A short video that explains how honey bees talk to each other by vibrating on the comb.
JÃ¼rgen Tautzâ€™s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism explains it better.
A short video that explains how honey bees talk to each other by vibrating on the comb.
JÃ¼rgen Tautzâ€™s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism explains it better.
I often post items to my beekeeping Facebook page that I don’t post here on my blog, which is generally reserved for content I create myself. For the stuff I had nothing to do with but still piques my beekeeping interests, the Mud Songs Beekeeping Facebook page is the place.Â For instance, here’s my latest Facebook post that talks about how pollen patties can help maintain the brood nest when the weather turns to junk:
Winter is a good time to learn about beekeeping before taking the plunge. The Beekeeper’s Handbook might be the best guide to beekeeping I’ve come across. I only recently picked it up because I kept hearing how if there’s one book new beekeepers should have, this is the one. I’m not getting paid to say this, but I second that recommendation.
Let’s steal more wisdom from the 1947 edition (which seems to reproduce most of the the 1879 edition) of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture:
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.
I may occasionally post a photo from a book when I read something that’s relevant to my kind of beekeeping or my approach to beekeeping. Here’s a good example taken from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). I think it’s from page 488, somewhere in the Ls:
This is great. I believe it’s from the original edition of the book published in 1879. So even way back then, they knew more than most new beekeepers do today, that all beekeeping is local beekeeping. When I hear someone tell that this is the best way to feed my bees, or that’s the best way to inspect my hives, I ask myself, “Where do they keep bees?” If the answer isn’t in exactly the same climate where I keep my bees, then I make sure not to take it as gospel. That little piece of knowledge has served me well over the years.
Itâ€™s also led me to pretty much disregard most of what I hear from any organisation or person who pretends to speak with authority or goes out of their way to give advice or gives advice with exclamation points at the end of every sentence. Not that it stops me from doing things, way too many things, that I shouldnâ€™t do (I canâ€™t help myself), but learning how to recognise and filter out all the bad advice is such a wonderful place to be. It allows me to put more trust in my own experience and my own mistakes.
For a guy who doesn’t get out much, it’s funny how I keep meeting new and prospective beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland who can’t afford to join the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association. I also know many excellent beekeepers on the island who, like me, aren’t exactly what you’d call group people. We might have introverted reasons for this, which is totally cool. Maybe we don’t like the madness of crowds. I get that too. Some people just do better on their own. Or maybe there’s just not enough time. Whatever the case may be, don’t fret.
Any of the websites maintained by Rusty Burlew, David Burns, Michael Bush or Randy Oliver should provide more than enough practical information on honey bees and beekeeping to help anyone in Newfoundland get started.
There’s a ton of reading material out there, both online and in print, but The Beekeeper’s Handbook may be the most comprehensive and affordable single-volume guide to beekeeping I’ve ever read, so that might be something worth reading, just to get the ball rolling.
(Note: As with most popular beekeeping books, the price of this book is likely the go way up. I managed to get it for $30, but now it sells at almost double that amount. Beekeeping for Dummies usually sells at an affordable price, though. I don’t have it, but I’ve heard from a number of beekeepers who recommend it.)
April 2019 Introduction: I’ve rewritten and updated this post since it was originally written in 2013. You can read it or just skip the whole thing and browse through Rusty Burlew’s bookshelf instead.
I was asked by someone in Newfoundland about what books they could read before they get into beekeeping as a hobby. I don’t think you need to read any books. Seriously. If you know how use the internet, you don’t need to buy any of the standard overpriced beekeeping books that are popular these days. Save yourself some money and turn on your computer instead.
There’s a boatload of beekeeping videos on YouTube. Videos posted by the National Honey Show are world class beekeeping presentations from some of the biggest heavy hitters in the beekeeping world. They probably go a bit too deep for absolute beginners, but it probably doesn’t hurt to have them on the radar. The University of Guelph produces more beginner-friendly videos from its beeyards that are also well worth checking out. Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the resources to keep bees on that level, but if I ever thought about hitting the big time, I’d be all over his videos. Even as a backyard beekeeper, I’ve learned quite a lot from him. A simple search on Twitter (and other social media apps) for beekeeping also reveals all kinds of fascinating information about beekeeping.
The internet is an invaluable tool for new beekeepers, especially in a place like Newfoundland where there aren’t many beekeepers and where it’s not easy to meet up with other beekeepers. All of my beekeeping mentors are beekeepers I first got to know online (none from Newfoundland, sorry). Most of what I’ve learned about beekeeping, outside of my direct experience with the bees, I’ve learned online. Beekeeping associations, beekeeping workshops, beekeeping books — none of them are necessary for anyone with a connection to the internet who pays attention to their bees. A whole bunch of people just got their backs up, but all I’m saying is I did fine without a beekeeping association or beekeeping workshops (because they didn’t exist) when I started beekeeping in 2010. Online resources and my connections to people I met online was my schooling — and it worked beautifully for me. But let’s get back to the question: What books are useful for new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (or for people keeping bees in a similar cold climate)?
April 2019 Introduction: I’m revisiting this post now and will chime in here and there with some updates and profound insights.
I borrowed of a copy of Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney recently, and I like it. It’s a practical instruction book that seems geared towards second year beekeepers, but it should give beginners something to think about too. If it had the kind of detailed photos like those in The Backyard Beekeeper or The Buzz About Bees, I might consider it essential. Either way, I just ordered a copy for myself. (I also ordered Honeybee Democracy and The Queen Must Die.) I think it’s worth the $15 I paid for it because it’s full of sensible tips that got me thinking more about the nature of honey bee behaviour in relation to how I manage the hives, and it covers the basics of beekeeping but doesn’t overwhelm.
Bonney is wise to mention that he lives the USA, in New England, and that much of the advice he gives should be adjusted to one’s local climate. New England is not the same as Newfoundland, but it’s not too far off, and at least he’s not writing from the perspective of a beekeeper in Arizona or California. Most of what he talks about — beekeeping with double deep Langstroth hives in a climate where it snows — is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland.
Another book I read while stricken with the flu is Increase Essentials by Lawrence John Connor, a short and easy read that some consider to be the definitive book about nucs — it’s comprehensive. It’s mainly about increasing hives by creating splits and nucleus colonies from established hives.
I don’t think beginner beekeepers or backyard beekeepers who are happy with two or three hives need to concern themselves with it. Laidback beekeepers who want to create nucs for themselves but don’t feel the need to earn a PhD while they’re at it can simply read Why every beekeeper should have a nuc at Honey Bee Suite. I didn’t read every single word of the book (I did some skimming), because I don’t need to know everything it covers just yet. But I do plan to expand my four hives to eight this summer and continually expand every summer after that as I secure more land for my hives. That means I eventually need to learn the basics of creating nucs and rearing mated queens for the nucs. I’ll take on queen rearing next year. This year I’ll start with making my own nucs.
Most of the following notes (and there aren’t too many) address swarming and queen mating issues. To delve into the main details of the book would take too long. Suffice it to say there is a huge amount of information in this small book, and it all seems sound. I will likely constantly reference Increase Essentials when I decide to create mating nucs and expand my hives further next year.
I recently read Beekeeping For All (8mb PDF), by Abbé Warré. He’s the guy who designed the “People’s Hive,” also known as the Warré hive. It’s a top bar and therefore foundationless hive with small, square shaped hive boxes, no top entrance and a quilt box on top to absorb moisture. Boxes are added to the bottom of the hive, not the top — the bees build comb downwards as they would in nature. Honey is harvested from back-filled brood comb at the top of the hive. Warré called it the People’s Hive because it’s supposedly cheap and easy to build and maintain. The beekeeper need only add boxes to the bottom to prevent swarming, which is done without opening the hive or disturbing the brood nest. The Warré hive, perhaps more than any other hive, emulates the conditions of a natural honey bee hive.
From what I can tell, the hive is designed to minimize interference from the beekeeper. The only time it’s opened is when honey boxes are removed from the top (at most, twice a year). That fact, along with the absence of a top entrance, helps concentrate the queen’s pheromones throughout the hive, which supposedly results in calmer bees. The regular rotating out of old comb from the top also means the brood are more likely to be healthy because they’re always raised in new, clean, natural sized comb.
Another key feature is the small square sided hive boxes. The height of each box is slightly less than a typical Langstroth, but the sides are each 30cm long (about 12 inches). The square shape allows for more even heat distribution and requires less work from the bees. Warré also claims that bees in a smaller, more natural sized brood chamber consume less honey over winter and are therefore less likely to starve before spring.
I’m not yet convinced that any kind of foundationless hive will do well in the exceptionally wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’ve only been at this for, what, 611 days, so I still have more than a lot to learn. But some aspects of the Warré design, such as the small brood nest area, seem to make more sense than the conventional Langstroth design, and I’m tempted to integrate them into some of my own hives.
I don’t agree with all of Warré’s claims. In some cases that’s because I don’t have the experience to know what’s what either way. In other cases I can confidently disagree because I know his observations are based on his local climate in France that has no correlation to my local climate where the bees do different things at different times of the year. Nevertheless, I think he came up with a thoughtful design and method that might appeal to beekeepers who aren’t so intent on the consistent hive manipulation that’s synonymous with many beekeeping practices today.
Note: This is an unusually long post, probably not much interest to general readers. I promise I won’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis. But I’ve been out of commission with a weird, rotten flu and I don’t have anything better to do. So without further adieu, here are some notes I wrote while I read the book on my Kindle:
Jurgen Tautz’s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is similar to The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum in that it’s full of detailed photographs that will help new beekeepers identify virtually everything that happens inside a honey bee hive.
But it’s not about beekeeping. It’s about the evolution and behaviour of honey bees. I learned much about the behaviour of honey bees from Mark L. Winston’s The Biology of the Honey Bee. That book had me spellbound. The Buzz About Bees (the book deserves a less cutesy title, by the way) goes over some of the same ground, explains a few extra things and presents another means of apprehending the behaviour of honey bees, that is, thinking of the honey bee colony as a single organism: the “superorganism.”
I don’t have time to write a detailed review of the book, but I’ll tell you what I got from reading it.
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.
February 2019 Introduction: This post generated a lot of discussion in the comments, even comments from fairly well-known American beekeepers, Michael Bush and Rusty Burlew. It’s from a time when this blog was actually being read by thousands of people, with lively comments and discussions happening every day. Anyway, the comments are worth reading more than the original post.
I’ve put out water for the honey bees living in my backyard, but they seem to prefer dirty water from puddles around the yard. They specifically seem to favour the moist dark compost soil in my raised garden beds.
Does the soil give off some sort of fake pheromone that attracts the bees? I didn’t know, so I looked up “water” in my excellent 1947 edition of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (the only edition of the book I could afford) and I learned that the bees bring in more water in the spring during brood-rearing and less water as the honey flow peaks. But more to the point, the bees drink from compost piles (and composted soil) because the water there is warmer than water left in a dish. The bees are able to absorb warm water faster than cold water. So it’s not the stink of the compost that attracts them. It’s the warmth.
I think it’s fair to conclude, from this instance and everything else I’ve observed, that whatever honey bees do, they do it with the utmost efficiency.
UPDATE (a few hours later): The warm water theory doesn’t hold much water. Here’s a shot of the bees drinking freezing cold water leaking from my garden hose all day.
August 2019 Postscript: Dr. Rachael Bonoan, whose curiosity I admire, studied the mineral preferences of honey bees when drinking water, an area of study that stemmed from her observation of honey bees drinking dirty water. She concluded that honey bees likely drink dirty water as a way to supplement the minerals in the floral diet. She said, “Dirty water is like a vitamin supplement for bees.”
Here’s quick video of the honey bees in my backyard doing the Nasonov Boogie. Yesterday I said, “The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.” Check it out:
The end of the video when it goes back to normal speed may not be 100% normal speed. During the slow-mo section, you can almost see the wings beating. I was able to slow it down even further on my computer, but the wings beating still only showed up as a blur. They crank it up a notch when they’re fanning like that.
Anyway, the pheromone is also used to orient the bees to food and water sources, but this early in the year when snow is still on the ground (it snowed again today) and 15Â°C is not a daily occurrence, I’d say it’s mostly for orientating the young foraging bees on their maiden flights.
I discovered beekeeping through the internet and itâ€™s from the internet that I still get most of my practical information on beekeeping. The online beekeeping lessons from David Burns, for instance, are a staple for me. I devoured those lessons when I first discovered the Long Lane Honey Bee Farms website in 2009. Mr. Burns could use an editor from time to time, but his lessons are so generous, it seems unfair to find any kind of fault with them. He adds new and relevant lessons on a regular basis and I do my best to keep up with them.
I also recently benefited from reading the Honey Bee Suite blog. I’ve read every post on the site. Illustrative photos are somewhat scarce at this point in time, but the information is either based on solid science or practical experience or both. And that’s a hard combo to beat.
Next up is Michael Bush’s website, Beekeeping Naturally. Although the website isn’t well designed — and I don’t read it anymore because I don’t think he adds new content to it — the information and advice he provides is a great starting point for new beekeepers who aren’t attracted to conventional beekeeping methods and are aiming for something more sustainable, natural, organic — whatever you want to call foundationless beekeeping. He regularly chimes in on the Beesource Forums too. While I don’t think everything he says is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland, I like his down to earth attitude.
I can think of a few more excellent websites that are helpful to novice beekeepers (some are listed in the side bar), but I think I managed to glean more practical advice from these three in the past 12 months than any others. They’ve been good to me.
But what about books?
Here’s some stuff that’s good know, quoted directly from my public domain reprint of the The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture (1947 edition). It’s from the “Wintering” section on page 686:
“Tests have shown that pollen supplements fed to unprotected wintered-over colonies beginning late in February to advance brood-rearing will yield one to two packages of bees [30 to 40 thousand bees?] about April 20… This control over brood-rearing based on the pollen factor makes it possible for the colony to develop in spite of unfavourable climatic or seasonal conditions… Forty pounds [18kg] of honey stored in dark brood combs should be present in the top hive body when 10-frame standard equipment is used.” The common wisdom for Newfoundland beekeepers says that most colonies in 2-deep Langstroth hive will need 10-12 full deep frames of honey.
How much wrap or insulation is used for wintering hives is determined largely by local weather conditions. In other words, all beekeeping is local beekeeping. Except for ventilation through an upper entrance, there seems to be is no universally correct way to winter hives. From page 694: “…beginners and those who have some doubt, [should] follow methods that have given good results… in their own immediate locality… It will bear repeating that localities differ so that what will work well in one may not in another. Specifically where there is excess moisture, packing [i.e., insulation] may do more harm than good, especially if it freezes.”
It’s common to wrap hives for winter in black roofing felt, but that stuff can get messy sometimes when it gets soaked in rain and then freezes. The final spring thaw can leave mould on the insides of the wraps. I know many beekeepers outside of Newfoundland who never wrap their hives. They paint them dark green so they warm up in the sun and that’s it. I’ve done that a few times and haven’t had any problems with it, and it’s one less hassle to deal with. I sometimes wrap my hives because everyone else is doing it, though I’m not sure it’s necessary in every situation. I’d wrap my hives that are out in the open and battered by strong winds all winter. But if they get some sunlight and they’re painted dark green, is it really necessary to wrap them?
From page 687: “The winter cluster will form in the upper hive body provided the stores are contained in dark brood combs and there is a small open center free of honey. Under these conditions the cluster will cover combs of sealed honey or if they have not been used in brood-rearing, the bees will cluster lower down in the hive.”
I considered switching to medium supers for both brood chambers and honey supers since I got interested in beekeeping. I probably would have done it from the start if my nuc boxes were set in medium frames instead of standard deep frames. Mediums are lighter and easier to handle and all the hives parts are interchangeable. Apparently it’s better for wintering bees, too. From page 689:
“It is very necessary that there should be inner communication between the combs [in the winter]. When they are deep and all in one story, the bees must pass at the top or bottom to get into another position in the cluster… One can readily see that where there are shallow chambers [e.g., in medium supers] there would be two spaces which would allow the bees to pass back and forth… Where shallow chambers are used during the winter, the bees are able to circulate all through the cluster moving to where the stores have been consumed.”
The “two spaces” are the space between the medium supers, or the vertical space between the frames. Basically, the smaller frames make it easier for the bees to move from one side of the frame to the other. And they can move quick enough so they don’t freeze to death. The bees are more likely to starve on larger frames in the winter because the cluster can’t move to the other side as readily. There’s too much ground to cover. If they can’t make it to the other side of the frame without freezing, they stay put — where they may eventually starve.
November 2018 Postscript: I could have deleted this old post, but I tweaked it a bit instead. I guess it has enough info that could be useful. I’ve always been tempted to switch to all-medium supers because I’m sure it would make beekeeping much easier. I still am tempted.
I ordered some beekeeping books based on recommendations from various beekeeping forums — and I’m looking for other recommendations if anyone has any. Here’s a photo of the first batch of books that just arrived:
I’ll do a separate write-up for each of these books after I’ve read them. From left to right, the books are:
The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, by A.I. Root and E.R. Root — Originally published in 1877, followed by several revised editions, this is basically a 700-page beekeeping encyclopaedia. I have the 1947 edition. Other books with exactly the same title made shopping for it a bit frustrating. I chose this edition because it was the most affordable ($35 Canadian). I guess it’s good to have around.
The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden (Revised and Updated), by Kim Flottum — Detailed instructive photographs make all the difference when it comes to beekeeping guide books (and websites), and this book is packed with them. I’ve only skimmed and read bits and pieces of it, but it seems to cover all the bases. I can tell already it’s a good buy. I plan to read it before any of the others. ($20 Canadian.)
Fifty Years Among the Bees, by C. C. Miller — Originally published in 1915, everyone says I should read it because it’s still informative (most beekeeping knowledge doesn’t get old) and it just a good read. ($15 Canadian.)
First Lessons in Beekeeping, by C. P. Dadant — Originally published in 1934, it’s another classic everyone says I have to read, so I’m going to read it sometime over this winter with the rest of these books. ($10 Canadian.)
November 2018 Postscript: The Kim Flottum book is good for the photographs so new beekeepers can identify what they’re looking at inside the hive, but I wouldn’t call it essential. I’d probably pick The Beekeeper’s Handbook, by Sammataro and Avitabile, as the most informative single-volume beekeeping guide and reference book that’s not ridiculously expensive. My 1947 edition of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture may be old but the information is solid. I often refer to it when I’m curious about a specific topic, and I end up reading it for hours. Much of the knowledge that pop ups up in online forums and current beekeeping books can be found in this old book, knowledge that has been around for a long time. Older editions are in the public domain and can be found online free of charge or in cheap but good enough reprints. The newer editions sell for more than $200. I won’t be picking that up any time soon.
I’m not so worried about all the dead drone pupae I found outside one of my hives for the past two days. It was spooky and gross and unnerving, but it’s much less alarming now that I know what’s most likely going on.
I introduced some foundationless frames to my hives when I added the second deep. The results were fantastic. Fully-drawn comb full of honey. Beautiful. What I didn’t know is that bees that haven’t drawn natural comb before, will start off building drone comb, as shown in the above photo taken earlier today during a full hive inspection. I found two foundationless frames with large sections of drone cells, and on at least one frame, most of the drone cells appeared to be recently emptied.
Some info I got from beeuntoothers.com:
So now I know that it’s normal for bees that have just been introduced to foundationless frames to start off drawing drone comb. I assume the drone population will eventually level out. They’re all going to be dead in a week or two, anyway, when they’re kicked out of the hive for the winter and their old cells are used for honey stores.
So that’s one mystery solved. But why would so many of the drone larvae pupae get discarded from the hive?
I looked around online and found part of my answer at beesource.com/forums (which I may sign up to soon). Someone on the forum noticed a large number of what appeared to be dead drone pupae outside the hive entrance, just like we’ve seen for the past couple days. Some of the responses were informative…
September 18th, 2010: I’ve rewritten the next two paragraphs.
Originally I thought the drone pupae got hit with some relatively harmless chalkbrood. Foundationless frames initially produce more drones than conventional frames. That means there’d be more drones around to be affected by the chalkbrood. Therefore, more drone pupae discarded in the clean up. Another possibility was water getting into the hive and chilling the brood. Hygienic worker bees will clean out any cells that have been damaged, whether the damage is from disease, cold or from a silly beekeeper banging the frames too hard. But none of the above explains why only drone brood would be affected. A possible explanation:
Sudden cold snaps — like the cold snap we had last week that lasted a few days — can trigger worker bees to chew out the drone pupae to make room for winter stores. Fall is the time of the year that drones are kicked out of the hive anyway, so what’s the point in the colony nursing more drones that will only get the boot as soon as they emerge from their cells? As mentioned in one of the comments for this post, bees are pragmatic. They don’t mess around when it comes to the survival of the colony. If for any reason cells need to be cleaned out, drones (and their pupae) are always the first to go because drones are not vital to the survival of the colony going into winter. I did a full inspection of the hive shortly after discovering the dead drone pupae, and as far as I could tell, there are more than enough drones around to mate with a late-season queen if need be, and the colony is in good shape. So there was really no need to keep most of the drone pupae around. It’s a cruel world, but the bees know what they’re doing. They’re just getting ready for winter.
The colony looked healthy during my inspection — the bees and the comb look great. I saw brood comb and honey all over the place. I noticed two frames still haven’t been drawn out (one with foundation, one without, both on the edges), so there’s still plenty of room for the population to grow. And there was so much honey, I’m seriously thinking about adding a honey super for a couple of weeks to prevent the queen from becoming honey bound. But I don’t know. I hope to have a conversation with Aubrey at Paradise Farms this weekend so I can sort out everything I need to do with our bees for the next six months. This beekeeping racket is tricky business.
P.S., Read the comments for further details on how all this played out.
December 23rd, 2010: I recently learned through a comment that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Russian honey bees react faster — and more dramatically — to environmental changes. The cold snap we had at the time may have triggered a wintering response in the bees, which is natural for Russian bees because they stop rearing brood early in the fall anyway.
January 24th, 2011: I found a well-informed article at Honey Bee Suite about this topic: Foundationless colonies raise more drones.
It’s normal for a colony of honey bees to discard all the male drone bees before winter kicks in. Quoting myself: “Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate once with a queen. If they don’t mate, 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.”
I knew I would eventually see a large number of dead drones outside the hive once the weather began to cool off. But I didn’t expect to see anything like this…
It’s been cold and wet for the past few days and I guess that was enough motivation for the queen in Hive #1 to say, “Clear out the drones!” I hope that’s all that’s happening. I hope they’re simply cleaning house and removing all the drone pupae before winter kicks in. I was expecting to see piles of dead drones outside the hive one of these days, but piles of dead pupae? It’s a bit sickening, don’t you think?
It’s a bit frightening too. In all the research I’ve done, I’ve never ever heard of anything like this happening. I hope all I’m seeing here is the annual cleaning out of the drones. A disgusting, unnerving variation of it, but nothing to worry about. I hope.
I’m calling the one and only local beekeeper right now to ask about it.
September 16th, 2010: See the next post for all the answers: Foundationless Frames Can Mean Lots of Drones.
December 23rd, 2010: I recently learned that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Russian honey bees react faster — and more dramatically — to environmental changes. The cold snap we had at the time may have triggered a wintering response in the bees, which is natural for Russian bees because they stop rearing brood early in the fall anyway. Drones and drone pupae are discarded when the bees are preparing for winter. Everything I was freaked out about was probably natural behaviour for honey bees bred with Russian genes.
February 12, 2011: From page 76 of The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum: “If, during the season, a dearth occurs and food income is limited or nonexistent, the colony will, in a sense, downsize its population. They preserve worker larvae the longest and remove the oldest drone larvae from the nest first. They simply pull them out and literally eat them outright, conserving the protein, or carry them outside. If the shortage continues, they remove younger and younger drone larva.” That makes sense. All these dead drone pupae were discarded during the fall dearth.