I stuck a cheap cell phone microphone into some beehives and this is what I heard:
Category Archives: GADGETS
Thermal Imaging Beekeeping Hack
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.
One-Handed Queen Catcher Tweak
I bought one of these one-handed queen catchers last year and had no problems marking my queens with it.
Calibrating a Refractometer
Nectar is pretty much like water when the bees bring it into the hive. They have to evaporate it down to at least 18% moisture before it becomes the magical thing we call honey — because thatâ€™s the point at which it wonâ€™t ferment. (Technically, honey be can 20% moisture, but 18% is in the safe zone.)
A refractometer is sort of a portable microscope we use to determine the moisture content of the honey after weâ€™ve stolen it from the bees — essentially checking to see if all the nectar has dried up.Continue reading
Preparing Wet Frames to Go Back in the Hive
Here’s a 2-minute video that shows how I use an uncapping knife on my honey frames after extracting the honey.
3 kg of Honey From a Medium Frame
Here’s how I inadvertently (or I could say deliberately) managed to get over 6 pounds of honey from a single medium frame. 6 pounds is about 3 kg. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)
Other than giving the bees space inside the hive to grow, I really didn’t do much. This is 95% the result of good weather and a healthy queen. No bee whispering of any kind was required. There never is.
Essentially, all I did was place 7 frames of drawn comb in a 10-frame honey super, creating extra space between the frames. If there’s a strong nectar flow, the bees will often fill in the extra space with honey, resulting in thick frames of honey — and sometimes more honey per super.Continue reading
Waxing Foundation with a Heat Gun
Quality plastic foundation is coated with beeswax to encourage the bees to build comb off it. But sometimes the foundation isn’t coated in wax for whatever reason and the bees won’t touch it, or if they do, they take much longer to build comb on it. So that’s when beekeepers are forced to coat the foundation with beeswax themselves. There are many ways of going about it. This is one of them.
Doubled waxed plastic foundation could make this issue moot, as might wax foundation or even foundationless frames.
This is the most convenient method I’ve found for waxing foundation. However, even more convenient might be to wax the foundation before inserting it into the frames.
Word around the campfire tells me that only the top inch or so of the foundation needs to be waxed — not the entire foundation. Apparently, once the bees start building comb on the top edge of the foundation, that gets them started and they have no trouble working down the rest of the frame. I’ve seen photos that seem to illustrate this.
Practical Beekeeping Tips (Videos)
Here’s a playlist collection of videos I’ve posted over the years that somewhat falls into the category of Practical Beekeeping Tips. The playlist is sort of in the order that someone new beekeeping would experience, starting off with how to paint hives and how to mix sugar syrup, how to install a nuc — all that jazz.
While I’d like to update and modify some of the videos, that would take more time than I can spare (I have a full-time job that isn’t beekeeping). Much like my Beekeeping Guide, it’s not a comprehensive series of videos, but maybe it’ll help.
A Healthy Hive Smells Good
This is the sequel to yesterday’s Poop Parade of Death series of photos.
To Feed or Not To Feed
These thermal images show the difference between a hive with the bees clustering low (with plenty of honey above them) and bees clustering high (possibly running low on honey).
I can’t imagine the bees in any of my tall hives are running low on honey. Most of my hives were packed with honey going into the winter. But you never know. The first time I lost a colony to starvation was around this of the year. So…
Zapping Beehives With an Infrared Laser Gun Thermometer
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.
Thermal Imaging on Beehives
Let’s check out my hives with a thermal imaging camera:
Monitoring a Beehive With a Phone (or Not)
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.
A Mystery of Dark & Light Honey Comb
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.
Uncapping Honey Frames with Heat Gun
Some people say honey frames can’t be uncapped with a heat gun. They’re wrong. It doesn’t work on wet cappings, but it works fine with dry cappings. Here’s proof. (This video is an excerpt from my Garage Honey Extraction video.)
Garage Honey Extraction
I extracted some honey in my garage over the past couple of days. I’d like to say there’s a precise method to my extraction process, but like everything in beekeeping, there isn’t — and don’t let nobody tell ya no different (just like Sling Blade would say). Now let’s take a gander at how it all went down:
00:00 — Intro to the extractor. Everything is sanitized, from the extractor to the stainless steel honey filter to the honey bucket. The garage might look rough, but it’s well ventilated and there are no chemicals or gasoline or any toxic fumes floating around.Continue reading
My First Time Using a Pollen Trap
I’ve had a plastic pollen trap banging around for a couple years but I always forget about it. I think it’s the kind of pollen trap that can found on Amazon, probably a knock-off of a more expensive one, which is often the case for most beekeeping gear sold on Amazon. Here’s a record of my first attempt at using it:
I know pollen is considered a “super food.” I could probably charge a fortune for it if I called it something like Newfoundland Organic Artisan Pollen. That kind of thing seems to be a valid marketing strategy these days.
How To Mark a Queen Bee
As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one way to mark a queen, but most methods usually involve catching the queen, holding her down in some way so she can’t move, and then dabbing her with a paint pen or marker.
I’ve never bothered marking queens myself because, until now, I’ve been pretty free wheelin’ with my queens. I usually have little need to hunt them down. But this year I had a colony that was ready to swarm and it would have been great if I could have found the queen then. A marked queen in a few other situations would have made my life easier too. So I got myself one of the new fan-dangled queen catchers and I marked a few queens, the first time I’ve done this in 10 years. Here’s a video that shows how I did it:
Thermal Images of Beehives Buried in Snow
Here’s another video from February 1st of me testing out my Flir One thingamuhbob that attaches to my cell phone to produce thermal images in low res video and pics.
As usual, the results are okay but is it worth the money for beekeepers on a budget? I don’t know.
This video was shot after the Snowmageddon event that occurred in Newfoundland on January 17th, 2020. I’ll post a detailed video of that as soon as I can find the time to slap something together.
A Rat Gnawing on My Beehive
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:
Flir One Thermal Imaging Camera For Beekeepers?
Here’s a short video that demonstrates what I typically experience when I plug in my Flir One thermal imaging camera:
Extracting Honey Outside in the Sun
So I pulled out my honey extractor and used it to whip some honey out of about six or seven medium frames. The honey wasn’t completely cured. That is, it wasn’t completely capped and some of the nectar was still floating around fancy and loose and therefore, technically, it wasn’t honey. But it was (and is) technically delicious, so who cares? Not me. I don’t sell it for public consumption, but I eat it all the time and so do my friends. It’s probably not a bad honey for making mead.
Here’s a 15-minute video that shows how the whole thing played out:
Beekeeping With a “Flir One for Android” Thermal Imaging Device
August 2019 Introduction: I fooled around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about three years. It’s not a device for beekeepers on a budget. I doubt I would have picked it up myself if I didn’t get it as a birthday gift. I wouldn’t call it essential for the kind of backyard beekeeping that I do, but I have to confess that I got in the habit of using it often in the winter, even though the battery doesn’t last much longer than five minutes on a typical freezing Newfoundland winter day. It doesn’t give me the most accurate thermal images of bees, but it provides an indication of whether or not the cluster is big or small, dead or alive, or dying. I don’t have to tap on the side of the hive and listen to the roar of the bees to see how they are doing. I don’t have to listen carefully with my stethoscope. Typically, I plug the device into my Android phone, turn everything on and then run out to my hives and take as many photos as I can as quickly as possible before the battery dies. I don’t think it ever lasts more than 10 minutes. I have my doubts that the built-in battery was designed for cold places like Newfoundland. Here are some sample images and video to give an idea of how it played it out for me.
An example of using the Flir One in the dark:
How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter
Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.
I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.
So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
Monitoring Honey Bees with a Stethoscope
I often use a cheap stethoscope to monitor my honey bees in the winter when they’re still clustering below the top bars and out of sight. It’s the least disruptive method I have for checking on the bees.
It took some practice, but I can tell how deep and how large the cluster is by listening through the hive with the stethoscope. Most of the time, though, I’m just checking that the bees are still alive. That’s usually good enough for me.
Sticking my ear against the hive works too, but it’s not as dignified as walking around with a stethoscope.
FEBRUARY 20, 2016: I have to say I continue to be impressed with the $7 stethoscope I bought on Amazon. I listened again to my bees today and could hear a lively buzz of bees in every hive. It takes a bit of imagination to interpret how the bees are doing from the often distant-sounding hum heard through the stethoscope, but at least I can tell they’re still hanging in there.
April 2019 Postscript: I still have my stethoscope, but I don’t use it often anymore. I just bend a knee into the dirt and stick one ear to the side of the hive. I can hear the bees better through my ear.
How I Decap Honey Frames with a Heat Gun
I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.
- For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be silly. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.
I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:
1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.
2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.
I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife.
Uncapping With a Heat Gun + DIY Extractor
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.