How-To Guide

Listen to experience, not advice.

My intention for Mud Songs is to share my experiences in beekeeping in a manner that might allow others to learn from those experiences without being told what to do. I say this because the best beekeeping teachers I’ve had don’t give advice. They share their knowledge by saying things like, “Sometimes I do this and it works.” Enthusiastic novice beekeepers, on the other hand, easily turn into self-appointed authorities on beekeeping after absorbing everything they can about beekeeping. They’ve never had to deal with swarms, mice, shrews, ants, starving colonies, freezing colonies, failing queens, highly defensive bees, vandalism, unfriendly neighbours and so on. Their opinions are not tempered by experience — but that doesn’t stop them from giving advice. I can spot them a mile away because I used to be one of them when I first started beekeeping in 2010. I learned quickly, however, that the knowledge gained from actually beekeeping is staggering compared to what I’d learned from my research on beekeeping. I learned that although doing my homework is important, there are few absolutes in beekeeping and there is plenty of room for every beekeeper to discover through their own experiences what works best for them and their bees.

With that in mind, here’s a list of informal articles posted to Mud Songs since 2010 that might be helpful for anyone in Newfoundland (or in a similar climate) trying to start up a few hives for the pleasure of it. These are some things that have worked for me. Strategies for maximizing production and profit will not be found here.

    AUGUST 2015: I would like to rewrite many of the posts that show up on this How-To page. I’ve simplified and improved many of the things I do in beekeeping since they were written, which includes a better attitude towards sharing my experience (as opposed to giving advice). The rewrites are coming, eventually. Please bear with me. In the meantime, I hope this page can provide some practical guidance to new beekeepers in Newfoundland who most likely will have to learn everything the hard way by doing it on their own (like I did). Another note: I’m slowly working my way through every single post on Mud Songs in order to file each one under a more helpful category or label, including Practical Tips (e.g., how to use certain feeders without drowning bees) and Stuff That’s Good To Know (e.g., what the queen looks like compared to all the other bees). It’s a work in progress that I probably won’t complete until the winter of 2016.

Beekeeping Start-Up Costs in Newfoundland (as of 2014) — A list of everything most new beekeepers in Newfoundland might need to get through their first year of beekeeping. Expect to spend about $700 for your first hive during the first year, slightly less for subsequent hives. Online beekeeping lessons from David Burns aren’t a bad idea either.

How To Care For Nucs — Some friendly tips on building up a hive in Newfoundland from a nuc. With our short and often cold and damp summers, you can’t count on Mother Nature to get your colony built up strong enough to make it through the winter. (“Nuc” is short for nucleus hive, the small beginner 4-frame hive that has to expand to at least 18 frames before winter sets in.)

Making Sugar Syrup and Pollen Patties — It’s difficult to start up a bee hive from a nuc in most parts of Newfoundland without feeding them sugar syrup. Giving them extra pollen doesn’t hurt either. This post explains how and when I mix syrup and what kind of sugar not to use. The video also demonstrates how easy it is to make pollen patties.

Making and Installing Candy Cakes — First year beekeepers in Newfoundland will probably start up their hives from nucs around mid-to-late July. That means feed them, feed them, feed them and continue to feed them 1:1 and then 2:1 sugar-to-water syrup until they stop taking it down sometime in the fall. And even then, the bees still might not have enough honey stored in the hive to get them through the winter. So it might not be a bad idea idea to give them some sugar in January or early February. Some people prefer candy boards, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Dry Sugar Winter Feeding — A video that demonstrates possibly the simplest method for feeding bees in the winter (much easier than mixing up a batch of hard candy). It’s sometimes referred to as the Mountain Camp Method. I may never go back to candy cakes.

Urban Beekeeping Tips — I’ll save you the trouble of reading this one and break it down like this: Keep the hives hidden if you can; keep them as far as possible from your neighbours’ back door (at least 20 metres or 70 feet); don’t overfeed your bees after the first summer because overfeeding will probably make them swarm; and have a plan for dealing with swarms because, no matter how smart you think you are, the bees will definitely swarm some day. If you have open-minded neighbours who are glad to have honey bees around, then you can probably relax. But if you have alarmist, suspicious neighbours like I used to, you might want to be extra careful not to upset them.

How to Reverse Brood Boxes — Reversing the brood boxes isn’t essential, but it supposedly prevents swarming. I like it because it gives me an excuse to do a full inspection to start the year off. I reverse the boxes as soon as the bees start bringing in pollen (around mid-April in Newfoundland if you’re lucky).

Building Frames — Everyone has their own method for building frames. This is what I did for my first few hives. But it’s a bit tedious and not recommended for anyone with more than five hives. Probably fine for beginners though. View Building Bee Hive #1 to see how we built our first hive if you want, but there’s not much to it. No detailed instructions required. This post also includes instructions on how to use and make a frame jig (a little device that speeds up the frame-making process).

How to Paint Beehives — Acrylic latex paint and a brush plus a couple saw horses and some scrap lumber.

Homemade Bottom Board — A bottom board made from scrap wood I found in my shed. It’s the cheapest and easiest hive part I’ve made. I’ll never order another bottom board again. I’ve been using this thing, along with my other slapped together bottom boards, for a few years now. It’s ugly but the bees don’t care. It works as good as any industrial made bottom board I own.

Homemade Screened Bottom Board — Exactly like the other homemade bottom board, only with a big hole cut in the bottom and a screen stapled over it. During the peak of summer when the honey flows are flying high, the screened bottom board greatly relieves the humidity inside the hive, which makes it easier for the bees to make honey.

Frame Feeders / Division Board Feeders — How I slightly modify and use frame feeders. I began with Boardman feeders, but they attract wasps and ants.

Refilling a Frame Feeder — A video that demonstrates how easy it is to fill a modified frame feeder without disturbing the bees. There’s not much to it, but it’s always good to see exactly how common beekeeping tasks are done if you’ve never done them before.

Installing a Jar Feeder — Some basic tips on how to make and use a jar feeder. Sometimes what seems obvious isn’t obvious, especially for beginners.

Making a Ventilator Rim — I’ve learned that proper ventilation is essential for a healthy hive. This cheap and easy-to-make ventilator rim (a.k.a. a ventilation eke) goes a long way. It also doesn’t take much work to convert it into a wintering moisture quilt.

Screened Inner Covers — A post that shows how I made a screened inner cover that greatly improves hive ventilation in the summer when combined with a ventilator rim. It’s a bit rough. There’s room for improvement in the design, but I still use it every summer. (I now use moisture quilts which have a built in screened inner cover year-round.)

Feeding Bees Crystallized Honey — Got left over honey that’s crystallized in the jar? Feed it back to the bees. They love it.

Mouse-Proofing a Hive with Mesh — A cheap and easy way to keep mice out of the hive over the winter. Remember to get the mesh on early, well before winter sets in. A mouse in a hive can devastate a colony. (I plan to use quarter-inch mess as of 2015, because shrews can get in through the half-inch mesh.)

Wrapping Hives for Winter — Most beekeepers in Newfoundland wrap their hives for winter sometime in November. A Type 15 asphalt felt does the trick. (I didn’t have time to wrap my hives one winter and my hives did fine. It’s probably safer to wrap them, though.)

Making Insulated Inner Hive Covers — These insulated inner hive covers reduce condensation from building up inside the hive, which is essential for winter survival. It’s the dampness that kills the bees, not the cold. A simple piece of R-7.5 hard insulation over the inner cover seems equally as effective. (I’ve since replaced these with moisture quilts.)

Requeening a Hive — Requeening becomes necessary for a variety of reasons that are mentioned in this post. Most new beekeepers shouldn’t have to worry about requeening until their second year.

How To Move a Hive — Illustrated step-by-step instructions on how to move a Langstroth hive a short distance. Includes a video that shows how the bees react to having their hive moved.

Cut Comb + Crushed & Strained Bottled Honey — A video (with photos) that demonstrates how we made cut comb (that’s raw honey comb) and crushed the honey out of some comb and then bottled it, all very low tech in the simplicity of our kitchen. Also see Making Sloppy Cut Comb and Crushing and Straining a Small Batch of Honey for an even lower tech method that anyone can do. Extracted honey from conventional frames with plastic foundation can give you more honey, but it’s not nearly as much fun as cutting raw comb off a foundationless frame and biting into it. Once you’ve done that, you’ll realize it was all worth it.

EpiPen — The dark side of beekeeping is that some people, even people who have been stung many times before, can have an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting that is life-threatening. Always have en EpiPen near by just to be safe.

Hive Tool For The Colourblind — I wrap yellow duct tape around the middle of red hive tools so they’re easier to find when I drop them in the grass, which I do all the time.

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