The cover of the book, Keeping Bees

This review is long overdue, and in fact, it’s been about 6 months since I first read this book. Keeping Bees by Ashley English is one of my top recommendations when it comes to beekeeping books. The book — part of the Homemade Living series — has the tagline “All you need to know to tend hives, harvest honey & more” which is a fairly bold statement, but for the beginning beekeeper, this may actually hold true.

This book covers all the basics of beekeeping, and explains concepts such as obtaining bees, inspections, pests and diseases, honey harvesting and even has a few recipes at the end. In terms of photography and visual diagrams, there is no better book out there. This book has beautiful full-colour photos that accompany nearly every page. This imagery is quite helpful if you’re a visual learner, like me. There are some concepts that English introduces in the book that would be nearly impossible to visualize if not for the photos throughout. For example: using a Ziploc bag as a plastic bag feeder directly on top of the frames within a hive. (See? You’ll have to buy the book in order to see what I’m talking about.)

Beginners will enjoy English’s thorough breakdown of even the most simple tasks in beekeeping such as opening your hive. If you have any beekeeping experience though, you may find yourself wanting to skip some sections of the book as they are obviously intended for the absolute beginner.

Throughout the book, there are sidebar profiles of different beekeepers. Each “Profile of a Beekeeper” introduces a beekeeper and gives a short story about their interactions with bees. It’s quite interesting to see all the different types of people that keep bees, and you may find yourself aligning to one or more of them. The best thing you can do as a beekeeper is to continue learning and interacting with others. Reading about other beekeepers allows you to explore new ways of beekeeping yourself.

Overall, I highly recommend this book for any beekeepers, new and old. As I’ve mentioned above, this is an excellent book for beginners, but it also caters to experienced beekeepers with its innovative techniques and interesting explanations that you may have missed over the years. There are also helpful checklists for every season of the year, which I have personally bookmarked to review before doing hive inspections.

Purchase this book at Amazon:

Keeping Bees with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Tend Hives, Harvest Honey & More
Published by: Lark Crafts (Mar 1 2011)

A frame of honeybees Black Pierco plastic frames An inside look into the hive

Last weekend, the weather was perfect for doing a full inspection on my new hive. My friend Geoff accompanied me out to the bee yard to see my ladies. On the way there, we discussed our goals for this inspection because every beekeeper should know why they’re opening a hive and disrupting the colony. Each inspection should have a purpose. Our main goals for this inspection: look for signs that the queen is laying eggs, make sure the bees have enough room and check for any obvious problems.

We could see lots of activity around the hive, even from about 50M away. Bees were coming and going constantly — a good sign. We lit the smoker and got to work. This being the first full inspection for either of us, there was lots to see and be amazed at. We took each frame out and looked closely at both sides before replacing it exactly as we found it before. Geoff noticed one of the bees doing the waggle dance on the vertical surface of the comb. She was telling other workers where to go and find food or water. We also easily identified some drones by their big eyes.

Looking for eggs in the cells — a good sign that the queen is laying — was a bit difficult because the original nuc came with black Pierco plastic frames which make it difficult to hold up to the sun and identify eggs. Lucky for us though, we were able to spot the queen and watch as she found an empty cell and stuck her abdomen deep inside. There’s no better sign that your queen is laying eggs than actually seeing her do it!

There was still plenty of room for the colony to expand in this single hive body as the bees were mainly occupying about 5 and a half frames. There were also no signs of problems within the hive. We closed everything back up and then watched for a few minutes as bees came and went from the hive entrance. Successful first full inspection!

In case you missed it last night, there was an episode on CBC entitled Dancing in the Dark: The Intelligence of Bees. I wasn’t able to catch the show live when it aired on “Ideas” with Paul Kennedy, but luckily the whole show is available online.

Look for the “Listen” button the following page to listen to Stephen Humphrey and some very interesting stories about bees.

(The show is approximately 54 mins long.)

Character leaning against question mark

This morning I received an email from a reader of my blog. It is a good question about whether you should keep a jar of feed for your colony after installing a nuc.

Hi, I just got a nuc of bees brought in and setup into a brand new hive that my neighbours have built for me. At this point it consists of two boxes with ten frames per box and a third on the top. The bees were introduced about one week ago. My neighbour set them up, he put a mason jar of sugar water upside-down with holes in the lid in the top box. There has been slight activity during the first part of the week as the daytime highs have only been about 12 degrees (Celsius) or so. Yesterday the temp was about 18 degrees and sunny. The hive was very active at that temp. Today was colder and this evening before dark I had a quick peek in the top box by gently removing the lid. I noticed that all the sugar water was gone. My question (finally) is should this quart size mason jar always have sugar water in it???  What should I do? FYI they are Buckfast Bees.

I answered this email directly, but I also thought I’d post my answer here and spark a discussion. If I understand correctly, this reader has two boxes with frames in them, and a third box on top of those that contains a mason jar for feeding. The nuc only arrived one week ago.

To answer the main question first: No, you don’t need to keep that mason jar filled with sugar syrup. You can remove it and take off the 3rd box that it’s sitting in. The feed is sometimes used to boost production in the hive. It’s typically used in smaller/weaker colonies. Your bees will eat the sugar syrup, but it is not what they’re designed to eat regularly. You don’t want them to choose that over nectar from flowers.

In the winter, or early spring, you may need to feed them again, but for now, as we head into summer, you’re fine without it. In fact, I didn’t use any feeder at all when I installed my nuc, around the same time.

Also, just a bit more information to help: Your bees will likely stay in their hive during colder weather, especially if it’s a bit rainy. It’s perfectly normal to not see a lot of activity around your hive on these cold & rainy days. As you mentioned, it’s when it’s sunny and 18 degrees that the bees get to work.

Try to avoid checking your hive when it’s chilly outside. If it’s around 10 degrees Celcius or colder, then you risk chilling your brood if you have your hive open for too long. It’s best to do your inspections mid-day, when a lot of your bees will be out foraging.

Another point I thought I should mention is that if you had a 4-frame nuc and you just installed it one week ago, then you might not need to have a second box with frames on it yet. You add boxes as you go, when the first box is roughly 75%-90% full. That’s the time when you plop another box with frames on top. If you give them too much space early on, it might be difficult to stay warm during really cold nights. At this point, however, they may have already started using that box, so it’s up to you whether you want to remove it or not. It may just be easier to leave it now.

In the future, it’s good to know that if you’re buying your nuc from a reputable breeder, there are guidelines to follow which are in place for your benefit. Your nuc should have been shipped with some food stores when it arrived. Adding sugar syrup is an extra safety measure to provide a bit more feed to your bees after their stressful journey to their new home. For information on what the Ontario Beekeeping Association recommends for nucs, please visit my blog post here: Buying nucs of bees in Ontario. Take into consideration that these are just guidelines, and your nuc may have been a bit different.

I hope this answers your question. I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy bee season. Good luck!

I read an article today that gave details on the photos you see below. These photos were taken by French photographer, Eric Valli, documenting the lives of the men and women who descend giant cliffs to gather honey from the Himalayan honeybee. This type of honeybee (Apis Dorsata Laboriosa) is the largest honeybee in the world and nests at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,000 m. You can see the giant size of the honeybee on the man’s face in the first photo.

If you’re at all interested in photography and find these photos as stunning as I do, you may be surprised to learn that these photos were taken in 1987! Valli received first prize for The Honey Hunters of Nepal that same year at World Press, a photojournalism contest established to create a link between professionals and the general public.

To see more photos from this series, please visit Eric Valli’s photo story on The Honey Hunters.