Knocking It Down to One Foundationless Hive

ADDENDUM (March 31/14): I’ve changed my tune. As much I love honey, it’s not my main reason for keeping honey bees. I like being around the bees and watching them all the time, getting my nose inside the hive whenever I can to see how they’re all getting along. And that’s a whole lot more fun with foundationless frames because you can watch the comb get bigger and bigger as the bees hang from the frames in chains and gradually build comb naturally with no help from plastic foundation. It’ll take the bees three or four times longer to build and then fill the comb, but if you’re into beekeeper to watch and learn and absorb calmness from the bees, foundationless beekeeping is the way to go.

Foundationless beekeeping is turning out to be less successful than I’d hoped. Foundationless hives require considerably more resources to thrive than conventional hives with foundation, and those resources are not consistently available in St. John’s, Newfoundland, given our cold wet springs and short summers. I was recently informed that the foundationless hives can survive in Newfoundland, but they will likely take two years to establish themselves in our cold climate before I can harvest any honey from them. I wouldn’t have bothered with foundationless hives had I known that from the start. As much as I like the idea of going all-natural, I want some honey too.
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Foundationless Beekeeping Doesn’t Always Work

I had time to inspect our hives today for the first time in about three or four weeks. It’s the first time in June we’ve had some half decent weather on the weekend. Anyway…

There is no chance of either of our colonies swarming, or building into a honey super any time soon. Not by a long shot. I inspected our hives today and both are weak. The combination of about 40 days of drizzle and cold and thousands of drones from the foundationless frames eating up all the hives’ resources has weakened the colonies.

One hive is overloaded with drones and drone comb, a little bit of worker brood, some pollen and virtually zero honey stores.

The other hive has more worker brood and more honey, but we found several frames with waxed foundation that have barely been touched.

These bees are starving.
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It’s a Boy! (x 1,000)

Well, we inspected Hive #1 today because we were concerned about swarming. We found a few queen cells cups, but also plenty of empty cells for the queen to keep laying. I don’t think the colony is at risk of swarming. It does, however, seem to be overrun by drones. This frame containing both capped worker brood and drone brood was one of the better looking frames — because it wasn’t filled entirely with drones:

CLICK THIS LINK FOR A CLOSER LOOK ON A SEPARATE PAGE.
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What I Did Today

I don’t have much to say today, but I’m going to say it anyway. (This will be a long rambling post signifying nothing.) I begin work on a month-long feature film shoot next week, which means I won’t have a life for the rest of June and you might not hear much from me again until July. Beekeeping in June will be restricted to the few days I have off. So I hope the sun is shining on those days. But let’s talk about now. How about this thing?

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Falling Short of My Ideals

I’m still in my first year of beekeeping and I’m learning a lot. And I suspect one of the reasons I’m learning a lot is that I don’t follow many of the more widely accepted practices that make beekeeping easier. First up are the Backwards Beekeepers out of Los Angeles, California, who have been my number one inspiration from the get-go. They advocate the use of foundationless frames, natural re-queening and starting hives from feral swarms that are better adapted to the local environment than imported queens. Let the bees be bees because they know what they’re doing better than any humans. I love what the Backwards Beekeepers are all about, but it would be foolish of me to think my bees could do as well with 1,500 hours of sunshine a year as theirs do with 3,000 hours of sunshine (and much higher temperatures). And that’s just one of the stumbling blocks. I will continue to follow their example as well as I can, but they present an ideal that I seriously doubt I will ever be able to live up to in St. John’s, Newfoundland, given the severity of our local climate. (I’ll talk about this in more detail in a future post.)

Another ideal I realize that I can’t stick to 100% is the use of a spray bottle instead of a smoker.

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