(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…
So 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 . . . »
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.
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.
Although it’s an invasive plant, Japanese Knotweed — Fallopia 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honey bees have a tonne of behaviours that are fun to discover. One of the first things I noticed was the way they clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got, a behaviour that’s commonly known as fanning (not to be confused with scenting). The fanning creates an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest. I took a few more photos today.
Here’s a short video that documents some common honey bee behaviour: Drinking from a leaky garden hose and fanning around the hive entrance.
Forget about planting flowers to attract honey bees. If you want to see honey bees up close, take a leaky garden hose and let it leak over a hard surface like rocks or concrete, or a stinky surface like composted soil. The bees love it, especially in the spring.
For a little more info, see my Honey Bees Fanning post. It also seems this isn’t the first time I’ve documented the bees collecting water: Macro Photos of Bees Drinking; Stinkin’ Dirt Never Tasted So Good; Why Honey Bees Drink Dirty Water; Plastic Flavoured Water and, from Honey Bee Suite, Love That Dirty Water.
P.S.: Notice how fearless my cat is around the bees. He knows how to keep his distance.