12 minutes of super fantastic beekeeping.
The bees seem healthy, but none of my colonies are making it out of winter strong so far.
12 minutes of super fantastic beekeeping.
The bees seem healthy, but none of my colonies are making it out of winter strong so far.
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.
These are some of the last hive inspections I’ll perform this year.
The parts where I’m actually inside a hive are written in italics.
What a headache.
Maybe I’m wrong, but that looks like crystallised syrup to me.
I checked on the two queens I marked from the other day, both of them set up in my version of a mating nuc. I have one colony that’s had a poorly-laying queen all year. I should have replaced her way back in June, but mated queens on the Isle of Newfoundland aren’t usually available until mid-to-late July, and I couldn’t get any of those. I’ll skip the sad details of my previous failures with mating nucs this summer (I’m sure I’ll post a video about it eventually anyway). What’s important is that my efforts have paid off. I’ve got two young mated queens filling up comb with little baby bees. Here’s the video that captures my satisfaction:
I’ll add more details to this post when I have more time.
Addition: I mention in the video how some brood are about three days old. I was confused. I was thinking about about a different bee. The grubs in the video are big and fat and the cells are ready to be capped. They’re about 5 or 6 days old.
I know many beekeepers who feed their bees sugar syrup in the fall and stop feeding after the first frost.
We got our first hit of heavy frost this morning. If I followed hard and fast beekeeping rules, I would stop feeding now.
Brief April 2019 Introduction: I have no doubt about it now. This is how I use my hive top feeders, with the screen over the middle portion of the feeder, not the reservoirs. I also have screen stapled down in the reservoirs to prevent the bees from getting into them once the feeders runs dry.
Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.
If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:And guess what? It works.
I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster.
Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. Heated syrup kills microbes and other baddies, but I don’t think that’s necessary for backyard beekeepers with a small number of hives.
I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.
I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.
Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going mouldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.
I noticed some honey or sugar syrup on the bottom board of one of my hives this morning.
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.
A beekeeper on the island of Newfoundland recent said:
I wholeheartedly agree with that beekeeper. He seems like a smart guy.
In a previous post, Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation, I argued that hard insulation over the inner cover is a cheap and easy way to keep a hive relatively warm and dry over the winter. And it is. I used hard insulation in my hives for several winters with no problems. Even though I’ve since switched to moisture quilts, this year — as in a couple of weeks ago — I set up two of my five hives with hard insulation as a demonstration that I planned to report in on over the winter. But I pulled the plug on that experiment because I discovered moldy frames in the top boxes of those two hives yesterday.
In my experience, plastic insert feeders that fit inside medium or shallow supers are dangerous because they don’t provide the bees convenient access to the syrup. Using an insert feeder to build up a nuc could be disastrous, especially in a cold climate like Newfoundland.
I bought an insert feeder during my second spring of beekeeping in 2011 because it seemed like a cheaper alternative to a hive top feeder. But I could never get the bees to take syrup from the feeder. (I’ve heard the same from numerous beekeepers over the past four years.) My bees would have starved had I kept trying to feed them with the insert feeder.
July 2019 Introduction: I’ve removed the video that I originally uploaded with this post because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore. Screen stapled over the middle of the hive top feeder, for me, is the way to go now. I also staple screen inside the reservoirs on the bottom to prevent the bees from getting into the reservoirs when they’re empty. See Screened Hive Top Feeder for more details.
I have no love for hive top feeders. They can be heavy and messy and a farcical tragedy when things go wrong. But this simple and cheap modification virtually transforms them into kill-free feeders and, at least in my experience, makes them easier to use. It also allows me to put various rims over the feeder, or anything I want over the feeder, without risk of drowning any bees. Obsessive-compulsive mad scientist beekeepers (a significant portion of the beekeeping demographic) could easily build on this design so that the feeder virtually refills itself. I can already imagine how that could work, but I digress.
April 2019 Introduction: I could delete this post because there’s really not much to it. I give specific instructions on how to use a jar feeder as if I’d been doing it for years. I should have just kept my mouth shut. I’m not sure the instructions I give are good instructions. For the most part, I think I make it sound more complicated than it needs to be. There isn’t anything wrong with placing a jar feeder directly over the inner cover as long as the inner cover is in the winter position and the bees still have a top entrance.
A jar feeder, by the way, is a Mason jar or any jar with little holes poked in the metal lid. The jar is filled with honey or sugar syrup (in this case, for spring feeding, a thin 1 part sugar, 1 part water mixture), tipped upside and placed inside the hive over the inner cover (but sheltered inside an empty super). Got it?
Tip #1: Don’t place the feeder directly over the inner cover hole when night time temperatures can still hover around freezing. The syrup can expand and contract with the temperature fluctuations and leak all over the bees (speaking from experience here), and not just any bees but the baby bees that are right in the middle of the hive — the brood nest — directly underneath the inner cover hole. It may be easier for the bees to access the syrup when it’s directly over the inner cover hole, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. I don’t use jar feeders until nighttime temperatures are above freezing, which sometimes doesn’t happen until near the end of April. Tip #1-B: Place the jar between the inner cover hole and the top entrance (not between the hole and the back wall of the hive). That way if the syrup does leak, provided the back of the hive is tilted up a bit like it should be, the syrup will drain out of the hive or at least to the front of it — and not down the inner cover hole and all over the bees.
Tip #2: Rest the jar on two pieces of wood. When I first installed a jar feeder, I put it directly over the inner cover hole and blocked the hole. You don’t want to block the hole. Here’s a photo of a jar feeder sitting on two pieces of scrap wood. You can even see the path from the top entrance in the background, to the jar feeder, to the inner cover hole (some call that a beeline).
I probably shouldn’t even feed the bees now. I think they have plenty of honey, and if they eat their honey, it will free up space for the queen to lay more eggs. But until I can do a quick non-invasive inspection and I know for sure they have enough honey, I’ll play the paranoid card and feed them.
P.S.: This is one way to install a jar feeder. If I find a better, safer way of doing it, I’ll update this post with that information. I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion.
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:
March 2019 Introduction: This simple modification for a frame feeder is a stroke of genius. (Yes, I’m patting myself on the back for this one.) I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes standard with frame feeders some day because it works so well at preventing bee deaths and it’s easier than pouring syrup down a bee ladder that’s packed with bees.
I had to refill a frame feeder in one of my young 2-deep hives today and decided on the spot to record a demonstration video that could have been titled How To Refill a Frame Feeder, but isn’t. Here are some pics and then a video at the end. Here I am pouring in the syrup:
I plan to install these frame feeders as soon as possible. They arrived today from BeeMaid. The feeders have bee ladders: tubes of plastic mesh the bees crawl down as a way of drinking the syrup without drowning in it. The feeders hold 7 litres of syrup and take up the space of two frames in the brood chamber. (7 litres = 1.85 US gallons.)
My Boardman feeders attract ants, wasps and even big ugly slugs. (The Boardman feeders also encourage robbing at times from other bees.) It’s not a problem for the bees in Hive #1 because their numbers are so high, they can take care of themselves. But Hive #2 is weaker and having wasps around probably doesn’t help.
Not having to poke around the hives as much may be another advantage of switching to frame feeders. Hive #1 sucks up about a litre of syrup from the Boardman feeder every three days. If the bees continue at that pace, it could take them up to three weeks to empty 7 litres from the frame feeder, though we’ll likely refill it every two weeks after regular inspections regardless. (UPDATE: The bees drink much faster from the frame feeders. I should have had these things in from the start.)