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.

Those Stinkin’ Skunks

As I mentioned previously, a skunk has been visiting my apiary at North Cooking Lake for the past few months. I’ve trapped two skunks so hopefully my yard is now skunk-free.

I first noticed them back in late winter. There were small tracks in the snow around the hives. I knew there was a fox around so I assumed they were small fox tracks (oh, I should have looked more closely!). But then one evening I wandered by the beeyard and interrupted a skunk at one of the hives! I realized I had been seeing skunk tracks, not small fox tracks! They’ve been pestering four hives in particular and the attitude of the bees have changed dramatically.  The skunks keep knocking off my entrance reducers, which is how I can tell which hives they are visiting and how frequently, and eating the bees when they come out to defend their hive. Now when I go near these hives or open them up, the bees are very aggressive and attacking me much more than the other hives. The skunks have got to go!

But how does one get rid of skunks in a beeyard? I’ve been trapping them and releasing them far away my farm in an area far from any other houses. I have a lot of experience with small mammel trapping so I’m quite comfortable with this method. So far I’ve trapped two and neither has sprayed while in the trap nor while being released. Other techniques I’ve heard for getting rid of skunks:

-electric fencing strung about three inches off the ground around the bee yard.

-wood frames covered with chicken wire placed in front of each hive. The idea is that the skunk can’t walk on the chicken wire. A similar idea to texas gates for cattle. I’m going to try this if I have more than two skunks.

-CritterGitters. A battery-operated device that emits an obnoxious noise when an animal’s movement or heat activates it. I haven’t tried this but if I have anymore skunks I’m going to get one of these too.

-Shoot it. This is the default option everyone immediatly suggests when they hear I have a skunk. However, it’s more difficult than it sounds! Apparently they stink like crazy if you don’t instantly kill them and I don’t want my beeyard stinking for years. And how am I supposed to find and shoot a skunk outside of my beeyard? And I don’t want to kill the skunk, I just want it out of my beeyard.

-Strichnine. Really??!! I read Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks a number of years ago and believe me, anyone who has made it to the end of that book will never in a million years consider using strichnine. It’s a horrible way to die, not to mention that’s it’s also an illegal substance.

And those are all the suggestions I’ve had for getting rid of skunks. Trapping is working for me but it’s a bit time consuming. It’s taken me about twleve nights of setting traps to catch two skunks. Both have taken a really long time to leave the trap when I’ve released them. I think they’d rather stay holed up in the trap for the day (because they’re nocturnal) than venture out into broad daylight in a strange area. It’s taken them each 1.5-2 hours to leave the trap once I’ve opened the door. So I think a combination of methods is best- put out chicken wire frames and trap them? If trapping doesn’t work or you can’t find a trap to use, try critter gitters. The nice thing about the traps is the skunk is gone once you get it, as opposed to being deterred but still around for when the frames or critter gitters are removed.