Beeyard Update – August 2016

Here’s an uncut 15-minute video update of where I am with my beekeeping as of today. Not much to see. Mostly just me talking and pointing at things.

A summary for anyone who can’t be bothered: I now have nine honey bee colonies living in Langstroth hives and two nucs with old queens puttering away in the corner. I spent this summer building up my colonies after all but two of them were more or less destroyed by shrews two winters ago. It wasn’t easy. My beekeeping has been a long arduous journey since my third summer of beekeeping when I was forced to move my hives because of unfriendly neighbours, which eventually led me to sell my house in the city so I could buy another house in a semi-rural neighbourhood last year, where I now have a small but private piece of land where I hope to keep my bees in peace for years to come.

Honey Bees Fanning in Slow Motion Again

Two slow motion video clips I posted on Twitter of my bees ventilating their hive. Another reminder for other Newfoundland beekeepers to use the hashtag #NLbees on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites. Come on, people, it’s so easy to share information and photos this way but nobody’s joining in.

Big Difference Between Anise Extract and Anise Oil

    UPDATE: I’d like to give this post a new title: Why I May Never Use Anise Oil Again. See further updates at the end of this post.

I’ve always added a small drip of anise extract to my sugar syrup.

Anise extract.

Anise extract.

But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume.

A dram of Anise Oil. A little dab will do you.

A dram of Anise Oil. A little dab will do you.

I meant to add only a drop or two, but more than a few drops fell from the bottle when I tipped it. I got some of it on my hands, subsequently rubbed it into my shirt, and I eventually put the bottle in my garage — with the garage door open.

Highly concentrated anise.  And gluten free!

Highly concentrated anise. And gluten free!

Holy mackerel, what a difference between anise extract and anise oil.

I’ve never seen the bees go so completely insane over an aroma. Every drop of syrup I spilled on the ground while I was filling the feeders attracted a mini-cluster of bees. I had bees following me around persistently, attracted by the anise. And the tiny bottle of anise oil that I left in my garage attracted about 20 or so bees. I went into the garage to get something about an hour later and the place sounded like the inside of a bee hive with bees bouncing off the windows trying to get out. And they were still coming through the door when I got there. The stick I used to stir the syrup mixture was left in my little outdoor bee shed, and that was full of bees too.

I’ve never had anything like that happen when I used anise extract. The next time I use highly concentrated anise oil, I’ll be careful to use only a single drop of it and then put it away in the house where the bees can’t smell it.

Lesson learned.
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A Simple Way to Mix Sugar Syrup

Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. That’s a big bag of crazy beans if you ask me, much more time-consuming and complicated than it needs to be. Probably a great way to make a mess of one’s kitchen too.

I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.

The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.

I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.

Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going moldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.

P.S.: I made a few edits and additions to this post a few days after I wrote it.

Unpolished Queen Cups Are Okay

I freaked out a bit when I first saw a queen cup because I didn’t know what it was. I thought my bees were about swarm and that perhaps I should destroy the queen cups. But if a colony is about to swarm or replace its failing queen (two good reasons to create new queens), destroying the queen cups won’t make much difference. It could even make things worse.

A queen cup is the first stage of a queen cell, a big fat peanut-looking cell specifically designed for raising a new queen. The cell points down instead of sideways. Most honey bee colonies build queen cups just in case they need to create a new queen. But most of the time, at least if the beekeeper is paying attention, nothing happens. The cups are left unused.

I don’t destroy queen cups because they provide the easiest place to check for possible swarming. Here’s a quick video where I blab on about that.

The obvious clue is royal jelly or brood in the queen cups. But I’ve also noticed that the bees seem to clean and polish the insides of the queen cups in preparation for the current queen to lay in it, not unlike what they do with regular brood cells. Whenever I add a frame of drawn comb to a hive, the first thing the worker bees do is clean out every cell because the queen won’t lay in a dirty cell. Anyone who has ever observed a laying queen will have noticed that she sticks her head deep into every cell and inspects it carefully before she deposits the egg. If the surface of the cell isn’t shiny and clean, she moves on. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the bees shining up the insides of the queen cups before a swarm, but I’ve seen it enough times to say, yup, that seems to be thing.

Requeening Isn’t Easy For Me

I’ve probably requeened about a dozen hives since I started beekeeping in 2010, and I’d guess that about half of those requeenings were successful. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on feeding in the warm and cold seasons, a pretty good idea of when a colony is on the verge of swarming — and that’s probably 75% of what it takes to be a good beekeeper right there. But requeening, which seems simple, throws me for a loop about… well… 50% of the time. And it annoys me off and depresses me all in one blow. Because I know there’s something simple and ingenious to requeening well. But I don’t have it yet. I’m too careless, too inattentive to something crucial. As a mentorless beekeeper, I often feel like I’m overlooking something obvious. It’s the worst aspect of beekeeping in Newfoundland. But I guess I love it anyway.

Man oh man.

Orienting Bees or Swarmy Bees?

My one and only hive that I might be able to steal honey from this year. Door #1: Orientation flights (after being stuck inside for a day and a half). Door #2: A swarm on the way.

I pick Door #1. I also pick Door #3 if the bees are making lots of honey behind that door.

Later that evening…

It was a hot day and the bees were sort of bearding at the bottom entrance. I’m not concerned about swarming because I checked this hive for signs of swarming about every two weeks for the past few months. I’d rather leave the bees alone, but I’d also rather not have to deal with swarms if I don’t have to. Anyhoo…

I also removed three frames of brood from the top deep about ten days ago and replaced them with empty drawn comb. I also pulled out a heavy frame of pollen from the bottom deep, one of several heavy frames that I found, and replaced it with a foundationless frame. And that’s why I’m not too concerned about this colony swarming any time soon, despite the fairly large number of bees floating around the front of the hive in the first video clip.

Removing the frames of brood reduced the number of bees in the hive, thus relieving congestion, giving the queen’s pheromones more room to flow around the hive and make everybody happy. Replacing the frames with empty drawn comb gave the queen room to lay, which is pretty much always a good thing. The foundationless frame in the bottom box gave the bees space to fill in, not just a blank frame of foundation, but actual empty space that they will be compelled to fill in to maintain the wonderful bee space that dictates the design of the best beehives all over the world. Building comb to fill in that space instead of building swarms cells — that’s what I want to see. Thus, I’m not concerned about swarming.

A night shot of some bees ventilating the bottom entrance. (August 08, 2016.)

A night shot of some bees ventilating the bottom entrance. (August 08, 2016.)

My plan is to leave this hive alone until the fall when I remove the honey supers. I may take a peek at some of the honey frames once in a while to see how they’re coming along, but the brood nest will be left untouched.

By the fall, the will have made two medium supers full of honey for me and will have enough honey in the brood chamber for themselves to stay alive all winter. That’s what I call good beekeeping… if it works.

Witch Hazel for Bee Stings

I use medicated pads of Witch Hazel to treat honey bee stings, just like I’m doing right now:

Bee sting wrapped in a pad soaked in White Hazel.

Bee sting wrapped in a pad soaked in Witch Hazel.

They’re sold under the brand name Tucks, but also generically as “personal cleansing pads.” Under whatever name, the magic ingredient is Witch Hazel, which can also be purchased at the drug store in a little bottle, though I find the pads more convenient. The Witch Hazel helps reduce the swelling. I use a few pads to soak the stinged area and then a final fully-medicated pad to wrap around the area. It’s not a cure-all. Nothing is. But it works good enough for me. It certainly takes the edge off.

Nuc: Day 11 – Almost Full

I installed a 4-frame nuc on July 17th, using frames of bare foundation to fill in the remaining frames. On Day 6 I replaced most of the bare foundation with drawn comb because I wanted the queen to have immediate space to lay and expand the brood nest. Today, Day 11, I topped up the frame feeder and noticed bees covering most of the frames in the hive.

Nuc colony on Day 11. 6 frames of drawn comb. 2 frames that were more or less bare foundation. All the frames filling with bees. (July 28, 2016.)

Nuc colony on Day 11. 6 frames of drawn comb. 2 frames that were more or less bare foundation. All the frames filling with bees. (July 28, 2016.)

Click the image to see a better view of the all the bees on the frames.

I didn’t pull the frames to see exactly what was going on, and I didn’t really need to because seeing the bees working all the frames is a good enough sign to me that the colony is expanding.

Since I installed the nuc, other than removing the bare foundation, I’ve topped up the frame feeder a few times and I’ve I inserted empty drawn comb between frames of brood to encourage the queen to lay there and expand the brood nest faster. I will continue to do that as the colony expands for the next month or so.

The next time I refill the feeder (in four or five days), if I find all the frames are either full of brood or full of syrup and nectar (i.e., the queen doesn’t have much more space to lay), then I’ll add a second deep to the hive. I’ll pull up some brood into the second deep, move the feeder to the second deep, insert plenty of drawn comb for the queen to lay, and I’ll probably steal some frames of brood from one of my stronger colonies to give the nuc colony a boost.

The sunny weather doesn’t hurt.

P.S.: If I was using bare foundation, I might not add a second deep until the middle of August. It can be a different story in warmer parts of Newfoundland. But that’s not the story I’m telling here.

UPDATE: Some unplanned beekeeping happened today. I pulled three frames of brood from a big colony with about 15 frames of capped and open brood and I had little choice but to add them to this nuc hive in a second deep. So this itty bitty nuc hive now has a second deep on top of it with a frame feeder, several frames of drawn comb and three frames of capped and open brood and the nurse bees to go with it — and a big thick heavy frame full of pollen.

A single-deep nuc is suddenly a 2-deep hive. (July 28, 2016.)

A single-deep nuc is suddenly a 2-deep hive. (July 28, 2016.)

Hopefully the nurse bees won’t fight with their new queen and everything will work out fine. I’ve never transferred that much brood to a nuc before.