Backyard beekeeping on the Isle of Newfoundland. 47°42'34.2"N 52°42'49.9"W
Category Archives: Month of December
A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of December. For the record, I began with two nucleus colonies in Langstroth hives in 2010 that I kept in my small backyard near downtown St. John’s (Newfoundland). I bought two more nucs the next year. By 2012, using swarm cells and naturally mated queens, I had six colonies on a farm in Portugal Cove. By 2013, mostly by creating splits with swarm cells, I had eight colonies on the edge of a big field in Logy Bay. I lost most of my colonies in the winter of 2015 to shrews. That was the only year I wasn’t able to take honey from my hives. I moved what was left of my colonies to Flatrock in 2015 and slowly built my beeyard up to nine colonies by the summer of 2016. My goal is to maintain a relatively self-sustaining beeyard with no more than ten colonies.
Beekeepers on a budget with minimal carpentry skills might like these little shelters I made from old yogurt containers to keep wind, rain and snow from blowing through the upper entrances of my beehives. Here’s a three and a half minute video that shows what I’m talking about. (It ends with a 15-minute extended cut for those who like to dig a little deeper.)
I store frames of drawn comb over the winter by building a well ventilated hive in my unheated outdoor shed. Here’s a video that proves it:
The hive full of drawn comb (and some capped frames of honey) is well ventilated on the bottom and top using queen excluders so mice can’t get in. The hive can be built outside on its own too. No shed required.
My first time wrapping a hive in silver bubble wrap. I probably should have attached it with screws instead of heavy duty tacks that might pop off in high winds. But we’ll see. It was a lot cheaper than buying official hive wraps made from the same material. The hive wraps would have been about $20-40 for a full-size Langstroth hive, but this came in at around $10, maybe a little more.
An experiment. I’m making hive pillows using old cotton pillow cases. The pillow is full of wood chips and straw. I’ve been toying with these for the past couple of years because moisture quilts — or quilt boxes with upper ventilation — aren’t as convenient as I’d like them to be. They don’t hold in heat well either. My bees in Flatrock, where it’s unusually cold and damp compared to many places in Newfoundland, seem to need all the heat they can get, and moisture quilts, heat-wise, just don’t cut it. Continue reading →
This is mostly a talking video of me explaining an experiment that involves drilling a hole in the super a few inches below the inner cover — with no inner cover entrance — with the intention of holding more heat in the hive during the winter.
This is the shortest video I’ve ever posted (about 23 seconds long). It shows what most of my hives look like now (on December 10th) when I pop the tops off and look inside. They’ve been like this for a few weeks now.
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 →
“Various types of birds such as shrikes, titmice, kingbirds, swifts, martins, thrushes, mockingbirds and others may eat honey bees. They consume very few bees and most bee colonies can suffer the occasional loss of a worker bee to a bird.”
August 2019 Introduction: I fooled around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about three years. It’s not a device for beekeepers on a budget. I doubt I would have picked it up myself if I didn’t get it as a birthday gift. I wouldn’t call it essential for the kind of backyard beekeeping that I do, but I have to confess that I got in the habit of using it often in the winter, even though the battery doesn’t last much longer than five minutes on a typical freezing Newfoundland winter day. It doesn’t give me the most accurate thermal images of bees, but it provides an indication of whether or not the cluster is big or small, dead or alive, or dying. I don’t have to tap on the side of the hive and listen to the roar of the bees to see how they are doing. I don’t have to listen carefully with my stethoscope. Typically, I plug the device into my Android phone, turn everything on and then run out to my hives and take as many photos as I can as quickly as possible before the battery dies. I don’t think it ever lasts more than 10 minutes. I have my doubts that the built-in battery was designed for cold places like Newfoundland. Here are some sample images and video to give an idea of how it played it out for me.
I removed the shrew-proofing mesh from my hives yesterday so I could clear out the dead bees that have accumulated so far this winter. I reattached the mesh afterwards with the use of a staple gun that produces a loud bang that vibrates through the hive and riles up the bees. But a suggestion from one of my readers changed everything:
“Would it be possible to secure it [the mesh] with drawing pins rather than staples?”
It’s absolutely possible. I did it today, just five minutes ago.
One of three pushpins used to attach shrew-proofing mesh to a hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)
The drawing pins / pushpins work just as well as staples as far as I can tell. That mesh isn’t going anywhere.
Three green pushpins (instead of staples) used to attach mesh over bottom entrance. (Dec. 13, 2015.)
Now I can easily remove the mesh, clean out the dead bees and reattach the mesh without bothering the bees. I thought I might need to find a different method for keeping the shrews out of my hive for next year. Not anymore. The mesh attached with pushpins instead of staples works perfectly. At least that’s my story for now.
Thanks for the tip, Emily.
December 18th, 2019: I’ve gotten into using regular thumbtacks instead of pushpins because the pushpins can be rather difficult to drive into the wood. A thumb tack is much easier to attach. To remove one, though, requires pulling the mesh off carefully and taking the tack with it, which can then easily go flying into the grass or get bent to the point of not being reusable. Still, they’re so much easier to use than pushpins, I might stick with them. I suppose I could use one of those staple remover things that look like a tiny fanged mouth, but that’s another gadget I’ll need to keep around and I’m more interested in reducing what I need to keep bees instead of adding more to the list.
Thumbs tacks used to attached shrew-proofing mesh. (December 2019.)
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’ve been feeding my bees in the winter for a while now by pouring dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars. Some people refer to this style of feeding as the Mountain Camp Method. I like it because it’s the quickest and easiest method for feeding bees in my particular winter climate.
Bees eating dry sugar via the Mountain Camp Method.
Although I’ve never had any problems with it, there is some room for improvement. Some people only put newspaper over the back two-thirds of the top bars so that the front is left open for better airflow. That’s an excellent tweak to the method and it works. There’s no urgent need to change it. However, in my experience, the cluster usually breaks through the top bars in the middle and spreads out from there. Most of the moisture — or humid air from the bees’ respiration — flows up from the middle as well. My little tweak is to create a hole in the middle of the sugar for better ventilation and to give the bees easier access to the sugar.
Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. These bees have about 40kg of honey stores. The sugar is a precaution. (Dec. 12, 2015.)
It’s June 2019 as I rewrite this post from December 2013. 2013 was when shrews first got into my hives, but I didn’t know it at the time. I would see all these signs of shrews again during the winter of 2015 when shrews destroyed or catastrophically wrecked havoc on six of my eight colonies.
The conditions seemed perfect for shrews in the winter of 2015. I heard about commercial beekeepers in Prince Edward Island and in New Brunswick who lost up to 80% of their colonies due to shrew predation. Snow was so high at times that it seems the shrews were able to skitter across the deep snow and hop into beehives through the top entrances that didn’t have mouse guards on them. (Who puts mouse guards over the top entrances? Nobody.) Once inside the hives, the shrews would pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster, suck the guts out of the bee’s body and then go back for more, all day long, day after day until the cluster was so small and the bees were so stressed that they were goners before the snow melted. It was a pretty damn devastating situation all around.
A shrew tunnel in the snow. (Next to an earplug for scale.)
Shrews can squeeze through 3/8-inch mouse guards, so page 1 from my anti-shrew playbook is to staple or use push pins to attach 6mm (quarter-inch) mesh over my bottom entrances around the first week of October or whenever I think itâ€™s getting so cold that the bees are beginning to cluster. The mesh might knock some pollen off the bees’ legs, but not enough to concern me. With push pins, I can always temporarily remove the mesh if the bees are having a particularly busy day of foraging. I sometimes cover the top entrances with mesh too just to be extra safe. And it works.
But in the winter of 2013 and 2015, I didn’t have a clue. Here’s how it first played it December 2013: Continue reading →