So I have a teenie tiny colony that’s pretty much toast. I knew going into the winter it wasn’t in great shape. It was result of a late season queen that was mated sometime in September, which is not good for all kinds of reasons I won’t go into now. But essentially it was (is) a small colony with a poorly mated queen that I should have combined with a strong colony before winter set in.
In any case, Marc Bloom, another beekeeper here on the Isle of Newfoundland going all-in like me, because, come on, there’s no turning back now, dropped off a 5-frame medium nuc box for me the other day and I thought now would be a good time to dig into this dying colony, transfer it to a smaller, probably dryer hive box, and maybe give it a fighting chance. So that’s what I did. Here’s the video, including a sort of post-mortem looking through the dying colony’s old frames.
Here’s a 5-minute single shot of what I hope are big and healthy winter bees. It took me about 4 years, something like that, to clue in about winter bees. They’re are not the same as regular summertime fun time worker bees, and I’m still not really an expert at it.
Almost everything to do with queens this year has been wonky. I’ll talk about that some other time. For now, check out this video where I explain why I had to create an artificial swarm — on August the bloody 25th. Give me a break. I’ll fill in the details tomorrow or the next day.
It wasn’t a perfect artificial swarm set up, but I was working alone and I had 20 minutes to get it done, and sometimes, especially backyard beekeepers who have day jobs, you just gotta get it done, even if it isn’t pretty.
These screenshots are probably my favourite bits of the last post I wrote about making a walkaway split. The first photo shows the new queen about 4 days after she emerged from her cell. The second photo shows her about two weeks later, after she had mated and was laying well. What a difference.
A 4-day old virgin honey bee queen.
An approximately 17-day-old mated and successfully laying honey bee queen.
I created a walkaway split this summer and it worked. I got a second colony out of it.
I divided a well-populated, strong honey bee colony — one that was on the verge of swarming — into halves, each half with an identical assortment of frames: Frames of honey; pollen; capped brood; frames of open brood packed with nurse bees; empty drawn comb; and maybe a frame or two of bare foundation. Open brood between 1 and 4 days old was the crucial part.
Queen cells torn apart. Observed on DAY 20, though it probably happened around DAY 16.
One of the halves stayed in the original location of the hive. The other half was set up probably about 10 feet away from the hive, but the exact location in the beeyard didn’t make any difference. Continue reading →
A short quiet video where I explain how backfilling can signal that swarming, or splintering, could be on the way, a little tip I first picked up from Rusty Burlew. Then I insert a couple of frames of foundation into a super full of honey to relieve congestion so the queen’s pheromones can better circulate throughout the hive and all that jazz.
As I get used to reading the frames with this all-medium beekeeping I’ve taken on (it’s slightly different), I’m playing it safe in regards to swarm signs. We’ve also had an unusually warm summer so far. Most of my colonies are bursting at the seams. I’ve run out of frames and boxes to keep them contained. So any sign of backfilling and I’m giving the queen more room to lay.
Backfilling is when so much nectar is coming in that the bees run out of space to store it, so they end up storing it in the brood nest where the queen normally lays her eggs. When the queen runs out of space to lay like this, she becomes “honeybound.” And when that happens, the colony usually swarms.
That’s something I try to avoid as much as possible, especially since I live on a street packed with little kids, and one of those little kids is terrified of flying insects. I don’t want a swarm to land on her swing set and traumatise her for life. Continue reading →
Here’s a playlist collection of videos I’ve posted over the years that somewhat falls into the category of Practical Beekeeping Tips. The playlist is sort of in the order that someone new beekeeping would experience, starting off with how to paint hives and how to mix sugar syrup, how to install a nuc — all that jazz.
While I’d like to update and modify some of the videos, that would take more time than I can spare (I have a full-time job that isn’t beekeeping). Much like my Beekeeping Guide, it’s not a comprehensive series of videos, but maybe it’ll help.
I had to install a mated queen into one of my hives and I couldn’t find a proper queen cage, so I drilled some 1/8-inch (~3mm) holes in a pill bottle and put the queen in that instead. Here’s what happened:
IMPORTANT NOTE: I would normally not release a queen into a new colony after only two days of sitting in the cage. But this queen originated from this hive and the bees were already familiar with her scent. It normally takes 5-7 days for a colony to feel completely at ease with a new caged queen. A queen released after only two days could easily be superceded by the colony.
I checked on the two queens I marked from the other day, both of them set up in my version of a mating nuc. I have one colony that’s had a poorly-laying queen all year. I should have replaced her way back in June, but mated queens on the Isle of Newfoundland aren’t usually available until mid-to-late July, and I couldn’t get any of those. I’ll skip the sad details of my previous failures with mating nucs this summer (I’m sure I’ll post a video about it eventually anyway). What’s important is that my efforts have paid off. I’ve got two young mated queens filling up comb with little baby bees. Here’s the video that captures my satisfaction:
I’ll add more details to this post when I have more time.
Addition: I mention in the video how some brood are about three days old. I was confused. I was thinking about a different bee. The grubs in the video are big and fat and the cells are ready to be capped. They’re about 5 or 6 days old.
As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one way to mark a queen, but most methods usually involve catching the queen, holding her down in some way so she can’t move, and then dabbing her with a paint pen or marker.
A quick-drying water-based paint marker.
I’ve never bothered marking queens myself because, until now, I’ve been pretty free wheelin’ with my queens. I usually have little need to hunt them down. But this year I had a colony that was ready to swarm and it would have been great if I could have found the queen then. A marked queen in a few other situations would have made my life easier too. So I got myself one of the new fan-dangled queen catchers and I marked a few queens, the first time I’ve done this in 10 years. Here’s a video that shows how I did it:
A video about queen bees. I’m completely off screens for at least the next 10 days. I’ll add more details when I get back. See ya.
00:00 — Thirty seconds of silence because we could all use 30 seconds of quiet contemplation once in a while. It’s a black and white slow motion shot of Comfrey.
00:28 — Torn open queen cells, destroyed by the first queen to emerge.
01:05 — The virgin queen.
01:59 — Photos of the open queen cells.
02:05 — Introducing a queen into a new hive. If the queenless colony is ready for a new queen, they will cover her cage and try to feed her lick her so they can bathe in her pheromones and be happy.
02:29 — Watching what the bees do. Are they trying to attack the queen or accept the queen? Â Watch the rest of the video to find out.
Here’s a short narrated video that explains how I use a swarm box to catch swarms that would normally get away. (A transcript of the narration can found below the video. And that’s the last time I read from a script. It sounds like the stilted narration from an instructional video by Troy McClure)
This is a 6-minute Reader’s Digest version of the 20-minute video I posted yesterday that shows how I install a nuc.
In the video I spot the queen, show off some fresh brood, a frame of pollen, the frame feeder I use with most of my nucs, and the holes I drill into my deep foundation so the bees can move between honey frames easier in the winter.
Here’s a 20-minute video that documents what it’s like to get a nucleus colony (or a starter hive) on the island of Newfoundland. It’s not always easy. (I’ve also posted a 6-minute version for those who want to cut to the chase.)
This might be a good thing to keep in mind, especially for Newfoundland beekeepers, and especially for Newfoundland beekeepers like me who can see the cold North Atlantic Ocean from their backyard/beeyard.
The first time I noticed a broodless colony was in September of my first or second year, and I thought damn, what am I going to do now? But it wasn’t a queenless colony. The queen had just shut down for the year (stopped laying). Some queens shut down early like that. It seems to be a genetic trait. Russian honey bees supposedly shut down as soon as resources dry up, but Italians will lay sometimes well into November, depending on the temperature. (Most Newfoundland honey bees are a mix of everything, so it can be a challenge to pin down the exact genetic traits at play.) However, I’ve heard from some people who claim that it’s the opposite is true. However one more time, I think it’s the Russian queens that usually shut down early and become broodless before winter.
It’s also good to know that the queen looks smaller when she’s not laying. (I love this book.) I’ve noticed this myself. I’ve also noticed how queens that aren’t well-mated look stubbier than a well-mated queen. Her abdomen is fatter instead of long and slender.
The ABC and XYZ is an excellent beekeeping reference, especially the cheap old timey edition that I have. It seems to have as much relevant information on beekeeping than most modern beekeeping books do.
I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:
I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.
A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too. That queen is on fire. (Sept. 30, 2016.)
I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster. Continue reading →
I found a frame full of queen cells in one of my hives last week (on September 5th). Specifically, supersedure cells. I’ll skip the sad story of how they got there. Just for kicks and giggles, I moved the frame of supersedure cells, along with three other frames including a frame of brood, into a nuc box. Queen cells are usually capped eight days after an egg is laid inside, which means these ones were at least eight days old. Seeing how the queens usually emerge about eight days after the cells are capped, I figured there was a good chance I’d find open supersedure cells about a week later. And I did (yesterday).
Empty supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 11, 2016.)
It was only six days later, but that shows the cells had been capped for at least two days before I found them. I noticed the bees building the supersedure cells near the end of August, so I knew this was coming.
Assuming everything went according to plan, there should be a single virgin queen running around my nuc box now and once her wings and things have dried and hardened, she will, in theory, take off on a mating flight or two by next week. I’m not confident she’ll mate well this late in the year as the drones are already getting the boot in some of my hives. At any rate, it might take her another week after mating for her to start laying. So…
If it all works out well, she’ll be laying by October. So come back in October and we’ll see what happens!
UPDATE (Sept. 30/16): No signs of a mated queen. The bees are calm like they would be if they had a queen, so… I’ll give it more time and see what happens, though I don’t have high hopes.
I freaked out a bit when I first saw a queen cup because I didn’t know what it was. I thought my bees were about swarm and that perhaps I should destroy the queen cups. But if a colony is about to swarm or replace its failing queen (two good reasons to create new queens), destroying the queen cups won’t make much difference. It could even make things worse.
A queen cup is the first stage of a queen cell, a big fat peanut-looking cell specifically designed for raising a new queen. The cell points down instead of sideways. Most honey bee colonies build queen cups just in case they need to create a new queen. But most of the time, at least if the beekeeper is paying attention, nothing happens. The cups are left unused.
I don’t destroy queen cups because they provide the easiest place to check for possible swarming. Here’s a quick video where I blab on about that.
The obvious clue is royal jelly or brood in the queen cups. But I’ve also noticed that the bees seem to clean and polish the insides of the queen cups in preparation for the current queen to lay in it, not unlike what they do with regular brood cells. Whenever I add a frame of drawn comb to a hive, the first thing the worker bees do is clean out every cell because the queen won’t lay in a dirty cell. Anyone who has ever observed a laying queen will have noticed that she sticks her head deep into every cell and inspects it carefully before she deposits the egg. If the surface of the cell isn’t shiny and clean, she moves on. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the bees shining up the insides of the queen cups before a swarm, but I’ve seen it enough times to say, yup, that seems to be thing.
I just installed three new nucs and I’m completely soaked in sweat. Here’s one that doesn’t have a proper top cover yet, but the bees don’t care.
By the way, now is an excellent time to look for the queen, to learn how to spot her, how she moves and wiggles across the frame and all that jazz. There are hardly any bees in the hive and there are only a few frames to inspect. The chances of spotting her couldn’t be better.
I wish I’d taken the time to look for the queen when I installed my first nucs. It subsequently took me a year before I managed to spot any of my queens.
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 →
When I first wrote this post (in 2012 and revised in 2014), I had to order all my beekeeping supplies from Beemaid in Manitoba. I never had a problem with anything I purchased from Beemaid. The hive components, smokers, bee jackets, pollen patties — everything was top quality at a good price. But shipping from Manitoba was expensive, usually clocking in at around 40% of the total cost before taxes.
G & M Family Farm in Freshwater used to sell all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that made it much more affordable than it was when I got into beekeeping in 2010. But it looks like G&M has gotten out of that particular part of its beekeeping business and I honestly don’t take much track of it anymore. Some people on the NL Backyard Farming & Homesteading Facebook page might know.
Many people in Newfoundland over the years have ordered from Country Fields out of Nova Scotia, but I always found I got a better deal from Beemaid even after the shipping costs. The best deal I ever had was from Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba. Had I discovered them years ago, I would have saved a fortune. Large bulk group orders from them (several hundred pounds) even today might cost less than ordering locally. I don’t need to buy gear these days like I used to, so I just don’t know.
Here’s what my first standard Langstroth hive looked like back when I started:
July 2019 Introduction: I don’t add dry sugar to my hives like this anymore. I use sugar bricks instead. However, I’d probably follow this method if I couldn’t use sugar bricks.
I usually pour dry sugar over newspaper into my Langstroth honey bee hives so the bees have something to eat just in case they run out of honey during the winter. Some people refer to it as the Mountain Camp Method, but I’m00 pretty sure beekeepers have been pouring dry sugar into their hives long before Mr Camp came along and popularized it. I’ll call it Dry Sugar Feeding for now on. In any case, it may not be the best method for feeding bees over the winter, but it works well for me and that’s what matters most. I like it because it’s the easiest method I’ve ever tried and it may be better for the bees than hard candy or candy boards. Do a little research on Hydroxymethylfurfural and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.
When I first fed my bees dry sugar, I waited until January or February when the bees, if they were low on honey, would cover most of the top bars in the hive. But waiting that long is a pain in the butt for all kinds of reasons, so now I put the sugar in long before the bees really need it — just like I did today. Here’s an 11-minute video recorded a few hours ago that demonstrates the dry sugar method in all its glory. I also explain near the end how moisture quilts work.
P.S.: I’m not a big fan of feeding the bees pollen patties early in the winter because most of the time they don’t need it and it’s not always good to give the bees solids when they can’t get outside for cleansing flights. I try to reserve pollen patties for small colonies that could use a little boost in brood production. The colony in the video that I refer to as being about the size of a human head will get a pollen patty in a week or two. A small cluster like that, which is likely to get smaller before it gets bigger, won’t be able to stay warm much longer. The colony could be in trouble if I can’t get the queen laying soon.
Another postscript (written in part as a response to the first comment): If I had to do this again, I would place something round in the middle of the newspaper, a small bowl or a jar perhaps. Then after I poured the sugar on, Iâ€™d remove the bowl or jar so that a round sugar-free area of newspaper was left behind. Then Iâ€™d cut a hole in the exposed newspaper so that when the cluster came up, the bees would go through the hole without having to chew through the newspaper to get at the sugar. The hole would also allow moisture from the cluster to rise directly up to the moisture quilt. (If I have a chance, I’ll record a follow-up video.)