A Honey Super Suddenly Full of Bees (Update: Ain’t No Thing)

SHORT VERSION: I was concerned when I saw a medium honey super suddenly crowded with bees. It turns that’s nothing to worry about.

LONG VERSION: I have one colony this year that isn’t in sad shape and might make some honey that I can eventually steal. The average high temperature for July where I live was 15°C (59°F), and that’s mostly with rain and fog. Honey bees that can make honey under such conditions are miracles workers. Yet I noticed bees in this one hive showing up in the honey super about a week ago and then today, just now, I found this above the honey super:

2015-08-01 19.37.41

That’s a view of the bees through a screen at the bottom of an empty moisture quilt, essentially a screened inner cover and ventilation rim. Anyway, the bees are crowded up over the top bars in the honey super, pushing themselves into the screen of the empty moisture quilt. That’s a full blown cluster of bees, not just a few hundred workers showing interest in a honey super.
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A Hive Full of Cracks

I noticed yesterday there’s significant gap between the bottom and top deep as well as between the top deep and the inner cover of one of my hives. Here are some photos:

Enough space between the inner cover and top deep to slip in my car key. (July 31, 2015.)


I noticed the crack between the deeps when I first installed the top deep:

Enough space between deeps to easily slip in my pocket knife. (July 31, 2015.)


Thinking it was the new top deep, I switched it with another one but the same gap (or crack) still appeared. Which leads me to conclude that the top edge of the bottom deep isn’t flat. And who knows what’s happening with the crack beneath the inner cover. The inner cover might be warped. I hope that’s all it is, because that’s one big massive crack.

I’m used to dealing with some cracks between the hive components from time to time. Most of the cracks provide ventilation that doesn’t hurt the bees. But the cracks in this hive are a bit much. I’ll probably fill them in with duct tape once I’m done tearing the hives apart for the year. Completely replacing all the deeps and inner covers with ones that still might not fit tightly together — I can’t be bothered. I have no interest in messing with the bees that much at this time of year.

Do other beekeepers worry about cracks?

Absinthe and Honey Bees

I added some frame feeders to two nucs today but couldn’t find my anise extract to add to the syrup as an attractant. So…

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)


…I used absinthe instead. Hopefully there’s nothing harmful it in that might hurt the bees. I doubt it.

My previous video, Refilling a Frame Feeder, shows exactly how I use my frame feeders.

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

Changing My Hives from Green to White Because They Don’t Need Any More Heat

I didn’t paint my first few hives. I coated them in linseed oil instead because I wanted to preserve the natural appearance of the wood. Those hives were beautiful and I miss them. But the linseed oil wore out in about a year and having to recoat my hives (full of bees) with linseed oil every year was a pain. So I switched to paint, yellow and dark green. Green is great as a natural camouflage for hives that are set up in wooded areas. Green also absorbs more heat from the sun, which seems like a good thing, especially in the winter if the hives aren’t wrapped.

However, I’ve had at least one of my colonies swarm every summer for the past three summers, and each of those swarms came from a hive that was painted green and was in direct sunlight for most of the day. That’s proof enough for me that the colonies swarmed in part because they were overheated. Being green didn’t help cool them off.

Painting my green hive boxes white (July 26, 2015.)

Painting my green hive boxes white (July 26, 2015.)


My dataset for this conclusion is tiny, but it’s big enough for me. Maybe the colonies would have swarmed regardless of the colour of the hives. The swarms happened at a time when I was unable to keep a close eye on my hives. Now that my hives are 10 seconds from my backdoor, that shouldn’t be an issue. Still, I’d rather reduce the risk of swarms every way I can.

I know a local commercial beekeeper who has kept bees in white hives for more than 30 years. I doubt he’d do it if his bees were swarming all the time. So I’m going with white, even if it means my bees make less honey because they’re cooler. I’d rather have less honey than more swarms any day.

P.S.: I know I’m probably being ridiculously cautious, but I’ve had a difficult time keeping my bees and maintaining my sanity over the past three years, thanks to neighbours calling the cops on me and so on. Anything that could possibly reduce the likelihood of swarms — or reduce the likelihood of any potential headache — helps.

July Weather in Newfoundland

JULY 31/15 UPDATE: The average high temperature for July 2015 was 15.8°C. It’s a new record. The coldest average high temperature previously was in 1962 with 16.1°C. July 2014 with an average high of 25.2°C was the warmest July on record. July 2015 is the coldest.

Typical July day in St. John's, Newfoundland, and outlining areas for 2015.

Typical July day in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and outlining areas for 2015.

It seems that at least one month between May and October in Newfoundland is a complete write-off, weather so lousy that honey bees have little to do except hang out inside their hives and try not to go crazy. August was a bust last summer. I think June was a waste of time the summer before that. This year it seems that July is the junk month. The bees in all of my tiny nuc-sized hives are probably doing everything they can not to freeze to death today. 4 bloody degrees! What the hell, man? (That’s 40 degrees in Fahrenheit world.) It’s been like this for most of July, temperatures maxing out at around 15°C (59°F). This weather stinks. The forecast for August is looking better though. We might even reach 20 degrees. If it wasn’t for the fact that we keep them in wooden boxes and feed them when it’s cold to keep them alive, I doubt honey bees in the natural world could ever live in a place like this. On their own, they’d be dead in a year. Another reason why I don’t buy into the natural adjective used for beekeeping. Naturally, honey bees wouldn’t even be here.

Anyway, I’m sorry. This weather is making me grumpy.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: White Clover

Although it’s been in bloom for a while, I’ll now add White Clover, or Trifolium repens, to my list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland because I actually saw a honey bee on some today near the university.

White Clover in St. John's, Newfoundland (July 23, 2015.)

White Clover in St. John’s, Newfoundland (July 23, 2015.)


I snapped these photos with my mobile phone today. Nothing special, but it does the job.
White clover with out-of-focus honey bee. (July 23, 2015.)

White clover with out-of-focus honey bee in St. John’s, NL. (July 23, 2015.)

A Requeening Gone Bad

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON AUGUST 05, 2015.

THEY KILLED THEIR QUEENS – PART 1

I added a caged mated queen to three splits last weekend. I checked on them today and found supersedure cells in all three hives. Here’s a sample (if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):

Supercedure cells in a recently requeen colony (July 18, 2015).

Supersedure cells in a recently requeened colony (July 18, 2015).

Here’s what I found in…

Split #1: The new queen DEAD inside her opened cage and several capped supersedure cells.
Split #2: The new queen alive and one supersedure cell full of royal jelly.
Split #3: The new queen M.I.A. (possibly dead) and several capped supersedure cells.

I have video of the whole bloody affair which I might post once I’ve determined what happened and what I’m going to do next. I’ll provide more details at that time, but feel free to speculate while I pour myself a drink…

P.S.: I say supersedure cell, but I suppose the more accurate term is “emergency queen cell.” Supersedure cells are created when the queen is failing but not yet dead, whereas emergency queen cells are created when the queen is suddenly dead. I think. Maybe. The difference seems so minimal to me, I always say supersedure. Furthermore, the presence of swarm cells means the bees are going to fly away, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.

JULY 23/15: I did a quick inspection of Split #2 and found a few frames of fresh eggs. Woo-hoo! The supersedure cell full of royal jelly is gone too. Way to go bees! All of this will be revealed in detail with a video and photos that are in the works.

AUGUST 05/15: Continued in Bees Returning With Pollen.

Watching Honey Bees

Are good beekeepers attentive beekeepers? I think so. The best beekeepers I meet notice things in the bees I’ve never had a clue about because I didn’t pay close enough attention. I didn’t watch the bees as well as I should have. I’m oblivious to something that’s obvious to them. What can I say? I’m not always the sharpest beekeeper around. Anyway, here’s a video that shows exactly what it’s like to sit and watch honey bees all day.

Were you able to watch the whole thing?

Swarm Prevention: A Swarm Revisited

It was about this time last year I walked in on a swarm. Turns out it was two swarms, but I managed to re-hive them and eventually got two new colonies from them, two colonies that were destroyed by shrews during the winter, but that’s another story.

I don’t recommend the bucket-and-dump method of re-hiving a swarm, but I had to act fast and didn’t have time to gather up the proper gear.

If I’d discovered the swarm cells a few days earlier, I would have prevented the swarm (in theory) by transferring the queen with several frames of bees to a new hive box, leaving the brood and swarm cells behind — essentially simulating the end result of an actual swarming. A queen emerges from one of the swarm cells left behind, then kills all the queens in the remaining swarm cells and eventually mates and all is right with the world. In theory.

I know some people destroy all but one or two of the remaining swarm cells, thus reducing the likelihood of Beesource.com definition of swarm movement.. I’ve also moved the brood and swarm cells to a new location instead and that seems to work in a pinch.

I’ve read about other methods of dealing with swarm cells, but they all seem too complicated to me, too much messing about. I like my method because it’s a simple one-time procedure and you’re done.

How do other people deal with swarm cells? If anyone still reads this blog, feel free to chime in.