A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of April. For the record, I began with two nucleus colonies in Langstroth hives in 2010 that I kept in my small backyard near downtown St. John’s (Newfoundland). I bought two more nucs the next year. By 2012, using swarm cells and naturally mated queens, I had six colonies on a farm in Portugal Cove. By 2013, mostly by creating splits with swarm cells, I had eight colonies on the edge of a big field in Logy Bay. I lost most of my colonies in the winter of 2015 to shrews. That was the only year I wasn’t able to take honey from my hives. I moved what was left of my colonies to Flatrock in 2015 and slowly built my beeyard up to nine colonies by the summer of 2016. My goal is to maintain a relatively self-sustaining beeyard with no more than ten colonies.
I use feeder rims on my hives to make room for emergency feeding of dry sugar and protein patties in the winter, but once the bees wake up from winter and have enough to start building new comb, the rims have to come off before the bees fill in the extra space created by the rims with messy comb. That’s what this video is about. And, yup, I find some burr comb.
“Don’t use open feeders for your bees… unless you know what you’re doing.” That’s the common wisdom flying around the backyard beekeeper’s world these days, and it’s a smart rule to follow. So, naturally, I had to try open feeding to find out for myself.
This isn’t the most informative video. I’ve written in detail about opening feeding in other online forums. While I understand why it’s generally discouraged, one doesn’t have to look far to see commercial beekeepers using open feeders in the spring to get their bees off on the right track. Continue reading →
This is probably the first natural pollen my bees have foraged on this year. The crocuses popped up through the snow around March 21st — a month ago — but the weather has been mostly rain, drizzle and fog since then. People saw the sun today for the first time in weeks and freaked out because it was such a weird thing to see.
Other beekeepers on the island reported seeing their bees bring in loads of pollen a couple weeks ago. But that didn’t happen where I live. A great reminder of a beekeeper’s #1 lesson: All beekeeping is local beekeeping.
I often post items to my beekeeping Facebook page that I don’t post here on my blog, which is generally reserved for content I create myself. For the stuff I had nothing to do with but still piques my beekeeping interests, the Mud Songs Beekeeping Facebook page is the place. For instance, here’s my latest Facebook post that talks about how pollen patties can help maintain the brood nest when the weather turns to junk:
I didn’t create that video, but I would if I could. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’ll likely never have the money or the land to keep bees on a commercial level, but if I ever thought about hitting the big time, I’d be all over his videos. Even as a backyard beekeeper, I’ve learned quite a lot from him. Continue reading →
I had to add some protein patties (artificial pollen) to my hives yesterday because my bees have been stuck inside their hives for a week, unable to forage for pollen just at a time when the year’s first pollen was beginning to come in. We’ve got at least another week of this lousy weather ahead of us. This is when I say enough is enough. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Here’s another edited low-fi live stream from my beeyard (26 minutes, not much edited down). This time I check on some bees with dry sugar, add a pollen patty and I mess around with my smoker.
There’s a lot of talking in this video (hence the new Talkin’ Blues category), which is sort of what I’m leaning towards these days. In any case, here are the highlights from the video: Continue reading →
Someday I’ll start posting instructional beekeeping videos again, but these days I enjoy down and dirty beekeeping work more, just hanging out with the bees and talking out loud, saying whatever comes to mind. I did this a couple days ago while inspecting all seven hives in my little shaded beeyard. Most of it was junk, what I said and what I got on video, but I still think there’s something to be had from watching these kinds of videos where not much happens, because real life, real beekeeping, is exactly that 95% of the time. It’s grimy tedious work. Let’s see what happens…
More slow motion shots of honey bees on crocuses. For people stuck at home looking for a break, it’s not bad to watch this one in full-screen mode in the highest resolution. No audio required, though you might like that too.
Honey bees on crocus flower. (April 14th, 2020, Flatrock, Isle of Newfoundland.)
This time the bees are in better focus (though I’m still working out some of the kinks).
Don’t ask me what variety of crocuses these are because I have no idea. (Update: But apparently they’re commonly called Snow Crocuses. I’ve revised the title of this post to reflect this newfound knowledge.)
The video was shot on a pocket-sized camera called a Sony RX-100v.
Some of my bees got out for cleansing flights a couple days ago and a bunch of them landed on the side of my shed and began scenting, grooming each other, and I saw a little trophallaxis happening too. And it wasn’t a swarm. I’ve only been keeping bees since 2010 (not a long time) with a relatively small number of hives, and I rarely meet up with other beekeepers, so it’s not surprising that I’ve never seen or heard about this before.
My best guess is that the bees have been clustered deep down in their hives all winter, buried under snow for most of it, and they haven’t had a good day for cleansing flights until now. Honey bees communicate and get to know each other by touching (grooming, bumping up to each other) and feeding each other through the exchange of enzymatic fluids in their guts. It’s how the smell of each other and, more importantly, the queen is spread throughout the colony. It’s a big part of how they stay together and work together as a single super-organism. From what I’ve seen, they usually do this kind of getting-to-know-each-other-again-after-a-long-hard-winter socialising inside or near the entrance of the hive. But I guess they were just enjoying the fresh air and sunshine so much, some of them decided to stay outside and others joined in the party.
UPDATE: It’s obvious now what the bees are doing. They’re hanging out in a warm spot of sunshine just like cats do.
I’ve probably never been more pleased with an over-wintered colony than I am with the one in this video. I’m not entirely sure what I did, but these bees have been clustering way down in the bottom of their hive under an insulating and tasty block of honey all winter long and are only now beginning to show up above the top bars. And they’re not even close to starving. I love it. I’ll drop my theory on how that happened after the video.
For any first-year beekeepers in Newfoundland (or a similar climate) wondering what they might find during their first hive inspection of the year (which usually falls somewhere between late April and mid-May), here’s a video of my first hive inspection in 2011 that shows a fairly healthy colony coming out of winter, one that allowed me to steal a boat load of honey from it later that summer (though I may have had to feed it for a few weeks to give it a boost; I don’t remember).
I found honey on the outside frames, some pollen mixed in and then capped and open brood spread out over five or six frames in the middle. I might have been concerned with one or two frames of brood (though queenright colonies with zero brood as late as May 15th isn’t unheard of) but five or six frames of brood during the first week of May is pretty good for my local climate. (None of my colonies are doing as well this year. They’re still recovering from The Attack of The Shrews.) The hive body underneath was more or less empty.
These days I’m usually much faster with my inspections, but overall the video demonstrates how I still inspect (and reverse) my hives every spring. I have a more detailed video in the works, but for now I’ll break it down like this (assuming we’re dealing with a 2-deep Langstroth hive and it’s a warm, windless sunny day somewhere between 11am and 2pm): Continue reading →
I have a colony of bees that always clusters on the west side of their hive — and I don’t know why.
Cluster expanding from the west side. (April 23, 2016.)
I’ve had this colony for almost four years now (she’s an old queen that I started from a swarm cell) and I’ve noticed this clustering behaviour since day one. Even when I rearrange the frames of the brood nest in the spring so all the brood is in the middle of the hive, the brood nest eventually shifts to the west side of the hive.
I’ve checked everything over the years and there’s nothing unusual about the hive set up. No signs of mice, no leaks on one side of the hive, nothing. I’ve used various hive bodies and other hive components. I even moved the hive to a different beeyard and rotated it so the cluster was on the east side. Within a month the cluster shifted to the west side. My best guess is the bees prefer the heat of the setting sun.
July 2019 Postscript: There’s nothing unusual about the bees favouring the warmer or sunny side of their hive. I’ve seen in many times, both in the winter and the summer.
I removed all the emergency winter sugar from my hives today. Some of the sugar was in the form of sugar bricks or sugar cakes and I wasn’t sure if the bees were eating it or clearing it out like they sometimes do with dry sugar.
Top of a sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)
Well, turns out they were eating it.
Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)
The undersides of all the bricks and cakes were eaten away by the bees, and I didn’t find any sugar on the bottom board of the hives. In other words, the bees ate it; they didn’t discard it.
As much as dry sugar feeding has served me well, I might switch completely to sugar bricks next winter. The bees seem to either leave the sugar bricks alone or eat them, and I find it easier to clean up in the spring than the newspaper left behind with the dry sugar method. Just my thinking at the moment.
I post this for my own records. I saw some of my bees with a sprinkle of yellow pollen on their legs yesterday and today I managed to snap off this blurry photo of a honey bee with what I’d call a good load of pollen.
First pollen of the year in Flatrock, Newfoundland, and it’s yellow. (April 17, 2016.)
It seems too early for dandelions or any other naturally yellow flower, so I’m guessing someone has some crocuses planted nearby. Good enough. Spring in Newfoundland hasn’t quite sprung yet, but we’re getting there.
First pollen on the year. Bee resting on old sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)
The pollen could also bee from coltsfoot, a.k.a. Tussilago, though I haven’t seen any around. It could pollen from pussy willows too. I’ll have to look around when I have a chance.
April 24th, 2016: A week later the bees were bringing in more of the same pollen.
I noticed something unusual yesterday. I happened to touch the top cover of one of my hives and it seemed warm. Warm on a typical frigid April day in Newfoundland. So I pulled the top off and put my hand on the wood chips in the moisture quilt…
A hive giving off some heat. (April 15, 2016.)
…and that sucker was giving off some serious heat. I’ve felt heat over the moisture quilt in the winter in strong colonies that were clustering near the top, but never this late in the winter. (On a practical level, my winter beekeeping doesn’t end until it’s warm enough to give the bees sugar syrup, if necessary.)
One seriously hot hive next to my bee supply shed. (April 15, 2016.)
It might not mean anything, but it could mean the queen has been laying and a big batch of brood recently emerged. That’s just a guess.
I took a peek under the moisture quilt and it was packed with bees all over the dry sugar and devouring a pollen patty I threw in about a week ago. I’m not sure what to think, but to feel that much heat coming out of a hive at this time of year — it’s a new one for me.
UPDATE (the next day): After inspecting the hive, I did find a frame a brood, though overall I’d say it’s a fairly small cluster for this time of the year. Whatever is going on, nothing bad seemed to have come from the heat. Strange.
Because they’re hungry for protein. That’s why honey bees eat chicken feed. Especially in the early spring when the queen is laying again and there are more mouths to feed. (Spring is a relative term for beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland.)
Honey bees eating chicken feed. (Flatrock, NL, April 9, 2016.)
I gave my bees pollen patties earlier in the winter and they showed little interest in them. But judging by how intensely they’re digging into the chicken feed (full of protein), I bet they wouldn’t say no to a protein-rich pollen patty right about now.
April 2019 Postscript: Honey bees are often starving for protein in the early spring before much of anything has flowered. They will dig into anything that looks or smells like protein, including chicken food, dog food, bird feed, a pile of sawdust — you name it, they’ll go for it.