Revisiting The Magic Forest

Taking a peek at a colony I plan to split this year. I hope.

I’ve got at least two colonies that are in tip top shape.

00:00 — Top box packed with bees.

01:35 — Review of my basic hive set-up. Includes open bottom entrance, top notched inner cover entrance, black-painted hives and a ventilation rim with a pillowcase full of straw and wood chips.

03:55 — Defensive bees.

06:05 — An open feeder used properly.

Keep That Mesh On

I know better than to remove the 6mm / quarter-inch mouse and shrew proofing mesh from the bottom entrances of my hives while temperatures are still cold (like they are now), but hope springs eternal whenever the sun comes out like it did a couple weeks ago, and silly me, I removed the mesh from about half of my hives. Then it got cold again — like it always does in April — and now it looks like I’ve got critters trying to find a warm place to cuddle into. Nice move, Phillip. Way to go. I have to keep reminding myself not to remove the mesh until the first full hive inspection of the year — when it’s warm and stays warm… At least I think it’s a mouse making a mess of my bees.

The video taps into other topics, but the mesh is the main one.

Syrup as a Medicine?

So…

The specks of poop in the sugar could be signs of nosema, a mild case of it. (April 4th, 2022.)

I think I may have discovered Nosema, possibly a fatal case of it, in at least one of my colonies — and I’m not posting a photo of that one just yet because it’ll make you barf. When everything inside the hive is covered with feces as if the bees were locked inside and couldn’t get out for cleansing flights, even though the front door is about two inches away from the cluster — that pretty much screams Nosema with a capital N. It could be dysentery, which is also gross and not as troublesome as Nosema. Still, everything points to Nosema at the moment.
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The Sugar Express

What can I say? It cost about $3.00 to make a brick of sugar that has the potiential to save my bees if they run low on honey when I’m not around to save them. So here we go again.

Two colonies got only sugar bricks. Another one got a protein patty and a sugar brick. I’ll say this, though, these three colonies seem to be in good shape. They’re full of bees and I can still see frames of capped honey up top.

Last year some of my colonies didn’t break above the top bars until April. This year, all of them except one (out of 10) have broken above the top bars. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re running low on honey, but, like I said, a few dollars worth of sugar ain’t no thing to make sure they’re okay.

Feeding Bees Again

Honestly, I’m not out to publicly shame natural beekeepers who believe that sugar is bad for honey bees. I just happen to be dumping sugar into some of my hives because some of my colonies might run out of honey before spring. Here’s a 3-minute video that demonstrates how I dump sugar into my hives when I’m too lazy to do anything else. (I also posted a 20-minute version of this video too.)


I could have sprayed the sugar with water to harden it up, but I didn’t. Some other thoughts off the top of my head:
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Winter Bees

Here’s a 5-minute single shot of what I hope are big and healthy winter bees. It took me about 4 years, something like that, to clue in about winter bees. They’re are not the same as regular summertime fun time worker bees, and I’m still not really an expert at it.


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These Bees Should Be Dead

One of my beehives, back in January 2019, had its top blown off in a windstorm. The top cover — along with the inner cover and hard insulation — might have been removed in other ways, but the point is, the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive inside the hive were completely exposed to the elements for about a week. The elements included high winds, rain, freezing rain, hail and snow. Hence, the title of this post: These Bees Should Be Dead.

Not exactly what you like to find when visiting a beeyard in the winter. (January 2019.)

When I approached the hive, I didn’t expect the bees to be alive. I found dark soggy clumps of dead bees on the back edges of the top bars. Some burr comb over the top bars had lost its colour from being exposed to the elements. The frames were soaking wet with a sheen of mould growing on the surface. Ice clogged up the bottom entrance. So yeah, I expected to find nothing but dead bees inside that hive.

But I didn’t.


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Beekeeping on Facebook

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.  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:

 

I didn’t create that video, but I would if I could. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:  Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’ll likely never have the money or the land to keep bees on a commercial 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.
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Some Unnatural Beekeeping

I had to add some protein patties (artificial pollen) to my hives yesterday because my bees have been stuck inside their hives for a week, unable to forage for pollen just at a time when the year’s first pollen was beginning to come in. We’ve got at least another week of this lousy weather ahead of us. This is when I say enough is enough. Here’s what I’m talking about:


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Live Stream Edit #3: Opening Beehives in The Winter is Okay With Me

Here’s another edited low-fi live stream from my beeyard (26 minutes, not much edited down). This time I check on some bees with dry sugar, add a pollen patty and I mess around with my smoker.

There’s a lot of talking in this video (hence the new Talkin’ Blues category), which is sort of what I’m leaning towards these days. In any case, here are the highlights from the video:
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Live Stream Edit #1: Dropping in Pollen Patties

The following video is an edited version of the first live stream I did through my YouTube channel. (This post and this video replace the full unedited version which was just too long and boring to keep online.) I’ve done a few similar tests through my Instagram account, but I don’t like social media that defaults to portrait mode videos. YouTube wins.

D.E. Hive Demo

The pandemic has knocked my sleeping patterns out of whack. I’ve had to rely on coffee to keep me going at times, and every time I do it I seem to make one of these rambling beekeeping videos — or several of them. But I’m getting tired of listening to my caffeinated voice. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep it up. At any rate, here’s a hodgepodge of little bits that I deleted from other videos because the videos were already long enough, or I just forgot about them. Either way, this is the last video I post until my next blast of caffeine.


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First Opening of Winter Hives

It can be a little unnerving opening a beehive in the middle of the winter. But I suppose it depends on what you mean by winter. I was able to open my hives today — the first time I’ve opened them this winter — because there wasn’t a breath of wind and it was cold but not freezing. A common cold damp day in Newfoundland that makes your bones ache in a bad way. And when I say opened, I mean I hadn’t removed the inner cover from a hive and exposed the bees to the cold winter air yet.

Opening a hive on a fairly mild winter day (5°C / 41°F) and adding a rim to make space for sugar bricks.


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Converting To All-Medium Hives (Sort of)

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…


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A Beautifully Over-Wintered Colony

I’ve probably never been more pleased with an over-wintered colony than I am with the one in this video. I’m not entirely sure what I did, but these bees have been clustering way down in the bottom of their hive under an insulating and tasty block of honey all winter long and are only now beginning to show up above the top bars. And they’re not even close to starving. I love it. I’ll drop my theory on how that happened after the video.


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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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How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.

One of my bee hives after a  snow storm in 2013.

One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (Nov. 04, 2015.)

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)

So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
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A Hive Pumping Out Heat

I noticed something unusual yesterday. I happened to touch the top cover of one of my hives and it seemed warm. Warm on a typical frigid April day in Newfoundland. So I pulled the top off and put my hand on the wood chips in the moisture quilt…

A hive giving off some heat. (April 15, 2016.)

A hive giving off some heat. (April 15, 2016.)

…and that sucker was giving off some serious heat. I’ve felt heat over the moisture quilt in the winter in strong colonies that were clustering near the top, but never this late in the winter. (On a practical level, my winter beekeeping doesn’t end until it’s warm enough to give the bees sugar syrup, if necessary.)

Q1501 giving off heat next to the shed. (April 15, 2016.)

One seriously hot hive next to my bee supply shed. (April 15, 2016.)

It might not mean anything, but it could mean the queen has been laying and a big batch of brood recently emerged. That’s just a guess.

I took a peek under the moisture quilt and it was packed with bees all over the dry sugar and devouring a pollen patty I threw in about a week ago. I’m not sure what to think, but to feel that much heat coming out of a hive at this time of year — it’s a new one for me.

UPDATE (the next day): After inspecting the hive, I did find a frame a brood, though overall I’d say it’s a fairly small cluster for this time of the year. Whatever is going on, nothing bad seemed to have come from the heat. Strange.

Why Do Honey Bees Eat Chicken Feed?

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.)

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.

2016-04-09 15.04.55

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.

Dry Sugar With a Hole In It

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.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

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. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

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.)


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A Real Life Demonstration of Feeding Honey Bees Dry Sugar

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.

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, I’d remove the bowl or jar so that a round sugar-free area of newspaper was left behind. Then I’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.)

January 12th, 2016: I eventually cleared a hole in the dry sugar.

When, Why and How I Give My Bees Pollen Patties

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.)

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.
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What Does Fresh Brood Look Like?

Fresh brood looks like this (click the image for a closer view):

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)

I was planning to pull up a frame or two of brood from the bottom box to make sure the queen expanded the brood nest up (a lazy edition of pyramiding), but I found fresh brood on the second or third frame that I inspected. The queen didn’t need any help from me. So I put everything back the way I found it and left the bees alone.

How I Used to Make Pollen Patties

It’s April 2019. I’ve shortened and simplified this post from 2012. Here we go:

I feed my bees patties of pollen supplement or pollen substitute to get the queen laying early in the year so that the colony’s population is at a healthy level when spring arrives. By early in the year, I mean late winter (or February and March in Newfoundland). I usually only give pollen patties to weak colonies, but I’ll give them to strong colonies as well if I plan to make splits from them.

I also feed my nucs pollen patties for first month after they arrive (usually around mid-July in Newfoundland), but that’s not a common practice. Many backyard beekeepers don’t feed their bees pollen patties for any reason at any time of the year. Overfeeding an established colony, whether pollen patties or sugar syrup, can easily create colonies so big that they swarm the first chance they get. And often the bees won’t touch pollen patties once they’re able to bring in real pollen from flowering plants. They chew up the patties and then toss the little bits out of the hive like they would with any kind of debris. So in that case, adding pollen patties creates house-cleaning work for the bees but for no benefit.

Here’s a video of me making some pollen patties — in a way that I probably wouldn’t make them today:


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Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

I harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up my hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, I decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves me the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if I’m in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?

A deep frame of honey fed back to the bees. (Oct. 23, 2011.)

I began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that I didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then I switched to deep frames full of honey that I pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.
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Building Up a Honey Bee Colony From a Nuc (in Newfoundland)

The following was completely rewritten in March 2019.

To build up a honey bee colony in Newfoundland from 4-frame nuc in July (nucleus hives usually become available around mid-July), I feed it sugar syrup and I don’t stop feeding it until the end of October when it’s too cold for the bees to take down any more syrup. I just keep feeding sugar syrup until the bees fill all the frames of the first deep. Then I add a second deep and continue to feed until they’ve filled all the frames of the second deep. It’s unlikely that all the frames will be fully drawn out even at the end of October. But the key is to feed them sugar syrup and never let the feeders run dry. That’s basically it.

Here’s video I made in 2016 that shows exactly what a typical nuc from Newfoundland looks like and how I install a nuc into a standard deep.


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