Author Archives: propolismusic

Beekeepers’ Anniversary

Some people like to celebrate their wedding anniversary with flowers, or a special dinner…

We, on the other hand, after pulling out the ol’ marriage certificate to confirm that the special day was, in, fact beginning in 20 minutes (“if only we had written the date down somewhere…wait!”), decided to celebrate by spending all day condensing our mating nucs into 5-frame boxes.  Let the good times roll!


Here, Liam celebrates wedded bliss  by pretending to smile directly after a wasp stung him under the fingernail (quote: this is what bee stings must feel like to normal people!). I gave him the heartfelt anniversary honor of allowing him to dig into a hive that had not been checked (not ever!) since a swarm in the yard colonized a stack of leaky equipment. That’s what love’s all about, folks…special gestures like that!

The super-intense robbing also made our day very special…we were both relieved to have left the pup at home, as she would not have appreciated so many danger sky-raisins.

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Better late than never, Spring


Since winter is my downtime, I kinda dug the late spring….for a period of time. Been over it for a while, and now spring is here at last. The long winter took a toll on our bees, as it did nearly every other beekeeper I know. Heavy losses…we lost many colonies, although not so many in the city, where I imagine hives were more protected by the small backyards.


There were many weeks when we could not access the yards at all; there was simply too much snow and ice to navigate the alleys.  Eventually we did Oxalic with a good foot and a half of snow on the ground (not where the yard above was, tho, this was up on the Nanaimo st hill)

Anyway, Spring is here now, and dog is my co-pilot. She contributes by jumping into the truck to eat the pollen patties and lick up the syrup. It’s a very important job…

And let’s end with a handy excuse as to why there’s been no posts since a year ago:IMG_2006

So that was Spring…

IMG_1804Embarrassing…I see that my previous post was in March. Can that really be true!? Well, to update you on how my assessments fared for my breeder colonies, I did indeed do a second data collection at the beginning of April, and then used those two bit of information to decide which colonies should be tested for hygienic behavior. The ones that survived the winter well, built up nicely, and had a fairly gentle disposition were the ones I submitted to be tested.  We are so happy to be one of the many beekeeping operations across Canada participating in this study, which aims to develop a tool based on the molecular structure of the bees, so that bee breeders can use it to select for beneficial traits (hygienic behavior, honey production, disposition, etc). Our bees get tested for all kinds of things, and it’s great information for us to have!

So, one of the excuses reasons for why it’s been 3 months since our last update?

We are incredibly excited to announce that we received funding from the Lush Sustainable Fund! We are using it to double our queen production capacity (which is now complete; many more 3-way boxes at our new mating yard, pictured below)

Umm…including the newly minted “cat lid”. We had a bbq recently, and gave guests the option of stenciling onto equipment, if they felt crafty.  Bees can see shapes, so I hope it will help the newly mated queens find their way! Thank you, friends, for being waaaay more artistic than me.

Part of doubling our capacity has meant hiring our very first part-time employee; welcome Courtney, we are so happy to have you!  It’s meant a big learning curve for us, as we’ve never had an employee before, but I think we’ve got all the things in order for now (also hence the absence of posts — see? another excuse reason). But it is just amazing to have a capable beekeeper like that out there with me; we can get so much done, which really matters in the June-uary weather we’ve been having, where you might only have half a day of sunshine before the downpour begins.  It’s also a huge mental and physical relief to me at times when the workload is heavy,  time-sensitive, and accomplished while sweating buckets in a bee suit.

Anyway. Dandelion has come and gone.  Maple and Horse Chestnut too.I always keep meticulously detailed records of those early blooms, with pictures, because I am so excited that winter is over. Then everything blooms at once, swarm season comes, and I stop keeping track.  Swarms are over, too, for the most part. We had most of our swarms in late April, owing to the early hot weather (that was a particularly galling swarm on the upper right there. I climbed that cherry tree maybe 8 times, and in the end, still didn’t get the queen — they just fly back up if you don’t get her. That was also my “car2go” swarm, as Liam had the truck). We had many swarms during that unexpected hot patch…but it seems to have evened out now, as we have been religiously taking bees and brood out of hives to make up our mating nucs.

Blackberry bloom has come, and almost gone. No pics…maybe next post?(Don’t laugh…school’s almost out, and I’ll have more time, I swear!)

Until then.

-D

 

 

Dust off your pollen-baskets…

…because spring is definitely here!

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Witch Hazel

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First we had Witch Hazel. I have never seen honeybees forage on it personally; here, it blooms in January, so maybe they are on it, but I am cozy inside during the greatly reduced foraging hours of winter. Is it a bee plant in our region? Not sure. The second pic is of a redder flowering sort that is less commonly planted.

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Then the hazelnut trees bloomed! As I write, they are just finishing up.  As a wind-pollinated plant, hazelnut does not rely on pollinators, but bees surely benefit from this great source of early season pollen.   When the hazelnut trees bloom, that is when I know it’s time to start finding all the bee stuff again.  The wintertime bee reading goes away, and I start rummaging around for the random sacks of pollen patties kicking around in the freezer.  Actually, this picture is reminding me of the several glorious days we had in February.  The sun will come out again, Vancouver! It will happen.  (I just checked my weather app, hoping for a clear spot to do some hive checks.  Perfect forecast, if your bees like to wear rubber boots! That would be so many rubber boots.)

Last week, we were able to get out to our bee yard in Surrey, and do some solid hive assessment.  In an effort to be more systematic about how I select my breeding stock, I tried out a system where I assigned every frame a score of 20, so that each side is worth 10. Then, as I was going through the hive and cleaning up the frames and the bottom board, I kept two running totals in my head, one for brood, one for honey.  So, if a frame was full of honey on one side, I counted 10 honey. And, if a frame had patch of brood filling about half the side, I counted 5 honey. And so on, keeping a running total through all 8 frames.  Eventually, I’d end up with a score like, 22 brood, 45 honey.  I did this with all my potential breeders, and it was interesting to see how the numbers told a story that I could never capture by saying Hive 7a has “good” brood.  For example, if a hive had a higher brood score than honey, that indicated a hive that would go hungry very quickly if unable to forage (for example, if your long range forecast includes rain for every single day).  And there were hives that had maybe the same honey score, but a much smaller brood area to support.

I also gave each a rating for gentleness, pollen stores (are they storing it in a nice ring around the brood), and estimated the number of frames of bees.

It’s not a perfect system, mainly because of operator error — it’s kinda tricky for me to keep two running totals going simultaneously in my brain, especially when decimal points are involved! And, I have to tell you, the last few hives, when I was most tired, went the slowest, just because I lost count a couple times.  And, anytime someone asks me a question while I am counting?  GAME OVER! But, I think even if not perfectly accurate, I hope it will give me a pretty good picture of what my bees have done, and what the baseline was that they started with.

I plan to do this same level of assessment in 1 month, just before the beginning of April, and compare; I’m hoping this method will make it so that I can see how individual hives have built their populations, and how each has used their stored resources. Have they grown slowly but kept honey in the bank? Or have they turned all resources available into more bees? Then I can select my breeders based on that information, in combination with results from our hygienic behavior tests.

Bees are “Rest-a-holics”

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What do beekeepers do in the winter, when our bees don’t need us?  We rest, recuperate, build equipment for next year, plan, and…catch up on our bee reading, of course! I recently finished “Bee Time”, by Dr. Mark Winston, and it is a really fantastic read. It won the 2015 Governor General’s award for non-fiction, and is engaging and informative for both beekeepers and the general public.  I loved this book; if you are one of the many, many people  who have asked in recent years, “What’s going on with the bees?”, you want to read this book. Because the explanation is complex, but the solutions required are completely possible — all that is required is the will of the public to change the direction of our current agricultural system. For that to happen, people need to understand what the problems are, and Dr. Winston paints a clear and vivid picture of what is happening, and how we can turn it around in order to help bees and ourselves along with them.

Really want to know what is happening with the bees? Read this book. It does the best job of explaining the situation that I have encountered so far. I could tell you if we met at a cocktail party, but my explanation would be meandering, long,  less entertaining and would contain way less science to back it up.

Here’s another highlight for me:  Winston talks about how bees are really “rest-a-holics”, that is, they spend 2/3 of their time doing…nothing. Simply resting, or wandering about the hive.  It would seem like a waste of time to us productive-happy humans.  Yet, he says, this reserve of untapped “work” is essential when it comes to the hive being resilient. He talks about a study that I think his students did, where they monitored hives that had bees taken away for package production. Packaged bees are just that, a couple pounds of bees, shaken from 1 or more hives, and sold to other beekeepers along with a queen.  After losing so many adult workers, you would think the hives shaken from would be permanently disadvantaged.  Yet, the researchers found that those same hives rebounded, and caught up with control hives (no packages taken) by the end of the season. They did this by tapping this reserve of “rest-a-holic” bees — worker bees began to forage early then they normally would, and worked harder than they usually would, carrying more nectar.  This enabled the colony to catch up in terms of production, but at great personal cost to the individual workers, who died much earlier than they normally would.  Winston notes that this resiliency that the societies of honeybees maintain, by having individual member rest much of the time, could contain a lesson for human societies.

Here’s hoping you, dear, reader, are using the short days of winter to rest up a little too!

Mid-Winter Buzz + Hastings Winter Farmers Market Dates

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On top of Mt. Seymour

Although according to the calendar, winter has just begun, I think of it as half over already. For me, spring begins near the end of February, where usually we have days warm enough to be bee-days.   November through February are dormant months, where the bees don’t fly that much. They don’t hibernate, but their metabolic rate decreases, and they huddle together for warmth, like penguins, taking turns on the outside of the cluster.  They stay inside, eat their honey reserves, and on sunny days, occasionally make “cleansing flights” (where they poop.  Because it’s gross to poop inside the hive, right?!)

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A pleasingly large winter cluster. It was about 4 or 5 degrees C.

We hibernate a bit too; rest a little before the bee season begins again.

Those of you who know us, know that usually the only way to get some of our honey is to personally intercept one of us…but, starting Sunday,  January 3 for the first time, we will be at the Hastings Winter Farmer’s Market!

We will also be there Jan. 10, February 21, March 6, and March 20th; but the market goes all winter.
The market is located on the PNE grounds, off of Renfrew, just north of Hastings.

Varieties we’ll have:
Hastings-Sunrise
Trout Lake
Grandview-Woodland
Mostly Blackberry
East Van Dark

If you’re driving, there’s free parking on the PNE grounds but you need to say you’re there for the farmers market.

Happy New Year, hope it is a sweet one.

Fall: Time to Cull

Now it’s really fall. It’s good, because the rest of the world synchs up with my worldview, which is that not too far into August,  I start doing all the things we need to do to prepare for winter: treating for mites, combining mating nucs so that they are big enough to survive the winter, and making sure all the queens are in tip-top shape.

(Pictured below: a five-frame nuc on a day that I combined it with another nuc. Don’t worry: they all went inside eventually!)

IMG_1266Basically, much as I spend most of the year telling people I’m a year older than I am, so that I’m ready when my birthday arrives, I spend most of August mentally projecting Fall Beekeeping mode.

There’s a lot of different ways to do things with bees, and that old saw about asking 3 different beekeepers and getting 4 different opinions definitely holds true, but one thing you can’t mess with is timing. There are definitely windows to do certain things, and if you miss those windows, you are hooped.  So, out of fear that I will not be prepared when Fall comes, August is a busy month.

Now that it’s Fall for real, I’ve been feeding those that need to be fed, and doing the 1st cull. Culling is probably my latest major beekeeping lesson.  It’s been said to me before to “Take your winter losses in the fall”, but I don’t think it ever really sank in until very recently.  In fact, I think I first heard that like, 7 years ago, but didn’t really get it. What that means is, if you have a hive you doubt, cull it early in the fall. It’s not going to get any better, and if it gets worse, there is a possibility it will succumb to some gnarly brood disease, simply because it is weak.  Then you have to deal with diseased comb, and it’s a pain in the ass. What it means for me personally is checking through the hives with the intention of culling. Otherwise, I let stuff go when I shouldn’t.  Don’t worry, non-beekeepers, that doesn’t mean kill the bees.  You just need to cage out the queen for use in another hive, if she’s good, or release her from her service if she’s bad (that’s the hardest part for me. I’m not very sentimental, but I feel my feels when I have to kill a queen).  The bees can crawl into another hive, where they will be very useful in boosting its population.

An queen who had stopped laying. Uh-oh…you know what happened next!

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I was at the monthly Richmond Beekeeper’s Association meeting last week, and our Provincial Apiculturalist, Paul Van Westendorp, said something that rang true, roughly that you need to remember that by the first week in December, 30% of the adult bee population in a hive will have died.  Why? Those are old bees, not the winter bees who were born in the fall to live through to the spring.  So, you need to look at your hive and imagine 1/3 less bees.

And then think, do I need to cull this hive?

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So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Culling now, and in two weeks, I’ll cull a second time. Hopefully that will set up the remaining hives with optimal chances for survival.

Ok, last thing: Super dark honey! It’s fall, and that means darkest of the darkest nectar. Don’t know what the source is, but it looked like coffee syrup, and tasted deep, dark, not so sweet with a hint of bitterness. Saw it at two different city bee yards at least a kilometer apart.  From the amount coming in, I’m thinking some kind of tree? Bee mystery! If you think you know what it is, tell me!

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