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



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.

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


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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