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.

Guard Bees

Here’s a short video of some guard bees patrolling the bottom entrance of a hive.

The bees were recovering from being smoked after I did a newspaper combine that let the new bees in too fast. Some bee battles started up. Instead of watching a few thousand bees go at it (and the queen possibly getting killed in the melee), I hit them with some smoke. In theory, when the smoke clears, all the bees’ pheromones are messed up, nobody knows who anyone is and they become all touchy-feely getting to know each other again, along with the new bees.

Continued in my Touchy-Feely Bees video.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Fireweed

Fireweed, or Chamerion angustifolium, is a honey bee friendly flower that blossoms usually by the first week of August on the island of Newfoundland. (Click images for a better view.)

Honey bee on Fireweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 11, 2015.)

Honey bee on Fireweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 11, 2015.)

Some parts of the island see Fireweed before others.

Cell phone snapshot of fireweed in Eastport, Newfoundland. (August 9, 2015.)

Cell phone snapshot of fireweed in Eastport, Newfoundland. (August 9, 2015.)


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What Does Fresh Brood Look Like?

Fresh brood looks like this (click the image for a closer view):

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)

I was planning to pull up a frame or two of brood from the bottom box to make sure the queen expanded the brood nest up (a lazy edition of pyramiding), but I found fresh brood on the second or third frame that I inspected. The queen didn’t need any help from me. So I put everything back the way I found it and left the bees alone.

The Piping Queen Revisited

I forgot to post an update about the possible Piping Queen I heard in a queenless colony a while ago. (It’s a longer-than-usual but detailed post that might be interesting for beekeepers who’ve never encountered piping or even heard of it.) The update: I pulled a frame from the hive six days after I heard the piping and found a frame full of royal jelly.

Brood cells full of royal jelly. Signs of mated queen (I hope). (Aug. 10, 2015.)

Royal jelly found in a hive that’s been queenless for more than a month. (August 10, 2015.)


Royal jelly isn’t a guarantee that I have a well-mated queen. I could have a laying worker or a drone-laying queen. But I’m taking it as a good sign. For now on if I hear piping, I’ll assume that a good queen is present. A shot in the dark: The virgin queen mated the very day I heard the piping. (I’ll update this post if it turns out the queen is a dud.)
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An Inadvertent Walk-Away Split

I inadvertently created a walk-away split on July 18th when I removed some brood from an established colony to make a nuc. I would have much rathered that the mated queen I gave the bees hadn’t been killed by the bees, but that’s another story.

Dead center: a brand new queen. (August 5, 2015.)

Dead centre: a brand new naturally mated queen. (Click image to enlarge.) (August 5, 2015.)

If we return briefly to the beginning of this story, 18 days ago on July 18th (A Requeening Gone Bad), we learn that a mated queen was added to a split about 23 days ago and five days later, the mated queen was found dead in her cage along with several open and capped supersedure queen cells. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I noticed a few bees bringing in pollen. Foragers don’t usually collect pollen unless they have a reason to do so, and that reason is usually to feed a queen bee and her brood. So I decided to take a peek inside and low and behold, I found a new queen scooting around one of the frames looking for a place to lay.

First glimpse of the new naturally mated queen. (August 5, 2015.)

First glimpse of the new naturally mated queen. (August 5, 2015.)


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A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.

LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)


I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):

I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder…
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Pyramiding The Brood Nest

June 2019 Introduction: The original post from 2015 was incredibly long and detailed and I obviously had too much time on my hands. Thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, Murray, my goldfish, has a greater attention span than most people flicking through their phones these days. It’s not in our bones to slow down and read anything carefully anymore. To hell with poetry! Give me a meme! In that spirit of progress, I present to you a lovely digestible little ditty called, “What is this pyramiding business, anyway?”

This is a hive packed with bees…

Bees crowding all 10 frames. Perfect candidate for pyramiding. (August 2, 2015.)

Bees crowding all 10 frames. Perfect candidate for pyramiding. (August 2, 2015.)

…so many bees that they’ve run out of space in the hive and it’s time to add another box (i.e., a deep super or a hive body) so the colony has room to grow. But sometimes the queen won’t expand the brood nest into the new box because the workers fill it with honey instead, which can cause the queen to become honey bound (trapped in by honey with nowhere to lay), which can then trigger a swarm, not something most beekeepers want.

A little trick called pyramiding is the solution to that possible problem.
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Floral Fidelity in Honey

Here’s an example of why I go out of my way not to mix honey from different hives.

2-honeys-02

The honey on the right was taken from one hive, and it tastes heathery. The honey on the left was taken from another hive, and it has a more earthy flavour. Both were harvested on the same day. The two hives are about 2 metres apart (7 feet), but the bees from each hive favoured different nectar sources, which resulted in slightly different honey from each hive.

The favouring of specific pollen and nectar sources is called floral fidelity. The bees find an abundant nectar source and they stick with it instead of wasting time jumping from one type of flower to another.

That’s why you’ll often see a flowering tree loaded down with honey bees while at the same time not a single bee goes anywhere near your beautiful Forget-Me-Nots. The results of floral fidelity are lost in most large beekeeping operations that have to blend all their honeys together. Not me.
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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.