Hive Inspection: Adding a 2nd Deep (July 2018)

2020 Introduction: This is one from my archives that I didn’t plan on posting, but what the hell. It’s a hive inspection from July 2018 while I still only had a single hive in my beeyard. My other seven or eight hives were still being cared for by another beekeeper while I was recovering from a concussion. The colony in this hive wasn’t strong.

Behind The Scenes Beekeeping: July 2017

This collection of cell phone clips from July 2017, when I had only one hive, is a little over 30 minutes long. It’s the latest instalment of the scintillating Cell Phone Chronicles. I’m not sure who the audience is for a video like this, but unboxing videos are a thing, so I guess there’s an audience for everything.


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Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Malva Moschata

I recently found these flowers growing around the edges of my gravel driveway.

2016-07-25 11.47.29

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.)

Malva Moschata makes an appearance. (July 25, 2016.)

They’ve shown up, not in large numbers, in the past week.

Malva Moschata (July 25, 2016.)

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.

UPDATE: I’ve seen honey bees on them.

Nucs That Caused Bulging Honey

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:

IMG_0383-thick-comb

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.)

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.
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Beekeeping Basics: Installing a Nuc

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 30°C (86°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.
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Nucs: An Excellent Opportunity to Spot the Queen

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.

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.

See Watering Bees for an overview of several watering methods.

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: Lupins

Lupins (also called lupines), like many summer flowers in Newfoundland, show up suddenly after the first heatwave of the summer. (Anything over 20°C / 68°F qualifies as a heatwave in Newfoundland.)

Lupins. (July 04, 2016.)

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.)

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. (July 16, 2016.)

Out of focus honey bee on Lupins in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (July 16, 2016.)

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Colts Foot Meadow Hawkweed

    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.

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 about 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 think it’s okay to take a quick peek after four or five days to see if the queen has been released. Then I can jam the frames back together and move on. I just need to remind myself that I should leave the hive alone for as long as possible after requeening.

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 some 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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A Requeening Gone Bad

June 2019 Introduction: I’ve deleted some bits from this 2015 post, but instead of rewriting the whole thing, I’ll just tell you what happened in the end.

I purchased some mated queens from a local breeder who has virtually bred out what some would describe as “blonde bees,” or lightly coloured bees, usually honey bees of Italian stock. His bees are what some refer to as “black bees,” or honey bees of mostly Russian stock. And here’s the deal with Russian honey bees (to quote from a PDF article published by North Carolina State University):

“Requeening Italian hives with Russian queens can be difficult, and many beekeepers lose their newly introduced Russian queens. Russian queens have a different ‘odor’ than Italians, and parent colonies must become acclimated to this odor before they will accept the newcomers.”

And that’s exactly what happened with this requeening gone bad. My Italian colonies simply did not accept the Russian queens. All but one of the queens were killed outright and the colonies went on to make a new queens and were broodless that whole time and it was a headache I could have done without because it basically left me with a bunch of weak colonies. I wrote more about this in my post, A Stubby Ragged Queen. The moral of the story is, be cautious when installing a dark queen in a colony that previously had a light queen. If I do it again, I’ll cage the queen for a week and manually release instead of allowing the bees to chew through the candy plug to let her out. See How To Install a Mated Queen for more info.

I added a caged mated queen to three splits last weekend. I checked on them today and found supersedure cells in all three hives. Here’s a sample (and if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):

r

Here’s what I found in…

Split #1: The new queen DEAD inside her opened cage and several capped supersedure cells.
Split #2: The new queen alive and one supersedure cell full of royal jelly.
Split #3: The new queen M.I.A. (possibly dead) and several capped supersedure cells.

I say supersedure cell, but I suppose the more accurate term is “emergency queen cell.” Supersedure cells are created when the queen is failing but not yet dead, whereas emergency queen cells are created when the queen is suddenly dead. I think. Maybe. The difference seems so minimal to me, I always say supersedure. To make it more confusing, the presence of swarm cells usually means the bees are going to fly away with their old queen, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.

Swarm Prevention: A Swarm Revisited

It was about this time last year I walked in on a swarm. Turns out it was two swarms, but I managed to re-hive them and eventually got two new colonies from them, two colonies that were destroyed by shrews during the winter, but that’s another story.

I don’t recommend the bucket-and-dump method of re-hiving a swarm, but I had to act fast and didn’t have time to gather up the proper gear.

If I’d discovered the swarm cells a few days earlier, I would have prevented the swarm (in theory) by transferring the queen with several frames of bees to a new hive box, leaving the brood and swarm cells behind — essentially simulating the end result of an actual swarming. A queen emerges from one of the swarm cells left behind, then kills all the queens in the remaining swarm cells and eventually mates and all is right with the world. In theory.

I know some people destroy all but one or two of the remaining swarm cells, thus reducing the likelihood of what some call swarm movement. I’ve also moved the brood and swarm cells to a new location instead and that seems to work in a pinch.

I’ve read about other methods of dealing with swarm cells, but they all seem too complicated to me, too much messing about. I like my method because it’s a simple one-time procedure and you’re done.

How do other people deal with swarm cells? If anyone still reads this blog, feel free to chime in.

Defensive Honey Bees

Newfoundland supposedly has some of the gentlest honey bees in North America. Maybe so. But speaking from my experience and the experience of some other NL beekeepers I know, sometimes you just get a bad batch of bees. Here’s a video that shows some of the defensive behaviour of honey bees:

In my experience, when a honey bee feels threatened enough to sting — which is rare — there’s little or no warning. It will launch itself towards you like a fighter jet and you’ll feel the sting the instant it makes contact. A less defensive behaviour is what I call the head-butting dance. It’s when one or two bees fly in circles around your head and bounce off your face a few times to drive you away from the hive. They won’t sting you, but you’ll get the message that it’s time to go.