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.
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:
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 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.
I have five chickens (yeah, I’m talking about chickens) that each lay about one egg a day in the summer, when the days are long, and about one egg every two or three days in the winter as the days get shorter. I’ve been collecting about two eggs a day for the past few months — until about ten days ago when I collected three. Some days are still two-egg days, but three is becoming the norm.
Eggs collected on January 13, 2016, in Flatrock, Newfoundland.
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:
We feed our bees pollen in the form of pollen patties for two reasons: 1) To get the queen laying in late winter, around mid-February, so that the colony’s population is at a healthy level when spring arrives. 2) To give a nuc colony the boost it needs throughout the summer so that it can go into winter, again, with a healthy population of bees. (We also feed our nucs sugar syrup throughout our cool, short summers.) We wouldn’t feed our bees pollen or sugar if Mother Nature could provide for them all year round. But Mother Nature is a cruel mistress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Spring often doesn’t make an appearance until the end of June. So it’s a no-brainer: We feed them. (July 11/13 addendum: But don’t overfed them.)
Do an online search for “How to make pollen patties,” and you’ll find more than a few methods and recipes for pollen patties. The following is our method, not necessarily the best method, but probably one of the easiest, which is why I like it. We fed our bees with these pollen patties last year and everything was okay. (But feel free to let me know if I’m doing something I shouldn’t.) Here’s a video that shows exactly how it’s done:
A word of caution to beekeepers who use hard insulation in their hives for any reason: some ants have an appetite for insulation. Check out this photo sent to me from a beekeeper in Indiana:
I doubt this kind of infestation would be an issue for beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland or in similar climates (though you might want to look around for ant nests). Ants are usually long gone and out of sight by the time we have to put on insulation in November, or take it off in April. I suppose that’s a benefit of living in one of the chilliest, wettest, windiest places on the planet. Continue reading →
We added dry sugar to all four of our hives eight days ago, following what some call the Mountain Camp Method of feeding. I took a quick peek under the hood of two of the hives today to see how well they’re taking to the sugar and this is what I saw:
More dead bees are showing up on the bottom of the foundationless hive, enough to nearly clog the entire bottom entrance. (I first noticed the dead bees on December 22nd.) Most of the them appear to be drones.
Are drones fed like the queen, or can they access and eat honey on their own? I don’t remember. If they rely on the workers to be fed, then my guess is they’re deliberately being starved out of the hive. I’m surprised so many are still around.
I’ve also noticed that the bees in the foundationless hive are clustering heavily in the bottom box. This is what the edge of the cluster looked like a few days ago during the Dry Sugar Feeding (I fed them even though I don’t think they’re running low on honey):