Winter Update

Apparently it’s not spring yet… we woke up this morning to another few inches of snow. This is in addition to last week, when we got around 7 inches. Yes, the date is April 24th! The bees are just waiting to get out there and snag the aspen and willow pollen. I thought I’d post a few rare photos!

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April 19th! I’ve never skiied to a beeyard this late in the year before!

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There’s a myth bees get disoriented in the snow, mistaking it for the sky and crashing and freezing. Despite the snow, there’s a pretty good pollen and nectar flow going on and on Thursday, April 20, these bees were working hard bringing it in. It’s not often we get warm weather with solid snow cover to test this myth but I hope these photos demonstrate it is a myth. Bees can navigate just fine with snow. They do flip upside down and crash when they’re within an inch of the surface, but then they flip back upright and fly away. If they stay above that height they’re fine.

 

 

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Close up of a coupe hives flying hard in 8 or 10 degrees C with almost solid snow cover.

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A nuc from June 2016 I experimentally “neglected” all summer 2016 and winter 2016-2017: they have a full open entrance on both the front and back bottom of the hive, a crack running along the back between the two brood chambers (seen in photo), and no top entrance. I didn’t take honey off them over the summer, didn’t feed them in the fall, and didn’t medicated them. I watched them pretty closely all winter and was ready to give them help if they needed it, but here they are, bringing in pollen with solid snow cover.

 

Spring Update

Hi ‘Stalkers,

The bees started bringing in pollen this week. I bought a microscope last fall and I’ve been learning how to identify pollen using it. I have confirmed the first fresh pollen of this year is alder pollen. Alder pollen is very distinctive under the microscope: while most pollen is round or oblong, alder pollen is square or pentagonal. I’m glad I’ve finally found a unique and easy pollen to identify! A lot of pollen looks almost the same to this newbie beginner pollen-IDer.

The bees look great again this year. To date I’ve had 5% winter losses, which is the same as what I had last year. I haven’t treated with fumagillin in two years now, with the exception of a small handful of sick hives last spring. I haven’t used apivar in over a year. Combined with the lack of intensive agriculture in my neck of the woods, I’m tempted to apply for organic certification now. I’m not sure if I will but I’ll make sure you hear about it if I do!

I continue to have my honey for sale at the Old Strathcona Market. My stall is still along the west wall. I’ll be back outside at the City Market Downtown in May.

Moving Stalls At Strathcona Market

Heads up: Beanstalk Honey is in a new location this month at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.

We’ll now be on the west wall between Happy Camel and Little Jack Horner Meat Pies. This weekend we’ll have fresh pollen, comb honey, and the last fresh honey of the season. We’ll be at the Downtown Market this weekend and next and then we’ll just be at the Old Strathcona Market. We decided not to go into City Hall this year, although it’s a great market in there.

The bees this year

It was great seeing all your familiar faces at the City Market Downtown yesterday; all of you troopers who came out to greet us on such a wet, chilly day are appreciated. I’m marking this opening day in my memory banks: I didn’t need to give out a single plastic bag! Everyone brought down their own bags or used their pockets. Thanks!

As far as my bees go, they look great. They’re the strongest I’ve ever seen them at this time of year and I have no signs of any brood diseases. Provided I can keep everyone from swarming, the hives should be fine this year. This rain is going to help get some nectar into the flowers, so hopefully we’ll be okay there too.

As far as the markets, I’m working at keeping all my products in stock. I’m at the City Market Downtown every Saturday this summer and I’ve got my fingers crossed for being at Old Strathcona for a while longer too. Because they’re both on the same day, I have a lovely new person behind my stall at Strathcona. Be sure to say hi and welcome her to the company!

 

Queen Breeding and Nuc Building

While the dandelions were blooming I was building new hives, called nucs, from my full-sized ones. I don’t have many hives this year and building nucs is a way of increasing hive numbers. Increasing involves two distinct procedures. As we know, in order for a hive to thrive it needs two basic thing: lots of bees of different ages and a laying queen. So when we’re increasing our number of hives, we need to concentrate on these two things. Firstly, we need to build nucs, which means populating an empty box with lots of bees and frames of brood to achieve the requirement of having a  lot of bees of different ages. Secondly, we need to graft, or breed, queens. These steps occur simultaneously and need to be carefully timed so everything comes together in the end, with the result being a happy new hive. The rest of this post will give a brief overview on how to graft queens and how to build nucs.

When making new hives, about a week before the nucs are built the queens need to be grafted. This is a rather complicated procedure that some other website will explain better than I could. But basically, I transfered barely visible larva from a frame of brood into plastic queen cups and placed them in a swarm box, a box stuffed full of bees. After 24 hours I transferred them into the upper brood chamber of a strong hive in my apiary. I first made sure that hive’s queen was trapped in the bottom box with a queen excluder so she wouldn’t get into the queen cells and destroy them. The queen cells mature for ten days in this hive, after which time I placed them in the nucs to hatch. This is a photo of the frame of drawn-out queen cells after ten days. The cells are hanging from the bottom two bars; the top two bars were empty space for the bees to put wax in. A caveat: this is the first year I’ve bred queens and the cells don’t look the greatest!

This is the specialized frame for breeding queens. Each cell on the bottom will hatch a queen. There is too much wax on all the cells.

At the time this photo was taken, I’d already put the best cells into nucs. The rest, the ones you see here, were covered with too much wax. I think the  mistake came when I put a box of foundation above the box containing this frame so the wax bees were concentrated in the area and got carried away drawing out wax.

Putting the queen cells in the nucs. Two or three queen cells are placed in the nucs in case one fails.

Now let’s back up a minute and I’ll show how the nucs are built. Two days before I put  the queen cells in, I selected frames of brood from my hives and put two or three frames of brood into four frame nuc boxes. I also put in one or two frames of honey and pollen.

Here I’m going through the bottom brood chamber of one of my over-wintered hives selecting frames of brood to place into the nucs. The nuc is on the far left, the red box.

Completed Nuc

A completed nuc. This four-frame nuc is in a standard sized box that I divided with a sheet of melamine so I could fit two nucs in one box. I used a feed bag as an inner cover to minimize the chance of a queen from one side getting into the other side. With the feed bag I can also open one nuc without bothering the other one.

This is my other type of nuc box. It’s a standard sized box cut in half. The advantage of this kind is there’s no chance of the queens mixing and killing each other and they’re easy to move around because they’re tiny. But they are specialized equipment: they can’t be used for anything else but nucs.

I checked the nucs yesterday and they all have eggs in them now. This means the queen cells have hatched, the virgin queens were successfully mated and they made it back to the hives to begin laying.

So there you have it, a crash-course in queen breeding and nuc building. There are lots of other places on the internet that provide more information if you’re interested in learning to do this too.