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 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

THIS FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON DECEMBER 10, 2015.

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.

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.

Combs of Pollen and Nectar

This is Part 2 of some hive inspections I did yesterday. It’s a 3-minute video that, among a few other things, shows what frames of pollen and nectar look like. Again, this may not seem like the most scintillating thing on the planet, but new beekeepers will want to know what this stuff looks like. By the end of your first summer, you’ll want to know the difference between frames of pollen, nectar, honey, worker brood and drone brood. And if you’re in Newfoundland, most likely you’re flying blind and you’re on your own. So if you have 3 minutes to spare, you might want to take a look.

Part 1 of the video: Making Room for the Queen. There is no Part 3. I thought there would be, but there isn’t.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Morning Glory

In my continuing efforts to document flowers in and around St. John’s that seem to attract honey bees, allow me to introduce a viney plant we call Morning Glory that blooms around this time of the year. Here’s a photo from September 5th, 2011, proof that honey bees go for it:

I first recognized Morning Glory as a pollen and nectar source for the bees after saw what I thought were Mutant Bees. Here’s another shot of Morning Glory from September 18th, 2013:

It’s also known as Field Bindwind or Convolvulus arvensis.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Japanese Knotweed

Although it’s an invasive plant, Japanese KnotweedFallopia japonica — provides a hit of pollen and nectar for the honey bees well into the fall season.

Plants like Japanese Knotweed help delay the nectar dearth that would occur this time of the year as many of the native plants die off.

Japanese Knotweed isn’t difficult to spot. The plants grow well over 6 feet (about two metres) and the stock of the plant is hollow and looks like bamboo (the stocks are full of water). It only takes one plant to take root in some broken soil and it quickly takes over and is nearly impossible eradicate.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Goldenrod

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days like today.

Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John's, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)

Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)


Much of the late season honey is derived from goldenrod and it’s easy to tell because the smell of the goldenrod in the air has a similar pungency as the honey we harvest in the fall.

Goldenrod honey crystallizes quickly due to its high glucose content and can take on such a strong earthen odour as to be unpleasant to more sensitive taste buds. I’m not in love with it. I can see how it’s an acquired taste. Most of our fall honey comes from a variety of nectar sources, so it’s not too pungent.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: False Spiraea

THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON JULY 30/15.

I saw several honey bees on white ferny flowers along a path near a little park in St. John’s today. I doubt they’re my bees, though you never know. I took this photo with my cell phone:

The flowers are called False Spiraea. Or if you want get fancy: Sorbaria sorbifolia.

JULY 30, 2015: I noticed the flowers of the dogberry tree is similar to False Spiraea, but on closer examination of the leaves in the photos, it’s clear they’re not the same. At least I don’t think so.

Why My Honey Bees Died (or Are Starving Now)

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.
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