November 18th, 2010

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?)

November 17th, 2010

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.)

Has anyone read any books I should add to my list?

UPDATE (Dec. 21/10): I added “Bee Behaviour” to the related topics of this of this post because of some informative comments (and responses) about the behaviour of certain breeds of honey bees, which helped explain some of the behaviour of our bees.

November 3rd, 2010

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.

By the way, I highly recommend their online beekeeping lessons to anyone who wants to get into beekeeping.

By the way #2: The Mud Songs sidebar links to other online beekeeping resources that have helped me along the way. They’re all worth checking out.

More later when I have a chance to come up for air.

November 1st, 2010

This may be the last video I post of our hives this year before we wrap them in tar paper for the winter. It’s not much, about a minute long, just a few quick clips from the last time the bees were active. The first few clips show Hive #2 with a small inverted jar of syrup over the inner cover hole, the inner cover having already been flipped to the winter position. The last couple clips show Hive #1 with a larger-than-normal number of drones pouring out the mouse-proof winter entrance reducer. I thought all the drones would have been booted out of the hive long before now, but I guess not.

October 26th, 2010


It’s cold all the time now. It rarely gets above 10° C (or 50° F). Hive #1 has been slow-moving since September and Hive #2 went into a low gear this past week. Neither hive is taking much syrup from the hive top feeders, so I decided to remove them and replace them with inverted jar feeders, which the bees can feed from without breaking cluster or losing too much heat. One 500ml jar will probably do them for another week, maybe two, before I finally wrap up the hives for winter. Here’s a silly video showing the whole procedure.

Read on . . . »

October 24th, 2010


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 Robo says, “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:
Read on . . . »

October 23rd, 2010


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.

PREFACE (Nov. 01/14): I should delete this post because I don’t use these mouse-proof entrance reducers anymore. I switched to mesh during my second winter and have never looked backed.


Here’s the short version: Take a piece of wood the size of a regular entrance reducer (15 inches / 38.1 cm long). Cut a notch in it that’s at least 1 cm high and 6 cm long (1 cm = approx. 3/8 inch). Drive thin nails in a row inside the notch so there’s 1 cm of space between them. The nails should look like prison bars. The holes in a regular mouse-proof entrance are slightly less than a centimetre wide, so as long as the space between the nails is no wider than a centimetre, this should do the trick. Just make sure to brace it in place with something heavy or nail it down. It doesn’t get any cheaper or simpler. I haven’t tested the design yet, but I’ll update this post in the spring of 2011 and let you know if any mice got in the hives. I think it’ll work just fine. (See also Winter Mouse-Proof Mesh.)

It went up to 14° Celsius in the backyard today (that’s 57° F in Non-Metricland). I have a wireless thermometer set up under one of the hives. 15° during the summer was the magic number that got all the foragers and young bees out of the hive. But the magic number has been 10° since mid-September. The bees in both hives were out in full force. The backyard sounded like one big buzz. Check out how crowded the bees were before I opened their entrances all the way (I’ll post a quick video of it later on in the comments).

While I was out there enjoying the brief blast of warm of air, I decided to build my mouse-proof winter entrance reducers for both hives. That’s one piece of beekeeping equipment that falls well within my limited carpentry abilities.
Read on . . . »

October 15th, 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.*
Read on . . . »

October 15th, 2010


This is another video that won’t interest many people except perhaps the truly dedicated honeybee enthusiast. I stuck my camera close to the entrance to Hive #1 today and pointed it up at the sky. I did this a few days ago too and was somewhat mesmerized by the flights patterns of the bees. At first it looked chaotic, but it didn’t take long to notice the bees coming in and leaving at certain angles and positions relative to the hive. The following video doesn’t capture that phenomena as well (the background has to consist entirely of blue sky to highlight the full scope of the flight patterns), but it’s still kind of interesting. I’ll try to get a full blue sky shot sometime before the winter sets in if I can.


You might hear me working a jigsaw in parts of the video. I was out back building some insulated inner covers. (Slow motion kicks in at the 2:23 mark.)

UPDATE (Oct. 18/10): These aren’t the most exciting videos, but I’ll probably post more of them in the comments for my own records. It may be interesting to see how active the bees are on various dates and temperatures. Or it might be incredibly dull. We’ll see.

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