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.
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:
Someone asked me when, why and how I feed my bees pollen patties. Here’s a photo from one of my first posts about the topic, Adding Pollen Patties. The colony pictured below, by the way, is starving. Usually the way it works is the more winter bees above the top bars, the less honey there is in the hive (usually, not always).
Adding a pollen patty to a very hungry colony. (February, 2011.)
I’ve written about pollen patties a bunch of times, so I’m likely to repeat myself here. Do a search of “patties” in my little search engine box up at the top for more detailed information with videos and photos and so on. Continue reading →
One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.
Starved out bees on a frame. (March 10, 2013.)
But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had.
I discovered one of my honey bee colonies dead about a month ago. (See A Winter-Die Off and this video for the details.) My guess was the colony starved to death because it didn’t have enough honey. Judging from what I saw during the post mortem examination I did today, I was right.
It’s April 2019 and I’ve deleted the original post from 2013 except for this photo:
That’s about 3 inches of burr comb under the insulated inner cover (flipped upside down) — several large mounds of comb. This kind of thing can happen when there’s space above the top bars for some reason. The usual reason is that I’ve got a rim on the hive to make space for sugar cakes or protein patties. Leaving the rim on too long while the the bees are in comb-making mode can easily lead to the extra space getting filled with comb. The queen can even lay eggs up there. It’s a mess. Where I live on the eastern most portion of the island of Newfoundland, I try to have the rims removed from my hives before April, but some years the weather is so cold throughout April that there’s no danger of them hopping onto comb-making train. But either way, when there’s extra space in the hive during the warm months of the year for any reason, the bees are likely to fill it with comb of some sort.
April 2019 Postscript: Many urban beekeeping areas have policies in place to ensure that beekeepers provide a nearby water source for their bees. Part of the reason for this is to reduce the likelihood of bees crowding around neighbourhood pools to get a drink. Judging from my experience and online conversations I’ve had with reputable beekeepers and researchers, it seems that honey bees love stinky water, including highly chlorinated water in swimming pools. I’ve used marbles in a water dish to provide water for my bees (with okay results). I’ve used a bucket full of water and peat moss (which sounds great but didn’t do much). I’ve use clay, or terracotta, plant pot saucers filled with water and rocks and bits of branches (which, for me, works better than the other two). But a leaky garden hose, especially if the water has chlorine, seems to work best. The hose can leak over rocks or concrete or organic soil, just about anything. Whatever produces the most stink and warmth seems to attract the most bees. Although I haven’t tried it yet, boardman or entrance feeders filled with water might be the easiest way to water the bees.
Dr. Rachael Bonoan, whose curiosity I admire, studied the mineral preferences of honey bees when drinking water, an area of study that stemmed from her observation of honey bees drinking dirty water. She concluded that honey bees likely drink dirty water as a way to supplement the minerals in the floral diet. She said, “Dirty water is like a vitamin supplement for bees.”