April 18th, 2012

Here are some simple tips that nobody told me when I first installed a jar feeder. A jar feeder, by the way, is a Mason jar or any jar with little holes poked in the metal lid. The jar is filled with honey or sugar syrup (in this case, for spring feeding, a thin 1 part sugar, 1 part water mixture), tipped upside and placed inside the hive over the inner cover (but sheltered inside an empty super). Got it?

Tip #1: Don’t place the feeder directly over the inner cover hole when night time temperatures can still hover around freezing. The syrup will expand and contract with the temperature fluctuations and leak all over the bees (speaking from experience here), and not just any bees but the baby bees that are right in the middle of the hive — the brood nest — directly underneath the inner cover hole. It may be easier for the bees to access the syrup when it’s directly over the inner cover hole, but it’s not worth the risk. Go for it later on when temperatures aren’t so cold, but not in Newfoundland in April. Tip #1-B: Place the jar between the inner cover hole and the top entrance (not between the hole and the back wall of the hive). That way if the syrup does leak, provided the back of your hive is tilted up a bit like it should be, the syrup will drain out of the hive or at least to the front of it — and not down the inner cover hole.

Tip #2: Rest the jar on two pieces of wood. When I first installed a jar feeder, I put it directly over the inner cover hole and blocked the hole. You don’t want to block the hole. That may seem obvious, but to many beginners, it’s not. Here’s a photo of a jar feeder sitting on two pieces of scrap wood. You can even see the path from the top entrance in the background, to the jar feeder, to the inner cover hole (some call that a beeline).

I probably shouldn’t even feed the bees now. I think they have plenty of honey, and if they eat their honey, it will free up space for the queen to lay more eggs. But until I can do a quick non-invasive inspection and I know for sure they have enough honey, I’ll play the paranoid card and feed them.

P.S.: This is one way to install a jar feeder. If I find a better, safer way of doing it, I’ll update this post with that information. I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion.

April 16th, 2012

When bees feed each other, that’s trophallaxis.

And here it is in video form.

April 16th, 2012

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

Here’s a question I’ve heard a few times about the insulated inner covers we use: “Won’t the bees build a lot of burr comb over the top bars?” The answer is: “No, because the bees don’t build much comb in the winter.” But they sure do build comb once spring arrives, and you better get the covers off before the bees start bringing in pollen. You better remove any rims (or ekes) that are placed on the hives for dry sugar feeding too. We were too busy with work to remove them until today, and look what we found under one of the covers (in our one hive that happens to have follower-boards):

That’s about 3 inches of burr comb under the insulated inner cover (flipped upside down) — several large mounds of comb. It wouldn’t have been as bad if we’d removed the deep rim a couple weeks ago, but we didn’t, so it’s bad. Lesson learned.
Read on . . . »

April 14th, 2012

It may have been too early to remove the mouse-proofing mesh from our hives, but I did it anyway because the entrance of one hive was clogged with dead winter bees and I couldn’t clear the entrance without removing the mesh. I also noticed the bees — at the 3:33 mark of the video — bringing in the first pollen of the year.

April 11th, 2012

I pulled the mouse-proof mesh from the hives today and cleaned out the dead winter bees with a stick. The bottom entrance for the foundationless hive was blocked with dead bees (mostly drones, I’m guessing). I’ll post a video of that later. I inadvertently noticed bees from one of the hives bringing in pollen while I was at it. I looked around and saw these flowers poking up through the dead colourless leaves and sticks around the front of our house.

I couldn’t get a good photo of the bees bringing in the pollen, but if you look at the anthers inside these flowers, that’s the exact colour of the pollen the bees were bringing in.

I didn’t notice the bees bringing in pollen last year until April 13th. Way to go spring. It was almost 20°C when I took these photos.

It went up to 11°C today. Is it safe to say winter is over yet? I don’t know.

The colony in the above photo was slow to wake up from winter. The foundationless hive that went into winter with a small cluster has been the most active in the past few weeks. That colony may have more Carniolan genes helping its population bounce back early. The slower-to-wake-up colony my have a greater Italian lineage, high on honey production but slow to build up in the spring. But who really knows? Either way, all four colonies seem to be doing well now. They went mad with orientation and cleansing flights today.
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 30th, 2012

I noticed our bees drinking dirty water last May. They seem to love the minerals from the dark composted soil in our raised garden beds. They’ve been at it again for the past few days.


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 . . . »

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