A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of February. 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.
It looks like I’ve got a trilogy in the making because it’s too cold to slip these sugar bricks in my beehives today. In Episode I, 12 cups of refined granulated sugar were mixed with 1 cup of water and trowelled into a tin pan with my bare hands. The last we saw of our big wet bricks of sugar, they were sitting in an oven with only the light on. Ten hours later we return and open the oven to find…
July 2019 Introduction: I use these sugar bricks to feed my bees in the winter now. The dry sugar (or Mountain Camp) method is too messy for me. Slipping a brick in under the top cover is much quicker and easier.
I use dry sugar poured over newspaper and over the top bars in my hives to feed my bees in the winter, not that they always need sugar to stay alive, but as a precaution, the sugar goes in. Sometimes the bees can’t get enough of that delectable white sugar and will eat through it quickly. That’s when I like to add more sugar, again, just as a precaution. Adding newspaper and more sugar on top can get a little tricky, especially if the bees are crowding over the top bars. If I was smart, I would have poured as much sugar as humanly possible into the hive when I first did it so as to avoid opening the hive later in the winter to add more sugar. But I’m not often that smart and so it goes. Pouring more dry sugar in isn’t a gong show, but slipping in hard bricks of sugar has the potential to be much easier. And because I always practice what I preach, here’s a video of my first attempt at making sugar bricks for my honey bees.
I had eight honey bee colonies going into winter last year (2014) and all but two of them were destroyed by shrews. The shrews squeezed through the half-inch mesh I’d been using since 2010 to keep mice out. But no one ever told me about shrews. The little buggers easily squeeze through half-inch mesh. They slip inside and pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster. They eat the bee’s innards, toss away the bits of legs and other desiccated body parts, then climb towards the cluster for more… until they eat approximately 125% of their body weight in bees every day, gradually reducing the size of the cluster until the colony is dead.
That’s how I lost six colonies last year. With only one mated queen and no extra brood, I performed a miracle and managed to expand my remaining two colonies into five colonies last summer. They may not be the strongest colonies I’ve ever seen, but they’re hanging in there (so far). All of my hives have quarter-inch mesh covering every entrance now. Shrews will never get anywhere near my bees again.
Looking back on my notes from last year, along with photos and videos I shot and the memory of the experience burnt in my brain, the first sign of a shrew inside one of my hives seems obvious. It’s in this photo from January 5th, 2015:
I noticed some honey or sugar syrup on the bottom board of one of my hives this morning.
Watered down honey or syrup on bottom board. (Feb. 02, 2016.)
I’ve seen this before. It usually happens in the winter when open honey comb contracts in the cold and then expands in the sudden heat of a warm spell and drips out of the cells. That’s all that’s happening. The first time I saw this, I thought a mouse got in the hive and chewed open some honey comb, which is not unheard of. But there’s no way a mouse could get through my quarter-inch mesh.
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 caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live in a relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged nextdoor neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?
Upper half of the large water melon sized swarm I caught last summer.
Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed: Continue reading →
It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.
My first starved out colony. Yup, they’re all dead. (Feb. 03, 2013.)
I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of my hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes. Continue reading →
April 2019 Introduction: I would add moisture quilts to these hives today because they’re too damp. In the videos below, I can see condensation dripping off the inner covers and mould developing on the inside rim and top bars. I also no longer fold the hive wrap under the inner cover because it keeps in too much moisture (not that I always wrap my hives).
It was warm enough today (1°C / 34°F) to take a peek inside my four hives and add some pollen patties. I didn’t have to top up the dry sugar that was added 46 days ago. The bees in the foundationless hive are low on honey, as I suspected, and have eaten through the most sugar, but they have enough to keep them going for a while. The bees in the conventional hives have eaten some of their sugar, but I still think they would have been fine without it. I could see several frames full of honey in each of the hives. The bees in the conventional hives were clustering above the top bars by the end of December, but a lack of honey doesn’t seem to be the reason. Okay, then, here’s how it played out in video form. First, a short version that cuts to the chase.
I didn’t think I’d have anything to report until March, but I was wrong. The bees in both hives finally got to use the washroom today after holding it in for the past three months. The following photos and video were taken around 11am today, not a breath of wind, a mild 3°C (37°F), blinding sun bouncing off the snow. First I saw this little guy outside the door:
(Yes, I know it’s a female worker and not a little guy, but saying “little girl” doesn’t work for me.) Continue reading →