First Sign of Shrews in a Hive

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:

shrew-scare
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Frost From Bees’ Breath

The buzz of my bees has gotten quieter through my stethoscope in the past couple of weeks. I hope they’re not freezing to death. I don’t think they are. I think they’re just contracting into a tighter ball as the weather gets colder. I saw a sign of life in one of my hives this morning.

Frost showing up from respiration of the bees' inside the hive. (Flatrock, NL, January 26, 2016.)

Frost around the upper entrance of a hive. Temperature: -20°C / -4°F in the wind. (Flatrock, NL, January 26, 2016.)

That’s frost build-up on the shrew-proofing mesh of the top entrance, frost that came from the respiration of the bees’ inside the hive. Which means they’re alive. I’ve been eager to take a peek inside, but that’s good enough for now.

Newfoundland Blizzard Buries Honey Bees

The city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, got hit with about 50 cm of heavy, wet snow in the past 24 hours along with 110 km/h winds that made for some seriously high snowdrifts. One such snowdrift buried one of my beehives. Here it is shortly after I frantically dug it out with my bare hands:

Bee hive buried in snow. (Jan 11, 2013.)

Here’s the video that tells the tale:

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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Dry Sugar Feeding

It’s April 2019. I’ve deleted the original post from 2012 and I’m rewriting it right now on the spot to keep things short and simple. So basically my bees seemed to be running low on honey. So I gave them some sugar by laying newspaper over the top bars and pouring dry sugar over the newspaper. This is often referred to as the “Mountain Camp method,” but really it’s just a variant of sugar feeding that’s been around for a long time. There are many ways to feed bees sugar in the winter. This is just one of them. Here’s the video:


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