Warmer November & Less Dead Bees

I was looking over some of the posts that I’ve made during the month of December as a reminder to myself of what to expect for the next month. I came across a post from last December where I describe noticing dead bees on the bottom boards of some of my hives.

The first scraping of dead bees from the bottom of the hive. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Scraping out a fairly large clump of dead bees around this time last year. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Then I went outside today in the rain to take a quick look at my beehives and could hardly see any dead bees on the bottom boards. So… what’s up with that? November 2016, this year, was much warmer than last November. Does that have anything to do with it?

The bees in most of my hives at this time last year, when it was colder, were clustered well below the top bars and there were a fair number of dead bees on the bottom boards.

This year, with warmer temperatures, the bees in most of the hives are clustered close to or above the top bars, not down below where they usually go, and there are hardly any dead bees on the bottom boards.

Perhaps the warmer weather has the bees staying near the top of the hive and eating more honey, staying warmer and not dying off as quickly in the cold. Perhaps just as many bees are dying off this year, but because they’re up top, they’re getting clogged between the frames in the bottom deeps.

I don’t know. But I’m noting it now for my records… and I’ll gladly entertain any theories. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m overlooking something obvious.

Feeding My Bees In The Wintertime With Sugar Bricks

These days I use sugar bricks to feed my bees in the winter and here’s a quick 2-minute video that demonstates how I do it.

This is a condensed version of a 4-part video series (not unlike the original Star Wars trilogy) that I posted last winter.
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Bees Not Eating Dry Sugar (Because I Didn’t Steal Their Honey)

It’s time for my traditional New Year’s Eve action-packed post about nothing. Stand back, because here it comes.

SHORT VERSION: The bees in only one of my five hives are eating the dry sugar I gave them a little over a month ago. The rest are still well below the top bars probably because I didn’t take any honey this year and I fed them massive amounts of sugar syrup before winter. At least I hope that’s the reason.

LONG VERSION: I dumped dry sugar into my five 3-deep Langstroth hives a month ago. The bees were so deep down in the hives, they barely noticed the sugar. Two weeks later I cleared a hole in the middle of the sugar (like I should have done from the start) and added pollen patties to two hives with small clusters. But even then, most of the bees didn’t seem too hungry for the sugar. Today only one of the five hives shows any sign of eating the sugar. Here it is:

Honey bees inside a 3-deep Langstroth hive eating dry sugar over newspaper that was added a month ago. (December 31, 2015, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

Honey bees inside a 3-deep Langstroth hive eating dry sugar over newspaper that was added a month ago. (December 31, 2015, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

The bees in all the other hives seem to be well below the sugar. Most of them came above the top bars (i.e., the top of the hive) after I cleared a hole in the sugar, but within a week they were back down below. What does it mean?

It doesn’t mean anything, but I don’t take it as a bad sign. I didn’t steal honey from any of my hives this year and I went through almost 100kg of sugar (220 pounds) to make syrup for them (building most of them up from a couple of measly frames of brood). The goal was to make sure the hives had as much sugar syrup and honey as the bees could pack into them before going into winter. And I think it worked. Most of the colonies aren’t eating the dry sugar because they don’t need it. They already have enough honey to stay alive — because I made sure they had as much as they could get before winter. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

It’s nice when things work out the way you planned them.

Happy new year.

FEBRUARY 14, 2016: This has been my first winter in three years where I’ve been able to monitor my bees on a daily basis. I’m learning a lot. I feel like a first-year beekeeper again. I’ve noticed the bees in all the hives but one were clustered well below the top bars. On warms days, though, they rise to the top of their hives. When the weather turns cold again, they go back down. The bees in one hive have yet to rise above the top bars. They’re clustered so low, I can’t even see them through the top bars. I assume they have an abundance of sugar or honey frames.

Honey Bees Discard Dry Sugar Sometimes (UPDATED)

The tricky bit with feeding honey bees dry sugar in the winter is that they will sometimes discard it from the hive like they would with any other kind of debris.

Discard dry sugar. (Dec. 19, 2015.)

Discarded dry sugar? Maybe. Maybe not. (Dec. 19, 2015.)

It can take up to week for dry sugar to harden from naturally occurring moisture inside the hive after it’s been added. If it’s warm enough for the bees to move around during that week, there’s a good chance they’ll start hauling the sugar out of the hive, or at least drop it down to the bottom of the hive. I’ve seen it many times. It’s an extra little mess to clean out of the hives in the spring, but that’s fine with me. I’d rather deal with that than starved out bees.

Something similar to a no-cook candy board would probably prevent this because the sugar is a semi-solid block that isn’t going anywhere. Spraying down the newspaper and the sugar while adding the dry sugar might help harden the sugar faster too. Not that adding moisture to a hive is usually a good thing, but I use moisture quilts that quickly wick away any excess moisture, so it’s not much of a concern for me.

DECEMBER 20, 2015 (UPDATE): I think I jumped the gun in writing this post. I still suspect the bees will clear out the dry sugar like they would with any debris. But the photo I posted may not be evidence of that. Let’s clarify this situation…
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Dry Sugar With a Hole In It

I’ve been feeding my bees in the winter for a while now by pouring dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars. Some people refer to this style of feeding as the Mountain Camp Method. I like it because it’s the quickest and easiest method for feeding bees in my particular winter climate.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

Bees eating dry sugar via the Mountain Camp Method.

Although I’ve never had any problems with it, there is some room for improvement. Some people only put newspaper over the back two-thirds of the top bars so that the front is left open for better airflow. That’s an excellent tweak to the method and it works. There’s no urgent need to change it. However, in my experience, the cluster usually breaks through the top bars in the middle and spreads out from there. Most of the moisture — or humid air from the bees’ respiration — flows up from the middle as well. My little tweak is to create a hole in the middle of the sugar for better ventilation and to give the bees easier access to the sugar.

Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. These bees have about 40kg of honey stores. The sugar is a precaution. (Dec. 12, 2015.)


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A Mouse in the Hive or No Honey Left in the Hive?

One of my six colonies either has a mouse in the hive that’s scaring all the bees to the very top of the hive, or the colony is completely starved for honey. Either way it seems like most of the bees (and they’re grumpy) are clustered above the top bars and living entirely off dry sugar I added about a month ago. The bees are so crowded above the top bars, they’re constantly walking in and out around the top entrance, as can be seen in this photo I took during my lunch break today:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees

I also noticed many dead bees in the snow in front of the hive:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees in Snow

Not that dead bees in the snow are unusual, but none of the other hives have many dead bees nearby, hardly any. This does not bode well.
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A Sudden Dying Off of Winter Bees

I’m not sure if it has something to do with today’s date (the winter solstice), a recent snowfall or just business as usual, but a pile of dead bees suddenly appeared at the bottom entrance of our foundationless hive today. I wouldn’t have noticed them if we were using a solid mouse-proof entrance reducer instead of the open mouse-proofing mesh. The dead bees would have stayed piled up inside the hive all winter.

I could still see the cluster poking up through the middle of the top bars in the upper brood chamber. All three of the conventional hives look the same as they did last week, clustering high in the top brood chamber and hardly any dead bees on the bottom board.

I wonder what it all means. Probably nothing.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/11): I just took a closer look at the dead bees. About 90% of them are drones. The foundationless hive always had a large number of drones and not all of them were booted outside in the fall. This must be the last of them.

Continued in Dead Bees and High & Low Clusters.

mid-December Bees

(It’s a slow news day here at Mud Songs.) I know everyone has been on edge waiting for the results of the Cloudy Honey taste test. Does clarifying a jar of cloudy honey in a bowl of hot water destroy the floral flavours and aromas? Does it make the honey taste like grocery store goo? I don’t know. I haven’t done the taste test yet. But stay glued to your computer. We hope to have the results in this weekend. In the meantime, I’ll answer another question I’m sure has been on everyone’s mind: “Phillip, what are your bees up to these days?” I don’t know. But let’s find out… Okay, I just got back from taking a few pictures of the bees. Check it out:

Top entrance from a first-year hive (Dec. 16/11).

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