Flexibility is the Beekeeper’s Game

A typical day from June 2019 on the east coast of Newfoundland.

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 20°C (68°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 10°C (50°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.

Black Hives

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.

Redhead Cove, Flatrock, Newfoundland, not far from my house.


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Swarm Week – June 24th, 2020

The thermometer reads 30°C (86°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.

When To Add Another Super

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.

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.