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 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. That’s why the first swarms usually coincide with the flight of the first drones. I could be wrong about all of this, but from what I’ve seen with my bees, it’s true. A colony won’t swarm without drones.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 my local 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.
June 2019 Introduction: I have read several accounts of honey bees making an early spring honey from Red Maple blossoms, usually on the west coast of North America. I don’t see many of those trees where I live on the east coast of Newfoundland, but regular maple trees, whatever you want to call them, are abundant in urban areas of the island. This post was written on the assumption if honey bees collect Red Maple nectar, they must be able to collection nectar from regular maples trees too.
The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.
I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular.
The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)
March 6th, 2016: I found this photo from 2011 that shows flowers on a maple tree, the kind of flowers that hang down in long bunch. The bees supposedly go for these too.
Not the greatest photo but good enough.
May 27th, 2016: The maple tree flowers show up as early as May. Nice.
I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live in a relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged nextdoor neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?
Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed:
April 2019 Introduction: There’s more than a 2-week gap between this post and the last post because I was busy from being forced to move my bees out of my backyard in the city. The colony in one of my hives swarmed because, like all of my colonies, I overfed it. This is what an overfed honey bee colony on the verge of swarming looks like:
I’ve had entrance reducers on all my hives for the past few weeks, and it doesn’t look like I can remove them any time soon because the wasps (a.k.a. yellow jackets) are everywhere. They’re constantly trying to get into the hives. Here’s a photo showing about six wasps blocking a ventilation hole (most of the screened holes in our ventilator rims are filled with wasps):
The next photo isn’t pretty. You’ve been warned.