What Makes Friendly Springtime Honey Bees Turn Mean?

My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.

Q1402, back to being mean. (June 10, 2016.)

Defensive bees just beginning to pour out of a hive. (June 10, 2016.)

Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up):
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A Failing Queen and Hope for The Future

What follows is an example, from my own experience as a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper, of what’s involved in keeping bees and keeping them alive and well. This is nothing compared some things I’ve had to deal with before, but the point is that beekeeping takes time and effort and close attention. It’s not all about the honey (though the honey helps). So anyway, I says to Mabel, I says…

One of my little honey bee colonies is toast.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

The queen is failing. She’s been on the way out for a while, but now she’s fading fast, laying small, spotty patches of brood over three or four frames, the entire brood nest contained within half of a single brood box (a single deep). The cold weather we’ve had for the past two weeks (well below 10°C / 50°F) hasn’t helped. I did a quick inspection yesterday and found a few patches of capped brood abandoned in the bottom deep, abandoned probably because it got so cold the bees were forced to cluster up top.

Some abandoned brood. (June 07, 2016.)

I’ve never seen that before. Not good.

I reduced the hive to a single deep and put the abandoned brood frames in with the regular brood nest. I put on a jar feeder with honey. I don’t have high hopes.

Then there was one.

Then there was one.

It’s possible the queen doesn’t react well to cold temperatures, that she needs a good warm spell to get into a strong laying cycle. But I doubt it. Now that I’m feeding them, maybe the bees will create a supersedure queen. But I have my doubts about that too. If there’s no improvement by next weekend, I’ll probably remove the queen, if she’s still alive, and add whatever is left to one of my healthier colonies.
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Bees Eat Crystallized Honey

I added jar feeders full of honey to some of my hives about two weeks ago (the last time it was about 10°C / 50°F). The bees emptied the jars, so today I added some jars full of crystallized honey. And guess what? They like it!

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

The weather stinks. It’s so cold the bees can barely do anything. None of my colonies are in great shape and this weather doesn’t help. Stupid weather.

JUNE 15, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:

The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That’s the best way to do it.

All Beekeeping is Local Beekeeping

Pretty much every beekeeper on the planet is telling me how much honey their bees are making and how many swarms they’ve managed to catch this year — while here in Newfoundland my bees are still waking up from winter. It’s an acute reminder that all beekeeping is local beekeeping.

Let’s compare the weather forecast where I live with the weather forecast in Iceland.

St. John's, Newfoundland, weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

St. John’s, Newfoundland, weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in St. John’s for the next week is 7°C (45°F). The average amount of sunlight per day is 5.8 hours.

Reykjavik, Iceland weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Reykjavik, Iceland weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in Reykjavik for the next week is 7°C (45°F), exactly the same as St. John’s. The average amount of sunlight per day is 6.8 hours, one hour more than St. John’s. Even Iceland, a place that’s named after ice, has more bee-friendly weather than St. John’s.
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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.

Final Snowstorm of 2016?

Enough with the snow already.

100 km/h winds and enough snow to shut down schools and universities in what I hope is the last snow storm of the year. (April 20, 2016.)

100 km/h winds and enough snow to shut down schools and universities in what I hope is the last snow storm of the year. (April 20, 2016.)

A FEW HOURS LATER: The snow keeps coming.

Three days ago my bees were bringing in the first pollen of the year. (April 20, 2016.)

Three days ago my bees were bringing in the first pollen of the year. (April 20, 2016.)

THE NEXT DAY:

The day after 50cm / 20 inches of snow. (April 21, 2016.)

The day after 50cm / 20 inches of snow. (April 21, 2016.)

Beekeeping in April (on the Isle of Newfoundland)

New beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland who don’t know what to expect from the month of April might find something helpful in my Month of April posts. The benign little label collects everything I’ve taken track of in the month of April since 2010, everything from bees eating chicken feed to installing a jar feeder and reversing the brood chamber, all kinds of fun stuff.

april-bees-IMG_3700

It takes patience to be a beekeeper in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, especially during February and March when many beekeepers in the rest of the North America have been watching their hives explode with life for weeks, if not months already. Meanwhile in Newfoundland, honey bees can barely break cluster until the middle of April and dandelions don’t even show up until May.

At least Newfoundland doesn’t have Varroa mites. That’s something.

A Cold Ragged Queen

The ragged queen I kept alive with a light bulb for two weeks. Caged four days ago and put in a new hive with new bees because most of the bees from her original starved-out colony were dead. How’s she doing? I would love to know.

Is there a queen in there?  Is she okay?  (April 6th, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

Is there a live queen in there? Is she okay? (April 6th, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)


I had hoped to lift up the top of the hive today to see if the queen is alive. Did the bees eat through the sugar plug and release the queen? Did they accept their new queen or did they kill her? Is she starved and dead in the cage? Is the cluster large enough to keep the queen warm? I do not know. The snow and the -16°C windchill (3°F) kind of put the brakes on my plans and the weather forecast calls for more of the same over the next two days. I’ll check on her as soon as I can, but man oh man, springtime in Newfoundland is brutal. Perfect timing on the snowstorm, Nature. Thanks a lot.

UPDATE (the next day): She’s dead. I’ll write a separate post soon to explain what happened and what I’ve learned from all this.