Beekeeping: stopping, looking, wondering, learning.
The bees will be stuck in their hives for the next 6 months. We got our first snow today:
Our first snow from last year happened on November 23rd. The last snow was sometime in April. The first appearance of Dandelions was May 17th. And so it goes.
The hives look adorable with their pigeon guardians. Respect to your tough little bees. Mine are still out fetching pollen over here in London.
Pigeons? I think they’re starlings.
It’s kind of nuts how long the bees have to wait before they can get out and do their thing again. It makes me wonder how natural it is to keep honey bees in a cold climate like Newfoundland. I think it’s fair to say that honey bees in nature would never migrate to a place like Newfoundland, an isolated, very wet and cold island in the middle of the North Atlantic. Natural evolutionary processes would never lead them to a place like this.
If left to natural processes, I wonder where honey bees would live today.
Ah, perhaps I’m so used to seeing pigeons around London that all birds are starting to look like pigeons to me. Starlings are fairly rarely seen round here sadly, they’re prettier than people think once you start looking at the shine in their feathers.
Like people, honey bees are great at adapting to their surroundings. You might ask what would bring humans to a cold, wet place like Newfoundland or indeed a drizzly, grey place like the UK!
I’ve always seen honey bees buzzing around when I was growing up, I always thought they were wild bees that shelter in logs or in underground networks etc. Maybe they are suited/adapted to the climate on the Avalon Peninsula after all… or maybe they were someone’s bees. I never really thought of that as a kid. Would be neat to find out actually
Interesting, I just quickly googled the wintering habits of honey bees. You probably know this already but apparently in the wooden bee hive, the bees cluster around the queen in the winter and “shiver” to produce heat. They also use their wax to seal up cracks inside the hive so the heat doesn’t escape. And I guess they eat honey to keep up their metabolism. Pretty smart bees, I’m sure yours are ok in the winter
It’s possible, Dan, that what you thought were honey bees were not actually honey bees. Hornets can look like honey bees to the untrained eye. There are also some flies that look a lot like honey bees. I’ve seen those around a few times.
I haven’t heard of feral honey bees on the Avalon Peninsula, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist (though I think it’s unlikely). I can’t confirm it either way because staying in contact with other beekeepers on the island isn’t easy. My main medium for keeping in touch with NL beekeepers is through email and super fantastic places like Mud Songs. But most NL beekeepers I’ve met don’t spend much time online or checking their email (those that do have email addresses). Most of us, I think, are off doing our thing in relative isolation.
As for your second comment, I know all about the wintering habits of honey bees, buddy. Come on. Everyone should know that kind of thing before they even think about getting bees. Which leads me to another digression, and it’s a big one that’s been on my mind for a while:
Someone asked me a while back if I could help start up a honey bee hive for them. I asked them what they knew about honey bees and beekeeping. They said, “Nothing. Can’t I just let the bees be bees?” I said, “No. You can’t. Call me back when you’ve done your homework.”
I also had a friend ask me about setting up a hive for him, and I know without even asking that he doesn’t know a thing about honey bees or beekeeping. He expects me to tell him everything he needs to know. To hell with that. (He’s only interested in the honey, not the bees.)
Judging from my reactions, I’ve come to realize that I’m a protective beekeeper. Not a snob. Not an elitist. I’m not an expert either. But I’m just not interested in helping anyone start up a honey bee colony that’s going to dead in a year because they’re too lazy to learn what they need to know in order to properly care for the bees. I don’t think NL is an easy place to keep bees, and you have to know what to do to make sure the bees will be strong enough to survive the winter.
Exhibit A: I got an email from someone over the weekend who told me a honey bee colony they started from a nuc in July appears to be dead. I asked them how many frames of honey the bees had stored up over the summer. That’s when I learned they didn’t feed their bees sugar syrup or pollen patties to get the numbers high enough to survive the winter. They put their nuc — a frame of brood, a frame of honey, a frame of pollen — into a hive box and LEFT THE BEES ALONE. The whole “let the bees be bees” foolishness.
Their colony hadn’t even expanded to a second brood box. I’m surprised it lived as long as it did. So they didn’t feed the bees. They didn’t even wrap them for winter. It’s no wonder the bees died. I got the impression they bought into the Pure Wholesomeness vision of beekeeping, like many people erroneously seem to do, and thought everything would A.O.K. because bees know how to take care of themselves, they’re one with nature all that wonderful crap.
I think beekeeping can be wonderful. I love it. But it can also be nightmarish. And the nightmares begin when you don’t know what you’re doing, when haven’t done all your homework and thoroughly prepared yourself for all the possible paths the bees could follow. They don’t always do what you want them to do, or what you think they’ll do. New beekeepers should be ready for anything. You can’t just buy the bees, throw them in a box and let nature take its course. That’s irresponsible and it’s stupid, and I won’t have anything to do with it.
So let the word get out people, you better know your stuff and know it well before you come knocking on my door asking for help. I’m not helping anyone kill bees. I’m far from being an expert, but I studied up on honey bees and beekeeping for at least half a year before I decided to get some bees. I’d expect the same from anyone who wants my help.
And a note to anyone else who might have a single-box hive in Newfoundland: You better load them up with candy cakes now and wrap them good. Because it won’t take them long to eat the honey out of a single brood box. Without food (and pollen patties later on), they’re dead. I think it’s highly unlikely they’ll make it through a Newfoundland winter off the honey stores in a single brood box. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
Funny you mentioned that Phil. I checked on mine on Sunday when it was 9°C to see how they were doing. I made up the candy cakes using honey bee healthy to help stimulate.
The bees appear to only be focusing on teh honey bee healthy candy cakes and not bothering with their stores as of yet. As you can look down between the frames and see capped honey frames everywhere. That being said I was amazed on how much candy They had consumed already. That beign said there is still a siginificant amount left.
As per Phil’s comment about natural beekeeping and letting the bees be bees in Newfoundland. The bees first year of success requires that the bees be supplimented with at least carbohydrates as it requires large amount of energy to convert to make the wax. Without this feeding they will never build the wax into the two standard brood boxes, let along cap it with honey before winter comes. In year two you may have a chance but a 4 frame nuc will never build up enough if left to its own within the first year. If all 20 frames of comb was drawn out they could survive but that is a luxuary we don;t have here and risks the spread of disease.
Hey, Jeff. You can play the good cop. I’ll play the bad cop. That works for me.
I haven’t added candy cakes yet. Mine appear to have plenty of honey and pollen stores, so I’m forcing them to eat it. Given the choice, I don’t think it’s uncommon for the bees to eat candy before the honey. Maybe it’s less work for them to eat the candy. Maybe bees prefer junk food, so to speak.
I can still see the bees clustering in the bottom box. I’ll take a peek under the hood once I know they’re up in the top box. I’d like to see them get through the whole winter without being fed, but it probably won’t happen.
I think they can get through the winter without being fed but where I stole frames from the original 5 and made 6.5 colonies I needed the extra carbs just in case for winter. But next fall I plan to try several hives without any supplimenting. By then if I lose one or two it will not affect me.
Also there are still a couple of colonies that have bee activity form the bottom entrance, those colonies are well packed. Some were a little weak for my liking but still probably would have made it, but I didn;t want to chance it.
On a side note I picked up a lot of 3/4 to 1″ plywood tonight to build some additional boxes. It was from a construction site. THe only thing on it is some concrete but I can beat most of that off. All I need it time for constructing boxes. for next year.
Hope I didn’t give you the impression that I thought you didn’t know your stuff, I certainly didn’t mean for my comment to be interpreted that way. I know you put the time and effort in for your bees, and I definitely agree with your comments about being well educated in beekeeping before getting bees. I feel the same way about my fish tank. It’s a very successful tank on many different levels of ecological integrity, but that didn’t happen by accident. Lots of reading and knowledge of aquatic biology and ecological systems, and hard work especially in the first few years, led to the success of my tank and fish. I do the same, people ask me (classic example) can I just get a betta in a bowl, and I say no – unless you want a sad fish that won’t survive. Stick to those principals and work hard and folks’ bees (and fish, live animals, etc) will stand a chance. I think it’s awesome that you’ve dedicated so much time and hard work in learning to know what your colonies need in order to survive. That, in turn makes me interested, whether I decide in the future to have my own bees or not, I think your site, videos, and comments are all really interesting and the dedication shows in the success of your hives, through the good and the bad.
“Hope I didn’t give you the impression that I thought you didn’t know your stuff…”
No worries, Dan. Didn’t think it at all. And don’t take anything I say seriously. I never do.
You have fish? Cool. A friend of mine down the street breeds fish. He used to have a serious obsession with them. They took over his life and his house. I don’t think he’s as bad now, but anyway, it’s always interesting to see what he’s got set up in house. I think he has a 1500 gallon take, something humongous like that. It’s like a jungle full of water. It requires a bit of maintenance from time to time, but he’s worked it to the point now where it’s virtually a self-contained balanced ecosystem. He rarely has to mess with it now.
Kinda of like low-impact beekeeping. It seems possible to leave the bees alone most of the time, but they still need a hand once in a while.
Did you check your bottom boards today? The bees were cleaning house with the warm temperatures. It was cool to see the different number of dead bees on the bottom board for each colony.
I don’t know what’s happening with my bees. I was out of the province for the past 6 days except one, and I’m gone again for another 6 days. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if they’re cleaning house just like your bees.
I’d like to be able to see that.
The conly that swarmed, the one that I captured was a strong colony going into winter. They had a nice mass of bees on the landing board today. Looked like shear carnage.
Also it was nice to see the bees down at the bottom board. Even for December 01, 2011
The hives got buried in big fluffy flakes of snow today. I saw a bee fly out of one of the hives, circle around, up and up and up until she disappeared. I surprised it was able to fly so well and for so long with such large flakes coming down. The air was still, the flakes were huge but floating down gently.
off to meet her death…
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