A Sudden Dying Off of Winter Bees

I’m not sure if it has something to do with today’s date (the winter solstice), a recent snowfall or just business as usual, but a pile of dead bees suddenly appeared at the bottom entrance of our foundationless hive today. I wouldn’t have noticed them if we were using a solid mouse-proof entrance reducer instead of the open mouse-proofing mesh. The dead bees would have stayed piled up inside the hive all winter.

I could still see the cluster poking up through the middle of the top bars in the upper brood chamber. All three of the conventional hives look the same as they did last week, clustering high in the top brood chamber and hardly any dead bees on the bottom board.

I wonder what it all means. Probably nothing.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/11): I just took a closer look at the dead bees. About 90% of them are drones. The foundationless hive always had a large number of drones and not all of them were booted outside in the fall. This must be the last of them.

Continued in Dead Bees and High & Low Clusters.

Predicting Winter Survival

I was looking at the video I made on October 25th of me removing the top hive feeders and installing some small inverted jar feeders as one last feeding for the bees before I wrapped them up for winter — and judging from the number of bees covering the bars of the top frames, I think Hive #1 (on the left) is considerably weaker than Hive #2 (on the right). Ideally, what we want to see before wrapping the hives for winter, is a carpet of bees like this (taken on August 14th of this year):
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Hive Wrap Video

Here’s a video of what we did yesterday. We didn’t record the entire hive wrapping process (stapling the felt to the hives) because it would have made for an even longer and boring video. However, this Long Lane Honey Bee Farms video demonstrates what’s involved in the actual wrapping. (He uses a spacer to cut down on condensation. We use upper insulation instead.) In our video you’ll see me pointing out everything we’ve done to prepare the hives for winter. It’s not the most exciting video, but actually seeing how something works or doesn’t work is usually more instructive than photos or descriptions. So here it is:

VIDEO-REMOVED

NOV. 11/14: I removed the video because I didn’t realize it showed me talking to the camera. I don’t post photos or videos that show my face anymore. It’s a privacy thing.

Wrapping Hives for Winter

We wrapped both of our hives for winter today and did pretty much what David Burns does in his How To Wrap Your Hive for Winter video / beekeeping lesson. (I’ll post our own video in a day or two.)

Here’s the low down on exactly how we wrapped and prepared each of our four-month-old double-deep Langstroth hives for winter:

1) Built and installed the world’s simplest, cheapest mouse-proof entrance reducer and made sure to check the hive for mice beforehand.

2) Flipped the inner cover to the winter position (with the flat side facing up) and placed a piece of hard insulation over it. The insulation has a R-7.5 rating, whatever that is. Apparently, R-5 or above will keep the condensation from forming in the hive. It looks like this before the top cover is added:

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Drones Finally Got The Boot

DEAD DRONE
Resistance is futile.

Drone bees are kicked out of the hive before winter because they’re not essential to the winter survival of the colony. I was told not to be alarmed to find piles of dead drones outside the hive any time during the fall season. Plenty of drone pupae were discarded from the hive in September, but no large numbers of dead drones until today.
DEAD DRONE
I take this to mean the bees are getting serious about winter now — and I better hurry up and wrap the hives before winter sets in. We have nothing but rain, wind and snow in the forecast for the next few days.

But I’ll get the wraps on as soon as we get a break in the weather.

(Yeah, I know, it’s not the most earth shaking news, but how exciting can beekeeping get this time of year?)

PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

1st Batch of Beekeeping Books

I ordered some beekeeping books based on recommendations from various beekeeping forums — and I’m looking for other recommendations if anyone has any. Here’s a photo of the first batch of books that just arrived:

I’ll do a separate write-up for each of these books after I’ve read them. From left to right, the books are:

The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, by A.I. Root and E.R. Root — Originally published in 1877, followed by several revised editions, this is basically a 700-page beekeeping encyclopaedia. I have the 1947 edition. Other books with exactly the same title made shopping for it a bit frustrating. I chose this edition because it was the most affordable ($35 Canadian). I guess it’s good to have around.

The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden (Revised and Updated), by Kim Flottum — Detailed instructive photographs make all the difference when it comes to beekeeping guide books (and websites), and this book is packed with them. I’ve only skimmed and read bits and pieces of it, but it seems to cover all the bases. I can tell already it’s a good buy. I plan to read it before any of the others. ($20 Canadian.)

Fifty Years Among the Bees, by C. C. Miller — Originally published in 1915, everyone says I should read it because it’s still informative (most beekeeping knowledge doesn’t get old) and it just a good read. ($15 Canadian.)

First Lessons in Beekeeping, by C. P. Dadant — Originally published in 1934, it’s another classic everyone says I have to read, so I’m going to read it sometime over this winter with the rest of these books. ($10 Canadian.)

PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

First Snow

Here’s what I see at this moment.

WINTER HIVE
It’s time to wrap the hives.

NOTE (Nov. 15/10): I’ve been busy with work, life and house renovations (the latter being the worst of the bunch). I still haven’t wrapped my hives, but when I do, I’ll probably follow this lesson from Long Lang Honey Bee Farms.

PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

Hive Top Feeder = Drowned Bees

PREFACE (OCTOBER 08, 2015): See my Kill-Free Hive Top Feeder video on how to prevent drowning in hive top feeders.

I added a hive top feeder to Hive #2 ten days ago. Many bees lost their lives to the siren song of the sugar syrup. But a few hundred dead bees won’t kill the hive.

I’ll remove the top hive feeders from both hives in a few days and replace them with inverted jar feeders for another week before I wrap up the hives for winter. As one beekeeper online told me, “The bees can cluster right up to the bottom of the [inverted jar] feeder and continue to feed without breaking cluster.” Not having to break cluster at this time of the year doesn’t hurt (it rarely gets above 10° C these days). The next time I use the hive top feeders (late winter, early spring), I’ll add some straw or cork for the bees to float on so not as many drown. I’ll probably add screens to the reservoirs to keep wasps out too. Anyway, here’s a short video of the drowned bees:
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Video of a Drone Bee

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE IT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I picked a drone honey bee off the top a hive this morning. It rained last night and the drone was stuck upside-down in a blob of water. So I brought him inside to dry off. Then I took him back out to hive where he’ll probably die before the end of the day. It’s not the best time of the year to be a drone.

So, kids, can you tell me what makes the drone bee different from other bees in the hive?

UPDATE (Dec. 22/10): I recently learned through a comment that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Carniolans produce large drones with all-black abdomens, which is apparent in our drones.

Making Insulated Inner Hive Covers

PREFACE (OCTOBER 08, 2015): I made these insulated inner covers once and didn’t make them again because a piece of insulation over the inner cover in the winter position works just as well and requires no work other than cutting the insulation. I also use moisture quilts instead of hard insulation. See the updates at the bottom of this post for all the details.

The two insulated inner covers with venilation holes / top entrances cut in front.  (Oct. 15, 2010.)

The two insulated inner covers with venilation holes / top entrances cut in front. (Oct. 15, 2010.)

Winters in St. John’s, Newfoundland, provide a messy mixture of rain, snow and high winds with irregular periods of freezing and thawing. Wrapping Langstroth honey bee hives with a Type 15 asphalt felt isn’t a bad idea. Neither is installing mouse-proof entrance reducers. Preventing condensation, though, is the top priority. A 1-inch thick piece of R5-rated hard insulation over the inner cover in the winter position will prevent condensation from building up inside the hive during the winter. We used a 1.5-inch thick piece of insulation during our first winter (because we couldn’t find anything else) up until the end of January. Then we had to switch to insulated inner hive covers because the regular inner covers don’t provide enough room for candy cakes and pollen patties. A shim lifting a regular inner cover up an inch or two would provide enough space. However, an all-in-one insulated inner hive cover might be more convenient. It requires moderate carpentry skills (which means we’ll probably go with the shims instead), and it’ll cost a little more, but here’s how we made them if anyone is interested. We’ve tested them, and they work.*
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