Friends close to the hives #9



Not really friends and not really close to the hives either but I thought it may be of interest. Wasps have never been much of a problem to our colony of bees. The numbers have always been strong enough to handle any stray intruder. This summer my neighbour had once again a wasp nest under his eaves. You can see last years markings of that one next to this years. Two years before that, they were in the tree at the top right of the frame, proving that they are territorial and persistent. The neighbour decided to end their rental agreement.


And just in case you want to know what the visible difference is…

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2017 Honey production

The reports of honey production for 2017 are now in and as was expected, most beekeepers have had a poor year. The Spring was one of the worst in history with rain falling continually through the peak nectar period and up until mid-July. Some beekeepers have had up to a 50% drop in honey production and this will have an impact on finances and hive numbers in 2018.

A CBC report can be read here.

bee in flower

Year end update 2017

Since we last wrote about our hive’s, we can happily report that both colonies are alive. You may remember that each hive was lacking a queen and did not have any fresh eggs or larvae to make themselves a new one. Without having a queen, these hives would have slowly died.

Chile cluster

So we bought a new queen for each which lived for two or three days before being killed by the bees in each colony. We had driven an hour and a half to pick up these $27 beauties and our aspirations were high. They obviously did not want a fresh young commander-in-chief. In hindsight, we should have sprayed a mix of sugar water and fragrance (lemongrass or lavender) over the bees during placement. This would have distracted the bees before scenting their new queen’s pheromones. The queens would have had some time before laying and establishing their authority. We are learning something each year and although we may not be the brightest drones in our colony we are persistent!


So we ordered another two queens. This time delivered by Canada Post. Oh, good idea…

Happily, both these queens were accepted. Although our hive of Chilean stock is still unsettled, for some unknown reason, both hives are now queen-right. The Chilean hive should resolve itself over the winter with new bees from the local queen hatching in the spring. I know they were deprived of their promised Pinot Noir and threatened revolution, but such is life!

Again we had problems with robbing at the end of August. This is something that will have to be addressed in the future. Robbing screens were installed which did not work. Wet towels were placed over the entrances and did not work. Neither did changing the entrance locations nor closing up the hives for three straight days. Suggestions are welcome.

wrapped hives 2017

We did manage to extract some honey totaling +/- 30 lbs. Other uncapped honey was extracted and fed back to the hives for their winter reserves. Both hives are now down to one brood box with full honey stores. We again treated for varroa mites by adding Apivar for the recommended time. The hives are now surrounded with polystyrene panels on three sides and wrapped in black tar paper for wind protection and some solar heat. They have a top insulation box with wood chips and ventilation holes placed above them. The hives will be checked in December when each will receive a dribble of Oxalate acid as a secondary varroa treatment. This will be the first time we will try this method and we look forward to its results.

We were also a little late in removing the feeder boxes this year. Nothing to worry about but the resulting wax structures made inside by the colony is a sight to behold.

feeder box

For now, the season is over and we can plan for next year. We already have a new nuc box built ready to make ourselves some new queens from splits in the Spring. There is also a new horizontal hive built ready to accept a colony in the Spring. This large coffin-like structure will hopefully ease our beekeeping backs and lessen the hive interventions during the year. A new space has been cleared to accommodate these added hives and make room for the ducks! Photographs of each new hive to come later in the year.


A strategic withdrawal …

The following link describes a very well written article about beekeeping and the pesticide industry. I encourage everyone who wishes to be better informed about the problems associated with beekeeping to read it. Note: The text is long but worthwhile for those who have the interest.

Link: “Pollinators in Peril” from the Editors of Acres USA Magazine.


We will update our beekeeping year soon with a final report. Stay tuned!

State of the union inspection

pre swarm

We have had numerous swarms in our new hives this summer. The remaining bees that did not leave are still very quiet and wonderful to work with. They have even brought in some honey last week. Not an easy task with all the rain we had this summer. Sadly, our much-loved queens Rachel and Esperanza turned out to be less than satisfactory. In fact, they were downright disappointing. So we feel no loss now that they have up and left. This is not uncommon with new packages of bees. Queens are often added to a package of bees just before delivery. They may not always be young, healthy, well mated or from the original apiary where the bees came from. But the bees will accept and tolerate her until such time when their numbers increase and they feel secure enough to make one of their own liking, from scratch.

So once Rachel and Esperanza had flown the coop, followed perhaps with multiple swarms of their sisters, it was time to look in the hives for a “State of the Union” inspection. Sadly in both hives, there were no eggs or larvae left for them to make another queen. If left alone the bees would have died off with age. They would eventually have had with no new bees to replace themselves. One solution to this problem is to add a few panels of larvae and newly laid eggs from another hive. The bees would then select an appropriate egg to feed royal jelly and make their new queen. Sadly we didn’t have more panels with eggs so we purchased newly mated queens from “Rucher du Nord” in Brebeuf, Quebec. A quick trip was made and we installed the new queens after cutting out all left over swarm cells from both hives. These new queens will change our stock to a locally bred and historically successful strain of bee. That’s the plan…

queen cage

Photo above: The new queen in her cage with an entourage of carers awaiting insertion into the hive.

So what were the signs of our poor queens?

Poor brood laying pattern, which may be a sign of poor mating or disease. Eggs were laid in a  haphazard and spotty sequence with some panels having no eggs whatsoever. Sealed brood was not in a “slab” format and there were many missed cells. The proportion of empty cells in the brood area is an indication of the extent of inbreeding. What’s that I hear you ask? Thanks to Mr. Craig from the Scottish Beekeepers Association for his clear explanation below. (You may want to read this out loud with a thick Scottish accent and a wee dram just for fun)

In the honeybee a fertilized egg is diploid, having 32 chromosomes and will develop into a female caste; an unfertilized egg is haploid, having 16 chromosomes and will develop into a male caste. With multiple matings of the queen with, say, up to ten drones diploid females are usually produced. If inbreeding occurs some of the eggs would produce diploid drones. Diploid drones are detected by nurse bees whenever the egg hatches. They are not seen in the colony because they are not tolerated and get eaten by the worker bees leaving a “pepperpot” appearance to slabs of brood.

By Ian Craig, “My Beekeeping Year”, Scottish Beekeeping Association

It seems inbreeding can occur in isolated colonies but is becoming more prevalent in heavily bee-populated areas due to the lack of feral colonies and problems of varroa infestation. This is not our case locally but may have been in the areas where our newly bought packages of bees were bred.

A high number of drones cells outnumbering worker cells. This may indicate a queen was not mated properly. A good queen will lay mostly worker bees, sometimes up to 2000 eggs per day. Worker bees run the hive in a streamlined efficient manner. Drones just hang around sharing dirty jokes, getting in the way of workers or waiting for that special doozy of a queen to mate with. (*Yes, doozy is a word) Presently, our hives are still overrun with large numbers of fat drones. That can be a good thing, especially if we need queens to be mated, but that is not the situation at this time of the season. Today, many beekeepers are replacing their queens yearly or every two years even though a good queen may live up to four to five years. I question whether this practice is warranted or advantageous to colonies in general. It also has been found that some miticides cause a decrease in the viability of drone sperm and the sperm stored in the queen’s spermatheca.

cell sizes

The above photo shows worker cells on the left and larger drone cells on the right and lower left.

Poor honey production. As yet our supers are still light in weight but this does not worry us too much. Our concern this year is with the bees and not honey production.

honey 2017

High tendency to swarm. Swarming behaviour has a high genetic component. A young healthy queen will release more and stronger pheromone levels than an older one. This makes the colony less likely to swarm or supersede the queen. However, swarming is a natural occurrence for the colony. The departing swarm reduces the population, alleviates congestion and reproduces more colonies. However, as the departing bees leave, they gorge themselves on the hive’s honey to have enough supply upon arrival at their new destination. This of course results in a reduction of honey for the beekeeper. This is the reason beekeepers dislike swarms. A swarm is normally docile as most of the bees are packed with honey. Concentrating on the new location, following the queen’s pheromones and stinging at the same time is a difficult task. We must remember that not all swarms are successful in surviving. This great expedition, by the old or a newly hatched queen, with thousands of bees may not always end successfully. The destination is unknown for them and the trust is given to a handful of scouts in securing a new location will result in life or death for the entire swarming colony.

Workers failed to form a retinue around the queen. Perhaps it was because one of the queens was from Chile but this royal got no respect from her subjects! As they walked about, there was little interest or acknowledgment of her existence. Which perhaps describes most royalty today…

honey inspection 2017

Other possible signs of a poor queen to look for are:

Defensiveness, low bee populations, bees prone to disease and high mite numbers, an injured or diseased queen, excessive debris on the hive floor (non-hygienic), excessive propolizing, high honey consumption (difficult to discern), and poor wintering success with low numbers before and after winter.

So, what could be the possible advantages of requeening, if any? There are two obvious reasons. One, the new queen will be more productive. Two, the new queen will release more pheromones making the colony less likely to swarm. There is also a third, perhaps overlooked advantage. You can call it a bonus. As the brood hatches the cells remain empty. This break in the egg laying cycle for a few weeks also stops any new varroa mites from being laid. Consequently, this interruption in the mites cycle of reproduction allows the colony to re-establish themselves in strength.

We will keep you informed  how our two new queens are progressing.

workin hard

*Note: I have visited the Scottish Beekeepers Association web site on numerous occasions and found it to be very helpful whenever I had problems. Perhaps because of their geographical location, I feel the tips, solutions and calendar year closely resemble our Eastern Canadian Nordic beekeeping year.

Link: Scottish Beekeepers Association

Link: Rucher du Nord


European wool carder bee

I am very lucky to have a good friend living in St. Johns, Newfoundland. I have known Terrance Hounsell for many years and it is always a pleasure when we get together to photograph. Besides his intellect, multiple talents and wine making expertise, it is his photography skills that we are lucky enough to show here. The following is the wonderful photograph of the wool carder bee taken by Terrance accompanying his text. Merci Terrance!

This is a solitary bee called Anthidium manicatum, or its common name the European wool carder bee, it is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees. This photo of mine, was taken in a garden in Mount Pearl Newfoundland, shows a male sleeping, he is holding on with his mandibles and is using his legs for stability and balance.

They get the name ‘carder’ from their behaviour of scraping hair… from leaves such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina). They carry this hair bundled beneath their bodies to be used as a nest lining. 

It is an invasive species to Newfoundland and I hope does not affect the healthy indigenous bees in any way. This bee is endemic to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It has recently been seen in regions of South America, New Zealand, and the Canary Islands. It was accidentally introduced into North America from Europe sometime in the mid 20th century. They are generalists and do not seem to prefer any plant genera for foraging.


You can look at more of Terrance’s photographs at his website here.


Thanks, but no thanks.


We have had rain nearly every day for the last three weeks. This has not been a good Spring for beekeeping in our area so far. We hope the Summer will improve. So it was not surprising to see our bees lining up at the front entrance with nectar once the weather improved yesterday. Both colonies are strong and were busy filling the honey supers already in place.


Some years ago I found an article about Anthony Planakis, a beekeeper in New York City. He extracted enormous amounts of honey from hives placed in his backyard. His method was to have entrances in every honey super on his hives. This allowed the nectar gathering bees to enter and exit directly. By doing this, they could cut down on travel through the normally congested brood box leaving more time to collect honey. It also gave very clean panels of cone honey as the bees often have dirty feet. My fault I suppose for not putting a welcome mat at the door. I had to admit, his photographs looked impressive.

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© Anthony Planakis

The bees can be seen clustered around the holes on every honey super box.

Two other pieces of advice were given by  Anthony. One, do not steal honey during the summer. His philosophy is, the more you take, the less they make. I have found the opposite to be true in our case. However, the pressure to produce more honey is perhaps too strong for many beekeepers. Just keeping and caring for bees should be sufficiently rewarding. Their struggles at the moment are occupying enough. Two, leave them alone. As beekeepers, we tend to be nosey and want to know what is happening in the hive, all the time.

So I decided to try an entrance in one of my honey supers. Apart from the occasional bee who came to look out, it was seen as inappropriate to their needs. They decided the idea was not to their liking and plugged the one-inch hole completely with propolis.

Thanks, but no thanks they said. We know what we like and what we need. It was not another hole. In the end, it was best to leave them to do what they do best. What they have been doing so well for the last few thousand years.


The propolis plugged upper entrance.

Link: Anthony Planakis