Making Room for the Queen

Here’s a 6-minute video from an inspection I did yesterday that shows me spotting the queen, adding a frame of drawn comb to give the queen more space to lay, and there’s a shot of the bees cleaning up a mouldy frame of pollen taken from one of my dead colonies — and you’ll hear me talking about my plans for inspecting all my hives and how I’m going to manage them. That part sounds boring, but it might give new beekeepers a sense of how to go about inspecting their hives, that is, having a plan and knowing that most plans are a joke. The bees will tell you want they need.

I mention in the video that I plan to add another deep to the hive, which is what I did, though it’s not in the video. It’s in this 1-minute time-lapse behind-the-scenes video where I explain why the hive has a moisture quilt and a few other things.

Part 2 of the hive inspection video: Combs of Pollen and Nectar.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Chuckley Pear

I recently noticed honey bees on these Chuckley Pear blossoms…

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 11, 2015).

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).

…so I’m adding Chuckley Pears to my list of honey bee friendly flowers (in eastern Newfoundland, at least). As with most wild berries, it goes by several names: shadbush, serviceberry, juneberry, saskatoon berry, etc.

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 11, 2015).

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).

My 60-second Wikipedia research tells me the Chuckley Pear is called Amelanchier, though the particular species in these here parts is probably Amelanchier Canadensis.

Thanks to everyone who identified the blossoms for me.

A Queen Bee Lays an Egg

I wasn’t able to spot the queen until my second summer of beekeeping, not until an experienced beekeeper showed up one day and pointed her out to me. “That’s what she looks like?” — was pretty much my reaction. I had no problem spotting her after that. Once you get a good look at the queen, you never forget her. She stands out like a giant compared to the other bees, kind of like the queen alien in the Aliens movie. Anyway, here’s a quick video of a queen bee I spotted today — and I caught her laying a few eggs. (Though I suppose they’re not really eggs once they’re laid, but for simplicity, I’ll stick with eggs for now.) This video is a good test for new beekeepers. The test is called, Can You Spot The Queen?

See how hard it is spot the queen in the deluge of bees that surround her? But then once you spot her, see how hard it is to not see her? You get the hang of it after a while. A video like this would have gone a long way to helping me spot the queen when I was starting out.

Notice, too, that the queen carefully inspects every cell and will only lay in cells that are immaculate. (It’s in the video. Watch it again if you missed it.) The worker bees do some serious cleaning long before the queen ever shows up. If a frame or comb isn’t clean, the queen won’t even look at it.

Side Effect of Rubber Bee Gloves

I’ve already written about my switch to rubber bee gloves. I wear them because they’re more tactical than goat skin gloves, but boy oh boy do they ever fill up with sweat in no time. Here’s what my fingers looked like after about an hour of beekeeping in the sun today:

Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)

Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)

And my hands stink like rubber. I still prefer them over goat skin. I’ll wear goat skin when I want extra protection from bees that I know I’m going to upset, or in the winter for warmth. But I think I’ll invest in several pairs of rubber gloves so I can strip them off, dry my hands and put on a fresh pair every 30 minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt. By the time I was finished with the bees today, I could feel the sweat trapped inside the fingers of the gloves squirting around every time I gripped onto something.

P.S.: I know some people don’t wear gloves. I didn’t need gloves with my bees today. They were totally chilled out. But I’m not quite there yet. I had one particular colony over the past couple summers that was started from a queen I got from a friend, and it was full of the nastiest bees you’ll ever see. I had many unpleasant experiences with those bees, things that would turn most people off beekeeping forever. I couldn’t relax around those bees. They’re dead now and I’m glad, but they left me feeling like I can’t entirely put my guard down just yet. So I still wear gloves, all the time, even though I probably don’t have to.

The City of St. John’s, Newfoundland, is an Excellent Place to Keep Bees

The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.

A maple tree flower in St. John's, NL (June 09, 2015.)

A maple tree flower in St. John’s, NL (June 09, 2015.)

I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but trust me, if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular. Although I’m extremely pleased to have finally found a place where I can keep my bees in peace and be around them every day, I don’t think my bees will ever thrive as well as they did when I kept them in my backyard in St. John’s.

The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)

Leave the Dandelions Alone

There’s not much to see here except some honey bees messing around on some dandelions.

I’m just using the bees I saw in my front yard today as an excuse to spread this message again: Dandelions provide honey bees and other pollinators with a much needed boost in the spring, especially in seasonally delayed places like Newfoundland where dandelions and other wild flowers don’t begin to bloom in large numbers until June. If all dandelions were mowed into mulch or destroyed by pesticides, some honey bees in Newfoundland would be in pretty hard shape. Strawberries and a variety of fruit trees that benefit from honey bee pollination would lose out too.

When and Why I Still Reverse My Brood Boxes

When I reverse the brood boxes, usually some time in April, I don’t just pull the hive apart and reverse the positions of the deeps. (That’s an easy way to squish the queen, by the way.) I set up an empty deep next to the hive and, if it’s warm enough, carefully inspect each frame before I move it into the new bottom deep. No heavy lifting required. But more importantly, this allows me to assess the strength of the colony going into the new season and make adjustments on the spot if necessary. I will add drawn comb to the brood nest if the cluster looks like it needs room. I will add frames of honey or pollen if the bees are starving for it. I will give them frames of brood from another colony if they’re weak. In short, I will take whatever action is required to get the bees started on the right path for the new season.

Drone comb split open after lifting up the top brood box for the first time this year. (May 05, 2012.)

Drone comb split open after lifting up the top brood box for the first time this year. (May 05, 2012.)


Then for the rest of the year, because I know exactly what condition the colony was in at the beginning of the year, I’ll be able to assess the strength of the colony without having to dig into the bottom deep and disturb the brood nest every time I do an inspection. Are the bees filling frames in the top box with pollen? Is the brood nest straddling the deeps? I can tell a lot from looking down into a hive where the brood nest has been working its way up from the bottom.

But it’s harder when the brood nest has been working it’s way from the top down. It’s more work, at least for me it is. I usually end up having to lift the top deep, essentially separating it from the bottom half of the hive, and potentially splitting up the brood nest, so I can see what’s going on in the bottom, to see how much the cluster has moved down and so on. In my book, that’s too much work and too disruptive. It’s much easier and less disruptive to the brood nest — if it’s seated in the bottom deep — to pull out a few frames in the top deep and look down to figure out what’s going on — and I never have to lift a deep or potentially split the brood nest if its straddling the deeps.

That’s why I reverse the brood boxes on most of my hives sometime in April. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the chances of a swarm, but it gives me an excuse to carefully inspect and assess the strength of the colony and perform future inspections with greater ease and less disruption to the brood nest.

I could be singing a different tune by this time next year, or even this time next week, but for now, this is where my experience with reversing the brood boxes has led me.

————

Reversing Brood Boxes (Video).
Checkers, Anyone? (Checkerboarding).
Reversing brood boxes: is it necessary?
How to checkerboard a hive.
Reversing brood boxes: when and why.

Crush and Strain Honey: The 3-Bucket Method

I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method, which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.

Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket into bucket with holes, then straining into bottom bucket. (Oct. 07, 2014.)

Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket (bucket #1) into a bucket with holes (bucket #2), then straining into a bottom bucket (bucket#3). (Oct. 07, 2014.)


I recommend this method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.

P.S. (July 25/15): I also posted a video called Cutting and Bottling Honey that’s been viewed 645,113 times as of today. Which reminds me, perhaps I should monetize my YouTube videos.)
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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:

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:

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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