September 15th, 2014

Considering that I don’t have time to post much of anything these days, I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.

    For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be stupid. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.

I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:

1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.

2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.

I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife.
Read on . . . »

September 6th, 2014

I pulled the plug on Mud Songs back in January because I no longer had bees in my backyard and therefore didn’t have much to report. But I couldn’t handle that, so I set up a nuc in my backyard and resurrected Mud Songs. But then I got busy with other commitments and I haven’t been able to keep up with my usual onslaught of beekeeping photos and videos. That will change if I ever find a way to keep bees on my property, but that’s a work in progress that may not to find completion until next year. So under the current circumstances, the best I can do is throw out a cell phone video that provides a thorough update of where I am with my beekeeping and all my bees as of today.

August 24th, 2014

I’ve had a detailed series of practical beekeeping videos in the works for several months. They’ll be great when I get them done. But I don’t have time to work on them due to other commitments. I can’t say when I’ll have them ready. In the meantime, I can only offer up short videos like this one that show me doing things that aren’t really instructive but may be of interest to a handful of beekeepers. Let ‘er rip:

Now the details…
Read on . . . »

August 2nd, 2014

I’ve posted several photos and some videos of honey bees fanning over the years. Let’s add this cell phone video from yesterday to the list:

The bees clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got to create an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest.

July 25th, 2014

I posted some photos a couple days ago of what is probably the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen in any of my hives. Here’s the video:

(Thanks to Jonathan Adams for getting behind the camera.)

It’s not the most instructive video, but I’ve relaxed my criteria for posting photos and videos on Mud Songs. If I think it could spark the imagination of anyone curious about honey bees or beekeeping, that’s good enough for me. If I can instruct at the same time, well, that’s a bonus. The 1:50 mark in the video, for instance, shows how the bees begin to build comb by festooning. My explanation in the video isn’t the most articulate. I’m so used to beekeeping alone in silence, I felt awkward talking. Festooning is not a well-defined phenomena anyway, so my bumbling explanation kind of fits.

Now here are a few things this situation has me wondering about…
Read on . . . »

July 20th, 2014

I just happened to drop in on my country hives today as a splinter colony was taking flight. (I’ve chosen to use the less alarmist terminology for that particular phenomena of honey bee behaviour.) I was alone, only had my cell phone and couldn’t film myself shaking the bees into a new hive body. So there’s not much to learn from this short video. But if you’ve never seen a sw — I mean a splinter colony up close before, take a look. (It’s not the highest-rez video. Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)

If it looks like a scary situation, it isn’t. Only bad neighbours make it a scary or stressful situation. It was more calming for me than anything. I had somewhere I had to be, so I couldn’t sit back enjoy it as much I would have liked to, but it was an amazing thing to witness.

Sept. 22/14: I was dealing with two swarms and didn’t know it. It was tricky because both swarms landed on the same branch. Both were re-hived, though, and the new colonies are doing well.

July 1st, 2014

Every piece of beekeeping gear is probably good to have around because you don’t know when it might come in handy. But if I had to vote for the one piece of equipment I never use, it would be the bee brush. Exhibit A:

Whenever I need to remove bees from a frame, I just shake ‘em off in front of the hive. A quick jolt downwards and the bees lose their grip and fall together in a clump near the bottom entrance. Neil Gaiman was gracious enough to provide a demo:

I tend to knock the bees off closer to the ground with less force, and sometimes I spray the bees with sugar mist first so they can’t fly around much when they hit the ground, but you get the picture.

I was surprised to find honey supers full of nectar today. In two of my colonies, every frame in the honey supers was a variation of this (click the photo for a better view of the glistening nectar):

The brutally cold winter and spring of 2014 killed off two of my colonies and came close to snuffing out the rest. When I added honey supers (that is, medium supers full of drawn comb) to my four surviving colonies a while back, I had no hope that they would begin to make honey any time soon. The last time I checked about a month ago, there were hardly any bees in the hives and not much capped brood either. The situation looked grim. But I guess a lot can happen in a month.
Read on . . . »

June 15th, 2014

I tried using the video camera on my cell to inspect one of my hives — and it worked.

Read on . . . »

April 25th, 2014

This is me reversing the brood chambers on an early spring honey bee hive to prevent swarming. But really it’s an excuse to do the first full hive inspection of the year and give the bees some honey.

P.S.: This video has been post-dated to April 25/14. It was originally recorded when Mud Songs was closed.

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