Winter Beekeeping with a Vengeance

Subtitled: Checking on Bees That Were Buried in Snow For More Than a Month

I still haven’t posted a video of the big storm from January 17th, 2020, that buried most of my hives, but it’s coming. It’s a spectacle, not really a beekeeping video.

This is what my “beeyard” looked like on January 18th, 2020.

In the meantime, I’ve put together two videos of the same thing — a 7-minute video for people who just want to see the bees and not hear me babble on about stuff, and the 25-minute unabridged version of the first inspections I did with these hives since they got snowed in over a month ago. It’s longer than the typical killing-time-at-work video, but it may be worth a look for new beekeepers who want to get into the nitty-gritty of winter beekeeping. I cover a lot on ground in this one. (Watching it in segments and coming back to it throughout the day might be the best bet.) It’s interesting how snowshoes have become standard beekeeping gear for me since the storm. And by interesting I mean annoying.

Here’s the highlights reel:


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Slightly Too Much Snow and a Little Problem With Shrew-Proofing Mesh

Here’s a 6-minute video that shows what happened to one of my hives that was completely buried in snow for a week or two — and by completely I mean all the entrances were blocked too.

The bees couldn’t get out for cleansing flights and made a big stinking mess of the hive, or at least their hive entrance. The 6mm / quarter-inch mesh I use to keep shrews out probably made the mess even worse. Who knows, maybe the heat from the colony would have melted the snow around the top entrance and allowed the bees to get out just far enough to poop. Maybe. But for now, especially if my area ever gets hit with an insane snow storm again, I may have to put 12mm / half-inch mesh around the entrances and hope for the best.

Pee You, What a Stink

I discovered today that one of my hives, not next to my house, has likely been buried in snow for at least a week, maybe two. I didn’t expect this.

A hive that was probably buried in snow for a week or two, with all entrances blocked. (February 22nd, 2020.)

When I cleared out the top entrance, the smell was like rotten caplin fertiliser. Pee you. It was ugly.

Rotten gooey bee poop that had clogged the entrance along with poop-soaked dead bees that we’re cleared away. (February 22nd, 2020.)

The bees needed some cleansing flights and they couldn’t get out. I didn’t open the hive to see the mess inside because I can’t do anything about it at this time. But I’m sure it’ll make an educational video some day (stay tuned).

The last time we saw this hive about a month ago, a rat had been gnawing on it.

The bees came pouring out once I cleaned all the poop-covered dead bees out of the way. I’ll clean it up next week by spraying it down with apple cider vinegar. And I could do with less snow.

Thermal Images of Beehives Buried in Snow

Here’s another video from February 1st of me testing out my Flir One thingamuhbob that attaches to my cell phone to produce thermal images in low res video and pics.

As usual, the results are okay but is it worth the money for beekeepers on a budget? I don’t know.

This video was shot after the Snowmageddon event that occurred in Newfoundland on January 17th, 2020. I’ll post a detailed video of that as soon as I can find the time to slap something together.

February 2018 Beekeeping Archive

Here’s an 8-minute behind the scenes video from February 2018 of me messing around with my bees.

Here’s the breakdown:

00:00 — Giving the bees a patty of crystallised honey.

02:15Stethoscope vs thermal imaging camera — determining the location of the cluster with each and explaining how that works.

04:25 — Giving the bees a pollen patty buttered with honey. I discuss the pros and cons of feeding pollen in the early winter.

07:50 — Running away from some defensive bees.

Check out my Month of February category for a sense of things that might happen for backyard beekeepers on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland in the month of February.

Behind the Scenes Beekeeping: February 2017

Here’s another instalment of the amazing Cell Phone Chronicles. This one is 33 minutes long. It was recorded in February 2017. Again, it’s just me standing around my beehives talking about bees. At one point I talk about making sugar cakes flavoured with honey and then I put them in some beehives. I talk about how Russian bees go through the winter with a smaller cluster compared to standard Italian honey bees. I also talk about how great snow is as an insulator. (Most of the hives in this video are buried in snow.) There are some shots of my cat, a squirrel and other amazing things.

I don’t expect this video to get over 4 million views. I’ll be impressed if four people can sit through the whole thing. There will be more to see in these cell phone chronicles once I get into the warmer months and actually do some beekeeping apart from standing around hoping my bees aren’t freezing to death.
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No-Cook Sugar Cakes For Honey Bees

To finalize The Sugar Bricks Quadrilogy, I present Episode IV: A New Hope:

Episode I: I mixed 12 parts sugar with 1 part water and let it harden in a deep dish tin pan.

Episode II: I came back about a day later and dumped out the dried sugar bricks.

Episode III: I slipped the sugar bricks into a few of my hives.

Episode IV: I demonstrate how the same process can be used to make easier-to-slip-in sugar cakes using small paper plates as a mold. Then I add some sugar cakes to a couple of hives. Conclusion: It works.

If I discovered starving bees crowded over the top bars in any of my hives, I would definitely choose this method instead of pouring dry sugar over the top bars. I’ll still dump dry sugar over the top bars in the early winter while the bees are down in the hives and out of my way, but these no-cook sugar bricks and sugar cakes seem ideal for adding sugar once the bees have risen up and are getting in my face.

No-cook candy cakes drying in the oven (with only the light on). Feb. 27, 2016.

No-cook sugar cakes drying in the oven (with only the light on). Feb. 27, 2016.


Some after thoughts…
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Birds Eating Honey Bees

I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

“Ah man, what the hell is this?” was my first reaction. It was a natural reaction considering the last time I saw bee body parts was inside one of my hives last February — when shrews preyed on most of my bees until they were dead.

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. (Feb. 22/15.)

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)


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Episode III: Slipping Sugar Bricks Into The Hives

For me, the key to feeding bees emergency sugar in winter is to put the sugar in long before the bees need it (I do it in late November). It can be a gong show once the bees are hungry and clustering above the top bars, in which case these sugar bricks are pretty convenient.

I mixed the sugar bricks in Episode I and popped them out of the pan in Episode II. Now it’s time to slip them into the hives. There’s not much to see, but here it is:

If I do this again, I’ll make the bricks larger. Dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars is still my favourite method of feeding the bees in winter because a large amount of sugar dumped in all at once will keep the bees alive until spring and I won’t have to mess with them again. But I definitely appreciate the convenience of being able to slip the no-cook sugar bricks into the hives as a stopgap measure.

UPDATE (24 hours later): Well, the bees in at least one of the hives are eating the sugar brick.

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

March 2nd, 2016: I use this same method to make sugar cakes in the Episode IV.

July 2019 Postscript: I said, “Dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars is still my favourite method of feeding the bees in winter,” but it’s not. I use sugar bricks exclusively these days because, for me, it’s much easier to slip in a brick than it is to open the hive and pour sugar in.