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.

Finally Adding Sugar Cakes

I usually add just-in-case sugar above the top bars in my hives around early November. By that time — in my local climate — it’s usually so cold that the bees move to the bottom of the hive beneath their honey stores (and then gradually eat their way towards the top of the hive throughout the winter), which makes it easy for me to put the sugar in without bothering them. But that didn’t happen so much this year because November has been unusually warm. Only in the past few days have I noticed the bees, at least in some of the hives, clustering below the top bars. So I decided to add some sugar bricks today…

About 700 grams (or 1.5 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.)

About 1.3 kg (or 3 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.) I’ll probably add more later when I find the time. These bees were breaking through the top bars were so cold, it was easy to slide the sugar in without bothering too much.

I followed my Sugar Bricks Recipe (12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water) and made bricks that weighed between 1 and 3 pounds (0.5 – 1.3 kg).
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Problems with the “Mountain Camp” Method of Dry Sugar Feeding

Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar.
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