A Brood Nest That Favours The West Side

I have a colony of bees that always clusters on the west side of their hive — and I don’t know why.

Cluster expanding from the west side. (April 23, 2016.)

Cluster expanding from the west side. (April 23, 2016.)

I’ve had this colony for almost four years now (she’s an old queen that I started from a swarm cell) and I’ve noticed this clustering behaviour since day one. Even when I rearrange the frames of the brood nest in the spring so all the brood is in the middle of the hive, the brood nest eventually shifts to the west side of the hive.

I’ve checked everything over the years and there’s nothing unusual about the hive set up. No signs of mice, no leaks on one side of the hive, nothing. I’ve used various hive bodies and other hive components. I even moved the hive to a different beeyard and rotated it so the cluster was on the east side. Within a month the cluster shifted to the west side. My best guess is the bees prefer the heat of the setting sun.

Why Do Honey Bees Eat Chicken Feed?

Because they’re hungry for protein. That’s why honey bees eat chicken feed. Especially in the early spring when the queen is laying again and there are more mouths to feed. (Spring is a relative term for beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland.)

Honey bees eating chicken feed. (Flatrock, NL, April 9, 2016.)

Honey bees eating chicken feed. (Flatrock, NL, April 9, 2016.)

I gave my bees pollen patties earlier in the winter and they showed little interest in them. But judging by how intensely they’re digging into the chicken feed (full of protein), I bet they wouldn’t say no to a protein-rich pollen patty right about now.

2016-04-09 15.04.55

A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.

LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)


I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):

I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder…
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Honey Bees Don’t Like Black

A honey bee from a normally friendly colony stung me in the arm today because I was wearing a black t-shirt. I often wear minimal or no protective clothing around this particular colony because I know the bees are not at all defensive (not at this time of the year, anyway). Today was no different, except I forgot I was wearing a black t-shirt. As soon as I opened the hive, I noticed a few bees zig-zagging back and forth like they were hyped up on caffeine — not at all a relaxed flight pattern. Once the bees start whipping around like wasps, it’s time to turn around and leave. Come back later with a veil and gloves and a smoker if you got one. But I thought, “Nah, these bees —f%$#@!” Zap, right under the sleeve of my t-shirt. The little bugger got me good.

I’ve been told many times not to wear black around honey bees because, supposedly, honey bees have evolved to be more defensive around anything big and black. Most creatures in the natural world that are big and black (e.g., black bears) are a threat to honey bee colonies. When honey bees see something big and black coming their way, it’s usually better for them to sting now and ask questions later.

Big black bear detailed ursus americanus

I’ve heard how the bees will even sting the ankles of people wearing black socks, but I wear black boots every time I’m around my bees and I’ve never seen them go for the boots. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t take much stock in these particular campfire stories — until day. My single experience of wearing a black t-shirt and getting stung for the first time around some bees that aren’t normally defensive isn’t much of a data set. It can’t be used to arrive at any kind of scientific conclusion. But I’d rather not wait for science if it means I have to get stung a few more times in order to prove the black bear hypothesis. Getting stung once is enough. I’m a believer. I won’t wear anything black around my bees again.

August 08/14: For the sake of science, I wore black and then white around the same hive of bees. The bees came in for the sting while I was wearing black and ignored me while I was wearing white. Case closed. Closed enough, anyway.

Honey Bees Fanning (Video)

I’ve posted several photos and some videos of honey bees fanning over the years. Let’s add this cell phone video from yesterday to the list:

The bees clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got to create an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest.

Thick Combs of Honey (Slight Return)

I posted some photos a couple days ago of what is probably the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen in any of my hives. Here’s the video:


(Thanks to Jonathan Adams for getting behind the camera.)

It’s not the most instructive video, but I’ve relaxed my criteria for posting photos and videos on Mud Songs. If I think it could spark the imagination of anyone curious about honey bees or beekeeping, that’s good enough for me. If I can instruct at the same time, well, that’s a bonus. The 1:50 mark in the video, for instance, shows how the bees begin to build comb by festooning. My explanation in the video isn’t the most articulate. I’m so used to beekeeping alone in silence, I felt awkward talking. Festooning is not a well-defined phenomena anyway, so my bumbling explanation kind of fits.

Now here are a few things this situation has me wondering about…
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What is Cross Comb?

Ever pull out some frames to discover the bees have built comb perpendicular to the frames and every which way? I have. It’s called cross-comb and it’s a mess. Here’s my first look at it from late July:

Cross comb (July 23, 2013.)

Cross comb (July 23, 2013.)

Cross-comb is usually the result of a hive that isn’t level, specifically when it’s tilted, even a little bit, to the left or the right. Bees follow the pull of gravity to build comb straight down. That’s pretty much what they’re up to when you see them festooning:

Honeybee festooning. (August 21, 2010.)

Honey bees festooning. (August 21, 2010.)

The bees don’t care about the frames or foundation inside the frames. If the frames or foundation happen to be parallel to the Earth’s gravitational pull, then the bees will build straight comb that fits conveniently on the frame just that way we humans like it. If not, the frames — and the foundation in the frames — only get in the bees’ way and you end up with cross-comb.

Cross comb (July 23, 2013.)

Cross comb (July 23, 2013.)

That’s why the ideal positioning of a Langstroth hive is level from left to right — to prevent cross-comb — and slightly tilted up on the back so that any moisture that happens to collect inside the hive will pour out the front entrance and not pool inside the hive.

Bubble Level (Android app)ADDENDUM (April 05/14): I used to carry a carpenter’s bubble level with me whenever I set up a new hive (the hives can shift over winter as well, as I learned today), but these days I use a Bubble level app on my cell phone. (I happen to have an Android phone, but I’m sure similar apps are available for other types of smart phones or devices.) There are many free apps to choose from and, for me, I’d rather have an easy-to-use app already on my phone if it means I don’t have to carry around another piece of equipment when I’m tending to the bees.

Honey Bees Fanning

Honey bees have a tonne of behaviours that are fun to discover. One of the first things I noticed was the way they clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got, a behaviour that’s commonly known as fanning (not to be confused with scenting). The fanning creates an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest. I took a few more photos today.

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

Honey bees fanning. (May 26, 2013.)

See How to Attract Honey Bees with a Leaky Hose to view a video of honey bees fanning, or do a search for “fanning.”
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How to Attract Honey Bees with a Leaky Hose

Here’s a short video that documents some common honey bee behaviour: Drinking from a leaky garden hose and fanning around the hive entrance.

Forget about planting flowers to attract honey bees. If you want to see honey bees up close, take a leaky garden hose and let it leak over a hard surface like rocks or concrete, or a stinky surface like composted soil. The bees love it, especially in the spring.

For a little more info, see my Honey Bees Fanning post. It also seems this isn’t the first time I’ve documented the bees collecting water: Macro Photos of Bees Drinking; Stinkin’ Dirt Never Tasted So Good; Why Honey Bees Drink Dirty Water; Plastic Flavoured Water and, from Honey Bee Suite, Love That Dirty Water.

P.S.: Notice how fearless my cat is around the bees. He knows how to keep his distance.