A little backyard beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland
Category Archives: Month of March
A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of March. 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 did a quick peek at three hives today. The weather stinks, but the colonies seem to be in pretty good shape.
I have three colonies in another location that I haven’t been able to check on for a month now because I got busy and then I got sick with a flu. But the seven that I have in what passes for my little beeyard next to my house don’t look too bad to me.
This is what passes for my beeyard today (March 24th, 2020).
I don’t think I have a single hive that’s like any other hive this winter. Some consist of two deeps and a medium, or a deep and two mediums. Some have hard insulation over the inner cover, while others have none. Some have ventilation rims, one has a ventilation “box,” while another one has a moisture quilt. Some have rims to make room for emergency sugar feed, while others have empty mediums or shallow supers instead of rims. Some have emergency sugar and some don’t. Some have protein patties, while others don’t have a thing. Some have clusters over the top bars and a few have clusters so far down that I can barely see them. One is set up on the base of a D.E. Hive with the bottom entrance on the wide side of the hive, though the top entrance for that hive is on the narrow side if that makes sense. The only thing they all have in common is that they’re all painted black, they’ve been buried in snow since January 17th, and they’re not wrapped (a huge experiment and a big gamble). But they’re okay.
I had to reassure my neighbour’s kids today that all the dead bees they’re finding in the snow around their house is normal for this time of year, especially on windless sunny days like today.
These bees are not climbing up a mountain. They’re dead. (March 13th, 2020, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)
It wasn’t exactly warm today, closer to 0°C than anything else (32°F), but many bees were flying and pooping all over the snow close to their hives. (I’ll skip those pictures, but here’s a sample from yesteryear.)
Dead bees in the snow. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another day. (March 13th, 2020.)
I’m usually reassured when I see the bees flying about in the winter, even if hundreds of them end up dead in the snow. It can signal bad news on occasion, but most of the time the message I hear from the colony is, “We’re not dead,” so I’m happy.
It can be heart-breaking for some, but the fact is, hundreds of bees die in a healthy colony every day. That’s the way it is. It’s not as bad in the wintertime. It just looks bad because it’s often more noticeable with the dark bees lying dead against a white background of snow. But it’s normal (most of the time).
Subtitled: Checking on Bees That Were Buried in Snow For More Than a Month
I still haven’t posted a video of the big storm from January 17th, 2020, that buried most of my hives, but it’s coming. It’s a spectacle, not really a beekeeping video.
This is what my “beeyard” looked like on January 18th, 2020.
In the meantime, I’ve put together two videos of the same thing — a 7-minute video for people who just want to see the bees and not hear me babble on about stuff, and the 25-minute unabridged version of the first inspections I did with these hives since they got snowed in over a month ago. It’s longer than the typical killing-time-at-work video, but it may be worth a look for new beekeepers who want to get into the nitty-gritty of winter beekeeping. I cover a lot on ground in this one. (Watching it in segments and coming back to it throughout the day might be the best bet.) It’s interesting how snowshoes have become standard beekeeping gear for me since the storm. And by interesting I mean annoying.
These Amazing Cell Phone Chronicles from March 2017 are only 6 minutes long. The big event in this video, I suppose, is the storm that blew 180 kph (112 mph) winds through my beeyard. Spoiler: My bees got through it without a scratch.
I have to say, I love my sheltered little beeyard. Big old storms roll in and I never worry about it. I don’t need to secure my bees down with ratchet straps. I don’t even need to weigh them down with bricks (though I usually do just to be safe). The only downside to my beeyard, other than being too close to a freezing ocean, is that my bees aren’t in full sun all day long. I’ve never kept my bees in full sun and it’s never been a problem, but I kinda get the feeling that being so close to the ocean — well, that’s the tipping point. It’s still too early in the game to make that call, but without the heat of full-day sunshine, in my particular area, I get the feeling my bees just don’t build up as strongly as they used to when I kept them farther inland. I can’t say for sure, but that’s where my suspicions are going. It’s one of the reasons I’ve begun to paint my hives black, which under normal circumstances seems like a bad idea, but I’m not sure keeping bees a kilometre (0.62 miles) from the Labrador Current (I can see it from my house) is a normal beekeeping circumstance.
October 2019 Postscript: I look at this video and, again, see a few things I’d do differently today — things I’m still experimenting with. I think I prefer a different kind of wrap, namely corrugated plastic, to fend off all the melting snow and provide a little more insulation. I know roofing felt acts as a windbreak and provides some heat in the sun, but it also gets soaked and stays cold and wet for days or weeks. That never sits well with me. Some of the rims and moisture quilts seem a bit too loose; too much cold air getting in. I think generally I need to do more to keep my bees warm, mainly because the air where I live coming off the North Atlantic Ocean is so damp and bone-creaking cold, I can easily imagine the bees turning into Popsicles, unable to move across their honey frames, and then starving to death.
Check out my Month of March category for a sense of things that might happen for backyard beekeepers on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland in the month of March.
July 2019 Introduction: I remove the mesh from the top entrances of my hives as soon as I see bees crowding to push their way through the mesh. As long as the hives aren’t buried deep in snow so that shrews can walk right up to the top entrance and hop in, I don’t worry so much about mesh on the top entrance, though I do temporarily remove them in the winter on warm days when the bees are trying to get out on cleansing flights.
I used 6mm mesh (quarter-inch mesh) on my hives this winter for the first time because I lost most of my colonies last winter when shrews managed to squeeze through the half-inch mesh I kept on the bottom entrances. I’m not sure if the shrews got into the hives through the top entrances, but to be safe this winter, I covered both the top and bottom entrances with 6mm mesh. Now I’m wondering when I should remove the mesh, at least from the top entrances.
Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)
SHORT VERSION: Dry sugar feeding may be more likely to work when the sugar is given a little spritz.
Bees chowing down on dry sugar. (Jan. 08, 2012.)
LONGER VERSION: I know many beekeepers who prefer feeding their bees in the winter by pouring dry sugar over the top bars because it’s quick and easy and it works. I know other beekeepers who don’t use dry sugar because the bees, instead of eating the sugar, remove it from the hive like they would with any kind of debris.
But here’s the key to the dry sugar method: THE SUGAR NEEDS TO HARDEN. It probably doesn’t absolutely need to harden. I’ve seen starving bees consume every granule of sugar within a day. Beggars can’t be choosers. But when the bees aren’t starving and the sugar is loose and crumbly, they sometimes remove it from the hive like tossing out the garbage. Anyway… Continue reading →
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: