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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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


It’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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Bees Hanging On Tight

A close-up of some bees hanging off the bottom of a frame last week:

Look at the bee just right of the middle doing the splits. Ouch. I suppose this behaviour is a variation of festooning.

PHOTO NOTE (SEPTEMBER 2015): The photo in this post may not display properly because it was uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photo with one hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

Why I Like Foundationless Frames: Reason #1

Drawn and partially-drawn comb look much prettier on foundationless frames. Here’s what some partially-drawn comb looks like on a frame with black plastic foundation:

Here’s a half-drawn comb on a foundationless frame:

Now don’t tell me that ain’t way prettier.

PHOTOS NOTE (SEPTEMBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

Bees Feeding Each Other?

I saw some of the bees feeding or cleaning each other in front of the hive today. I don’t know. But they were out in large numbers again, so I’m happy.

The bees haven’t been too active for the past week. I thought maybe I squished the queen during my last inspection. I usual, I don’t know. But the temperature went up and they were back to normal today. If we get a warm, dry September, I think both of my hives will have strong populations and plenty of honey stores for the winter.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/10): Most likely this is a forager coming back with nectar and transferring it to nursing bees who will feed it to the baby bees. Every bee has a specific duty at a certain time in its life cycle. Foragers only forage. Other bees take pollen and nectar from the foragers and store it or feed it to other bees.

UPDATE (Jan. 24/11): What we’re seeing in the video is called trophyllaxis.