May 29th, The First Warm Day of the Year

Not much to see here. A 4-minute static shot of my bees (with a very slow 4K zoom in) on what is probably the first real warm day of the year. It’s 20°C (68°F) and going up to 25. It feels like my bees are now starting to shift into serious brood-rearing mode. No drones yet, but hopefully soon.

While many beekeepers in North America and across the pond are dealing with swarms or even harvesting honey in some places, most honey bee colonies on the east coast of Newfoundland are just starting to get going.

The Isle of Newfoundland doesn’t have Varroa yet, nor most of the diseases that cause trouble for beekeepers pretty much everywhere else on the planet. But we do have some of the most inhospitable weather for honey bees anywhere, especially where I live on the east coast of the island, in a place called Flatrock, within spitting distance of the cold North Atlantic Ocean.

Not offence, but I suspect most beekeepers, except maybe a few in Iceland and northern Alaska, have a much easier time at beekeeping than I do. It’s kind of a miracle that I can even get a honey harvest from my bees most summers.

Can someone tell me why I keep doing this?

The Key Ingredient For Successful Beekeeping

The first swarm I ever experienced happened around this date in 2012. I haven’t had a colony come anywhere close to being this strong since. The extraordinarily robust colonies I was able to build up during my first few years of beekeeping may have been more the result of unusually warm and sunny weather than anything else. Beekeepers should give credit where credit is due, and let’s be honest: Most of the credit goes to the weather.

I attribute most of my success in beekeeping to good weather.

Newfoundland Honey Bees Fly in Cold Weather

According to the University of Maine and many other reputable institutions of higher learning, honey bees will fly when temperatures are 12.8°C (55°F) and higher. Most beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland know that’s that a joke. My bees would virtually never go outside if they had to wait for the temperature to go up to 13°C. Here’s a short video I happened to record that shows my bees foraging and bringing in pollen when the thermometer was reading 4°C (39°F).

My thermometer isn’t always 100% accurate, so let’s say it was 6°C instead (43°F). That’s still well below the official foraging temperature. I guess the honey bees in Newfoundland didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to fly when it’s this cold.

Winter Beekeeping with a Vengeance

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 the highlights reel:


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Pee You, What a Stink

I discovered today that one of my hives, not next to my house, has likely been buried in snow for at least a week, maybe two. I didn’t expect this.

A hive that was probably buried in snow for a week or two, with all entrances blocked. (February 22nd, 2020.)

When I cleared out the top entrance, the smell was like rotten caplin fertiliser. Pee you. It was ugly.

Rotten gooey bee poop that had clogged the entrance along with poop-soaked dead bees that we’re cleared away. (February 22nd, 2020.)

The bees needed some cleansing flights and they couldn’t get out. I didn’t open the hive to see the mess inside because I can’t do anything about it at this time. But I’m sure it’ll make an educational video some day (stay tuned).

The last time we saw this hive about a month ago, a rat had been gnawing on it.

The bees came pouring out once I cleaned all the poop-covered dead bees out of the way. I’ll clean it up next week by spraying it down with apple cider vinegar. And I could do with less snow.

A Rat Gnawing on My Beehive

Some of you may have heard that the eastern part of the isle of Newfoundland where I keep bees got dinged with a massive snowstorm on January 17th, 2020. The official forecast called for about 90cm (3 feet) of snow. But with winds hitting about 120km/h (75mph), more than a few snowdrifts were taller than me.

I’m guessing a rat did this (January 26th, 2020).

The city of St. John’s and surrounding municipalities were under a State of Emergency for about a week. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t check on some of my hives until the roads were passable nine days later. This is what I found when I checked on them:


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Snowmageddon Beekeeping (Part 1)

Here’s a 6-minute video of what passes for beekeeping during a snowstorm. Specifically, it’s the Snowmageddon snowstorm that dumped about a metre of snow over my hives on January 17th, 2020. I’ll make another video that goes into the details of what I actually did to keep my bees alive during all the snowfall, but this one is just to show how much snow came down.

Behind the Scenes Beekeeping: March 2017

These Amazing Cell Phone Chronicles from March 2017 are only 6 minutes long. The big event in this video, I suppose, is the storm that blew 180 kph (112 mph) winds through my beeyard. Spoiler: My bees got through it without a scratch.

I have to say, I love my sheltered little beeyard. Big old storms roll in and I never worry about it. I don’t need to secure my bees down with ratchet straps. I don’t even need to weigh them down with bricks (though I usually do just to be safe). The only downside to my beeyard, other than being too close to a freezing ocean, is that my bees aren’t in full sun all day long. I’ve never kept my bees in full sun and it’s never been a problem, but I kinda get the feeling that being so close to the ocean — well, that’s the tipping point. It’s still too early in the game to make that call, but without the heat of full-day sunshine, in my particular area, I get the feeling my bees just don’t build up as strongly as they used to when I kept them farther inland. I can’t say for sure, but that’s where my suspicions are going. It’s one of the reasons I’ve begun to paint my hives black, which under normal circumstances seems like a bad idea, but I’m not sure keeping bees a kilometre (0.62 miles) from the Labrador Current (I can see it from my house) is a normal beekeeping circumstance.

October 2019 Postscript: I look at this video and, again, see a few things I’d do differently today — things I’m still experimenting with. I think I prefer a different kind of wrap, namely corrugated plastic, to fend off all the melting snow and provide a little more insulation. I know roofing felt acts as a windbreak and provides some heat in the sun, but it also gets soaked and stays cold and wet for days or weeks. That never sits well with me. Some of the rims and moisture quilts seem a bit too loose; too much cold air getting in. I think generally I need to do more to keep my bees warm, mainly because the air where I live coming off the North Atlantic Ocean is so damp and bone-creaking cold, I can easily imagine the bees turning into Popsicles, unable to move across their honey frames, and then starving to death.

Check out my Month of March category for a sense of things that might happen for backyard beekeepers on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland in the month of March.