Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Nuc

Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.

I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date if I can, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.

It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too.
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How To Inspect a Beehive (or How I Happened to Inspect This Particular Hive on This Particular Day)

The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I had planned to put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, which is longer than my usual videos because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.


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Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation

I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.

An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)

An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)

Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins.
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Honey Bees Fanning (Video)

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.

Honey Bees Fanning

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.

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

See How to Attract Honey Bees with a Leaky Hose to view a video of honey bees fanning, or do a search for “fanning.”
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The Aftermath of Moving a Hive

February 2019 Introduction: I makes mistakes all the time, so I feel confident in passing on this pro tip. Here’s my pro tip: After moving a hive to a new spot, remove all signs of the old hive so that any returning bees have no visual cues that their hive was ever there. In other words, don’t do what I did in this video. It’s an enlightening video in that it demonstrates how honey bees summon all their siblings to the location of their new home by fanny pheromones into the air after a major disturbance (which I admit is a very cool thing that honey bees do). But the bees in the video probably would have found the location of their new home much faster and with much less effort if I’d simply removed all signs of their old hive. I should have shaken all the stragglers off the old hive components in front of the new hive. Then I should have removed the old hive stand, the boxes, everything, from the old location, so that nothing that looked like their old hive or smelled like their old hive was there to confuse them.

Honey bees are impressive little navigators. They can continually find their way back to a small patch of flowers miles from their hive, and then give detailed directions to any other bee willing to listen. Honey bees can find their way back home like nobody’s business. It’s amazing. On the other hand, they easily become disoriented to their hive when it’s moved only a couple of feet. A hive can be moved using various techniques designed to help the bees reorient themselves to the new location. I won’t go into that now. I just want to show how cool the bees are. They can deal with just about anything we throw at them. Today after I moved one of my hives, I stood back and watched the bees gradually reorient themselves to the exact location of the new hive. It took a few hours for all of them to get the message, but eventually they homed in on the new location. When half the colony starts cranking out the Nasonov pheromone, it’s hard to miss. Check it out:

This is part 2 of Inspecting and Moving a Hive.

P.S.: I wasn’t wearing any protective clothing during this portion of the video. Not a single sting. Some of the bees became more defensive an hour or so later when plenty of foragers were still coming back to the old spot. I was probably messing up the orientation pheromones with my stinky human smell.

Cranking Out The Nasonov Pheromone

Here’s quick video of the honey bees in my backyard doing the Nasonov Boogie. Yesterday I said, “The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.” Check it out:

The end of the video when it goes back to normal speed may not be 100% normal speed. During the slow-mo section, you can almost see the wings beating. I was able to slow it down even further on my computer, but the wings beating still only showed up as a blur. They crank it up a notch when they’re fanning like that.

Anyway, the pheromone is also used to orient the bees to food and water sources, but this early in the year when snow is still on the ground (it snowed again today) and 15°C is not a daily occurrence, I’d say it’s mostly for orientating the young foraging bees on their maiden flights.

I recommend The Biology of The Honey Bee, by Mark L. Winston for more info on the importance of pheromones in a honey bee colony (and a whole lot more).
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The Nasonov Pheromone

A gland on the tip of the honey bee’s abdomen releases what’s called the Nasonov pheromone, a secretion used by honey bees for orientation and attraction. It’s one of those smells that beekeepers supposedly learn to identify over time along with the smell of honey curing, the smell of the alarm pheromone and so on. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what the Nasonov pheromone smells like. I’m not even sure what the alarm pheromone smells like even though I know right away when the bees are releasing it to the wind. I’ve heard descriptions of various pheromones released by the queen and worker bees, from the smell of ripe bananas to the smell of lemongrass, and I’ve never noticed anything remotely close to those odours emanating from a hive. Maybe my nasal passages are clogged. I don’t know.

In any case, what I assume to be the Nasonov pheromone was thick in the air today. I could smell it an arm’s length from the hives. I took plenty of photos.

Honey bee cranking out the Nasonov pheromone (April 1, 2011).


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Fall Hives and Hive Top Feeders

I’m posting this short video for my own records so I have something to compare next year’s new hives to. I started two hives from 3-frame nuc boxes (4 frames actually, but one frame was empty) on July 18th, which was 89 days ago. It’s now mid-October and the bees are still active — when the sun is shining on the hives. The sun is shining on them as I write this. The temperature is 12°C, each hive has a hive top feeder installed over the inner cover, and the bees are flying around the entrances of both hives. Looking good. Here’s what they looked like a few days ago on October 12th:

November 2018 Postscript: I would delete this post except that the video might give new beekeepers and idea of what to expect from their bees at this time of the year. I deleted a previous post that went on about hive top feeders. Here’s a photo from that post:

Filling up one side of a top hive feeder on Hive #2. (Oct. 14, 2010.)

The advantage of a hive top feeder — a sort of set-it-and-forget-it feeder — is that it can hold a large amount of syrup and the bees can take the syrup down in large quantities quickly (when the syrup is warm enough for them). So a hive top feeder is useful for topping up the hives with thick syrup before winter sets in. The bees will need time to cure the syrup before it gets too cold, but generally in Newfoundland it seems to be a safe practice to give them syrup in the fall until they stop taking it. Hive top feeders are good for feeding bees in the spring to get them started, but smaller feeders that fit over the inner cover hole can work just as well for people who have easy access to their bees. This post, A Screened Hive Top Feeder, demonstrates what I think is the best way to use a hive top feeder.