Why I Have Pollen in My Honey Super

I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.

One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.)

One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.) Click the image for a better view.

The last time I found pollen in the honey super was two summers ago and it happened with what I used to call my nasty hive, a hive packed with the most defensive, meanest bees in Newfoundland. Everything about that hive was a headache, so I just assumed pollen in the honey super was a symptom of mentally deranged bees. That colony eventually died and I was more than happy to see it go. So when I found the frames of pollen today, I thought, “What the hell?”

Medium frame in "honey super" full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)

Medium frame in “honey super” full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)

At first I thought, “Okay, I’ve got another crazy colony on my hands.” Which seems to fit because the bees in this colony are, unfortunately, related to Old Nasty. Their queen mated with drones from the nasty hive. But that’s just speculation, me making up some stuff that sounds like it could be true but probably isn’t when you get right down to it.

So I did a little more poking around the oracle we call the Internet and asked a few beekeeping friends of mine if they’ve seen this before. And they have. After shooting some emails back and forth and thinking it over, I’ve come to the following explanation:

The bees are filling the honey super with pollen because they don’t have enough brood to eat up all the pollen that’s coming in.
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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Alder Bush

I noticed my bees collecting a light-coloured pollen from a flowering tree today that I’ve never noticed before. Here’s a cellphone shot:

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland, on May 25, 2016.

The flowers are not juicy and wet like fruit flowers full of nectar. They’re dry and crumbly and the pollen easily floats away like dust with the slightest disturbance, very much like Sorrel pollen.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.


Anyone who lives in Newfoundland has probably seen this tree many times growing in the ditches by the side of the road. But I don’t know what it is.
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Beekeeping Workshop: A Full Hive Inspection

The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I was ready put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, longer than my usual videos, because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.


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First Dandelion of 2016

My bees have been bringing in yellow pollen (when it’s not freezing cold and snowing like it was yesterday) for the past few weeks now. I don’t think they’ve been getting it from dandelions, but I don’t know one way or another. Today is the first time I saw a honey bee on a dandelion. I like to post this kind of info for my own records.

First honey bee on a dandelion I've seen this year. (May 14, 2016, Flatrock, NL.)

First honey bee on a dandelion I’ve seen this year. (May 14, 2016, Flatrock, NL.)

It has not been a warm spring so far.

First Pollen of 2016

I post this for my own records. I saw some of my bees with a sprinkle of yellow pollen on their legs yesterday and today I managed to snap off this blurry photo of a honey bee with what I’d call a good load of pollen.

First pollen of the year in Flatrock, Newfoundland, and it's yellow. (April 17, 2016.)

First pollen of the year in Flatrock, Newfoundland, and it’s yellow. (April 17, 2016.)

It seems too early for dandelions or any other naturally yellow flower, so I’m guessing someone has some crocuses planted nearby. Good enough. Spring in Newfoundland hasn’t quite sprung yet, but we’re getting there.

First pollen on the year. Bee resting on old sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)

First pollen on the year. Bee resting on old sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)

The pollen could also bee from coltsfoot, a.k.a. Tussilago, though I haven’t seen any around. It could pollen from pussy willows too. I’ll have to look around when I have a chance.

APRIL 24, 2016: A week later the bees were bringing in more of the same pollen.

Seeing how there was snow on the ground, my guess is the pollen had to come from a bush or tree, not a ground level plant like crocuses.

Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage

Honey bees in Newfoundland, or at least where I live on the eastern part of the island, aren’t likely to see any pollen until April when crocuses begin to poke through the soil.

Honey bee on crocus  (April, 13, 2011).

Honey bee on crocus (April, 13, 2011).


And crocuses aren’t even a natural source of pollen. They’re popular in some suburban neighbourhoods, but most honey bees elsewhere won’t find natural pollen until May when the dandelions come into bloom.

Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).

Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).


I say this because I’ve casually documented every honey bee on a flower I’ve seen in Newfoundland since I started beekeeping in 2010. So far I’ve documented over 20 flowers that qualify in my mind as Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage. My list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides me with a general idea of what to expect throughout the year.
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When, Why and How I Give My Bees Pollen Patties

Someone asked me when, why and how I feed my bees pollen patties. Here’s a photo from one of my first posts about the topic, Adding Pollen Patties. The colony pictured below, by the way, is starving. Usually the way it works is the more winter bees above the top bars, the less honey there is in the hive (usually, not always).

Adding a pollen patty to a very hungry colony. (February, 2011.)

Adding a pollen patty to a very hungry colony. (February, 2011.)

I’ve written about pollen patties a bunch of times, so I’m likely to repeat myself here. Do a search of “patties” in my little search engine box up at the top for more detailed information with videos and photos and so on.
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Quarter-Inch Mesh Doesn’t Knock Off Pollen

I was surprised to see some of my bees bringing in pollen today.

Honey bee bring in pollen on October 25th, 2015 in Flatrock, Newfoundland.

Honey bee bringing in pollen on October 25th, 2015 in Flatrock, Newfoundland.

Judging from the colour of the pollen, my guess is that it came from Japanese Knotweed. It could be Honey Clover too. I still see some of that around (what a fantastic plant that is). I saw bees from another hive bringing in yellow pollen, probably from Goldenrod, though it seems late for Goldenrod.

This is the first year I’ve used quarter-inch / 6mm mesh to keep shrews out of my hives. I was told to put the mesh on after the bees have stopped bringing in pollen because supposedly the mesh opening is so small that it knocks the pollen off the bees’ legs as they’re going through it. NOT TRUE. Every bee that came in with pollen today had no problem getting through with the pollen still intact. So…

I’ll put the mesh on during the first week of October for now on and not worry about it. Waiting any longer increases the chances of mice getting in, which I think already happened with at least one of my hives (the bees switched from being really nice to really mean overnight, but that’s another story). Drones can’t get through the quarter-inch mesh and the bees are having a hard time pulling out dead bees through the mesh, but I’m fine with that.

Postscript: I was wrong. Drones can get through the mesh. It’s not easy, but they can do it. Here’s some raw video footage that shows drones going through the mesh along with a few other things. The mesh is an obstacle for some of the bees, but overall I don’t think it’s doing much harm.

DECEMBER 10, 2015: Bees naturally die over the winter and collect at the bottom of the hive. Then worker bees clean out the dead bees on the occasional warm days throughout the winter. The problem I’ve noticed, though I’m not calling it a huge problem just yet, is that the dead bees aren’t being cleared out as they normally would because the 6mm mesh is blocking the way.

Dead bees stuck behind  6mm mesh.  Oh well. (Dec. 10, 2015.)

Dead bees stuck behind 6mm shrew-proofing mesh. Oh well. (Dec. 10, 2015.)

This wasn’t such an issue earlier in the fall because there weren’t many dead bees laying around and it didn’t seem impossible for the workers to pull the dead bees through the mesh. But the quantity of dead bees alters the equation significantly. There are just too many dead bees and it’s too much work to squeeze each one through a 6mm hole in the mesh. So…

I don’t know. Pulling off the mesh and clearing out the dead bees myself is easy. But stapling the mesh back on causes so much disruption to the bees inside the hive (the bang of the mechanism is so forceful, it might as well be a hammer), that’s just not something I want to do.

So for now I’ll let the dead bees accumulate. The bottom entrances aren’t completely blocked with dead bees yet. Once that happens, though, I’ll have to make a decision. And I’m pretty sure that decision will be to pull the mesh off and clean out the dead bees on a warm day and then staple the mesh back on even if it riles up the bees. If it’s a warm day, the bees will be breaking cluster anyway, so whatever disruption is caused by a staple gun shooting staples into the hive , well, it shouldn’t be too bad.

But I need to come up with something that’s easier to remove and replace so cleaning out the dead bees isn’t such a headache. I don’t know how Michael Bush manages his hives with only top entrances. The bottom of my hives would be carpeted with dead bees by the end of the winter if I couldn’t clean them out. I have no trouble imagining the rotten stink after the dead bees begin to thaw out in the spring. Yuck.

FEBRUARY 14, 2016: The quarter-inch mess works fine when I use thumb tacks to attach it instead of staples.

AUGUST 25, 2016: I put quarter-inch mesh over the entrances to my honey supers on one of my hives this summer because the bees were storing pollen in the honey supers. Most of the bees got through with the pollen still on their legs, so I removed the mesh because all it really did was slow the bees down. But I did notice clumps of pollen on the bottom board afterwards. Conclusion: The quarter-inch mesh knocks the pollen off some of the bees, but all of them. I’ll still add the mesh by the first week of October to keep shrews and mice out regardless.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Autumn Joy (Sedum)

I’ve long heard that sedum plants attract honey bees and other pollinators in a big way, so when I noticed an Autumn Joy sedum, a variant of Hylotelephium telephium, growing beside my new house, I thought I’d witness something great and wonderful. But so far it’s been underwhelming. Bumblebees seem to love it, butterflies, wasps, but not many honey bees.

Honey bee on Autumn Joy in Flatrock, NL (Sept. 20, 2015.)

Honey bee on Autumn Joy in Flatrock, NL (Sept. 20, 2015.)


I’d classify Autumn Joy as a late-season nectar source for honey bees in my area, coming to bloom even later than Japanese Knotweed, which is possibly the very last source of nectar and pollen before the onslaught of winter.
Cell phone photo of Autumn Joy in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Sept. 20, 2015.)

Cell phone photo of Autumn Joy in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Sept. 20, 2015.)

Bees Returning With Pollen – A Sign of a Queen?

The drama never ends in my beeyard.

Queenless for 18 days. See the bee bringing in pollen? Maybe they have a queen now. (August 5, 2015.)

Queenless for 18 days. See the bee bringing in pollen? Maybe they have a queen now. (August 5, 2015.)


It’s been 18 days since I found the dead mated in her queen cage in one of my hives, where I also found capped supersedure cells (see A Requeening Gone Bad). I haven’t touched the hive since. Today I noticed some honey bees bringing in pollen. If you look closely, you can even see it in this cellphone snapshot.

I’ve been told by many beekeepers that foragers don’t bring in pollen unless they have a viable queen. Does that mean this colony has a queen? A capped supersedure cell from 18 days ago would have produced a queen by now and, who knows, maybe she even mated successfully.

I’m heading out now to take a look. I better not find another invisible piping queen.

Continued in Life Finds a Way.