Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Absentminded Beekeeper

There's probably only one thing that irritates bees more than stealing their honey.

And that's an absentminded beekeeper.

It turns out that in my last visit I not only forgot my boots. I forgot to use my box cutter to put slits in one of the sugar baggies on Hive #1.

The bees were crawling over it. Oh, they knew what was inside but they couldn't get at it.

I apologized and quickly slit their baggie. I gave them an extra large helping of patties.

It was sunny today with temperatures around +3 Celsius. Most of our snow has melted and although the temperatures are still cool, we're all hopeful for spring temperatures soon.

Nuc #2 had not eaten their sugar syrup and I checked the baggies and they were slit. They were busy eating the patties so I gave them more.

Nuc #1 was busy eating everything and I topped them up with fresh baggies and more patties.

Hive #2 is doing well--this is the one I was concerned about. They were busy eating pollen but they hadn't finished they syrup yet.

Hive #1 had consumed one baggie and the second was the one I forgot to slit. They were also munching on pollen patties.

Outside the hives sadly, I noticed lots of little round melted holes in the snow in front of the four hives--little tombs where bees flew out and hit the snow and got too cold.

They probably ramped up their muscles to generate heat to fly but instead it caused the snow to melt around them and they sunk down deeper into the snow.

I closed the hives and put the wraps back on.

I have not done a Fumigilin treatment in their syrup yet because it needs to be eaten quickly by the bees to be effective.

I'll wait another week or so until it's warmer.

Oh, and this time, I had my boots.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Make Friends with the Local Donut Shop

They say if you're looking for a cop you should go to a donut shop. But I think you're more likely to find a beekeeper there.


It's all about storage.

Honey is food and because it's a food it should be stored in a food safe container.

Just any plastic container won't do. Use Food Grade Plastic to store your honey--that is if your choice of container is plastic.

So what has this got to do with making friends with the local donut shop?

These shops use large pails on a daily basis. They come loaded with donut batter or muffin mix and are thrown away when they're empty. These pails have great fitting lids and they're made with food grade plastic.

Often you can get them for free.

There are other sources to consider as well. The local ice cream store and fast food stores.

Addition: I'm thinking that it's best to avoid pails that have ever had Peanuts in them - like peanut butter pails from bulk food stores, or peanut ice creams. Some people have really severe peanut allergies and it might be possible that even a well washed pail has some residue peanut oil.

Now a caveat about plastic and honey. We filled plastic pails with honey but then it crystallized--see the photo at left. So since last summer we've had to scoop out this hard honey and warm it up in order to jar it.

So this year we're changing our plan and we'll jar all our honey right after extraction.

Jars are much easier to warm up if the honey crystallizes. Of course a metal heated storage tank would be ideal, but that's a major expense.

We'll purchase lots of jars for the sale honey and when they're full we'll fill large glass jars that we've saved -- pickles, pasta sauce jars, etc. This reminds me of years back when we saved all our jars for Mom to use for canning. We did recycling like this for most of my life.

I guess we're back at it again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour: Take a break and turn off the lights

Tonight is Earth Hour.

From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on 26 March 2011, everyone is encouraged to turn out their lights.

And it's just for one hour... like the time it takes to have a nap or to have quality time with the kids. And you help save the planet at the same time.

The bees will like that.

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change. In 2010, over 10 million Canadians turned out the lights for Earth Hour in over 300 cities and towns across Canada.

Participating in Earth Hour is a simple way to show your support for climate change solutions and sends a powerful message that together we can make a difference.

For more information visit the World Wildlife Fund website:

... now stop reading this and go get your candles ready!

I'll see you again when the power is back on :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feed Check and Bring the Boots

The first thing I forgot to bring were my boots.

But I did think to change my footwear before heading out of the house, but in the shuffle I forgot.

The weather warmed up to between 2 to 10+ degrees and the last of the snow melted, adding more water to the mostly frozen ground.

As I write this it has snowed once again, typical for a Canadian spring. Everything is covered in a blanket of white. Oh well. It too shall melt one day.

It was about -3 and so I moved quickly so again, no photos showing the inside of the hive. But here's the report:

For all four hives, the bees had finished their sugar baggies--this probably in the three or four warmer days. There were many of them clustered over the pollen patties, happily eating them.

I gave them all fresh baggies and more patties, putting them into every space on the frames. I knew the weather would be colder again so I wanted to take advantage of this day to top them up. Then if the weather warmed again or the cluster moved over they could take advantage of the feed.

I picked up a few stray bees that fell and warmed them with my hands. Their tongues were quick to lick my skin because it was covered with sticky syrup. They are hungry!

The mud was bad and was sucking my running shoes right off my feet as I tried to work. I got so frustrated I put a piece of plastic/cardboard down to stand on. Note to self: Put some sand around the hives to fill in the low spots where water collects.

I thank God the bees are alive, despite the mistakes I had made. I consider myself fortunate and don't credit it to any great beekeeping skill on my part. I have learned though and will apply all the knowledge I've gained as I work with the bees.

Now let's just hope the snow will melt and we'll have a warm spring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hive Check

It was 0 degrees, overcast, but warm. There was still snow on the ground, wet and heavy, from the rain/snow mix the night before.

It's a sign of spring. We can feel it in the air, the back of winter's deep chill is broken. It still gets cold, mostly at night, but not the bone chilling cold of deep winter.

Spring will find a way. And so will the bees.

A week ago I added rim spacers and sugar baggies. I checked each hive and on 3 of the 4 hives the bees were down in the frames. On Hive #2 the bees were in the frames and on the top bars, surrounded by the sugar baggies but they weren't breaking cluster to crawl over them.

I put some tiny holes in the plastic edge close to them and they responded to the sugar droplets.

Next week's forecast is all in the pluses--+7, +11. I should think the bees will break cluster and find the feed there waiting for them. (I'm not sure at what temperature bees break cluster?)

Outside they were flying and bringing out the dead. The chickadees were quick to swoop down and fly off with the bodies.

It's sad watching the bees hit the snow and struggle. I put a finger down and they clasp on readily. They warm themselves from the heat of my hands. Then they reward me by pooping on my finger.

Below was supposed to be a photo but the camera was set to video and I was moving quickly - so it's actually a 2 second video of Hive #2 with the sugar baggies on the top bars.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SHB Causes Quarantine in Essex County, Southern Ontario

SHB - unfortunately this acrynom is now part of the Canadian beekeeper's language: Small Hive Beetle.

The beetle has been causing problems for bees throughout the USA and now it's arrived in Canada--in Ontario. Here's a link to an article from Chatham This Week about the quarantine.

The official notice of the quarantine is posted on the OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs) web site at: Notice Of Quarantine Area or you can read it below:

For BeesAuthor: Food Inspection Branch OMAFRA

Creation Date: 07 March 2011

Last Reviewed: 07 March 2011

Preventing The Spread Of Small Hive Beetle In Essex County And Chatham-Kent

March 7, 2011

A quarantine area has been established for bees in Essex County and part of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent to prevent the spread of small hive beetle to other areas of the province and to protect the integrity of Ontario's beekeeping industry.

On March 7, 2011, the Chief Veterinarian for Ontario issued a declaration under the Bees Act establishing the quarantine area and outlining responsibilities for all beekeepers or persons with beekeeping equipment within the quarantine area. As a result of the declaration, these persons must:

* not move their bee colonies or equipment within or out of the quarantine area without the prior written approval of the Provincial Apiarist

* report any previously unreported findings of small hive beetle to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

* participate in surveillance and treatment as directed by the Provincial Apiarist

* follow specific biosecurity measures listed in the declaration (e.g., cleansing of footwear and disinfection of utensils)

In September 2010, small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, was confirmed in Essex County beekeeping operations and OMAFRA responded immediately with quarantines on individual yards where small hive beetle was observed. OMAFRA continues to work with the beekeeping industry and other stakeholders to manage this new pest of honey bee colonies..

Establishing a quarantine area at this time, prior to the start of the beekeeping season provides the best opportunity to control movement of bees and prevent the inadvertent spread of small hive beetle from any yard where it might be present but not yet detected.


Small hive beetle does not affect food safety or human health.

Small hive beetle is an emerging and invasive pest of the European honey bee that has established in most regions of the United States. There have been confirmed findings in southern Quebec and western Canada. However, to date, it is not known whether small hive beetle has established a resident population anywhere in Ontario beyond the quarantine area.
Small hive beetle is a significant risk to honey bee colony health and can damage beekeeping equipment and spoil honey. It can be spread through the movement of honey bee colonies and equipment, and beekeeper activities.

In the fall of 2010, quarantines were placed on 16 beekeeping yards and one processing facility in Essex County under the Animal Health Act, 2009. In January 2011, small hive beetle was added under the regulations of the Ontario Bees Act as a named pest. The establishment of a quarantine area under the Bees Act complements these measures to further control the risk of spread to other areas of the province.

The specific boundaries of the quarantine are all of Essex County and the part of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent lying south-westward of a line made up of a Town Line Road, Pump Road and Merlin Road (also known as County Road 7), as if these roadways extended continuously from points of intersection with the shorelines of Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie (see map).

Susan Murray, Communications, 519-826-3145

For more information:

Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300

Local: (519) 826-4047

Monday, March 14, 2011

Make Candles for Earth Hour 26 March 2011

Earth Hour is 8:30 p.m., EST on 26 March 2011

This is a heads up to get your beeswax candles made in time for Earth Hour on 26 March 2011.

At 8:30 p.m. EST everyone around the globe is asked to participate for one hour, turning off all their lights.

This would be a perfect time for a candle lit hour. Consider a late romantic dinner by candlelight or just enjoy the peace in the glow of a candle flame.

Here's a link to a previous blog post on: How to Make Beeswax Candles using a rubber mould.

I have my wax in a crock pot, set on low heat so it can melt slowly. Always remember that wax can ignite if it's on a high temperature.

This time I did it right where the cord is pulled up from the bottom of the mould. The bottom ends up being the top of the candle when it's done.

When the candle is pulled out, the cord is still threaded and ready for the next candle to be poured.

I discovered by accident that the candles will come out without using a spray release.. but only a few times...oops!

This year I'm making candles for my family and for friends as gifts that they can use for Earth Hour.

Here's a link to the World Wildlife Fund's website with more info about Earth Hour.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It Ain't Over Until It's Over

"Surprise. We're alive."

I'm sure that's what the bees were saying in Hive #2. To be honest, I expected to find a dead out. I was going to put in the feed even if I didn't see bees. I decided ahead I would not knock on the hive and irritate the bees just to see if they were alive.

[Photo - Last night's snow's all tramped down but the sun is shining warmly. No photos of open hives because I was working quickly].

The bees in Hive #2 were clustered in the frames and many were on the top bars of the hive. I had to smoke them a bit to get them to move down. Moving as quickly as I could I added a rim spacer and a large and small Ziploc baggie along with a small piece of pollen patty (not sure if I should be giving that or not).

Then I closed up the hive. They were alive! Wow!
[Photo - this chickadee enjoys lunching on dead bees].

On Hives 1, and 4 the bees were down in the frames. I could hear them and saw a few come out on a cleansing flight. I gave them feed too, although from what my friend Henry said, if the bees are down in the frames they probably have enough feed.

Hive #3, a nuc from last summer, had a few bees on the top bars as well so I figured they were moving up and probably running out of feed too.
The key thing I'm told with feeding this early is that if you start you have to keep feeding. No problem. I enjoyed being outside for a sunny afternoon.

It really was warm working in the sun. I put the wraps back on and closed up shop.
Video - This worker hit the snow and struggled so I put my finger down and she latched on. She warmed herself up and then flew off.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Best Laid Plans...Rained Away

I made the decision that I would follow the guidelines for opening hives in cold weather and I would feed my bees.

[The hives are farther back between two trees and on higher ground].

I made up my sugar syrup and put it in Ziploc baggies. I had ordered pollen patties so I had them on hand too.

We were scheduled for rain on Sat but I was hoping it would clear for an hour or so. The temp was predicted to be +8C. At home it was spitting rain lightly so I packed up the truck and headed out.

But four miles away at the bee yard it was raining too heavily. Sun was predicted to be cooler but with Sunshine so I stowed my plans for that day and instead observed the hives and took photos.

Lifting up the bottom of the plastic hive wrap I could see a small pile of dead bees. A chickadee was very active flying down and grabbing the dead bodies to eat.

At least nature doesn't waste an opportunity for a meal.

I took the last of our honey in mid Sept. This was much too late I later realized. The temperatures in Sept grow cold too quickly and when I gave the bees their Fumigilin B treatment for Nosema one hive (Hive #2) didn't eat it. The result you can see in this photo below.

It looks like a really bad case of Nosema--bee diarrhea outside the upper entrance of Hive #2.

This hive was a concern with heavy mite loads all summer that treatments couldn't seem to get rid off.

There were bees hatching with deformed wings too, from mite damage.

Then they wouldn't take their syrup. The blame for this is my own inexperience.

Next year we'll take the last of our honey the end of August, leaving more time for the bees to restock their supplies. I'll take less from them too until I gain more experience with this.

Hive #2's entrance was covered in snow, and I didn't see any dead bodies out front - bees going on cleansing flights and hitting the snow and dying.

I think this is not a good sign and that this hive might have died. I've been kicking my butt all winter over this mistake but it's time to let it go and write it down as a learning experience.

The other three hives look good, with bees coming out on cleansing flights.

It'll snow Sat night but Sunday will be sunny and 0 degrees. I plan to open the hives quickly and add feed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Such a big question. When. When can I start feeding the bees?

This is a fearsome question to ask a beekeeper. If you ask three of them, you'll get four answers--or more! And each answer will tell you something different.

[This photo is from a month ago].

So far I've gleaned this advice:

One beekeeper said it's okay to open the hive now for a quick peak (-1 degrees C) but no pulling frames. Go ahead and feed them (rim spacer with sugar water baggie on top bars) if I'm concerned if the bees have enough stores, otherwise it's a little bit early yet. A way to tell if they don't have enough food is if they're all at the top of the hive under the inner cover. If they're down in the frames, they're fine.

Another beekeeper agreed with feeding now repeating the advice above, but only if I was really concerned that they were starving because it is still a little bit early (southwestern Ontario - with snow still on the ground).

There's been emails about this too on the Yahoo groups beekeeper list.

Advice varied from, don't break the propolis seal by opening now as it'll let in cold drafts versus it's okay to crack the lid and drafts don't matter.

(Refer to paragraph two... Ask 3 beekeepers a question... yes I'm sure you understand it now).

Of course Where you are makes a huge difference, along with the temperatures in your area.

I'm concerned that our four hives went into winter on the light side and I want to start feeding as soon as possible.

These guidelines for opening a hive were posted on the Yahoo Beekeepers group and was subject to debate about whether it was good advice or not. (I remember reading these guidelines before so I know it came from a beekeeping book).

Below 30 degrees F
Open the hive only in emergency, such as to feed or remove chemicals. If feeding is necessary below 30 degrees F, we must use dry sugar so the feed won't freeze

Below 40 degrees F
Open the hive only in emergency, such as to feed or remove chemicals. Bees cannot get far from the warmth of the cluster at below 40 degrees F so feed must be placed directly above the cluster.

Below 50 degrees F
At 50 degrees F, the bees are loosely clustered. The hive can be opened but brood combs should NOT be removed. Side combs can be removed to look at brood combs, but must be replaced quickly to avoid letter the brood get chilled.

55 degrees F
Bees begin to fly at 55 degrees F, especially for cleansing flights. Honey bees will not defecate inside the hive unless they have Nosema – Honey Bee diarrhea. They will also begin flying to collect nectar and pollen if it is available. Hives can be opened, but care must be taken to avoid chilling the brood.

60 degrees F
Complete hive inspection can be made, but brood combs should be returned to the hive quickly.

70 degrees F
70 degrees F is warm enough to completely disassemble the hive and farms for a thorough inspection.

And just in case you're looking for lots of conflicting advice, here's a list of beekeeping newsgroups to keep you busy

What are you doing? Are you feeding yet?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Convert

It's time to confess.

Do I love honey? Oh yes, I do.

But I would eat it straight from the spoon, tasting it much like how a wine specialist tastes wine.

I'd top off my bowl of fruit with a dribble of honey.

I'd put it on my porridge and definitely on my toast.

My tea and coffee .... well I've been drinking them for so long I was used to it tasting a certain way.

I'd run out of sugar or sweetener and I'd have to buy some. Imagine buying a sweetener when you have pounds and pounds of honey at your fingertips. It was embarrassing.

So I became determined. At first my tea was half drunk but slowly but surely my taste buds switched over and now I love my spoonful of honey in my tea.

Not only that, my favourite honey to have in my tea is the strong dandelion flavoured one. Yes people, I'm a new convert.