Honey bees seem to like onions going to seed, so let’s add onions to the list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland.
Almost everything to do with queens this year has been wonky. I’ll talk about that some other time. For now, check out this video where I explain why I had to create an artificial swarm — on August the bloody 25th. Give me a break. I’ll fill in the details tomorrow or the next day.
It wasn’t a perfect artificial swarm set up, but I was working alone and I had 20 minutes to get it done, and sometimes, especially backyard beekeepers who have day jobs, you just gotta get it done, even if it isn’t pretty.
Am I the only one in Newfoundland who thinks this has been an unusual and even slightly weird summer for beekeeping? Here are the hive inspections that got me thinking about this.
I created a walkaway split this summer and it worked. I got a second colony out of it.
I divided a well-populated, strong honey bee colony — one that was on the verge of swarming — into halves, each half with an identical assortment of frames: Frames of honey; pollen; capped brood; frames of open brood packed with nurse bees; empty drawn comb; and maybe a frame or two of bare foundation. Open brood between 1 and 4 days old was the crucial part.
One of the halves stayed in the original location of the hive. The other half was set up probably about 10 feet away from the hive, but the exact location in the beeyard didn’t make any difference. Continue reading
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.
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.
As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one way 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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
Another example of the wonderful things to be found on Twitter and other social networking sites under the hashtag #NLbees:
— Mud Songs Beekeeping (@MudSongsBeek) September 4, 2016
Click the images for a better view.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.