Orienting Bees or Swarmy Bees?

My one and only hive that I might be able to steal honey from this year. Door #1: Orientation flights (after being stuck inside for a day and a half). Door #2: A swarm on the way.

I pick Door #1. I also pick Door #3 if the bees are making lots of honey behind that door.

Later that evening…

It was a hot day and the bees were sort of bearding at the bottom entrance. I’m not concerned about swarming because I checked this hive for signs of swarming about every two weeks for the past few months. I’d rather leave the bees alone, but I’d also rather not have to deal with swarms if I don’t have to. Anyhoo…

I also removed three frames of brood from the top deep about ten days ago and replaced them with empty drawn comb. I also pulled out a heavy frame of pollen from the bottom deep, one of several heavy frames that I found, and replaced it with a foundationless frame. And that’s why I’m not too concerned about this colony swarming any time soon, despite the fairly large number of bees floating around the front of the hive in the first video clip.

Removing the frames of brood reduced the number of bees in the hive, thus relieving congestion, giving the queen’s pheromones more room to flow around the hive and make everybody happy. Replacing the frames with empty drawn comb gave the queen room to lay, which is pretty much always a good thing. The foundationless frame in the bottom box gave the bees space to fill in, not just a blank frame of foundation, but actual empty space that they will be compelled to fill in to maintain the wonderful bee space that dictates the design of the best beehives all over the world. Building comb to fill in that space instead of building swarms cells — that’s what I want to see. Thus, I’m not concerned about swarming.

A night shot of some bees ventilating the bottom entrance. (August 08, 2016.)

A night shot of some bees ventilating the bottom entrance. (August 08, 2016.)

My plan is to leave this hive alone until the fall when I remove the honey supers. I may take a peek at some of the honey frames once in a while to see how they’re coming along, but the brood nest will be left untouched.

By the fall, the will have made two medium supers full of honey for me and will have enough honey in the brood chamber for themselves to stay alive all winter. That’s what I call good beekeeping… if it works.

Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Nuc

Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.

I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.

It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too.
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Orientation Flights

Here’s a video for brand new beekeepers who’ve seen orientation flights but didn’t know what they were looking at.

I usually notice orientation flights around 11:30am on hot summer days, but sometimes the heat doesn’t kick in until the afternoon — in the case of this video, 2:30 in the afternoon. Everything seems calm and normal and then within about five minutes the air in front of the hive fills with fuzzy young bees hovering and facing the direction of the hive. That’s your standard-issue orientation flight situation. Orientation flights can appear as massive, confused clouds of bees if the bees have been stuck inside the hive for a few days because of cold or wet weather. A swarm of bees, by the way, is about 10,000 time larger and it’s a whole other ballgame.

For more information on orientation flights than you’ll ever be able to process, I recommend reading the Arnia page on orientation flights.

P.S.: In the video I inaccurately refer to these as baby bees taking their first flights outside the hive even though I know it’s wrong. Orientation flights usually occur when the bees are about 20 days old — not babies — and have completed all their assigned duties inside the hive (cleaning, nursing and so on). In my mind, they’re still babies because they’re learning to fly, and it makes no difference to my beekeeping whether or not I think of them as baby bees or 20-day-old bees. But if you’re taking a test, you’ll get that question wrong if you call them baby bees.

Spring Orientation & Cleansing Flights

It went up to 11°C today. Is it safe to say winter is over yet? I don’t know.

Spring wake up call for Hive #3 (April 8, 2012.)

Spring wake up call for Hive #3 (April 8, 2012.)

The colony in the above photo was slow to wake up from winter. The foundationless hive that went into winter with a small cluster has been the most active in the past few weeks. That colony may have more Carniolan genes helping its population bounce back early. The slower-to-wake-up colony my have a greater Italian lineage, high on honey production but slow to build up in the spring. But who really knows? Either way, all four colonies seem to be doing well now. They went mad with orientation and cleansing flights today.
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A Busy Beehive (Video)

I checked out the bees while I was home for lunch today. The sun was shining and it was 19 degrees Celsius in the backyard. I’ve never seen so many bees outside Hive #1. I could smell the honey, or the pheromones from the bees, from a distance. I could hear them from a distance too. Here’s a quick video:


THE 480p HIGHER DEFINITION SETTING MAY PROVIDE SMOOTHER PLAYBACK.

I assume they’re just really healthy bees and not bees getting ready to swarm.

Bees Robbing From Each Other? (Video)

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

We started up our first two honey bee hives a little over a week ago, both from nuc boxes. Hive #1 had a Boardman feeder installed. When we checked the hives a week a later (just looking down at the frames, not pulling them out), it was clear the hive with the feeder had built the most comb in that week. So we decided to move the feeder to Hive #2. Some bees from Hive #1 went along for the ride, but we assumed they would fly back to their own hive. We also installed an improvised feeder for Hive #2 because we didn’t want to deprive them of a food source they’d been used to (a regular Boardman feeder has been ordered and is on the way).

We’ve noticed more bees hovering around the entrance of the hives from time to time since we switched up the feeders. They weren’t hovering like this before. I did some quick research, and apparently feeding the bees can set off a robbing spree. Bees from another hive will force their way in and steal honey. The bees being stolen from can eventually starve to death from a lack of honey. But it’s also possible the hovering bees are just young bees orientating themselves to the hive. I think that’s more likely the case since the nuc boxes came with at least one full frame of brood (eggs), and many of those eggs may have begun to hatch now. I hope that’s what it is. Here’s a low-rez video of what it looks like (I have a high-rez camera coming soon):
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