Backyard beekeeping on the Isle of Newfoundland since 2010. 47°42'27.6"N 52°42'30.0"W
Category Archives: Month of July
A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of July. 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 created a walkaway split this summer and it worked. I got a second colony out of it.
I divided a well-populated, strong honey bee colony — one that was on the verge of swarming — into halves, each half with an identical assortment of frames: Frames of honey; pollen; capped brood; frames of open brood packed with nurse bees; empty drawn comb; and maybe a frame or two of bare foundation. Open brood between 1 and 4 days old was the crucial part.
Queen cells torn apart. Observed on DAY 20, though it probably happened around DAY 16.
One of the halves stayed in the original location of the hive. The other half was set up probably about 10 feet away from the hive, but the exact location in the beeyard didn’t make any difference. Continue reading →
A short quiet video where I explain how backfilling can signal that swarming, or splintering, could be on the way, a little tip I first picked up from Rusty Burlew. Then I insert a couple of frames of foundation into a super full of honey to relieve congestion so the queen’s pheromones can better circulate throughout the hive and all that jazz.
I got a Gmail Reminder yesterday: CHECK FOR SWARMS CELLS. I must have written that reminder in past years for a reason. So I checked for swarm cells and I’m glad I did. Here’s a video of me talking about what I found in the first hive I checked and what I did. I talk about other things too that new beeks might be curious about.
I checked some of my other hives for swarms cells too, but not all of them. It was just too damn hot.
I did outside visual inspections and didn’t see anything too alarming in the rest. I’ve never been sold on outside hive observations for predicting swarm risk in a honey bee colony. Perhaps it takes a certain skill that I haven’t developed yet, but except for seeing a large number of bees pouring out of the bottom entrance and climbing up the outside of the hive for a few days before a swarm, I’ve never seen any clear sign from outside that a colony was about to swarm. I’ve spoken to large scale beekeeping operators who report the same thing. So I just don’t go by external observations.
But I did today because I was too hot and tired. I’m hoping for the best.
Here’s a photo of me working on what is probably the largest hive I’ve ever had to deal with since I began beekeeping in 2010. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)
Here’s how I inadvertently (or I could say deliberately) managed to get over 6 pounds of honey from a single medium frame. 6 pounds is about 3 kg. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)
Other than giving the bees space inside the hive to grow, I really didn’t do much. This is 95% the result of good weather and a healthy queen. No bee whispering of any kind was required. There never is.
Essentially, all I did was place 7 frames of drawn comb in a 10-frame honey super, creating extra space between the frames. If there’s a strong nectar flow, the bees will often fill in the extra space with honey, resulting in thick frames of honey — and sometimes more honey per super.
1 of 5 thick frames of honey, averaging 5.2 pounds / 2.4 kg of liquid honey per frame. (July 7th, 2021.)
I talk about this all the time, but here we go again, a short video that shows how I get my bees to build straight comb off bare foundation (when I have drawn comb).
Keep in mind that this method is not necessary. Many beekeepers simply let the bees build comb out from the middle frames as they naturally expand the brood nest and build comb for honey. That works too. Inserting empty frames between drawn comb is only meant to speed up the process because of the bees’ compulsion to fill in empty space.
A video about queen bees. I’m completely off screens for at least the next 10 days. I’ll add more details when I get back. See ya.
00:00 — Thirty seconds of silence because we could all use 30 seconds of quiet contemplation once in a while. It’s a black and white slow motion shot of Comfrey.
00:28 — Torn open queen cells, destroyed by the first queen to emerge.
01:05 — The virgin queen.
01:59 — Photos of the open queen cells.
02:05 — Introducing a queen into a new hive. If the queenless colony is ready for a new queen, they will cover her cage and try to feed her lick her so they can bathe in her pheromones and be happy.
02:29 — Watching what the bees do. Are they trying to attack the queen or accept the queen? Â Watch the rest of the video to find out.
Here’s a short narrated video that explains how I use a swarm box to catch swarms that would normally get away. (A transcript of the narration can found below the video. And that’s the last time I read from a script. It sounds like the stilted narration from an instructional video by Troy McClure)
This is a 6-minute Reader’s Digest version of the 20-minute video I posted yesterday that shows how I install a nuc.
In the video I spot the queen, show off some fresh brood, a frame of pollen, the frame feeder I use with most of my nucs, and the holes I drill into my deep foundation so the bees can move between honey frames easier in the winter.
Here’s a 20-minute video that documents what it’s like to get a nucleus colony (or a starter hive) on the island of Newfoundland. It’s not always easy. (I’ve also posted a 6-minute version for those who want to cut to the chase.)
I recently found these flowers growing around the edges of my gravel driveway.
According to my friendly neighbourhood person who knows these things, the flowers are called Malva Moschata, sometimes referred to as Musk Mallow.
Malva Moschata makes an appearance. (July 25, 2016.)
They’ve shown up, not in large numbers, in the past week.
Malva Moschata in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (July 25, 2016.)
I have yet to notice any honey bees on them, but the Oracle tells me honey bees go for them. As usual, that’s good enough for me to add them to my Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage list. I’ll update this post if I manage to take a photo of a honey bee on one of the flowers.
I noticed bulging honey(video link) in all three nucs I installed last week. And by bulging honey, I mean comb the bees built past the width of the frame. Here’s an extreme example from one of my honey supers two years ago:
Bulging honey is great for a honey super where I want as much honey on each frame as the bees can manage. I deliberately space out the frames so the bees will draw thicker comb on it. But bulging comb of any kind is not what I want to see in the brood nest.
The brood frames can’t be spaced evenly against each other when bulging honey gets in the way. (Have I just coined a phrase, bulging honey?) When I installed my nucs, the frames of bulging honey created uneven spacing — and extra space between the frames. The bees want to fill in that extra space and they often do so with bridge comb, which breaks apart and makes a mess in the brood nest whenever I need to inspect a frame.
Bridge comb caused by having too much space between the frames. (July 22, 2016.)
I took a quick look at one of the nuc hives today and already noticed bridge comb. What a pain. Continue reading →
Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.
I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date if I can, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.
It was well over 30Â°C (86Â°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too. Continue reading →
I just installed three new nucs and I’m completely soaked in sweat. Here’s one that doesn’t have a proper top cover yet, but the bees don’t care.
By the way, now is an excellent time to look for the queen, to learn how to spot her, how she moves and wiggles across the frame and all that jazz. There are hardly any bees in the hive and there are only a few frames to inspect. The chances of spotting her couldn’t be better.
I wish I’d taken the time to look for the queen when I installed my first nucs. It subsequently took me a year before I managed to spot any of my queens.
I set up a bowl full of marbles to provide water for my bees last year. It’s very pretty and it works, but I’ve recently switched to using a chicken waterer instead:
Honey bees drinking from a chicken waterer. (July 14, 2016.)
The bowl full of marbles isn’t difficult to maintain, but the I prefer the chicken waterer because, for me, it’s more practical.
Postscript (10 days later): Now that we’re at Newfoundland’s height of summer (I guess), the bees are on the chicken waterer all the time and seem to suck down about a litre of water every two days. At any rate, that’s how often I refill the Mason jar. A larger bucket-sized chicken waterer would probably work too.
I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.
One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.) Click the image for a better view.
The last time I found pollen in the honey super was two summers ago and it happened with what I used to call my nasty hive, a hive packed with the most defensive, meanest bees in Newfoundland. Everything about that hive was a headache, so I just assumed pollen in the honey super was a symptom of mentally deranged bees. That colony eventually died and I was more than happy to see it go. So when I found the frames of pollen today, I thought, “What the hell?”
Medium frame in “honey super” full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)
At first I thought, “Okay, I’ve got another crazy colony on my hands.” Which seems to fit because the bees in this colony are, unfortunately, related to Old Nasty. Their queen mated with drones from the nasty hive. But that’s just speculation, me making up some stuff that sounds like it could be true but probably isn’t when you get right down to it.
So I did a little more poking around the oracle we call the Internet and asked a few beekeeping friends of mine if they’ve seen this before. And they have. After shooting some emails back and forth and thinking it over, I’ve come to the following explanation:
The bees are filling the honey super with pollen because they don’t have enough brood to eat up all the pollen that’s coming in. Continue reading →
I see the weed commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace growing abundantly along the sides of roads and in country fields where I live, and I’ve always wondered if honey bees are attracted to its nectar.
Queen Anne’s Lace (July 04, 2016.)
A little bit of online research tells me nope, they’re not too keen on it. I also read on a couple of beekeeping forums that when the bees do get desperate enough to collect nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot), the resulting honey takes on a distinct aroma of body odour.
Lupins (also called lupines), like many summer flowers in Newfoundland, show up suddenly after the first heatwave of the summer. (Anything over 20Â°C / 68Â°F qualifies as a heatwave in Newfoundland.)
Lupins. (July 04, 2016.) Click the image for a prettier enlarged view.
Lupins, which grow mostly on the sides of highways and country roads in large numbers, appeared about two weeks ago during our first (and probably last) heatwave of the summer. I’ve been sitting around in fields of lupins for the past week and haven’t seen a single honey bee go anywhere near them — or any kind of bee for that matter — so I’ve been hesitant to add lupins to my Honey Bee Forage list.
Lupins. (July 04, 2016.)
But a little Googly action shows loads of photos of honey bees on lupins. That’s good enough for me.
More pollination information on lupins from pollinator.ca: “In some species, honey bees may not be able to trip or open large early flowers, but can do so with smaller flowers later in the season. For large, early flowers, larger bees may be required.”
Also: “Honey bees will readily work lupine, and placing commercial honey bees on the fields produces a highly marketable honey.”
JULY 16, 2016: Found one!
Out of focus honey bee on Lupins in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (July 16, 2016.)
2021 Update: Yeah, I knew I was probably wrong about this. The flowers in these photos are more likely meadow hawkweed, or Pilosella caespitosa. Colts foot looks like this, and it seems to bloom around the month of May, probably sooner in the warmer inland areas of Newfoundland.
Another yellow flower that seems to appear as the last of the dandelions are going to seed: Colts Foot, also known as Tussilgo.
Introduction: It’s impressive to see how many wild flowers will grow in exposed soil when the soil is simply left alone. I once moved into a house with a gravel driveway and one half of the driveway was never used. Everything seemed to grow in that gravel and dirt, every kind of clover, bush, vine — you name it, it grew there. And all I did was leave it alone. I saw more of my honey bees, bumble bees and other native pollinators over on those flowers than anywhere else. So maybe planting flowers to “save the bees” isn’t necessary. Maybe all we need to do is expose some soil to the wind and see what happens. In any case, here’s a list of flowers, both wild and cultivated, that my honey bees seem to be attracted to. This list was last updated in August 2019 when I added Cow Vetch.
Honey bees in Newfoundland, or at least where I live on the eastern part of the island, aren’t likely to see any pollen until April when crocuses begin to poke through the soil.
Honey bee on crocus (April, 13, 2011).
And crocuses aren’t even a natural source of pollen. They’re popular in some suburban neighbourhoods, but most honey bees elsewhere won’t find natural pollen until May when the dandelions come into bloom.
Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).
I say this because I’ve casually documented every honey bee on a flower I’ve seen in Newfoundland since I started beekeeping in 2010. So far I’ve documented over 30 flowers that qualify in my mind as Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage. My list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides me with a general idea of what to expect throughout the year. Continue reading →
SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.
LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.
Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)
I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):
I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder… Continue reading →