For Better or For Worse, Newfoundland Now Imports Honey Bees

I don’t want to write a Masters thesis on this topic. I don’t have time to fill in all the details. I’ll assume anyone interested has already done their homework or is willing to check some basic resources including my original post about honey bees being imported into Newfoundland; all the articles and interviews I link to in my original post and in the comments section; the forum page on the NLBKA’s website (for members of the association); a local beekeeper’s endorsement of the importation policy; the NL Bee Company’s word of caution about the importation policy; plus this PDF file describing endemic honey bee diseases and pests in Western Australia. It should be noted that the Australian government provides a disease-free certificate with the honey bees they export.

A quick summary of the situation: The island of Newfoundland has the healthiest honey bees on the planet that have never been exposed to Varroa and most of the other nasty pests and diseases that are destroying honey bee colonies all over the world. It’s fair to say that most beekeepers on the island want to keep it that way by not importing potentially diseased honey bees. A high demand for honey bees from various business operators on the island has left some of them feeling frustrated because there aren’t enough local bees being produced to meet their demand. The low supply of bees on the island has always been a source of frustration for hobbyists and business operators alike. It takes four or fives years of learning the craft to carefully build up a beeyard of substantial size. While most beekeepers in Newfoundland accept this as the price that’s paid for maintaining a disease-free population of honey bees that is unique to the world, a very small minority don’t. That minority imported several dozen packages of honey bees from Western Australia onto the island in April 2016. While the government of Australia may certify that their bees carry no pathogens, a certificate is not a guarantee and their screening process is not infallible. Even more disconcerting is the quarantine procedure for the bees once they arrive in Newfoundland. It appears to be a quarantine in name only. So as a conclusion to my original post, here’s what I have to stay about the whole stinking mess…

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Ants Around Beehives, a temporary pest?

I noticed ants all over my beehives starting around mid-May. I used a cinnamon barrier to keep them out of my hives, though I’m not sure how well it worked. I still see a few ants here and there, but overall they don’t seem to be as thick. In fact, I hardly ever see them anymore.

Close up of a formica ant, a red ant that bits and shoots formic acid from its. It's not the kind of ant that I have around my hives, but it's the only photo of an ant that I have on record, so there you go, an ant.

Close up of two formica ants, red ants that bite and shoot formic acid from their butts. They’re not the kind of ants I have around my hives, but this is the only photo of ants that I have on record, so there you go, some ants.

Perhaps the cold weather has them hiding underground (we’ve had frost warnings for the past few nights), but I think I noticed this last year too. The ants were bad for a while (black ants, not red ants) and then they more or less disappeared.

I’ll keep a note of this for next year and see if it holds true, that the ants show up sometime in May and are gone by July, and are never really a major pest.

AUGUST 04, 2016: My beeyard is surrounded by huge ant colonies (blank ants, not red ants), and they’re not an issue with my bees. Like I said, the ants seemed to cover most of my hives in May but were gone, for the most part, by July. I still see them walking around, picking up pieces of comb or pollen and other debris, but only a small handful here and there. Nothing epidemic. Other than putting out some cinnamon, which didn’t create an unbroken barrier, I didn’t do anything to get rid of the ants. No poison or traps or any of that. It’s probably fair to say I’ve never had a major ant problem. If I did, I’d probably build hive stands with oil motes or sticky tape around the legs. It would take a hell of an ant problem to motivate me to go that far, though.

What Makes Friendly Springtime Honey Bees Turn Mean?

My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.

Q1402, back to being mean. (June 10, 2016.)

Defensive bees just beginning to pour out of a hive. (June 10, 2016.)

Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up):
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The Importation of Honey Bees Into Newfoundland Should Not Be Allowed

Someone asked me what I think of a recent decision to allow the importation of honey bees from Western Australia into Newfoundland. I think it’s a bad idea and it should be stopped. Here’s my full response:

As for the importation of honey bees into Newfoundland from Western Australia, if I’d had a vote on the matter, I would have voted against it. I would have encouraged the gradual build up of colonies through the use of the disease-free honey bees already present on the island. But I suspect the opinions of people motivated by large-scale commercial interests will speak louder than my view on the matter.

Beekeeping in Newfoundland now has the appeal of an untapped resource for people with the means to exploit it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

Regardless of the supposed safeguards, now that importation is being allowed, it seems inevitable that some diseased bees will slip through and make it to Newfoundland. It only takes one egg-laying varroa destructor mite to destroy decades of beekeeping on the island. Safeguards are often overlooked when there’s quick money to be made.

    ADDENDUM: Varroa mites haven’t been found in Western Australian honey bees yet, although that can’t be said about the Acarapis externus and Acarapis dorsalis mites which are somewhat harmless compared to Varroa. I nevertheless err on the side of caution and ask why not just leave all the mites in Australia?

I say don’t rush into it. Take it slow and build up Newfoundland honey bee colonies in a sustainable and guaranteed safe manner by using local honey bees that are free of disease.
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A Blockade of Cinnamon

I noticed ants crawling all over and inside two of my hives today, so I surrounded the hives with cinnamon.

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

I’ve read many times that cinnamon repels ants, though I’ve never seen it myself. I sprinkled some cinnamon around one of my hives a year or two ago, but then it rained, so I don’t know if it works. Whether it works or not, I’m not too concerned about the ants. I think it would take a biblical amount of ants to do significant damage to a hive full of bees. We’ll see.

Wondering When to Remove Shrew-Proofing Mesh

I used 6mm mesh (quarter-inch mesh) on my hives this winter for the first time because I lost most of my colonies last winter when shrews managed to squeeze through the half-inch mesh I kept on the bottom entrances. I’m not sure if the shrews got into the hives through the top entrances, but to be safe this winter, I covered both the top and bottom entrances with 6mm mesh. Now I’m wondering when I should remove the mesh, at least from the top entrances.

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)

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Headless Honey Bees in the Snow

I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

“Ah man, what the hell is this?” was my first reaction. It was a natural reaction considering the last time I saw bee body parts was inside one of my hives last February — when shrews preyed on most of my bees until they were dead.

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. (Feb. 22/15.)

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)

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First Sign of Shrews in a Hive

I had eight honey bee colonies going into winter last year and all but two of them were destroyed by shrews. The shrews squeezed through the half-inch mesh I’d been using since 2010 to keep mice out. But no one ever told me about shrews. The little buggers easily squeeze through half-inch mesh. They slip inside and pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster. They eat the bee’s innards, toss away the bits of legs and other desiccated body parts, then climb towards the cluster for more… until they eat approximately 125% of their body weight in bees every day, gradually reducing the size of the cluster until the colony is dead.

That’s how I lost six colonies last year. With only one mated queen and no extra brood, I performed a miracle and managed to expand my remaining two colonies into five colonies last summer. They may not be the strongest colonies I’ve ever seen, but they’re hanging in there (so far). All of my hives have quarter-inch mesh covering every entrance now. Shrews will never get anywhere near my bees again.

Looking back on my notes from last year, along with photos and videos I shot and the memory of the experience burnt in my brain, the first sign of a shrew inside one of my hives seems obvious. It’s in this photo from January 5th, 2015:

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Attaching Mesh With Thumb Tacks (Instead of Staples)

I removed the shrew-proofing mesh from my hives yesterday so I could clear out the dead bees that have accumulated so far this winter. I reattached the mesh afterwards with the use of a staple gun that produces a loud bang that vibrates through the hive and riles up the bees. But this comment changed everything:

“Would it be possible to secure it [the mesh] with drawing pins rather than staples?”

It’s absolutely possible. I did it today, just five minutes ago.

One of three thumb tacks used to attach shrew-proofing mesh to hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

One of three thumb tacks used to attach shrew-proofing mesh to a hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

The thumbs tacks / drawing pins / push pins work just as well as staples as far as I can tell. That mesh isn’t going anywhere.

Three green thumb tacks (instead of staples) used to attach mesh over bottom entrance. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

Three green thumb tacks (instead of staples) used to attach mesh over bottom entrance. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

Now I can easily remove the mesh, clean out the dead bees and reattach the mesh without bothering the bees. I thought I might need to find a different method for keeping the shrews out of my hive for next year. Not anymore. The mesh attached with thumb tacks instead of staples works perfectly. At least that’s my story for now.

Thanks for the tip, Emily.