A beekeeper's blog from the Isle of Newfoundland that's currently being tweaked and rewritten and all the photos and videos that don't display properly are being fixed up and it'll be great and you'll love when it's done.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
I snapped these photos with my mobile phone today. Nothing special, but it does the job.
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.
So-called natural beekeepers like to think they can just “let the bees be bees” and they’ll reproduce by creating their own queen cells when they need them. I’ve had my bees reproduce naturally several times and it’s great. But as with most things in natural beekeeping, it’s an ideal that often doesn’t correspond with reality. 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 hives 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 reduction, 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.
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):
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.
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.
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 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.
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.