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.

Making Room for the Queen

Here’s a 6-minute video from an inspection I did yesterday that shows me spotting the queen, adding a frame of drawn comb to give the queen more space to lay, and there’s a shot of the bees cleaning up a mouldy frame of pollen taken from one of my dead colonies — and you’ll hear me talking about my plans for inspecting all my hives and how I’m going to manage them. That part sounds boring, but it might give new beekeepers a sense of how to go about inspecting their hives, that is, having a plan and knowing that most plans are a joke. The bees will tell you want they need.

I mention in the video that I plan to add another deep to the hive, which is what I did, though it’s not in the video. It’s in this 1-minute time-lapse behind-the-scenes video where I explain why the hive has a moisture quilt and a few other things.

Part 2 of the hive inspection video: Combs of Pollen and Nectar.

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:

Honey bee on white flower. (Sept. 5, 2011.)

Honey bee on white flower. (Sept. 5, 2011.)

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:

Morning Glory, a pollen source in the fall. (Sept. 18, 2013.)

Morning Glory, a pollen source in the fall. (Sept. 18, 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.

Flowers on Japanese Knotweed, a little boost for the bees before winter. (Sept. 11, 2013.)

Flowers on Japanese Knotweed, a little boost for the bees before winter. (Sept. 11, 2013.)

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.

Bee on Japanese Knotweed.  (Sept. 5, 2011.)

Bee on Japanese Knotweed. (Sept. 5, 2011.)

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.

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days (August 28, 2013.)

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days (August 28, 2013.)

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

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:

Honey bee spotted on white flower approximately 1.2km from our city hive. (August 02, 2012.)

Honey bee spotted on white flower approximately 1.2km from our city hive. (August 02, 2012.)

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

Identified:  False spirea.

Identified: False spirea.

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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