Book Review: “The Buzz About Bees”

Jürgen Tautz’s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is similar to The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum in that it’s full of detailed photographs that will help new beekeepers identify virtually everything that happens inside a honey bee hive.

But it’s not about beekeeping. It’s about the evolution and behaviour of honey bees. I learned much about the behaviour of honey bees from Mark L. Winston’s The Biology of the Honey Bee. That book had me spellbound. The Buzz About Bees (the book deserves a less cutesy title, by the way) goes over some of the same ground, explains a few extra things and presents another means of apprehending the behaviour of honey bees, that is, thinking of the honey bee colony as a single organism: the “superorganism.”

I don’t have time to write a detailed review of the book, but I’ll tell you what I got from reading it.
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How to Move a Hive

March 2019 Introduction: I would much rather delete this post because I really go off on giving advice like I know what I’m talking about when I just didn’t have the experience to back it up. However, I’ll keep the post up as a record of the kind of over-thinking my brain was into after a year of beekeeping. I could rewrite the whole post, but I already did that in a previous post, Inspecting and Moving a Hive. That one is probably more informative than anything I could have written in 2011.

What follows is one way to move a Langstroth honey bee hive a short distance. Okay then… Here’s a rough map of my backyard:

The numbered squares represent hives. I moved Hive #1 to location 1a, gave the bees time to adjust to the new spot, then moved the hive to 1b, waited a few days again and then moved the hive to its final location at 1c. Each move was approximately 1 metre or 3 feet and I waited at least three days between moves.
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Why Honey Bees Drink Dirty Water

February 2019 Introduction: This post generated a lot of discussion in the comments, even comments from fairly well-known American beekeepers, Michael Bush and Rusty Burlew. It’s from a time when this blog was actually being read by thousands of people, with lively comments and discussions happening every day. Anyway, the comments are worth reading more than the original post.

I’ve put out water for the honey bees living in my backyard, but they seem to prefer dirty water from puddles around the yard. They specifically seem to favour the moist dark compost soil in my raised garden beds.

Does the soil give off some sort of fake pheromone that attracts the bees? I didn’t know, so I looked up “water” in my excellent 1947 edition of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (the only edition of the book I could afford) and I learned that the bees bring in more water in the spring during brood-rearing and less water as the honey flow peaks. But more to the point, the bees drink from compost piles (and composted soil) because the water there is warmer than water left in a dish. The bees are able to absorb warm water faster than cold water. So it’s not the stink of the compost that attracts them. It’s the warmth.

I think it’s fair to conclude, from this instance and everything else I’ve observed, that whatever honey bees do, they do it with the utmost efficiency.

UPDATE (a few hours later): The warm water theory doesn’t hold much water. Here’s a shot of the bees drinking freezing cold water leaking from my garden hose all day.

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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Book Review: “The Backyard Beekeeper”

I discovered beekeeping through the internet and it’s from the internet that I still get most of my practical information on beekeeping. The online beekeeping lessons from David Burns, for instance, are a staple for me. I devoured those lessons when I first discovered the Long Lane Honey Bee Farms website in 2009. Mr. Burns could use an editor from time to time, but his lessons are so generous, it seems unfair to find any kind of fault with them. He adds new and relevant lessons on a regular basis and I do my best to keep up with them.

I also recently benefited from reading the Honey Bee Suite blog. I’ve read every post on the site. Illustrative photos are somewhat scarce at this point in time, but the information is either based on solid science or practical experience or both. And that’s a hard combo to beat.

Next up is Michael Bush’s website, Beekeeping Naturally. Although the website isn’t well designed — and I don’t read it anymore because I don’t think he adds new content to it — the information and advice he provides is a great starting point for new beekeepers who aren’t attracted to conventional beekeeping methods and are aiming for something more sustainable, natural, organic — whatever you want to call foundationless beekeeping. He regularly chimes in on the Beesource Forums too. While I don’t think everything he says is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland, I like his down to earth attitude.

I can think of a few more excellent websites that are helpful to novice beekeepers (some are listed in the side bar), but I think I managed to glean more practical advice from these three in the past 12 months than any others. They’ve been good to me.

But what about books?
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