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.

Pill Bottle Queen Cage

I had to install a mated queen into one of my hives and I couldn’t find a proper queen cage, so I drilled some 1/8-inch (~3mm) holes in a pill bottle and put the queen in that instead. Here’s what happened:

IMPORTANT NOTE: I would normally not release a queen into a new colony after only two days of sitting in the cage. But this queen originated from this hive and the bees were already familiar with her scent. It normally takes 5-7 days for a colony to feel completely at ease with a new caged queen. A queen released after only two days could easily be superceded by the colony.

Checking on Mating Nucs

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.

How To Mark a Queen Bee

As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one day 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.

A quick-drying water-based paint 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:


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A Queen on a Rampage

A video about queen bees. I’m completely off screens for at least the next 10 days. I’ll add more details when I get back. See ya.

00:00 — Thirty seconds of silence because we could all use 30 seconds of quiet contemplation once in a while. It’s a black and white slow motion shot of Comfrey.
00:28 — Torn open queen cells, destroyed by the first queen to emerge.
01:05 — The virgin queen.
01:59 — Photos of the open queen cells.
02:05 — Introducing a queen into a new hive. If the queenless colony is ready for a new queen, they will cover her cage and try to feed her lick her so they can bathe in her pheromones and be happy.
02:29 — Watching what the bees do. Are they trying to attack the queen or accept the queen?  Watch the rest of the video to find out.

How to Use a Swarm Box (or a Swarm Trap)

Here’s a short narrated video that explains how I use a swarm box to catch swarms that would normally get away. (A transcript of the narration can found below the video. And that’s the last time I read from a script. It sounds like the stilted narration from an instructional video by Troy McClure)


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The Jigs and Reels of Installing a Nuc in Newfoundland

Here’s a 20-minute video that documents what it’s like to get a nucleus colony (or a starter hive) on the island of Newfoundland. It’s not always easy. (I’ve also posted a 6-minute version for those who want to cut to the chase.)


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No Brood Doesn’t Always Mean No Queen

Let’s steal more wisdom from the 1947 edition (which seems to reproduce most of the the 1879 edition) of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture:

This might be a good thing to keep in mind, especially for Newfoundland beekeepers, and especially for Newfoundland beekeepers like me who can see the cold North Atlantic Ocean from their backyard/beeyard.

The first time I noticed a broodless colony was in September of my first or second year, and I thought damn, what am I going to do now? But it wasn’t a queenless colony. The queen had just shut down for the year (stopped laying). Some queens shut down early like that. It seems to be a genetic trait. Russian honey bees supposedly shut down as soon as resources dry up, but Italians will lay sometimes well into November, depending on the temperature. (Most Newfoundland honey bees are a mix of everything, so it can be a challenge to pin down the exact genetic traits at play.) However, I’ve heard from some people who claim that it’s the opposite is true. However one more time, I think it’s the Russian queens that usually shut down early and become broodless before winter.

It’s also good to know that the queen looks smaller when she’s not laying. (I love this book.) I’ve noticed this myself. I’ve also noticed how queens that aren’t well-mated look stubbier than a well-mated queen. Her abdomen is fatter instead of long and slender.

The ABC and XYZ is an excellent beekeeping reference, especially the cheap old timey edition that I have. It seems to have as much relevant information on beekeeping than most modern beekeeping books do.

Requeening with Russian Queens Can Be Tricky

I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:

A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)

A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)

It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too.
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Dry Summer → Less Nectar → More Pollen → More Brood?

I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.

A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too.  That queen is on fire.  (Sept. 30, 2016.)

A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too. That queen is on fire. (Sept. 30, 2016.)

I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster.
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Empty Supersedure Queen Cells

I found a frame full of queen cells in one of my hives last week (on September 5th). Specifically, supersedure cells. I’ll skip the sad story of how they got there. Just for kicks and giggles, I moved the frame of supersedure cells, along with three other frames including a frame of brood, into a nuc box. Queen cells are usually capped eight days after an egg is laid inside, which means these ones were at least eight days old. Seeing how the queens usually emerge about eight days after the cells are capped, I figured there was a good chance I’d find open supersedure cells about a week later. And I did (yesterday).

Empty supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 11, 2016.)

Empty supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 11, 2016.)

It was only six days later, but that shows the cells had been capped for at least two days before I found them. I noticed the bees building the supersedure cells near the end of August, so I knew this was coming.

Assuming everything went according to plan, there should be a single virgin queen running around my nuc box now and once her wings and things have dried and hardened, she will, in theory, take off on a mating flight or two by next week. I’m not confident she’ll mate well this late in the year as the drones are already getting the boot in some of my hives. At any rate, it might take her another week after mating for her to start laying. So…

If it all works out well, she’ll be laying by October. So come back in October and we’ll see what happens!

UPDATE (Sept. 30/16): No signs of a mated queen. The bees are calm like they would be if they had a queen, so… I’ll give it more time and see what happens, though I don’t have high hopes.

Supersedure Queen Cells

It’s always fun to spot a frame of these babies in one of my hives.

Supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 05, 2016.)

Supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 05, 2016.) Click image for better view.

I mentioned in my recent Beeyard Update how I wouldn’t be surprised if the bees in one of my hives decided to supersede the queen I recently installed. I’m still not surprised.

SEPT. 05, 2016: Read the exciting continuation in Part 2: Empty Supersedure Queen Cells!

Unpolished Queen Cups Are Okay

I freaked out a bit when I first saw a queen cup because I didn’t know what it was. I thought my bees were about swarm and that perhaps I should destroy the queen cups. But if a colony is about to swarm or replace its failing queen (two good reasons to create new queens), destroying the queen cups won’t make much difference. It could even make things worse.

A queen cup is the first stage of a queen cell, a big fat peanut-looking cell specifically designed for raising a new queen. The cell points down instead of sideways. Most honey bee colonies build queen cups just in case they need to create a new queen. But most of the time, at least if the beekeeper is paying attention, nothing happens. The cups are left unused.

I don’t destroy queen cups because they provide the easiest place to check for possible swarming. Here’s a quick video where I blab on about that.

The obvious clue is royal jelly or brood in the queen cups. But I’ve also noticed that the bees seem to clean and polish the insides of the queen cups in preparation for the current queen to lay in it, not unlike what they do with regular brood cells. Whenever I add a frame of drawn comb to a hive, the first thing the worker bees do is clean out every cell because the queen won’t lay in a dirty cell. Anyone who has ever observed a laying queen will have noticed that she sticks her head deep into every cell and inspects it carefully before she deposits the egg. If the surface of the cell isn’t shiny and clean, she moves on. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the bees shining up the insides of the queen cups before a swarm, but I’ve seen it enough times to say, yup, that seems to be thing.

Nucs: An Excellent Opportunity to Spot the Queen

I just installed three new nucs and I’m completely soaked in sweat. Here’s one that doesn’t have a proper top cover yet, but the bees don’t care.

By the way, now is an excellent time to look for the queen, to learn how to spot her, how she moves and wiggles across the frame and all that jazz. There are hardly any bees in the hive and there are only a few frames to inspect. The chances of spotting her couldn’t be better.

I wish I’d taken the time to look for the queen when I installed my first nucs. It subsequently took me a year before I managed to spot any of my queens.

Why I Have Pollen in My Honey Super

I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.

One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.)

One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.) Click the image for a better view.

The last time I found pollen in the honey super was two summers ago and it happened with what I used to call my nasty hive, a hive packed with the most defensive, meanest bees in Newfoundland. Everything about that hive was a headache, so I just assumed pollen in the honey super was a symptom of mentally deranged bees. That colony eventually died and I was more than happy to see it go. So when I found the frames of pollen today, I thought, “What the hell?”

Medium frame in "honey super" full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)

Medium frame in “honey super” full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)

At first I thought, “Okay, I’ve got another crazy colony on my hands.” Which seems to fit because the bees in this colony are, unfortunately, related to Old Nasty. Their queen mated with drones from the nasty hive. But that’s just speculation, me making up some stuff that sounds like it could be true but probably isn’t when you get right down to it.

So I did a little more poking around the oracle we call the Internet and asked a few beekeeping friends of mine if they’ve seen this before. And they have. After shooting some emails back and forth and thinking it over, I’ve come to the following explanation:

The bees are filling the honey super with pollen because they don’t have enough brood to eat up all the pollen that’s coming in.
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Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (on the island of Newfoundland)

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.

G & M Family Farm in Freshwater used to sell all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that made it much more affordable than it was when I got into beekeeping in 2010. But it looks like G&M has gotten out of that particular part of its beekeeping business and I honestly don’t take much track of it anymore. Some people on the NL Backyard Farming & Homesteading Facebook page might know.

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. I don’t need to buy gear these days like I used to, so I just don’t know.

Here’s what my first standard Langstroth hive looked like back when I started:

Removed frame after adding 2-frame feeder. (August 25, 2010.)
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A Real Life Demonstration of Feeding Honey Bees Dry Sugar

July 2019 Introduction: I don’t add dry sugar to my hives like this anymore. I use sugar bricks instead. However, I’d probably follow this method if I couldn’t use sugar bricks.

I usually pour dry sugar over newspaper into my Langstroth honey bee hives so the bees have something to eat just in case they run out of honey during the winter. Some people refer to it as the Mountain Camp Method, but I’m00 pretty sure beekeepers have been pouring dry sugar into their hives long before Mr Camp came along and popularized it. I’ll call it Dry Sugar Feeding for now on. In any case, it may not be the best method for feeding bees over the winter, but it works well for me and that’s what matters most. I like it because it’s the easiest method I’ve ever tried and it may be better for the bees than hard candy or candy boards. Do a little research on Hydroxymethylfurfural and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

When I first fed my bees dry sugar, I waited until January or February when the bees, if they were low on honey, would cover most of the top bars in the hive. But waiting that long is a pain in the butt for all kinds of reasons, so now I put the sugar in long before the bees really need it — just like I did today. Here’s an 11-minute video recorded a few hours ago that demonstrates the dry sugar method in all its glory. I also explain near the end how moisture quilts work.

P.S.: I’m not a big fan of feeding the bees pollen patties early in the winter because most of the time they don’t need it and it’s not always good to give the bees solids when they can’t get outside for cleansing flights. I try to reserve pollen patties for small colonies that could use a little boost in brood production. The colony in the video that I refer to as being about the size of a human head will get a pollen patty in a week or two. A small cluster like that, which is likely to get smaller before it gets bigger, won’t be able to stay warm much longer. The colony could be in trouble if I can’t get the queen laying soon.

Another postscript (written in part as a response to the first comment): If I had to do this again, I would place something round in the middle of the newspaper, a small bowl or a jar perhaps. Then after I poured the sugar on, I’d remove the bowl or jar so that a round sugar-free area of newspaper was left behind. Then I’d cut a hole in the exposed newspaper so that when the cluster came up, the bees would go through the hole without having to chew through the newspaper to get at the sugar. The hole would also allow moisture from the cluster to rise directly up to the moisture quilt. (If I have a chance, I’ll record a follow-up video.)

January 12th, 2016: I eventually cleared a hole in the dry sugar.

Benefits of Frequent Hives Inspections

July 2019 Introduction: I still probably dig into my hives more than I should. My constant curiosity may have made me a pretty good beekeeper when I started, but it’s more likely a liability these days. I should just leave the bees alone most of the time but I don’t.

There are many arguments for and against hands-off beekeeping. For new beekeepers just starting out, for the first year (except for winter), I’d dig into those hives at least once a week. Minimum. Even if it’s just to refill a frame feeder and look down at the bees without pulling out any frames, every chance to stick your face inside a hive is a learning experience. And by you I mean me, because that’s what I did when I started and I know it put me way ahead of the game compared to other beekeepers I know who took a hands-off approach. I know hands-off beekeepers five or six years in who still can’t tell the difference between a queen cup and a drone cell. That’s not good.

I still look in my hives about once a week, but I don’t often dig deep into them. I rarely, if ever, dig into the bottom deep of a hive past the month of May. One thing I don’t do as much as I should is check for swarm cells. I do, but I don’t go crazy with it. I know beekeepers who dig down into the bottom of their hives every seven or eight days after the month of May to check for swarm cells. They see it as standard hive management, and I understand that, and I probably should do it myself, but I really don’t like disturbing the bees that much. I’ll roll the dice and leave the bees alone if I don’t think they’re likely to swarm. In my experience, the colonies that have been the most robust and have made the most honey for me are the ones I was able to leave alone. All summer long they look they could swarm any minute, but they don’t, and they make truck loads of honey for me. People don’t talk about this enough, but managing bees so they come very close to swarming and make tons of honey instead — it’s not easy.

So I guess there’s a time to dig into the hives and a time to leave them alone. Working out that fine balance may be the foundation of good beekeeping.

Hive inspections every two weeks aren’t always such a bad thing, especially for new beekeepers, because one of the best ways to learn what the bees are up to is to see what the bees are up to. (Collect that data!) I found an excuse to dig into my hives at least once a week during my first summer of beekeeping, and I learned more from my intrusiveness and observing everything up close and personal than I ever did from reading or watching the bees from a safe distance. Yes, there is a risk of disturbing the bees and killing the queen, but I was careful and gentle and made sure to put all the frames back the way I found them, and everything worked out fine.

Regular inspections also allowed me to remove comb that would have otherwise gunked up the frames and made future inspections messier. Comb connected between frames will often split open and scrape against honey in adjacent frames and spill honey all over the place. Drone comb, especially between brood boxes, is exceptionally gross when pulled apart.

Regular inspections also allowed me to remove the super glue known as propolis. Frames that are bonded to the hive box with propolis don’t move. It requires careful manoeuvring to pry out the frames with a hive tool — to snap off the propolis — and even then all the extraneous comb between the frames tends to squish bees and tear up honeycomb as well as brood comb along the way. Whereas frames that are cleaned up every two weeks can usually be pulled up with bare hands.

Regular inspections and cleaning up the frames make things less perilous for the queen. Any comb between the frames or the brood boxes can easily trap and kill the queen (along with other bees) while the frames are being pulled out. (Some refer to this as rolling the queen.) Comb between the brood boxes leaves no space for the queen. If the queen is on that comb while a frame is slid back in, she’s dead.

Here’s a photo of a hive that I haven’t touched for almost three months.

Most of the frames are stuck together with wax and propolis after three months of not being touched by humans. (Oct. 12, 2015.)

Most of the frames are stuck together with wax and propolis after three months of not being touched by humans. (Oct. 12, 2015.)


Those frames are super-glued to the hive box with propolis and are held together by brace-comb as one big solid 10-frame block. Pulling those frames will be one seriously tangly experience (an experience I’m glad to have avoided during my first summer of beekeeping).
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Insert Feeders Spell Disaster For Nucleus Colonies

In my experience, plastic insert feeders that fit inside medium or shallow supers are dangerous because they don’t provide the bees convenient access to the syrup. Using an insert feeder to build up a nuc could be disastrous, especially in a cold climate like Newfoundland.

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

I bought an insert feeder during my second spring of beekeeping in 2011 because it seemed like a cheaper alternative to a hive top feeder. But I could never get the bees to take syrup from the feeder. (I’ve heard the same from numerous beekeepers over the past four years.) My bees would have starved had I kept trying to feed them with the insert feeder.
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