queen (though I think she’s missing) next week and merging the nuc into this hive to get one strong colony out of it before the winter arrives.


Honey Extraction

Today was an extremely wet day - one in which to do some indoor beekeeping - extracting the rape-seed (canola) honey from Faye’s hives.

There were 5 supers in all, and most of them were pretty full - though with the cold weather and delay in extraction some of it was starting to set in the comb! However we managed to extract around 30kg of honey, with only a small amount lost to crystallisation in the combs.

I’ll be writing some more on the processing and storing of rape honey soon - but the key word is ‘speed’ - this honey will set in the comb in a matter of days or weeks, and if that happens, your best option is to use it as food for the bees, and hope they’ll bring some more liquid honey in later in the year. Once off the hive, it will set within a week, so don’t store it for ages before extracting.

With rape you need to remove the supers before the bees have begun to cap it over. To test, pick up an uncapped frame and vigorously shake it - if the liquid honey doesn’t fall out, you’re ready to extract. Get it off the hive and into your extracting room as quickly as possible!

We brought the supers inside, and as some of them were partially capped over, used a hot-air gun on a medium heat to gently melt the cappings and expose the honey. There’s a very good video of this process online - I was uncertain at first, but having uncapped around 50 frames with no mess or wastage, I’m now sold! The only downside is that there aren’t any wax cappings to melt down and sell at this stage, but given most beekeepers now replace their frames every 3-5 years for hygiene reasons, the wax will be being recycled soon enough.

Video of Using a heat gun to uncap frames.

We then carefully arranged the frames into a 10-frame radial extractor, taking care to evenly distribute the weight of the frames around the wheel (placing equally weighted frames opposite each other is best).

5 minutes of slow spinning, followed by 5 minutes of fast spinning then ensued to ‘throw’ all the honey out of the frames into the tank. The slow spin gives the frames a chance to ‘settle in’ and prevents the initial weight of the honey from tearing the frames apart. Once they’re mostly empty, a faster spin gets out the more stubborn bits.

Finally, the extractor honey tap was opened and the honey allowed to run through 3 levels of mesh sieve into a settling tank. The sieves take out any pieces of wax, bee or other debris that may have entered into the honey during its storage and subsequent extraction.

The honey is then left to settle. With other honeys, it is then transferred into jars, but with rape honey there is a further process of crystallisation and creaming to make set or creamed honey. I’ll hopefully be writing a second post about this once I get a chance to do it!


Summer at the Apiary

Today was the final step in carrying out some artificial swarms for increase, and to keep everything ticking over while I’m away for 2 weeks at the end of the month.

On Saturday I swarmed both Willow and Yasmin - in both cases I did a pagden swarm, leaving the queen and flying bees on empty frames, and splitting the existing frames into 2 nucs (ensuring there were eggs in each nuc to allow queen cells to be brought on).

In Willow I couldn’t find the queen, so left them split and returned today. I found the queen in one of the nucs, so returned her to the original hive with the flying bees where she can continue laying.

I also lost one of my hives - Beth - which died from isolation starvation due to the cold weather some time over last week. The colony was dead, huddled round the queen on empty frames, with the bees mostly head-first into them, yet with capped stores in abundance 2 frames over. Sadly this is a common outcome in very cold, damp springs. I’d checked them a week before, and they seemed fine, so its unlikely I could have done much in the bad weather to help them.

My other hive (Amelia) is ticking over nicely - only 4-5 frames of bees and 2-3 frames of brood, but extremely dark black bees, with very quiet temperaments. I’m hoping to breed from this colony for my own stock and any nucs I can bring on.

Hopefully I’ll be able to use the new nucs to fulfil the ‘waiting list’ of new beginners who want to start having hives of their own.


Spring is in the Hives

A first proper visit of the season to the apiary - delayed somewhat by the horrible weather over the last 10 days. All of the hives are still alive and well, though greatly varied in their size and busyness.

Going into winter, only 1 of the hives had an unmarked queen, but today 2 of them had unmarked queens. Both of these colonies (Violet and Zuri) were quite small and not that busy, implying a spring supersedure with a queen who’s now a few weeks behind the others in terms of laying (we have had plenty of drones around to facilitate this). Since these are new queens, they get new names - so they are now Amelia (was Violet) and Beth (was Zuri). Beth was the weakest so had an extra feed.

Willow and Yasmin were both very busy - too much so in Yasmin. Having left an eke and some fondant on for them, they’d utilised the space to make some beautiful brace comb, which sadly had to be torn down. Fortunately it was mostly empty, so I wasn’t having to throw away large amounts of brood.

Wild Honeycomb

All but Beth now have a super on as well, since the fields across the way are all planted up with rapeseed, which is just showing its first hints of yellow. This will no doubt be a challenge, but hopefully a profitable one in terms of honey yield!


iSCSI - Persistent Naming with udev

One of the downsides to using iSCSI for network file store is that it can be difficult to keep track of what device name should be used to reference each lun.

By default, they appear in


as follows:

ip- -> ../../sdb  

This is of course entirely accurate, but is perhaps not what we want - especially since any references to this resource will include the ip address, which in some environments might change.

There is however a useful feature of the


command which is that it can read the extended values of iSCSI resources from the exported disk.

On our iSCSI server we set one of the following page values: Device Identification Vital Product Data (page 0x83) or Unit Serial Number (page 0x80) to a name for this lun - in this case alice

We then add the following udev configuration to

BUS=="scsi", SYSFS{vendor}=="IET", SYSFS{model}=="VIRTUAL-DISK", KERNEL=="sd?", PROGRAM="scsi_id --whitelisted -p0x80 -d $tempnode", RESULT=="?*", SYMLINK+="disk/by-id/iscsi-%c{3}"  

Setting the page queried to either 80 or 83 as appropriate. Note that as I’m using the ietd iSCSI server, the SYSFS vendor and model fields are set as above - you may either exclude these, or use the scsi_id command to find out what yours appear as on the client.

This command will map the iSCSI device to


where X is replaced by the value given in the page specified.


Winter Candy Feeding

In winter I’ve traditionally fed the bees a simple diet - solidified bags of sugar. These are made by taking a 1kg sugar bag (paper ones), and submerging the bag in a bucket of cold water for about 20-30 seconds. Once taken out and left in a warm place to dry, they solidify like sugar cubes, and can be placed directly on top of the frames with a few tears in the bag to allow the bees access.

However, this year I’ve managed to end up with a few of these bags, half-eaten from previous years, and some loose sugar and other scraps. Rather than re-use these bags (which are covered in bits of wax and propolis and dirt) I wanted to turn these into Fondant Candy - which is as easy to use as the sugar bags, but has been thoroughly boiled - just in case there’s any bugs I don’t want on those bags.

There are hundreds of recipes available for fondant or candy, but I always prefer the simplest one… after all there’s no need to make it complicated! Some recipes involve using vinegar or cream of tartar in order to invert the sugar (which makes it remain more soft and pliable) but there have been links between these additives and toxicity for bees, so I avoid them


Monitoring Pacemaker Clusters

There seem to be lots of questions about how best to monitor pacemaker clusters without having a console with crm_mon running in the background all the time. I’ve spent some time playing around with the various options, and none of them are ideal. However, I’ve found a method which fulfils most of my needs - easy to implement, small-scale, detailed but not too many false-positives, and using Nagios, which we already run. I’ll go through the various methods that didn’t work for me - if you want to know the one that did, jump to the end!