THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON APRIL 05, 2014.

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.
Read on . . . »

November 25th, 2013

THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I used to add dry sugar to my hives in January or February following what some call The Mountain Camp Method, but this year I decided to add sugar around the same time I wrapped my hives, in late November. Why not? I have several reasons for adding the sugar early — the main reason is I don’t want to see another colony starve to death — but ultimately it doesn’t hurt to put the sugar on early and it saves me the trouble of having to do it in the middle of winter with snow all around. So yeah, why not? Here’s a video that shows how I did it.

This is probably the last time I’ll post a video about the Mountain Camp Method. There’s not much else to see.

I also mention in the video (at the 58sec mark) how one of my hives was full of exceptionally nasty bees until I moved the colony far away from my other colonies and just like that they settled down to become the nicest bunch of bees around. This is just speculation, but for now on whenever I come across an especially defensive colony, I’ll try moving it way off by itself, far from any other colonies, before I resort to requeening.

ADDENDUM (Jan. 16/14): It’s come to my attention that covering the entire top bars with sugar isn’t a good idea because then you can’t see down into the frames to see how the bees are doing. I knew that last year but forgot about it this year. So don’t do what I did. Cover only the back two-thirds or so of the top bars.

October 1st, 2013

Cutting to the chase: A frame feeder works just as well as a hive top feeder for anyone with easy access to their hives, especially with a modified frame feeder.

I created two nucs for a friend earlier this summer. He used a frame feeder to feed the bees sugar syrup all summer and now the bees in each hive have filled all the frames — minus two frames taken up by the frame feeder.

Question: How does he get the bees to work the final two frames with the frame feeder in the way? Answer: Leave the frame feeder in and just keep swapping out frames until the bees stop taking down syrup. Then remove the frame feeder and replace it with capped honey/syrup. Here’s the step-by-step answer:

• Remove a frame of capped syrup/honey and replace it with an empty frame.

• Keep the feeder where it is and let the bees go to work on the empty frame.

• When the new frame is full, pull another frame of syrup/honey and repeat the process until the bees stop taking down syrup.

• Make sure the feeder never goes empty.

If he’s lucky, he’ll have three or four extra frames of capped syrup/honey put aside at the end of it all.

• Remove the frame feeder and replace it with two frames of syrup/honey. Done.

Keep any extra frames of syrup-honey for emergency or spring feeding.

The fine print: Place empty frames between fully drawn frames. Shift frames around to make this happen if necessary. Pull two frames at a time if the bees are working fast and furious. You might as well insulate and wrap your hives for winter after this, because other than adding a mouse-proofing mesh, what else is there to do? Cancel that. You might want to add dry sugar before winter kicks in.

If you don’t own or don’t want to bother with a hive top feeder, you could feed your bees like this in the fall to top them up before the winter. You’d start by removing two frames of honey to make room for the frame feeder. Then you’d have to put them back once the bees were done taking down syrup. I haven’t tried it, but yeah… that could work.

Frame feeders aren’t practical for people with a large number of hives because they may need to be refilled more than once a week at the height of summer. But they’re perfect for new beekeepers because it gives them an excuse to look inside the hives and see what’s going on without disturbing the bees too much.

P.S.: The above method of topping up a hive or building up a nuc with a frame feeder may seem obvious. But the obvious is easily overlooked. How often have you heard a beekeeper say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (I wrote this post because I didn’t think of it until someone suggested it to me.)

I had more jars of crystallized honey than I could eat or give away, so I gave it to the bees and they loved it.

They cleaned out every piece of honey from the jars. I eventually surrounded the inner cover hole with five or six jars of crystallized honey all at once and it worked perfectly as a spring feeding.

I have an idea to make patties from crystallized honey instead of using sugar. I’ll talk about that later.

AN UPDATE WAS ADDED TO THE END OF THIS POST ON JUNE 24, 2013.

I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live a in relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged next door neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?

Upper half of the large water melon sized swarm I caught last summer.

Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed:
Read on . . . »

March 29th, 2013

One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos and Why My Honey Bees Died for more details.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.

Dead cluster on a frame near the brood nest. (March 10, 2013.)

But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had.
Read on . . . »

One of my honey bee colonies starved to death over the winter and I suspect about half of the six colonies still alive are living entirely off the raw sugar I’ve been feeding them since February. There are many reason for this. I gave the colonies some of their own honey but didn’t top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. Some of the colonies were weakened last spring because they swarmed. One colony had a failing queen for most of the year. Another colony was a caught swarm with a virgin queen that didn’t begin laying well until mid-July. Another two colonies were started up from splits (not much different then starting from mid-season nucs). All of the above can significantly reduce a colony’s ability to produce honey, especially considering the short summers in Newfoundland. New policy: Don’t harvest honey from any colony that’s been potentially weakened (from swarming, splitting, etc.). The bees need all the honey they can get. New sub-policy: I’d rather not feed the bees sugar if I can help it, but for now on if I have any doubts, I’ll top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. It’s better than dealing with dead or starving bees in the middle of the winter. Here’s a photo of some bees today that have eaten through most of the sugar I gave them since February:

You can see I added two pollen patties but the sugar is dangerously low. I dumped in more sugar over the pollen patties a few minutes after I took the photo. I’ll have to keep a close eye on all the colonies now, at least until the May dandelions bloom and they can start bringing in nectar and pollen on their own.
Read on . . . »

February 6th, 2013

A BRIEF POSTSCRIPT WAS ADDED ON FEB. 08/13.

The fount of beekeeping wisdom that is Mud Songs will dry up someday. I give it another two years, tops. I’m already running out of original material. Exhibit A: Here’s a long video of my visit last weekend to the six hives we have on a farm about 30 minutes from our house in the city. It’s more or less a repeat of my Mountain Camp video.

Here’s a break-down of what the video has to offer:
Read on . . . »

February 4th, 2013

It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.

I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of our hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes.
Read on . . . »

November 5th, 2012

This is probably the closest video shot I’ve managed to get of the bees from inside the hive. (It zooms in and tracks along the comb around the 44-second mark.)

It’s from inside a honey super, not the hive per se. I gave most of the colonies between a half and a full medium honey super full of scraped and uncapped honey about a month ago. I’ll probably do it for now instead of topping them up with sugar syrup before winter. The honey comb is pretty much bone dry by now, but maybe the bees are hanging up around the comb because it’s been so warm that they don’t need to maintain a full cluster in the brood chamber.

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