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.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Chuckley Pear

I recently noticed honey bees on these Chuckley Pear blossoms…

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 11, 2015).

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).

…so I’m adding Chuckley Pears to my list of honey bee friendly flowers (in eastern Newfoundland, at least). As with most wild berries, it goes by several names: shadbush, serviceberry, juneberry, saskatoon berry, etc.

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 11, 2015).

Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).

My 60-second Wikipedia research tells me the Chuckley Pear is called Amelanchier, though the particular species in these here parts is probably Amelanchier Canadensis.

Thanks to everyone who identified the blossoms for me.

A Queen Bee Lays an Egg

I wasn’t able to spot the queen until my second summer of beekeeping, not until an experienced beekeeper showed up one day and pointed her out to me. “That’s what she looks like?” — was pretty much my reaction. I had no problem spotting her after that. Once you get a good look at the queen, you never forget her. She stands out like a giant compared to the other bees, kind of like the queen alien in the Aliens movie. Anyway, here’s a quick video of a queen bee I spotted today — and I caught her laying a few eggs. (Though I suppose they’re not really eggs once they’re laid, but for simplicity, I’ll stick with eggs for now.) This video is a good test for new beekeepers. The test is called, Can You Spot The Queen?

See how hard it is spot the queen in the deluge of bees that surround her? But then once you spot her, see how hard it is to not see her? You get the hang of it after a while. A video like this would have gone a long way to helping me spot the queen when I was starting out.

Notice, too, that the queen carefully inspects every cell and will only lay in cells that are immaculate. (It’s in the video. Watch it again if you missed it.) The worker bees do some serious cleaning long before the queen ever shows up. If a frame or comb isn’t clean, the queen won’t even look at it.

Side Effect of Rubber Bee Gloves

I’ve already written about my switch to rubber bee gloves. I wear them because they’re more tactical than goat skin gloves, but boy oh boy do they ever fill up with sweat in no time. Here’s what my fingers looked like after about an hour of beekeeping in the sun today:

Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)

Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)

And my hands stink like rubber. I still prefer them over goat skin. I’ll wear goat skin when I want extra protection from bees that I know I’m going to upset, or in the winter for warmth. But I think I’ll invest in several pairs of rubber gloves so I can strip them off, dry my hands and put on a fresh pair every 30 minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt. By the time I was finished with the bees today, I could feel the sweat trapped inside the fingers of the gloves squirting around every time I gripped onto something.

P.S.: I know some people don’t wear gloves. I didn’t need gloves with my bees today. They were totally chilled out. But I’m not quite there yet. I had one particular colony over the past couple summers that was started from a queen I got from a friend, and it was full of the nastiest bees you’ll ever see. I had many unpleasant experiences with those bees, things that would turn most people off beekeeping forever. I couldn’t relax around those bees. They’re dead now and I’m glad, but they left me feeling like I can’t entirely put my guard down just yet. So I still wear gloves, all the time, even though I probably don’t have to.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Maple Blossoms

The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.

A maple tree flower in St. John's, NL (June 09, 2015.)

A maple tree flower in St. John’s, NL (June 09, 2015.)

I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but trust me, if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular. Although I’m extremely pleased to have finally found a place where I can keep my bees in peace and be around them every day, I don’t think my bees will ever thrive as well as they did when I kept them in my backyard in St. John’s.

The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)

Leave the Dandelions Alone

There’s not much to see here except some honey bees messing around on some dandelions.

I’m just using the bees I saw in my front yard today as an excuse to spread this message again: Dandelions provide honey bees and other pollinators with a much needed boost in the spring, especially in seasonally delayed places like Newfoundland where dandelions and other wild flowers don’t begin to bloom in large numbers until June. If all dandelions were mowed into mulch or destroyed by pesticides, some honey bees in Newfoundland would be in pretty hard shape. Strawberries and a variety of fruit trees that benefit from honey bee pollination would lose out too.