I can no longer maintain Mud Songs as a beekeeping blog while most of my bees live out in the country where I hardly ever see them. I’m more of a bee-visitor than a beekeeper these days. So until I can find a place where I can live with my bees and be around them everyday, Twitter will have to do the trick instead of a blog. Twitter is quick and easy and seems like an appropriate intermediate medium for relating my diminished beekeeping activities while curtailing my tendency to write rambling sentences like this one with unnecessarily complicated words. I may still post something new from time to time if I really feel the need for it, but probably not. However, Mud Songs’s Greatest Hits: Vol. 1 are still collected on the How-To page for new visitors looking to learn some beekeeping basics.
It’s the time of year that I begin to receive regular emails from people asking how they can get started with beekeeping in Newfoundland. Here’s how:
Read everything on my How-To page, beginning with Beekeeping Start Up Costs. Watch all the videos I’ve posted since 2010. Look at all the photos too. Visit all the websites that I mention. Read all the books. Then get yourself some bees and see what happens.
Mud Songs is probably the single best online resource for new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (winning by default). A Newfoundland Beekeepers Association is apparently in the works, but it doesn’t seem to have a website yet.
UPDATE: They do now:
THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST.
When I reverse the brood boxes, usually some time in April, I don’t just pull the hive apart and reverse the positions of the deeps. (That’s an easy way to squish the queen, by the way.) I set up an empty deep next to the hive and, if it’s warm enough, carefully inspect each frame before I move it into the new bottom deep. No heavy lifting required. But more importantly, this allows me to assess the strength of the colony going into the new season and make adjustments on the spot if necessary. I will add drawn comb to the brood nest if the cluster looks like it needs room. I will add frames of honey or pollen if the bees are starving for it. I will give them frames of brood from another colony if they’re weak. In short, I will take whatever action is required to get the bees started on the right path for the new season.
Then for the rest of the year, because I know exactly what condition the colony was in at the beginning of the year, I’ll be able to assess the strength of the colony without having to dig into the bottom deep and disturb the brood nest every time I do an inspection. Are the bees filling frames in the top box with pollen? Is the brood nest straddling the deeps? I can tell a lot from looking down into a hive where the brood nest has been working its way up from the bottom.
But it’s harder when the brood nest has been working it’s way from the top down. It’s more work, at least for me it is. I usually end up having to lift the top deep, essentially separating it from the bottom half of the hive, and potentially splitting up the brood nest, so I can see what’s going on in the bottom, to see how much the cluster has moved down and so on. In my book, that’s too much work and too disruptive. It’s much easier and less disruptive to the brood nest — if it’s seated in the bottom deep — to pull out a few frames in the top deep and look down to figure out what’s going on — and I never have to lift a deep or potentially split the brood nest if its straddling the deeps.
That’s why I reverse the brood boxes on most of my hives sometime in April. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the chances of a swarm, but it gives me an excuse to carefully inspect and assess the strength of the colony and perform future inspections with greater ease and less disruption to the brood nest.
I could be singing a different tune by this time next year, or even this time next week, but for now, this is where my experience with reversing the brood boxes has led me.
Here's a list of articles I wrote and some from Honey Bee Suite that may provide other perspectives and more info on swarm prevention and reversing the brood boxes:
I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method, which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos on my Flickr page, but basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey. Here’s the slideshow (you have to click through it manually):
Escape boards are used to separate the bees from the honey, kind of a necessary step before harvesting honey. So… I went ahead and made myself some escape boards, also known as clearer boards and possibly known as bee escapes. Here’s a shot of the first one I made:
And it only took me three and a half hours. I didn’t have a model to copy or plans to follow. I sort of smacked them together on the spot using nothing but my brain and some pitiful carpentry skills. The next three boards took about 30 minutes each and the final collection looked like this:
I won’t post a video or any plans that show how I made the escape boards yet because I want to make sure they work first and I’d rather fine tune the process before I say, “Hey kids, follow me!” This post is just a preview of what’s to come.
Read on . . . »
Here’s a photo of a frame of honey that’s been partially eaten by a mouse:
Here’s the view from the other side of the frame:
I had some frames of honey stored in a swarm trap in my shed and a mouse found a way in and probably came back night after night and had a feast.
Read on . . . »
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 silly. 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.
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 . . . »