Here’s a list of informal articles posted to the mighty Mud Songs blog that might be helpful for anyone on the island of Newfoundland (or in a similar climate) interested in starting up a few honey bee colonies for the pleasure of it. While some of these posts could be updated with better information, I’m confident most of the information is reliable. Strategies for maximizing production and profit will not be found here. These are some things that have worked for me as a hobbyist beekeeper since 2010. That’s all.
I’ve been recovering from a concussion since December 2016. I don’t want to get into the details. However, I expect I’ll write a thorough blog or a book or an article about it sometime after I recover. All I can say for now is that I’ve been lucky to find a specialist who is helping me and things are slowly getting better.
In the meantime, I’m stepping away from Mud Songs and pretty much everything else I do online. I will be keeping a low profile. Locally, it means I won’t be involved in any beekeeping groups, workshops, conferences, beeyard visits — nothing. I wish everyone the best, but I need to take a break. I hope you understand.
Before my concussion, I had been approached to produce a series of instructional videos for new beekeepers. I had hoped as well to set up some hives on crown land and put on some pay-what-you-can beekeeping workshops. I had also planned to begin work on a beekeeping book geared towards hobbyist beekeepers in cold climates like Newfoundland. I had plans for many things, but my concussion injury has put everything on hold. While I’m fairly confident that I will make a full recovery, once it’s finally over, I expect I’ll be due for a vacation — a big one. I’m not sure when or if I’ll return to blogging, but if I do, anyone who subscribes to Mud Songs will be the first to know.
It’s been a pleasure to share my beekeeping experiences with all of you.
DECEMBER 09, 2016: I don’t anticipate I’ll post much for the next month, so here’s a little something to fill in the time: a video playlist from my Mud Songs YouTube channel called Neat Things In Beekeeping. You can press play and let ‘er rip and watch all the videos play one after the other. Go nuts!
I will update this post continually (instead of writing multiple posts that could easily take over this blog) as I explore the capabilities of the Flir One infrared camera device. The updates will appear in descending order. The latest update was posted on December 19th, 2016.
DECEMBER 19, 2016: I know people who are getting much better results with their Flir One than I am. I realize my long rambling post here probably isn’t providing the best information because I’ve more or less taken the point-and-shoot approach. I want to turn this thing on, take a thermal image and immediately see something that’s useful — without having to modify the image later on using another application or program, because I don’t have time for anything else. Easily 95% of the images I get following that approach don’t show me anything that helps me. For people like me who may have day jobs, family responsibilities or other activities that don’t allow them much time to fiddle with something like this, I’m not sure I can recommend the Flir One. It’s too expensive and time-consuming. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but in my experience so far, it’s definitely not something that produces great results just by plugging it in. It takes time and perhaps some knowledge of thermal imaging to get the most out of it.
DECEMBER 07, 2016: I took the following thermal images with my Flir One today. The automatic settings didn’t give me much to work with, so, again, I tried to adjust the settings on the fly and got various results. Using the Flir Tools app or the software on my computer would probably produce better images, but I don’t have time for that. If I can’t get a half-decent image by using the Flir One as I would my cell phone camera, then it could easily become yet another beekeeping chore that takes up more of my time. I’d rather instant results, not something that requires additional processing afterwards. So I’m aiming for simplicity at the moment even if it means I’m not utilizing the Flir One to its full potential. So… It was about -10°C when I took these pics, and no wind. It felt icy cold. Everything was frozen.
The wrap on this hive is loose on the bottom left. I can’t get a useful thermal reading off it. (Dec. 07, 2016, 10:16am, -10°C.)
I was looking over some of the posts that I’ve made during the month of December as a reminder to myself of what to expect for the next month. I came across a post from last December where I describe noticing dead bees on the bottom boards of some of my hives.
Scraping out a fairly large clump of dead bees around this time last year. (Dec. 12, 2015.)
Then I went outside today in the rain to take a quick look at my beehives and could hardly see any dead bees on the bottom boards. So… what’s up with that? November 2016, this year, was much warmer than last November. Does that have anything to do with it?
The bees in most of my hives at this time last year, when it was colder, were clustered well below the top bars and there were a fair number of dead bees on the bottom boards.
This year, with warmer temperatures, the bees in most of the hives are clustered close to or above the top bars, not down below where they usually go, and there are hardly any dead bees on the bottom boards.
Perhaps the warmer weather has the bees staying near the top of the hive and eating more honey, staying warmer and not dying off as quickly in the cold. Perhaps just as many bees are dying off this year, but because they’re up top, they’re getting clogged between the frames in the bottom deeps.
I don’t know. But I’m noting it now for my records… and I’ll gladly entertain any theories. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m overlooking something obvious.
The following was updated on December 1st, 2016, and will likely be updated again within a week.
I usually add just-in-case sugar above the top bars in my hives around early November. By that time — in my local climate — it’s usually so cold that the bees move to the bottom of the hive beneath their honey stores (and then gradually eat their way towards the top of the hive throughout the winter), which makes it easy for me to put the sugar in without bothering them. But that didn’t happen so much this year because November has been unusually warm. Only in the past few days have I noticed the bees, at least in some of the hives, clustering below the top bars. So I decided to add some sugar bricks today…
About 1.3 kg (or 3 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.) I’ll probably add more later when I find the time. These bees were breaking through the top bars were so cold, it was easy to slide the sugar in without bothering too much.
It was 18°C / 64°F today and the bees in all of my hives — even with shrew-proofing 6mm / quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances — were out in full force.
Quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances. The mesh slows them down but doesn’t prevent them from getting out or inside the hive. (Nov. 17, 2016.)
I’ve heard arguments that the bees can’t get through quarter-inch mesh. But that’s not true. If it was, my bees would have been locked inside their hives behind the mesh all last winter. The bees in the above photograph wouldn’t be flying around today. Continue reading →
I made this quick video as a response to several emails I got from new beekeepers asking me if there were more affordable ways to wrap their hives for winter other than to plonk down $20 to $60 per hive for commercially available hive wraps. There are always cheaper alternatives. A roll of roofing felt is one of them.
I’m not saying roofing felt is better (though I have heard some convincing arguments), but it’s cheap and it’s worked well for me for the past six winters. Keep in mind that the bees don’t need to be warm and toasty during the winter. They just need to be warm enough to break cluster once in a while so they can migrate across the honey frames and not starve to death. (I might expand on this in the comments.)
Slight correction: In the video I mention #15 roofing felt. It’s actually referred to as a “type 15 asphalt felt.” Continue reading →
Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.
Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)
I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar. Continue reading →