A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of May. 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.
A quick drop in on the only beehive I have that has a deep. My other seven hives are all-medium construction, which I hope plays out well for me (so far so good), because I’ve pretty much cut all my deeps down to mediums.
Along with the five hives next to my house, I have two hives on the edge of a farm (and another one in a secret location). The weather got warm enough for me to do full hive inspections on both of the farm hives. I only turned my camera on when I found something I thought could be educational for new beekeepers. Most of the video is me talking about what I found in the hives, what I did to each of them and why I did it. I know it’s a visually boring video, but it covers a lot of ground. This is exactly the kind of boring video I would been all over when I first started beekeeping.
This is a 9-minute video of me talking in my beeyard about some things I’ve noticed after my first hive inspections this year.
Some of those things are: Left over moisture from the winter, poorly-fitting hive components, reading the brood pattern on medium frames instead of my usual deep frames, and the possibility of harvesting honey in the spring instead of the fall.
Spoiler Alert: I miss keeping bees in the warmer parts of Newfoundland. That’s all I’m really saying.
It was finally warm enough (briefly) to do my first hive inspections of the year. I inspected three of my eight hives. If I were to give a grade of colony strength to each of them — for what I’ve come to expect in my local climate — I’d give a 10/10 for one hive, 7/10 for another and a 4/10 for one where the queen seems to be on the way out. In this video, I focus on the colony with the highest grade and give credit where credit is due: to warm weather and a well-mated queen. It seems to me those two factors are the main ingredients to successful backyard beekeeping.
Ten percent, maybe 20% of the credit, goes to the backyard beekeeper (me) who provides their bees with a dry hive to live in. That part of it can be more complicated than you might think, but really, most of the credit goes to good weather and healthy queens. I’ve come to these conclusions based on my experience keeping bees in four location on the island of Newfoundland and from talking to beekeepers in other parts of the island. (The video explains it too.) But I could be wrong. What I really should say is these are contemplations, not conclusions. Continue reading →
Today is my three thousand, nine hundred and forty-sixth day of beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland. And in honour of this momentous occasion, I’m taking a break from the internet and any news with the word “Covid” in it. After this break, I might post something once a week on Wednesdays. We’ll see.
Colts Foot finally blooming in Flatrock. (May 1st, 2021.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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… Continue reading →
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.
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.)
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 mylocal 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.