Checking on Mating Nucs

I checked on the two queens I marked from the other day, both of them set up in my version of a mating nuc. I have one colony that’s had a poorly-laying queen all year. I should have replaced her way back in June, but mated queens on the Isle of Newfoundland aren’t usually available until mid-to-late July, and I couldn’t get any of those. I’ll skip the sad details of my previous failures with mating nucs this summer (I’m sure I’ll post a video about it eventually anyway). What’s important is that my efforts have paid off. I’ve got two young mated queens filling up comb with little baby bees. Here’s the video that captures my satisfaction:

I’ll add more details to this post when I have more time.

Addition: I mention in the video how some brood are about three days old. I was confused. I was thinking about about a different bee. The grubs in the video are big and fat and the cells are ready to be capped. They’re about 5 or 6 days old.

Beeyard Visit – August 27th, 2020

An unedited visit to my beeyard that happened 30 minutes ago after a big rain storm we had last night, just me yakking and explaining a few things as well as I can explain them:

My last words in the video are a reference to the 1979 film Alien that probably no one will get, as is usually the case for references I make. I’m cool with that.

How To Mark a Queen Bee

As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one day to mark a queen, but most methods usually involve catching the queen, holding her down in some way so she can’t move, and then dabbing her with a paint pen or marker.

A quick-drying water-based paint marker.

I’ve never bothered marking queens myself because, until now, I’ve been pretty free wheelin’ with my queens. I usually have little need to hunt them down. But this year I had a colony that was ready to swarm and it would have been great if I could have found the queen then. A marked queen in a few other situations would have made my life easier too. So I got myself one of the new fan-dangled queen catchers and I marked a few queens, the first time I’ve done this in 10 years. Here’s a video that shows how I did it:


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When Bees Won’t Draw Out Comb on Plastic Foundation

I’ve always heard about how honey bees won’t draw comb on plastic foundation, but I didn’t experience it in a big way until this summer. I had three nucs set up in deeps that I wanted to expand into medium supers because I want to try on the all-medium-super beekeeping game and see if I like it because I know I don’t like lifting 40kg deeps full of honey (about 100 pounds). If I was a seniorish citizen with back, hip or leg problems, or just a regular human being who wasn’t in the mood for any heavy lifting in their beekeeping, I’d consider switching to all shallow supers. For now, though, I’ll see how it goes with mediums.

Waxless plastic foundation and a foundationless section the bees had no problem building on.


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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Elderberry

I’ve been told by people with a better eye for flowers than me that this is likely a variant of Elderberry, probably Sambucus canadensis.

Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis (August 20th, 2019, Portugal Cove, NL.)

My honey bees seem to like it, though I didn’t get a photo of a honey bee on it in this series of photos.
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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Cow Vetch

ERRATUM: Uh, I guess I was asleep at the wheel when I made this video. The title in the video refers to this flower as Orange Hawkweed, which it definitely is not. I’ll fix that as soon as I can.

Here’s a slowmo video I shot on my cell phone of a honey bee on Cow Vetch (vicia cracca).

If you look closely at the beginning of the video clip, you can see that the honey bee has its tongue (proboscis) stuck in the flower and then yanks it out.

More honey bee friendly flowers in are listed in Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage.

Behind The Scenes Beekeeping: August 2017

Want to hang out with me and my bees for 30 minutes? Here’s a video of things I did with my bees in August 2017. Just me, one guy, one hive. Prospective backyard beekeepers might like it.

I like the photos and the slow motion footage the most. I like the calm. Fireweed was beginning to die off in August and Goldenrod was just coming in.

I normally don’t post this kind of video, whatever normally is. I’m still sorting through a ton of cell phone footage that I have archived (that I’m now calling behind the scenes footage), looking for stuff that might be worth sharing.

Check out my Month of August category for a sense of things that might happen for backyard beekeepers on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland in the month of August.

Honey Bees Drinking From a Hive Top Feeder

Another example of the wonderful things to be found on Twitter and other social networking sites under the hashtag #NLbees:

2016-09-04 14.40.05

Click the images for a better view.

2016-09-04 14.39.07

Beeyard Update – August 2016

Here’s an uncut 15-minute video update of where I am with my beekeeping as of today. Not much to see. Mostly just me talking and pointing at things.

A summary for anyone who can’t be bothered: I now have nine honey bee colonies living in Langstroth hives and two nucs with old queens puttering away in the corner. I spent this summer building up my colonies after all but two of them were more or less destroyed by shrews two winters ago. It wasn’t easy. My beekeeping has been a long arduous journey since my third summer of beekeeping when I was forced to move my hives because of unfriendly neighbours, which eventually led me to sell my house in the city so I could buy another house in a semi-rural neighbourhood last year, where I now have a small but private piece of land where I hope to keep my bees in peace for years to come.

P.S.: For anyone who watched the video, yup, there’s a typo at the end of it (mudsongs.orgs when it should be mudsongs.org with no S on the end), but it’s too much trouble fix it.

Unpolished Queen Cups Are Okay

I freaked out a bit when I first saw a queen cup because I didn’t know what it was. I thought my bees were about swarm and that perhaps I should destroy the queen cups. But if a colony is about to swarm or replace its failing queen (two good reasons to create new queens), destroying the queen cups won’t make much difference. It could even make things worse.

A queen cup is the first stage of a queen cell, a big fat peanut-looking cell specifically designed for raising a new queen. The cell points down instead of sideways. Most honey bee colonies build queen cups just in case they need to create a new queen. But most of the time, at least if the beekeeper is paying attention, nothing happens. The cups are left unused.

I don’t destroy queen cups because they provide the easiest place to check for possible swarming. Here’s a quick video where I blab on about that.

The obvious clue is royal jelly or brood in the queen cups. But I’ve also noticed that the bees seem to clean and polish the insides of the queen cups in preparation for the current queen to lay in it, not unlike what they do with regular brood cells. Whenever I add a frame of drawn comb to a hive, the first thing the worker bees do is clean out every cell because the queen won’t lay in a dirty cell. Anyone who has ever observed a laying queen will have noticed that she sticks her head deep into every cell and inspects it carefully before she deposits the egg. If the surface of the cell isn’t shiny and clean, she moves on. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the bees shining up the insides of the queen cups before a swarm, but I’ve seen it enough times to say, yup, that seems to be thing.

Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage

Introduction: It’s impressive to see how many wild flowers will grow in exposed soil when the soil is simply left alone. I once moved into a house with a gravel driveway and one half of the driveway was never used. Everything seemed to grow in that gravel and dirt, every kind of clover, bush, vine — you name it, it grew there. And all I did was leave it alone. I saw more of my honey bees, bumble bees and other native pollinators over on those flowers than anywhere else. So maybe planting flowers to “save the bees” isn’t necessary. Maybe all we need to do is expose some soil to the wind and see what happens. In any case, here’s a list of flowers, both wild and cultivated, that my honey bees seem to be attracted to. This list was last updated in August 2019 when I added Cow Vetch.

Honey bees in Newfoundland, or at least where I live on the eastern part of the island, aren’t likely to see any pollen until April when crocuses begin to poke through the soil.

Honey bee on crocus  (April, 13, 2011).

Honey bee on crocus (April, 13, 2011).


And crocuses aren’t even a natural source of pollen. They’re popular in some suburban neighbourhoods, but most honey bees elsewhere won’t find natural pollen until May when the dandelions come into bloom.

Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).

Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).


I say this because I’ve casually documented every honey bee on a flower I’ve seen in Newfoundland since I started beekeeping in 2010. So far I’ve documented over 30 flowers that qualify in my mind as Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage. My list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides me with a general idea of what to expect throughout the year.
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Orientation Flights

Here’s a video for brand new beekeepers who’ve seen orientation flights but didn’t know what they were looking at.

I usually notice orientation flights around 11:30am on hot summer days, but sometimes the heat doesn’t kick in until the afternoon — in the case of this video, 2:30 in the afternoon. Everything seems calm and normal and then within about five minutes the air in front of the hive fills with fuzzy young bees hovering and facing the direction of the hive. That’s your standard-issue orientation flight situation.

Orientation flights can appear as massive, confused clouds of bees if the bees have been stuck inside the hive for a few days because of cold or wet weather. A swarm of bees, by the way, is about 10,000 time larger and it’s a whole other ballgame.

For more information on orientation flights than you’ll ever be able to process, I recommend reading the Arnia page on orientation flights.

P.S.: In the video I inaccurately refer to these as baby bees taking their first flights outside the hive even though I know it’s wrong. Orientation flights usually occur when the bees are about 22 days old — not babies — and have completed all their assigned duties inside the hive (cleaning, nursing and so on). In my mind, they’re still babies because they’re learning to fly, and it makes no difference to my beekeeping whether or not I think of them as baby bees or 22-day-old bees. But if you’re taking a test, you’ll get that question wrong if you call them baby bees.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Asters (or Daisies)

Many of the honey bee friendly flowers I’ve photographed this year grow in or around my new beeyard, including this daisy-like flower:

Honey bee on some blue flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Aug. 24, 2015.)

Honey bee on some Aster flowers in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Aug. 24, 2015.)
Click the images to see more detail.

It’s a member of the Aster genus of plants.

Honey bee on blue flower in Flatrock, NL (Aug. 24, 2015.)

Honey bee on Aster flowers in Flatrock, NL (Aug. 24, 2015.)

I’m not sure exactly what species grows in my beeyard, so we’ll just go with Aster for now.
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A Kill-Free Hive Top Feeder

July 2019 Introduction: I’ve removed the video that I originally uploaded with this post because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore. Screen stapled over the middle of the hive top feeder, for me, is the way to go now. I also staple screen inside the reservoirs on the bottom to prevent the bees from getting into the reservoirs when they’re empty. See Screened Hive Top Feeder for more details.

Hive top feeder screen in the middle so the bees are contained inside the hive. (Oct. 10, 2016.)

Hive top feeder with screen in the middle so the bees are contained inside the hive. (Oct. 10, 2016.)

I have no love for hive top feeders. They can be heavy and messy and a farcical tragedy when things go wrong. But this simple and cheap modification virtually transforms them into kill-free feeders and, at least in my experience, makes them easier to use. It also allows me to put various rims over the feeder, or anything I want over the feeder, without risk of drowning any bees. Obsessive-compulsive mad scientist beekeepers (a significant portion of the beekeeping demographic) could easily build on this design so that the feeder virtually refills itself. I can already imagine how that could work, but I digress.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Knapweed

I saw this honey bee on some Knapweed close to the water (i.e., the Atlantic Ocean) in Flatrock today, right at the entrance to the East Coast Trail.

Cell phone shot of honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 17, 20150)

Cell phone shot of honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 17, 2015)


I’ve heard that honey bees will go for Knapweed, but today is the first time I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (August 17, 2015.)

Honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (August 17, 2015.)


Alright, then. So let’s add Knapweed to my list of honey bee friendly flowers in and around the area of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Cell phone shot of honey bee on Thistle (Aug. 17, 2015.)

Cell phone shot of honey bee on Knapweed (Aug. 17, 2015.)

P.S.: At first I thought the plant was Thistle, but it doesn’t have thorns like Thistle. So I asked around and it was identified as the invasive weed, Knapweed. It’s not the only invasive plant honey bees are able to take advantage of. Honey bees are attracted to Thistle, but I won’t add it to my list until I — correctly — see it with my own eyes.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Honey Clover

I noticed all kinds of bee-like creatures — bumblebees, honey bees, flies that look like honey bees — descending on some weedy looking plant in an overgrown flower box next to my driveway today. I sent this photo of the plant out into the ether and was informed almost immediately that it’s White Sweet Clover, or Melilotus Albus — also known as Honey Clover.

White seed clover blooming in Flatrock, Newfoundland, in overgrown flower box next to my driveway. (August 14, 2015.)

White Sweet Clover blooming in Flatrock, Newfoundland, in an overgrown flower box next to my driveway. (August 14, 2015.)


I had a hard time photographing the bees on the flowers. This is the best I could do:

Honey bee on White Sweet Clover in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 14, 2015.)

Honey bee on White Sweet Clover in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 14, 2015.)


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Touchy-Feely Honey Bees

Here’s a three-and-a-half-minute video that shows some honey bees in a touchy-feely kind of mood after having their pheromones thrown into confusion with smoke.

I had to smoke the bees to curb the looking-for-a-fight enthusiasm of some of the guard bees (the first minute of the video provides the details). The bees, as far as I can tell, respond to the stimuli of strange-smelling bees and smoke by tasting and touching (and possibly cleaning) each other all over. My guess is they’re getting to know each other again. They all smell like smoke instead of bees, so they have to re-taste and smell each other to re-register in their little bee brains the smell and taste of home, of all their sisters and brothers. A perfect opportunity for any queenless bees looking for a new place to live to slip in unnoticed.

My previous video shows how the Guard Bees reacted.

A few hours later: I’m not sure if the smoke was useful. I just checked on the hive again and saw a few battling bees tumbling and fumbling over each other near the bottom entrance. The smoke seems to have delayed the inevitable… Newspaper combines can be tricky. Bad things can happen if the bees get through the newspaper too soon. That’s why I usually don’t even cut a slit in the newspaper. If the slit is too big, or tears at some point, the new bees can pour into the hive and stir up a storm. I’ve seen it happen with other beekeepers with grim results. I’ve got a feeling that most beekeeping problems are caused by beekeepers.