May 29th, The First Warm Day of the Year

Not much to see here. A 4-minute static shot of my bees (with a very slow 4K zoom in) on what is probably the first real warm day of the year. It’s 20°C (68°F) and going up to 25. It feels like my bees are now starting to shift into serious brood-rearing mode. No drones yet, but hopefully soon.

While many beekeepers in North America and across the pond are dealing with swarms or even harvesting honey in some places, most honey bee colonies on the east coast of Newfoundland are just starting to get going.

The Isle of Newfoundland doesn’t have Varroa yet, nor most of the diseases that cause trouble for beekeepers pretty much everywhere else on the planet. But we do have some of the most inhospitable weather for honey bees anywhere, especially where I live on the east coast of the island, in a place called Flatrock, within spitting distance of the cold North Atlantic Ocean.

Not offence, but I suspect most beekeepers, except maybe a few in Iceland and northern Alaska, have a much easier time at beekeeping than I do. It’s kind of a miracle that I can even get a honey harvest from my bees most summers.

Can someone tell me why I keep doing this?

Just Sitting

24 minutes of just sitting here listening to the snow fall and the wind blow and the birds doing birdy things and all that stillness. Why not?

The video was shot on my Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone, so the audio isn’t exactly Hi-Fi, but I’ve cranked it up so all the natural sounds jump out a little more. It’s quiet for the most part, though.

Newfoundland Honey Bees Fly in Cold Weather

According to the University of Maine and many other reputable institutions of higher learning, honey bees will fly when temperatures are 12.8°C (55°F) and higher. Most beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland know that’s that a joke. My bees would virtually never go outside if they had to wait for the temperature to go up to 13°C. Here’s a short video I happened to record that shows my bees foraging and bringing in pollen when the thermometer was reading 4°C (39°F).

My thermometer isn’t always 100% accurate, so let’s say it was 6°C instead (43°F). That’s still well below the official foraging temperature. I guess the honey bees in Newfoundland didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to fly when it’s this cold.

Stealing From The Rich to Give To The Poor

It could be interesting to come back to the video in this post in about two weeks, or more precisely to come back after checking on the hives in this video to see if they’ve more or less doubled in size, which is what I want to see.

Specifically, the weak colony in the video was given two frames of capped brood from the strong colony. Most of that brood will have emerged by the time I check on them again in two weeks. Two frames of brood should at least double the number of bees in the weak colony. Supposedly, one frame of brood equals three frames of bees, but the two frames weren’t jammed packed with capped brood, so I’m thinking five or six frames of new bees in total, maybe. Add it all up and what it means is that I want the weak colony that looks this…

A weak colony of maybe three frames of bees and hardly any brood (May 10th, 2020.)

…to have as many bees on the frames as the strong colony that looks like this:

As a strong colony with ten frames of bees (May 10th, 2020.)


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Peek and Speak Hive Inspection

A short and sweet hive inspection from earlier today:

00:05 — Spraying the bees with a mist instead of using a smoker.
00:50 — Pulling frames and talking about what I see and I’m looking for.
01:28 — Discovering fresh brood, open cells with eggs or larvae floating in white gooey royal jelly, or as they say in Paris, gelée royale (but no close up shots in the video, sorry).
01:48 — Spotting the queen.
03:28 — Describing and showing my 9-frames-per-box brood chamber set up.
04:00 — Final assessment of the colony: it’s looking okay.
04:25 — Some slow motions shots.

Single-Hive Beekeeping From May 2018

Here’s another one of my behind-the-scenes videos. It’s 13 minutes long. Most of it, if not all of it, was shot on my cell phone. This is the stuff I normally throw away, but some people have expressed an appreciation for this kind of thing, just uneventful everyday beekeeping activities. I’m pretty sure these kinds of videos are contributing to the lack of interest shown in my blog lately. Which is fine. I like this quiet time.

Despite the colony in this video being pitifully weak, it did seem to bounce back a bit about 10 days after the inspection shown in the video. Here’s a photo from a hive inspection I did on May 19th, 2018:

This colony isn’t in great shape, but it’s looking much better than it did 10 days ago. (May 19th, 2018.)

Postscript: Yup, the video has some typos in it. That happens sometimes when I rush to get something together over my lunch hour at work. I’ll fix it later.

Quiet Time With The Bees

This is a 5-minute video of time-lapse and slow-motion footage of my honey bees in May 2018. I couldn’t find any use for these shots in my normal videos, but they’re still kind of cool to look at, so I’ve tossed them in with my other behind the scenes videos. Watching this in full screen mode might be the way to go.

These videos clips were shot on my Samsung Galaxy S7 mobile phone and a $40 made-in-China GoPro knock-off “sports camera.” And now for something completely different…
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Behind The Scenes Beekeeping: May 2017

Here’s a 10-minute partially-narrated collection of cell phone clips taken from May 2017 next to my house in Flatrock, Newfoundland. I talk about how the bees are friendliest in the spring. There are several slow motion shots and quiet moments with the bees crawling over my hands. This is the first of the Cell Phone Chronicles to show some signs of life with the bees. This might actually get good soon.

October 2019 Postscript: I don’t have any videos or photos from April 2017 because I had to lease out all my hives except for one to a friend so I could focus on recovering from a concussion injury. Having one hive around instead of nine was relaxing and just what I needed at the time. My beekeeping would max out at a single hive until June 2018.

Check out my Month of May 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 May.

Honey Bee Friendly Flower: Alder Bush

I noticed my bees collecting a light-coloured pollen from a flowering tree today that I’ve never noticed before. Here’s a cellphone shot:

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

A source of pollen for honey bees in Flatrock, Newfoundland, on May 25, 2016.

The flowers are not juicy and wet like fruit flowers full of nectar. They’re dry and crumbly and the pollen easily floats away like dust with the slightest disturbance, very much like Sorrel pollen.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

The unfurled version of the flower in Flatrock, Newfoundland on May 25, 2016.

Anyone who lives in Newfoundland has probably seen this tree many times growing in the ditches by the side of the road. But I don’t know what it is.
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Swarm Prevention by Not Overfeeding and Making Room for the Queen

In my experience, it’s important to constantly feed the bees during the first year (in Newfoundland), but it’s also important to stop feeding them at a certain point in the spring the following year so they don’t swarm. When I find drone comb gunking up the bottom of the frames in the spring, that’s my cue that the colony could potentially swarm. Queens can’t mate without drones. The first swarms usually coincide with the flight of the first drones.

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after inspection. (May 05, 2012.)

If the bees have two or three solid frames of honey in every box — enough to prevent them from starving — and drone comb is present, then I stop feeding. I don’t feed my bees if they have enough honey on their own anyway, and unless it’s a weak colony, I don’t usually feed past May 31st either because there’s usually enough natural nectar sources available by then (in my local climate), especially in the city of St. John’s that is heavily populated by maple trees. I also check my hives at least every two weeks until the end of June to make sure the queen has room to lay. Most beekeeping (beyond feeding) can be summed up with that one sentence: Make sure the queen has room to lay.


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Using Cinnamon to Repel Ants

I noticed ants crawling all over and inside two of my hives today, so I surrounded the hives with cinnamon.

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

I’ve read many times that cinnamon repels ants, though I’ve never seen it myself. I sprinkled some cinnamon around one of my hives a year or two ago, but then it rained, so I don’t know if it works. Whether it works or not, I’m not too concerned about the ants. I think it would take a biblical amount of ants to do significant damage to a hive full of bees. We’ll see.

July 2019 Postscript: Maybe the cinnamon repels ants. Maybe it doesn’t. I guess there’s no harm in trying it out of desperation, but these days I don’t bother. The ants will be around for a little and they usually disappear and never really cause much trouble.

How To Inspect a Beehive (or How I Happened to Inspect This Particular Hive on This Particular Day)

The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I had planned to put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, which is longer than my usual videos because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.


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All Beekeeping is Local Beekeeping

Pretty much every beekeeper on the planet is telling me how much honey their bees are making and how many swarms they’ve managed to catch this year — while here in Newfoundland my bees are still waking up from winter. It’s an acute reminder that all beekeeping is local beekeeping.

Let’s compare the weather forecast where I live with the weather forecast in Iceland.

St. John's, Newfoundland, weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

St. John’s, Newfoundland, weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in St. John’s for the next week is 7°C (45°F). The average amount of sunlight per day is 5.8 hours.

Reykjavik, Iceland weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Reykjavik, Iceland weather forecast for May 16, 2016.

Considering the windchill factor, the average temperature in Reykjavik for the next week is 7°C (45°F), exactly the same as St. John’s. The average amount of sunlight per day is 6.8 hours, one hour more than St. John’s. Even Iceland, a place that’s named after ice, has more bee-friendly weather than St. John’s.
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First Dandelion of 2016

My bees have been bringing in yellow pollen (when it’s not freezing cold and snowing like it was yesterday) for the past few weeks now. I don’t think they’ve been getting it from dandelions because today is the first time I saw a honey bee on a dandelion or a dandelion. I like to post this kind of info for my own records.

First honey bee on a dandelion I've seen this year. (May 14, 2016, Flatrock, NL.)

First honey bee on a dandelion I’ve seen this year. (May 14, 2016, Flatrock, NL.)

It has not been a warm spring so far.

Second Thoughts on Reversing

As of today, I’m beginning to reconsider how I do my first hive inspection of the year. I like to reverse the hive (i.e., move the brood nest to the bottom), but next year if I find all the bees are contained in a single deep (which is often the case), instead of moving the bees to the bottom and putting another deep on top, I might move the bees to the bottom and leave the hive like that — as a single-deep hive. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as the bees have enough honey and the queen has some room to lay.

I added the second deep to this hive today, which has more bees than my hives with two deeps. (May 07, 2016.)

I added the second deep to this hive today, which has more bees than my hives with two deeps. (May 07, 2016.)

Bees that are confined to a smaller space supposedly work that space faster and better than they would if there was more space (e.g., if there was a full deep on top of them). Apparently, this is common knowledge for beekeepers who always have nucs on hand. The colonies in their nucs tend to build up quicker than those housed in full-sized deeps and hives.

I say it’s common knowledge, but it’s not something I’ve had any experience with until today, sort of, possibly. A brood nest of a colony that I reduced to a single deep a few weeks ago (instead of reversing it) is expanding at least twice as fast as the brood nest in my other colonies that were reversed. It could just mean I have a better queen in the single-deep colony. Or! Maybe the bees in that single-deep hive did better because they were able to concentrate on the limited space they had instead of spreading out their efforts across twice as much space.

I don’t know. But next year when I do my first hive inspection of the year, instead of reversing the hive, if the bees are in a single deep, I’ll reduce the hive to that single deep until the brood nest is ready to expand into a second deep.

March 2019 Postscript: This is pretty much what I do all the time now. If the bees are contained in a single deep during the first hive inspection of the year (sometime in April if I’m lucky) and I don’t see bees on all 10 frames yet, I’ll toss the second (or even third) deep and let the bees expand into that single deep before I add a second deep.

I’ve overheard many conversations about this, not with local beekeepers but online where I continue to tap into the knowledge and experience of some of the world’s best beekeepers. Some of the phrases overheard in these conversations include, “You don’t want to demoralize the bees by giving them too much to work on,” or “Small colonies do better is small hives and big colonies do better in big hives.”

Like I said, that’s pretty much how I play it these days. A colony with only 3 or 4 frames of bees seems to build up faster when it only has 6 or 7 extra frames to work on instead of 16 or 17 frames. It seems to make sense when I stop and think about it.

How to Do The First Hive Inspection of the Year

For any first-year beekeepers in Newfoundland (or a similar climate) wondering what they might find during their first hive inspection of the year (which usually falls somewhere between late April and mid-May), here’s a video of my first hive inspection in 2011 that shows a fairly healthy colony coming out of winter, one that allowed me to steal a boat load of honey from it later that summer (though I may have had to feed it for a few weeks to give it a boost; I don’t remember).

I found honey on the outside frames, some pollen mixed in and then capped and open brood spread out over five or six frames in the middle. I might have been concerned with one or two frames of brood (though queenright colonies with zero brood as late as May 15th isn’t unheard of) but five or six frames of brood during the first week of May is pretty good for my local climate. (None of my colonies are doing as well this year. They’re still recovering from The Attack of The Shrews.) The hive body underneath was more or less empty.

These days I’m usually much faster with my inspections, but overall the video demonstrates how I still inspect (and reverse) my hives every spring. I have a more detailed video in the works, but for now I’ll break it down like this (assuming we’re dealing with a 2-deep Langstroth hive and it’s a warm, windless sunny day somewhere between 11am and 2pm):
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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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