Buttercups have been in bloom around these here parts for the past couple weeks (before that the weather was cold and miserable most of the time).
I’ve heard for a long time that lemongrass oil is an excellent swarm lure. A few drops inside a swarm box full of old drone comb and the bees will be all over it.
So I went ahead and got myself some lemongrass oil ($5 at my local Bulk Barn), sprinkled five or six drops of it on some old comb (drone comb, comb with patches of honey, etc.) and set up a few swarm boxes. And within hours the bees were all over them.
Another one of my beekeeping Gmail reminders came in a few days ago and it goes a-something like this:
Add medium honey supers soon if they’re not already on and note that if the bees haven’t filled a super by the end of July like this…
…then you might as well remove the honey supers before August and let the bees make winter honey stores for themselves.
That’s a general reminder for me in my local climate. It assumes the colony is in good shape and the weather hasn’t been total garbage.
Again, this reminder is based on my experience with keeping bees in and around St. John’s, Newfoundland, since 2010. My honey bee colonies usually live in 2 to 3 deep Langstroth hives and my honey supers contain fully drawn out comb on plastic foundation. I put a queen excluder beneath the honey super. I might insert blank frames for making comb honey once the nectar flow kicks into high gear. If I only had frames with bare foundation, I would leave the excluder off until the bees had drawn out the comb. But however it goes down, my honey supers are usually on by June 15th at the latest. The population inside the hive is usually rising fast by then and the first significant nectar flows have the bees working fast and furious at making honey.
This isn’t an exact how-to post about adding honey supers. It’s more a reminder for myself that it’s about time to put on the honey supers. I’ve had a honey super on one of my hives since the beginning of June. I added a honey super to another hive about a week ago. I rely mostly on experience, not an exact date (there are no exact dates for anything in beekeeping). I can usually tell when the hives are getting crowded, when a large amount of capped brood is about to emerge, when the bees need the extra space provided by honey supers, when a nectar flow is about to start up — any or all of those conditions and I add a honey super. I’d probably have greater success if I had an exact formula (this much capped brood + that many empty frames + this much honey, etc.), but my brain doesn’t like to do that kind of thing. I go with my gut most of the time. Though I usually don’t wait much longer than mid-June to add the honey supers where I live.
When my old Nexus 4 smartphone bit the dust a few weeks ago, I finally had an excuse to buy a top of the line model with a quality slow-motion feature: the Samsung Galaxy S7. Yeah, big deal, it’s just another overpriced cell phone, a necessary evil of modern life. But it saves me the bother of shopping around for a new DSLR camera. As much as I would love a DSLR with quality lenses, this little smartphone camera is good enough for what I need most of the time. I’ll probably use it for all my media content for now on. Here are some short slo-mo clips I posted to Twitter as a test.
— Phillip Cairns (@PhillipCairns) June 11, 2016
Not bad, eh?
— Mud Songs Beekeeping (@MudSongsBeek) June 11, 2016
That was just a test. I expect to get some good stuff once I get used to the camera.
My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.
Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up):
What follows is an example, from my own experience as a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper, of what’s involved in keeping bees and keeping them alive and well. This is nothing compared some things I’ve had to deal with before, but the point is that beekeeping takes time and effort and close attention. It’s not all about the honey (though the honey helps). So anyway, I says to Mabel, I says…
One of my little honey bee colonies is toast.
The queen is failing. She’s been on the way out for a while, but now she’s fading fast, laying small, spotty patches of brood over three or four frames, the entire brood nest contained within half of a single brood box (a single deep). The cold weather we’ve had for the past two weeks (well below 10°C / 50°F) hasn’t helped. I did a quick inspection yesterday and found a few patches of capped brood abandoned in the bottom deep, abandoned probably because it got so cold the bees were forced to cluster up top.
I’ve never seen that before. Not good.
I reduced the hive to a single deep and put the abandoned brood frames in with the regular brood nest. I put on a jar feeder with honey. I don’t have high hopes.
It’s possible the queen doesn’t react well to cold temperatures, that she needs a good warm spell to get into a strong laying cycle. But I doubt it. Now that I’m feeding them, maybe the bees will create a supersedure queen. But I have my doubts about that too. If there’s no improvement by next weekend, I’ll probably remove the queen, if she’s still alive, and add whatever is left to one of my healthier colonies.
Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Swarm Prevention. I talked about knowing when to stop feeding to prevent swarming and all kinds of good stuff. I also said something like this:
In a standard Langstroth hive with foundation, all the foundation usually has worker-sized cells imprinted on it, so the bees tend to build worker brood comb on it, not drone comb. That leaves the queen with nowhere to lay drone comb, so she’s forced to fill the space between the boxes with drone comb — drone comb that is a big ugly mess to clean up in the spring.
That’s why I insert at least one foundationless frame into the brood nest of every colony. Given the choice to build comb however they like it, if they’re short on drones (and they usually are in a Langstroth hive full of plastic foundation), the bees will (usually) fill the foundationless frame with drone comb instead of gunking up the space between the brood boxes with it.
I added such a foundationless frame to my one colony that’s in pretty good shape two weeks ago. Today I took a look at that foundationless frame and found this…
…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.
The wax is yellow probably because the bees have been collecting dandelion nectar and pollen for the past few weeks.
Click the image to see a much sharper close up view of the comb.
I added some crystallized honey to my hives, but the honey was still a bit too sticky to stay solid inside the jars. So I removed the jars and spread the honey around the inner cover like butter.
The bees seem to like it. More bees seem to be lapping up the honey spread around the inner cover hole than from the jar.
Considering the cold, cold weather that’s forecast for the next week or two, I expect I’ll be feeding my bees like this for a while.
UPDATE: The sun came out briefly this afternoon and quickly heated the dark green supers I had over the hives originally to make room for the jar feeders. The heat melted the honey and it dripped out of some of the hives. The next time I butter up the hives with honey, I’ll make sure it’s only on a cold, cloudy day.
THE NEXT DAY: I switched to pouring the partially crystallized honey into jar lids. Now that’s a honey trough. Not at all practical, but easy for me with the bees in my backyard.
By the way, I DO NOT recommend this as a method for feeding bees. I made it work in my cold climate. But sunshine or any kind of heat can melt the honey and make a mess.
I added jar feeders full of honey to some of my hives about two weeks ago (the last time it was about 10°C / 50°F). The bees emptied the jars, so today I added some jars full of crystallized honey. And guess what? They like it!
The weather stinks. It’s so cold the bees can barely do anything. None of my colonies are in great shape and this weather doesn’t help. Stupid weather.
JUNE 15, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:
The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That’s the best way to do it.