Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweet Gifts!

Don't you just love family members who know us beekeepers really well? They understand our obsession with bees.

They listen to us for hours as we talk about our bees, or maybe they pretend to listen but at least they do it tactfully enough that we don't notice their eyes are about to roll up in their heads.
They've console us on the phone when we're crying over a mishap with the bees.

They pay attention while we list off all the things we think we should do to help our hives. We ultimately make the best decision we know but family help us get to that decision.

They love us and understand us.
And they know better than to ever say "they're just bees". Because they aren't. They're family too.

I've restrained myself from visiting the bees this week although I did drop by briefly last week. I really do need to bring home my plastic storage bin so that'll be my handy excuse for a visit next week.
I hope to visit mid winter as well when there's lots of snow on the ground, just to see how those entrance reducers are working and to get some winter photos.

Now to the precious gifts: The first photos are of a glass dish called a Honey Dish. They were produced by a US company called Indiana Glass.

Originally they were made in the 1900's and then the company reproduced them again in the 1970's. They came in 29 colours (aquamarine, amber, amethyst, pink, white, etc.) To see a little history about Indiana glass visit this link

They are wonderfully decorated to delight the bee lover. Bees circle the top, sides and even the bottom of the container. Bees, flowers and bee skeps are on the sides.
Best of all, these glass containers were originally used to house the square cut honeycombs. What a wonderful vessel to house the precious combs.

I couldn't resist slipping some honeycomb into mine.
They're sold on E-Bay or on various on-line shopping sites. They're usually called vintage - which would refer to the dishes produced in the 1970's.
Of course I just love it.
I was also given a hand puppet bee made by Folkmanis Puppets. The bees' legs are a six fingered glove. Although it's more bumble bee like in appearance it'd be useful to use in presentations with young children. It even has four wings made of silk.
I especially like the fact that it doesn't have a stinger sticking out of its butt. That always gives the impression that bees go around with their stingers out all the time which we know just isn't true.
Maybe I don't have my bees just outside my back door but that's okay. I've got bee gifts to play with now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

2010 Beekeeping New Year's Resolutions

1. I will not cry over each bee that dies.
I accept the fact that it happens on occasion. However; I still reserve the right to raise them from the dead if they are willing (see Lazarus Bees).

  1. 2. I'll always put greenery on top of the flames in my smoker.
    I never needed the smoker until the time when I didn't add the greens--that's when I accidentally burned a couple bees. Not good for future hive relations.

  2. 3. I'll spend more time watching from the outside.
    I did my inspections based on the schedule in the books and also when I could tell from the outside there were problems. I do feel I interrupted their activities more than I would have liked so next year I plan to open the hive much less.

  3. Spend more time talking to children about bees.
    Gosh that was such a blast, spending the day at the school and talking to classes. There were so many questions (from the teachers too) that it's clear people want to know more about bees. If you want to read some bee facts see this cool tidbits that I wrote about bees at Honey Bee Facts and Honey Bee FAQ's or a Powerpoint presentation on presentation on honey bees for groups.

  4. I'll seek more mentor advice.
    The books have to be generic because beekeeping in Florida just isn't the same as in the Great White North (Ontario, Canada) but the local mentor knows best the area and what works and what doesn't. There's not much point in getting winterizing hive advice from a Florida beekeeper when you live in southwestern Ontario.
  5. I won't bring home any bees for my dead bee collection, kept in alcohol, unless I am certain they are really, truly, completely dead.
    (I confess I put my dead queen in a zip log baggie in the freezer. She's in there somewhere with the frozen peas--why? 1-because I'm a little crazy and 2-so I can look at her through a microscope).
    Three times last summer I brought home 'dead bees' that came back to life after I'd got home--I think this Lazarus thing is becoming a theme--and so I had to feed them honey and keep them over night and then return them to their hive the next day. I bet they had a rapt audience for hive stories that night!

  6. If the bees want to requeen, give them a queen instead.
    I lost way too much time in summer waiting for the hive-made queens to hatch, mate, and lay their eggs. The number of workers dropped too dramatically and it did effect the hive's production to the point they had a lot of catching up to do. Then the lovely queen got lost on her way back to the hive after mating and perished... Now when I want to see her I have to open the zip lock baggie in the freezer... yes #6 above and unfortunately that queen really was dead. The purchased, marked and mated queen slipped into the hive very nicely.

  7. I'll make a vacation time in the fall to stay for the whole Annual Beekeeper's Convention.
    A lot of the most up to date info is shared there and it's a great time to network, relax and see Niagara Falls. There's no where else where I can find people willing to listen to my stories about bees or fact sharing. Pretty soon people in the office are going to turn around and go the other way when they see me coming.

  8. Remember that everything that can go wrong probably will.
    Make great use of these mistakes, accidents or nature's messing with your head by writing about it. Yes, most of this stuff is going into my children's book (aka Lazarus bees - who could resist using that one?) Also, by sharing via the blog, hopefully I can spare someone else the pain of the same mistake.

  9. When lifting frames from the hive, I will smoke the bees away from my fingers...
    Do I need to explain that one? (2 stings on my pinkie finger in about 2 minutes). When invading the deep and doing a really thorough investigation the bees will be much more stirred up than usual. Don't forget to keep an eye on them, not just the frames.

  10. Collect more comb honey to eat.
    That was so good it was hard to share. Would you believe that certain family members actually had the nerve to say "is that all I get?"

  11. Make major changes to the hive either at night or early in the morning.
    We moved the hives at night and that went well, with no bee losses but a change of adding winter wraps in the day time made their entrance look very different. 100+ bees perished, unable to find their way into the hive when returning because it looked so different.

  12. Girls rock at beekeeping.
    It may be a male dominated hobby but there are a lot of girls into beekeeping. I hope one day to be like Melanie and wear a Bee Beard. I might even make it a goal for lets say 2011?

  13. Blogging is Awesome for Beekeepers
    Thanks to blogspot and all the blogs available on the internet. Beekeepers are so willing to share that they make learning on line in the comfort of the home or backyard a real pleasure. God bless each and every one!

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2010 is an awesome bee year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas ...and Thanks!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the bloggers and beekeeper bloggers out there.

Thank you for the interaction and comments. Thank you for sharing your joys, trials and tribulations with the bees.

We learn from our mistakes. Thanks for your warnings and advice on what worked or what didn't.

We learn from what worked too!

Thanks for your suggestions and how to information.

Thanks that you were willing to spend time to help a stranger (mind you a stranger who is as obsessed about bees as you are) :)

I'm working on my list of 10 things I learned about bees 'last year'. But it'll be more than 10 things! What would you say are the 5 or 10 top things you learned from the bees this year?

Wishing you every success in 2010 and that all your bees are gentle but great producers.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Honey... Are you in there?

I dropped by the bee yard briefly today just to see how things were going.

I hadn't been by for almost 3 weeks. I noticed that. My entire summer was consumed by bees. Seeing the bees, working the bees, watching the bees, worrying about the bees and then on my summer vacation, reading about the bees.

I think about them still. I can't drive by every weekend or the guy who lives there will realize something about me. I'm a bit obsessed with bees. Actually, I think he's figured that out already.

I went out there once and he said to me, "You're a hobby beekeeper aren't you?"
I said, "Yes, why do you say that?"

"Because you've painted your hives all different colours. Commercial beekeepers," he laughed, "they don't do that."

I laughed too. "It's true, I have more time than they do."

"I can tell you're really into this hobby. You really love your bees," he said.

It's true. I do.

There were almost 100 dead bees in front of Hive #2 and not more than 15 in front of Hive #1. I do wonder at why? Was Hive #2 busier trying to bring in that last bit of pollen or nectar? Was Hive #1 so filled up and secure that they could afford to be more relaxed?

Then I wondered if anyone was in there. Could I put my ear on the hive and hear them? It'd be hard to listen through the quilted plastic covering.

I took some dry stiff flower stalks and scraped away the dead bodies. I did this for a couple reasons, one that it wouldn't looks so sad to see all those dead bodies, and two so that I'd know how many more may have died the next time I came out to check on them.

I looked over the bodies, looking for signs of Varroa Mite damage but didn't see any.

With my scraping I quickly got an answer to one of my questions. Are they in there? Oh yes they were! A bee flew out very quickly, obviously a guard bee, wanting to see what was going on. I stepped back really quickly just to make sure she didn't come after me.

So it appears that Hive #2 is still alive. But the actions of the guard were very aggressive which is what I experienced a few weeks ago.

My bee course instructor told me that if you let the bees make their own queen, the bees will get mean. I wondered about that at the time. Many would not agree. What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments on that. In a way it would make sense that the bees would do that. After all, they don't want you robbing their honey.

Time will tell on that issue when spring comes and I open the hive.

I took photos of the top exit. The inner cover is sitting underneath the styrofoam feeder so you can see it. It's also nested inside the "V" peak of the hive wrap, forming an upper exit for the bees.

At the bottom is a 3" nail, hammered into the hive. It's there to hold the plastic of the hive wrap back so once the snow falls the bottom won't get blocked. Of course, the entrance reducer is on it's smallest setting.

I read somewhere that when bees cluster, they work to keep their cluster warm, not the whole hive which I didn't know, thinking they kept the whole inside warm.

We've only had a light dusting of snow so far this year and temperatures haven't been colder than -10 yet. But that will come in time.

Meanwhile, my much loved bugs are pretty snug.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sugar Cakes

This is the natural fine sugar powder that I bought at the grocery store that I used to make the sugar cakes for my fall feeding.

I could have formed them into pretty nice looking patties, but I was kind of lazy and made it into chunks instead.

As you can see from the photo below the bees are all over it and they seem to really like it.

The photos were taken a couple months ago when it was still fall and cooler weather but not that cold yet.

The batch on the right is the old and the clumps on the left is the fresh that I was putting in the hive. I piled it on top of waxed paper. The bees chew up both the sugar and the paper.

I also put some clumps on the feeder outside the hive and noticed that on sunny days the bees were much more interested in the sugar cake and that they were ignoring the sugar syrup.

I believe this sugar is "confectioner's sugar". It's used to sprinkle on desserts to make them pretty and it's simply natural white cane sugar but just ground into a finer powder that dissolves really fast.

Oh, and how is it made? No cooking, other than taking already made up sugar syrup and using that as a liquid added to the powder. Go easy on the liquid because it goes a long way. The amount of liquid determines how runny the paste will be.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Little Nasty Business

For the first time all year, I've seen some nastiness from my bees. Yes, genuine aggression.

Hive #1 was as quiet as ever. No bees in sight at first. After my hammering a nail into their hive I saw one bee sitting in the entrance, keeping an eye out. No aggression at all.

Not so with Hive #2. Hive #2 sent out its guard bees and I could tell from the way they were flying that they meant business. I didn't get stung but almost.

The bees were provoked very quickly to anger. Both hives have been extremely slow to anger all year long. In fact, although I always lit my smoker every time, I didn't seem to need it much. They were always so calm and relaxed.

This is what brings me to comment on a couple things I can fault myself for: I lit the smoker before this task but I did not put greenery on top to hold back sparks or flame. Quite frankly I got lazy. Because the bees had been so gentle and smoke wasn't needed I skipped that step, thinking I wouldn't even need the smoker--but I did need it.
It turned out the bees weren't happy with my hammering and they came out aggressively. Then when I went to smoke them I accidentally killed one bee because the heat coming out of the smoker was too intense. I think this angered the second guard who then came at me more fiercely. I did not get stung that time - I backed off a few paces (actually I hid like a coward behind the hive).
The task I was doing was putting in my horizontal nail which prevents the winter wrap from slipping down and covering the bottom entrance of the hive. So my hammer was doing a bit of pounding and that really got their attention.

I had been to the hives every couple of days that week, more than normal so I think I had been irritating the bees with the too frequent changes--messing with their stuff--adding winter wraps, adjusting the wraps, hammering nails.

Oh and let's not forget the 100 or so of their experienced field bees that perished out on the front stoop when I installed the wraps on a too warm day when they'd been out flying and I didn't realize it... they came back and unable to find their way into the hive they perished. Maybe they were still mad about that. I know I'm still feeling bad about it.

The aggression was so unusual for them that I did start to wonder if the hive was queenless. When I opened the hive to remove the last of the sugar cake a couple weeks ago and put on the inner cover/winterizing I didn't get any stings, but I did see get some bumping which was very unusual for them. I put it down to my moving too quickly. Because it was a cool day I wanted to get the hive closed up again as fast as possible so I was moving fast.

I also found a young bee on the front stoop, near dead, with deformed wings. Obviously it was Varroa Mite damage (the Varroa mite babies feed on the bees blood in the wing muscle area which then damages the proper development of their wings). So it appears there is still some Varroa activity on this hive. I hope it's at a manageable level for the bees (and it's got me wondering if the Formic Acid treatment was thorough enough, given our ambient temperatures at the time. And I wonder if I should consider an Oxyalic Acid treatment mid winter just to be sure.....)

I can't cite the bees for being mad but as for Varroa or queenlessness, only time will tell. Let's hope time favours Hive #2. They could really use a break.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lazarus Bees

It was a little devastating and so unexpected.

I arrived at the yard around 4:00 on an overcast day with temperatures hovering around 9. I was checking on how the bees had fared with the winterized bee cozy installed and the sugar feeder.

First glance showed about 100 dead bees on the front stoop of Hive #2 (two bees on Hive #1). It was so very sad because most of these bees were carrying pollen. So they died on the stoop from cold and exposure. Their hive never received the pollen they worked so hard to collect. It was upsetting.

I can only presume that even though the day the cozies were installed was cool and it was near dark that there must have been at least 100 bees still out in the field foraging. By the time they returned it would have been near dark and cold. And then they would not have recognized the new looking entrance.

The confusion would have kept them outside the hive until they grew too chilled to move. And then they died on the stoop inches from their entrance.

Some of the bees looked pretty freshly dead. Inspired by seeing the last few minutes of a movie shot in Australia, I picked up about 15 or so of the "dead" bees - selecting ones that looked freshly dead and I put them in my hands.

I have hot hands. I always have, which is great if you're doing massage or if you happen to be reviving cold dead bees by warming them up. In the Aussie film the actor and a child picked up handfuls of dead bees in front of the hive on an early morning and warmed them in their hands. Then the film shows the bees flying off from their hands.

Guess what? That's what happened here. The video doesn't show the whole process, but would you believe that ALL the bees came back to life? Some revived in about 1 minuted and others took as long as 10 minutes. The bees showed absolutely no inclination to aggression or a desire to sting. In fact, they didn't want to leave the warmth of my hands.

I should maybe have tried it with all 100, but that might be going too far. It certainly confirms that parametic saying and that there's a big difference between "warm and dead" and "cold and dead". Cold you can work with.

My advice: Don't rush to put the cozies on. Wait for a really good and cold day when no bees are flying or put it on at night.

I was upset that this happened and that the hive missed out on all that pollen. I hate waste and wasted efforts, especially when the bees died. It doesn't sit well. I blame myself mostly for not thinking of the potential problem. But I am glad about the few that like Lazarus, rose from the dead. And the wasted effort won't be so painful if this message helps someone else avoid the same problem.

As for the report on the barrell feeding, the bees don't appear to be taking the liquid from inside the barrel. Instead, they were way more focused on the sugar cakes that I put around the base of the barrel. The next day the cakes had been mostly eaten so I added more sugar powder.

There's much less activity on Hive #1 - this hive seems more placid and willing to relax - it's also the hive that Henry said was heavy enough for winter. It's not to say that they don't go out to forage because they do but they appear to be more organized. This is the hive with the purchased mated Buckfast queen. Hive #2 has a queen they made themselves.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snug as a Bug in a Rug - Winterizing the Bee Hives

The weather has been pretty amazing for November. It's been unseasonably warm and even.... sunny! Temperatures have hovered around 10 Celcius (50ish F) or slightly above.

Because of this trend I delayed winterizing the hives, by putting the bee cozies on. The reason why was becuase I didn't want to remove the hive top feeders. I knew that Hive #2 needed to bulk up a bit more and I wanted to take advantage of the great weather to continue feeding the bees.

But I knew the temperatures would eventually drop and snow could come on suddenly so I decided that this weekend I'd do my winterizing.

Attending the annual beekeepers' conference really helped because I got advice to leave the hive top feeder on all winter along with the cozies and just put a small hole either in the inner cover or the feeder so bees can access it.
The other suggestion which the beekeepers told me is to barrel feed. It's what they prefer and there's a couple reasons.

One is that when doing a fall formic acid treatment the bees are very reluctant to go up to the hive feeder to take syrup. I did notice this during the 26 days the formic was in the hive - so it was like losing 26 days of feeding.

But the bees are not reluctant to feed at a barrel outside the hive. The next reason is that they can then put the bee cozies on and be done winterizing the hives but still take advantage of feeding at the same time.
(Bees come and go from a small gap in the bottom corner of the hive where the entrance reducer is).

So I decided to make myself a barrel feeder.... but I forgot to ask how to make one.

Then I got inspired and came up with my own design which I put in the bee yard today.

I got a white pail (food grade) with a lid. Then I cut holes in the sides at the top so the bees can come and go, but the lid will keep the rain out. Next I put the strong syrup in the pail up to the holes and then I put my 'floatation device' in place. I was going to break up styrofoam cups in pieces to float on the surface because I didn't have any styrofoam peanuts on hand, but instead I used bubble wrap with slits in it. It floats nicely and the bees can land on it to sip the syrup (hopefully without drowning. I'll drop by in a couple days just to check to see how it's working).

Then I put the barrel feeder on top of a bird bath that I carted out to the yard.

Why? Because of racoons I wanted something they couldn't climb so they can't get into it.
See my first bee customer? She showed up after less than 10 minutes.
I noticed that flies found the feeder within about 3 minutes. I do think flies have a more sensitive sense of smell than other insects--either that or they're more hungry! I noted that it was warm enough for other insects to be out and about.
I was very surprised to see bees from both hives bringing back pollen! They had soft yellow and darker yellow pollen attached to their back legs. Some of the bees had small lumps but others actually had some pretty decent sized lumps of pollen collected. Where on earth are they getting it from? Amazing.
This location is fantastic for the bees... and me. This photo is a bee with pollen on her legs but sorry it can't be seen - All the photos are cell phone photos because I left my digital camera at home.
I purchased bee cozies from NOD Apiaries earlier this fall. They're made with a strong black plastic with a soft polyfill sealed inside. It's basically a big tube that you push down over top of the hive and it acts just like a nice big warm quilt over the hive.

They will cut down significantly on drafts and cold winds and they'll help the hives retain more of their heat. The black plastic also attracts the sun and helps to warm the hive.

It's designed to have a "peak" in the front center of the hive that sticks out and that's where the bees can come and go from the hive. Rain or snow can channel down this section with no problems.

These cozies must be used with top exits in addition to the reduced entrance at the bottom. The top exit provides needed ventilation so water droplets don't form inside the inner cover and drip down on the bees.

You can see a U-Tube video demonstrating the cozies being put in place.

On the advice of the beekeepers, I left the styrofoam feeder as an insulator for the hive. They suggested filling it with leaves but I had a couple old pollyfill pillows so I put them inside a plastic bag inside the feeder. So the bees can't access it, but it's there as top insulation.

I do hope that the bees are snug as a bug in a rug this winter.
NOTE: Visited 2 days later and found about 100 bees dead in front of Hive #2 - bees with pollen on their legs. I put the covers on at 4:00 that afternoon, with dark coming around 5:00. It appears that these bees must have still been out foraging and couldn't find their way in. They didn't recognize the change and then the cold air probably did the rest. I suggest installing either early in the morning or after dark.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2009 Annual Beekeepers' Convention Niagara Falls Ontario

This year I only attended day one of the two day conference and it was a really worthwhile. In fact, I regret that I didn't stay over night and attend both days because there was some really great information shared. This year it was held at the Hilton Falls View Hotel in Niagara Falls, Ontario. (It's a great hotel by the way).

Also, the chance just to chat and network with other experienced beekeepers proved to make the trip worthwhile. Two other people, and myself found just the chance to network with others to be worth the trip alone.

One person was able to make a great business deal by chatting another beekeeper, another learned a unique way to make a mouse guard that stays attached to the hive and then just slides up and down. And me, I was able to get questions answered on approaches for winterizing my hives which I was considering and I found out I was on the right track with my ideas which is always a relief. Of course I learned some new things (I'll blog on those soon).

A report from the meeting which I must share is on a new Formic Acid Flash Gel treatment that will be available soon. This Varroa Mite treatment was tested by our Ontario Bee Association Tech Team with great results.

The formic acid gel was put into hives this fall and their reports are that kill rates of Varroa Mites was 98%. But here's the great part - it did it in 3 days! This treatment is so effective it only needs to be on the hives for a very short time.

Just think how easy it will be to do a summer treatment between nectar flows to knock down mite counts if they're getting high.

I asked what the difference was between, for example, the Mite Away II pads of formic acid (see my blog of 30 Oct 2009 for details) and this new Formic Acid Gel.

The Mite Away II Formic Pads are designed to rely on ambient temperature in order to fumigate the hive whereas the Formic gel uses heat from the cluster as its Method of Delivery.

Apiguard gel was discussed - in the USA they were able to get 91% control but in Canada with our cooler climate we were only able to obtain a 70% control so it has not been as effective as a treatment here.

This new gel treatment called a Formic Acid Flash treatment will be available soon from NOD Apiaries in Ontario.

Dr. Ernesto Guzman and his team at the University of Guelph have been busy working on an improved method of delivery for Thymol treatments. Apparently, treating with Thymol is not new (I think the brand name was Apistan - but I'm not certain) and it has also been used previously as a powdered sugar. These other treatments were not as effective with their kill rates in Canada and testing at that time only produced 70% kill rates.

With a change in the method of delivery (which patent could be pending --this has yet to be worked out by the University of Guelph) they were able to get between 90 to 98% control over Varroa. It is hoped we'll see this Thymol treatment on the market in the future.

I noticed a theme for the day was very much on improving existing systems by simply changing the method of delivery.

I'll blog more on the conference when I dig into my notes. I have info to share on the use of ozone to kill spores and bacteria as well.

Beekeeper Mail

To the Grade 1 and 2 classes and Mrs. Bennett's grade 2 & 3 class:

Thank you so very much for your letters about beekeeping and honey bees.

I really enjoyed reading them and I was very impressed with your letter writing.

You were all listening very well and I'm glad that you learned a lot more about honey bees.

I had a lot of fun visiting your school and talking about my favourite subject.

(Can you guess what my favourite subject is?....... Yes, it's honey bees!!!)

Next time I come to visit I hope to bring some bees to show you but don't worry, the bees will be in a special cage behind glass so they won't hurt you.

It was fun buzzing like bees and trying on the bee suits.

Soon it will snow and the bees will hibernate for the winter. Then in spring when it gets warmer they will fly out in search of nectar and pollen for their hive to feed to their brother and sister bees.

I hope you will enjoy seeing bees in the garden and the taste of honey on your toast. It's so yummy!


Barbara Beekeeper

P.S. I forgot to tell you in my talk that honey bees can count! They can count all the way up to 4. Not bad for a 'stupid insect' eh? If you are wondering how they count, they use visual landmarks to find their home. So a tree and a bush and a flower and a rock would be 4 things the bee would remember when she's looking for her home. They use smell too but just like humans they rely on things they can see too to find their way around.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cute as a Puppy?

My beekeeping friend Mark took this awesome bee photo and I used it in a PowerPoint presentation that I created.

Ever since seeing fuzzy bees under a microscope I was impressed how much--to my mind--they looked like small puppies. So I'm on a mission to convince everyone else how cute they are, especially people who maybe don't like bees very much.

Some of you beekeepers out there reading this blog might have already received the phone call... you know the one that says "I'm a teacher from such-and-such a school and my classroom is doing a module on honey bees." Or you might get the call I got, "The kids at school are being stung by yellow jackets and their fear of bees is really escalating. Can you come and talk to them about honey bees?"

Well, I can't say no to an opportunity to educate young people about bees. Actually, it's kind of a dream of mine to have my children's novel published and then travel all over the place talking to classrooms of kids about honey bees.... yeah, I'm kind of weird ;)

I made a PowerPoint presentation which you can view or copy from my website under the teachers' link called honeybees.ppt. I've tried to make the presentation interactive since everyone learns so much better that way and it's not so boring as just straight lecturing. Feel free to use it if you like - or be inspired by it when creating your own. If you do use it, let me know how it went. You'll need Microsoft PowerPoint (version 2003 or later) to view it.

I'll probably make slight changes as I go along and upload the updates. I've presented it about 3 times today to classes of kids from JK to grade 5 and it went really well. I also took in an empty hive and then dressed the kids up in bee gear (no problem getting volunteers for that!). I had the JK's buzz like bees when we opened the hive and instructed others to say "puff, puff" when I held the smoker and said "smoke". They were most cooperative and there were so many questions that I never did actually get through the whole presentation.

But it's not the goal to get through every slide. The slides are great to give a visual, to provoke questions or peak their interest. I've learned with teaching over the years that it's much more productive to answer questions when asked (a true learning moment) than to just focus on getting through all the material.

I don't have an observation hive yet so no live bees went on this trip. It's fall now too and much too cold to open the hive and remove frames. What I did do though was print colour photos of bees which I taped into frames and they looked very real. After dressing the kids up I pretended to do an inspection, having one child hold the smoker and I used the hive tool.

I also took in little samples for show and tell: Wax scales and pollen that I picked up off my sticky board and a few pieces of wild comb and propolis for them to see.

It was a real blast and I look forward to more opportunities to do this in future.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Formic Acid Pad - Mite Away II Pads

I didn't measure with a ruler but the pad is about 6 or 7" square.

They were Mite Away pads of Formic Acid that came pre-soaked they really did smell strong.

Formic Acid creates fumes strong enough to kill Varroa Mites and to penetrate capped cells as the mites feed off baby bees in their cells.
The pads have 250 ml of 65 % formic acid in them. Its the combination of this and the holes in the bag, the front of the hive open and the bees ventilation along with temps of + 10 Celsius that makes it a successful treatment.

The small Mite Away pads have 35 ml of 65% formic in them x 6 or 7 applications 4 to 7 days apart to give the same result as the larger pads. The large pads which I used are left in the hive for a full brood cycle - between 24 to 26 days.

The pads work by fumigating the hive to a point where it doesn't kill the bees but makes the mites let go of the bees. The heaviest concentration of acid fumes are on the floor of the hive where it kills the mites.

Regular garbage is fine for disposal of the pads after treatment. Most of the acid will have evaporated and formic is a natural acid.

When the pads were first taken out of the barrel at the bee supplier's place, we didn't want to be close to it because the smell is quite pungent. Yes, it smells like super strong so don't inhale it. It reminded me a bit of the occasional time I get a little too much pickle juice and then I choke or cough.

The pads sat on the small sticks laid across the top bars of the hive. A rim spacer was in place to create a little space for the pad as well.

It comes with the pre-made holes on one side - the bottom and the holes are to face down. The fumes from the pad will drop down into the hive and then be ventilated by the bees.

My hives are not 2 deep hive bodies. Instead I am running 1 deep and 1 medium.

The pads cannot be held with bare fingers or they will burn your skin. I purchased a pair of special plastic chemical gloves to hold the pads with. Later I found chopsticks more effective to pick up or shift the pad without touching it.
If the weather doesn't cooperate and it's too late to do a Formic Acid treatment, there is Oxyalic Acid which can be put in the hive in the middle of winter. It's done with a drip syringe.

Patty Cake, Sugar Cake, Yummy said the Bees

I really never liked cooking. So this recipe is perfect for me. It's a no cook sugar patty recipe.

After reading around the web a bit about fall feeding I decided to add some kind of feeding in addition to the sugar syrup. The weather had been cold at night and the bees were really only eating the syrup on warmer days.
I got "fine sugar" which is caster sugar in the baking aisle at the grocery store. Caster sugar is regular white cane sugar but it's ground up into a fine powder-like consistency. I remember many, many years ago making caster sugar in cooking class at school by putting regular sugar into an electric grinder. It's used a lot to sprinkle on top of fruit or fancy desserts. Icing sugar isn't really the best for feeding because it contains corn starch which the bees don't really digest very well.
I used sugar syrup as a liquid to pour into the caster sugar bit by bit. You have to start small because the sugar can get too running if too much liquid is added. I made it into a moist consistency of thick paste.

I laid strips of wax paper on the top bars of the hive and spooned the mixture onto the paper. (At a later feeding I did all the spooning onto the paper before opening the hive so it was ready to set right in - reducing the amount of time the hive was open in the cooler weather). I suppose I could have got my hands dirty too and formed them into patties like hamburgers.

I also sprinkled just the plain caster powder on another strip of wax paper.

I returned today (5 days later) to find that the bees in both hives had gobbled up both the sugar cakes and the powder sugar. They were swarmed all over the paper and I had to shake them off.

In Hive #1 they had chewed up the paper and later I watched as bees left the hive carrying out bits of the white wax paper - cleaning house.

They hadn't taken much of the sugar syrup. Hive #2 had lots of bees under the clear panel in the hive top feeder but I didn't see any in Hive #1. It was concerning at first for Hive #1 until I removed the feeder and saw the top bars covered in bees licking up the sugar cake.

So, I made up a fresh batch and left it for them. Bon appetite!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

End of Fall Treatment

The day was lovely with a high of 13. The day before it was mostly overcast and under 10 degrees so when Sunday rolled around with a bright sunny warm sky I knew it was time to open the hive.

The purpose of this visit was to remove the Formic Acid Pads which had been in the hive for 26 days (a full brood cycle).
I'm sure the bees will be especially glad to have that stinky thing removed. The mite drops with the pad in were remarkable and I could tell it was necessary to ensure the hives survived the winter.
Next I put in the last of the AFB treatment, mixed with sugar powder. It's sitting on waxed paper. I also added some caster sugar which is just regular sugar but ground up into a really super fine powder.
I wanted to use this kind of sugar because I know that the icing powder sugar has corn starch in it which the bees can't really digest. I added it as a plain powder (pictured on the right) and I also made up a chunky paste with it by adding sugar syrup to the powder to make a heavy paste. I'm hoping the bees will feed on this on the days when they don't feel inclined to eat the cold sugar syrup sitting on top of the hive.
I was pleased to see Hive #2 were busy taking syrup from the hive top feeder. I could observe them through the plastic pane. This is the hive that Henry said needed feeding so it was a relief to see them eating.
I didn't see bees feeding on Hive #1 but that's not to say they're not. I got a little delayed to look at this hive because a school bus of university students showed up at the orchard for an info session and because I was there I was able to give them an impromptu lesson on honey bees. It was fun.
Hive #2 was more active coming and going from the hive than #1. I added the pink entrance reducers and waited around for a bit to watch the returning bees figure out the new reduced way of getting into the hive.
I've temporarily duct taped the reducers in place. That's because in a couple weeks I'll be adding the bee cozies which are to rest on the nail in the reducer. What I haven't figured out yet is whether I need to nail the reducer down to keep it from moving once the cozie is in place. Any suggestions anyone?
I noticed a few bumble bees, yellow jackets and lady bugs flying around. They could probably smell the sugar syrup, that and the warm sunshine would have attracted them. I put one bumble bee in my sugar paste jar for a bit for a little sugar snack. She certainly didn't mind.

The season is coming to a close as I prepare the bees as best I can for winter. We all think it will be a long cold winter like last year. I'll do my best to help them get through it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Pleasant Dull Moment

It was a bright and sunny day. A perfectly wonderfully boring day. And greatly appreciated too.

No excitement, just an ordinary trip on an ordinary day to do a round of medication in the hives.

Sadly there were some dead bees on the front porch. Most of them were drones but there were workers too. I even saw two workers with pollen on their legs dying on the front porch.

On closer examination their wings appeared to be functioning, although they couldn't fly. I noticed that of their six legs, none of the nearly dead or dying workers had working use of their front legs. I don't suspect this is pesticide poisoning. I do suspect that the Formic Acid or AFB medication could be in play here. The temperate was only 8 so the coolness of the day may have played a factor as well.

On the upside, there was fairly steady traffic coming and going from both hives, a little more from Hive #2 than Hive #1. And they were bringing back pollen! Where on earth they are finding it is a mystery but I'm happy to report that in this new location I've seen more pollen coming back in this cold fall weather than I ever saw come back in the swamp. I think that's a positive sign we're in a good spot.

Mite counts were 80 for Hive #2 and 60 for Hive #1 so the Formic Acid is still working away. I can't imagine either hive would be alive in spring if left untreated.

The sugar water was down a bit so they did take some.

I'm looking forward to next weekend. That's when the rim spacer comes out along with the Formic Acid pad. Shortly after that I'll be able to put the entrance reducer back in which will make the hive much warmer. Then I'll be finding out when to put the "bee cosies" on the hive for winter protection.

A nice thing happened in that I got a chance to do a little bee education with a couple families that were there to pick pears. I let the kids try on the bee hat and veil and they posed for pictures. Just about everybody has a camera with them these days. It was a nice impromptu opportunity.

Everything else that day was pretty darned normal. Gee... sigh..... whew!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Home....Home at Last!

It was their first day in the new location.

I had to work but I watched the sun rise that morning and for once it was going to be a cloudless and sunny day.

I thought that was a very fitting welcome for the bees. It would give them some decent weather to begin exploring the new area.

So they're city slickers now. I went right after work to see them - it gets dark so quickly these days that the photos look like night time when it's actually about 5:30 p.m. I did my "chores" first though using daylight and left the photography for just before I was leaving.

I had to open the hive - briefly. Not for an inspection but to add more powder for their AFB treatment.

All the powder that was there was gone so I'm presuming they ate it (I didn't see it all over the sticky board at the bottom of the hive).

I also put their Formic Acid pad back on it's little stilts. It had shifted in the move which I anticipated it would.

And finally I topped up their sugar water feeder. It doesn't look like either hive has taken any syrup in the last week or so. I'll be keeping an eye on that.

I worked really quickly so that the hive wasn't open long, releasing all their heat, so no photos of the inside.

Next I did mite counts. Hive #2 had at least 200 mites on their sticky board. The week before the treatment the mite drop was about 18. Quite a difference.

Hive #1 had 50+ mites. I'm very glad I did the Formic Acid treatment and my friend Henry confirmed that it was a good idea. I recharged the boards with Crisco and tucked them back inside.

I still need to question whether it's okay to leave the screened bottom boards in all winter or will it be too drafty? Any advice or comments on that? NOD Apiaries makes bee cosies and I have two so that should help keep the bees warm but those won't go on until November.
There were a few bees coming and going from the hive, flying straight out and others flying straight back. It wasn't that warm a day so I didn't expect to see a lot of activity but it was reassuring to see things look normal.

I managed to keep the hives in their same orientation as the other bee yard. I didn't get to see the hives get loaded on the truck (I was at the yard in the swamp and the truck was parked at the edge of the swamp). I noticed that if I hadn't marked the outsides of the hives then I wouldn't have known which hive was #1 and which was #2.

A couple months ago I marked each hive front with a symbol. I just used a green sharpie marker and put a square on Hive #1 and a triangle on Hive #2, near where the front entrance reducer goes. Why you ask? That's a great question. I did it because research has proven that bees use visual landmarks as guides, among other things too like scents and the sun.

When my beautiful queen was found dead on the ground in front of the hive I thought she might have returned from mating and accidentally flown into the wrong hive and gotten herself stung. That's when I decided to put the symbols on the hive so that when the bees orient themselves in front of the hive before leaving, they'll see the symbol for their hive. And yes, they can tell the difference between a square and a triangle...and they can count to 4! To learn more about it, see my blog on a lecture I attended in the spring (

What we found very surprising is when Henry said that Hive #1 - the hive that requeened and then I had to purchase a queen for - had the right amount of weight for winter. Somehow this hive has caught up and made up for falling so far behind. I would not have guessed that instead it's Hive #2 that needs to bulk up a bit.

Because we were moving the hives, I took the opportunity to paint some 4x4' boards to put on top of the pallets. Once I dropped my hive tool and it fell between the pallet's slats so now that won't happen again. There's a bit of an overhang too which makes for a nice front porch.

This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving. Monday is a holiday. We'll be getting together as a family to enjoy turkey and all the trimmings. It's a great time to give thanks for all our blessings. I'm especially thankful that the bees have finally found their home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Big Move

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I've always loved apples, but I'm loving them now more than ever.

The bees have a home. Finally. They're in a lovely new bee yard on an apple farm. It's called City Orchards. Our bees have now moved from the country to the city. So they're now City Bees in a City Orchard. I don't think they'll mind a bit, especially after the grand and glorious sunrise on their first morning in the new bee yard. It was an omen, but a really really good one.

I pictured the bees coming sleepily to their front door wondering what all the brightness was. It would be the sun, minus the darkness of the swamp and all those trees that made the place feel cold. The sun would actually touch the hive and warm it up which will really help them as we progress through our winter season.

I worried a bit about some of the older workers just flying off in the morning without looking back, without reorienting themselves to the new location. Some advice on-line about moving hives was to block the entrance mostly but not completely with grass. As the bees notice the change they reorient before leaving. Then the grass dries up and dies.

The problem is that I'm not to reduce the entrance to the hive due to the Formic Acid treatment inside which must be ventilated. And then I forgot to ask my beekeeping friend Henry what to do about that before we parted company after packing up the hives--like asking if I should leave the window screening in the entrance to keep them in for a day or so? Instead I removed the screening hoping that the brightness of the sun, the lack of trees in front of the hive and the shiny white platform would slow them down enough to look and realize things are different so they'd reorient before going out.

Henry had told me previously that it wasn't really a problem about these older workers - really the foraging out in the field is done for the season and these bees aren't the ones that will carry the hive through the winter. But you know me, I care about all of them (probably too much). I'm already thinking that these workers will need to locate water sources for the hive, but I don't even know if they need water at this time of year.

Here's some pointers which may be helpful if you have to move hives

Things we learned in the move:

* even though you may have a check-list of all the items you need to do prior to the move, double check that all your ratchet ties are actually in the vehicle and don't assume they are still in it because you put them there 4 months ago.

* the bees don't really come out much in the move but window screening placed in the entrance allows ventilation and can prevent any angry bee from coming after you once the hive starts to move.

* Move the hives in the dark when the bees are all inside. Cold or rainy days are even better. Flashlights and backup batteries were very useful.

* If putting hives in an open truck bed, face the hive entrance to the south of your northbound vehicle so that the wind while driving will not rush inside the hive and chill the bees

* If you have the entrance facing the south (as above) then the frames will be parallel to the road. This means that if bumping and swaying, the frames will are much less likely to bang together and squish your queen.

* Duct tape can be used in place of a ratchet tie so keep duct tape on your checklist.

* Working at night is much different than the day time and paths are hard to see, things can get dropped on the ground in the dark so be prepared for some fumbling around.

* It's a good idea to either have a son or a nephew so that you have a muscular person around to lift the hive. (It's WAY cheaper to encourage your siblings to have kids instead of having them yourself).

*When lifting the hive to move it is a good time to "heft check" if your hive is heavy enough to survive the winter. For southern Ontario, 65 lbs for a single deep is the recommendation. Henry, who can tell from one lift said Hive #1 is fine and Hive #2 could use some more feeding (I'm feeding both anyway).

* Marking the front of each hive differently helped to be able to tell them apart - and set them in their new location in the same orientation.

* Use a level to check that your platform and your hives are level.

* Always buy your helpers dinner.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I knew about this place. In fact I'd known about it since I was a child. It was a family owned apple farm about 4 or 5 miles from my home. We would always drop in there every summer and fall to buy bushels of apples and cider. Juicy Macintosh apples were my favourite, chilled and fresh right out of their giant cold room.

Then about 10 years or so ago the family who had owned the place for generations put it up for sale. The City bought the land and then leased it out. And a man who thought he'd like to be an apple farmer leased the land and learned how to be an apple farmer.

So the good news is that an old farm with apple trees still exists on the edge of the city just like it did when I was a kid.

I had called the city about this land way back in April when I was first looking for a bee yard but they were very quick to put me off. So I dropped it. But the more I looked into the by-laws I realized that the city really couldn't say no to bees if the leasor agreed. Besides, I found out there are no by-laws to prohibit them. Also as I called and tried more and more places and got negative responses I got back to thinking about this place. And when two people mentioned to me that I should try asking at this place so I took them up on it.
The leasor said YES and that he's zoned for farming. So the great news is that within the next few days my bees will call this place home.

I talked to the farmer, yesterday on the phone and he was quite happy with the idea of free pollination of the apple trees and some honey in exchange for giving us some space. This morning we met him and he had a nice spot picked out behind the large shed and right to the side of the grass driveway. Yes, a drive area - so I can pull the truck in right next to the hives.... SWEET!

There's a lot of things to be excited about. I'll save on tons of gas and time by not having to commute out of the city. The thing I'm most excited about though is not having to battle the mosquitoes. They really were bad in the swamp and I always had to keep a veil and gloves on the whole time. Now I'll be able to sit a minute and look at a mite sticky board without having to slap my fingers or do a little video without shaking them off.
There is a large conservation area across the road and a huge lake, lots of meadowland with wildflowers, a large neighbourhood with gardens and of course the apple orchard. So there's plenty of forage for the bees. There's even a lowland area on the other side of the road where ducks and geese gather and I believe a creek too so that will be another natural water source for the bees.
Of course it was raining, actually thundering quite ominously when we got to the swamp so we had to move quickly to beat the real downpour.
We weren't moving hives today. Instead we brought out as much of the "gear" as we could and brought a couple pallets and cement blocks which we would use as the new platform. My nephew Codie and his friend were willing to come and help which speeding things up incredibly.

Back at the new location Dad got out the weed whacker and very quickly created a nice level spot. I didn't get any before shots so picture the area with about two feet of grass and wildflowers. Then we put down the cement blocks and the pallets. And amazingly enough the pallets were level!
I think that's a sign of a good start...and a great provision.... actually an awesome provision.
Thanks God!