According to the University of Maine and many other reputable institutions of higher learning, honey bees will fly when temperatures are 12.8°C (55°F) and higher. Most beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland know that’s that a joke. My bees would virtually never go outside if they had to wait for the temperature to go up to 13°C. Here’s a short video I happened to record that shows my bees foraging and bringing in pollen when the thermometer was reading 4°C (39°F).
My thermometer isn’t always 100% accurate, so let’s say it was 6°C instead (43°F). That’s still well below the official foraging temperature. I guess the honey bees in Newfoundland didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to fly when it’s this cold.
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…
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 had to reassure my neighbour’s kids today that all the dead bees they’re finding in the snow around their house is normal for this time of year, especially on windless sunny days like today.
These bees are not climbing up a mountain. They’re dead. (March 13th, 2020, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)
It wasn’t exactly warm today, closer to 0°C than anything else (32°F), but many bees were flying and pooping all over the snow close to their hives. (I’ll skip those pictures, but here’s a sample from yesteryear.)
Dead bees in the snow. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another day. (March 13th, 2020.)
I’m usually reassured when I see the bees flying about in the winter, even if hundreds of them end up dead in the snow. It can signal bad news on occasion, but most of the time the message I hear from the colony is, “We’re not dead,” so I’m happy.
It can be heart-breaking for some, but the fact is, hundreds of bees die in a healthy colony every day. That’s the way it is. It’s not as bad in the wintertime. It just looks bad because it’s often more noticeable with the dark bees lying dead against a white background of snow. But it’s normal (most of the time).
Some of you may have heard that the eastern part of the isle of Newfoundland where I keep bees got dinged with a massive snowstorm on January 17th, 2020. The official forecast called for about 90cm (3 feet) of snow. But with winds hitting about 120km/h (75mph), more than a few snowdrifts were taller than me.
I’m guessing a rat did this (January 26th, 2020).
The city of St. John’s and surrounding municipalities were under a State of Emergency for about a week. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t check on some of my hives until the roads were passable nine days later. This is what I found when I checked on them:
On this Thanksgiving weekend (in Canada), I’m thankful I’m not a male honey bee.
Canadian Thanksgiving Day is the traditional time of year when drones are expelled from honey bee hives, pestered to leave until they die, though I’ve seen drones kicked out of the hive as early as August.
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.
We’ve got yet another instalment in my tedious series of cell phone videos, this time covering December 2017. It’s only 5 minutes long.
Nobody’s watching these videos, but I like them because they give an honest look of what beekeeping is really like. Most of the time I’m just standing around watching the bees, trying to figure out what’s going on. Continue reading →