September 27th, 2013

(For beginner beekeepers in Newfoundland.)

I was asked by someone in Newfoundland about what books they could read before they get into beekeeping. My response got into more detail than I anticipated, so I’ll reproduce it here for the general edification of my legions of fans. But before I get into it, let me lay down a couple of confessions for you. (It’s okay to skip this part.) Confession Number 1: I don’t read many beekeeping books these days because I’m tired of reading beekeeping books. I’m tired of it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I went nuts with beekeeping research when I got into it in 2009. Many beekeepers are obsessed and get drawn into beekeeping compulsively. It takes up all their free time. It’s always on their mind. That was me. But I eventually got over the obsessive-compulsive stage and now I only read beekeeping books at my leisure. I should change the name of this blog to The Leisurely Beekeeper. Secondly, my interest in honey bees took a serious dip last year after I was forced to move my hives to a rural location. When the bees were in my backyard, I was engaged in a daily fascination with them because they were there, constantly present. I loved it. But now I only see them a couple of hours a week, if that, and I rarely have time to sit and watch them like I used to. So the fuel that fired most of my interest in beekeeping — the constant presence of the bees — isn’t there. I still like beekeeping, but it ain’t what it used to be. Confession Number 2: I don’t mind recommending reading material for beginners, but… I don’t like to give advice and I’ve become suspicious of many beekeepers who do. Unless their advice has been tempered by at least a decade of trial and error, chances are, if they’re eager to give advice, I kinda get the feeling they might be feeding their egos. It’s easy to do. (Check out Honey Bee Suite for more on this topic.) And just because I have a beekeeping blog doesn’t mean I know what I’m talking about. I started this blog so others could learn from my experiences and my mistakes (notice how I emphasize mistakes). So to summarize my confessions: I don’t read many beekeeping books and I don’t like to give advice. Okay then…

davidburnsSo you have only a rudimentary understanding of beekeeping, you live in Newfoundland, and you’re wondering if there are any good books for beginners that you can read before you start ordering hives and bees and all that jazz. Well, I can’t think of a single book that covers all the bases, but my top recommendation for beginners online is David Burns’s Basic Beekeeping lessons. The preambles to his lessons can go off on various tangents, but the actual beekeeping lessons are the best I’ve found anywhere — in any book or online. He could easily sell the lessons in book form and make a mint. I studied his lessons before I did anything and referred to them all throughout my first year of beekeeping.
Read on . . . »

I borrowed of a copy of Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney recently, and I like it. It’s a practical instruction book that seems geared towards second year beekeepers, but it should give beginners something to think about too. If it had the kind of detailed photos like those in The Backyard Beekeeper or The Buzz About Bees, I might consider it essential. Either way, I just ordered a copy for myself. (I also ordered Honeybee Democracy and The Queen Must Die.) I think it’s worth the $15 I paid for it because it’s full of sensible tips that got me thinking more about the nature of honey bee behaviour in relation to how I manage the hives, and it covers the basics of beekeeping but doesn’t overwhelm.

Bonney is wise to mention that he lives the USA, in New England, and that much of the advice he gives should be adjusted to one’s local climate. New England is not the same as Newfoundland, but it’s not too far off, and at least he’s not writing from the perspective of a beekeeper in Arizona or California. Most of what he talks about — beekeeping with double deep Langstroth hives in a climate where it snows — is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland.
Read on . . . »

March 21st, 2012

Another book I read while stricken with the flu is Increase Essentials by Lawrence John Connor, a short and easy read that’s probably the definitive book on nucs — it’s comprehensive. It’s mainly about increasing hives by creating splits and nucleus colonies from established hives. Beginner beekeepers or backyard beekeepers who are happy with two or three hives don’t need to concern themselves with it. Laidback beekeepers who want to create nucs for themselves but don’t feel the need to earn a PhD while they’re at it can simply read Why every beekeeper should have a nuc at Honey Bee Suite. I didn’t read every single word of the book (I did some skimming), because I don’t need to know everything it covers just yet. But I do plan to expand our four hives to eight this summer, and continually expand every summer after that as I secure more land for our hives. That means I eventually need to learn the basics of creating nucs and rearing mated queens for the nucs. I’ll take on queen rearing next year. This year I’ll start with making my own nucs.

Most of the following notes (and there aren’t too many) address swarming and queen mating issues. To delve into the main details of the book would take too long. Suffice it to say there is a huge amount of information in this small book, and it all seems sound. I know I will constantly reference Increase Essentials when I decide to create mating nucs and expand our hives further next year.
Read on . . . »

March 20th, 2012

I recently read Beekeeping For All (8mb PDF), by Abbé Warré. He’s the guy who designed the “People’s Hive,” also known as the Warré hive. To condense what I said in a previous post, it’s a top bar and therefore foundationless hive with small, square shaped hive boxes, no top entrance and a quilt box on top to absorb moisture. Boxes are added to the bottom of the hive, not the top — the bees build comb downwards as they would in nature. Honey is harvested from back-filled brood comb at the top of the hive. Warré called it the People’s Hive because it’s cheap and easy to build and maintain. The beekeeper need only add boxes to the bottom to prevent swarming, which is done without opening the hive or disturbing the brood nest. The Warré hive, perhaps more than any other hive, emulates the conditions of a natural honey bee hive.

Photo by David Heaf from warre.biobees.com
(used with permission).

From what I can tell, the hive is designed to minimize interference from the beekeeper. The only time it’s opened is when honey boxes are removed from the top (at most, twice a year). That fact, along with the absence of a top entrance, helps concentrate the queen’s pheromones throughout the hive, which supposedly results in calmer bees. The regular rotating out of old comb from the top also means the brood are more likely to be healthy because they’re always raised in new, clean, natural sized comb.

Another key feature is the small square sided hive boxes. The height of each box is slightly less than a typical Langstroth, but the sides are each 30cm long (about 12 inches). The square shape allows for more even heat distribution and requires less work from the bees. Warré also claims that bees in a smaller, more natural sized brood chamber consume less honey over winter and are therefore less likely to starve before spring.

I’m not yet convinced that any kind of foundationless hive will do well in the exceptionally wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’ve only been at this for, what, 611 days, so I still have more than a lot to learn. But some aspects of the Warré design, such as the small brood nest area, seem to make more sense than the conventional Langstroth design, and I’m tempted to integrate them into some of my own hives.

I don’t agree with all of Warré’s claims. In some cases that’s because I don’t have the experience to know what’s what either way. In other cases I can confidently disagree because I know his observations are based on his local climate in France that has no correlation to my local climate where the bees do different things at different times of the year. Nevertheless, I think he came up with a thoughtful design and method that might appeal to beekeepers who aren’t so intent on the consistent hive manipulation that’s synonymous with many beekeeping practices today.

Note: This is an unusually long post, probably not much interest to general readers. I promise I won’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis. But I’ve been out of commission with a weird, rotten flu and I don’t have anything better to do. So without further adieu, here are some notes I wrote while I read the book on my Kindle:
Read on . . . »

November 24th, 2011

Jürgen Tautz’s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is similar to The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum in that it’s full of detailed photographs that will help new beekeepers identify virtually everything that happens inside a honey bee hive.

But it’s not about beekeeping. It’s about the evolution and behaviour of honey bees. I learned much about the behaviour of honey bees from Mark L. Winston’s The Biology of the Honey Bee. That book had me spellbound. The Buzz About Bees (the book deserves a less cutesy title, by the way) goes over some of the same ground, explains a few extra things and presents another means of apprehending the behaviour of honey bees, that is, thinking of the honey bee colony as a single organism: the “superorganism.”

I don’t have time to write a detailed review of the book, but I’ll tell you what I got from reading it.
Read on . . . »

August 24th, 2011

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

What follows is one way to move a Langstroth honey bee hive a short distance. Okay then… Here’s a rough map of our backyard:

The numbered squares represent hives. We moved Hive #1 to location 1a, gave the bees time to adjust to the new spot, then moved the hive to 1b, waited a few days again and then moved the hive to its final location at 1c. Each move was approximately 1 metre or 3 feet and we waited at least three days between moves. Essentially, that’s all you need to know for moving a hive a short distance. (There’s also a video at the bottom of this post.)
Read on . . . »

May 24th, 2011

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

We’ve put out water for the honey bees living in our backyard, but they seem to prefer dirty water from puddles around the yard. They specifically seem to favour the moist dark compost soil in our raised garden beds.


Some browsers seem to flatten the video during playback and I don’t know why and I don’t have the patience to fix it. View it on the YouTube page for accurate playback.

Does the soil give off some sort of fake pheromone that attracts the bees? I didn’t know, so I looked up “water” in my excellent 1947 edition of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (the only edition of the book I could afford) and I learned that the bees bring in more water in the spring during brood-rearing and less water as the honey flow peaks. But more to the point, the bees drink from compost piles (and composted soil) because the water there is warmer than water left in a dish. The bees are able to absorb warm water faster than cold water. So it’s not the stink of the compost that attracts them. It’s the warmth.

I think it’s fair to conclude, from this instance and everything else I’ve observed, that whatever honey bees do, they do it with the utmost efficiency.
Read on . . . »

April 2nd, 2011

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON MAY 9, 2011.

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).
Read on . . . »

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN SLIGHTLY MODIFIED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I discovered beekeeping through the internet and it’s from the internet that I still get most of my practical information on beekeeping. The online beekeeping lessons from David Burns, for instance, are a staple for me. I devoured those lessons when I first discovered the Long Lane Honey Bee Farms website in early 2010. Mr. Burns could use an editor from time to time, but his lessons are so generous, it seems unfair to find any kind of fault with them. He adds new and relevant lessons on a regular basis and I do my best to keep up with them.

BACKYARD BEEKEEPERI also recently benefited from reading the Honey Bee Suite. I’ve read every post on the site. Illustrative photos are somewhat scarce (Update: Though not as scarce as they used to be), but the information is either based on solid science or practical experience or both. And that’s a hard combo to beat.

Next up is Michael Bush’s website, Beekeeping Naturally. Although the website isn’t well designed — and I don’t read it anymore because I don’t think he adds new content to it — the information and advice he provides is a great starting point for new beekeepers who aren’t attracted to conventional beekeeping methods and are aiming for something more sustainable, natural, organic — whatever you want to call foundationless beekeeping. He regularly chimes in on the Beesource Forums too. I like his down to earth attitude.

I can think of a few more excellent websites that are helpful to novice beekeepers (some are listed under “Beekeeping Info” in the side bar), but I think I managed to glean more practical advice from these three in the past 12 months than any others. They’ve been good to me.

But what about books?
Read on . . . »

February 9th, 2011

ABC BOOKI’m copying out the following for future reference from page 686 of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). It’s from the “Wintering” section. I will likely update this post many times as I continue to read from the book. These are notes for myself. They’re not meant to be comprehensive.

“Tests have shown that pollen supplements fed to unprotected wintered-over colonies beginning late in February to advance brood-rearing will yield one to two packages of bees [30 to 40 thousand bees?] about April 20… This control over brood-rearing based on the pollen factor makes it possible for the colony to develop in spite of unfavourable climatic or seasonal conditions… Forty pounds [18kg] of honey stored in dark brood combs should be present in the top hive body when 10-frame standard equipment is used.” The total should be at least 60 pounds of honey for a 2-storey wintering Langstroth hive.

How much wrap or insulation is used for wintering hives is determined largely by local weather conditions. Except for ventilation through an upper entrance, there is no universally correct way to winter hives. From page 694: “…beginners and those who have some doubt, [should] follow methods that have given good results… in their own immediate locality… It will bear repeating that localities differ so that what will work well in one may not in another. Specifically where there is excess moisture, packing [i.e., insulation] may do more harm than good, especially if it freezes.”

NOTE: The 1910 edition of this book (and probably the 1947 edition) are in the public domain. It can be downloaded in various formats or read online at Archive.org.
Read on . . . »

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