Homemade Sugar Plug and God Save The Queen (Maybe)

On March 13th, I placed the remains of a starved colony — a sad, dirty looking queen and a few hundred bees — into a nuc box with a 60-watt light bulb in a desperate move to keep it alive. Most of the bees eventually died and it looked pretty damn grim for old queenie. Luckily the post-apocalyptic winter we’ve had in Newfoundland took a break yesterday when the sun came out and the temperature went up to 14°C (57°F). That was my chance to create a new colony (essentially a nuc) with the ragged queen and some bees from another hive. But first I had to catch the queen and put her in a cage so she wouldn’t be attacked when I mixed her together with some strange bees.

Mixing up some sugar and water. (April 02, 2016.)

Mixing up some sugar and water. (April 02, 2016.)

I dug out some plastic queen cages that consist of a mesh tube (some call them “hair roller” cages). One end has a plastic plug. The other end gets plugged with some candy that takes a day or two for the bees to eat through, by which time they’ll have gotten used to the queen’s pheromones and will accept her as their own (instead of killing her), in theory.
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Red Light Heating For Honey Bees

I carelessly caused one of my colonies to slowly starve this winter. The cluster was about the size of my fist, maybe a little larger. Ten days ago while I was getting ready to dismantle the hive and cut my loses, I found the queen still alive. I knew the cluster was too small to keep her warm enough to survive another month of cold Newfoundland weather, so I quickly jury-rigged a nuc box with a light bulb for heat, put the bees in that and hoped for the best. The bright light bulb killed off about a hundred bees like moths to a flame. I eventually replaced it with a red light bulb. Today I put a cage around the light bulb (in a different box) for extra safety and it looks like this:

Empty nuc box with caged red 60-watt light bulb for heat. (March 27, 2016.)

Empty nuc box with caged red 60-watt light bulb for heat. (March 27, 2016.)

Then I put the bees in like this (that’s a dummy board on the outer edge of the frames to prevent the comb from melting):

World's smallest cluster being kept alive with the heat from the caged 60-watt red light bulb. (March 27, 2016.)

World’s smallest cluster being kept alive with the heat from the caged 60-watt red light bulb. (March 27, 2016.)

I looked over the bees during the transfer and couldn’t find the queen. There’s a chance she’s in there, but it doesn’t look good. I’ve done all I can. The bees won’t freeze with that light bulb. They have an exit hole close by for cleansing flights and three frames of honey. Now all I can do is wait.

Let’s assume this is a lost cause…

I think I could have saved the bees if I’d discovered them starving at least a week or two earlier. The cluster would have been larger. They would have had a better chance. Not using a caged red light bulb from the start probably didn’t help, but it was the best I could do on the spot with the materials I had available. I learned about a beekeeper who uses a red light to keep his bees warm all winter. I would never do that, but I do plan to keep at least one heated nuc on standby for next winter just in case (and I’d probably use a ceramic light bulb instead so the bees can’t even see the glowing filament). I’ve also decided to pick up a thermal imaging device for my smart phone. I already have a stethoscope, which has been helpful though it’s not what I’d call a precision instrument. Cheap endoscopes are also available, though I’ve heard people having mixed results with them. But I’m pretty sure if I’d been able to take an infrared photo of my starving hive throughout the winter, I would have seen the cluster begin to shrink as it was cut off from its honey supply and I would have been able to move honey close to the brood nest and save the bees.

APRIL 6, 2016: Even the caged light bulb attracted and killed some bees. If I had to do it again, I’d wrap the cage with heavy duty tinfoil, or perhaps even better, I’d use a large tin can instead of a cage and poke some tiny heat holes throughout it. Judging from what I’ve seen so far, I’d say a 60-watt light bulb, even behind a big tin can, would provide enough heat to keep the cluster and the queen alive.

Continued in God Save The Queen (Maybe).

A Heated Nuc Box

A nuc box (i.e., a converted swarm trap) heated with a 25-watt light bulb. (March 16, 2016.)

A nuc box (i.e., a converted swarm trap) heated with a 25-watt light bulb. (March 16, 2016.)

This is my attempt at saving the queen I found yesterday in the fist-sized cluster from the colony that I inadvertently starved all winter. Here’s a cropped-in shot of her:

Cropped in closer look of the raggedly looking queen in a micro cluster. (March 16, 2016.)

The first photo shows what is essentially a wooden nuc box with an exit hole drilled in one end. Inside the box on the left side are three frames of honey. In the top corner of those three frames of honey is the sad looking tiny cluster of bees from the starved colony, the smallest cluster of bees I’ve ever seen. Even more incredible is the queen walking around the middle of the cluster, still alive.
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Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (on the island of Newfoundland)

The following, originally written in 2012 and revised in 2014, has been tweaked for 2016. Not all the prices are up to date, but I think it’s still a half decent guide for anyone thinking about getting into beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland. My original order came from Beemaid in Manitoba, because at the time their prices (even after shipping) were the best I could find. That may not be the case today. The NLBKA provides a list of other suppliers on its Getting Started page. I’ve only ordered from Beemaid and Country Fields and have no complaints about either. (Update: I recently ordered from Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba and got the best deal on wooden ware and foundation I’ve ever had. I wish I’d discovered them years ago. I would have saved a fortune.) Beemaid, a few years ago, had some issues with their hive parts not fitting together easily, but they’ve since addressed that issue. Although I don’t order many heavy items from them anymore, their prices for other items, such as ventilated bee jackets, are hard to beat. Plus there’s always Amazon.ca, which I keep forgetting about.
Removed frame after adding 2-frame feeder. (August 25, 2010.)
This is my rough cost estimate and guide for setting up a bare minimum honey bee hive on the island of Newfoundland in 2014. (It’ll cost somewhere between $570 and $720.) It’s better to start with more than one hive, but this is one way to do it cheaply if necessary. I order all my beekeeping supplies from Beemaid in Manitoba. Their prices are so low that even with the expense of shipping half way across Canada, it’s still cheaper than ordering from any suppliers I’ve found in Atlantic Canada. (Update: Prices have changed since 2014. Country Fields may be cheaper.) The cost savings for beekeepers able to make their own wood components are even greater. (Check out my How-To page for information on building certain hive components.) But assuming someone has to start from scratch and order all the necessary beekeeping equipment and hive pieces in one order, the cheapest and simplest option is to go with a single Langstroth hive with conventional frames and no honey supers.

Necessary items not listed below are nails, screws and tools needed for assembling the hives; Mason jars or large pickling jars for inverted jar feeding; 40-80kg of granulated sugar for mixing sugar syrup; a spray bottle for misting the bees when a smoker isn’t necessary; mesh for mouse and shrew proofing hive entrances in the winter; paint for the hives; and the R5 hard insulation and Type 15 or 30 asphalt felt used for wintering the hive for those who wish to winter their bees that way. (Again, see my How-To page for more info on all that.) Those extra items will come to about $100.

Then add $200 to $250 for a nuc box (i.e., the bees) from one of the few suppliers of nucs on the island. (The NLBKA has contact information for suppliers.)

Okay then, here’s the one-shot hypothetical order for anyone interested in starting up a single Langstroth hive in Newfoundland in 2014. Note that the prices listed for each item are from 2012. The updated 2014 prices are slightly higher (and the 2016 prices are probably even higher), but I don’t have time to update all those images from my original order.
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Quick & Dirty Winter Preparations

I’m a huge fan of moisture quilts because they keep my bees warm and dry all winter long better than anything I’ve used before. But for my first two winters when I kept my hives in the city in a relatively dry climate, hard insulation over the inner cover worked fine. For people who don’t have much time, money or carpentry skills, the winter preparations I demonstrate in this video are better than nothing.

I’m not saying this is the best winter set up for a hive, but I have a good sense of my local climate and I think this minimal set up will work out okay.

A Hive Full of Cracks

I noticed yesterday there’s significant gap between the bottom and top deep as well as between the top deep and the inner cover of one of my hives. Here are some photos:

Enough space between the inner cover and top deep to slip in my car key. (July 31, 2015.)

I noticed the crack between the deeps when I first installed the top deep:

Enough space between deeps to easily slip in my pocket knife. (July 31, 2015.)

Thinking it was the new top deep, I switched it with another one but the same gap (or crack) still appeared. Which leads me to conclude that the top edge of the bottom deep isn’t flat. And who knows what’s happening with the crack beneath the inner cover. The inner cover might be warped. I hope that’s all it is, because that’s one big massive crack.

I’m used to dealing with some cracks between the hive components from time to time. Most of the cracks provide ventilation that doesn’t hurt the bees. But the cracks in this hive are a bit much. I’ll probably fill them in with duct tape once I’m done tearing the hives apart for the year. Completely replacing all the deeps and inner covers with ones that still might not fit tightly together — I can’t be bothered. I have no interest in messing with the bees that much at this time of year.

Do other beekeepers worry about cracks?

Preview of Do-It-Yourself Escape Boards

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:

2014-10-07 17.17.37

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:

2014-09-29 18.35.34

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.
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Colour Blind Beekeeping Tip #1

If you’re a colour blind beekeeper who keeps dropping your hive tools in the grass, here’s a little trick that should help you spot said hive tool in the grass: YELLOW DUCT TAPE.



I should have taken a photo of one of the hive tools in the grass so people who are colour blind can see how well the yellow stands out, but you get the idea. Blue isn’t bad either, but yellow creates an excellent contrast.

DIY Honey Extractor


I’m more of a bee-visitor than a beekeeper these days. The most fun I had this past summer was when I made a 4-frame extractor with a friend of mine. I’m not posting the plans for it because it’s a prototype and the design has some minor flaws that need to be corrected first. But it works and is easily worth the $120 I spent on it. Here’s a demo video of its maiden voyage:

By the way, the heating gun method of uncapping the honey works great. No fuss, no muss and way cheaper than an uncapping knife.

AUGUST 13/14: I just uploaded these photos of the extractor for anyone who wants to try to figure out how I built it, though I don’t recommend it.

August 15/15: I trashed the DIY extractor and bought a professionally made extractor instead, the Maxant 3100p:

Maxant 3/6/9 Honey Extractor, Model 3100P. (August 12, 2015.)

Maxant 3/6/9 Honey Extractor, Model 3100P. (August 12, 2015.)