Warmer November & Less Dead Bees

I was looking over some of the posts that I’ve made during the month of December as a reminder to myself of what to expect for the next month. I came across a post from last December where I describe noticing dead bees on the bottom boards of some of my hives.

The first scraping of dead bees from the bottom of the hive. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Scraping out a fairly large clump of dead bees around this time last year. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Then I went outside today in the rain to take a quick look at my beehives and could hardly see any dead bees on the bottom boards. So… what’s up with that? November 2016, this year, was much warmer than last November. Does that have anything to do with it?

The bees in most of my hives at this time last year, when it was colder, were clustered well below the top bars and there were a fair number of dead bees on the bottom boards.

This year, with warmer temperatures, the bees in most of the hives are clustered close to or above the top bars, not down below where they usually go, and there are hardly any dead bees on the bottom boards.

Perhaps the warmer weather has the bees staying near the top of the hive and eating more honey, staying warmer and not dying off as quickly in the cold. Perhaps just as many bees are dying off this year, but because they’re up top, they’re getting clogged between the frames in the bottom deeps.

I don’t know. But I’m noting it now for my records… and I’ll gladly entertain any theories. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m overlooking something obvious.

Finally Adding Sugar Cakes

    The following was updated on December 1st, 2016, and will likely be updated again within a week.

I usually add just-in-case sugar above the top bars in my hives around early November. By that time — in my local climate — it’s usually so cold that the bees move to the bottom of the hive beneath their honey stores (and then gradually eat their way towards the top of the hive throughout the winter), which makes it easy for me to put the sugar in without bothering them. But that didn’t happen so much this year because November has been unusually warm. Only in the past few days have I noticed the bees, at least in some of the hives, clustering below the top bars. So I decided to add some sugar bricks today…

About 700 grams (or 1.5 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.)

About 1.3 kg (or 3 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.) I’ll probably add more later when I find the time. These bees were breaking through the top bars were so cold, it was easy to slide the sugar in without bothering too much.

I followed my Sugar Bricks Recipe (12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water) and made bricks that weighed between 1 and 3 pounds (0.5 – 1.3 kg).
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Problems with the “Mountain Camp” Method of Dry Sugar Feeding

    This post was updated on November 13th, 2016.

Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar.
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100 Pounds of Honey? Really?

I expected to be part of a panel discussion at the recent NL Beekeepers AGM but instead found myself in the spot light listening to words come out of my mouth like I was having an out of body experience. I apparently spoke about moisture quilts and what was referred to afterwards as my “winter ventilation strategy.” Okay. I would describe myself as somnambulistic after a week of work that left my brain running on fumes by the time I showed up at eight-thirty in the bloody morning for the AGM. Then, to cap it off, what I thought was a panel discussion scheduled for the lunch hour got pushed to the end of the day, by which time I was fighting to keep my eyes open, going to the washroom every 20 minutes to splash cold water on my face. By the time I arrived at my moment shine, it was great. Just great. I wish I had it on tape. I had a good laugh talking about it afterwards when I got home. You gotta laugh.

IMG_0384-thick-comb

At any rate, someone who was lucky enough to be graced by my presence at the AGM sent me an email this morning asking me if I really got 100 pounds of honey from one of my hives after I put an empty moisture quilt on it for ventilation. My answer was: “You better believe it!” I don’t even remember saying that during my presentation, but apparently I said it — and it’s true. I responded to his email to explain how it happened, how I lucked into it really, and then I copied and pasted my response to Facebook, and now I’m copying that Facebook post to ye ole Mud Songs blog because I’m reaching the end of another long day at work and I really don’t have the brain power to do anything other than copy and paste.

So here it is, the story of how I got 100 pounds of honey from a single honey bee colony, and in Logy Bay, Newfoundland, of all places:

By the way, I plan to write a post that covers all the topics that I expected to talk about during the panel discussion, in the form of a conversation between three beekeepers, just as I imagined the panel discussion would play out. It, too, will be great. Stay tuned.

Some Pre-Winter Hive Adjustments

It was zero degree Celsius today (also known as the temperature at which water freezes). It was also extremely damp and miserable. Not a bad day to see if visual inspections of the clusters match the thermal images from my Flir One for Android camera device. Not a bad day to make some pre-winter adjustments to some of my hives too.

Hive #1. Other than dropping in some sugar over the top bars in a week or two, and maybe wrapping the hive, Hive #1 is just the way I like it.

Bottom to top:  Solid bottom board; 6mm / quarter-inch shrew-proofing mesh; 2 deeps; rim with extrance hole meshed in; moisture quilt full of wood chips; piece of scrap plywood / top cover. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

Bottom to top: Solid bottom board; 6mm / quarter-inch shrew-proofing mesh; 2 deeps; rim with entrance hole meshed in; moisture quilt full of wood chips; a piece of scrap plywood / top cover. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

A word about that top cover. Yup, it’s a piece of plywood I found in the corner of my shed. I put something heavy on top to keep it in place, but that’s it. I’ve had it on the hive for several months now, always meaning to replace it with a real top cover but never getting around to it. I may leave it on the hive all winter. Why not? The inside of the hive is warm and dry. Whether it’s a commercially made telescoping top cover dipped in wax with a metal cover, or a dirty piece of scrap plywood taken from a junk heap, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the bees.

Top cover removed, moisture quilt open. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

Top cover removed, moisture quilt open. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

From this angle, it looks like the cluster is straddling the deeps.

From this angle, it looks like the cluster is straddling the deeps.


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Nuc: Day 11 – Almost Full

I installed a 4-frame nuc on July 17th, using frames of bare foundation to fill in the remaining frames. On Day 6 I replaced most of the bare foundation with drawn comb because I wanted the queen to have immediate space to lay and expand the brood nest. Today, Day 11, I topped up the frame feeder and noticed bees covering most of the frames in the hive.

Nuc colony on Day 11. 6 frames of drawn comb. 2 frames that were more or less bare foundation. All the frames filling with bees. (July 28, 2016.)

Nuc colony on Day 11. 6 frames of drawn comb. 2 frames that were more or less bare foundation. All the frames filling with bees. (July 28, 2016.)

Click the image to see a better view of the all the bees on the frames.

I didn’t pull the frames to see exactly what was going on, and I didn’t really need to because seeing the bees working all the frames is a good enough sign to me that the colony is expanding.

Since I installed the nuc, other than removing the bare foundation, I’ve topped up the frame feeder a few times and I’ve I inserted empty drawn comb between frames of brood to encourage the queen to lay there and expand the brood nest faster. I will continue to do that as the colony expands for the next month or so.

The next time I refill the feeder (in four or five days), if I find all the frames are either full of brood or full of syrup and nectar (i.e., the queen doesn’t have much more space to lay), then I’ll add a second deep to the hive. I’ll pull up some brood into the second deep, move the feeder to the second deep, insert plenty of drawn comb for the queen to lay, and I’ll probably steal some frames of brood from one of my stronger colonies to give the nuc colony a boost.

The sunny weather doesn’t hurt.

P.S.: If I was using bare foundation, I might not add a second deep until the middle of August. It can be a different story in warmer parts of Newfoundland. But that’s not the story I’m telling here.

UPDATE: Some unplanned beekeeping happened today. I pulled three frames of brood from a big colony with about 15 frames of capped and open brood and I had little choice but to add them to this nuc hive in a second deep. So this itty bitty nuc hive now has a second deep on top of it with a frame feeder, several frames of drawn comb and three frames of capped and open brood and the nurse bees to go with it — and a big thick heavy frame full of pollen.

A single-deep nuc is suddenly a 2-deep hive. (July 28, 2016.)

A single-deep nuc is suddenly a 2-deep hive. (July 28, 2016.)

Hopefully the nurse bees won’t fight with their new queen and everything will work out fine. I’ve never transferred that much brood to a nuc before.

Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Nuc

Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.

I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.

It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too.
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Ants Around Beehives, a temporary pest?

I noticed ants all over my beehives starting around mid-May. I used a cinnamon barrier to keep them out of my hives, though I’m not sure how well it worked. I still see a few ants here and there, but overall they don’t seem to be as thick. In fact, I hardly ever see them anymore.

Close up of a formica ant, a red ant that bits and shoots formic acid from its. It's not the kind of ant that I have around my hives, but it's the only photo of an ant that I have on record, so there you go, an ant.

Close up of two formica ants, red ants that bite and shoot formic acid from their butts. They’re not the kind of ants I have around my hives, but this is the only photo of ants that I have on record, so there you go, some ants.

Perhaps the cold weather has them hiding underground (we’ve had frost warnings for the past few nights), but I think I noticed this last year too. The ants were bad for a while (black ants, not red ants) and then they more or less disappeared.

I’ll keep a note of this for next year and see if it holds true, that the ants show up sometime in May and are gone by July, and are never really a major pest.

AUGUST 04, 2016: My beeyard is surrounded by huge ant colonies (blank ants, not red ants), and they’re not an issue with my bees. Like I said, the ants seemed to cover most of my hives in May but were gone, for the most part, by July. I still see them walking around, picking up pieces of comb or pollen and other debris, but only a small handful here and there. Nothing epidemic. Other than putting out some cinnamon, which didn’t create an unbroken barrier, I didn’t do anything to get rid of the ants. No poison or traps or any of that. It’s probably fair to say I’ve never had a major ant problem. If I did, I’d probably build hive stands with oil motes or sticky tape around the legs. It would take a hell of an ant problem to motivate me to go that far, though.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Buttercups

Buttercups have been in bloom around these here parts for the past couple weeks (before that the weather was cold and miserable most of the time).

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

I’ve never seen a honey bee on a buttercup, but I know they go for buttercups, so I’ve added buttercups, or Ranunculus, to my Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage list.

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)