My intention for Mud Songs is to document my experiences as a small time indolent beekeeper. Whatever I do in beekeeping, if it’s something I haven’t seen before, I’ll write a post about it (eventually). If Mud Songs has a mandate beyond that, it’s to provide practical information for people on the island of Newfoundland (or people who live in a climate similar to Newfoundland) who are interested keeping bees for the pleasure of it. Strategies for maximizing production and profit will not be found here. 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.
A note to wannabe beekeepers in places like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia: Much of what I describe in these articles applies to beekeeping in your neck of the woods too. The big differences: 1) Not being stuck in the middle of the North Atlantic, all of your beekeeping gear should be considerably cheaper. 2) You should be able to purchase nucs as early as April (as opposed to July for most beekeepers in Newfoundland), which means you’ll have considerably more time to build up your colonies. Hence, you can probably harvest honey in the fall of your first year. 3) You probably have beekeeping associations and clubs where you can learn hands-on from experienced beekeepers. That’s a luxury that doesn’t exist in Newfoundland. 4) We don’t have Varroa mites in Newfoundland or hardly any of the diseases that plague honey bees across North America and the rest of the world. So you’re on your own with that.
Beekeeping Start-Up Costs in Newfoundland — A list of everything most new beekeepers in Newfoundland will 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. You should assemble your frames and hive(s) and have everything you’ll need long before your bees arrive. Online beekeeping lessons from David Burns aren’t a bad idea either.
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 narrow-minded and suspicious jerk neighbours like I do, you’ll want to be extra careful not to upset them.
How To Care For Nucs — Some basic tips on building up a hive in Newfoundland from a nuc. Do not skip reading this one. 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 — You can’t 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 to mix the syrup and what kind of sugar not to use. The video also demonstrates how easy it is to make pollen patties.
Making a Ventilator Rim — 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.
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.
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. 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 — Get yourself a can of acrylic latex paint and a brush. Then paint away. It’s easier, though, if you have 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. If it works, I’ll never order another bottom board again. (I haven’t tested it through a full season yet.)
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 to 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.
Wrapping Hives for Winter — Most beekeepers in Newfoundland wrap their hives for winter sometime in November. A Type 15 asphalt felt does the trick.
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. No need to drill ventilation holes in the top brood box either.
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 a 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’s a good 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.
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.
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. Some so-called natural beekeepers let their colonies requeen on their own. But in a place like Newfoundland that has possibly the shortest summers on the planet, natural requeening could result in a weaker colony that won’t make it through the winter.
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. By the way, our #1 recommendation for small scale beekeepers: Use foundationless frames in your honey supers. 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.