September 27th, 2012

I had a foundationless deep frame full of honey put aside in our shed to give to one of our colonies before winter, nicely sealed in plastic so it would keep. Then some wasps got in the shed, found a hole in the plastic and obliterated the frame of honey. Check it out:

Nothing left but dry crumbly pieces of comb.

May 15th, 2012

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON MAY 21, 2012.

NOTE: This post doesn’t provide much information about queenless hives (or queenless colonies). It’s an inquiry into a specific hive that I suspected was queenless. That’s all.

Well, I think we may have our first queenless hive. Or something.

I checked our one foundationless Langstroth hive today for the first time this year and saw no sign of the queen. No worker brood of any kind. Just a lot of empty cells and plenty of honey on the sides. I saw about twenty or thirty open drone brood about to be capped and some older capped drone cells — possibly from a laying worker — but not much else. No fresh day-old eggs. No sealed worker brood. Nothing. Here’s a quick video of some of the broodless frames I found during the inspection:


Read on . . . »

May 12th, 2012

Today, just for fun, I stuck the camera underneath our foundationless hive while it temporarily had only a screened bottom board. We’re concerned about our foundationless hive because we don’t see nearly as many bees coming and going from it as we do from our other three hives. Perhaps the two-year-old queen is failing. Perhaps it’s normal behaviour for a foundationless hive. Whatever the case may be, our foundationless hive will be the first hive we inspect once we have a good day for it. Here’s what the camera saw (it’s a 51-second video):

May 11th, 2012

It’s 2pm and 20°C (70°F) in our backyard as I write this. A cool breeze but sunny. Three of our four hives are active and looking good. Hey, let’s go take a look:

Hives 3 and 4 were started from nucs last year and are doing well. Hive #1 is one of our original hives from 2010. It’s our most fully established hive. It was overflowing with so many bees that we had to add a second brood box to it a couple days ago. It shows no signs of slowing down.

Hive #2 — our foundationless hive — has also been around since 2010 and it still has its original queen. Some beekeepers say queens hit their stride when they’re two years old. Others say to requeen every year no matter what because young queens lay better and have the strongest pheromones (less chance of swarming). The reduced activity in the foundationless hive could mean the queen is failing: Her pheromones could be weak; she may not be laying well. It could mean a lot of things. I won’t know until I can do a full inspection, which probably won’t be until next week. I wonder what I’ll find…? Probably nothing.

It’s 21.5°C. It probably won’t be this warm again until July.
Read on . . . »

April 22nd, 2012

THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON APRIL 02, 2014.

We reversed the brood chambers in Hive #2 today (our one foundationless hive). I was convinced the foundationless colony was only living in the top brood chamber and was running low on honey. But when we pulled the top box off, we saw just as many bees in the bottom box, at least on the top bars. I’m always concerned that reversing the boxes will split up the brood nest and kill off some baby bees, but in our urban environment, swarm prevention is always a top priority, even if it means chilling some baby bees to death. The photo on the right shows the hive after we reversed the boxes. (The third deep super on top is sheltering a jar feeder.) Reversing the boxes took maybe 10 minutes. It was a smooth operation, no smoke involved, and the bees were well behaved the whole time. Here’s how it went down:

I removed the top cover and inner cover. I could see bees covering at least 7 out of 10 frames. I couldn’t tell how much honey was left in the frames, but when I lifted the box off and put it aside, it was heavy. That’s when I noticed the bottom box full of bees too. I couldn’t tell if the brood nest was down in the bottom box, but when I lifted the box, it felt much lighter than the top box. The bottom board looked like this — some dead winter bees, pieces of old pollen patties and dried up sugar:

I put the bottom aside and replaced it with a clean bottom board. I could have just scraped off the mess, but I wanted to install our homemade combo bottom board. I really love the design of that thing. It’s so simple and cheap and I think it’ll work perfectly. I may paint the corrugated plastic floor with some wax so the bees can get a better grip on it, though at the moment, the bees in that hive hardly use the bottom entrance anyway.

We the put the boxes (or brood chambers or deep supers, whatever you want to call them) back on the bottom board but in the reverse order. The top box is on the bottom and bottom box is on the top. The lighter (and probably emptier) box on top helps prevent swarming as the brood nest expands upwards. It was too windy to do a full inspection. We didn’t pull a single frame. But maybe that’s a good thing.

ADDENDUM (April 02/14): Here’s a Gmail reminder that arrives in my Inbox on April 2nd every year: “Reverse the brood boxes as soon as the CROCUSES have bloomed or whenever the bees are bringing in pollen at a steady pace . This should happen by mid-April. DO NOT wait for the dandelions in May. By then the population in the hives could be through the roof and drone comb will fill the spaces between the boxes. Thus the frames in the bottom box — that are glued to the frames in the top box with drone comb — will come up when the top box is lifted. It’s a horrible disgusting mess when all that drone comb is split apart. Reverse the boxes before it gets like that. IF the between-the-boxes drone comb can’t be prevented, carefully and slowly twist the top box — to break apart the drone comb — before lifting it off. The other trick is to reverse the boxes (or deeps) by transferring the frames in the top box to a new bottom box right next to the hive and so on. That way you can reverse the boxes (which may or may not help prevent swarming), re-arrange frames if necessary, and get a full inspection in while you’re at it.”

March 20th, 2012

I recently read Beekeeping For All (8mb PDF), by Abbé Warré. He’s the guy who designed the “People’s Hive,” also known as the Warré hive. To condense what I said in a previous post, it’s a top bar and therefore foundationless hive with small, square shaped hive boxes, no top entrance and a quilt box on top to absorb moisture. Boxes are added to the bottom of the hive, not the top — the bees build comb downwards as they would in nature. Honey is harvested from back-filled brood comb at the top of the hive. Warré called it the People’s Hive because it’s cheap and easy to build and maintain. The beekeeper need only add boxes to the bottom to prevent swarming, which is done without opening the hive or disturbing the brood nest. The Warré hive, perhaps more than any other hive, emulates the conditions of a natural honey bee hive.

Photo by David Heaf from warre.biobees.com
(used with permission).

From what I can tell, the hive is designed to minimize interference from the beekeeper. The only time it’s opened is when honey boxes are removed from the top (at most, twice a year). That fact, along with the absence of a top entrance, helps concentrate the queen’s pheromones throughout the hive, which supposedly results in calmer bees. The regular rotating out of old comb from the top also means the brood are more likely to be healthy because they’re always raised in new, clean, natural sized comb.

Another key feature is the small square sided hive boxes. The height of each box is slightly less than a typical Langstroth, but the sides are each 30cm long (about 12 inches). The square shape allows for more even heat distribution and requires less work from the bees. Warré also claims that bees in a smaller, more natural sized brood chamber consume less honey over winter and are therefore less likely to starve before spring.

I’m not yet convinced that any kind of foundationless hive will do well in the exceptionally wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’ve only been at this for, what, 611 days, so I still have more than a lot to learn. But some aspects of the Warré design, such as the small brood nest area, seem to make more sense than the conventional Langstroth design, and I’m tempted to integrate them into some of my own hives.

I don’t agree with all of Warré’s claims. In some cases that’s because I don’t have the experience to know what’s what either way. In other cases I can confidently disagree because I know his observations are based on his local climate in France that has no correlation to my local climate where the bees do different things at different times of the year. Nevertheless, I think he came up with a thoughtful design and method that might appeal to beekeepers who aren’t so intent on the consistent hive manipulation that’s synonymous with many beekeeping practices today.

Note: This is an unusually long post, probably not much interest to general readers. I promise I won’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis. But I’ve been out of commission with a weird, rotten flu and I don’t have anything better to do. So without further adieu, here are some notes I wrote while I read the book on my Kindle:
Read on . . . »

Frustrations

My beekeeping ambitions are tamed mainly by the fact that I don’t have convenient access to land. If I had access to more land, even just a little bit of land, I’d be tempted to expand from four hives to twenty this year instead of eight, and then build them up even further the year after that. I’d study up more on honey bee behaviour, queen rearing, hive management and honey production and I’d construct other types of hives besides Langstroths. I’d invest considerably more time and money into beekeeping and understanding honey bees. I love hanging with the bees.

I even have a business plan worked out. But I can’t entertain anything like that at the moment because it would be an exercise in frustration. I don’t want to think about it until I know I can make it happen. It’s bad enough that we have a huge field on our property behind our shed…
Read on . . . »

February 25th, 2012

We have four Langstroth hives in our backyard. Each hive consists of two deep supers (or boxes). Our plan is to expand up to a maximum of eight hives this year by splitting the hives we already have. We’re hoping the population of all four hives will explode to fill three deeps per hive by sometime in June, and if that happens, I think we might be able to reach our goal of eight hives and still get a half decent honey harvest from at least two of the hives. We’d be happy with that.

It should go without saying that our plan is likely to have little resemblance to what actually happens. The bees will not always do what we want them to do, and we’ll just have to deal with it. But beyond the basic notion of expanding up to eight hives, we’re not planning to do anything too complicated because things will get complicated enough on their own.
Read on . . . »

February 15th, 2012

It was warm enough today (1°C / 34°F) to take a peek inside our four hives and add some pollen patties. I didn’t have to top up the dry sugar that was added 46 days ago. The bees in the foundationless hive are low on honey, as I suspected, and have eaten through the most sugar, but they have enough to keep them going for a while. The bees in the conventional hives have eaten some of their sugar, but I still think they would have been fine without it. I could see several frames full of honey in each of the hives. The bees in the conventional hives were clustering above the top bars by the end of December, but a lack of honey doesn’t seem to be the reason. Okay, then, here’s how it played out in video form. First, a short version in HD that cuts to the chase.


Read on . . . »

February 13th, 2012

File this one under “Another Slow News Day.”

What do rotting honey bee corpses look like in the middle of February after being buried in snow for a couple months? This:

We had a heavy rain storm over the weekend that melted and washed away most of the snow and revealed the bottom entrances of the hives that have been buried for much of the new year. I knew I’d see more dead bees. The old-timers seem to fly outside the hive and die. Several hundred of them are scattered around the yard, little black dots everywhere on the crusty snow. Sometimes the dead are removed from the hive, but I get the impression corpse-removal becomes a lower priority in the dead of winter when it’s hard enough just to stay alive. The bottom board of our one foundationless hive is nearly blocked with dead bees. Dead bees are accumulating in the other three hives, too, though not as bad.
Read on . . . »

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