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.
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 trust me, if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular. Although I’m extremely pleased to have finally found a place where I can keep my bees in peace and be around them every day, I don’t think my bees will ever thrive as well as they did when I kept them in my backyard in St. John’s.
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 05, 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 go for these too.
Not the greatest photo but good enough.
MAY 27, 2016: The maple tree flowers show up as early as May. Nice.
I’ve looked into keeping bees on some rooftops here in St. John’s, Newfoundland, because it seems like a great idea — in theory.Hives on rooftops, for the most part, would be out of sight and out of mind of people with an irrational fear of honey bees. The hives would be safe from vandals too. Most importantly, the bees would have a significantly more diverse source of pollen and nectar available to them in the city. Most of my hives are on a rural farm surrounded by coniferous trees — a virtual desert for honey bees. But the city of St. John’s is full of deciduous and flowering trees everywhere I look. It’s honey bee heaven. Honey bees would do much better in the city than out in the country. I have little doubt about that. But…
I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live a in relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged next door 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:
Jeff from Clarenville, Newfoundland, dropped off some photos and video of one of his swarms from July 18th, 2011. I plan to do everything I can to avoid swarms where I live. Even though the bees are their most docile in this state, I got a feeling most people in my urban ‘hood would not react well to seeing my bees swarm like this. I’ll leave it to Jeff to tell us about it in the comments.
February 2019 Introduction: I look at this video and I sort of half wish I still lived in St. John’s because I actually had more land to keep my bees on in the city than I do where I live now in a rural-like location outside of the city. Just look at the video and check out the field I had behind my house. That was my property. Pretty sweet, eh?
Unfortunately, the field was also used as a local hangout for high school kids who lit the whole thing on fire at least once a year and regularly used it as a drinking spot. My hives would have been an easy target for vandalism like everything else back there. My next door neighbours were also extraordinarily unpleasant people with vicious tempers and a mean junkyard dog that barked and foamed at the mouth half the time I did anything in my backyard. I loved the house I lived in, and I loved that back field, but within months starting up my hives, I realized I was in the worst neighbourhood for keeping bees.
The moral of the story is: Urban beekeeping in a crowded neighbourhood and a tiny backyard is entirely doable, but it’s not much fun if you’re not surrounded by good neighbours. You gotta have good neighbours.
There’s not much to see here but I’ll show it to you anyway. It’s a raw video of me walking through the field behind my shed looking for honey bees on dandelions. The field fills with a variety of wild flowers during the summer and fall. I might explore it again later on in the season when there’s more to see. (Note: The video contains some brief G-rated profanity.)
The video demonstrates how difficult it is to get a precise focus on the bee. It’s been cold for the past week and the bees have been stuck in their hives. Sunnier skies and warmer temperatures are supposedly on the way. I hope so. We only have four months of the year that aren’t cold, wet and windy (that is, they’re not as cold, wet and windy as the other eight months). I’m ready to make the most of it. I think the bees are too. Come on summer, let’s get on with it!
2019 Postscript: Here’s the Google Street View of my old house at 43 Golf Ave in St. John’s. That’s my black Honda Fit in the driveway and my mean neighbour’s Jeep in the adjacent driveway. Flip the camera around and you can see the corner store directly across the street. (Personal advice: Don’t ever live anywhere near a corner store. Trust me, you won’t like what you see.) I like to think the neighbourhood has improved since I lived there, but I can’t say I miss it one bit. Once you move the country and love it as much as I do, you can never go back.