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:
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: