Slightly Defensive Honey Bees

Newfoundland supposedly has some of the gentlest honey bees in North America. Maybe so. But speaking from my experience and the experience of some other NL beekeepers I know, sometimes you just get a bad batch of bees. Here’s a video that shows some of the defensive behaviour of honey bees:

In my experience, when a honey bee feels threatened enough to sting — which is rare — there’s little or no warning. It will launch itself towards you like a fighter jet and you’ll feel the sting the instant it makes contact. A less defensive behaviour is what I call the head-butting dance. It’s when one or two bees fly in circles around your head and bounce off your face a few times to drive you away from the hive. They won’t sting you, but you’ll get the message that it’s time to go.

None of this is meant to discourage new beekeepers. Beekeeping is fun and rewarding most of the time. But it’s better not to idealize it every inch of the way. It’s also important to listen to people with actual experience in keeping bees, not just people who have read about it. A person with even one or two years of beekeeping under their belt can usually be trusted more than someone with none. I did so much research on bees and beekeeping when I first got interested in it, I felt I could write a book about it. I didn’t hesitate to spout out advice to anyone — and I hadn’t even kept bees yet. My enthusiasm got the best of me and turned me into a self-appointed authority on beekeeping — it turned me into a jerk. The moral of the story…? Don’t listen to jerks. Listen to experience. And remember that even the gentlest honey bees can get a little crooked from time to time.

Due Date: August 1st

I have a queenless colony of honey bees. I can tell because I pulled out a frame today with a supercedure cell — a queen cell — that’s a day or two away from being capped. (I’ll take a picture of it if I get the chance.) The bees are also a bit feisty, which often happens when a colony is queenless.

The queen will emerge in about two weeks because it usually takes about 16 days for the queen to emerge after the egg is laid, and the egg was laid two or three days ago. If my numbers are correct, the queen will emerge around July 12th. After that it takes about two weeks for her to mate and start laying. Add up all those days and it comes to about a month. So…

In theory, if I do nothing and let the bees work everything out themselves, I should see fresh brood in the hive by August 1st.

That’s (almost) exactly what I will do. I’ll add capped brood from one of my stronger colonies every four or five days to keep the colony’s number up during the full month in which it won’t have a laying queen, but other than that, the bees are on their own.

A photo of the hive in question taken one month later on August 3, 2015.

A photo of the hive in question taken one month later on August 3, 2015.


I could remove all the brood and bees from the hive and add them to one of my weaker colonies and be done with it. I could also reduce the colony down to a nuc box and move it to another beeyard where the new queen can mate with a variety of drones, which is probably the smartest thing to do because my beeyard only has two other colonies, so the queen is likely to be inbred if she mates in my beeyard. But an inbred queen isn’t the end of the world and I can alway requeen the colony later this summer when I have some well-mated queens on hand (which I’ve ordered from a local supplier).

So that’s my big plan and I’ll document it as well as I can. Let’s see what happens, shall we?

This falls in line with my general approach to beekeeping: whenever possible, leave the bees alone.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Dogberry

THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON JULY 30/15.

Another honey bee friendly flower that grows abundantly on the island of Newfoundland is Showy Mountain Ash, Sorbus decora, or as it’s commonly known, Dogberry.

Dogberry blossoms in St. John's, NL (June 23, 2015).

Dogberry blossoms in St. John’s, NL (June 23, 2015).

Again, a big reminder to wannabe beekeepers in St. John’s that your honey bees would be all over these flowers, collecting pollen and sucking up nectar to make their honey. There is no shortage of nectar for honey bees in St. John’s.

Honey bee landing on Dogberry blossoms in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).

Honey bee landing on Dogberry blossoms in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).

These blossoms turn into hard bunches of bright red berries that stay on the trees well into winter and provide a food source for wintering birds.
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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Sorrel

A red weedy looking plant popped up in my new beeyard a week or two ago, the kind of plant that looks to my eye like something I’d see in the woods in a clearing alongside an old logging road.

Honey bee on sorrel (June 27, 2015).

Honey bee on sorrel in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).

Tiny flowers bloomed on the red weedy plant a couple days ago and today, even though it’s a cold hazy day like it’s been all week, the bees were all over the flowers.

Honey bee collecting sorrel pollen in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).

Honey bee collecting sorrel pollen in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).

I was informed today that the plant is called Sorrel and the leaves are edible, kind of the tangy side, though not so delectible for humans once they’ve gone to seed.
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The Only Good Shrew is a Dead Shrew

One of my cats killed a shrew near my hives today.

Dead shrew. (June 27, 2015.)

Dead shrew. (June 27, 2015.)

I lost 62% of my honey bee colonies to shrew predation last winter. No one ever warned me about them and I never noticed much written about them. You can expect me to write a Masters thesis on them by the end of the year, though.

I will be covering all of my hive entrances with quarter-inch mesh this winter.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Blueberry Blossoms

I’ve seen honey bees explore blueberry blossoms around my house and quickly move on to something else. They don’t seem too interested in blueberries. But seeing how honey bees are used to pollinate blueberries, I’ll add blueberries to the list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland.

Blue Berry blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 26, 2015.)

Blue Berry blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 26, 2015.)

Not the greatest photo of a blueberry bush, I know. I’ll replace it with something better if I can remember to take a better photo some day.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Plum Blossoms

Well, I’ll be damned. Someone gave me a plum tree as a housewarming gift. I like it and so do the bees (though I couldn’t manage to get a shot of a bee on the blossoms). It’s an unnatural plum tree, a hybrid, so I’ll just skip the scientific name and go with the Wikipedia entry for Plum.

Out of focus cell phone photo of plum blossoms. (June 17, 2015.)

Out of focus cell phone photo of plum blossoms in Flatrock, NL. (June 17, 2015.)

Combs of Pollen and Nectar

This is Part 2 of some hive inspections I did yesterday. It’s a 3-minute video that, among a few other things, shows what frames of pollen and nectar look like. Again, this may not seem like the most scintillating thing on the planet, but new beekeepers will want to know what this stuff looks like. By the end of your first summer, you’ll want to know the difference between frames of pollen, nectar, honey, worker brood and drone brood. And if you’re in Newfoundland, most likely you’re flying blind and you’re on your own. So if you have 3 minutes to spare, you might want to take a look.

Part 1 of the video: Making Room for the Queen. There is no Part 3. I thought there would be, but there isn’t.

Making Room for the Queen

Here’s a 6-minute video from an inspection I did yesterday that shows me spotting the queen, adding a frame of drawn comb to give the queen more space to lay, and there’s a shot of the bees cleaning up a mouldy frame of pollen taken from one of my dead colonies — and you’ll hear me talking about my plans for inspecting all my hives and how I’m going to manage them. That part sounds boring, but it might give new beekeepers a sense of how to go about inspecting their hives, that is, having a plan and knowing that most plans are a joke. The bees will tell you want they need.

I mention in the video that I plan to add another deep to the hive, which is what I did, though it’s not in the video. It’s in this 1-minute time-lapse behind-the-scenes video where I explain why the hive has a moisture quilt and a few other things.

Part 2 of the hive inspection video: Combs of Pollen and Nectar.