August 9th, 2010

I did a non-intrusive hive inspection this afternoon. I’ve been on a tiring film shoot for the past four days, and I missed hanging out in the backyard watching the bees, surrounded by all my veggies and things. I’m glad I had the day off. Here’s a shot of some bees in Hive #2.

By non-intrusive, all I mean is I didn’t pull out the frames. I just removed the roof and the inner cover and looked down at the frames. The bees in Hive #1 have built more comb than those in Hive #2, probably because they went at least one extra week with a feeder. (No doubt about it, feeding the bees at this early stage accelerates comb building — more places for the queen to lay her eggs.) I scraped more honeycomb from the inner cover of that hive. I plan to use the wax (I already ate the honey) to build some starter strips. From what I could see today, the bees in Hive #1 have drawn out comb on at least 7 of the 10 frames, maybe more. I was impressed with what I saw. I’m not sure when I should add another brood box to the hive, but I’m thinking as early as next weekend, the weekend after that at the latest.
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August 3rd, 2010

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON DEC. 22, 2010.

DRONE BEE I took a closer look at the small number of photos we took during our first hive inspection on July 31st, specifically this photo (which, by the way, shows an excellent brood pattern; the queen in that hive is doing well). I looked closely to see if I could spot the queen. I couldn’t, but I did notice a drone bee. So for your edification, here’s a drone bee. Drones are easy to spot because they’re thick and have a big black head. Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate once with a queen. If they don’t mate, they just hang around the hive and get fed. All the drones are kicked out of the hive to freeze to death as winter kicks in because they’re useless over the winter. The colony, through a laying working bee, will produce new drones from unfertilized eggs in the spring for any new queens who need to mate in a hurry. ‘Tis the life of a drone.

UPDATE (Nov. 18/10): I posted this video of a drone bee walking around my hand. It shows in more detail how dark and thick drones can be. A worker bee looks like a little baby next to a drone.

UPDATE (Dec. 22/10): I recently learned through a comment that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Carniolans produce large drones with all-black abdomens, which is apparent in our drones.

August 3rd, 2010

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE IT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED. SCROLL TO THE END FOR TIPS ON HOW TO DEAL WITH WASPS.

My wonderful Boardman feeders are attracting wasps to the hive, and man are they nasty. Wasps and honey bees do not get along. I’ve already seen some wasps attack and kill a few honey bees. It’s pretty gruesome.

A few wasps hanging around aren’t usually a problem, but I read it can become a problem if the wasps nest is close to the hive. The bees become constantly on the defence. If some wasps actually get into a hive, well, it’s not good — and I just noticed a wasps nest in the apple tree close to my shed, about 50 feet away from the hives.

It’s times like this I wish there was a Newfoundland beekeepers association. I’ve done plenty of research, but research and real world practice are not the same. Confidence comes from practice, not from research. I wish there was a local beekeeper I could meet with close by.
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July 31st, 2010

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

Jenny and I decided to do a thorough inspection of our honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so we took advantage of the sunshine and put on our bee suits.

Here I am inspecting a frame full of what I think is brood. I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help us identify exactly what we’re looking at. I know we saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point we could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. We couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.

We’ve decided we don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers spray their bees, and now so do we. Whenever the bees were agitated (we could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), we just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. We probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time we used the smoker on the bees, they were buzzing like mad and flying around the hives in large numbers for at least an hour afterwards. It took them awhile to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know we’d completely dismantled their houses and put them back together again. I can see maybe using the smoker next year when we harvest some of the honey and have to brush the bees off the frames, but I’m convinced for now that misting the bees with a little water is the way to go.
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July 30th, 2010

HONEYI got my first taste of honey from one of our hives this morning (5 minutes ago), and there is no doubt about it: It’s the best honey I’ve tasted in my life.

This is what it looks like at the bottom of a Mason jar, a mouthful chunk of comb with honey in it.

I decided to inspect the hives this morning because it’s going to rain for the next few days and I knew I’d be too busy with my silly job next week to poke around with the bees.

I wanted to look down at the frames to see how much comb has been drawn out, but I didn’t want to pull out the frames and disturb the bees too much.

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July 29th, 2010

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON APRIL 19, 2012.

I’ve been using a Boardman feeder so our bees will create brood comb faster and build up the colony to a healthy size, one strong enough to make it through the winter. This is a Boardman feeder:

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July 27th, 2010

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I like watching the honey bees in my backyard. It’s impressive to see a bee come back to the hive weighed down with pollen. I’ll get a picture of that soon enough. But today — five minutes ago — I noticed a row of bees near the entrance of Hive #2 fanning their wings.


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July 26th, 2010

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON DEC. 23, 2010.

We started up our first two honey bee hives a little over a week ago, both from nuc boxes. Hive #1 had a Boardman feeder installed. When we checked the hives a week a later (just looking down at the frames, not pulling them out), it was clear the hive with the feeder had built the most comb in that week. So we decided to move the feeder to Hive #2. Some bees from Hive #1 went along for the ride, but we assumed they would fly back to their own hive. We also installed an improvised feeder for Hive #2 because we didn’t want to deprive them of a food source they’d been used to (a regular Boardman feeder has been ordered and is on the way).

We’ve noticed more bees hovering around the entrance of the hives from time to time since we switched up the feeders. They weren’t hovering like this before. I did some quick research, and apparently feeding the bees can set off a robbing spree. Bees from another hive will force their way in and steal honey. The bees being stolen from can eventually starve to death from a lack of honey. But it’s also possible the hovering bees are just young bees orientating themselves to the hive. I think that’s more likely the case since the nuc boxes came with at least one full frame of brood (eggs), and many of those eggs may have begun to hatch now. I hope that’s what it is. Here’s a low-rez video of what it looks like (I have a high-rez camera coming soon):
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July 24th, 2010

We installed our first honey bees last weekend. Hive #1 was no problem, but we didn’t have all the pieces for Hive #2, so we had to improvise with some scrap lumber and a window pane. The missing pieces arrived in the mail a few days later and today we decided to use them to upgrade Hive #2. We gave the bees a new floor and a new roof. Here’s a low-rez video of it:

(We ordered a hi-def camera today, so all future videos are going to look great.)

Smoking the bees supposedly makes them more docile and easier to handle, but they sound angrier whenever I smoke them. I know some beekeepers say spraying them with water works just as well and doesn’t upset them as much. I might try that (our smoker keeps going out anyway). The bees were buzzing all over the place for an hour or two after we messed with them. I can see why it’s best to leave them alone most of the time.

UPDATE: I would never smoke the bees like this anymore. For this kind of operation, I don’t think I would have done anything to them. But if I did, I’d spray them with a fine mist of water or sugar-water instead of smoke. Works just as well, doesn’t agitate them nearly as much and they recover much faster.

UPDATE (Jan. 25/11): We definitely wouldn’t smoke them like this today — or smoke them at all. The first part of the video shows the first hive being upgraded. Before that, though, it didn’t even have an upper entrance or ventilation hole. So for the first week, Hive #2 must have cooked. We were clueless. The honeycomb built on top of the frames in Hive #1 is burr comb. The bees constructed it because we had the inner cover on backwards which left the bees with more than 1cm of space above the frames, which they will naturally fill in with comb to maintain the 1cm of “bee space” that they like.

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON DEC. 2, 2010.

We installed our honey bees four days ago on July 18th, 2010. We picked up our nuc boxes from the a Newfoundland bee company on the west coast of Newfoundland the day before at $200 a pop. (Check out my Honey Bees Are On The Way post for a definition of a nuc box and an explanation of the installation process.) I installed the first box of bees and Jenny video taped it. Jenny installed the second box of bees later and I took pictures. I can’t upload the video due to some technical difficulties which I’m working to fix. Until then, here are some of the pictures:

This is the first hive after we installed the bees.

The emptied nuc box on the ground still had a few bees in it that eventually flew back into the hive.

The upside-down Mason jar is full of a honey-sugar mixture. (Nov. 15/10 update: Don’t use honey unless it’s from your own bees. Grocery store honey often contains spores for various Foul Brood diseases which you definitely do not want in your hives.) The bees will feed on it for a couple weeks while they get oriented to their new surroundings. It also helps them build comb quicker. (Dec. 02/10 update: The bees are actually fed all summer long.)

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