As much as I love moisture quilts (or anything that keeps my bees warm and dry over the winter), sometimes I think, “There’s got to be an easier way.” And when I say sometimes, I mean every single day. Instead of using moisture quilts, I’ve opted to try out these Dempster Hive Pillows. They’re 2 or 3 inch (~7cm) thick burlap pillows filled with wood chips that sit over the inner cover and inside a ventilation rim (or any kind of box with ventilation holes in it) to provide some insulation for the bees but also help absorb and wick away condensation from inside the hive.
Here’s a basic intro to the Dempster Hive Pillow:
It’s another experiment, but I think (I hope) it’ll work. I think it’ll be a lot easier to drop pillows into my hives instead dumping wood chips or some other absorbent material inside the hive. That’s the aforementioned easier way I was talking about. Considering that my bees have gone through the winter so far with zero insulation and zero moisture-absorbing material in place, my feeling is, yeah, what’s the worse thing that could happen?
Here’s the extended version of the above video that goes into a lot more detail about other things related my winter beekeeping: Continue reading →
Most plastic foundation is coated in beeswax to encourage the bees to build comb on it. It’s usually referred to as “wax-dipped” foundation. The really good stuff is double-dipped in wax. But sometimes the wax wears off if the foundation has been stored or banged around for a while. Some foundation, right out of the box, doesn’t have any wax at all. I had to deal with some of that stuff last summer and I was not happy. I would have been better off using foundationless frames. There are plenty of good reasons to use foundationless frames over frames with foundation. (I use a mix of foundation and foundationless frames in my hives.)
Having been stuck with 100 sheets of waxless foundation, and after managing to track down a 10-pound chunk of clean beeswax, I decided to wax the foundation. At first I tried to paint the melted wax on. Then I rubbed hard wax into the foundation. Finally I rubbed soft partially-melted wax into the foundation — the method I liked the most. Painting the foundation with an actual paintbrush may have produced the best results, but overall, I’m pleased with how my methods worked out. I’m sure there are better ways of doing this, but here’s a video of my first crack at it:
This is not a well edited video. I would normally try to cut something like this down to a few minutes instead of nine minutes, but I didn’t have time for that, so it is what it is. I’m also aware that this method of waxing foundation may not be the best method. But sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got.
I’ve been converting all my hives to medium supers since last year. I wish I’d done it from the start. It’s so much easier to lift a medium than a deep and (so far) it doesn’t seem to have any negative effect on my beekeeping.
Beekeeping is a big draw for retired people. If I was retired and thinking about getting into it, I would go with medium supers, but even better if I could get them, I’d consider going with shallow supers because they’re even lighter. Beekeeping doesn’t have to be an arduous affair.
8-frame supers are also a thing, though I’m not sure how common they are.
The photo included in this post shows a hive with two medium supers. It will eventually have three supers when it’s complete, maybe four. Continue reading →
The following was written while I was lying in bed with the flu for a few days last winter. It’s long for no reason other than I was sick and had nothing better to do than try to write the longest post in the world. You’ve been warned. I could condense the whole thing down to two or three sentences, but what’s the fun in that?
Subtitled: How I Sometimes Assemble Beehive Frames
Ever pull a big frame full of honey from a hive, only to have it fall apart on you? You know what I’m talking about: one of the sidebars disconnects from the frame and the heavy comb of honey pops out of the frame and just sort of hangs awkwardly from one side while you try to maneuverer it so you don’t crush any bees? Yeah, that. (Am I the only one who had a hard time reading that with this animated GIF distracting me the whole time?)
I’ve been experimenting with drilling holes in my foundation so my bees can move from one frame of honey to the next in the winter without breaking cluster.
The bees reduce the hole to the size of bee space. It some cases they seem to fill in the hole altogether. They seem to keep it open closer to the brood nest, though it’s difficult to judge that this early in the game. I suppose the bees can open and close the holes as needed. But whatever is going on, it doesn’t seem to bother the bees and I imagine it helps them move between frames in the winter.
It’s possible the holes could create an unwanted draft in the winter, which means this modification to the foundation would do more harm than good. But I’ve been doing it for four or five years now and so far so good. None of my colonies have starved to death over the winter by not being able to move between frames of honey.
Postscript: And yes, mice got into some of those frames and ate away a few patches off the comb. That’s the main reason some of them look kind of ragged.
It was 18°C / 64°F today and the bees in all of my hives — even with shrew-proofing 6mm / quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances — were out in full force.
Quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances. The mesh slows them down but doesn’t prevent them from getting out or inside the hive. (Nov. 17, 2016.)
I’ve heard arguments that the bees can’t get through quarter-inch mesh. But that’s not true. If it was, my bees would have been locked inside their hives behind the mesh all last winter. The bees in the above photograph wouldn’t be flying around today. Continue reading →
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the installation and use of a moisture quilt for winter insulation and ventilation.
All of my moisture quilts are built differently because I’ve never put much planning into building them (I have zero woodworking skills). Some are converted ventilation rims that require a rim underneath, like the one in this video. Others have built in rims as part of the design. Some fit perfectly and create a tight seal on the bottom. Some don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter either way because they all do a great job at wicking moisture out of the hives and keeping my bees dry all winter.
Moisture quilts, in my experience, aren’t necessary in local climates that aren’t particularly damp and foggy and wet. Smaller colonies that don’t produce much condensation from the bees’ respiration don’t always need extra ventilation or insulation either. A piece of hard insulation over the inner cover often does the trick. Moisture quilts can be a bit scary, too, when it seems like half the colony on warm days attaches itself to the bottom screen of the quilt. But for me the pros outweigh the cons. If dampness is a problem inside any of my hives, I know a moisture quilt will fix it.
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the summer too.
Brief April 2019 Introduction: I have no doubt about it now. This is how I use my hive top feeders, with the screen over the middle portion of the feeder, not the reservoirs. I also have screen stapled down in the reservoirs to prevent the bees from getting into them once the feeders runs dry.
Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.
If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:
Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)
April 2019 Introduction: When I first wrote this post (in 2012 and revised in 2014), I had to order all my beekeeping supplies from Beemaid in Manitoba. I never had a problem with anything I purchased from Beemaid. The hive components, smokers, bee jackets, pollen patties — everything was top quality at a good price. But shipping from Manitoba was expensive, usually clocking in at around 40% of the total cost before taxes. Crazy.
Today, fortunately, G & M Family Farm in Freshwater sells all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that makes it much more affordable than it was when I got into beekeeping in 2010.
Many people in Newfoundland over the years have ordered from Country Fields out of Nova Scotia, but I always found I got a better deal from Beemaid even after the shipping costs. The best deal I ever had was from Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba. Had I discovered them years ago, I would have saved a fortune. Large bulk group orders from them (several hundred pounds) even today might cost less than ordering locally. But generally speaking, G & M seems like the way to go.
Here’s what my first standard Langstroth hive looked like back when I started:
I’m a huge fan of the moisture quilts introduced to me by Rusty Burlew because they keep my bees warm and dry all winter long better than anything I’ve used before. But for my first two winters when I kept my hives in the city in a relatively dry climate, hard insulation over the inner cover worked fine. For people who don’t have much time, money or carpentry skills, the winter preparations I demonstrate in this video are better than nothing.
I’m not saying this is the best winter set up for a hive, but I have a good sense of my local climate and I think this minimal set up will work out okay.
I noticed yesterday there’s significant gap between the bottom and top deep as well as between the top deep and the inner cover of one of my hives. Here are some photos:
Enough space between the inner cover and top deep to slip in my car key. (July 31, 2015.)
I noticed the crack between the deeps when I first installed the top deep:
Enough space between deeps to easily slip in my pocket knife. (July 31, 2015.)
Thinking it was the new top deep, I switched it with another one but the same gap (or crack) still appeared. Which leads me to conclude that the top edge of the bottom deep isn’t flat. And who knows what’s happening with the crack beneath the inner cover. The inner cover might be warped. I hope that’s all it is, because that’s one big massive crack.
I’m used to dealing with some cracks between the hive components from time to time. Most of the cracks provide ventilation that doesn’t hurt the bees. But the cracks in this hive are a bit much. I’ll probably fill them in with duct tape once I’m done tearing the hives apart for the year. Completely replacing all the deeps and inner covers with ones that still might not fit tightly together — I can’t be bothered. I have no interest in messing with the bees that much at this time of year.
June 2019 Introduction: I’ve been using these homemade escape boards since 2014 and they work. They would probably work better if I used “#8 hardware cloth” (the standard mesh used by beekeepers for most things requiring ventilation), but #8 hardware cloth seems to be an American invention; whenever I ask for it in hardware stores, nobody knows what I’m talking about. Then I try to explain what it is and what I want it for and they usually look at me like I’m talking in tongues. So I don’t even bother trying anymore. I just buy regular metallic screen mesh (the plastic stuff disintegrates quickly).
Escape boards are used to separate the bees from the honey, kind of a necessary step before harvesting honey. So… I went ahead and made myself some escape boards, also known as clearer boards and possibly known as bee escapes. Here’s a shot of the first one I made:
And it only took me three and a half hours. I didn’t have a model to copy or plans to follow. I sort of smacked them together on the spot using nothing but my brain and some pitiful carpentry skills. The next three boards took about 30 minutes each and the final collection looked like this:
I won’t post a video or any plans that show how I made the escape boards yet because I want to make sure they work first and I’d rather fine tune the process before I say, “Hey kids, follow me!” This post is just a preview of what’s to come. Continue reading →
If you’re a colour blind beekeeper who keeps dropping your hive tools in the grass, here’s a little trick that should help you spot said hive tool in the grass: YELLOW DUCT TAPE.
I should have taken a photo of one of the hive tools in the grass so people who are colour blind can see how well the yellow stands out, but you get the idea. Blue isn’t bad either, but yellow creates an excellent contrast.
Another pro tip: When I’m done for the day, I just leave my hive tool on top of a hive. That way I always know where I left it, though dropping it on the ground and even inside a hive is not unheard for me. I’m pretty goofy with my hive tools.
I made a 4-frame extractor with a friend of mine. I’m not posting the plans for it because it’s a prototype and the design has some flaws that need to be corrected first. But it works and is easily worth the $120 I spent on it. Here’s a demo video of its maiden voyage:
By the way, the heating gun method of uncapping the honey works great. No fuss, no muss and way cheaper than an uncapping knife.
I have two beekeeping suits, one with an attached hood, one without. Both are supposedly exactly the same size, but one of them rides a little tight when I bend over or bend down. Very annoying. I keep that one around for guests who are shorter than me. I also have a hooded jacket that looks like this when I spread it out on my back deck at 5:30pm in April:
The jacket is my go-to suit now because the full bee suits are human-cooking machines when the sun is out. Continue reading →
I recently read Beekeeping For All (8mb PDF), by Abbé Warré. He’s the guy who designed the “People’s Hive,” also known as the Warré hive. It’s a top bar and therefore foundationless hive with small, square shaped hive boxes, no top entrance and a quilt box on top to absorb moisture. Boxes are added to the bottom of the hive, not the top — the bees build comb downwards as they would in nature. Honey is harvested from back-filled brood comb at the top of the hive. Warré called it the People’s Hive because it’s supposedly cheap and easy to build and maintain. The beekeeper need only add boxes to the bottom to prevent swarming, which is done without opening the hive or disturbing the brood nest. The Warré hive, perhaps more than any other hive, emulates the conditions of a natural honey bee hive.
Photo by David Heaf from warre.biobees.com (used with permission).
From what I can tell, the hive is designed to minimize interference from the beekeeper. The only time it’s opened is when honey boxes are removed from the top (at most, twice a year). That fact, along with the absence of a top entrance, helps concentrate the queen’s pheromones throughout the hive, which supposedly results in calmer bees. The regular rotating out of old comb from the top also means the brood are more likely to be healthy because they’re always raised in new, clean, natural sized comb.
Another key feature is the small square sided hive boxes. The height of each box is slightly less than a typical Langstroth, but the sides are each 30cm long (about 12 inches). The square shape allows for more even heat distribution and requires less work from the bees. Warré also claims that bees in a smaller, more natural sized brood chamber consume less honey over winter and are therefore less likely to starve before spring.
I’m not yet convinced that any kind of foundationless hive will do well in the exceptionally wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’ve only been at this for, what, 611 days, so I still have more than a lot to learn. But some aspects of the Warré design, such as the small brood nest area, seem to make more sense than the conventional Langstroth design, and I’m tempted to integrate them into some of my own hives.
I don’t agree with all of Warré’s claims. In some cases that’s because I don’t have the experience to know what’s what either way. In other cases I can confidently disagree because I know his observations are based on his local climate in France that has no correlation to my local climate where the bees do different things at different times of the year. Nevertheless, I think he came up with a thoughtful design and method that might appeal to beekeepers who aren’t so intent on the consistent hive manipulation that’s synonymous with many beekeeping practices today.
Note: This is an unusually long post, probably not much interest to general readers. I promise I won’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis. But I’ve been out of commission with a weird, rotten flu and I don’t have anything better to do. So without further adieu, here are some notes I wrote while I read the book on my Kindle: Continue reading →
I got creative this summer and built a solid bottom board and a screened bottom board from scrap wood in my shed. I can’t continue to use either of them for long because the wood I used is old and half rotted and I’m afraid the boards will collapse under the weight of the hives during the winter, and around here that means damp and soggy, great conditions for softening up old plywood. So I went ahead and got more creative with my limited carpentry skills and woefully inadequate tools (or maybe it’s the other way around), and I built a new and improved sturdy bottom board that is both screened and solid. I won’t have a chance to put it into action this year, but I’ll show it off anyway. Here it is as a screened bottom board:
Its February 2019 and I’ve deleted the original post from 2011. I don’t make or often use screened inner covers. They add a bit too much ventilation at times. But I do on occasion drop an empty moisture quilt on top of a hive like this: