Making Sugar Cakes with a Dash of Honey

I’ve written about making and feeding my bees sugar cakes before. I think I stole this idea from Honey Bee Suite, like I do many things, though I don’t do anything exactly the way anyone else does it. The basic recipe is 12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water.

There’s a formula for mixing it more precisely depending on sea level and atmospheric pressure, but I don’t worry about any of that. If it’s too wet, I add more sugar or just give the cakes (or bricks) more time to dry. The only thing I do that might be considered innovative is add honey to the water to make the sugar more attractive to the bees, the logic being that if the sugar smells like food (honey), the bees will be less likely to toss it out the front door like they often do with dirt and debris. That’s my big secret to making sugar cakes: make it smell like honey. Or drop in a bit of anise or lemon grass oil, something to attract to the bees to the sugar. Mind. Blown. I know.

Cell Phone Chronicles 17.02 (February)

February 28th, 2017.

Here’s another instalment of the amazing Cell Phone Chronicles. This one is 33 minutes long. It was recorded in February 2017. Again, it’s just me standing around my beehives talking about bees. At one point I talk about making sugar cakes flavoured with honey and then I put them in some beehives. I talk about how Russian bees go through the winter with a smaller cluster compared to standard Italian honey bees. I also talk about how great snow is as an insulator. (Most of the hives in this video are buried in snow.) There are some shots of my cat, a squirrel and other amazing things.

I don’t expect this video to get over 4 million views. I’ll be impressed if four people can sit through the whole thing. There will be more to see in these cell phone chronicles once I get into the warmer months and actually do some beekeeping apart from standing around hoping my bees aren’t freezing to death.
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Yakking About Snow Around My Beehives

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.

No Brood Doesn’t Always Mean No Queen

Let’s steal more wisdom from the 1947 edition (which seems to reproduce most of the the 1879 edition) of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture:

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.

Woodlice Living in Beehives

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.

Are earwigs and woodlice harmless? I think so.

All Beekeeping is Local Beekeeping, Even in the 19th Century

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.

Birds & Bees

I often see small birds like these pecking away at dead bees around my hives in the winter.

It doesn’t seem to take long for the birds to realise where the bees are.

Usually see the birds swoop down from the trees, flitter from one bottom entrance to another, grab a bee and fly back up in the trees to eat it.

In this case the bird flew to the top of a hive instead. According to the University of Delaware (PDF):

“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.”

It’s never been a problem for me.