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.)
Let’s steal more wisdom from the 1947 edition (which seems to reproduce most of the the 1879 edition) of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture:
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:It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too.
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.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.
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).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.
It’s always fun to spot a frame of these babies in one of my hives.I mentioned in my recent Beeyard Update how I wouldn’t be surprised if the bees in one of my hives decided to supersede the queen I recently installed. I’m still not surprised.
SEPT. 05, 2016: Read the exciting continuation in Part 2: Empty Supersedure Queen Cells!
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.
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.
April 2019 Introduction: 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. Crazy.
Today, fortunately, G & M Family Farm in Freshwater sells all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that makes it much more affordable than it was when I got into beekeeping in 2010.
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. But generally speaking, G & M seems like the way to go.
Here’s what my first standard Langstroth hive looked like back when I started: