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.
For instance, it’s highly unlikely that honey bees could become feral in Newfoundland. The winters, near the coastal areas anyway, are wet and slushy, and trees simply don’t grow large enough to provide natural hollows for hives. So the chances of starting up colonies from healthier feral swarms acclimated to Newfoundland’s environment are pretty close to zero. I suspect beekeepers in Newfoundland will always be dependent on domesticated bees.
A BACKWARDS BEEKEEPER CAPTURING A SWARM. (DOESN’T REALLY HAPPEN IN NEWFOUNDLAND.)
Another backwards beekeeping practice I’d like to following but which may not work out so well in Newfoundland is the crush-and-strain method of extracting honey. It involves cutting the honeycomb out of the foundationless frames, smashing it up and letting the honey drain through a filter into another bucket or some jars. The empty foundationless frames are then placed back into the hive where the bees build new comb from scratch and then fill it up with honey again — and that’s where it could get tricky in Newfoundland. With the short Newfoundland summers, I’m not sure the bees will have enough time to rebuild and fill the comb with honey before the weather turns cold.
A BACKWARDS BEEKEEPER CRUSHING AND STRAINING NATURAL HONEYCOMB.
But I could be wrong. The foundationless frames we’ve added to the brood chambers fill up just as fast, if not faster, than the conventional frames. The bees see that empty space and attack it with everything they’ve got. It’s impressive. There are two honey flows in Newfoundland: one in mid-August, I believe, or maybe July; the other in mid-September. So maybe it’ll be alright. We’ll see how it works out next summer.
And, well, that’s about it actually. For the most part, backwards beekeeping in Newfoundland means using foundationless frames, which isn’t as straightforward as conventional beekeeping — and it’s certainly not as easy as backwards beekeeping in the warm, sunny, snowless climate of California. At this point in time, we’ve got a mixture of foundationless and conventional frames in our hive — 10 foundationless frames spread out between two hives, both with brood chambers consisting of two deep supers. Knowing what I know now, though, I would have had foundationless frames in the brood chamber right from the start.
I’m also interested in starting up some top-bar hives, but that might be pushing my luck. Novice beekeepers in Newfoundland are pretty much flying blind most of the time because there just aren’t enough experienced beekeepers to meet with. I only know one full-time beekeeper in my area, and I don’t want to bother him every weekend (but I would if I could). There are no Newfoundland beekeeper meetings. Nothing. Going foundationless on my own is hairy enough, but at least I know some people using the same kind of hives who I can talk to. I’d be totally on my own with top-bars. But who knows, once I get a full year of beekeeping under my belt, I might feel confident enough to give it a go.
PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 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 photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.