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.

Stinkin’ Dirt Never Tasted So Good

I noticed my drinking dirty water last May. They seem to love the minerals from the dark composted soil in my raised garden beds. They’ve been at it again for the past few days.

Honey bee drinking dirty water. (March 30th, 2012.)

Bee drinking dirty water. (March 30th, 2012.)

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.”

March is Still Winter for Newfoundland Honey Bees

I keep hearing from beekeepers online about their bees bringing in pollen. None of those beekeepers live in Newfoundland. I didn’t see my bees bring in any pollen until April 13th last year, so I probably have a while to wait yet. The most exciting thing I can report is that my bees were flying around the yard today. At 12°C (possibly the warmest day we’ve had this year), how could they resist?

At least we don’t have varroa mites in Newfoundland.

Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.

A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.

Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.

This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:

It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:

Hive #1 after adding final pollen patty (March 29, 2011).


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The Third Day of “Spring” in Newfoundland

It’s springtime in Newfoundland. Can’t you tell?

The last time I took a look at the bees through the top entrances, they were nowhere in sight. Normally I can see them inside walking around doing their thing, but this cold wind and snow seems to have driven them deep into the hive, probably protecting the brood from becoming chilled. I don’t know how they manage to stay alive. It’s possible both colonies could be dead by the time the weather warms up enough for them to forage and feed on their own.

Today is the third day of spring, but I call that false advertising.
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