According to the University of Maine and many other reputable institutions of higher learning, honey bees will fly when temperatures are 12.8Â°C (55Â°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 13Â°C. Here’s a short video I happened to record that shows my bees foraging and bringing in pollen when the thermometer was reading 4Â°C (39Â°F).
My thermometer isn’t always 100% accurate, so let’s say it was 6Â°C instead (43Â°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 0Â°C than anything else (32Â°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.
This might be a good thing to keep in mind, especially for Newfoundland beekeepers, and especially for Newfoundland beekeepers like me who can see the cold North Atlantic Ocean from their backyard/beeyard.
The first time I noticed a broodless colony was in September of my first or second year, and I thought damn, what am I going to do now? But it wasn’t a queenless colony. The queen had just shut down for the year (stopped laying). Some queens shut down early like that. It seems to be a genetic trait. Russian honey bees supposedly shut down as soon as resources dry up, but Italians will lay sometimes well into November, depending on the temperature. (Most Newfoundland honey bees are a mix of everything, so it can be a challenge to pin down the exact genetic traits at play.) However, I’ve heard from some people who claim that it’s the opposite is true. However one more time, I think it’s the Russian queens that usually shut down early and become broodless before winter.
It’s also good to know that the queen looks smaller when she’s not laying. (I love this book.) I’ve noticed this myself. I’ve also noticed how queens that aren’t well-mated look stubbier than a well-mated queen. Her abdomen is fatter instead of long and slender.
The ABC and XYZ is an excellent beekeeping reference, especially the cheap old timey edition that I have. It seems to have as much relevant information on beekeeping than most modern beekeeping books do.
Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.
Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)
I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar. Continue reading →
I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.
A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too. That queen is on fire. (Sept. 30, 2016.)
I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster. Continue reading →
I’ve always added a small drip of anise extract to my sugar syrup.
But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume.
A dram of Anise Oil. A little dab will do you.
I meant to add only a drop or two, but more than a few drops fell from the bottle when I tipped it. I got some of it on my hands, subsequently rubbed it into my shirt, and I eventually put the bottle in my garage — with the garage door open.
Highly concentrated anise. And gluten free!
Holy mackerel, what a difference between anise extract and anise oil.
I’ve never seen the bees go so completely insane over an aroma. Every drop of syrup I spilled on the ground while I was filling the feeders attracted a mini-cluster of bees. I had bees following me around persistently, attracted by the anise. And the tiny bottle of anise oil that I left in my garage attracted about 20 or so bees. I went into the garage to get something about an hour later and the place sounded like the inside of a bee hive with bees bouncing off the windows trying to get out. And they were still coming through the door when I got there. The stick I used to stir the syrup mixture was left in my little outdoor bee shed, and that was full of bees too.
I’ve never had anything like that happen when I used anise extract. The next time I use highly concentrated anise oil, I’ll be careful to use only a single drop of it and then put it away in the house where the bees can’t smell it.
I use medicated pads of Witch Hazel to treat honey bee stings, just like I’m doing right now:
Bee sting wrapped in a pad soaked in Witch Hazel.
They’re sold under the brand name Tucks, but also generically as “personal cleansing pads.” Under whatever name, the magic ingredient is Witch Hazel, which can also be purchased at the drug store in liquid form, though I find the pads more convenient. The Witch Hazel helps reduce the swelling. I use a few pads to soak the stinged area and then a final fully-medicated pad to wrap around the area. It’s not a cure-all. Nothing is. But it works good enough for me. It certainly takes the edge off.
Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.
I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date if I can, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.
It was well over 30Â°C (86Â°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too. Continue reading →
I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.
One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.) Click the image for a better view.
The last time I found pollen in the honey super was two summers ago and it happened with what I used to call my nasty hive, a hive packed with the most defensive, meanest bees in Newfoundland. Everything about that hive was a headache, so I just assumed pollen in the honey super was a symptom of mentally deranged bees. That colony eventually died and I was more than happy to see it go. So when I found the frames of pollen today, I thought, “What the hell?”
Medium frame in “honey super” full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)
At first I thought, “Okay, I’ve got another crazy colony on my hands.” Which seems to fit because the bees in this colony are, unfortunately, related to Old Nasty. Their queen mated with drones from the nasty hive. But that’s just speculation, me making up some stuff that sounds like it could be true but probably isn’t when you get right down to it.
So I did a little more poking around the oracle we call the Internet and asked a few beekeeping friends of mine if they’ve seen this before. And they have. After shooting some emails back and forth and thinking it over, I’ve come to the following explanation:
The bees are filling the honey super with pollen because they don’t have enough brood to eat up all the pollen that’s coming in. Continue reading →
The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I had planned to put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, which is longer than my usual videos because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.
As of today, I’m beginning to reconsider how I do my first hive inspection of the year. I like to reverse the hive (i.e., move the brood nest to the bottom), but next year if I find all the bees are contained in a single deep (which is often the case), instead of moving the bees to the bottom and putting another deep on top, I might move the bees to the bottom and leave the hive like that — as a single-deep hive. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as the bees have enough honey and the queen has some room to lay.
I added the second deep to this hive today, which has more bees than my hives with two deeps. (May 07, 2016.)
Bees that are confined to a smaller space supposedly work that space faster and better than they would if there was more space (e.g., if there was a full deep on top of them). Apparently, this is common knowledge for beekeepers who always have nucs on hand. The colonies in their nucs tend to build up quicker than those housed in full-sized deeps and hives.
I say it’s common knowledge, but it’s not something I’ve had any experience with until today, sort of, possibly. A brood nest of a colony that I reduced to a single deep a few weeks ago (instead of reversing it) is expanding at least twice as fast as the brood nest in my other colonies that were reversed. It could just mean I have a better queen in the single-deep colony. Or! Maybe the bees in that single-deep hive did better because they were able to concentrate on the limited space they had instead of spreading out their efforts across twice as much space.
I don’t know. But next year when I do my first hive inspection of the year, instead of reversing the hive, if the bees are in a single deep, I’ll reduce the hive to that single deep until the brood nest is ready to expand into a second deep.
March 2019 Postscript: This is pretty much what I do all the time now. If the bees are contained in a single deep during the first hive inspection of the year (sometime in April if I’m lucky) and I don’t see bees on all 10 frames yet, I’ll toss the second (or even third) deep and let the bees expand into that single deep before I add a second deep.
I’ve overheard many conversations about this, not with local beekeepers but online where I continue to tap into the knowledge and experience of some of the world’s best beekeepers. Some of the phrases overheard in these conversations include, “You don’t want to demoralize the bees by giving them too much to work on,” or “Small colonies do better is small hives and big colonies do better in big hives.”
Like I said, that’s pretty much how I play it these days. A colony with only 3 or 4 frames of bees seems to build up faster when it only has 6 or 7 extra frames to work on instead of 16 or 17 frames. It seems to make sense when I stop and think about it.
I have a colony of bees that always clusters on the west side of their hive — and I don’t know why.
Cluster expanding from the west side. (April 23, 2016.)
I’ve had this colony for almost four years now (she’s an old queen that I started from a swarm cell) and I’ve noticed this clustering behaviour since day one. Even when I rearrange the frames of the brood nest in the spring so all the brood is in the middle of the hive, the brood nest eventually shifts to the west side of the hive.
I’ve checked everything over the years and there’s nothing unusual about the hive set up. No signs of mice, no leaks on one side of the hive, nothing. I’ve used various hive bodies and other hive components. I even moved the hive to a different beeyard and rotated it so the cluster was on the east side. Within a month the cluster shifted to the west side. My best guess is the bees prefer the heat of the setting sun.
July 2019 Postscript: There’s nothing unusual about the bees favouring the warmer or sunny side of their hive. I’ve seen in many times, both in the winter and the summer.
Because they’re hungry for protein. That’s why honey bees eat chicken feed. Especially in the early spring when the queen is laying again and there are more mouths to feed. (Spring is a relative term for beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland.)
Honey bees eating chicken feed. (Flatrock, NL, April 9, 2016.)
I gave my bees pollen patties earlier in the winter and they showed little interest in them. But judging by how intensely they’re digging into the chicken feed (full of protein), I bet they wouldn’t say no to a protein-rich pollen patty right about now.
April 2019 Postscript: Honey bees are often starving for protein in the early spring before much of anything has flowered. They will dig into anything that looks or smells like protein, including chicken food, dog food, bird feed, a pile of sawdust — you name it, they’ll go for it.
July 2019 Introduction: I remove the mesh from the top entrances of my hives as soon as I see bees crowding to push their way through the mesh. As long as the hives aren’t buried deep in snow so that shrews can walk right up to the top entrance and hop in, I don’t worry so much about mesh on the top entrance, though I do temporarily remove them in the winter on warm days when the bees are trying to get out on cleansing flights.
I used 6mm mesh (quarter-inch mesh) on my hives this winter for the first time because I lost most of my colonies last winter when shrews managed to squeeze through the half-inch mesh I kept on the bottom entrances. I’m not sure if the shrews got into the hives through the top entrances, but to be safe this winter, I covered both the top and bottom entrances with 6mm mesh. Now I’m wondering when I should remove the mesh, at least from the top entrances.
Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)
July 2019 Introduction: I don’t add dry sugar to my hives like this anymore. I use sugar bricks instead. However, I’d probably follow this method if I couldn’t use sugar bricks.
I usually pour dry sugar over newspaper into my Langstroth honey bee hives so the bees have something to eat just in case they run out of honey during the winter. Some people refer to it as the Mountain Camp Method, but I’m00 pretty sure beekeepers have been pouring dry sugar into their hives long before Mr Camp came along and popularized it. I’ll call it Dry Sugar Feeding for now on. In any case, it may not be the best method for feeding bees over the winter, but it works well for me and that’s what matters most. I like it because it’s the easiest method I’ve ever tried and it may be better for the bees than hard candy or candy boards. Do a little research on Hydroxymethylfurfural and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.
When I first fed my bees dry sugar, I waited until January or February when the bees, if they were low on honey, would cover most of the top bars in the hive. But waiting that long is a pain in the butt for all kinds of reasons, so now I put the sugar in long before the bees really need it — just like I did today. Here’s an 11-minute video recorded a few hours ago that demonstrates the dry sugar method in all its glory. I also explain near the end how moisture quilts work.
P.S.: I’m not a big fan of feeding the bees pollen patties early in the winter because most of the time they don’t need it and it’s not always good to give the bees solids when they can’t get outside for cleansing flights. I try to reserve pollen patties for small colonies that could use a little boost in brood production. The colony in the video that I refer to as being about the size of a human head will get a pollen patty in a week or two. A small cluster like that, which is likely to get smaller before it gets bigger, won’t be able to stay warm much longer. The colony could be in trouble if I can’t get the queen laying soon.
Another postscript (written in part as a response to the first comment): If I had to do this again, I would place something round in the middle of the newspaper, a small bowl or a jar perhaps. Then after I poured the sugar on, Iâ€™d remove the bowl or jar so that a round sugar-free area of newspaper was left behind. Then Iâ€™d cut a hole in the exposed newspaper so that when the cluster came up, the bees would go through the hole without having to chew through the newspaper to get at the sugar. The hole would also allow moisture from the cluster to rise directly up to the moisture quilt. (If I have a chance, I’ll record a follow-up video.)
Someone asked me when, why and how I feed my bees pollen patties. Here’s a photo from one of my first posts about the topic, Adding Pollen Patties. The colony pictured below, by the way, is starving. Usually the way it works is the more winter bees above the top bars, the less honey there is in the hive (usually, not always).
Adding a pollen patty to a very hungry colony. (February, 2011.)
I’ve written about pollen patties a bunch of times, so I’m likely to repeat myself here. Do a search of “patties” in my little search engine box up at the top for more detailed information with videos and photos and so on. Continue reading →
I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.
An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.