Chicken Waterer for Honey Bees

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.)

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.

Why I Have Pollen in My Honey Super

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.)

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.)

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.
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B.O. Flavoured Honey from Queen Anne’s Lace

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.)

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.

I can’t confirm this from my own experience. Nevertheless, I’ll file this one under Stuff That’s Good To Know.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Colts Foot

Another yellow flower that seems to appear as the last of the dandelions are going to seed: Colts Foot, also known as Tussilgo.

Colts Foot can be confused with hawkweed.

Field of yellow flowers, possibly Colts Foot? (July 1st, 2016.)

Field of yellow flowers, possibly Colts Foot? (July 1st, 2016.)

I’ve seen honey bees on them enough times to know I can add them to my Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage List.

By the way, I see Colts Foot well into the fall.

Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage

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).

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).

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.
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A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

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.)

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…
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Alcohol and Honey Bees

I added some frame feeders to two nucs today but couldn’t find my anise extract to add to the syrup as an attractant. So…

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

…I used absinthe instead. Hopefully there’s nothing harmful it in that might hurt the bees.

My previous video, Refilling a Frame Feeder, shows exactly how I use my frame feeders.

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

June 2019 Postscript: I got away with it once, but I wouldn’t do this again because I heard from a beekeeper in central Europe that some beekeepers in his area will feed their bees alcohol to encourage the bees to rob from nearby hives. It’s a shady move — a desperation move to save colonies that are low on resources. The bees suck down some alcoholic brew made with hard liquor, they get drunk and go on a robbing rampage. No kidding.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Purple Clover

Honey bee on Purple Clover (July 26, 2015.)

Honey bee on Purple Clover in Flatrock, NL (July 26, 2015.)

I saw a honey bee on some Purple Clover yesterday (some call it Red Clover), so let’s add it to the list of honey bee friendly flowers: Trifolium medium, also known as Zigzag Clover. That’s my best guess, anyway.

Honey bees can’t access the nectar in Purple/Red Clover as well as they can from White Clover, so it’s not something I’d go out of my way to plant, but neither will I mow it down if it’s growing in my lawn.

JUNE 30, 2016: I saw Purple Clover in blossom as early as June 15th this year.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: White Clover

Although it’s been in bloom for a while, I’ll now add White Clover, or Trifolium repens, to my list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland because I actually saw a honey bee on some today near the university.

White Clover in St. John's, Newfoundland (July 23, 2015.)

White Clover in St. John’s, Newfoundland (July 23, 2015.)


I snapped these photos with my mobile phone today. Nothing special, but it does the job.
White clover with out-of-focus honey bee. (July 23, 2015.)

White clover with out-of-focus honey bee in St. John’s, NL. (July 23, 2015.)

JUNE 30, 2016: I’ve seen White Clover in bloom this year as early and June 15th.

How To Install a Mated Queen Bee

April 2019 Introduction: This is how I’ve introduced mated queens since I began beekeeping in 2010. I’ve had no problems with this method. But here are a few extra tips not mentioned in the post:

1) If using a wooden queen cage, the cage can be placed horizontally between two frames of brood so that the screen portion of the cage is facing down. I’m not sure what difference that makes, but the University of Guelph‘s head beekeeper does that and I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s doing.

2) The hive should be left alone for a least a week after the queen has been installed. Any kind of disturbance in the hive can cause the bees to reject the queen, even if the queen has already been released from the cage. I’m guilty of looking into the hive too soon. I need to remind myself that I shouldn’t go near the hive for at least a week.

As much as I would rather leave it to my honey bee colonies to make their own queens naturally when they need them, they don’t always succeed. I have requeened come colonies with swarms cells, but most of the time I just order a mated queen. Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way by letting the bees make their own queens whenever they feel like it:

1) Unless the virgin queen can mate with drones from another bee yard, it’s likely she will mate with her own siblings and produce inbred and ill-tempered bees. My queens mated well only when there were about a dozen other colonies in the area.

2) Swarms that happen later in the summer can result in two weakened colonies instead of one strong colony (assuming the swarm is caught and re-hived). While swarm colonies typically expand quickly after a swarm, they can only grow so much once the weather turns cold and are often too weak to survive the oncoming winter.

3) Whether through supersedure or swarming, the natural process of requeening usually results in a 2-4 week period of reduced or even zero brood production, which again weakens the colony no matter when it happens. A weakened colony can be propped up with brood from a stronger colony, but not all hobbyist beekeepers, especially starting out, have that luxury. That being said…

The following video demonstrates my method of installing a mated queen and checking on her to make sure she’s been released from her cage and then checking on her again to make sure she’s laying. I don’t have years and years of experience installing mated queens, but I’ve followed this exact method about a dozen times since 2010 for myself and friends, requeening and starting up new colonies from splits, and it works.


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