My Flir thermal imaging camera is a finicky piece of gear that never consistently produces a readable or useful thermal image of my beehives or, more specially, the cluster of bees living in the hives.
I wrote this on Facebook, but I might as well copy it here:
Whenever I look at a full frame of capped brood (capped brood on both sides of the frame), I check to see if there are at least two frames worth of space in the hive for those bees when they hatch out. If there isn’t, it’s time to add another box.
Even if 1000 bees die every day during the foraging season1, once those babies hatch out, a hive can get crowded in no time.
This is 90% of beekeeping in the summer: Making sure the queen has room to lay.
Each full frame of capped brood will become approximately three frames of bees once they hatch out. It’s pretty basic math.2
Along with the five hives next to my house, I have two hives on the edge of a farm (and another one in a secret location). The weather got warm enough for me to do full hive inspections on both of the farm hives. I only turned my camera on when I found something I thought could be educational for new beekeepers. Most of the video is me talking about what I found in the hives, what I did to each of them and why I did it. I know it’s a visually boring video, but it covers a lot of ground. This is exactly the kind of boring video I would been all over when I first started beekeeping.
Here’s what happens in the video:
I often post items to my beekeeping Facebook page that I don’t post here on my blog, which is generally reserved for content I create myself. For the stuff I had nothing to do with but still piques my beekeeping interests, the Mud Songs Beekeeping Facebook page is the place.Â For instance, here’s my latest Facebook post that talks about how pollen patties can help maintain the brood nest when the weather turns to junk:
Sort of, but I’m going to say no.
So what’s the difference between honeycomb and comb honey? Why do beekeepers call it “comb honey” when everyone else calls it honeycomb?
Well, for one thing, honeycomb refers to a type of comb, whereas comb honey refers to a type of honey.
Honey bees produce wax. From that wax they build a variety of comb. Think of comb as rows and rows of Mason jars, but made of beeswax instead of glass, and lids or caps not made of metal but from beeswax too. What the bees decide to put in those jars — those honeycomb-shaped jars — determines what we call them. Sort of.
So it’s looks like the hive pillow is doing its job. Moisture is rising up through the inner cover hole, passing through the wood chips, condensing on the cold top cover, dripping down on the top of the pillow, where it then evaporates through the holes in the ventilation rim. Hence, the bees inside are kept dry.
A thermal imaging video I posted yesterday shows where my bees are clustering inside their hives, more or less. The video was created by combining high-resolution footage from my cheap cell phone camera with low-resolution footage from my expensive Flir One For Android thermal imaging device. But I also have one of these nice and cheap devices advertised as: “Infrared Thermometer Laser Industrial Temperature Gun Non-Contact with Backlight -50-380Â°Cï¼ˆNOT for Humans).”
I wanted to see if the laser gun — which is about 25 times cheaper than the cheapest Flir One device — might work just as well as a thermal imaging device. Yeah, I know it won’t work as well, per se, but is it good enough for my backyard beekeeping brethren on a budget? I’ll tell you right now, the answer is maybe. Maybe even probably.
Let’s check out my hives with a thermal imaging camera:
Someone on a social media site asked about a non-intrusive way to check on the bees in the winter other than blowing through the entrance or tapping on the hives to see if it riles up the bees. Someone else answered: “Put your phone in the entrance and record the sound. Then you can play it back and turn up the volume. I’ve tried it in the past and could hear their buzzing.” So I gave it a go. Does it work? Well… maybe, maybe not. But I did learn something today.
Do frames of dark comb always produce dark honey? I’ll give you one guess.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made crushed & strained honey in my kitchen. But it’s the first time I’ve crushed combs that were this different from one another — so dark and so light. I’ve harvested honey by the individual frame before because sometimes each frame of honey in a single hive can come from such a different nectar source that the final liquid honey in each frame has a completely different colour and flavour. (That sentence seems longer than it needed to be.) I was expecting something like that this time around. But that’s not what happened.
I checked on the two queens I marked from the other day, both of them set up in my version of a mating nuc. I have one colony that’s had a poorly-laying queen all year. I should have replaced her way back in June, but mated queens on the Isle of Newfoundland aren’t usually available until mid-to-late July, and I couldn’t get any of those. I’ll skip the sad details of my previous failures with mating nucs this summer (I’m sure I’ll post a video about it eventually anyway). What’s important is that my efforts have paid off. I’ve got two young mated queens filling up comb with little baby bees. Here’s the video that captures my satisfaction:
I’ll add more details to this post when I have more time.
Addition: I mention in the video how some brood are about three days old. I was confused. I was thinking about about a different bee. The grubs in the video are big and fat and the cells are ready to be capped. They’re about 5 or 6 days old.
Some people have noticed that most of my hive boxes are painted black and have asked, “What are you, nuts?”
I would have asked the same thing a few years back. But then I moved to Flatrock, Isle of Newfoundland, where I can see the North Atlantic Ocean from my house, and it’s freezing here.
Here’s a honey bee colony that seems to have benefited from dandelions that weren’t mowed down.
00:15 — Burr comb beneath the inner cover.
00:47 — Fresh comb made from yellow from dandelions.
01:00 — A frame of capped brood.
01:34 — Beautiful brood pattern.
01:49 — Close up of capped brood.
02:10 — Open brood (little white grubs).
02:25 — A closer look at the queen.
02:53 — Yellow burr comb.
03:50 — Honey bees scenting.
03:55 — Close up on fresh eggs in burr comb.
04:18 — Summary of inspection.
Plus some bonus material for those who bother to watch the whole thing.
It could be interesting to come back to the video in this post in about two weeks, or more precisely to come back after checking on the hives in this video to see if they’ve more or less doubled in size, which is what I want to see.
Specifically, the weak colony in the video was given two frames of capped brood from the strong colony. Most of that brood will have emerged by the time I check on them again in two weeks. Two frames of brood should at least double the number of bees in the weak colony. Supposedly, one frame of brood equals three frames of bees, but the two frames weren’t jammed packed with capped brood, so I’m thinking five or six frames of new bees in total, maybe. Add it all up and what it means is that I want the weak colony that looks this…
…to have as many bees on the frames as the strong colony that looks like this:
A short and sweet hive inspection from earlier today:
00:05 — Spraying the bees with a mist instead of using a smoker.
00:50 — Pulling frames and talking about what I see and I’m looking for.
01:28 — Discovering fresh brood, open cells with eggs or larvae floating in white gooey royal jelly, or as they say in Paris, gelÃ©e royale (but no close up shots in the video, sorry).
01:48 — Spotting the queen.
03:28 — Describing and showing my 9-frames-per-box brood chamber set up.
04:00 — Final assessment of the colony: it’s looking okay.
04:25 — Some slow motions shots.
Someday I’ll start posting instructional beekeeping videos again, but these days I enjoy down and dirty beekeeping work more, just hanging out with the bees and talking out loud, saying whatever comes to mind. I did this a couple days ago while inspecting all seven hives in my little shaded beeyard. Most of it was junk, what I said and what I got on video, but I still think there’s something to be had from watching these kinds of videos where not much happens, because real life, real beekeeping, is exactly that 95% of the time. It’s grimy tedious work. Let’s see what happens…
Subtitled: Checking on Bees That Were Buried in Snow For More Than a Month
I still haven’t posted a video of the big storm from January 17th, 2020, that buried most of my hives, but it’s coming. It’s a spectacle, not really a beekeeping video.
In the meantime, I’ve put together two videos of the same thing — a 7-minute video for people who just want to see the bees and not hear me babble on about stuff, and the 25-minute unabridged version of the first inspections I did with these hives since they got snowed in over a month ago. It’s longer than the typical killing-time-at-work video, but it may be worth a look for new beekeepers who want to get into the nitty-gritty of winter beekeeping. I cover a lot on ground in this one. (Watching it in segments and coming back to it throughout the day might be the best bet.) It’s interesting how snowshoes have become standard beekeeping gear for me since the storm. And by interesting I mean annoying.
Here’s the highlights reel:
Some of you may have heard that the eastern part of the isle of Newfoundland where I keep bees got dinged with a massive snowstorm on January 17th, 2020. The official forecast called for about 90cm (3 feet) of snow. But with winds hitting about 120km/h (75mph), more than a few snowdrifts were taller than me.
The city of St. John’s and surrounding municipalities were under a State of Emergency for about a week. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t check on some of my hives until the roads were passable nine days later. This is what I found when I checked on them:
This is the shortest video I’ve ever posted (about 23 seconds long). It shows what most of my hives look like now (on December 10th) when I pop the tops off and look inside. They’ve been like this for a few weeks now.