Book Review: “Hive Management,” by Richard E. Bonney

April 2019 Introduction: I’m revisiting this post now and will chime in here and there with some updates and profound insights.

I borrowed of a copy of Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney recently, and I like it. It’s a practical instruction book that seems geared towards second year beekeepers, but it should give beginners something to think about too. If it had the kind of detailed photos like those in The Backyard Beekeeper or The Buzz About Bees, I might consider it essential. Either way, I just ordered a copy for myself. (I also ordered Honeybee Democracy and The Queen Must Die.) I think it’s worth the $15 I paid for it because it’s full of sensible tips that got me thinking more about the nature of honey bee behaviour in relation to how I manage the hives, and it covers the basics of beekeeping but doesn’t overwhelm.

Bonney is wise to mention that he lives the USA, in New England, and that much of the advice he gives should be adjusted to one’s local climate. New England is not the same as Newfoundland, but it’s not too far off, and at least he’s not writing from the perspective of a beekeeper in Arizona or California. Most of what he talks about — beekeeping with double deep Langstroth hives in a climate where it snows — is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland.
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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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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.

Homemade Boardman Feeder

I’ve been using a Boardman feeder so our bees will create brood comb faster and build up the colony to a healthy size, one strong enough to make it through the winter. This is a Boardman feeder:

The Mason jar is filled with a honey-sugar mixture (made from clean local honey, not potentially diseased grocery store honey). It sits upside-down on a round piece of perforated metal (or the lid of the jar with holes poked in it). The bees crawl onto the lip of the feeder from inside the hive and suck the mixture out of the holes. Here’s a photo of a feeder I made today. You can see on the left where the bees crawl in and get under the bottle to feed:

There are conflicting opinions on whether or not to feed bees, what kind of feeders and mixtures are best, when and when not to feed — there is no consensus. Some say feeding encourages robbing, especially with Italian honey bees (the kind I have); some say the colony will swarm when they’re fed too much; and then other beekeepers say it’s essential to feed bees from a nuc box at least until they’ve filled an entire brood chamber (that’s what I plan to do).

The problem for me is that beekeeping practices vary from region to region based on local climate and geography — and most of the information I read does not come from beekeepers in Newfoundland, or any place remotely similar to Newfoundland (being on island in the middle of the North Atlantic does pose unique challenges). There is only one professional beekeeper in St. John’s that I know of, and he’s busy running his business. So I’m pretty much on my own here. Everyday I go out and watch the bees doing their thing, and every day I see something new I don’t understand. I don’t think I’ve done anything drastically bad so far, but having a few local beekeepers I could meet with once in a while, even beginners like me, would be a great help.

So, hoping for the best, I built my own Boardman feeder today because I noticed how the bottle doesn’t fit snugly into the feeder hole. This attracts ants and allows bees to take up the feed from outside the hive from the space between the feeder and the bottle’s lip — which I think defeats part of the purpose of having the feeder in the first place. If other bees from outside the hive can get at the feed easily, it’s no wonder they get the idea to start robbing. Here’s my homemade Boardman feeder in action:

I made my own perforated cap from the Mason jar lid, then shoved the outer lid into the feeder hole, nice and tight, so now when I put on the jar of feed mixture, it screws on tight so the bottle can’t tip and spill sweet liquid all over the place (which would attract more ants). It also makes refilling the feeder much easier and less messy. But more importantly, it’s working for the bees. I’ve checked the feeder every couple hours today. I’ve seen only one ant instead of 10, and there are no bees trying to get at the feed from outside the hive.

I’m in the process of making a second Boardman feeder for the other hive. The next big event will be our inspection of the hives about a week from now. We haven’t pulled out any of the frames for inspection yet. That’ll be a big day. I want to see tons on brood and honey and no swarm cells. That’s exactly what I want to see, because if I see anything else, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Anyway, boardman feeder plans — here are the pieces for the second Boardman feeder I made, with measurements written right on the pieces (in inches). I stuck it all together with carpenter’s glue.

November 2018 Postscript: I gave up on entrance feeders / Boardman feeders quickly, whether homemade or not, because they attract wasps and ants and encourage robbing from other bees, and they can get messy. For building up nucs, I use mostly frame feeders or what some call a rapid feeder or German style feeders. I want to get as much syrup into the bees as possible and Boardman feeders (which are basically jar feeders) provide limited access to the syrup. I also use various hive top feeders — anything but a Boardman feeder. However, if I did need to use a Boardman feeder for some reason, I would place a piece of wood about 10cm (4 inches) long against the side of the feeder to reduce the entrance and block immediate access to the feeder from wasps and robbing bees. The only good use of a Boardman feeder, as far as I can tell, is to provide water for the bees. Install it on the bottom entrance as usual. Just fill it with water instead of syrup.