I was semi-profiled by The Gazette at Memorial University in December 2018 (I work with a film & video production crew at the university). It could be a collector’s item some day because it’s one of the rare instances where I gave someone permission to publish a photo of me. I was asked some general questions about beekeeping and I gave some general answers. The Gazette didn’t have room to published the full Q&A, but I do, so here it is:
Why did you begin beekeeping?
I stumbled onto a gardening blog written by a guy who kept a few beehives on the roof of his apartment in Chicago and I thought if he can keep bees in a cold, windy place like Chicago, then I should be able to do it my tiny backyard in St. John’s. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became with honey bees. That was almost ten years ago and I’m just as fascinated today as I was back then.
There’s not much to see in this video. It’s just me talking.
I may post more of these videos in the future. Even though they’re not much to look at it, they kind of paint a picture of the kinds of things I think about as I continue on this beekeeping journey, the constant adjustments required to my beekeeping practices, the non-glamorous practical things I have to deal with, but it may provide insight for new beekeepers who might be wondering, “How do I actually do this?” As usual, I’m not saying what I do is the best thing to do, but if people are able to learn from my sharing of this experience, then hey, mission accomplished.
This might be a good thing to keep in mind, especially for Newfoundland beekeepers, and especially for Newfoundland beekeepers like me who can see the cold North Atlantic Ocean from their backyard/beeyard.
The first time I noticed a broodless colony was in September of my first or second year, and I thought damn, what am I going to do now? But it wasn’t a queenless colony. The queen had just shut down for the year (stopped laying). Some queens shut down early like that. It seems to be a genetic trait. Russian honey bees supposedly shut down as soon as resources dry up, but Italians will lay sometimes well into November, depending on the temperature. (Most Newfoundland honey bees are a mix of everything, so it can be a challenge to pin down the exact genetic traits at play.) However, I’ve heard from some people who claim that it’s the opposite is true. However one more time, I think it’s the Russian queens that usually shut down early and become broodless before winter.
It’s also good to know that the queen looks smaller when she’s not laying. (I love this book.) I’ve noticed this myself. I’ve also noticed how queens that aren’t well-mated look stubbier than a well-mated queen. Her abdomen is fatter instead of long and slender.
The ABC and XYZ is an excellent beekeeping reference, especially the cheap old timey edition that I have. It seems to have as much relevant information on beekeeping than most modern beekeeping books do.
I often find earwigs and woodlice in my beehives, especially when it’s cold. Here’s a photo of tiny baby woodlice (often referred to as carpenters in Newfoundland) underneath the top cover of one of my hives:
I don’t know much about woodlice or earwigs. I only know from experience that they don’t not much or any damage to my hives. I do find earwigs in the cells of comb from time to time. Are they laying eggs or eating honey, or both? I don’t know, but again I’ve never found any creepy crawly things in my honey. I’ve never seen any kind of damage to the brood nest or the comb from anything other than shrews and mice.
I may occasionally post a photo from a book when I read something that’s relevant to my kind of beekeeping or my approach to beekeeping. Here’s a good example taken from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). I think it’s from page 488, somewhere in the Ls:
This is great. I believe it’s from the original edition of the book published in 1879. So even way back then, they knew more than most new beekeepers do today, that all beekeeping is local beekeeping. When I hear someone tell that this is the best way to feed my bees, or that’s the best way to inspect my hives, I ask myself, “Where do they keep bees?” If the answer isn’t in exactly the same climate where I keep my bees, then I make sure not to take it as gospel. That little piece of knowledge has served me well over the years.
I’m a horrible person because these days I pretty much disregard everything I hear from any person or organisation that pretends to speak with authority. I was authoritative when I first got into beekeeping and wanted to show off everything I thought I knew about beekeeping, but I can’t stand it anymore.
“Various types of birds such as shrikes, titmice, kingbirds, swifts, martins, thrushes, mockingbirds and others may eat honey bees. They consume very few bees and most bee colonies can suffer the occasional loss of a worker bee to a bird.”
August 2019 Introduction: I fooled around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about three years. It’s not a device for beekeepers on a budget. I doubt I would have picked it up myself if I didn’t get it as a birthday gift. I wouldn’t call it essential for the kind of backyard beekeeping that I do, but I have to confess that I got in the habit of using it often in the winter, even though the battery doesn’t last much longer than five minutes on a typical freezing Newfoundland winter day. It doesn’t give me the most accurate thermal images of bees, but it provides an indication of whether or not the cluster is big or small, dead or alive, or dying. I don’t have to tap on the side of the hive and listen to the roar of the bees to see how they are doing. I don’t have to listen carefully with my stethoscope. Typically, I plug the device into my Android phone, turn everything on and then run out to my hives and take as many photos as I can as quickly as possible before the battery dies. I don’t think it ever lasts more than 10 minutes. I have my doubts that the built-in battery was designed for cold places like Newfoundland. Here are some sample images and video to give an idea of how it played it out for me.