The Meanest Bees

June 2019 Introduction: If I found a hive with this much capped brood in the top box today, I’m pretty sure I’d steal some of the brood to boost up any weaker colonies. Do the math: 1 frame of capped brood = 3 frames of bees. I found 7 frames of capped brood, which adds up to 21 frames of new bees in a colony with only 20 frames. So the thing to do there is to make more room. Either expand the brood nest by adding another deep or load up some honey supers to give the exploding population something to do. I would normally never leave a hive split up like I do in this video, but the bees were so defensive, digging into my shoes and cuffs and everywhere else, I had to bounce before they got me good.

The hive in the video has been off by itself in the woods for more than a year because the colony has always been full of the meanest bees I’ve ever seen. I have added honey supers to the hive but I’ve never inspected the brood nest, never manipulated or disturbed it in any way. I finally decided to inspect the hive yesterday, by dismantling it and rebuilding it in a sunnier spot, because I noticed the bees filling the honey super with pollen and something about that just didn’t seem right. I found seven frames of solid capped brood in the top deep of the hive (I would expect the brood nest to be in the bottom at this time of year). I didn’t inspect the bottom deep because the bees got too riled up and one bee even got inside my veil (I squished it before it could sting me).

I returned today to inspect the final deep and add it to the hive in its new location. The first frame I inspected was empty and several woodlouse were crawling around the edges of the comb. I’ve noticed woodlouse (also known as carpenters in Newfoundland) inside most of my hives; I don’t know if they’re harmful. I was unwilling to inspect more than one frame because — I admit it — I was scared of the bees. They were constantly bouncing off my veil whenever I got close, obscuring my vision at times. A standard bee hat and veil, secured by cutting edge technology known as string, seem ridiculously inadequate under such circumstances. The open hive boiled over with bees, all of them aiming for my face.

It was unnerving. I probably would have been better off leaving the bees alone. What do I care if I have to deal with a few frames of pollen mixed in with the honey? I still don’t know exactly what’s going on with the bees in this hive. I’m interested but I’m not that interested. I wish them well.

Postscript: This is the only defensive colony I’ve experienced since I started beekeeping in 2010. It makes more honey than any of my other colonies. That’s the main reason I’ve never requeened it. If I still had my hives in the city, I would have requeened the colony immediately. All of my other bees are friendly and gentle, a real pleasure to be around most of the time.

Honey Bees Fanning (Video)

I’ve posted several photos and some videos of honey bees fanning over the years. Let’s add this cell phone video from yesterday to the list:

The bees clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got to create an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Goldenrod

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days like today.

Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John's, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)

Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)

Much of the late season honey is derived from goldenrod and it’s easy to tell because the smell of the goldenrod in the air has a similar pungency as the honey I harvest in the fall.

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days (August 28, 2013.)

Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days (August 28, 2013.)

Goldenrod honey crystallizes quickly due to its high glucose content and can take on such a strong earthen odour as to be unpleasant to more sensitive taste buds. I’m not in love with it. I can see how it’s an acquired taste. Most of my fall honey comes from a variety of nectar sources, so it’s not too pungent.

P.S.: There are several variants of Goldenrod, but I’m not an expert and I don’t have photos of the variants.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: False Spiraea

I saw several honey bees on white ferny flowers along a path near a little park in St. John’s today. I doubt they’re my bees, though you never know. I took this photo with my cell phone:

Honey bee spotted on white flower approximately 1.2km from our city hive. (August 02, 2012.)

Honey bee spotted on white flower approximately 1.2km from our city hive. (August 02, 2012.)

The flowers are called False Spiraea. Or if you want get fancy: Sorbaria sorbifolia.

Identified:  False spirea.

Identified: False spirea.

July 30th, 2015: I noticed the flowers of the dogberry tree is similar to False Spiraea, but on closer examination of the leaves in the photos, it’s clear they’re not the same. At least I don’t think so.

Building Up a Honey Bee Colony From a Nuc (in Newfoundland)

The following was completely rewritten in March 2019.

To build up a honey bee colony in Newfoundland from 4-frame nuc in July (nucleus hives usually become available around mid-July), I feed it sugar syrup and I don’t stop feeding it until the end of October when it’s too cold for the bees to take down any more syrup. I just keep feeding sugar syrup until the bees fill all the frames of the first deep. Then I add a second deep and continue to feed until they’ve filled all the frames of the second deep. It’s unlikely that all the frames will be fully drawn out even at the end of October. But the key is to feed them sugar syrup and never let the feeders run dry. That’s basically it.

Here’s video I made in 2016 that shows exactly what a typical nuc from Newfoundland looks like and how I install a nuc into a standard deep.

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High Humidity and Bearding

Yesterday was the hottest and most humid day of the summer, and the bees were feeling it big time.

Bees bearding after a hot humid night. (August 30, 2011.)

That’s the bees in one of my hives bearding outside the hive. (The Star Trek symbol is used as a distinctive homing marker for the bees. It probably doesn’t make any difference to them, but too bad.) The photo was taken around 7:30am this morning. They were bearding twice as much last night. It was about 30°C (86°F) when I went to bed around 10:30pm.

From what Rusty Burlew tells me, bearding is a behaviour that’s triggered by excessive heat or humidity, which is made worse by over-crowding and a lack of ventilation inside the hive. The bees leave the hive because it’s cooler outside. You can read more about bearding at Honey Bee Suite.

The hive already has a screened inner cover and a ventilation rim to help with ventilation, but it looks like it could use a screened bottom board too. I’m building one today and hope to have it installed soon. My foundationless hive has a screened bottom board and it looked like this at the same time Hive #1 was bearding this morning.

Bees with a screened bottom board not bearding so much after a hot humid night. (August 30, 2011.)

March 2019 Postscript: For the casual joe just poking around the internet for neat looking beekeeping photos, the ones in this post might not seem like much, but as a guy who’s been experimenting with beehives for almost ten years now, I’m intrigued by my early-beekeeping powers of observation, especially when they uncover things like this. I haven’t messed around with screened bottom boards for two or three years now. My homemade ones were left outside one winter and rotted into mush and I haven’t used them since. But now I’m wondering if I should try them again. The photos in this post and others I’ve uploaded show a significant difference between hives that have screened bottom boards and ones that don’t. I’m thinking I might get a small mirror that I can place in front of a bottom hive entrance and if the mirror fogs up, then it might be a sign that the hive could use a screened bottom board, or least some extra ventilation of some sort. Interesting.

Refilling a Frame Feeder

March 2019 Introduction: This simple modification for a frame feeder is a stroke of genius. (Yes, I’m patting myself on the back for this one.) I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes standard with frame feeders some day because it works so well at preventing bee deaths and it’s easier than pouring syrup down a bee ladder that’s packed with bees.

I had to refill a frame feeder in one of my young 2-deep hives today and decided on the spot to record a demonstration video that could have been titled How To Refill a Frame Feeder, but isn’t. Here are some pics and then a video at the end. Here I am pouring in the syrup:

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How to Move a Hive

March 2019 Introduction: I would much rather delete this post because I really go off on giving advice like I know what I’m talking about when I just didn’t have the experience to back it up. However, I’ll keep the post up as a record of the kind of over-thinking my brain was into after a year of beekeeping. I could rewrite the whole post, but I already did that in a previous post, Inspecting and Moving a Hive. That one is probably more informative than anything I could have written in 2011.

What follows is one way to move a Langstroth honey bee hive a short distance. Okay then… Here’s a rough map of my backyard:

The numbered squares represent hives. I moved Hive #1 to location 1a, gave the bees time to adjust to the new spot, then moved the hive to 1b, waited a few days again and then moved the hive to its final location at 1c. Each move was approximately 1 metre or 3 feet and I waited at least three days between moves.
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HAL-9000 Bee Yard

Here’s the HAL-9000 view of my “bee yard” (a.k.a. my “backyard”).

My two latest nucs are on the far right. It’s a tight squeeze.

UPDATE: See the comments (from Rusty Burlew of for information on how ventilation rims work.

February 2019: Here’s another view that shows how crowded my neighbourhood was and how small my backyard was when I first started beekeeping:

This was close to downtown St. John’s, just up the hill from St. Clare’s Hospital for those who know the area.

Making and Using a Ventilator Rim

Well, not really making a ventilator rim. I already made it and it looks like this:

My first ventilator rim. (August 2, 2011.)

Like the name implies, it provides ventilation for the hive. And as far as I know, it’s good to have on the hive any time of the year, though for the winter I might stick with my insulated inner hive covers. They worked out well this past winter.
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Video of Natural Honeycomb

This is the first video I’ve posted that shows what it’s like to pull out frames full of bees. It’s a short video of my recent full inspection of Hive #1, showing off some foundationless comb the bees built from scratch in 13 days.

I inserted four foundationless frames in the hive when I added a second deep. Two of the foundationless frames were fully-drawn and filled with honey and brood within 13 days. One frame was more than half-filled. The fourth frame, on the outer edge of the box, showed the beginning of some natural comb. Not bad.

Natural Foundationless Comb (2 Weeks Old)

Thirteen days ago, I added a second deep to one of my young honey bee hives and inserted four foundationless frames as an experiment. Six days later, I took a quick peek at one of those foundationless frames and found this:

Today, I took another look at that same foundationless frame — and look at it now:

1 of 4 founationless combs in Hive #1 after two weeks. (August 28, 2010.)

But that’s nothing. Check this out:

Beautiful foundationless honeycomb in Hive #1. Two weeks ago it was an empty frame. (August 28, 2010.)

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Natural Foundationless Comb

It’s November 2018 as I continue to look back on these early posts and I have to say I like what I see. Even today, when I stick a foundationless from between drawn comb and come back a week or two later to see that the bees have fill up most of that space with comb — it’s a rewarding experience. The only thing that needs correction in this post is my reference to checkerboarding. Inserting empty frames between drawn comb, on its own, is not checkerboarding. See Checkerboarding for more information on what that’s all about.

The foundationless frames are working. YES! This is what it’s all about. This was the big moment of truth — and the bees did it. They had no problem building comb from foundationless frames.

I’ll quote myself on this: “Foundationless frames have nothing but a little strip of plastic or wood near the top called a starter strip. The bees hang off the starter strip and construct their comb like they would in nature, creating cells the size they want them to be, not the size that’s imposed on them by following the pattern on a plastic foundation.”

It’s argued that a colony is generally healthier when the honey bees are allowed to build comb as they would in nature — and this is about as close as it gets in a Langstroth hive. It’s part of the Backwards Beekeeping approach and it’s what got me hooked on beekeeping long before I had any bees. I just wasn’t sure it was even possible in the cold climate of Newfoundland. But now that I see evidence it can work, I’m inspired. I love it. These honey bees are incredible.

Honey bees festooning.

I added a second deep to Hive #1 six days ago because the colony had drawn comb on at least 9 of the 10 frames. They were ready to expand. I took about half the drawn frames, a mixture of brood and honey, and placed them in a second brood chamber, checker-boarding them using regular empty frames with foundation. I checker-boarded the original bottom brood chamber, too (that is, I placed an empty frame between all the frames with drawn out comb), but those empty bottom frames had no foundation, only a waxed starter strip and some wire between the frames to provide extra support for the comb. Theoretically, the bees would build comb first by festooning — that’s when the bees hang off each other in a chain to determine the straightest line down on which to build the comb. Honey bees have been festooning for millions of years. There’s no stopping them now.

Honey bees building natural comb.

The bees built straight through the support wire like it wasn’t even there and they’ve already begun to fill the comb with honey — and it’s only been six days. All the comb they’ve drawn out will eventually join up and fill the frame. So as long as the warm weather holds up, I’m not worried about Hive #1. I’ll keep feeding them and then I’ll check them again in a couple weeks, but I think they’re doing great. Next summer when I can hopefully harvest some honey, I’ll go with foundationless frames for the honey supers too. That way when the honey is capped and good to go, I’ll just cut the comb right out of the frames and extract it by following the crush-and-strain method.

To be continued…

Bees Cooling the Hive (Video)

One of the first things I noticed about our honey bees is how they line up in front of the hive, hold their ground and beat their wings to cool the hive. (I assume that’s what they’re up to.) I usually see three or four bees in a row, but today I saw about 6 of them forming one long line from the edge of the bottom board going right into the hive. I suppose you have to hang around bees for while to get excited about this. At any rate, I grabbed the camera and managed to record about a minute of it. The line wasn’t as straight and unbroken by the time I hit the RECORD button, but still, bees are cool…

January 24th, 2011: They are ventilating the hive either to help regulate the temperature inside the hive so the developing brood don’t overheat, or they’re trying to create an air current to evaporate nectar into honey, or both.

November 2018 Postscript: In this video and many of the earlier videos and posts, I use the word “honeybee.” But “honey bee” as two separate words is more accurate. Check out Honey Bee Suite for more on this. That’s an easy fix. The one that everyone gets wrong is the hive, that is, referring to a honey bee colony as a hive. The hive is the wooden structure that the honey bee colony lives in. The hive is not alive. The hive can’t make honey. The hive can’t swarm and fly away, because it’s a bunch of wooden boxes stacked on top of each other. Hive = House. Colony = Bees. Hive ≠ Bees. Nevertheless, I refer to my colonies as hives all the time. It doesn’t make any sense when you think about it, but everyone does it, so I just go along with it. To this day, whenever I say hive, I correct myself and say colony, but it’s a losing battle.

Cats vs. Honey Bees

I got an email from someone who noticed my cats in a few photos. They asked, “How well do your cats get along with your honey bees?” The short answer is, it’s not a problem.

We have two cats, a young cat and an older cat. The older cat, Nigel, is so completely laid back, it’s absurd. He doesn’t even notice the bees, and so far the bees haven’t taken much notice of him either.

The younger cat, Winston (seen in the photo), will chase after anything that flies. He approached the bees cautiously when he first saw them. Then he got bolder and sat in front of a hive entrance one day and tried to catch a few bees — and got stung in the face. He didn’t make any noise when he got stung, but ran away and tried rubbing the sting off with his paws. A couple minutes later he was back to normal and hasn’t tried to catch a bee since. He will notice bees crawling on the ground once in a while, but even then he’ll just sit there and look. Cats learn fast.

November 25th, 2010: Nigel eventually got stung in the face and freaked out. He didn’t know what to do or where to go. He ran in circles, didn’t watch where he was going and banged into the fence and eventually ran for the back door and I let him in the house. Now whenever he sees a bee, he runs away scared.

Our other cat, Winston, continues to keep a respectful distance from the bees. As seen in this photo, he gets very close to the hives at times, but seems totally at ease around them.

June 6th, 2014: A video of one of our other cats chillin’ with the bees.

Dead Baby Bees

I found some dead baby bees outside Hive #1 today, and now I’m thinking I may have made a mistake when I added the second deep over the weekend.

The forecast called for sunshine today, but the sun did not come out. It was cold and wet all day, not a good day for bees, especially after I split up the brood nest the day before — and that’s probably what I should not have done.
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Expanding the Hive (Video)

Here’s a video of the hive inspection from two days ago, scraping some honey off the frames and adding a second brood chamber.

It’s a choppy edit but couldn’t be helped. Details on expanding the hive were posted yesterday in the Adding a Second Deep post.

September 17th, 2010: Just for my own records, we added the second deep to Hive #2 around August 28, 2010, about two weeks after Hive #1.

2018 Postscript: The title in the video refers to the deep a second brood chamber, but that’s not exactly what it is, so I’ve changed most of these early references from “brood chambers” to “deeps.”

Adding a Second Deep

It’s November 2018 as I look back and slightly revise this post. There’s a lot I would change, but I’ll leave most of it alone. Instead I’ll jump in here and there with some comments about what I would or wouldn’t do today.

I added a second deep (or hive body) to Hive #1 yesterday. As far as I can tell, it went well. The bees were calm after being misted with sugar water, way less agitated than when I used the smoker on them. All the frames had drawn out comb except one. I put about half the drawn frames in the new box on top with empty foundation frames between them. I installed four foundationless frames in the original box, placing them between drawn out frames. The honey and the brood seemed mixed together on the frames, so there were no all-brood frames or all-honey frames. There was brood in just about every frame I inspected. I saw some comb hanging off the bottom of one frame, but no swarm cells. Hive #1 appears to be doing great. I’ll see how the colony adjusts to the new box and having all their drawn out frames spaced out. The big experiment is the foundationless frames in the bottom box.

Here’s a shot of the bees after I removed a few frames from the hive:

I’ll upload some video of the procedure soon. (UPDATE: The video is posted.) Until then, allow me to present a big load of photos and descriptions of what I did.
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Honey Bees with Pollen

It was cold and wet today until about 3:30. Then it warmed up, the clouds parted and the bees came out of Hive #1 and made the most of the warm weather in a big way.

Bees coming home loaded down with pollen. (August 10, 2010.)

Within 20 minutes of leaving the hive, many were coming back loaded down with pollen. You can see balls of pollen on their legs in this close-up. That’s what we like to see.

Non-intrusive Hive Inspection

I did a non-intrusive hive inspection this afternoon. I’ve been on a tiring film shoot for the past four days and I missed hanging out in the backyard watching the bees, surrounded by all my veggies and things. I’m glad I had the day off. Here’s a shot of some bees in Hive #2.

By non-intrusive, all I mean is I didn’t pull out the frames. I just removed the roof and the inner cover and looked down at the frames. The bees in Hive #1 have built more comb than those in Hive #2, probably because they went at least one extra week with a feeder. (No doubt about it, feeding the bees at this early stage accelerates comb building — more places for the queen to lay her eggs.) I scraped more comb from the inner cover of that hive. I plan to use the wax (I already ate the honey) to build some starter strips. From what I could see today, the bees in Hive #1 have drawn out comb on at least 7 of the 10 frames, maybe more. I was impressed with what I saw. I’m not sure when I should add another brood box to the hive, but I’m thinking as early as next weekend, the weekend after that at the latest.
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A Drone Bee

The original photo for this post has been replaced with one that shows clearly what drones look like.

All the honey bees that aren’t marked with a white square are drones.

I took a closer look at the small number of photos we took during my first hive inspection on July 31st. I looked closely to see if I could spot the queen. I couldn’t, but I did notice a drone bee. So for your edification, here’s a drone bee. Drones are easy to spot because they’re thick and have a big black head. Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate once with a queen. If they don’t mate (and then die), they just hang around the hive and get fed. All the drones are kicked out of the hive to freeze to death as winter kicks in because they’re useless over the winter.

Wasps Too Close For Comfort

It’s November 2018 and I deleted this original post from 2010. Here’s the deal with wasps (or yellow jackets as they’re sometimes called):

They start showing up around mid-August and can get pretty bad by September, but the peak of their badness can depend on a variety of factors. By bad I mean they’re attracted to the sweet smell of honey coming out of bee hives and will try to steal that honey any way they can. They’re also attracted to the sweet smell of syrup in external feeders such as Boardman feeders, so Boardman feeders aren’t such a great idea (they never were). The wasps will attack and kill honey bees, decapitate the bees, battle with the bees until they’re dead, eat the bees — all kinds of fun stuff.

A strong healthy colony can fend off wasps most of the time, so most of the time it’s not a huge concern. But if things start to get nasty, for beekeepers or the bees, the simplest solution is to reduce the hive entrances where the wasps are trying to get in, and then set up a wasp trap like this one.

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Read more about this on my post, How To Kill Wasps. Wasps play their part in the natural wonder of the world and should be left to live in peace most of the time. Just not all the time.