I receive regular emails from people in the area of St. John’s, Newfoundland, asking if I can help them get started in beekeeping. This is my usual copied-and-pasted response (though I hope it’s only temporary):

    The people you want to contact are at Paradise Farms. They run various beekeeping workshops throughout the year and are glad to help most new beekeepers in the area.

    These days, while my hives are still a fair distance from where I live, I just don’t have the time to help with new beekeepers starting up. However, most of what I could pass on is already available on my beekeeping How-To page. Good luck.

I tried to invite a few people over to see my bees this past summer, just so they could watch me work on the hives, but even that was difficult to arrange because I naturally want to stop what I’m doing and say, “Hey, come over here and take a look at this,” and I’ll show them the queen walking around on a frame or one of the worker bees doing the famous waggle dance. (I even saw a queen emerge from a swarm cell this past summer. I was in awe.) I love that kind thing. I’m all over it. Unfortunately, the time I have with my bees is so limited, when I’m out at the hives, I have to get things done. But nothing gets done when I get carried away showing visitors all the cool things going on inside the hives.

So I have to keep coming back to the same old story: I won’t be able to help out much until I manage to set up some hives on my own property again. Sometime soon… I hope.

P.S.: I wrote this post for new beekeepers who may have thought to contact me for some assistance. The message is: I’m not available — and I probably won’t post much to Mud Songs either — until I have my hives set up in a more convenient location (i.e., my backyard). After putting so much time and effort into my beekeeping, not being allowed to keep my bees where I can see them everyday has been maddening. Nevertheless, anyone who I’ve already helped out or agreed to help out, you’re still good. Don’t worry about it.

P.P.S.: I’m always available to catch swarms or help out during any kind of urgent situation. Just email me, or ask another beekeeper for my number, and I’ll come running.

P.P.P.S.: A Newfoundland beekeepers association is also in the works. Apparently the first inaugural meeting is happening (or has happened) in Cornerbrook. The folks at Paradise Farms can probably tell you more about it than I can. The association even has a private Facebook page, but I’m not signed up to it. Again, I don’t have time. Maybe someday. But for anyone looking for beekeeping guidance, the association might help get you on the right track.

I got an email from a first-year beekeeper today asking if she should reverse the brood boxes of her hive before winter. Assuming she’s working with the standard configuration of a Langstroth hive (two deep supers for the brood chamber), I said no, that I have no idea why anyone would reverse the brood boxes before winter.

The bees usually cluster close to the bottom of the hive as the weather turns cold in the fall. They gradually move up to the top of the hive throughout the winter as they eat through their winter stores of honey. Some beekeepers reverse the brood boxes (the deep supers) in the spring in an effort prevent swarming. That means the top deep, containing the brood nest that has worked its way into the top of the hive over the winter, is moved to the bottom of the hive, and the deep that used to be on the bottom, and is now empty of bees and honey, is placed on top, above the brood nest. The empty comb in the new top deep above the brood nest supposedly, in theory, more or less, or so we’re told, frees up space for the queen to lay and thus reduces the likelihood of swarming.

But that ain’t necessarily so. Just because the bees spend the winter moving to the top of the hive doesn’t mean they don’t have enough sense in the spring to move back to the bottom where there’s plenty of room for the queen to lay and for the workers to start making honey. That’s what natural colonies living in a hollow tree do. That’s what colonies living in Warré hives usually do. And I’ve heard from numerous beekeepers who say colonies living in Langstroth hives are no different and that reversing the brood boxes in the spring does little to prevent swarming. I can’t argue with that because in the three years that I’ve been reversing my brood boxes, I’ve had exactly 50% of those colonies swarm on me.


Read on . . . »

July 26th, 2014

Here’s a video that shows what I think — what I hope — is a virgin queen that emerged from a swarm cell after a colony swarmed. If it’s not a virgin queen, it might be the colony’s original queen, which means the colony is on the verge of swarming. Please feel free to leave a comment if you can identify what kind of queen she is, old or virgin. I’ll explain more after the video.


(Thanks to Jonathan Adams for getting behind the camera.)
Read on . . . »

July 25th, 2014

I posted some photos a couple days ago of what is probably the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen in any of my hives. Here’s the video:


(Thanks to Jonathan Adams for getting behind the camera.)

It’s not the most instructive video, but I’ve relaxed my criteria for posting photos and videos on Mud Songs. If I think it could spark the imagination of anyone curious about honey bees or beekeeping, that’s good enough for me. If I can instruct at the same time, well, that’s a bonus. The 1:50 mark in the video, for instance, shows how the bees begin to build comb by festooning. My explanation in the video isn’t the most articulate. I’m so used to beekeeping alone in silence, I felt awkward talking. Festooning is not a well-defined phenomena anyway, so my bumbling explanation kind of fits.

Now here are a few things this situation has me wondering about…
Read on . . . »

July 20th, 2014

I just happened to drop in on my country hives today as a splinter colony was taking flight. (I’ve chosen to use the less alarmist terminology for that particular phenomena of honey bee behaviour.) I was alone, only had my cell phone and couldn’t film myself shaking the bees into a new hive body. So there’s not much to learn from this short video. But if you’ve never seen a sw — I mean a splinter colony up close before, take a look. (It’s not the highest-rez video. Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)

If it looks like a scary situation, it isn’t. Only bad neighbours make it a scary or stressful situation. It was more calming for me than anything. I had somewhere I had to be, so I couldn’t sit back enjoy it as much I would have liked to, but it was an amazing thing to witness.

Sept. 22/14: I was dealing with two swarms and didn’t know it. It was tricky because both swarms landed on the same branch. Both were re-hived, though, and the new colonies are doing well.

AN UPDATE WAS ADDED TO THE END OF THIS POST ON JUNE 24, 2013.

I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live a in relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged next door neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?

Upper half of the large water melon sized swarm I caught last summer.

Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed:
Read on . . . »

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.
Read on . . . »

July 16th, 2012

Our honey bee hives now reside on an organic farm in St. Philip’s, Newfoundland, about a 25-minute drive from where we live in St. John’s. Here they are on the edge of a cornfield:

Here’s a closer less old timey view:
Read on . . . »

July 2nd, 2012

One of our hives swarmed about two weeks ago on June 17th. We caught it and hived it with no trouble (it’s nice when things go smoothly). We gave the new hive some syrup and then some frames of honey from another hive. I dropped by with some friends today just to take a quick peek and we spotted all kinds of fresh brood — and the queen. Here’s the video (the queen shows up at the 0:45 mark):


All our videos can be played back in 720p HD. I don’t know why 360p is the default setting.

The hive that swarmed two weeks ago should have swarmed with the old marked queen, but this queen isn’t marked. I’m not sure what to think of that. All I know is the hive has a mated queen that’s laying well. It’s hard to see in the video, but the queen is light coloured with distinctive rings on her abdomen similar to an Italian queen, but who knows. Whatever is going on, I’m happy to see it. Watching a young hive get on its feet and do well is more rewarding than trying to deal with our monster hives that have been swarming or on the verge of swarming for the past couple months.

P.S., I use the term “hive” and “colony” interchangeably. I shouldn’t because they’re two different things. Hive is another word for house — the boxes, the hollow logs, the sheltered enclosures where the bees live. Colony refers to the actual family of bees that live in the hive with the queen bee, the worker bees and the drones. They’re like The Borg Collective, all working together as one big happy colony. But in speaking to a general audience, most people know what I’m talking about when I say hive. So I just say hive.

UPDATE (July 17/12): See What Does a Honey Bee Queen Look Like for another good look at a queen.

June 30th, 2012

Here’s a quick two-clip video that shows some of what we had to deal with today.

The first brief clip shows a monster hive after we did a full inspection of it and thoroughly riled up the bees. It’s a swarmed hive with a newly mated queen (which we spotted). It’s full of uncapped honey and very little brood. We pulled some honey frames to give the queen more room to lay, but I’m not sure what we’re going to do next. We found swarm cells in two other hives. The second clip shows one of the swarm cells. The other hive with swarm cells had about half a dozen capped cells. Lovely. We have a swarm trap out and we took other swarm prevention measures. But we’ll see how it goes next week. We have three mated queens coming in. I hope requeening calms the bees down. The past 40 days have been exhausting. We’ve done everything we can to keep the bees in check, but they’re on fire.

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