Considering that I don’t have time to post much of anything these days, I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.
- For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be stupid. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.
I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:
1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.
2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.
I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife.
Read on . . . »
I pulled the plug on Mud Songs back in January because I no longer had bees in my backyard and therefore didn’t have much to report. But I couldn’t handle that, so I set up a nuc in my backyard and resurrected Mud Songs. But then I got busy with other commitments and I haven’t been able to keep up with my usual onslaught of beekeeping photos and videos. That will change if I ever find a way to keep bees on my property, but that’s a work in progress that may not to find completion until next year. So under the current circumstances, the best I can do is throw out a cell phone video that provides a thorough update of where I am with my beekeeping and all my bees as of today.
Here’s an example of why I go out of my way not to mix honey from different hives.
The lighter honey on the left was taken from one hive, and it tastes heathery. The darker honey on the right was taken from another hive, and it has a more earthy flavour. Both were harvested on the same day. The two hives are about 2 metres apart (7 feet), but the bees from each hive favoured different nectar sources, which resulted in slightly different honey from each hive. The favouring of specific pollen and nectar sources is called floral fidelity. The bees find an abundant nectar source and they stick with it instead of wasting time jumping from one type of flower to another. That’s why you’ll often see a flowering tree loaded down with honey bees while at the same time not a single bee goes anywhere near your beautiful Forget-Me-Nots. The results of floral fidelity are lost in most large beekeeping operations that have to blend all their honeys together. Not me.
Someone asked me a question that I actually feel qualified enough to answer, and seeing how I haven’t been posting as much as I thought I would due to other non-beekeeping commitments that have come up this summer, I figured hey, why not take five minutes and turn my big answer into another infamous Mud Songs post? So without further adieu, here’s the question:
“I usually don’t strain [my] honey, but this time I used a faster extractor and it seemed to whip wax which looks like foam on the top of my bottles. What should I do?”
Scrape it off. Here’s a photo of some honey I bottled last night:
This happens to be crushed and strained honey strained through a standard kitchen strainer that allows a fair amount of bees wax and pollen grains to seep through. Pollen is nothing but good for you and the wax adds flavour and texture to the honey and I love it. I don’t sell or give away this honey because people tend to freak out over things floating in their honey, but it’s the superior honey in my book.
Anyway, as can be seen in the photo, lots of foam and waxy bits have risen to the surface. I’ll let the honey sit for another three or four days, perhaps even a week or more as the wax continues to rise and the honey naturally clears, and then I’ll take a sterilized knife or spoon and scrape it away. I put it on toast because it’s still perfectly edible and delicious.
I’ve had a detailed series of practical beekeeping videos in the works for several months. They’ll be great when I get them done. But I don’t have time to work on them due to other commitments. I can’t say when I’ll have them ready. In the meantime, I can only offer up short videos like this one that show me doing things that aren’t really instructive but may be of interest to a handful of beekeepers. Let ‘er rip:
Now the details…
Read on . . . »
A honey bee from a normally friendly colony stung me in the arm today because I was wearing a black t-shirt. I often wear minimal or no protective clothing around this particular colony because I know the bees are not at all defensive (not at this time of the year, anyway). Today was no different, except I forgot I was wearing a black t-shirt. As soon as I opened the hive, I noticed a few bees zig-zagging back and forth like they were hyped up on caffeine — not at all a relaxed flight pattern. Once the bees start whipping around like wasps, it’s time to turn around and leave. Come back later with a veil and gloves and a smoker if you got one. But I thought, “Nah, these bees —f%$#@!” Zap, right under the sleeve of my t-shirt. The little bugger got me good.
I’ve been told many times not to wear black around honey bees because, supposedly, honey bees have evolved to be more defensive around anything big and black. Most creatures in the natural world that are big and black (e.g., black bears) are a threat to honey bee colonies. When honey bees see something big and black coming their way, it’s usually better for them to sting now and ask questions later.
I’ve heard how the bees will even sting the ankles of people wearing black socks, but I wear black boots every time I’m around my bees and I’ve never seen them go for the boots. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t take much stock in these particular campfire stories — until day. My single experience of wearing a black t-shirt and getting stung for the first time around some bees that aren’t normally defensive isn’t much of a data set. It can’t be used to arrive at any kind of scientific conclusion. But I’d rather not wait for science if it means I have to get stung a few more times in order to prove the black bear hypothesis. Getting stung once is enough. I’m a believer. I won’t wear anything black around my bees again.
August 08/14: For the sake of science, I wore black and then white around the same hive of bees. The bees came in for the sting while I was wearing black and ignored me while I was wearing white. Case closed. Closed enough, anyway.
I’ve posted several photos and some videos of honey bees fanning over the years. Let’s add this cell phone video from yesterday to the list:
The bees clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got to create an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest.
If I wasn’t home sick with the flu, I’d be out with my hives adding ventilation rims, screened inner covers, screened bottom boards, slatted racks, dummy boards and whatever else I could think of to help my bees cool off on a day like day — or I should say a summer like the one we’ve had since the first week of June with record-breaking consecutive days of sunshine and above-seasonal temperatures. If I took a look at my country hives today, I’m confident I’d see considerably more bearding than I did back in August 2011 when I took this photo:
I wouldn’t be surprised if the combs are melting inside the hives on a day like today, especially inside the dark green hives that are absorbing the most sunlight. I gotta get me some white paint.
Here’s a video that shows what I think — what I hope — is a virgin queen that emerged from a swarm cell after a colony swarmed. If it’s not a virgin queen, it might be the colony’s original queen, which means the colony is on the verge of swarming. Please feel free to leave a comment if you can identify what kind of queen she is, old or virgin. I’ll explain more after the video.