Video of Natural Honeycomb

This is the first video I’ve posted that shows what it’s like to pull out frames full of bees. It’s a short video of my recent full inspection of Hive #1, showing off some foundationless comb the bees built from scratch in 13 days.

I inserted four foundationless frames in the hive when I added a second deep. Two of the foundationless frames were fully-drawn and filled with honey and brood within 13 days. One frame was more than half-filled. The fourth frame, on the outer edge of the box, showed the beginning of some natural comb. Not bad.

Natural Foundationless Comb (2 Weeks Old)

Thirteen days ago, I added a second deep to one of my young honey bee hives and inserted four foundationless frames as an experiment. Six days later, I took a quick peek at one of those foundationless frames and found this:

Today, I took another look at that same foundationless frame — and look at it now:

1 of 4 founationless combs in Hive #1 after two weeks. (August 28, 2010.)

But that’s nothing. Check this out:

Beautiful foundationless honeycomb in Hive #1. Two weeks ago it was an empty frame. (August 28, 2010.)

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Frame Feeders Have Arrived

I plan to install these frame feeders as soon as possible. They arrived today from BeeMaid. The feeders have bee ladders: tubes of plastic mesh the bees crawl down as a way of drinking the syrup without drowning in it. The feeders hold 7 litres of syrup and take up the space of two frames in the brood chamber. (7 litres = 1.85 US gallons.)

My Boardman feeders attract ants, wasps and even big ugly slugs. (The Boardman feeders also encourage robbing at times from other bees.) It’s not a problem for the bees in Hive #1 because their numbers are so high, they can take care of themselves. But Hive #2 is weaker and having wasps around probably doesn’t help.

Not having to poke around the hives as much may be another advantage of switching to frame feeders. Hive #1 sucks up about a litre of syrup from the Boardman feeder every three days. If the bees continue at that pace, it could take them up to three weeks to empty 7 litres from the frame feeder, though we’ll likely refill it every two weeks after regular inspections regardless. (UPDATE: The bees drink much faster from the frame feeders. I should have had these things in from the start.)

2-frame frame feeder with bee ladders outside to show how it works. (September 6, 2010.)

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Prop Up a Weak Colony, Or Not?

I have two honey bee colonies in my tiny backyard, both started from nuc boxes 35 days ago and housed in Langstroth hives. The bees in Hive #1 have been fed a water-sugar mixture just about every day. I added a second deep a week ago because 9 of the 10 frames in the hive were partially or fully drawn out — the colony was ready to expand.

Hive #2 wasn’t fed until the second week, but for the past week has had two Boardman entrance feeders installed. It doesn’t get as much late-afternoon sun as Hive #1, and the last time I checked a couple days ago, only seven, maybe eight frames had partially or fully drawn out comb on them. (I also pulled a huge ugly slug from the bottom of the hive the same day.)

Those are the differences between Hive #1 and Hive #2. Here’s a quick video I shot today that illustrates the differences:

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Natural Foundationless Comb

It’s November 2018 as I continue to look back on these early posts and I have to say I like what I see. Even today, when I stick a foundationless from between drawn comb and come back a week or two later to see that the bees have fill up most of that space with comb — it’s a rewarding experience. The only thing that needs correction in this post is my reference to checkerboarding. Inserting empty frames between drawn comb, on its own, is not checkerboarding. See Checkerboarding for more information on what that’s all about.

The foundationless frames are working. YES! This is what it’s all about. This was the big moment of truth — and the bees did it. They had no problem building comb from foundationless frames.

I’ll quote myself on this: “Foundationless frames have nothing but a little strip of plastic or wood near the top called a starter strip. The bees hang off the starter strip and construct their comb like they would in nature, creating cells the size they want them to be, not the size that’s imposed on them by following the pattern on a plastic foundation.”

It’s argued that a colony is generally healthier when the honey bees are allowed to build comb as they would in nature — and this is about as close as it gets in a Langstroth hive. It’s part of the Backwards Beekeeping approach and it’s what got me hooked on beekeeping long before I had any bees. I just wasn’t sure it was even possible in the cold climate of Newfoundland. But now that I see evidence it can work, I’m inspired. I love it. These honey bees are incredible.

Honey bees festooning.

I added a second deep to Hive #1 six days ago because the colony had drawn comb on at least 9 of the 10 frames. They were ready to expand. I took about half the drawn frames, a mixture of brood and honey, and placed them in a second brood chamber, checker-boarding them using regular empty frames with foundation. I checker-boarded the original bottom brood chamber, too (that is, I placed an empty frame between all the frames with drawn out comb), but those empty bottom frames had no foundation, only a waxed starter strip and some wire between the frames to provide extra support for the comb. Theoretically, the bees would build comb first by festooning — that’s when the bees hang off each other in a chain to determine the straightest line down on which to build the comb. Honey bees have been festooning for millions of years. There’s no stopping them now.

Honey bees building natural comb.

The bees built straight through the support wire like it wasn’t even there and they’ve already begun to fill the comb with honey — and it’s only been six days. All the comb they’ve drawn out will eventually join up and fill the frame. So as long as the warm weather holds up, I’m not worried about Hive #1. I’ll keep feeding them and then I’ll check them again in a couple weeks, but I think they’re doing great. Next summer when I can hopefully harvest some honey, I’ll go with foundationless frames for the honey supers too. That way when the honey is capped and good to go, I’ll just cut the comb right out of the frames and extract it by following the crush-and-strain method.

To be continued…

Bees Cooling the Hive (Video)

One of the first things I noticed about our honey bees is how they line up in front of the hive, hold their ground and beat their wings to cool the hive. (I assume that’s what they’re up to.) I usually see three or four bees in a row, but today I saw about 6 of them forming one long line from the edge of the bottom board going right into the hive. I suppose you have to hang around bees for while to get excited about this. At any rate, I grabbed the camera and managed to record about a minute of it. The line wasn’t as straight and unbroken by the time I hit the RECORD button, but still, bees are cool…

January 24th, 2011: They are ventilating the hive either to help regulate the temperature inside the hive so the developing brood don’t overheat, or they’re trying to create an air current to evaporate nectar into honey, or both.

November 2018 Postscript: In this video and many of the earlier videos and posts, I use the word “honeybee.” But “honey bee” as two separate words is more accurate. Check out Honey Bee Suite for more on this. That’s an easy fix. The one that everyone gets wrong is the hive, that is, referring to a honey bee colony as a hive. The hive is the wooden structure that the honey bee colony lives in. The hive is not alive. The hive can’t make honey. The hive can’t swarm and fly away, because it’s a bunch of wooden boxes stacked on top of each other. Hive = House. Colony = Bees. Hive ≠ Bees. Nevertheless, I refer to my colonies as hives all the time. It doesn’t make any sense when you think about it, but everyone does it, so I just go along with it. To this day, whenever I say hive, I correct myself and say colony, but it’s a losing battle.

Cats vs. Honey Bees

I got an email from someone who noticed my cats in a few photos. They asked, “How well do your cats get along with your honey bees?” The short answer is, it’s not a problem.

We have two cats, a young cat and an older cat. The older cat, Nigel, is so completely laid back, it’s absurd. He doesn’t even notice the bees, and so far the bees haven’t taken much notice of him either.

The younger cat, Winston (seen in the photo), will chase after anything that flies. He approached the bees cautiously when he first saw them. Then he got bolder and sat in front of a hive entrance one day and tried to catch a few bees — and got stung in the face. He didn’t make any noise when he got stung, but ran away and tried rubbing the sting off with his paws. A couple minutes later he was back to normal and hasn’t tried to catch a bee since. He will notice bees crawling on the ground once in a while, but even then he’ll just sit there and look. Cats learn fast.

November 25th, 2010: Nigel eventually got stung in the face and freaked out. He didn’t know what to do or where to go. He ran in circles, didn’t watch where he was going and banged into the fence and eventually ran for the back door and I let him in the house. Now whenever he sees a bee, he runs away scared.

Our other cat, Winston, continues to keep a respectful distance from the bees. As seen in this photo, he gets very close to the hives at times, but seems totally at ease around them.

June 6th, 2014: A video of one of our other cats chillin’ with the bees.

Dead Baby Bees

I found some dead baby bees outside Hive #1 today, and now I’m thinking I may have made a mistake when I added the second deep over the weekend.

The forecast called for sunshine today, but the sun did not come out. It was cold and wet all day, not a good day for bees, especially after I split up the brood nest the day before — and that’s probably what I should not have done.
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Expanding the Hive (Video)

Here’s a video of the hive inspection from two days ago, scraping some honey off the frames and adding a second brood chamber.

It’s a choppy edit but couldn’t be helped. Details on expanding the hive were posted yesterday in the Adding a Second Deep post.

September 17th, 2010: Just for my own records, we added the second deep to Hive #2 around August 28, 2010, about two weeks after Hive #1.

2018 Postscript: The title in the video refers to the deep a second brood chamber, but that’s not exactly what it is, so I’ve changed most of these early references from “brood chambers” to “deeps.”

Adding a Second Deep

It’s November 2018 as I look back and slightly revise this post. There’s a lot I would change, but I’ll leave most of it alone. Instead I’ll jump in here and there with some comments about what I would or wouldn’t do today.

I added a second deep (or hive body) to Hive #1 yesterday. As far as I can tell, it went well. The bees were calm after being misted with sugar water, way less agitated than when I used the smoker on them. All the frames had drawn out comb except one. I put about half the drawn frames in the new box on top with empty foundation frames between them. I installed four foundationless frames in the original box, placing them between drawn out frames. The honey and the brood seemed mixed together on the frames, so there were no all-brood frames or all-honey frames. There was brood in just about every frame I inspected. I saw some comb hanging off the bottom of one frame, but no swarm cells. Hive #1 appears to be doing great. I’ll see how the colony adjusts to the new box and having all their drawn out frames spaced out. The big experiment is the foundationless frames in the bottom box.

Here’s a shot of the bees after I removed a few frames from the hive:

I’ll upload some video of the procedure soon. (UPDATE: The video is posted.) Until then, allow me to present a big load of photos and descriptions of what I did.
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Honey Bees with Pollen

It was cold and wet today until about 3:30. Then it warmed up, the clouds parted and the bees came out of Hive #1 and made the most of the warm weather in a big way.

Bees coming home loaded down with pollen. (August 10, 2010.)

Within 20 minutes of leaving the hive, many were coming back loaded down with pollen. You can see balls of pollen on their legs in this close-up. That’s what we like to see.

Non-intrusive Hive Inspection

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 comb 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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A Drone Bee

The original photo for this post has been replaced with one that shows clearly what drones look like.

All the honey bees that aren’t marked with a white square are drones.

I took a closer look at the small number of photos we took during my first hive inspection on July 31st. 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 (and then die), 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.

Wasps Too Close For Comfort

It’s November 2018 and I deleted this original post from 2010. Here’s the deal with wasps (or yellow jackets as they’re sometimes called):

They start showing up around mid-August and can get pretty bad by September, but the peak of their badness can depend on a variety of factors. By bad I mean they’re attracted to the sweet smell of honey coming out of bee hives and will try to steal that honey any way they can. They’re also attracted to the sweet smell of syrup in external feeders such as Boardman feeders, so Boardman feeders aren’t such a great idea (they never were). The wasps will attack and kill honey bees, decapitate the bees, battle with the bees until they’re dead, eat the bees — all kinds of fun stuff.

A strong healthy colony can fend off wasps most of the time, so most of the time it’s not a huge concern. But if things start to get nasty, for beekeepers or the bees, the simplest solution is to reduce the hive entrances where the wasps are trying to get in, and then set up a wasp trap like this one.

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Read more about this on my post, How To Kill Wasps. Wasps play their part in the natural wonder of the world and should be left to live in peace most of the time. Just not all the time.