A Failing Queen and Hope for The Future

What follows is an example, from my own experience as a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper, of what’s involved in keeping bees and keeping them alive and well. This is nothing compared some things I’ve had to deal with before, but the point is that beekeeping takes time and effort and close attention. It’s not all about the honey (though the honey helps). So anyway, I says to Mabel, I says…

One of my little honey bee colonies is toast.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

A very small cluster for the first week of June.

The queen is failing. She’s been on the way out for a while, but now she’s fading fast, laying small, spotty patches of brood over three or four frames, the entire brood nest contained within half of a single brood box (a single deep). The cold weather we’ve had for the past two weeks (well below 10°C / 50°F) hasn’t helped. I did a quick inspection yesterday and found a few patches of capped brood abandoned in the bottom deep, abandoned probably because it got so cold the bees were forced to cluster up top.

Some abandoned brood. (June 07, 2016.)

I’ve never seen that before. Not good.

I reduced the hive to a single deep and put the abandoned brood frames in with the regular brood nest. I put on a jar feeder with honey. I don’t have high hopes.

Then there was one.

Then there was one.

It’s possible the queen doesn’t react well to cold temperatures, that she needs a good warm spell to get into a strong laying cycle. But I doubt it. Now that I’m feeding them, maybe the bees will create a supersedure queen. But I have my doubts about that too. If there’s no improvement by next weekend, I’ll probably remove the queen, if she’s still alive, and add whatever is left to one of my healthier colonies.
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A Blank Frame in The Brood Nest = Less Messy Drone Comb

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Swarm Prevention. I talked about knowing when to stop feeding to prevent swarming and all kinds of good stuff. I also said something like this:

In a standard Langstroth hive with foundation, all the foundation usually has worker-sized cells imprinted on it, so the bees tend to build worker brood comb on it, not drone comb. That leaves the queen with nowhere to lay drone comb, so she’s forced to fill the space between the boxes with drone comb — drone comb that is a big ugly mess to clean up in the spring.

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after an inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

That’s why I insert at least one blank frame into the brood nest of every colony. Given the choice to build comb however they like it, if they’re short on drones (and they usually are in a Langstroth hive full of plastic foundation), the bees will (usually) fill the blank frame with drone comb instead of gunking up the space between the brood boxes with it.

I added such a blank frame to my one colony that’s in pretty good shape two weeks ago. Today I took a look at that blank frame and found this…

Natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.

Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

The wax is yellow probably because the bees have been collecting dandelion nectar and pollen for the past few weeks.

Click the image to see a much sharper close up view of the comb.

Honey Trough

I added some crystallized honey to my hives, but the honey was still a bit too sticky to stay solid inside the jars. So I removed the jars and spread the honey around the inner cover like butter.

2016-06-006

The bees seem to like it. More bees seem to be lapping up the honey spread around the inner cover hole than from the jar.

2016-06-05 11.11.22 honey trough

Considering the cold, cold weather that’s forecast for the next week or two, I expect I’ll be feeding my bees like this for a while.

UPDATE: The sun came out briefly this afternoon and quickly heated the dark green supers I had over the hives originally to make room for the jar feeders. The heat melted the honey and it dripped out of some of the hives. The next time I butter up the hives with honey, I’ll make sure it’s only on a cold, cloudy day.

THE NEXT DAY: I switched to pouring the partially crystallized honey into jar lids. Now that’s a honey trough. Not at all practical, but easy for me with the bees in my backyard.

Honey bees gathering around the ole watering hold. (June 06, 2016.)

Honey bees gathering around the ole watering hold. (June 06, 2016.)

By the way, I DO NOT recommend this as a method for feeding bees. I made it work in my cold climate. But sunshine or any kind of heat can melt the honey and make a mess.

Bees Eat Crystallized Honey

I added jar feeders full of honey to some of my hives about two weeks ago (the last time it was about 10°C / 50°F). The bees emptied the jars, so today I added some jars full of crystallized honey. And guess what? They like it!

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

The weather stinks. It’s so cold the bees can barely do anything. None of my colonies are in great shape and this weather doesn’t help. Stupid weather.

JUNE 15, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:

The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That’s the best way to do it.

Beekeeping Myth #1: It Doesn’t Take Much Time

I’d like to dispel the myth that beekeeping doesn’t take much time. Wrong. It takes a lot of time. For the first two years of my beekeeping, for every hour I spent working with my bees, I spent at least five hours reading and taking notes or watching instructional videos of some kind. And I was glad to do it.

This is my cautionary tale for people who probably shouldn’t bother with beekeeping. If It doesn’t take much time is the final selling point for you, do yourself a favour and walk away right now.

A swarm of bees hanging off a tree branch. (June 17, 2012.)

A swarm of bees hanging off a tree branch. (June 17, 2012.)

For anyone who doesn’t want to read up on everything they can about honey bees and beekeeping, and for anyone who isn’t glad to spend as much time as possible with their bees, I say don’t waste your time with it, because you probably won’t enjoy it. And your bees are likely to be dead after a few years from negligence anyway.

Forgive me if I sound like a jerk for saying that, but I’m feeling a little annoyed at the moment.

Someone recently asked me for some information on how to start beekeeping in Newfoundland. Among another things, I sent them a link to my How-To page, essentially my personal guide to beekeeping in Newfoundland, and they said, “I don’t have time to read all that.” To which I responded: “Then you probably don’t have time for beekeeping.”
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The Importation of Honey Bees Into Newfoundland Should Not Be Allowed

Someone asked me what I think of a recent decision to allow the importation of honey bees from Western Australia into Newfoundland. I think it’s a bad idea and it should be stopped. Here’s my full response:

As for the importation of honey bees into Newfoundland from Western Australia, if I’d had a vote on the matter, I would have voted against it. I would have encouraged the gradual build up of colonies through the use of the disease-free honey bees already present on the island. But I suspect the opinions of people motivated by large-scale commercial interests will speak louder than my view on the matter.

Beekeeping in Newfoundland now has the appeal of an untapped resource for people with the means to exploit it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

Regardless of the supposed safeguards, now that importation is being allowed, it seems inevitable that some diseased bees will slip through and make it to Newfoundland. It only takes one egg-laying varroa destructor mite to destroy decades of beekeeping on the island. Safeguards are often overlooked when there’s quick money to be made.

    ADDENDUM: Varroa mites haven’t been found in Western Australian honey bees yet, although that can’t be said about the Acarapis externus and Acarapis dorsalis mites which are somewhat harmless compared to Varroa. I nevertheless err on the side of caution and ask why not just leave all the mites in Australia?

I say don’t rush into it. Take it slow and build up Newfoundland honey bee colonies in a sustainable and guaranteed safe manner by using local honey bees that are free of disease.
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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Alder Bush

I noticed my bees collecting a light-coloured pollen from a flowering tree today that I’ve never noticed before. Here’s a cellphone shot:

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland, on May 25, 2016.

The flowers are not juicy and wet like fruit flowers full of nectar. They’re dry and crumbly and the pollen easily floats away like dust with the slightest disturbance, very much like Sorrel pollen.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.


Anyone who lives in Newfoundland has probably seen this tree many times growing in the ditches by the side of the road. But I don’t know what it is.
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Swarm Prevention by Not Overfeeding and Making Room for the Queen

In my experience, it’s important to constantly feed the bees during the first year (in Newfoundland), but it’s also important to stop feeding them at a certain point in the spring so they don’t swarm. When I find drone comb gunking up the bottom of the frames in the spring, that’s my cue that the colony could potentially swarm. Queens can’t mate without drones. That’s why the first swarms usually coincide with the flight of the first drones. I could be wrong about all of this, but from what I’ve seen with my bees, it’s true. A colony won’t swarm without drones.

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

If the bees have two or three solid frames of honey in every box — enough to prevent them from starving — and drone comb is present, then I stop feeding. I don’t feed my bees if they have enough honey on their own anyway, and unless it’s a weak colony, I don’t usually feed past May 31st either because there’s usually enough natural nectar sources available by then (in my local climate), especially in the city of St. John’s that is heavily populated by maple trees. I also check my hives at least every two weeks until the end of June to make sure the queen has room to lay. Most beekeeping (beyond feeding) can be summed up with that one sentence: Make sure the queen has room to lay.

This video is from an April 2013 post.
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Jar Feeders of Honey

Here’s a jar feeder full of recently extracted honey over the inner cover of a hive housing a weak colony. (I covered it with an empty deep afterwards.)

Raw honey from a jar feeder to help out a weak colony. (May 24, 2016.)

Raw honey from a jar feeder to help out a weak colony. (May 24, 2016.)

The bees have plenty of honey in the hive, but I wonder if liquid honey stimulates them more. I know most beekeepers say there’s no need to feed if the bees have enough honey in the hive, but I wonder if feeding — syrup or honey — stimulates the colony to build up quicker than just honey in the frames.

I don’t know.

MAY 28, 2016: They’re drinking down the honey.

Bee sucking down the honey fast. (May 27, 2016.)

Bees sucking down the honey fast. (May 27, 2016.)