Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Buttercups

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).

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

I’ve never seen a honey bee on a buttercup, but I know they go for buttercups, so I’ve added buttercups, or Ranunculus, to my Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage list.

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)

May 30th, 2020: This plant is sometimes referred to as Creeping Buttercup, which is toxic to grazing animals. I’ve seen honey bees on buttercups a few times, but apparently there is some concern that it could be toxic to honey bees too. If it is, I doubt honey bees will bother it. They’re usually good at avoiding things in the natural environment that aren’t good for them.

June 22nd, 2020: Well, I finally saw honey bees on buttercups:

The bees didn’t stay on them for long, but they seemed willing to give them a taste.

Foundationless Frame in The Brood Nest = Less Messy Drone Comb

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.

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after an inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

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…

Natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.

Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)

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.

Does adding a foundationless frame to the outside of the brood nest prevent swarming? I don’t know. I still think the #1 method for preventing swarming is the give the queen space to lay by adding drawn comb, replacing frames of honey with drawn comb if necessary. Second is to give all the bees that emerge from the brood frames space so the hive doesn’t get congested with too many bees. The pheromones from the queen and from the open brood don’t circulate well around a congested hive. The worker bees get swarmy when they can’t smell those pheromones. Third, give the rapidly-growing population of worker bees something to do. That’s another reason why I toss in foundationless frames. The bees in a crowded colony usually want to fill in that space as quick as possible. They will eat honey to make wax so they can build comb to fill in the empty space. Eating honey frees up space for the queen to lay. Then the new comb will give the queen more space to lay (probably drones). So in a perfect world all of these things balance out so the hive doesn’t get gunked up with drone brood between the boxes and the queen has enough room to lay so swarming isn’t triggered. In a perfect world.

Bees Eat Crystallized Honey

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!

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)

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 15th, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:

The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That seems like the best way to do it.

The #1 Beekeeping Myth: It Doesn’t Take Much Time

It’s a myth that beekeeping doesn’t take much time. If you work from home or you’re retired, then beekeeping may not seem to take up much time. But for everyone else with day jobs that have them driving to the office every morning, not getting home until five or six in the evening or later, then walking the dog and putting supper on the table (and maybe dealing with children), beekeeping takes up a lot of time. And that’s just doing the beekeeping. Learning about it is a whole other ball game.

For the first two years of my beekeeping, for every hour I spent working with my bees, I spent at least five hours reading and taking notes or watching instructional beekeeping videos of some kind. I was also happy to do it. I was glad to spend as much time as possible with my bees, maybe too much time.

I’m not talking about obsession, though beekeeping absolutely taps into obsessive behaviour and doesn’t exactly bring out the best in everyone. But that’s another story. I’m talking about the minimal foundational work that’s required to become a good beekeeper before bees of any kind ever come into the picture.

Someone recently asked me for some information on how to start beekeeping in Newfoundland. Among another things, I sent them a link to my Guide to Beekeeping page, essentially my personal guide to beekeeping in Newfoundland, and they said, “I don’t have time to read all that.” To which I say, “Then you probably don’t have time for beekeeping.”

The information, the videos, the photos, everything I wrote up in my causal beekeeping guide doesn’t even close to being a comprehensive introduction to beekeeping. It’s mean to get prospective beekeepers warmed up and to point them in the right direction. No time to read all that? That page is simply a place start learning about beekeeping. There is so much more to learn, it’s not funny.

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

It takes time to learn about the bees and it takes time to learn from them. Even now I don’t just casually walk past my beehives once in awhile so I can admire them from a distance. I don’t treat them like ornamental objects for people to look at and say, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful.” Those hives are full of bees. I pay attention to them and I’m glad to do it. I’m constantly learning from them. I’ve met too many new beekeepers or wannabe beekeepers in the past few years who don’t seem to get this. Beekeeping takes time. Good beekeeping takes even more time.

It may not take up as much time for people who eventually develop an experiential grasp of what they’re doing, but my guess is it takes about three years before anyone even begins to know what they’re doing, especially in a place like Newfoundland where most beekeepers will have to go it alone most the time. By the end of my second year, I felt like I knew everything about beekeeping. But by the end of my third year, I realised I didn’t know squat. After my third year of beekeeping — after dealing with a colony of mean bees (which instantly takes the shine off beekeeping); after catching two swarms; after losing a colony to starvation; after getting stung in the face more than once; after dealing with mice inside a hive; after having to move my hives because my neighbours called the cops on me; after manipulating my colonies to prevent swarming — that’s when I began to learn about beekeeping. Everything up to that point was like kindergarten.

When I first got into beekeeping, I was just some guy who happened to buy some bees and put them in his backyard. Having the money and the resources to have a bunch of bees, whether four hives or forty, wouldn’t have made me a beekeeper, just like buying a camera doesn’t make me a photographer, or owning a stethoscope doesn’t make me a doctor. But after two years of dedicating most of my time to learning about honey bees and beekeeping, and then surviving my third year of hell, I began to feel like, yeah, okay, maybe I can do this. Maybe I am a beekeeper. Not by any means the wise and wizened beekeeper that everybody idealises like Santa Claus, but I’m in the club. Maybe? (But I wasn’t.)

When I look back on that experience and how much time I put in to getting to where I got, and then I see people who think they can just check on their bees whenever they feel like it, who are attracted to beekeeping because they think it doesn’t take much time — good luck to them.

I don’t know it all and I know I’m a middle-of-the-road beekeeper at best. But I know enough to realise that beekeeping takes time, more time than most people think.

I would like to burst the bubble of the totally unrealistic ideal of beekeeping that attracts most people to beekeeping, just to save them the disappointment of a lousy beekeeping experience that ends with all their bees dying on them. But that totally unrealistic vision of beekeeping is what got me into beekeeping. So I don’t really want to burst anyone’s bubble. All I can say is use that bubble wisely if you can, keeping in mind that there is a different reality beyond the Zen-filled dreamland where honey bees never sting. Beekeeping is sweaty and dirty work most of the time and requires a lot of thought and effort to do it right. Beekeeping can be immensely rewarding, but it takes more time (and money) than most people initially realise.