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. The bees are doing well, but I feel like a musician who can’t make music, who hardly even listens to music anymore. 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. A technical note: I can’t seem to access the original Mud Songs Twitter account, so I’ve switched to using the one below.
I receive regular emails from people in the area of St. John’s, Newfoundland, asking if I can help them get started in beekeeping. This is my usual copied-and-pasted response (though I hope it’s only temporary):
- The people you want to contact are at Paradise Farms. They run various beekeeping workshops throughout the year and are glad to help most new beekeepers in the area.
These days, while my hives are still a fair distance from where I live, I just don’t have the time to help with new beekeepers starting up. However, most of what I could pass on is already available on my beekeeping How-To page. Good luck.
I tried to invite a few people over to see my bees this past summer, just so they could watch me work on the hives, but even that was difficult to arrange because I naturally want to stop what I’m doing and say, “Hey, come over here and take a look at this,” and I’ll show them the queen walking around on a frame or one of the worker bees doing the famous waggle dance. (I even saw a queen emerge from a swarm cell this past summer. I was in awe.) I love that kind thing. I’m all over it. Unfortunately, the time I have with my bees is so limited, when I’m out at the hives, I have to get things done. But nothing gets done when I get carried away showing visitors all the cool things going on inside the hives.
So I have to keep coming back to the same old story: I won’t be able to help out much until I manage to set up some hives on my own property again. Sometime soon… I hope.
P.S.: I wrote this post for new beekeepers who may have thought to contact me for some assistance. The message is: I’m not available — and I probably won’t post much to Mud Songs either — until I have my hives set up in a more convenient location (i.e., my backyard). After putting so much time and effort into my beekeeping, not being allowed to keep my bees where I can see them everyday has been maddening. Nevertheless, anyone who I’ve already helped out or agreed to help out, you’re still good. Don’t worry about it.
P.P.S.: I’m always available to catch swarms or help out during any kind of urgent situation. Just email me, or ask another beekeeper for my number, and I’ll come running.
P.P.P.S.: A Newfoundland beekeepers association is also in the works. Apparently the first inaugural meeting is happening (or has happened) in Cornerbrook. The folks at Paradise Farms can probably tell you more about it than I can. The association even has a private Facebook page, but I’m not signed up to it. Again, I don’t have time. Maybe someday. But for anyone looking for beekeeping guidance, the association might help get you on the right track.
I got an email from a first-year beekeeper today asking if she should reverse the brood boxes of her hive before winter. Assuming she’s working with the standard configuration of a Langstroth hive (two deep supers for the brood chamber), I said no, that I have no idea why anyone would reverse the brood boxes before winter.
The bees usually cluster close to the bottom of the hive as the weather turns cold in the fall. They gradually move up to the top of the hive throughout the winter as they eat through their winter stores of honey. Some beekeepers reverse the brood boxes (the deep supers) in the spring in an effort prevent swarming. That means the top deep, containing the brood nest that has worked its way into the top of the hive over the winter, is moved to the bottom of the hive, and the deep that used to be on the bottom, and is now empty of bees and honey, is placed on top, above the brood nest. The empty comb in the new top deep above the brood nest supposedly, in theory, more or less, or so we’re told, frees up space for the queen to lay and thus reduces the likelihood of swarming.
But that ain’t necessarily so. Just because the bees spend the winter moving to the top of the hive doesn’t mean they don’t have enough sense in the spring to move back to the bottom where there’s plenty of room for the queen to lay and for the workers to start making honey. That’s what natural colonies living in a hollow tree do. That’s what colonies living in Warré hives usually do. And I’ve heard from numerous beekeepers who say colonies living in Langstroth hives are no different and that reversing the brood boxes in the spring does little to prevent swarming. I can’t argue with that because in the three years that I’ve been reversing my brood boxes, I’ve had exactly 50% of those colonies swarm on me.
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.
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.