May 5th, 2013

Here’s a short video of a moth or butterfly I found hanging around one of my hives for a few days:

Please let me know if you can identify it. I remember a documentary on honey bees that showed a moth or butterfly walk into a hive and chow down on honey and the bees ignored it because it gave off a pheromone that mimicked the queen. Or something like that. I don’t remember the exact details and I haven’t been able to find the documentary online. I’m not sure if this is that particular moth or butterfly, but I’m curious.

UPDATE: It took five minutes for someone on Facebook to solve the mystery. It’s a Mourning Cloak Butterfly and I don’t think it’s harmful to the bees. Thanks.

The following was copied and pasted from a response I gave to someone who was concerned about her neighbour’s plan to set up a beehive in a yard close to where her children play. I decided to turn my response into a post because I’ve received emails from other people with similar concerns. I also made this short video to help ease the irrational response many people have towards anything that looks like a bee.

POSTSCRIPT/PREFACE (Feb. 06/14): If you’re reading this post because you have a problem with your neighbour’s bees, whether real or perceived, and you don’t know what to do, please don’t ask me for advice (especially without even reading this post first — yeah, lady, I’m talking to you). Whatever advice I have to give is already written in this post, and it goes something like this: Most reasonable beekeepers don’t want to upset anyone and will do what they can to assuage even the most irrational fears. {Deep sigh.} If you’re concerned about your neighbour’s bees, then talk to them (your neighbour, that is, not the bees, though that probably wouldn’t hurt either). We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…
Read on . . . »

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I’ve looked into keeping bees on some rooftops here in St. John’s, Newfoundland, because it seems like a great idea — in theory.

A cosy rooftop nook for some bee hives?

Hives on rooftops, for the most part, would be out of sight and out of mind of people with an irrational fear of honey bees. The hives would be safe from vandals too. Most importantly, the bees would have a significantly more diverse source of pollen and nectar available to them in the city. Most of my hives are on a rural farm surrounded by coniferous trees — a virtual desert for honey bees. But the city of St. John’s is full of deciduous and flowering trees everywhere I look. It’s honey bee heaven. Honey bees would do much better in the city than out in the country. I have little doubt about that. But…
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AN UPDATE WAS ADDED TO THE END OF THIS POST ON JUNE 24, 2013.

I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live a in relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged next door neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?

Upper half of the large water melon sized swarm I caught last summer.

Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed:
Read on . . . »

This is only a video test, but I’m posting it to Mud Songs anyway.

P.S.: It works. I may post another video test later this weekend. I found a new program that encodes video so that it plays better online (with less ghostly after-images). I can tell you’re fascinated. If anyone has an HD monitor and can play the video in full screen 720p HD, can you let me know smooth and sharp the playback is for you? Thanks.

UPDATE (March 20/13): Here’s the second video test. It’s not much to see, but it shows that I can encode slow motion video and make it look half decent in full screen mode.

As you were.

March 29th, 2013

One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos and Why My Honey Bees Died for more details.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.

Dead cluster on a frame near the brood nest. (March 10, 2013.)

But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had.
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One of my honey bee colonies starved to death over the winter and I suspect about half of the six colonies still alive are living entirely off the raw sugar I’ve been feeding them since February. There are many reason for this. I gave the colonies some of their own honey but didn’t top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. Some of the colonies were weakened last spring because they swarmed. One colony had a failing queen for most of the year. Another colony was a caught swarm with a virgin queen that didn’t begin laying well until mid-July. Another two colonies were started up from splits (not much different then starting from mid-season nucs). All of the above can significantly reduce a colony’s ability to produce honey, especially considering the short summers in Newfoundland. New policy: Don’t harvest honey from any colony that’s been potentially weakened (from swarming, splitting, etc.). The bees need all the honey they can get. New sub-policy: I’d rather not feed the bees sugar if I can help it, but for now on if I have any doubts, I’ll top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. It’s better than dealing with dead or starving bees in the middle of the winter. Here’s a photo of some bees today that have eaten through most of the sugar I gave them since February:

You can see I added two pollen patties but the sugar is dangerously low. I dumped in more sugar over the pollen patties a few minutes after I took the photo. I’ll have to keep a close eye on all the colonies now, at least until the May dandelions bloom and they can start bringing in nectar and pollen on their own.
Read on . . . »

I discovered one of my honey bee colonies dead about a month ago. (See A Winter-Die Off and this video for the details.) My guess was the colony starved to death because it didn’t have enough honey. Judging from what I saw during the post mortem examination I did today, I was right.

Starved out / dead bees in honey cells. (March 10, 2013.)

P.S.: I would have had a more detailed post with photos and a video uploaded by now, but I just spent the last three hours trying to get my Picasa web albums to display photos like it always has for me. I had a simple, streamlined method of posting photos through Picasa that’s worked perfectly for years. But a recent effort by Google to integrate photos into Google Plus (their version of Facebook) has messed up the whole thing. I don’t like Facebook but I do like Google Plus, so it’s too bad they had to blow it. Anyway, I’ve managed to get to everything back to normal, but I don’t know how I did it and I don’t feel like wasting anymore time on it. I have little patience for constant upgrades that usually fix things that aren’t even broke. I might post a video next weekend when I’m in a better mood. In the meantime, here’s a slide show of what I found:
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February 6th, 2013

A BRIEF POSTSCRIPT WAS ADDED ON FEB. 08/13.

The fount of beekeeping wisdom that is Mud Songs will dry up someday. I give it another two years, tops. I’m already running out of original material. Exhibit A: Here’s a long video of my visit last weekend to the six hives we have on a farm about 30 minutes from our house in the city. It’s more or less a repeat of my Mountain Camp video.

Here’s a break-down of what the video has to offer:
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February 4th, 2013

It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.

I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of our hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes.
Read on . . . »

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