April 12th, 2022: I had the bees in this wet, damp, mouldy hive tested and they have Nosema. It’s stinky and dirty, but it’s not the end of the world. I’m on it. Just for the record, I went 11 years and 9 months without a serious case of Nosema in my bees. That’s not a bad record. I hope. The dirty hive will be treated safely and effectively with Acetic Acid. As much as I would like to document that process so that others might learn from my experience, I’ve decided to hold back on it due to the overzealous policing element that continues to be nuisance to so many beekeepers in Newfoundland. And I’m not referring to anyone who mentioned that Nosema needs to be reported to the provincial apiarist. I’m totally cool with that.
I have reason to believe that the hive I found full of poop recently might not have Nosema, but I’ve been dealing with it, just to careful, as if it does have Nosema. Here’s a long video of me digging into the mess and dealing with it by knocking the colony down to a single medium super. I may update this post with more information later. I’m kinda busy at the moment trying to become an expert on Nosema. (Update: In the video, I leave an open feeder full of thin sugar syrup so the bees could clear out their guts of possible Nosema spores, but I changed my mind and removed it the next day. The risk of spreading Nosema through the syrup seemed too great. Maybe the risk is low, but I don’t want to take any chances.)
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.
I plan to place at least one more beehive in my secret location sometime in the spring because my colonies there are always in the best shape, better than any of my colonies anywhere else. Unlike most of my hives in other locations, including the hives in Flatrock next to my house, my secret hives don’t get much special treatment.
A 2-minute video that demonstrates and explains my idea for covering the inner cover hole with canvas. It’s followed by a 20-minute version for those interested in a deeper dive into all kinds of other things.
As always with these longer videos, I explain every little thing I do while I’m doing it so that new beekeepers unfamiliar with all this stuff might be able to pick up some helpful titbits of information. I know this format isn’t quick and slick and eye-catching, and my viewership has gone down the toilet since I started doing this, but when I look back on all the videos I’ve watched over the years, it’s usually been this kind of long-form walk-along video that I’ve learned the most from — the ones where I’m just hanging out with the beekeeper while they’re beekeeping. So I’m sticking to it. Continue reading →
Beekeepers on a budget with minimal carpentry skills might like these little shelters I made from old yogurt containers to keep wind, rain and snow from blowing through the upper entrances of my beehives. Here’s a three and a half minute video that shows what I’m talking about. (It ends with a 15-minute extended cut for those who like to dig a little deeper.)
I store frames of drawn comb over the winter by building a well ventilated hive in my unheated outdoor shed. Here’s a video that proves it:
The hive full of drawn comb (and some capped frames of honey) is well ventilated on the bottom and top using queen excluders so mice can’t get in. The hive can be built outside on its own too. No shed required.
An experiment. I’m making hive pillows using old cotton pillow cases. The pillow is full of wood chips and straw. I’ve been toying with these for the past couple of years because moisture quilts — or quilt boxes with upper ventilation — aren’t as convenient as I’d like them to be. They don’t hold in heat well either. My bees in Flatrock, where it’s unusually cold and damp compared to many places in Newfoundland, seem to need all the heat they can get, and moisture quilts, heat-wise, just don’t cut it. Continue reading →
This is mostly a talking video of me explaining an experiment that involves drilling a hole in the super a few inches below the inner cover — with no inner cover entrance — with the intention of holding more heat in the hive during the winter.
The excitement continues as I finally got all my hives protected with 6mm / quarter-inch mesh yesterday. I’m also pleased with one hive where the bees are clustering well beneath their honey and the hive is dry as a bone. I’m not going to mess with it.
One of my beehives, back in January 2019, had its top blown off in a windstorm. The top cover — along with the inner cover and hard insulation — might have been removed in other ways, but the point is, the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive inside the hive were completely exposed to the elements for about a week. The elements included high winds, rain, freezing rain, hail and snow. Hence, the title of this post: These Bees Should Be Dead.
Not exactly what you like to find when visiting a beeyard in the winter. (January 2019.)
When I approached the hive, I didn’t expect the bees to be alive. I found dark soggy clumps of dead bees on the back edges of the top bars. Some burr comb over the top bars had lost its colour from being exposed to the elements. The frames were soaking wet with a sheen of mould growing on the surface. Ice clogged up the bottom entrance. So yeah, I expected to find nothing but dead bees inside that hive.
Along with the five hives next to my house, I have two hives on the edge of a farm (and another one in a secret location). The weather got warm enough for me to do full hive inspections on both of the farm hives. I only turned my camera on when I found something I thought could be educational for new beekeepers. Most of the video is me talking about what I found in the hives, what I did to each of them and why I did it. I know it’s a visually boring video, but it covers a lot of ground. This is exactly the kind of boring video I would been all over when I first started beekeeping.
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.
So it’s looks like the hive pillow is doing its job. Moisture is rising up through the inner cover hole, passing through the wood chips, condensing on the cold top cover, dripping down on the top of the pillow, where it then evaporates through the holes in the ventilation rim. Hence, the bees inside are kept dry.
Another experiment. And when I say experiment, it means I’m trying something that I hope makes my beekeeping simpler and easier and cheaper. In this video I’ve got a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover, with a hole cut in the insulation above the inner cover hole, and a ventilation rim covering the whole thing.
Hard insulation over the inner cover with a mesh-covered hole in the middle. Genius or stupid? We’ll find out.
The pandemic has knocked my sleeping patterns out of whack. I’ve had to rely on coffee to keep me going at times, and every time I do it I seem to make one of these rambling beekeeping videos — or several of them. But I’m getting tired of listening to my caffeinated voice. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep it up. At any rate, here’s a hodgepodge of little bits that I deleted from other videos because the videos were already long enough, or I just forgot about them. Either way, this is the last video I post until my next blast of caffeine.
As much as I love moisture quilts (or anything that keeps my bees warm and dry over the winter), sometimes I think, “There’s got to be an easier way.” And when I say sometimes, I mean every single day. Instead of using moisture quilts, I’ve opted to try out these Dempster Hive Pillows. They’re 2 or 3 inch (~7cm) thick burlap pillows filled with wood chips that sit over the inner cover and inside a ventilation rim (or any kind of box with ventilation holes in it) to provide some insulation for the bees but also help absorb and wick away condensation from inside the hive.
Here’s a basic intro to the Dempster Hive Pillow:
It’s another experiment, but I think (I hope) it’ll work. I think it’ll be a lot easier to drop pillows into my hives instead dumping wood chips or some other absorbent material inside the hive. That’s the aforementioned easier way I was talking about. Considering that my bees have gone through the winter so far with zero insulation and zero moisture-absorbing material in place, my feeling is, yeah, what’s the worse thing that could happen?
Here’s the extended version of the above video that goes into a lot more detail about other things related my winter beekeeping: Continue reading →
Subtitled: Checking on Bees That Were Buried in Snow For More Than a Month
I still haven’t posted a video of the big storm from January 17th, 2020, that buried most of my hives, but it’s coming. It’s a spectacle, not really a beekeeping video.
This is what my “beeyard” looked like on January 18th, 2020.
In the meantime, I’ve put together two videos of the same thing — a 7-minute video for people who just want to see the bees and not hear me babble on about stuff, and the 25-minute unabridged version of the first inspections I did with these hives since they got snowed in over a month ago. It’s longer than the typical killing-time-at-work video, but it may be worth a look for new beekeepers who want to get into the nitty-gritty of winter beekeeping. I cover a lot on ground in this one. (Watching it in segments and coming back to it throughout the day might be the best bet.) It’s interesting how snowshoes have become standard beekeeping gear for me since the storm. And by interesting I mean annoying.
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the installation and use of a moisture quilt for winter insulation and ventilation.
All of my moisture quilts are built differently because I’ve never put much planning into building them (I have zero woodworking skills). Some are converted ventilation rims that require a rim underneath, like the one in this video. Others have built in rims as part of the design. Some fit perfectly and create a tight seal on the bottom. Some don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter either way because they all do a great job at wicking moisture out of the hives and keeping my bees dry all winter.
Moisture quilts, in my experience, aren’t necessary in local climates that aren’t particularly damp and foggy and wet. Smaller colonies that don’t produce much condensation from the bees’ respiration don’t always need extra ventilation or insulation either. A piece of hard insulation over the inner cover often does the trick. Moisture quilts can be a bit scary, too, when it seems like half the colony on warm days attaches itself to the bottom screen of the quilt. But for me the pros outweigh the cons. If dampness is a problem inside any of my hives, I know a moisture quilt will fix it.
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the summer too.
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’ve been feeding my bees in the winter for a while now by pouring dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars. Some people refer to this style of feeding as the Mountain Camp Method. I like it because it’s the quickest and easiest method for feeding bees in my particular winter climate.
Bees eating dry sugar via the Mountain Camp Method.
Although I’ve never had any problems with it, there is some room for improvement. Some people only put newspaper over the back two-thirds of the top bars so that the front is left open for better airflow. That’s an excellent tweak to the method and it works. There’s no urgent need to change it. However, in my experience, the cluster usually breaks through the top bars in the middle and spreads out from there. Most of the moisture — or humid air from the bees’ respiration — flows up from the middle as well. My little tweak is to create a hole in the middle of the sugar for better ventilation and to give the bees easier access to the sugar.
Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. These bees have about 40kg of honey stores. The sugar is a precaution. (Dec. 12, 2015.)
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.)
I fed my bees sugar syrup until it was too cold for them to take any more of it, which isnâ€™t always the smartest thing to do because even though the bees are able to store the syrup, they may not have time to cure it (evaporate most of the water from it) and cap it like they would with honey during warmer weather. Subsequently, as in my case, the ole beekeeper discovers a top third deep filled mostly with uncapped syrup — or as we like to say in the real world, moisture. Not enough moisture to drip down on the bees and kill them, but enough to dampen the frames and allow some mold to grow.
I wholeheartedly agree with that beekeeper. He seems like a smart guy.
In a previous post, Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation, I argued that hard insulation over the inner cover is a cheap and easy way to keep a hive relatively warm and dry over the winter. And it is. I used hard insulation in my hives for several winters with no problems. Even though I’ve since switched to moisture quilts, this year — as in a couple of weeks ago — I set up two of my five hives with hard insulation as a demonstration that I planned to report in on over the winter. But I pulled the plug on that experiment because I discovered moldy frames in the top boxes of those two hives yesterday.
I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.
An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins. Continue reading →
I’m a huge fan of the moisture quilts introduced to me by Rusty Burlew because they keep my bees warm and dry all winter long better than anything I’ve used before. But for my first two winters when I kept my hives in the city in a relatively dry climate, hard insulation over the inner cover worked fine. For people who don’t have much time, money or carpentry skills, the winter preparations I demonstrate in this video are better than nothing.
I’m not saying this is the best winter set up for a hive, but I have a good sense of my local climate and I think this minimal set up will work out okay.