Enough Honey For a Year

The only honey I tasted before learning to become a beekeeper was the usual pasteurized junk sold in grocery stores. Now that I have access to raw honey made by honey bees that I know up close and personal, it’s a whole other world of appreciation. In my household of two, we consume about 4 litres of honey every year. Here’s what it looks like when I stick it in the freezer, with an extra jar thrown in because why not?

My personal stash of honey in the freezer. (Sept. 28, 2016.)

My personal stash of honey in the freezer. (Sept. 28, 2016.)

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Straining Honey

I extracted about 13 kg / 30 pounds or about 11 litres of honey from one of my hive’s today. Here’s a clip of the honey being strained:

Considering that this was a rebuilding year for me and honey was not a priority, 13 kg is more than enough to make me happy. I’ll easily have enough to keep myself in honey until this time next year. (Sorry, it’s not for sale. I’m giving away what I’m not keeping for myself and it’s all been accounted for already.)

One more time, but in slow motion!

When I kept my bees in Logy Bay and Portugal Cove, I used to get light honey in the spring and dark honey in the fall. This honey is not dark. Judging from what I’ve seen in bloom in my area of Flatrock, I would guess it’s made mostly from Fireweed and Clover nectar, both of which produce a light honey. It doesn’t have the creamy opaque appearance of Goldenrod honey, nor any of the darkness of Japanese Knotweed honey. I look forward to next year when, hopefully, most of my colonies will come into spring at full strength instead of slowly building up over the summer like they had to do this year.

I’ll probably post photos and more video of the extraction later this week.

Using an Escape Board to Separate Honey Bees from Their Honey

I plan (that is, I hope) to extract two medium supers full of honey this weekend. But first I need to remove the bees from the honey supers. I do that by placing an escape board beneath the honey supers. Some people call them bee escape boards, but it’s obvious that we’re talking about bees here, so I just call them escape boards. Here’s a video I recorded today that demonstrates how it works:

The bees pass down through a hole in the board (usually at night when they want to be closer to the warmth of the cluster), then through a maze covered by a mesh that leads to the brood chamber. The maze is so massively complicated that the bees are unable to find their way back through it. Within a few days most or all of the bees (in theory) will have “escaped” from the honey super so that humans can easily remove it without bothering anyone.

Drones, We Don’t Want You Here No More

I continue to notice signs of drones getting kicked out of their hives. Most recently I noticed drone pupae removed from the hive. Today I noticed this:

Drones removed the hive (Sept. 17, 2016.)

Drones removed the hive (Sept. 17, 2016.)

The drones are being pestered out of the hive which, in this case, means up through the inner cover hole.

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All’s Right With The World

I wrote this last week during an extended lunch break and decided not to post it because it’s long and rambling and doesn’t say much about anything. But so what? Here it comes…

Have you ever walked towards your beeyard, sight unseen, and heard the deep hum of a swarm in flight? I have. I’m still not at the point yet where I’m 100% comfortable with swarms. I will always say this because it’s true: The best beekeeping day of my life was the day I caught a swarm on a farm in the country where my bees couldn’t stress out any humans who would then pass on their stress to me. Humans ruin everything.

The sound of a swarm in the distance should be exciting and fun for me (as it should for everyone), but it’s not. I’ve never fully recovered from the stress my neighbours caused me when they freaked out over one my colonies swarming past their back deck when I lived in the city. Although I live in a much more rural environment now, I have one particular neighbour whose kid’s swing set is not so far away from my beeyard. I single out the swing set because I imagine if my bees ever swarm, I know they’ll damn well land on that swing set — and I don’t know how my neighbour will react to that.

So when I came home after lunch yesterday and heard that oh so familiar hum that made me think, “Swarm,” I wasn’t 100% comfortable as I walked towards my beeyard. Would I find bees filling the air like in some ridiculous scene from the Old Testament? My thoughts were, “No, I’d rather not see that today, if you don’t mind.”

And I didn’t. I saw this instead:

That Twitter-compressed video clip doesn’t capture the scene well. Play it back in full-screen mode to get a better sense of it. Bees filling the air everywhere. (Fireweed seeds floating about too.)
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Why Do Some Colonies Ignore the Bottom Entrance?

The answer, by the way, is I don’t know. (I will continue to update this post throughout the summer instead of writing follow-up posts. Updates will appear at the bottom. This post is likely to turn into a meandering monster.)

All of my honey bee colonies this year seem to ignore the bottom entrances to their hives. Here are some photos I just took of one of my colonies — my one and only colony that I think is in good shape — where the bees often fumble over each other trying get in through the top entrance.

Bees using the top entrance. And...

Bees using the top entrance. And…

...pretty much ignoring the bottom entrance.

…pretty much ignoring the bottom entrance.

You can see I even use a deep with an extra entrance hole to entice the bees to use a lower entrance. But nope. They pretty much ignore the hole too.

I’ve done a lot of reading and I’ve talked to several beekeepers and I honestly don’t know who or what to believe. I’m not too concerned about it. My guess is my usual guess about this type of thing: The bees will do whatever they need to do whenever they need to do it. They know what they’re doing — even if I don’t. And as long as they’re not preparing to swarm, I’m totally cool with it.

Nonetheless, does anyone reading this have any ideas?
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Location, Location, Location

This is just me wondering about something. It doesn’t have much to do with anything.

Two years ago today, I checked the honey super in one of my hives (in Logy Bay, Newfoundland) and found the thickest frames of honey I’ve ever seen.

Thick frames of honey coming in at about 3kg each --- about six pounds.  (July 22, 2014.)

Thick frames of honey coming in at about 3kg each — about six pounds. (July 22, 2014.)

The one hive I have this year that might make me some honey, as of last weekend, hasn’t collected a drop of nectar in its honey super. I know my colonies this year, still recovering from the attack of the shrews, were in hard shape to begin with, but I wonder if my new location (about a kilometre from the North Atlantic Ocean) is less suitable for honey bees.

A friend of mine, who got into beekeeping a few years ago (until one catastrophe after another put an end to it), kept his bees in an area that was surrounded by coniferous trees, a forest of spruce trees that don’t provide nectar for honey bees. Even if his bees hadn’t come to a sad end, I question if his bees would have had enough to forage on to stay alive. I’m wondering about mine now too. One third of my bees’ forage area is the North Atlantic Ocean. And it’s cold. I can often see a fog bank rising above the Labrador Current from my house. While I see considerably more forage for my bees than a endless forest of spruce trees, I can’t help but ask, is it enough?

I probably won’t know until next year when I have some fully established colonies again. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if my pessimistic suspicions are wrong.

B.O. Flavoured Honey from Queen Anne’s Lace

I see the weed commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace growing abundantly along the sides of roads and in country fields where I live, and I’ve always wondered if honey bees are attracted to its nectar.

Queen Anne's Lace (July 04, 2016.)

Queen Anne’s Lace (July 04, 2016.)

A little bit of online research tells me nope, they’re not too keen on it. I also read on a couple of beekeeping forums that when the bees do get desperate enough to collect nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot), the resulting honey takes on a distinct aroma of body odour.

I can’t confirm this from my own experience. Nevertheless, I’ll file this one under Stuff That’s Good To Know.

A Failing Queen and Hope for The Future

What follows is an example, from my own experience as a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper, of what’s involved in keeping bees and keeping them alive and well. This is nothing compared some things I’ve had to deal with before, but the point is that beekeeping takes time and effort and close attention. It’s not all about the honey (though the honey helps). So anyway, I says to Mabel, I says…

One of my little honey bee colonies is toast.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

The queen is failing. She’s been on the way out for a while, but now she’s fading fast, laying small, spotty patches of brood over three or four frames, the entire brood nest contained within half of a single brood box (a single deep). The cold weather we’ve had for the past two weeks (well below 10°C / 50°F) hasn’t helped. I did a quick inspection yesterday and found a few patches of capped brood abandoned in the bottom deep, abandoned probably because it got so cold the bees were forced to cluster up top.

Some abandoned brood. (June 07, 2016.)

I’ve never seen that before. Not good.

I reduced the hive to a single deep and put the abandoned brood frames in with the regular brood nest. I put on a jar feeder with honey. I don’t have high hopes.

Then there was one.

Then there was one.

It’s possible the queen doesn’t react well to cold temperatures, that she needs a good warm spell to get into a strong laying cycle. But I doubt it. Now that I’m feeding them, maybe the bees will create a supersedure queen. But I have my doubts about that too. If there’s no improvement by next weekend, I’ll probably remove the queen, if she’s still alive, and add whatever is left to one of my healthier colonies.
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Honey Trough

I added some crystallized honey to my hives, but the honey was still a bit too sticky to stay solid inside the jars. So I removed the jars and spread the honey around the inner cover like butter.


The bees seem to like it. More bees seem to be lapping up the honey spread around the inner cover hole than from the jar.

2016-06-05 11.11.22 honey trough

Considering the cold, cold weather that’s forecast for the next week or two, I expect I’ll be feeding my bees like this for a while.

UPDATE: The sun came out briefly this afternoon and quickly heated the dark green supers I had over the hives originally to make room for the jar feeders. The heat melted the honey and it dripped out of some of the hives. The next time I butter up the hives with honey, I’ll make sure it’s only on a cold, cloudy day.

THE NEXT DAY: I switched to pouring the partially crystallized honey into jar lids. Now that’s a honey trough. Not at all practical, but easy for me with the bees in my backyard.

Honey bees gathering around the ole watering hold. (June 06, 2016.)

Honey bees gathering around the ole watering hold. (June 06, 2016.)

By the way, I DO NOT recommend this as a method for feeding bees. I made it work in my cold climate. But sunshine or any kind of heat can melt the honey and make a mess.