Behind the Scenes Beekeeping: March 2017

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.

Wondering When to Remove Shrew-Proofing Mesh

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.)

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)


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How to Prevent the Bees From Removing Dry Sugar

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.)

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…
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First Sign of Shrews in a Hive

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:

shrew-scare
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When, Why and How I Give My Bees Pollen Patties

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.)

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.
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Winter Die-Off Post Mortem: The Video

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.

A Winter Die-Off Post Mortem: The Photos

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.

Starved out bees in cells. (March 10, 2013.)

Starved out bees in cells. (March 10, 2013.)

Here are some more photos of what I found:
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Extra Space Creates Burr Comb

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.