October 1st, 2013

Cutting to the chase: A frame feeder works just as well as a hive top feeder for anyone with easy access to their hives, especially with a modified frame feeder.

I created two nucs for a friend earlier this summer. He used a frame feeder to feed the bees sugar syrup all summer and now the bees in each hive have filled all the frames — minus two frames taken up by the frame feeder.

Question: How does he get the bees to work the final two frames with the frame feeder in the way? Answer: Leave the frame feeder in and just keep swapping out frames until the bees stop taking down syrup. Then remove the frame feeder and replace it with capped honey/syrup. Here’s the step-by-step answer:

• Remove a frame of capped syrup/honey and replace it with an empty frame.

• Keep the feeder where it is and let the bees go to work on the empty frame.

• When the new frame is full, pull another frame of syrup/honey and repeat the process until the bees stop taking down syrup.

• Make sure the feeder never goes empty.

If he’s lucky, he’ll have three or four extra frames of capped syrup/honey put aside at the end of it all.

• Remove the frame feeder and replace it with two frames of syrup/honey. Done.

Keep any extra frames of syrup-honey for emergency or spring feeding.

The fine print: Place empty frames between fully drawn frames. Shift frames around to make this happen if necessary. Pull two frames at a time if the bees are working fast and furious. You might as well insulate and wrap your hives for winter after this, because other than adding a mouse-proofing mesh, what else is there to do? Cancel that. You might want to add dry sugar before winter kicks in.

If you don’t own or don’t want to bother with a hive top feeder, you could feed your bees like this in the fall to top them up before the winter. You’d start by removing two frames of honey to make room for the frame feeder. Then you’d have to put them back once the bees were done taking down syrup. I haven’t tried it, but yeah… that could work.

Frame feeders aren’t practical for people with a large number of hives because they may need to be refilled more than once a week at the height of summer. But they’re perfect for new beekeepers because it gives them an excuse to look inside the hives and see what’s going on without disturbing the bees too much.

P.S.: The above method of topping up a hive or building up a nuc with a frame feeder may seem obvious. But the obvious is easily overlooked. How often have you heard a beekeeper say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (I wrote this post because I didn’t think of it until someone suggested it to me.)

September 28th, 2013

Here’s what happened in one of my hives this year when I installed a honey super without a queen excluder:

The queen laid eggs throughout most of the honey frames. A full shallow super full of comb honey ruined.
Read on . . . »

September 27th, 2013

(For beginner beekeepers in Newfoundland.)

I was asked by someone in Newfoundland about what books they could read before they get into beekeeping. My response got into more detail than I anticipated, so I’ll reproduce it here for the general edification of my legions of fans. But before I get into it, let me lay down a couple of confessions for you. (It’s okay to skip this part.) Confession Number 1: I don’t read many beekeeping books these days because I’m tired of reading beekeeping books. I’m tired of it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I went nuts with beekeeping research when I got into it in 2009. Many beekeepers are obsessed and get drawn into beekeeping compulsively. It takes up all their free time. It’s always on their mind. That was me. But I eventually got over the obsessive-compulsive stage and now I only read beekeeping books at my leisure. I should change the name of this blog to The Leisurely Beekeeper. Secondly, my interest in honey bees took a serious dip last year after I was forced to move my hives to a rural location. When the bees were in my backyard, I was engaged in a daily fascination with them because they were there, constantly present. I loved it. But now I only see them a couple of hours a week, if that, and I rarely have time to sit and watch them like I used to. So the fuel that fired most of my interest in beekeeping — the constant presence of the bees — isn’t there. I still like beekeeping, but it ain’t what it used to be. Confession Number 2: I don’t mind recommending reading material for beginners, but… I don’t like to give advice and I’ve become suspicious of many beekeepers who do. Unless their advice has been tempered by at least a decade of trial and error, chances are, if they’re eager to give advice, I kinda get the feeling they might be feeding their egos. It’s easy to do. (Check out Honey Bee Suite for more on this topic.) And just because I have a beekeeping blog doesn’t mean I know what I’m talking about. I started this blog so others could learn from my experiences and my mistakes (notice how I emphasize mistakes). So to summarize my confessions: I don’t read many beekeeping books and I don’t like to give advice. Okay then…

davidburnsSo you have only a rudimentary understanding of beekeeping, you live in Newfoundland, and you’re wondering if there are any good books for beginners that you can read before you start ordering hives and bees and all that jazz. Well, I can’t think of a single book that covers all the bases, but my top recommendation for beginners online is David Burns’s Basic Beekeeping lessons. The preambles to his lessons can go off on various tangents, but the actual beekeeping lessons are the best I’ve found anywhere — in any book or online. He could easily sell the lessons in book form and make a mint. I studied his lessons before I did anything and referred to them all throughout my first year of beekeeping.
Read on . . . »

September 18th, 2013

In my continuing efforts to document flowers in and around St. John’s that seem to attract honey bees, allow me to introduce a viney plant we call Morning Glory that blooms around this time of the year. Here’s a photo from September 5th, 2011, proof that honey bees go for it:

I first recognized Morning Glory as a pollen and nectar source for the bees after saw what I thought were Mutant Bees. Here’s another shot of Morning Glory from September 18th, 2013:

It’s also known as Field Bindwind or Convolvulus arvensis.

September 13th, 2013

Here’s a cell phone video of me pouring some honey that I extracted using my home made honey extractor.

The sound and video quality isn’t the best and it’s not smoothly edited. It’s also a little repetitive, but it demonstrates a cheap and simple method of filtering honey and you’ll hear me blather on a bit about the difference between blended honey and single-colony honey. Anyone who appreciates single malt scotch over blended scotch will know what I mean. And if you want a better view of my flawed-but-functional extractor in action, check out my DIY Honey Extractor video from last year.

September 11th, 2013

Although it’s an invasive plant, Japanese KnotweedFallopia japonica — provides a hit of pollen and nectar for the honey bees well into the fall season.

Plants like Japanese Knotweed help delay the nectar dearth that would occur this time of the year as many of the native plants die off.

Japanese Knotweed isn’t difficult to spot. The plants grow well over 6 feet (about two metres) and the stock of the plant is hollow and looks like bamboo (the stocks are full of water). It only takes one plant to take root in some broken soil and it quickly takes over and is nearly impossible eradicate.

August 28th, 2013

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days like today. Much of the late season honey is derived from goldenrod and it’s easy to tell because the smell of the goldenrod in the air has a similar pungency as the honey we harvest in the fall.

Goldenrod honey crystallizes quickly due to its high glucose content and can take on such a strong earthen odour as to be unpleasant to more sensitive taste buds. I’m not in love with it. I can see how it’s an acquired taste. Most of our fall honey comes from a variety of nectar sources, so it’s not too pungent.

August 12th, 2013

Here’s a quick video I shot with my Nexus 4 Android phone using the 1080p setting. The original shot was turned 90°, so instead of the usual long and wide framing, it was tall and narrow. I cropped the frame and applied a slight Pan & Scan effect to give the appearance that the camera is moving ever so slowly. I rendered the video at 720p. Crunch the numbers and you’ll know most of the original high resolution got lost in the wash. Nevertheless, if you choose the 720p playback settings, a fair amount of detail comes through, especially in the bees’ wings (though I wouldn’t play it back in full screen mode).

I realize there’s not much to see here. This is a test to see what kind of video quality I can get from my smart phone camera, which, out of convenience, has become my primary camera.

I saw several honey bees on white ferny flowers along a path near a little park — Churchill Park Playground — in St. John’s today. I doubt they’re my bees, though you never know. I took this photo with my cell phone:

The flowers are called False Spiraea. Or if you want get fancy: Sorbaria sorbifolia.

July 23rd, 2013

THE FOLLOWING WAS REWRITTEN AND UPDATED ON APRIL 05, 2014.

Ever pull out some frames to discover the bees have built comb perpendicular to the frames and every which way? I have. It’s called cross-comb and it’s a mess. Here’s my first look at it from late July:

Cross-comb is usually the result of a hive that isn’t level, specifically when it’s tilted, even a little bit, to the left or the right. Bees follow the pull of gravity to build comb straight down. That’s pretty much what they’re up to when you see them festooning:

The bees don’t care about the frames or foundation inside the frames. If the frames or foundation happen to be parallel to the Earth’s gravitational pull, then the bees will build straight comb that fits conveniently on the frame just that way we humans like it. If not, the frames only get in the bees’ way and you end up with cross-comb.

That’s why the ideal positioning of a Langstroth hive is level from left to right — to prevent cross-comb — and slightly tilted up on the back so that any moisture that happens to collect inside the hive will pour out the front entrance and not pool inside the hive.

Bubble Level (Android app)ADDENDUM (April 05/14): I used to carry a carpenter’s bubble level with me whenever I set up a new hive (the hives can shift over winter as well, as I learned today), but these days I use a Bubble level app on my cell phone. (I happen to have an Android phone, but I’m sure similar apps are available for other types of smart phones or devices.) There are many free apps to choose from and, for me, I’d rather have an easy-to-use app already on my phone if it means I don’t have to carry around another piece of equipment when I’m tending to the bees.

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