We gave our four hives some dry sugar 62 days ago. Here’s some riveting footage that shows how that’s working out for us (so far so good).
The only thing we’ll do differently next year is lay sugar over either the front or back half of the frames. That way the bees can access the sugar without any trouble and there’s still plenty of room to add a full-sized pollen patty. As seen in the video, adding pollen patties is tricky with all that sugar in the way. And we won’t spray the newspaper next time either.
We have four Langstroth hives in our backyard. Each hive consists of two deep supers (or boxes). Our plan is to expand up to a maximum of eight hives this year by splitting the hives we already have. We’re hoping the population of all four hives will explode to fill three deeps per hive by sometime in June, and if that happens, I think we might be able to reach our goal of eight hives and still get a half decent honey harvest from at least two of the hives. We’d be happy with that.
It should go without saying that our plan is likely to have little resemblance to what actually happens. The bees will not always do what we want them to do, and we’ll just have to deal with it. But beyond the basic notion of expanding up to eight hives, we’re not planning to do anything too complicated because things will get complicated enough on their own. Continue reading →
It was warm enough today (1°C / 34°F) to take a peek inside our four hives and add some pollen patties. I didn’t have to top up the dry sugar that was added 46 days ago. The bees in the foundationless hive are low on honey, as I suspected, and have eaten through the most sugar, but they have enough to keep them going for a while. The bees in the conventional hives have eaten some of their sugar, but I still think they would have been fine without it. I could see several frames full of honey in each of the hives. The bees in the conventional hives were clustering above the top bars by the end of December, but a lack of honey doesn’t seem to be the reason. Okay, then, here’s how it played out in video form. First, a short version in HD that cuts to the chase.
What do rotting honey bee corpses look like in the middle of February after being buried in snow for a couple months? This:
We had a heavy rain storm over the weekend that melted and washed away most of the snow and revealed the bottom entrances of the hives that have been buried for much of the new year. I knew I’d see more dead bees. The old-timers seem to fly outside the hive and die. Several hundred of them are scattered around the yard, little black dots everywhere on the crusty snow. Sometimes the dead are removed from the hive, but I get the impression corpse-removal becomes a lower priority in the dead of winter when it’s hard enough just to stay alive. The bottom board of our one foundationless hive is nearly blocked with dead bees. Dead bees are accumulating in the other three hives, too, though not as bad. Continue reading →
Here are four and a half minutes of photos from our first 567 days of beekeeping. It’s not a “best of” collection, but it’s the best I could put together in 20 minutes (there are more photos of bees than beekeeping per se). It should look half-decent played back in full screen at the highest resolution. Recommended only for purists. There’s no music, but I originally had some Geoffrey Oryema on the soundtrack and it was good. You’ve probably never heard of Geoffrey Oryema, but he tends to make quiet night music with lots of echo. Or maybe Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass is more your thing. Whatever floats your boat.
We feed our bees pollen in the form of pollen patties for two reasons: 1) To get the queen laying in late winter, around mid-February, so that the colony’s population is at a healthy level when spring arrives. 2) To give a nuc colony the boost it needs throughout the summer so that it can go into winter, again, with a healthy population of bees. (We also feed our nucs sugar syrup throughout our cool, short summers.) We wouldn’t feed our bees pollen or sugar if Mother Nature could provide for them all year round. But Mother Nature is a cruel mistress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Spring often doesn’t make an appearance until the end of June. So it’s a no-brainer: We feed them. (July 11/13 addendum: But don’t overfed them.)
Do an online search for “How to make pollen patties,” and you’ll find more than a few methods and recipes for pollen patties. The following is our method, not necessarily the best method, but probably one of the easiest, which is why I like it. We fed our bees with these pollen patties last year and everything was okay. (But feel free to let me know if I’m doing something I shouldn’t.) Here’s a video that shows exactly how it’s done:
Some of our honey from 2011 has begun to crystallize in the bottles, specifically the extracted honey that was always cloudy. The crushed-and-strained honey is no longer perfectly clear like apple juice, but it’s still liquid.
LEFT: Crushed-and-strained honey from Sept. 27/11. RIGHT: Crystallized extracted honey from Oct. 03/11.
If we had a bigger freezer, we would have frozen all the honey and taken out each bottle only as we needed it. Freezing honey puts it in suspended animation, right? Thus delaying the natural crystallization process? We may need to get a bigger freezer for next season. At any rate, I’ll update this post later in the year if the crushed-and-strained honey crystallizes. We could heat the honey to return it to liquid form, but we don’t mind it a little crystallized. It’s more creamy than solid, easier to spread on toast, and less messy. And it’s still fabulously more delicious than any grocery store honey.
Click each image to embiggen on a separate page.
UPDATE: I bit the bullet and clarified most of our crystallized honey today by letting the bottles sit in hot water for a while like I did back on December 18th, 2011. Then I somehow found space for all the honey in our deep freeze. I still have a bottle of the crushed-and-strained honey in the cupboard so I can record the date when it fully crystallizes. My guess is it won’t take long because our kitchen this time of year is like a walk-in refrigerator when we’re not home. Refrigerated honey apparently crystallizes fast.
UPDATE (Feb. 27/12): A bottle of the crushed and strained honey that wasn’t stored in the freezer has finally crystallized. It’s creamy and easy to spread. It began to get cloudy around the first week of February. It will likely be fully and solidly crystallized sometime in March. Refrigeration supposedly accelerates the crystallization process, and the temperature in our kitchen during the winter months (when we’re not in the kitchen) is definitely a bit chilly. The honey may have stayed liquid longer if we’d kept it stored at room temperature.
A word of caution to beekeepers who use hard insulation in their hives for any reason: some ants have an appetite for insulation. Check out this photo sent to me from a beekeeper in Indiana:
I doubt this kind of infestation would be an issue for beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland or in similar climates (though you might want to look around for ant nests). Ants are usually long gone and out of sight by the time we have to put on insulation in November, or take it off in April. I suppose that’s a benefit of living in one of the chilliest, wettest, windiest places on the planet. Continue reading →