December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.
A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.
Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.
This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:
It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:
Hive #1 after adding final pollen patty (March 29, 2011).
The last time I took a look at the bees through the top entrances, they were nowhere in sight. Normally I can see them inside walking around doing their thing, but this cold wind and snow seems to have driven them deep into the hive, probably protecting the brood from becoming chilled. I don’t know how they manage to stay alive. It’s possible both colonies could be dead by the time the weather warms up enough for them to forage and feed on their own.
December 2018 Introduction: This is sort of an uneventful post of me talking about making a giant jar feeder and a brief review of most of the feeders I’ve used over the year. I also wrote a post about how to install a jar feeder, but there’s really no much to it. Jar feeders come in handy when I want to kick-start the bees into foraging mode after a long winter. But they’re not something I think about using often. These days I do opening feeding at certain times of the year (i.e., an open bucket full of syrup with straw a fair distance from the hives), but that’s probably not the best feeding method for beginners. I’ve used frame feeders for starting up nucs. I use hive top feeders too. And recently I began to use rapid feeders that look like this…
A rapid feeder that is placed over the inner cover hole.
The honey bee colony in Hive #1 came to life in the morning sun like gang busters today. It was 13°C by 10 o’clock. I noticed activity near the bottom entrance — for the first time this year. I removed the entrance reducer to see if the extra air circulation would bring out more bees through the bottom. It did. The temperature reached nearly 15°C by 10:30 and the bees in Hive #2 began to fly around too, though not nearly as much as Hive #1. None of this may seem like a big deal, but for a first-year beekeeper, this is huge. The bees have survived the winter (so far). How do they do it?
The temperature continued to rise, but the sun disappeared and the bees went back inside after about 90 minutes. I then put the entrance reducer back on. It was warmer than usual, but not warm enough to stay out all day and start any kind of major clean up. (I didn’t see them pulling out any of the thousands of dead winter bees piled up inside the hive.) They haven’t survived the winter yet, but any kind of activity like this — I take it as a good sign.
It’s interesting that the colony in Hive #1, the same colony that shut down dramatically in the fall, is the first colony to show signs of life as soon as the weather warms up. Their behaviour seems to make sense for bees that may have some Carniolans bred into them. As usual, I don’t really know. Quoting from the Wikipedia:
“These bees [Carniolans] are particularly adept at adjusting worker population to nectar availability. It relies on these rapid adjustments of population levels to rapidly expand worker bee populations after nectar becomes available in the spring, and, again, to rapidly cut off brood production when nectar ceases to be available in quantity.”
Here’s a quiet video of me picking up a couple bees in the snow and letting them crawl on my hands:
I flicked the first bee away after it stuck its butt in the air. That’s not usually the sign of a relaxed bee. I put the second bee back in the hive. The last shot shows the field behind our shed that we would load up with hives if it wasn’t for neighbourhood vandals. Urban beekeeping has its challenges.
I discovered beekeeping through the internet and it’s from the internet that I still get most of my practical information on beekeeping. The online beekeeping lessons from David Burns, for instance, are a staple for me. I devoured those lessons when I first discovered the Long Lane Honey Bee Farms website in 2009. Mr. Burns could use an editor from time to time, but his lessons are so generous, it seems unfair to find any kind of fault with them. He adds new and relevant lessons on a regular basis and I do my best to keep up with them.
I also recently benefited from reading the Honey Bee Suite blog. I’ve read every post on the site. Illustrative photos are somewhat scarce at this point in time, but the information is either based on solid science or practical experience or both. And that’s a hard combo to beat.
Next up is Michael Bush’s website, Beekeeping Naturally. Although the website isn’t well designed — and I don’t read it anymore because I don’t think he adds new content to it — the information and advice he provides is a great starting point for new beekeepers who aren’t attracted to conventional beekeeping methods and are aiming for something more sustainable, natural, organic — whatever you want to call foundationless beekeeping. He regularly chimes in on the Beesource Forums too. While I don’t think everything he says is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland, I like his down to earth attitude.
I can think of a few more excellent websites that are helpful to novice beekeepers (some are listed in the side bar), but I think I managed to glean more practical advice from these three in the past 12 months than any others. They’ve been good to me.
I put about 4 pounds of candy cakes in each of my hives on January 28th. Then a half-pound pollen patty on February 18th (with an extra candy cake in Hive #2). It went up to 5°C in the backyard today, blinding sun, no wind — the usual ripe conditions for adding candy cakes and pollen patties. So that’s what I did.
Exhibit A: Hive #1 after I smoked it and pried open the insulated inner cover. You can see they’ve been chowing down well on the 2-week-old pollen patty (half a pound) and the 1-month-old candy cakes (about a pound each). Continue reading →