Backyard beekeeping on the Isle of Newfoundland. 47°42'27.6"N 52°42'30.0"W
Category Archives: Month of January
A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of January. 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.
Here’s a short video that demonstrates how easy it is to clear dead bees from clogged up quarter-inch mesh. This kind of thing probably isn’t practical for commercial beekeepers with a large number of hives, but it seems to work out okay for folks like me.
A 2-minute video that demonstrates and explains my idea for covering the inner cover hole with canvas. It’s followed by a 20-minute version for those interested in a deeper dive into all kinds of other things.
As always with these longer videos, I explain every little thing I do while I’m doing it so that new beekeepers unfamiliar with all this stuff might be able to pick up some helpful titbits of information. I know this format isn’t quick and slick and eye-catching, and my viewership has gone down the toilet since I started doing this, but when I look back on all the videos I’ve watched over the years, it’s usually been this kind of long-form walk-along video that I’ve learned the most from — the ones where I’m just hanging out with the beekeeper while they’re beekeeping. So I’m sticking to it. Continue reading →
I dumped 4 kgs (8.8 lbs) of dry sugar in one of my farm hives on the way to work today. I was in a hurry, which is not a good thing to be in while beekeeping. I should have cut the newspaper precisely before I arrived instead of roughly tearing a piece of it there on the spot and quickly placing it over the top bars. I should have put something in the middle of the paper, like the roll of duct tape I had on me, to make it easier to create a hole for the bees crawl through too.
I wouldn’t call this the greatest example of the dry sugar method of feeding (a.k.a. the Mountain Camp Method), but I’ve seen (and done) worse. It could have been windy and the newspaper could have blown away. It could have been warmer and the bees could have been flying in my face. The bees could have poured out over the sides of the hive and I would have had to scoop them up with my hands and flick them back in the hive — if they weren’t flying in my face. So maybe it wasn’t pretty, but I got ‘er done.
I’ve enjoyed being able to check on my bees during my lunch breaks over the past while since Omicron shut down my normal office work schedule. What a lousy way to learn the Greek alphabet, eh? I’m burnt out from the pandemic like most of us, but being able to take a break from my office job and hang with my bees has provided a huge mental boost. Today, for instance, all I did was give some comb honey to a colony I suspected was hungry. It only took about five minutes, but it was so relaxing.
I did this so fast, it didn’t require smoke, a veil or gloves. The bees were too busy staying clustered to worry about me. The sun is beating down on the black hive now. What heat was lost will be regained quickly. I’m also planning to wrap the hive with silver bubble wrap to see if that helps.
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.
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.
As much as I love moisture quilts (or anything that keeps my bees warm and dry over the winter), sometimes I think, “There’s got to be an easier way.” And when I say sometimes, I mean every single day. Instead of using moisture quilts, I’ve opted to try out these Dempster Hive Pillows. They’re 2 or 3 inch (~7cm) thick burlap pillows filled with wood chips that sit over the inner cover and inside a ventilation rim (or any kind of box with ventilation holes in it) to provide some insulation for the bees but also help absorb and wick away condensation from inside the hive.
Here’s a basic intro to the Dempster Hive Pillow:
It’s another experiment, but I think (I hope) it’ll work. I think it’ll be a lot easier to drop pillows into my hives instead dumping wood chips or some other absorbent material inside the hive. That’s the aforementioned easier way I was talking about. Considering that my bees have gone through the winter so far with zero insulation and zero moisture-absorbing material in place, my feeling is, yeah, what’s the worse thing that could happen?
Here’s the extended version of the above video that goes into a lot more detail about other things related my winter beekeeping: Continue reading →
In my ongoing series of videos designed to obliterate the Zen-like vision of beekeeping that everyone falls for (myself included), I present to all you good folk, “Wrapping Beehives in Bubble Wrap.”
The wind is blowing in the mic throughout this video, but it seems that my cheap cellphone camera does an excellent job at isolating the sound of my voice. Despite the wind, my voice can be heard clearly most of the time. Just one more thing: I don’t consume a lot of caffeinated drinks, but when I do, I sometimes get like hyped up. This video is fuelled by caffeine. Continue reading →
These thermal images show the difference between a hive with the bees clustering low (with plenty of honey above them) and bees clustering high (possibly running low on honey).
I can’t imagine the bees in any of my tall hives are running low on honey. Most of my hives were packed with honey going into the winter. But you never know. The first time I lost a colony to starvation was around this of the year. So… Continue reading →
A thermal imaging video I posted yesterday shows where my bees are clustering inside their hives, more or less. The video was created by combining high-resolution footage from my cheap cell phone camera with low-resolution footage from my expensive Flir One For Android thermal imaging device. But I also have one of these nice and cheap devices advertised as: “Infrared Thermometer Laser Industrial Temperature Gun Non-Contact with Backlight -50-380Â°Cï¼ˆNOT for Humans).”
Laser Gun Thermometer.
I wanted to see if the laser gun — which is about 25 times cheaper than the cheapest Flir One device — might work just as well as a thermal imaging device. Yeah, I know it won’t work as well, per se, but is it good enough for my backyard beekeeping brethren on a budget? I’ll tell you right now, the answer is maybe. Maybe even probably. Continue reading →
Someone on a social media site asked about a non-intrusive way to check on the bees in the winter other than blowing through the entrance or tapping on the hives to see if it riles up the bees. Someone else answered: “Put your phone in the entrance and record the sound. Then you can play it back and turn up the volume. I’ve tried it in the past and could hear their buzzing.” So I gave it a go. Does it work? Well… maybe, maybe not. But I did learn something today.
Some of you may have heard that the eastern part of the isle of Newfoundland where I keep bees got dinged with a massive snowstorm on January 17th, 2020. The official forecast called for about 90cm (3 feet) of snow. But with winds hitting about 120km/h (75mph), more than a few snowdrifts were taller than me.
I’m guessing a rat did this (January 26th, 2020).
The city of St. John’s and surrounding municipalities were under a State of Emergency for about a week. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t check on some of my hives until the roads were passable nine days later. This is what I found when I checked on them: