Taking a peek under the hood of my Flatrock hives to see where the bees are clustering.
Am I the only one in Newfoundland who thinks this has been an unusual and even slightly weird summer for beekeeping? Here are the hive inspections that got me thinking about this.
This came up in a Google search today.*
It’s an article where I mention that I get anywhere between 20-50 pounds of honey per hive in the beeyard next to my house in Flatrock. That’s about right for Flatrock.
Here’s how I inadvertently (or I could say deliberately) managed to get over 6 pounds of honey from a single medium frame. 6 pounds is about 3 kg. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)
Other than giving the bees space inside the hive to grow, I really didn’t do much. This is 95% the result of good weather and a healthy queen. No bee whispering of any kind was required. There never is.
Essentially, all I did was place 7 frames of drawn comb in a 10-frame honey super, creating extra space between the frames. If thereâ€™s a strong nectar flow, the bees will often fill in the extra space with honey, resulting in thick frames of honey — and sometimes more honey per super.Continue reading
June 8th, 2021:
11:00am. It’s already 24Â°C in the shade and rising fast, supposedly peaking at 28Â°C this afternoon, feeling like 33Â°C (or 91Â°F).
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.
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.
But I didn’t.
Spoiler Alert: I miss keeping bees in the warmer parts of Newfoundland. That’s all I’m really saying.
It was finally warm enough (briefly) to do my first hive inspections of the year. I inspected three of my eight hives. If I were to give a grade of colony strength to each of them — for what I’ve come to expect in my local climate — I’d give a 10/10 for one hive, 7/10 for another and a 4/10 for one where the queen seems to be on the way out. In this video, I focus on the colony with the highest grade and give credit where credit is due: to warm weather and a well-mated queen. It seems to me those two factors are the main ingredients to successful backyard beekeeping.
Ten percent, maybe 20% of the credit, goes to the backyard beekeeper (me) who provides their bees with a dry hive to live in. That part of it can be more complicated than you might think, but really, most of the credit goes to good weather and healthy queens. I’ve come to these conclusions based on my experience keeping bees in four location on the island of Newfoundland and from talking to beekeepers in other parts of the island. (The video explains it too.) But I could be wrong. What I really should say is these are contemplations, not conclusions.
Today is my three thousand, nine hundred and forty-sixth day of beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland. And in honour of this momentous occasion, I’m taking a break from the internet and any news with the word “Covid” in it. After this break, I might post something once a week on Wednesdays. We’ll see.
“Don’t use open feeders for your bees… unless you know what you’re doing.” That’s the common wisdom flying around the backyard beekeeper’s world these days, and it’s a smart rule to follow. So, naturally, I had to try open feeding to find out for myself.
This isn’t the most informative video. I’ve written in detail about opening feeding in other online forums. While I understand why it’s generally discouraged, one doesn’t have to look far to see commercial beekeepers using open feeders in the spring to get their bees off on the right track.
This is probably the first natural pollen my bees have foraged on this year. The crocuses popped up through the snow around March 21st — a month ago — but the weather has been mostly rain, drizzle and fog since then. People saw the sun today for the first time in weeks and freaked out because it was such a weird thing to see.
Other beekeepers on the island reported seeing their bees bring in loads of pollen a couple weeks ago. But that didn’t happen where I live. A great reminder of a beekeeper’s #1 lesson: All beekeeping is local beekeeping.
I had to add some protein patties (artificial pollen) to my hives yesterday because my bees have been stuck inside their hives for a week, unable to forage for pollen just at a time when the year’s first pollen was beginning to come in. We’ve got at least another week of this lousy weather ahead of us. This is when I say enough is enough. Here’s what I’m talking about:
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:
An unedited visit to my beeyard that happened 30 minutes ago after a big rain storm we had last night, just me yakking and explaining a few things as well as I can explain them:
My last words in the video are a reference to the 1979 film Alien that probably no one will get, as is usually the case for references I make. I’m cool with that.
I often set up Gmail reminders about things I’d like to remember a year later. Here’s a Gmail reminder that came in three days ago:
A year ago today (July 7th, 2019), the temperature finally went above 20Â°C (68Â°F) and stayed there for a while. Until then, we were buried with cold rain and fog and the occasional mildly warm day that may have peaked at around 10Â°C (50Â°F). My honey bees in Flatrock virtually died from not being able to forage and not really having anything to forage on until July 7th.
It may not have been as bad in more inland areas of the island, but there were so little resources available, the nucs I ordered took forever to build up (a huge contrast to the nucs I had in the summer of 2016) . My bees barely drew out any new comb, too, though that may have had more to do with the waxless plastic foundation I used. In any case, it’s often helpful to look back at the previous year to see how things change dramatically from year to year. (That’s the main reason I maintain this blog. For those on a desktop, if you scroll way down on the right side menu until you see ARCHIVES, those monthly archives are the most valuable links for me. I click them all the time.)
This spring wasn’t the greatest (it seems rare to have a good spring on the east coast of Newfoundland), but June 2020, with it’s stifling heat and humidity, was the opposite of June 2019, or as we say, Junuary. It felt like winter for most of last June. This June I had to do everything to stay ahead of my colonies so they wouldn’t swarm.
It seems that beekeepers — and especially beekeepers in places like Newfoundland — should prepare themselves and their bees for entirely different conditions from season to season. That’s the moral of today’s story.
Some people have noticed that most of my hive boxes are painted black and have asked, “What are you, nuts?”
I would have asked the same thing a few years back. But then I moved to Flatrock, Isle of Newfoundland, where I can see the North Atlantic Ocean from my house, and it’s freezing here.
The thermometer reads 30Â°C (86Â°F) in my backyard at this moment. This is not a typical Newfoundland summer day.
Apparently the humidex reading is the highest recorded on this date in nearly 30 years. Not a bad time to put on some empty moisture quilts to give my the bees some relief.
We might as well call this Swarm Week. I’ll be keeping a very, very close eye on my hives this week.
I guess this makes up for the lousy winter…
…and the slow-moving spring we had this year. It took my colonies forever to build up. I hope they’re happy now.
The population of a honey bee colony can explode in no time once the weather warms up and everything comes into bloom. (That’s right about now, by the way, at least in my little corner of the Isle of Newfoundland.) All that nectar, all the pollen, all the warm air, all that sunshine — the next thing you know, the bees are getting ready to swarm, or they’ve already swarmed. It seems to take only a few days for the bees to get that message when the conditions are right. As a general rule, when I open a hive and see bees over the top bars of every frame, I add another super, another hive box — I give the colony room to grow. They may not need the extra space today or tomorrow, but when they do need it and it’s not there, boom, off they go in a giant cloud of bees that will fill the sky, also known as a swarm. This video shows what it looks like when it’s time to add another super to the hive (at least for me it does):
00:00 — A deep super (and frames) cut down to a medium.
00:40 — Bees covering the top bars (time to add a super).
01:10 — Dispersing the bees with mist instead of smoke.
01:27 — Adding the super.
01:48 — Adding a foundationless frame (for comb honey).
02:38 — Putting the hive back together.
03:10 — Confused bees looking for the new entrance.
04:52 — The bees already reoriented to the new entrance.
05:10 — A problem with a 9-frame brood chamber.
And some bonus material for those who can hold out long enough.
P.S. #1: I mention in the video that’s it’s June 21st when it obviously isn’t. That’s my pandemic brain jumping up and saying hello. Everybody and their cousin Bob is losing track of the days.
P.S. #2: Some would look at this video and think I put another box on too early, that every frame in the hive should absolutely packed with bees for adding another box. Maybe. But when a nectar flow is about the kick into high gear, I prefer to play safe than sorry. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. Putting a box on too early, like I may have done in this video, can result in the bees not really filling up any frames. They spread everything out and none of the honey frames get filled to capacity. However, it reduces the likelihood of swarming. Waiting until more bees to cover the frames can have the opposite effect, more honey packed into the frames but greater risk of swarming.
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 20Â°C (68Â°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?