A Hive Full of Cracks

I noticed yesterday there’s significant gap between the bottom and top deep as well as between the top deep and the inner cover of one of my hives. Here are some photos:

Enough space between the inner cover and top deep to slip in my car key. (July 31, 2015.)


I noticed the crack between the deeps when I first installed the top deep:

Enough space between deeps to easily slip in my pocket knife. (July 31, 2015.)


Thinking it was the new top deep, I switched it with another one but the same gap (or crack) still appeared. Which leads me to conclude that the top edge of the bottom deep isn’t flat. And who knows what’s happening with the crack beneath the inner cover. The inner cover might be warped. I hope that’s all it is, because that’s one big massive crack.

I’m used to dealing with some cracks between the hive components from time to time. Most of the cracks provide ventilation that doesn’t hurt the bees. But the cracks in this hive are a bit much. I’ll probably fill them in with duct tape once I’m done tearing the hives apart for the year. Completely replacing all the deeps and inner covers with ones that still might not fit tightly together — I can’t be bothered. I have no interest in messing with the bees that much at this time of year.

Do other beekeepers worry about cracks?

Alcohol and Honey Bees

I added some frame feeders to two nucs today but couldn’t find my anise extract to add to the syrup as an attractant. So…

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

…I used absinthe instead. Hopefully there’s nothing harmful it in that might hurt the bees.

My previous video, Refilling a Frame Feeder, shows exactly how I use my frame feeders.

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

June 2019 Postscript: I got away with it once, but I wouldn’t do this again because I heard from a beekeeper in central Europe that some beekeepers in his area will feed their bees alcohol to encourage the bees to rob from nearby hives. It’s a shady move — a desperation move to save colonies that are low on resources. The bees suck down some alcoholic brew made with hard liquor, they get drunk and go on a robbing rampage. No kidding.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Purple Clover

Honey bee on Purple Clover (July 26, 2015.)

Honey bee on Purple Clover in Flatrock, NL (July 26, 2015.)

I saw a honey bee on some Purple Clover yesterday (some call it Red Clover), so let’s add it to the list of honey bee friendly flowers: Trifolium medium, also known as Zigzag Clover. That’s my best guess, anyway.

Honey bees can’t access the nectar in Purple/Red Clover as well as they can from White Clover, so it’s not something I’d go out of my way to plant, but neither will I mow it down if it’s growing in my lawn.

JUNE 30, 2016: I saw Purple Clover in blossom as early as June 15th this year.

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.)

JUNE 30, 2016: I’ve seen White Clover in bloom this year as early and June 15th.

How To Install a Mated Queen Bee

April 2019 Introduction: This is how I’ve introduced mated queens since I began beekeeping in 2010. I’ve had no problems with this method. But here are a few extra tips not mentioned in the post:

1) If using a wooden queen cage, the cage can be placed horizontally between two frames of brood so that the screen portion of the cage is facing down. I’m not sure what difference that makes, but the University of Guelph‘s head beekeeper does that and I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s doing.

2) The hive should be left alone for a least a week after the queen has been installed. Any kind of disturbance in the hive can cause the bees to reject the queen, even if the queen has already been released from the cage. I’m guilty of looking into the hive too soon. I need to remind myself that I shouldn’t go near the hive for at least a week.

As much as I would rather leave it to my honey bee colonies to make their own queens naturally when they need them, they don’t always succeed. I have requeened come colonies with swarms cells, but most of the time I just order a mated queen. Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way by letting the bees make their own queens whenever they feel like it:

1) Unless the virgin queen can mate with drones from another bee yard, it’s likely she will mate with her own siblings and produce inbred and ill-tempered bees. My queens mated well only when there were about a dozen other colonies in the area.

2) Swarms that happen later in the summer can result in two weakened colonies instead of one strong colony (assuming the swarm is caught and re-hived). While swarm colonies typically expand quickly after a swarm, they can only grow so much once the weather turns cold and are often too weak to survive the oncoming winter.

3) Whether through supersedure or swarming, the natural process of requeening usually results in a 2-4 week period of reduced or even zero brood production, which again weakens the colony no matter when it happens. A weakened colony can be propped up with brood from a stronger colony, but not all hobbyist beekeepers, especially starting out, have that luxury. That being said…

The following video demonstrates my method of installing a mated queen and checking on her to make sure she’s been released from her cage and then checking on her again to make sure she’s laying. I don’t have years and years of experience installing mated queens, but I’ve followed this exact method about a dozen times since 2010 for myself and friends, requeening and starting up new colonies from splits, and it works.


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A Requeening Gone Bad

June 2019 Introduction: I’ve deleted some bits from this 2015 post, but instead of rewriting the whole thing, I’ll just tell you what happened in the end.

I purchased some mated queens from a local breeder who has virtually bred out what some would describe as “blonde bees,” or lightly coloured bees, usually honey bees of Italian stock. His bees are what some refer to as “black bees,” or honey bees of mostly Russian stock. And here’s the deal with Russian honey bees (to quote from a PDF article published by North Carolina State University):

“Requeening Italian hives with Russian queens can be difficult, and many beekeepers lose their newly introduced Russian queens. Russian queens have a different ‘odor’ than Italians, and parent colonies must become acclimated to this odor before they will accept the newcomers.”

And that’s exactly what happened with this requeening gone bad. My Italian colonies simply did not accept the Russian queens. All but one of the queens were killed outright and the colonies went on to make a new queens and were broodless that whole time and it was a headache I could have done without because it basically left me with a bunch of weak colonies. I wrote more about this in my post, A Stubby Ragged Queen. The moral of the story is, be cautious when installing a dark queen in a colony that previously had a light queen. If I do it again, I’ll cage the queen for a week and manually release instead of allowing the bees to chew through the candy plug to let her out. See How To Install a Mated Queen for more info.

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 (and if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):

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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 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. To make it more confusing, the presence of swarm cells usually means the bees are going to fly away with their old queen, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.

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 what some call 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.

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.