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.

Most of my swarms have occurred for one reason: Neglect. That and my own idealism. I don’t buy into the “let the bees be bees” mantra, but I probably still hold on to a few idealistic notions when the cold hard facts would serve me much better. (I doubt I’m the first beekeeper to be defeated by their idealism. Nothing is more idealized than beekeeping.) Ideally, I don’t like to disturb the brood nest if I don’t have to. But I’ve learned through experience that the bees prepare for swarming in my area around the month of May, give or take a week or two — and THAT is when I shouldn’t hesitate to disturb the brood nest if I have to. That’s when I should check for swarm cells. That’s when I might try some checkerboarding. That’s when I should add empty comb to the brood nest to give the queen immediate space for laying, or empty frames to give the worker bees something else to do other than prepare for swarming. With the right timing, it’s not too difficult to reduce the chances of swarming. But I’m not sure reversing the brood chamber is the answer.

However, for me at least, it’s not a bad place to start because it gives me a chance to do the year’s first (and only) full inspection of the colony, and it makes most of the subsequent inspections of the year much easier and less invasive. Allow me to elaborate…
Read on . . . »

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):

October 7th, 2014

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 . . . »

September 15th, 2014

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 . . . »

September 6th, 2014

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.

August 31st, 2014

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.

August 31st, 2014

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.

August 24th, 2014

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 . . . »

August 15th, 2014

I didn’t see any honey bees on this flowering plant when I took the photos, but I did see wasps (or yellow jackets), and what’s good for wasps is usually good for honey bees.

I asked around and was informed that it’s Sea Holly, or Eryngium maritimum.


Read on . . . »

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