Open Feeding

I wrote what you might call an opinion piece on the importation of honey bees onto the island of Newfoundland. You can find it on my new Opinion page, which may or may not become a permanent feature of this website. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

New beekeepers are usually told to never feed their bees using an open feeder because it can trigger robbing and fighting instincts in the bees, transforming them into bees that are not fun to be around. The bees act like they’re hepped up on caffeine. They behave frantically. As usual, I don’t believe anything until I try it myself and, indeed, through the wonderful world of experiential learning, I discovered that open feeding can have that effect on the bees. But not always.

In my experience, any sugar syrup close to the hive, whether in an open feeder or spilled on the ground, can trigger the robbing instinct, especially if the syrup is spiked with something like anise extract. However, if the open feeder it placed 30 metres or so from the hive (~65 feet), the bees might crowd in on the syrup, but don’t usually start fighting each other to the death to get at the syrup, and when they fly back to their hives, they don’t try robbing the neighbour hive of the all honey.

I prefer this method of feeding at certain times of the year — long before or long past harvesting any honey — because it’s so easy to do. I don’t have to load up each hive with a feeder. I just refill the open feeder once it gets empty. Open feeding usually doesn’t last more than week.
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Crushing Comb & Cleaning The Beeswax

I often make crushed & strained silky liquid honey and let the bees clean up the crushed comb afterwards. Digging through my archives, I found some footage that shows how I do it.

I talk about all kinds of things in this video, most of which would take up too much space to reiterate here. But here’s basic rundown of the whole thing:
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Waxing Foundation

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.

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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When To Add Another Super

The population of a honey bee colony can explode in no time once the weather warms up and everything comes into bloom. (That’s right about now, by the way, at least in my little corner of the Isle of Newfoundland.) All that nectar, all the pollen, all the warm air, all that sunshine — the next thing you know, the bees are getting ready to swarm, or they’ve already swarmed. It seems to take only a few days for the bees to get that message when the conditions are right. As a general rule, when I open a hive and see bees over the top bars of every frame, I add another super, another hive box — I give the colony room to grow. They may not need the extra space today or tomorrow, but when they do need it and it’s not there, boom, off they go in a giant cloud of bees that will fill the sky, also known as a swarm. This video shows what it looks like when it’s time to add another super to the hive (at least for me it does):

00:00 — A deep super (and frames) cut down to a medium.
00:40 — Bees covering the top bars (time to add a super).
01:10 — Dispersing the bees with mist instead of smoke.
01:27 — Adding the super.
01:48 — Adding a foundationless frame (for comb honey).
02:38 — Putting the hive back together.
03:10 — Confused bees looking for the new entrance.
04:52 — The bees already reoriented to the new entrance.
05:10 — A problem with a 9-frame brood chamber.

And some bonus material for those who can hold out long enough.

P.S. #1: I mention in the video that’s it’s June 21st when it obviously isn’t. That’s my pandemic brain jumping up and saying hello. Everybody and their cousin Bob is losing track of the days.

P.S. #2: Some would look at this video and think I put another box on too early, that every frame in the hive should absolutely packed with bees for adding another box. Maybe. But when a nectar flow is about the kick into high gear, I prefer to play safe than sorry. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. Putting a box on too early, like I may have done in this video, can result in the bees not really filling up any frames. They spread everything out and none of the honey frames get filled to capacity. However, it reduces the likelihood of swarming. Waiting until more bees to cover the frames can have the opposite effect, more honey packed into the frames but greater risk of swarming.

Honey Bees Poop on Cars

Honey bees poop on cars and nobody ever talks about it. We’re all too busy idealising beekeepers to notice it. But they do. My bees poop all over my neighbours’ cars in the spring after holding it in all winter. Cars, clothes hanging on the line, living room windows — they all take a hit, and it’s not always easy to clean off. Furthermore, not everybody likes it, especially in suburban areas where people often demand that their tax dollars protect them from having to deal with things like bee poop. So look out.

Here’s a video that shows how I clean bee poop off my car. (If this video doesn’t change the course of Western Civilisation, I don’t know what will.) I get up to go to work and the cold dew on the car somehow seems to lift the poop right off the car, poop that is normally super-glued to anything it touches. I simply wipe it off. If I have to get up early from time to time to wipe the bee poop off my neighbours’ cars, well, that’s what good neighbours do.

When Bees Won’t Draw Out Comb on Plastic Foundation

I’ve always heard about how honey bees won’t draw comb on plastic foundation, but I didn’t experience it in a big way until this summer. I had three nucs set up in deeps that I wanted to expand into medium supers because I want to try on the all-medium-super beekeeping game and see if I like it because I know I don’t like lifting 40kg deeps full of honey (about 100 pounds). If I was a seniorish citizen with back, hip or leg problems, or just a regular human being who wasn’t in the mood for any heavy lifting in their beekeeping, I’d consider switching to all shallow supers. For now, though, I’ll see how it goes with mediums.

Waxless plastic foundation and a foundationless section the bees had no problem building on.


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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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