All’s Right With The World

I wrote this last week during an extended lunch break and decided not to post it because it’s long and rambling and doesn’t say much about anything. But so what? Here it comes…

Have you ever walked towards your beeyard, sight unseen, and heard the deep hum of a swarm in flight? I have. I’m still not at the point yet where I’m 100% comfortable with swarms. I will always say this because it’s true: The best beekeeping day of my life was the day I caught a swarm on a farm in the country where my bees couldn’t stress out any humans who would then pass on their stress to me. Humans ruin everything.

The sound of a swarm in the distance should be exciting and fun for me (as it should for everyone), but it’s not. I’ve never fully recovered from the stress my neighbours caused me when they freaked out over one my colonies swarming past their back deck when I lived in the city. Although I live in a much more rural environment now, I have one particular neighbour whose kid’s swing set is not so far away from my beeyard. I single out the swing set because I imagine if my bees ever swarm, I know they’ll damn well land on that swing set — and I don’t know how my neighbour will react to that.

So when I came home after lunch yesterday and heard that oh so familiar hum that made me think, “Swarm,” I wasn’t 100% comfortable as I walked towards my beeyard. Would I find bees filling the air like in some ridiculous scene from the Old Testament? My thoughts were, “No, I’d rather not see that today, if you don’t mind.”

And I didn’t. I saw this instead:

That Twitter-compressed video clip doesn’t capture the scene well. Play it back in full-screen mode to get a better sense of it. Bees filling the air everywhere. (Fireweed seeds floating about too.)
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Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Nuc

Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.

I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.

It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too.
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Beekeeping Workshop: A Full Hive Inspection

The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I was ready put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, longer than my usual videos, because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.


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Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation

I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.

An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)

An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)

Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins.
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Honey Bees Fanning

Honey bees have a tonne of behaviours that are fun to discover. One of the first things I noticed was the way they clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got, a behaviour that’s commonly known as fanning (not to be confused with scenting). The fanning creates an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest. I took a few more photos today.

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

See How to Attract Honey Bees with a Leaky Hose to view a video of honey bees fanning, or do a search for “fanning.”
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The Aftermath of Moving a Hive

Honey bees are impressive little navigators. They can continually find their way back to a small patch of flowers miles from their hive, and then give detailed directions to any other bee willing to listen. Honey bees can find their way back home like nobody’s business. It’s amazing. On the other hand, they easily become disoriented to their hive when it’s moved only a couple feet. A hive can be moved using various techniques designed to help the bees reorient themselves to the new location. I won’t go into that now. I just want to show how cool the bees are. They can deal with just about anything we throw at them. Today after I moved one of our hives, I stood back and watched the bees gradually reorient themselves to the exact location of the new hive. It took a few hours for all of them to get the message, but eventually they homed in on the new location. When half the colony starts cranking out the Nasonov pheromone, it’s hard to miss. Check it out:

This is part 2 of Inspecting and Moving a Hive.

P.S.: I wasn’t wearing any protective clothing during this portion of the video. Not a single sting. Some of the bees became more defensive an hour or so later when plenty of foragers were still coming back to the old spot. I was probably messing up the orientation pheromones with my stinky human smell. I stayed clear for the rest of the day. Sometimes it’s better to give the bees their space.

Cranking Out The Nasonov Pheromone

Here’s quick video of the honey bees in our backyard doing the Nasonov Boogie. Yesterday I said, “The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.” Check it out:

The end of the video when it goes back to normal speed may not be 100% normal speed. I can tell by the way the sound began to flange. At any rate, during the slow-mo section, you can almost see the wings beating. I was able to slow it down even further on my computer, but the wings beating still only showed up as a blur. They crank it up a notch when they’re fanning like that.

Anyway, the pheromone is also used to orient the bees to food and water sources, but this early in the year when snow is still on the ground (it snowed again today) and 15°C is not a daily occurrence, I’d say it’s mostly for orientating the young foraging bees on their maiden flights.

I recommend The Biology of The Honey Bee, by Mark L. Winston for more info on the importance of pheromones in a honey bee colony (and a whole lot more).
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