Cleansing Flights

I didn’t think we’d have anything to report until March, but I was wrong. The bees in both hives finally got to use the washroom today after holding it in for the past three months. The following photos and video were taken around 11am today, not a breath of wind, a mild 3°C / 37°F, blinding sun bouncing off the snow. First I saw this little guy outside the door:

(Yes, I know it’s a female worker and not a little guy, but saying “little girl” doesn’t work for me.)
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Adding Pollen Patties


Jenny and I added some pollen patties (and one candy cake) to our hives today. Here’s the video, and then I’ll talk about it and show you some pictures.

UPDATE (Feb. 19/11): We don’t like to smoke our bees, but if we could go back and do it over again, we’d smoke ’em first. A few good puffs of smoke through the upper entrance may have driven the bees down below the top frames. That would have made it much easier to slip in the pollen and sugar — and it would have prevented me from squishing a clump of bees between the pollen patty and the inner cover when I put the inner cover back down (possibly squishing the queen).
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More Thoughts on Queen Excluders

What follows is a continuation of the previous post, Exclude the Queen, or Not?

QUEEN EXCLUDERI’ve been reading more about queen excluders (QEs). Here’s some online info from people who I trust more than me: Honey Bee Suite; Beesource; Long Lane and David Burns (or Long Lane again).

All the tips from the previous post for keeping the queen out of the honey supers are mentioned in the above, along with some other suggestions. More than a few articles on QEs are available at Beesource. The consensus? There is none. Many beekeepers say throw away the excluders because they’re more trouble than they’re worth and dealing with some brood in the honey isn’t the end of the world. The brood will hatch, the cells will be refilled with honey and that’s it. Nothing to it.
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Exclude the Queen, or Not?

QUEEN EXCLUDERThe best beekeeping is often hands-off. Leave the bees alone. I need to find the right balance between managing the bees and allowing the bees to manage themselves. A case in point: queen excluders.

I’ve been on the fence about using queen excluders since before I got my first nuc box in July 2010. A queen excluder is a screen with openings wide enough to allow worker bees to pass through but narrow enough to prevent the larger queen (and drones) from getting through. It’s placed below honey supers so the queen can’t lay eggs in the honey (i.e., the honey us humans will eat). Which seems like a good idea, but I’m not so sure.

I’ve heard too many beekeepers online refer to queen excluders as “honey excluders,” because most worker bees would rather stay down below before trying to squeeze through the excluder. Subsequently, the bees will fill up the brood nest with honey before they go above the excluder, which can leave the queen honey bound (no place to lay her eggs) and the brood chamber mighty crowded, which encourages swarming. Not the most desirable situation.
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Hives in Snow Video

This video is not instructive. It’s just me digging a path through the snow from our back door to the hives in the backyard that are half buried in snow.

I cleared the lower front entrances afterwards, scraping ice away easily with my hive tool. A few guard bees came out and died from the cold immediately, but at least the colonies are still alive. I continue to be totally in awe of the bees. (See Hives in Snow for more photos.)

Notes from “ABC and XYZ”

ABC BOOKI’m copying out the following for future reference from page 686 of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). It’s from the “Wintering” section. I will likely update this post many times as I continue to read from the book. These are notes for myself. They’re not meant to be comprehensive.

“Tests have shown that pollen supplements fed to unprotected wintered-over colonies beginning late in February to advance brood-rearing will yield one to two packages of bees [30 to 40 thousand bees?] about April 20… This control over brood-rearing based on the pollen factor makes it possible for the colony to develop in spite of unfavourable climatic or seasonal conditions… Forty pounds [18kg] of honey stored in dark brood combs should be present in the top hive body when 10-frame standard equipment is used.” The total should be at least 60 pounds of honey for a 2-storey wintering Langstroth hive.

How much wrap or insulation is used for wintering hives is determined largely by local weather conditions. Except for ventilation through an upper entrance, there is no universally correct way to winter hives. From page 694: “…beginners and those who have some doubt, [should] follow methods that have given good results… in their own immediate locality… It will bear repeating that localities differ so that what will work well in one may not in another. Specifically where there is excess moisture, packing [i.e., insulation] may do more harm than good, especially if it freezes.”

NOTE: The 1910 edition of this book (and probably the 1947 edition) are in the public domain. It can be downloaded in various formats or read online at
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Mid-Winter Observations

WINTER HIVESIt’s February 1st, 2011, and winter has finally settled in for St. John’s, Newfoundland. The snow is likely to hang around until April (bluh), so it’s more the beginning of winter than mid-winter, but we’ll call it mid-winter. It’s less depressing that way.

Our two winter-wrapped first-year honey bee colonies have been living off their honey stores for a little over 70 days. We added some sugar cakes to the hives a few days ago because the bees are clustered heavily on the top frames, which can indicate they’re running out of honey. I’m not so sure about that. I suspect it could be natural behaviour for cold-climate honey bees with Russian and Carniolan genes, but it’s safer to feed them hard candy than risk starving them out. Each hive now has around 2 kg of hard candy sugar cakes (about 4.5 pounds) and the same amount waiting for them in our fridge if they need it later on.
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