Beeyard Compass

It’s nice to know what direction my bees are flying. I drew a compass on the top of one of my hives today and here’s how I did it.

Beeyard compass! (Dec. 08, 2016.)

Beeyard compass! I wrote “Chicken coop side” on one edge of the cover in case I move the cover to another hive, which I do all the time. That’s me, always thinking ahead. I’m a genius. (Dec. 08, 2016.)

I turned on the free compass app that I have installed on my smartphone, placed it top of the hive, lined up the side of the phone with the north-south line and drew the compass headings on top of the hive. Magic!

Compass view through my Adnoid compass app. (Dec. 08, 2016.)

Compass view through my Android compass app. (Dec. 08, 2016.)

You can spend some money on a fancy pants weather vane or you could do what good beekeepers on a budget do and make a beeyard compass for nothing.

P.S.: I think I have a shrew nosing around one of my hives. I’ll tell you about it later.

Beekeeping on a Budget: Hive Wrap

    The following was last updated on Dec. 01, 2016.

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.”
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Hive Ventilation with an Empty Moisture Quilt

Here’s a quick video clip I posted on Twitter that shows how I make use of my empty moisture quilts during the peak of summer.

CORRECTION: In the video I said if it wasn’t so hot, I would put an inner cover above the moisture quilt. That’s wrong because it obviously wouldn’t do anything. The inner cover would go beneath the moisture quilt to reduce the amount of ventilation.

Most of my moisture quilts are converted ventilator rims, deep rims with screen stapled to the bottom, some of them, such as the one in the video, with spacers screwed underneath.

I know of commercial hive components that cost over $100 per hive that supposedly work ventilation magic on beehives. But for beekeepers on a budget (my kind of people), these $5 moisture quilts that I slap together with scrap wood and a piece of screen may be a better option.

More examples of how I use my moisture quilts year-round can be found under my Moisture Quilts posts.

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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Lemongrass Oil as a Swarm Lure

I’ve heard for a long time that lemongrass oil is an excellent swarm lure. A few drops inside a swarm box full of old drone comb and the bees will be all over it.

Food grade lemongrass oil and other essential oils are used for mixing with pollen patties and syrup. NOTE: The lemongrass oil pictured here is not food grade, but the bees aren't eating it, so that's not a problem.

The lemongrass oil pictured here is not food grade quality, but that’s not a problem because the bees aren’t eating it.

So I went ahead and got myself some lemongrass oil ($5 at my local Bulk Barn), sprinkled five or six drops of it on some old comb (drone comb, comb with patches of honey, etc.) and set up a few swarm boxes. And within hours the bees were all over them.

Honey bees attracted by lemon grass oil. (June 15, 2016.)

Honey bees attracted by lemon grass oil. (June 15, 2016.)

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On Losing a Colony

People who idealize and romanticize beekeeping — I would guess that’s 99% of all people who have ever gotten into beekeeping, including me — are in for a big wake up call after they kill their first colony. Sometimes colonies die of natural causes, but whatever the reason, a hard fact of beekeeping is that bad things happen and colonies die. If honey bee colonies can die in nature even under ideal circumstances, they can die in a beeyard too.

The ragged queen during better days (when she was alive).

The ragged queen during better days (when she was alive).

My ragged queen bee (and her potential colony) finally died yesterday after what might be called a prolonged illness. And I’m okay with it. Honestly, I barely gave it a thought. Losing my first colony a few years back was a hard hit, especially since it was my fault and the colony was healthy and huge going into winter. The honeymoon phase of my beekeeping life died right there on the carpet. While it was certainly discouraging and sad at the time, I’ve come to accept that these things will happen and when they do, I give myself a moment (and curse to myself if no one is there) and move on. That being said, here’s the lowdown on what I found five days after I installed my ragged queen into a new hive — and after two weeks of keeping her alive with a light bulb inside a nuc box. (For anyone late to the party, all the details of this desperate tale are preserved through a unique label I just created called Ragged Queen.) So…
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Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (on the island of Newfoundland)

QUICK NOTE: Gerard Smith sells all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that makes it much more affordable than it was when I originally wrote this post. I’ll revise this post once Gerard sets up a website that lists everything he sells. But I think it’s fair to say that having a supplier on the island reduces the costs listed in this post by as much as 50%.

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, 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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A Tip of The Hat to BroodMinder, But…

I’ve been asked many times now what I think of BroodMinder, a new device that monitors the temperature and humidity of a beehive through use of a cell phone app and sells for sixty bucks American. I haven’t written about it before because I don’t have much to say about it. But here’s what I have to say for anyone who’s dying to know.

A pair of patented Mud Songs beehives. (January 11, 2015 in Logy Bay, NL.)

A pair of patented Mud Songs beehives. (January 11, 2015 in Logy Bay, NL.)

I think the BroodMinder is really neat. (Please feel free to quote me on that.) I wouldn’t hesitate to install the BroodMinder device on one or all of my hives. I would love to add temperature and humidity readings to the observational data on my hives. The BroodMinder readings might not make any difference to how I keep my bees in the winter (or the summer), but more knowledge about what’s going on inside the hive is usually a good thing (usually). So yeah, it sounds great. I’m all for it.

But it’s not going to happen for me because I don’t want to spend almost another $80 in Canadian cash on each of my hives if I don’t have to. That’s about $400 to cover all five of my hives (and I expect to max out at about ten hives in a year or two). Even $80 for one BroodMinder is too much for something that isn’t essential to my beekeeping. So although I like BroodMinder and I support it in theory and would love to try it out in the real world, it’s a pass for me.

P.S.: I’m well aware of the perception that beekeeping as a hobby is, in essence, a money pit, and I have to confess a bias towards beekeeping practices that save money, not ones that cost more money. Not that the BroodMinder is overpriced for what it does, and I admire the efforts of the people behind it, but it’s one of many items that most hobbyist beekeepers on a budget (like me) probably don’t need.

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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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.)