Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hive Tilting

Hive tilting was one piece of wisdom that my beekeeping mentor gave me and it was very helpful.

New beekeepers are often uncertain what is going on inside a hive.  It takes a few seasons to develop a knack for looking at the outside of a hive and having a pretty good idea what is going on inside.

We do need to do inspections to be watchful of bee health and invade the bees privacy to add treatments, frames, etc., but the less often we disturb them the better.

The overwintering advice in Ontario is that a deep should be full of honey - about 85 lbs.

Aside from lifting the deep, the best advice is to stick the hive tool under one edge and tilt the hive.  If it's full, it'll feel like it's glued to the floor.

This is a really awesome non-invasive quick way to test the fullness of a super or a deep.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Insert a Queen Excluder & Recycling Propolis

 
I remember a time a few years ago when I drove home from the bee yard crying.

I had just inserted a queen excluder and I was pretty certain I'd crushed all the bees under it when I put the super on top.

I returned a week later and didn't find a dead bees pinned under the excluder so I things turned out okay after all.

But to help you, when you want to put the excluder on you may find the deep box boiling with bees.  If that's the case you need to smoke them to get them to move down.
 
You should do this whenever you're putting a box or excluder on in order to make room so they don't get crushed.

Also bear in mind if you had a super in play already then there could be bees hanging under it, in which case you can set the super on it's side and smoke the bottom to push the bees back inside the box.

Then when you put your boxes on top you won't crush bees, or go home crying because you thought you did.
 
Queen excluders resemble propolis mats and often the bees will put propolis all over the excluder.  Don't every throw away any propolis scrapings.  Just watch this video (below) where I put a glob of propolis on top of the excluders after removing them.
 
 
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I set all the excluders out for the bees to clean the propolis off.  They recycle it and it's especially needed in the fall to help winterize their hive.  After about 4 days that glob of propolis was completely gone.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cottage Gardening with bees in mind

I don't have any grass in the front or back yard. It's all garden.

Over the last 27 years I have added more and more perennial beds.

It's my passion to garden and I knew it was environmentally a good choice.

I've chosen to create cottage style gardens.  This type of garden is not formal and so plants have a casual look.  Plants are allowed to self sow where they please.

Most people find the garden attractive and interesting, but others who are more traditional may prefer their grass.

I believe I think differently because I've lived in other countries.  England especially where the gardens are so amazing.

Many homes were built with a low brick wall all around the front.  The perfect backdrop for a garden.  No one can grow roses like the English.

Gardens are less work than most people think.

By using a layer of large chunk bark chips (the small ones disintegrate way too fast) the weeds are kept to a minimum.

Stick with hardy, drought tolerant native plants and you'll not need to water either,

Close plantings--or allowing the flowers to crowd each other--also limits space for weeds.

Birds pick at seeds and do an awesome job of eating insects.

Before taking up beekeeping, I had spent a year reading, writing, researching and talking about honey bees.

I'll never forget a particularly difficult time a few years back.  I went to tour the garden as a way to relax.

If there was any kind of message to send to encourage me, it was bees.

They were very busy buzzing all over the Russian sage that was in bloom.
Every summer the bees come to this plant, almost like a frenzy of collecting.

[Photo Russian Sage across the front of the photo above - photo taken prior to blooming]

It smells like sage and is very hardy and drought tolerant.  It spreads nicely but is not invasive.  And of course the honey bees love it.

Bees love all the flowers in the garden but Russian Sage is the plant I watch them forage the most.

It might be because it blooms later in the season when there are less flowers available.




Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Two-queen System: Tower Colonies for Easy Drone Removal

 
I've been thinking... The last two years the bees have had trouble with constant re-queening. Whatever is causing the failure (varroa mites, neonics, etc) the problem is the downtime between brood batches is causing the hives to get too weak. Ultimately they're not collecting enough honey and pollen to survive the winter.
 
But what if I ran a 2 queen system? Have you heard the saying "an heir and a spare"? They say that when royalty give birth they should always have two children.
 
 [Photos from the Penn State website].
 
If a hive had two queens if one failed the other would still be alive. There have been cases where the bees have chosen to go with 2 queens (mother/daughter) naturally and the queens don't kill each other.
 
I went to the internet to research how to run this system and came across this really interesting article on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture web site.
 
Not only does it explain and diagram how to set up the system it also shows how to set it up in towers using the green drone frames for removal of varroa mites in the drone frames.
 
It's quite ingenious, the design is by Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Shane Gebauer and Robyn Underwood.
 
The premise for the design is that beekeepers are reluctant to put drone frames in the deep because all the supers have to be removed to insert and remove it and that is a pain. I admit that's exactly why I haven't done it.
 
So in thinking up an easier way to cover queen loss and varroa removal from drone frames this is the solution they came up with.
 
Treatments for varroa will still done on the hive and the drone removal was in addition but the results were a significant reduction in varroa all summer long.  The bees were able to produce honey faster as well, likely due to not having so many drones to care for.
 
In the end the two hives produced the same amount of honey as "normal" hives.  I'm sure the bees were much more healthy.
 
I really want to try this in spring. When doing splits I could put a queen cell in one deep and leave mother queen in the other (probably success is better with mother/daughter).  When the queen cell hatches she shouldn't swarm because she'd be alone in the box because of the queen excluders.
 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Shrew is small but can take you down a peg

I remember this incident very well because I saw it happen in my own bee yard.  Then months later I read an article written about shrews in the Ontario Bee Journal.

I became familiar with shrews at home.  I have all flower gardens and I had seen both shrews, voles and moles in the garden.  They move about under the wood chips or in tunnels that they've built.

The shrews are easy to spot because they are not quiet.  The cats would cat them too and they would shriek something awful if the cat paws them--enough to stop the cat.  I believe the shrews are not good to eat and I recall reading somewhere they are poisonous--but not deadly--to eat.

When two shrews meet there's a lot of screaming that goes on as they battle--probably over both territory and a succulent bug.

[Photo from the internet http://featuredcreature.com/etruscan-shrews-will-blow-your-mind]

When it comes to succulent bugs that's where the bees come into the story.

In late spring I had caught a small swarm from one of my own hives and had scrambled to put some equipment together to house them.  I had a spare wooden pallet that I sat directly on the ground, I had no board to set on top and no bricks to raise the pallet off the ground  The bees had been there for a month or so and were building up their numbers.
 
Most beekeepers raise their hives off the ground to avoid skunks.  Skunks can eat a lot of bees.  If they can reach the front of the hive at night they will scratch to get the bees attention and when they come out they'll grab the bees and eat them.

I was sitting for a moment after a days work in the bee yard.  It was nearly dark and most of the bees were inside the hive.  There were only a few guard bees standing on the porch,
 
While I was sitting there I saw something run very quickly across the grass, onto the platform and to the front of the hive.  A half second later it ran off in the direction it came in.

What was that I thought?  And what did it do?  As I continued to sit there it happened again but this time I was expecting it.  The shrew was unbelievably fast as it ran to the hive entrance, snatched a guard bee in its mouth and then ran off.

The article in the OBJ and the website link above mention that the shrew has an extremely high metabolism and must therefore eat a lot.

It may not seem like much for a shrew to run up and grab a couple of bees but if she's doing it all night long it could significantly reduce the hive population, especially a new swarm that is still establishing itself.

The solution is simple and the same one used to keep skunks at bay - put a couple of bricks under the pallets to raise them about 8 to 10" off the ground.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bumble Bee Village

Last summer I had some interesting encounters with different species of bees. I met mason bees in early spring, tiny fuzzy creatures that were quick to come when sugar syrup or honey were on offer for spring feeding.

Bumble bees came too and I made a wooden home for them and a queen moved in shortly after I set it out. While working our education and selling table at the Pioneer Village in late summer one of the volunteers (dressed in period costume) came to ask me to identify some bees they had spotted on the ground near one of the pioneer homes. It turns out they were bumble bees and there were a lot of them!

It was incredible to watch. They had created a bumble bee village out of an area about 2 1/2 ' x 4' of dry but soft soil next to the house, but away from the porch steps. They had been there all season long and had gone unnoticed until recently when the gardeners trimmed down all the vegetation. It revealed a whole village full of little fuzzy yellow and black bumble bees.

They were living in tunnels in the  ground and many were busy excavating the soil. They would dig with their feet and use their bodies like a bulldozer to back the soil out of the tunnels. It was amazing to watch and I took some video as well. The gardens are all maintained the old fashioned pioneer way--organic--so the area is a wonderfully safe haven for them. The woman said she'd be sure to tell the gardeners they were there so they'd not disturb them. I will be checking on them again when spring comes and we're back at the Village to sell our honey.
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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fall 2014 - Low Honey Levels

In the late summer of 2014, I was taking off the last of the honey supers.  I'm always late getting them off, mostly because I work full time so I have limited hours and also need to work around the weather.

We started in our new bee yards in the spring of 2014. We had put some distance between ourselves and corn crops. We're hoping this will make a difference.

We did not have a super great summer. It didn't get really hot and we had a lot of rain. The bees did build up from their low numbers in spring but last summer they didn't peak with the mass numbers of bees like they used to.

When hefting hives in Sept to check their stores the truth of the matter came to light. They did not have enough stores to get through winter. When normally I could take from one to three supers from a hive I could only take one.

I didn't mind not getting as much honey. What was concerning was that the bees had again spent a good deal of the summer requeening to the point that they could not build up enough workforce to forage--and/or the foragers were dying in the fields and not making it home.

I really hope this year proves to be a better summer. The bees need it.