Unusual Hive Behaviour


This is a follow-up to the previous post.

I just checked the hives to see how well they’re taking up the syrup from the frame feeders. I was able to add another 2 litres of syrup to the feeder in Hive #2 (that’s 2 litres since yesterday afternoon). It’s massive with bees. They still have about 3 empty frames left and they’re going nuts with building and taking up syrup. Nothing wrong with that.

Hive #1 bees in their glory days (August 2010).

The bees in Hive #1, on the other hand, haven’t touched the syrup in their frame feeder, and they’re showing no interest in the frames I installed in the first honey super yesterday. So whatever is going on in Hive #1, it’s got them disinterested in taking feed or building comb.
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Adding Fall Supers (Huh?)

I added a medium super to both of our hives today (for a total of two on each hive) and installed double frame feeders in each. The frame feeders are designed for deep supers, but two mediums will also do the trick.

I added the 7-litre double frame feeder to Hive #2 (on the left) above the inner cover because the bees were sucking the syrup from the Boardman feeders faster than I could refill them. (The Boardman feeders were sheltered inside a medium super to keep wasps away.) We did a full inspection of the hive yesterday and noticed three or four empty frames, meaning those bees need to build a lot of honeycombs fast to have them filled for the winter. Adding the frame feeder is the quickest way to feed them, so that’s that.

But Hive #1 is a different story…
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Bees Bearding, Preparing to Swarm or What?

Again, it’s probably normal behaviour for honey bees, but I haven’t seen it before so, as usual, I’m concerned. I checked out the hives first thing this morning and noticed an abundance of wasps flying around. It was also after the first frost of the season. I mention these facts just in case they’re significant. Other than the wasps, there was little activity. I checked the hives again around 11 o’clock when both would be in full sunlight (they only get a couple hours of direct sunlight at this time of year) and there were bees everywhere. Hive #2 looked great. Orientating flights, foragers coming and going. No complaints. But the bees in Hive #1, which haven’t been too active in the past week, were pouring out of the hive. Not flying around much, just walking out of the hive and hanging outside on the entrance board in a thick carpet of bees.

This photo shows them clumped together on one side of the entrance, though the entire entrance board was covered with bees. It’s now about an hour later and they appear to be coming and going as normal, though they still seem to be favouring one side of the entrance.

Does anyone know what would cause the bees to gather in large numbers around the entrance like that? I heard the buzzing of some angry-sounding drones. Maybe they’re all getting the final boot today. I know sometimes bees will hang outside the hive on hot days, but it’s only about 12 degrees out there. It’s not that hot. Anyway, I’m just curious (I’m not alarmed). Here’s the video:
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Wasps, Frost and Condensation

I saw the first frost of the season on the ground this morning. I also saw the bees stretching their wings outside the hives, but when I went out and checked, what I thought were bees were actually wasps — at least ten of them swooping around the entrances of both hives. I lifted off one outer cover, too, and noticed the inside of it was full of condensation.

I couldn’t do much about the wasps, but I put a screen in place of the outer cover for twenty minutes while the cover dried in the sun. I’ve seen the condensation build up over the past week. I take it as a sign that I need to prepare the hives for winter soon.

September is an eventful month for beekeeping in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Let me list the reasons why:
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Bracing For Hurricane Igor


This is pretty much what both of my hives look like at this moment (5:00pm, Sept. 20):

Think I should go out and add a concrete block to each of those outer covers? (UPDATE: Bad shelter design. Not a good idea to block the normal flight path to the entrance.)

When I started up my hives 64 days ago, I made sure the bottom boards were raised a little so any rain that got inside would pour out the entrance. But I’ve noticed with some crazy wind and rain we’ve had recently that the rain has been pooling a bit too thick near the entrances. And now we’ve got a hurricane coming that’s being described like this:

“If the worst case scenario pans out [UPDATE: it’s happening], and the storm tracks just east of the Avalon, winds could gust to near 150 km/h across the Bonavista and Avalon Peninsulas [where I live]. This would do significant damage and would cause widespread power outages… Rainfall amounts between 50 and 150 millimetres are expected by Tuesday evening [24 hours from now] with the highest amounts expected over the Burin and Avalon peninsulas [that’s me!]. This is a warning that significant rainfall is expected in these regions.”

I can’t angle the bottom boards any more than they already are without pulling the hives apart, so as a temporary measure, I’ve placed boards over the entrances to keep the wind and rain out. You can’t tell from the photos, but the rain is already pouring down fast. The bees are hunkered down. I plan to keep the boards over the entrances until the hurricane has passed.

The next 24 hours are going to be fun.
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Backwards Beekeeping Concerns in the Cold Moist Climate of Newfoundland

This is a response to a comment about foundationless and natural beekeeping left by Sam a few days ago.

The natural habitat for honey bees is a tropical climate inside a hollow log, so there’s only so much we can do to emulate those conditions. Still, if we’re going to keep bees, the foundationless methods seem to interfere the least with their natural behaviour. (Nov. 20/10 update: See the Backwards is The New Forwards video for more info on the benefits of foundationless frames.) It’s a backwards approach compared to conventional beekeeping, but it seems better for the bees and I like it. (Basically, it’s the kind of beekeeping Michael Bush does.)

A 2-week-old Newfoundland foundationless honeycomb (August 28, 2010).

At this point in the game, though, I’m not sure how well backwards beekeeping will play out in Newfoundland’s cold, wet, east coast climate.
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Foundationless Frames Can Mean Lots of Drones


I’m not so worried about all the dead drone larvae pupae I found outside one of our hives for the past two days. It was spooky and gross and unnerving, but it’s much less alarming now that I know what’s most likely going on.

We introduced some foundationless frames to our hives when we added the second brood box. The results were fantastic. Fully-drawn comb full of honey. Beautiful. What we didn’t know is that bees that haven’t drawn natural comb before, will start off building drone comb, as shown in the above photo taken earlier today during a full hive inspection. We found two foundationless frames with large clusters of drone cells, and on at least one frame, most of the drone cells appeared to be recently emptied.
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Piles of Dead Pupae


DRONE BEEIt’s normal for a colony of honey bees to discard all the male drone bees before winter kicks in. Quoting myself: “Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate once with a queen. If they don’t mate, they just hang around the hive and get fed. All the drones are kicked out of the hive to freeze to death as winter kicks in because they’re useless over the winter.”

I knew I would eventually see a large number of dead drones outside the hive once the weather began to cool off. But I didn’t expect to see anything like this…

WARNING: The rest of the photos in this post are not pretty. They’re kind of gross.
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An Improvised Feeder


We installed 7-litre frame feeders in our hives over the past few weeks. The feeders take up the space of two frames inside the brood box and the bees go to town on the syrup faster than they ever did with the Boardman feeders, probably because about ten times more bees can get at the syrup. We like the frame feeders for that reason and because they only require re-filling every ten days or so, and they don’t seem to attract as many wasps as Boardman feeders. (Ants are another story.) The only downside to a frame feeder this large is that is doesn’t leave any wiggle room for the remaining eight frames. I had to use the frame gripper for the first time today because I couldn’t slide the frames to loosen them.

We decided to remove the feeder from Hive #1 today because the bees have filled all the frames and they need the extra two frames of space the feeder was taking up.
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