Hives in Snow Video

This video is not instructive. It’s just me digging a path through the snow from our back door to the hives in the backyard that are half buried in snow.

I cleared the lower front entrances afterwards, scraping ice away easily with my hive tool. A few guard bees came out and died from the cold immediately, but at least the colonies are still alive. I continue to be totally in awe of the bees. (See Hives in Snow for more photos.)

Notes from “ABC and XYZ”

I’m copying out the following for future reference from page 686 of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). It’s from the “Wintering” section. I will likely update this post many times as I continue to read from the book. These are notes for myself. They’re not meant to be comprehensive.

“Tests have shown that pollen supplements fed to unprotected wintered-over colonies beginning late in February to advance brood-rearing will yield one to two packages of bees [30 to 40 thousand bees?] about April 20… This control over brood-rearing based on the pollen factor makes it possible for the colony to develop in spite of unfavourable climatic or seasonal conditions… Forty pounds [18kg] of honey stored in dark brood combs should be present in the top hive body when 10-frame standard equipment is used.” The total should be at least 60 pounds of honey for a 2-storey wintering Langstroth hive.

How much wrap or insulation is used for wintering hives is determined largely by local weather conditions. Except for ventilation through an upper entrance, there is no universally correct way to winter hives. From page 694: “…beginners and those who have some doubt, [should] follow methods that have given good results… in their own immediate locality… It will bear repeating that localities differ so that what will work well in one may not in another. Specifically where there is excess moisture, packing [i.e., insulation] may do more harm than good, especially if it freezes.”

NOTE: The 1910 edition of this book (and probably the 1947 edition) are in the public domain. It can be downloaded in various formats or read online at
Continue reading

Mid-Winter Observations

It’s February 1st, 2011, and winter has finally settled in for St. John’s, Newfoundland. The snow is likely to hang around until April (bluh), so it’s more the beginning of winter than mid-winter, but we’ll call it mid-winter. It’s less depressing that way.

Our two winter-wrapped first-year honey bee colonies have been living off their honey stores for a little over 70 days. We added some sugar cakes to the hives a few days ago because the bees are clustered heavily on the top frames, which can indicate they’re running out of honey. I’m not so sure about that. I suspect it could be natural behaviour for cold-climate honey bees with Russian and Carniolan genes, but it’s safer to feed them hard candy than risk starving them out. Each hive now has around 2 kg of hard candy sugar cakes (about 4.5 pounds) and the same amount waiting for them in our fridge if they need it later on.
Continue reading

Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives


Our two Langstroth hives seem heavy with honey, which means the bees should have plenty of food to get them through the winter. But this is our first winter of beekeeping and we’re not sure how heavy “heavy” should be. Furthermore, both of our honey bee colonies are clustering at the top of their hives, which can mean they’re running out of honey. I’m doubtful of that, but I’m also a generally paranoid novice beekeeper. So to play it safe, just to make sure they don’t starve to death before the spring, I decided to put some candy cakes in the hives. Welcome to Part 3 of The Candy Cake Trilogy: Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives. In Part 1 we introduced the recipe for our candy cakes (which also works for candy boards). Part 2 consisted of some photos and a video of us making the candy. And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…


…and now let me tell you how the whole thing went down.
Continue reading

Making Candy Cakes

Both of our honey bee colonies are clustering at the top of their hives, which can indicated they’re running low on honey. So, just to be safe, we’ve decided to cook up some candy to get them through the rest of the winter. Welcome to part 2 of The Candy Cake Trilogy: Making Candy Cakes. In part 1, The Recipe, we introduced the recipe that goes something like this: Boil 3 cups of water, gradually dissolve in 15 pounds of granulated, add some apple cider vinegar and pure vanilla extract (or spearmint or anise oil or another essential oil), let it get really hot, then let it cool and pour it into paper plates (or a candy board). Here’s a video of exactly how that worked out for us.

Here are the photos:
Continue reading

A Candy Cake Recipe


The bees are clustering at the top of hives now, so it’s time to give them some candy cakes. Welcome to the The Candy Cake Trilogy, Part 1: The Recipe.


The honey bees in our two Langstroth hives were wrapped for winter about two months ago. It hasn’t been much of a winter so far, wet and soggy with temperatures hovering around freezing (0°C). Only in the past week or two have we had any kind snow accumulation, as can be seen in this photo I took earlier today (yeah, I know, my little backyard looks like a junk yard; it gets that way this time of year). Anyhoo, it’s still a relatively light sprinkling of snow and it doesn’t get much colder than -5°C (41°F). Both hives seemed heavy the last time I lifted them about two weeks ago, so they should have plenty of honey to get them through the rest of the winter. I wasn’t planning on feeding the bees again until near the end of February — pollen patties and then sugar syrup a few weeks later. But the colonies in both hives are clustering at the top now (as far as I can tell from watching this video from last week). Clustering at the top of the hive can indicate they’re running low on honey. So, as usual, I’m not sure what’s going on. I checked them again earlier today, shining a flash light in the upper entrance again, and this is what I found:
Continue reading

Video of a Winter Cluster

UPDATE (March 02/11): See Adding Pollen Patties for a better view of a winter cluster.

Winter Hive
The weather has been mild and dank in St. John’s, Newfoundland, since November, but winter is shifting into a higher gear now. The winds are picking up and the temperatures are taking a dip. It was only about -5°C today, though the wind chill factor made it feel like -20°C. (American readers can convert that to the antiquated, nonsensical Fahrenheit scale by typing “-20 C in F” in Google. Get with the 21st century USA!) It was the first relative cold spell the bees have had to deal with this winter and I was curious how they would react. I’ve read contradictory stories about the behaviour of clustering bees over the winter. Some clusters start at the bottom of the hive and move up as winter progresses. Others move to the top only on really cold days when they can use the extra bit of heat that may rise to the top of the hive. And some clusters are all over the place. So I wanted to see what my bees were doing. And what I saw when I shone my flash light into the upper entrance was pretty darn cool, at least for a first-timer like me. It doesn’t matter how boring it is, if I haven’t seen it before, I’m thrilled. So here’s a boring video of something that thrilled me:
Continue reading

Selfless Winter Honey Bees

I’m too busy with work and life to post much these days. I hope to post a review of an excellent book on honey bees soon, and I want to update several posts from this past year (I know significantly more now than I did then). I also need to order some pollen for late-winter / early spring feeding. Both of my colonies are still alive, but I’m not sure if they’ll need any feeding to get through the winter, which really hasn’t kicked in for us yet. It’s just now starting to get cold. Anyway, I took a few photos of some frozen bees in the ice and snow today. Check it out:

Continue reading

Mid-January Hives Are Still Alive (Video)


Our two hives have been wrapped since November 21st, 2010. That’s about 50 days. We had a little snow near the end of November, but it’s been mild and damp ever since with temperatures averaging between -5° and 5°C (23 to 41°F). Then we got hit with about 40cm (or 16 inches) of wet snow last night. I doubt the bees have consumed much of their honey stores with those mild average temperatures, but I’ve been concerned about the moisture inside the hives. It’s been an exceptionally soggy winter so far.

It’s still too cold to inspect the hives, but blowing into the top entrances provides a simple way to see if the bees are still alive, and it doesn’t bother the whole colony. If all is well, only a few guard bees will buzz up to the top entrance to scare away my bad breath. Here’s the video:

A few guard bees don’t guarantee the whole colony is alive and well, but I’m going to take it as a good sign. All the snow is likely to melt within a week. After that, I’ll lift the hives to check their weight. If they’re light, I might have to give them some candy boards or paddies. If they’re still heavy with honey stores, I’ll leave them alone until mid-February. I’ll probably feed them some pollen paddies by March no matter what. We’ll see.

UPDATE (Jan. 18/11): It’s probably better to simply shine a flash light in the top entrance instead of blowing in it. Unless of course the cluster is in the bottom brood chamber. Then I guess blowing is more affective.

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):
Continue reading