What a headache.
Maybe I’m wrong, but that looks like crystallised syrup to me.
What a headache.
Maybe I’m wrong, but that looks like crystallised syrup to me.
One of my beehives, back in January 2019, had its top blown off in a windstorm. The top cover — along with the inner cover and hard insulation — might have been removed in other ways, but the point is, the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive inside the hive were completely exposed to the elements for about a week. The elements included high winds, rain, freezing rain, hail and snow. Hence, the title of this post: These Bees Should Be Dead.
When I approached the hive, I didn’t expect the bees to be alive. I found dark soggy clumps of dead bees on the back edges of the top bars. Some burr comb over the top bars had lost its colour from being exposed to the elements. The frames were soaking wet with a sheen of mould growing on the surface. Ice clogged up the bottom entrance. So yeah, I expected to find nothing but dead bees inside that hive.
But I didn’t.
I wrapped two hives in bubble wrap about two weeks ago, as an experiment. Here’s the first follow-up to that experiment.
I didn’t have high hopes for the bubble wrap. I have my doubts that I’ll try it again. But one of the hives is still wrapped, so we’ll see what happens.
Someone on a social media site asked about a non-intrusive way to check on the bees in the winter other than blowing through the entrance or tapping on the hives to see if it riles up the bees. Someone else answered: “Put your phone in the entrance and record the sound. Then you can play it back and turn up the volume. I’ve tried it in the past and could hear their buzzing.” So I gave it a go. Does it work? Well… maybe, maybe not. But I did learn something today.
The Wailing Wailers recorded a cover version of “I Made a Mistake,” by The Impressions, sometime in the ’60s, and if it wasn’t for copyright laws, it would be the soundtrack to the following video:
Something I’ve learned from beekeeping over the years is that’s okay to make mistakes, even big ones. If you’re not open to making mistakes, you never really learn or get good at anything.
I’ve always heard about how honey bees won’t draw comb on plastic foundation, but I didn’t experience it in a big way until this summer. I had three nucs set up in deeps that I wanted to expand into medium supers because I want to try on the all-medium-super beekeeping game and see if I like it because I know I don’t like lifting 40kg deeps full of honey (about 100 pounds). If I was a seniorish citizen with back, hip or leg problems, or just a regular human being who wasn’t in the mood for any heavy lifting in their beekeeping, I’d consider switching to all shallow supers. For now, though, I’ll see how it goes with mediums.
I’ve always added a small drip of anise extract to my sugar syrup.But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume. I meant to add only a drop or two, but more than a few drops fell from the bottle when I tipped it. I got some of it on my hands, subsequently rubbed it into my shirt, and I eventually put the bottle in my garage — with the garage door open. Holy mackerel, what a difference between anise extract and anise oil.
I’ve never seen the bees go so completely insane over an aroma. Every drop of syrup I spilled on the ground while I was filling the feeders attracted a mini-cluster of bees. I had bees following me around persistently, attracted by the anise. And the tiny bottle of anise oil that I left in my garage attracted about 20 or so bees. I went into the garage to get something about an hour later and the place sounded like the inside of a bee hive with bees bouncing off the windows trying to get out. And they were still coming through the door when I got there. The stick I used to stir the syrup mixture was left in my little outdoor bee shed, and that was full of bees too.
I’ve never had anything like that happen when I used anise extract. The next time I use highly concentrated anise oil, I’ll be careful to use only a single drop of it and then put it away in the house where the bees can’t smell it.
I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.
The last time I found pollen in the honey super was two summers ago and it happened with what I used to call my nasty hive, a hive packed with the most defensive, meanest bees in Newfoundland. Everything about that hive was a headache, so I just assumed pollen in the honey super was a symptom of mentally deranged bees. That colony eventually died and I was more than happy to see it go. So when I found the frames of pollen today, I thought, “What the hell?”
At first I thought, “Okay, I’ve got another crazy colony on my hands.” Which seems to fit because the bees in this colony are, unfortunately, related to Old Nasty. Their queen mated with drones from the nasty hive. But that’s just speculation, me making up some stuff that sounds like it could be true but probably isn’t when you get right down to it.
So I did a little more poking around the oracle we call the Internet and asked a few beekeeping friends of mine if they’ve seen this before. And they have. After shooting some emails back and forth and thinking it over, I’ve come to the following explanation:
The bees are filling the honey super with pollen because they don’t have enough brood to eat up all the pollen that’s coming in.
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.
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.
May 2019 Introduction: I deleted most of the original post from 2012. All the photo are gone. I’ve kept this post only as a record of my first big mistake in beekeeping: not giving my bees any syrup before winter. Topping up colonies with syrup before the winter isn’t necessary if they already have enough honey. (“Enough honey” in Newfoundland is supposedly 12 solid deep frames of honey.) But as a rule now, I give my bees a least a taste of syrup in the fall just to be safe.
I didn’t top up my colonies with sugar syrup in the fall this year. I gave them all between a half and a full medium super of honey instead. Hopefully they have enough honey to get through the winter. I’ll check them again sometime in January or February and give them raw sugar if they seem starved at that point.
For the record, I have six hives on a farm in Portugal Cove and one in a secret hidden place in the city in St. John’s. I’m also experimenting with the city hive by not wrapping it. That’s all I have to say for now. Cheers.
November 13th, 20116: Some of the dumbest beekeeping is natural beekeeping. Not topping up my hives with syrup before the winter and letting the bees survive of their own natural honey resulted in my first starved out colony.
Note to self: Smoke the bees before stealing a few frames from the bottom honey super. The bees are protective of their honey this time of year (if not all the time).
The bees one of my hives are smoking hot these days, ploughing through their honey supers at an impressive rate. Instead of adding a third honey super to the hive (which the bees might not be able to fill), I decided to pull three frames of honey from the bottom honey super and replace them with empty frames.
Two of the frames are foundationless. I’ll crush and strain them like I did with my first frame of honey. The other one will have to be extracted. I’m not sure how I’ll managed that yet. At any rate, this is my last post for the next couple weeks. By the time I post anything new, I’ll have harvested and probably bottled all of my honey — possibly up to 30 frames of honey. I’ll record videos and take photos of it all. See you later.
September 6ht, 2011: The bees have become extremely defensive since I took the honey from the hive — without using smoke. Within minutes of going in the backyard, I’ve got two or three bees buzzing around my head. I’ve never seen them this bad before. I’m managing it for now, but my backyard may be too small this for four hives. When the bees get defensive, it’s not good at all. I think I may have seen my next door neighbour swatting at some bees in his backyard. I hope they weren’t bees, but it’s possible. This could be very bad. I have to remember for now on to use smoke when pulling honey so the the bees don’t associate my scent, or human scent, with danger. This isn’t a good day. See What makes bees aggressive? from Honey Bee Suite for more info.
March 2019 Postscript: Beekeeping can be a little tricky at times, but I’d say it’s trickier in an urban or suburban environment because of the lack of space. When the bees get grumpy, it’s hard to avoid them. If I kept bees in an urban environment again, I would take extra steps not to disturb the bees or my neighbours. If I had to do a major invasive hive inspection — for example, to check for swarm cells — I would plan to do it at a time when I know my neighbours aren’t in their backyards. Once bees get defensive, they can easily fly over a fence and start head-butting and chasing humans who happen to get in their line of fire. The bees need to be handled with more gentleness and with consideration of close neighbours in an urban environment. It doesn’t take much for things to get a little out of hand.