First Hive Inspection of the Year

February 2019 Introduction: This is a fairly boring video of a full hive inspection. Judging from the number of bees, I would say this colony is in pretty good shape for May in Newfoundland, despite the alarming number of frames with hardly any comb on them. In the video I speak about finding possible signs of wax moth. I didn’t know much in 2011. Newfoundland doesn’t have wax moth. It was just mold. It’s another hive inspection in which I essentially reverse the brood box. It doesn’t necessarily prevent swarming, but I still do it. At the end of the video I make the mistake of installing a hive top feeder with an inner cover on top, which would allow the bees to crawl into the reservoirs of the feeder and drown. Pro tip: Don’t do that. It’s also cool to see the multi-coloured pollen the bees are bringing in, most likely from crocuses.

I did the first hive inspection for one of my hives today.

The brood boxes were effectively reversed by pulling the frames from the top box, installing them in a new box which I used as the new bottom brood box. And for the record, here’s what I found on each frame from the original top box: 1) Natural capped honey comb. 2) Natural capped honey comb. 3) Honey and pollen on a plastic frame. 4) Natural brood, drone and honey comb. 5) Capped and open brood. 6) Natural drone and open brood comb. 7) Brood comb on plastic. 8) Natural empty honey comb. 9) Honey comb on plastic. 10) Uncapped honey comb on plastic. The original bottom box was completely empty, many of the frames with mostly bare plastic foundation (which I’ll probably remove soon). I mistakenly refer to plastic frames in the video. What I meant was plastic foundation. And by natural comb, I mean comb built on a foundationless frame.

Friendly Bee on My Finger

Here’s a couple of heavily cropped in (and therefore not exactly high rez) photos of honey bees with pollen crawling around my fingers:

Update: I was glad to let Elsa Coimbra use this photo in a paper she wrote for the Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science in 2015. Thanks for asking, Elsa. More often than not, my photos are used without permission. Here’s the paper (PDF).

The bees were bringing in pollen of every colour and crawling all over me after a quick hive inspection.

Honey Bee Resurrection (Topor)

A bee landed on me and followed me into the house yesterday. It tried to get outside but it only got as far as the outside window screen of my office window. The temperature overnight was below freezing. The bee appeared dead the next morning. Until…

February 2019 Postscript: This is an example of torpor. It’s when a bee is so cold it can’t move — and appears dead. The bee comes back to life once it warms up (unless it really is dead). Here’s a video I posted on Twitter that demonstrates it in a slightly more dramatic fashion.

The Aftermath of Moving a Hive

February 2019 Introduction: I makes mistakes all the time, so I feel confident in passing on this pro tip. Here’s my pro tip: After moving a hive to a new spot, remove all signs of the old hive so that any returning bees have no visual cues that their hive was ever there. In other words, don’t do what I did in this video. It’s an enlightening video in that it demonstrates how honey bees summon all their siblings to the location of their new home by fanny pheromones into the air after a major disturbance (which I admit is a very cool thing that honey bees do). But the bees in the video probably would have found the location of their new home much faster and with much less effort if I’d simply removed all signs of their old hive. I should have shaken all the stragglers off the old hive components in front of the new hive. Then I should have removed the old hive stand, the boxes, everything, from the old location, so that nothing that looked like their old hive or smelled like their old hive was there to confuse them.

Honey bees are impressive little navigators. They can continually find their way back to a small patch of flowers miles from their hive, and then give detailed directions to any other bee willing to listen. Honey bees can find their way back home like nobody’s business. It’s amazing. On the other hand, they easily become disoriented to their hive when it’s moved only a couple of feet. A hive can be moved using various techniques designed to help the bees reorient themselves to the new location. I won’t go into that now. I just want to show how cool the bees are. They can deal with just about anything we throw at them. Today after I moved one of my hives, I stood back and watched the bees gradually reorient themselves to the exact location of the new hive. It took a few hours for all of them to get the message, but eventually they homed in on the new location. When half the colony starts cranking out the Nasonov pheromone, it’s hard to miss. Check it out:

This is part 2 of Inspecting and Moving a Hive.

P.S.: I wasn’t wearing any protective clothing during this portion of the video. Not a single sting. Some of the bees became more defensive an hour or so later when plenty of foragers were still coming back to the old spot. I was probably messing up the orientation pheromones with my stinky human smell.

Inspecting and Moving a Hive

February 2019 Introduction: The well-known rule for moving beehives is “3 feet or 3 miles” (3 metres or 5km), and it’s true most of the time. Move a hive more than 3 feet and the bees get disoriented and can’t find their way back to the hive. But move the hive more than 3 miles and they recognize right away that they’re no longer in Kansas and will automatically reorient to the new hive location.

But rules are kind of for dictators, don’t you think? Locally, I know more than a few a prospective beekeepers who were told that they shouldn’t keep bees if the hives can’t be in full sun all day. And that’s bunk. I’ve never kept my bees in full sunshine and they’re fine. In fact, the best colony I ever had, that produced 50kg of surplus honey for me, was a hive that was kept in the woods in the shade for most of the day. They weren’t the most docile bees I’ve ever seen (because some bees get cranky when temperatures drop for any reason), but who cares? I got out of their way, let them do their thing, and I got 100 pounds of honey out of them. Which pretty much kills the full sunshine “rule.”

The “3 feet or 3 miles” rule can be bent in many ways too. I’ve bent the rule when moving hives more than 3 feet within my backyard by moving the bees while it’s dark, when the bees are done flying around for the day, and then I block the top entrance and cover the bottom entrance with a branch from a spruce tree — something that immediately confuses the bees and disrupts their normal flight patterns. The next morning, the branch causes them to reorient to the hive and we’re done.

When I know that three or four days of bad weather are in the forecast, I’ll move a hive the night before the bad weather starts (or even during the bad weather). Honey bees usually have to reorient to the hive location if they haven’t foraged for more than three days. I place a branch in front of the hive entrance just be safe. But that usually works too.

I’ve also moved hives early in the morning on a sunny day. As long as other hives are close by, the disoriented bees have the rest of the day to find their way into a hive, maybe not their original hive, but they find a place to live. I’ve only done that a few times under desperate conditions. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t catastrophic either.

This post from 2011 records the first time I tried moving a hive when I didn’t know all the fine details of the “rule” like I do now. Let’s see how it played out (I’ll jump in with extra info while I read through it all again)…

Hive on the left. Frames were inspected and moved to the empty deep on the right. (May 5, 2011.)


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Slow Motion Honey Bees

The following video isn’t for everyone. Eventually I’ll set up some contraption that will allow me to get close up shots of the bees in flight. I don’t have an expensive camera or any kind of fancy gear, and the angle isn’t the greatest, but you might enjoy this video if you’re truly obsessed with honey bees.

The sound of the bees plays at normal speed.

Bees Doing Bee Things

Our active spring bees haven’t had much of a chance to get active in the past week or so. Freezing rain and fun stuff like that. But they managed to get out today. Nothing big. What I’d call moderate activity. It’s all coming back to me now like a YouTube video in my brain:

I plan to inspect my hives tomorrow or the next day — if the freezing rain doesn’t come back. A hive inspection is a major operation, one that requires my full attention. I may set up a video camera on a tripod and I’ll see what it captures, but getting through the inspection without damaging the hive or injuring the queen is my highest priority.