This is probably the first natural pollen my bees have foraged on this year. The crocuses popped up through the snow around March 21st — a month ago — but the weather has been mostly rain, drizzle and fog since then. People saw the sun today for the first time in weeks and freaked out because it was such a weird thing to see.
Other beekeepers on the island reported seeing their bees bring in loads of pollen a couple weeks ago. But that didn’t happen where I live. A great reminder of a beekeeper’s #1 lesson: All beekeeping is local beekeeping.
I’ve had a plastic pollen trap banging around for a couple years but I always forget about it. I think it’s the kind of pollen trap that can found on Amazon, probably a knock-off of a more expensive one, which is often the case for most beekeeping gear sold on Amazon. Here’s a record of my first attempt at using it:
I know pollen is considered a “super food.” I could probably charge a fortune for it if I called it something like Newfoundland Organic Artisan Pollen. That’s total bunk, but it seems to be a valid marketing strategy for some. I know a beekeeper — the “bee whisperer” as he likes to call himself — who in the past has marketed his honey as a pure organic monofloral honey even though he has never provided certification or proof that his honey is either of those things. But he has plenty of customers keeping him in business who have no clue they’re being duped. I’ve come to realise over the past few months that if it wasn’t for the Benevolent Beekeeper image the general public buys into without question, some commercial beekeepers, who are essentially snake oil salesmen, wouldn’t be in business. Yup, there are some sneaky things going on in this town. Caveat emptor.
More slow motion shots of honey bees on crocuses. For people stuck at home looking for a break, it’s not bad to watch this one in full-screen mode in the highest resolution. No audio required, though you might like that too.
Honey bees on crocus flower. (April 14th, 2020, Flatrock, Isle of Newfoundland.)
This time the bees are in better focus (though I’m still working out some of the kinks).
Don’t ask me what variety of crocuses these are because I have no idea. (Update: But apparently they’re commonly called Snow Crocuses. I’ve revised the title of this post to reflect this newfound knowledge.)
The video was shot on a pocket-sized camera called a Sony RX-100v.
It was 18°C / 64°F today and the bees in all of my hives — even with shrew-proofing 6mm / quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances — were out in full force.
Quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances. The mesh slows them down but doesn’t prevent them from getting out or inside the hive. (Nov. 17, 2016.)
I’ve heard arguments that the bees can’t get through quarter-inch mesh. But that’s not true. If it was, my bees would have been locked inside their hives behind the mesh all last winter. The bees in the above photograph wouldn’t be flying around today. Continue reading →
I found several frames of pollen in the honey super of one of my hives today.
One of several medium frames full of pollen in a honey super. (July 09, 2016.) Click the image for a better view.
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?”
Medium frame in “honey super” full of pollen. (July 09, 2016.)
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.)
I post this for my own records. I saw some of my bees with a sprinkle of yellow pollen on their legs yesterday and today I managed to snap off this blurry photo of a honey bee with what I’d call a good load of pollen.
First pollen of the year in Flatrock, Newfoundland, and it’s yellow. (April 17, 2016.)
It seems too early for dandelions or any other naturally yellow flower, so I’m guessing someone has some crocuses planted nearby. Good enough. Spring in Newfoundland hasn’t quite sprung yet, but we’re getting there.
First pollen on the year. Bee resting on old sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)
The pollen could also bee from coltsfoot, a.k.a. Tussilago, though I haven’t seen any around. It could pollen from pussy willows too. I’ll have to look around when I have a chance.
April 24th, 2016: A week later the bees were bringing in more of the same pollen.
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).
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).
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. Continue reading →
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.)
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. Continue reading →
July 2019 Introduction: This post gets a little long, but I haven’t edited it down to be more concise because it demonstrates how my beekeeping practices evolve. At first, I just stapled quarter-inch mesh onto the bottom and top entrances to keep shrews out starting in October. Then I put it on just the bottom entrances so the bees could still get through the top entrances with no problems, at least until they began to cluster down for the winter. Then I switched to using push pins to attach the mesh because it’s less disruptive for the bees than the banging of a staple gun and it allows me to easily remove and reattach the mesh when I need to clear dead bees off the bottom board. And some people in Newfoundland only use half-inch mesh to keep mice out because they’ve never had problems with shrews. They’re lucky.
I was surprised to see some of my bees bringing in pollen today.
Honey bee bringing in pollen on October 25th, 2015, in Flatrock, Newfoundland.
Judging from the colour of the pollen, my guess is that it came from Japanese Knotweed. It could be Honey Clover too. I still see some of that around (what a fantastic plant that is). I saw bees from another hive bringing in yellow pollen, probably from Goldenrod, though it seems late for Goldenrod.
This is the first year I’ve used quarter-inch / 6mm mesh to keep shrews out of my hives. I was told to put the mesh on after the bees have stopped bringing in pollen because supposedly the mesh opening is so small that it knocks the pollen off the bees’ legs as they go through it. But that’s not exactly true. Every bee that came in with pollen today at least had no problem getting through with the pollen still intact. So… Continue reading →
I’ve long heard that sedum plants attract honey bees and other pollinators in a big way, so when I noticed an Autumn Joy sedum, a variant of Hylotelephium telephium, growing beside my new house, I thought I’d witness something great and wonderful. But so far it’s been underwhelming. Bumblebees seem to love it, butterflies, wasps, but not many honey bees.
Honey bee on Autumn Joy in Flatrock, NL (Sept. 20, 2015.)
I’d classify Autumn Joy as a late-season nectar source for honey bees in my area, coming to bloom even later than Japanese Knotweed, which is possibly the very last source of nectar and pollen before the onslaught of winter.
Cell phone photo of Autumn Joy in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Sept. 20, 2015.)
This is Part 2 of some hive inspections I did yesterday. It’s a 3-minute video that, among a few other things, shows what frames of pollen and nectar look like. Again, this may not seem like the most scintillating thing on the planet, but it would have been helpful had I viewed videos like this when I started. By the end of my first summer, I needed to know the difference between frames of pollen, nectar, honey, worker brood and drone brood, and there was no one around to show me what was what. Knowing that I was on my own partially motivated me to write this blog. Before I post anything, I usually ask, “What would I have liked to have known when I did this for the first time?” (Even if the first time was only two days ago.)
Here’s a 6-minute video from an inspection I did yesterday that shows me spotting the queen, adding a frame of drawn comb to give the queen more space to lay, and there’s a shot of the bees cleaning up a mouldy frame of pollen taken from one of my dead colonies — and you’ll hear me talking about my plans for inspecting all my hives and how I’m going to manage them. That part sounds boring, but it might give new beekeepers a sense of how to go about inspecting their hives, that is, having a plan and knowing that most plans are a joke. The bees tell me what they need, not the other way around.
1:46 — The first look at the bees inside the hive, before removing frames. 2:05 — A frame of moldy pollen. 2:18 — A close-up shot of the queen laying an egg. 3:53 — Inserting a frame of empty drawn comb to make room for the queen to lay.
I mention in the video that I plan to add another deep to the hive, which is what I did, though it’s not in the video. It’s in this 1-minute time-lapse behind-the-scenes video where I explain why the hive has a moisture quilt and a few other things.
In my continuing efforts to document flowers in and around St. John’s that seem to attract honey bees, allow me to introduce a viney plant we call Morning Glory that blooms around this time of the year. Here’s a photo from September 5th, 2011, proof that honey bees go for it:
Honey bee on white flower. (Sept. 5, 2011.)
I first recognized Morning Glory as a pollen and nectar source for the bees after saw what I thought were Mutant Bees. Here’s another shot of Morning Glory from September 18th, 2013:
Morning Glory, a pollen source in the fall. (Sept. 18, 2013.)
Although it’s an invasive plant, Japanese Knotweed — Fallopia japonica — provides a hit of pollen and nectar for the honey bees well into the fall season.
Flowers on Japanese Knotweed, a little boost for the bees before winter. (Sept. 11, 2013.)
Plants like Japanese Knotweed help delay the nectar dearth that would occur this time of the year as many of the native plants die off.
Bee on Japanese Knotweed. (Sept. 5, 2011.)
Japanese Knotweed isn’t difficult to spot. The plants grow well over 6 feet (about two metres) and the stock of the plant is hollow and looks like bamboo (the stocks are full of water). It only takes one plant to take root in some broken soil and it quickly takes over and is nearly impossible eradicate.
Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days like today.
Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)
Much of the late season honey is derived from goldenrod and it’s easy to tell because the smell of the goldenrod in the air has a similar pungency as the honey I harvest in the fall.
Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days (August 28, 2013.)
Goldenrod honey crystallizes quickly due to its high glucose content and can take on such a strong earthen odour as to be unpleasant to more sensitive taste buds. I’m not in love with it. I can see how it’s an acquired taste. Most of my fall honey comes from a variety of nectar sources, so it’s not too pungent.
P.S.: There are several variants of Goldenrod, but I’m not an expert and I don’t have photos of the variants.