Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shunpiker Tour Stop at Pioneer Village, London, ON

On Mother's Day this year Dad and I had a table at Pioneer Village in London, Ontario.  It was one of the stops on the annual Shunpiker tour and admission was free.

Over 7,000 people came to the village to see the heritage buildings, crafts and walk down the streets of the village-- no cars.

The Marketing Manager, Dad, was in full swing telling the bee story, showing off our bees which we had put in an observation hive.

We borrowed this amazing hive that a fellow beekeeper made.  His workmanship is top notch and he did a beautiful job.  It even has a feeder at the side where sugar syrup, honey or water could be feed to the bees.

Sales were quite good and we gave a commission to the village.

At our sales table I usually have an empty hive, beekeeper clothing for the kids to try on, smoker, hive tools--I wear my shirt and bee belt and hat.

I also have some frames with photos of bees which look very real when the kids hold them up for a photo.

[Photo - Dad in full swing in charge of sales].

If you have combs you must have them in a clear container.

Mine is in a box with saran wrap over the top and of course I watched as a young child pressed down on the wrap, trying to touch the comb. They just can't resist.

No matter if you tell them not to squeeze comb, they just want to feel it's texture.

I also have some empty queen cells in a clear container, labelled, and queen cage to show how queens can come in the mail.

I find it's easier if we refer to the tasks that bees do and their hive like our own homes.... 

We tell them the bottom frame is the nursery; the top frame is the kitchen.

Sometimes the bees need a snack a little closer so they keep some food around the edges of the nursery.

People understand these explanations much more readily. 

I think it helps to demonstrate too that bees aren't too much different than us, wanting a roof over our heads and food to eat.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Deja Vu Bees

It's funny how we can recognize our own kids even if they're way off in the distance. It's their shape, and the way they move that gives them away.

And so while wrapping up my day at the bee yard I looked off into the distance and a good 50+ feet away I saw a brown blob in an apple tree.

I looked at it for a minute thinking it did look the shape of a swarm. The only way to know for sure was to check it out. Within 20’ of the tree I saw Them. Oh I recognized that mob of bees. They were mine. A huge swarm that I had twice before tried to capture. I called them The Absconders.

I should turn around and walk away. Forget them. It was well over a week ago that I had last put them in a hive only to find them gone the next morning.

So I did what any true blue beekeeper would do: I called home to Dad to bring the extension ladder. And hurry! I had a swarm to catch.

While I waited for the ladder I prepared. Gloves, socks over pant legs, button down sleeves and veil. These bees could be mean. Dad arrived and geared up. We put the ladder right under the swarm.

They were all collected on a single branch, thick as thieves. The plan was not to shake them this time. I’d already tried that twice.

Instead I’d cut the branch and carry it down and then gently ease them into a hive.

This swarm was way too big for a nuc box. Dad held the end of the branch, coming up the ladder a bit behind me. I had the large clippers to cut the branch which was a good ½” thick.

The dilemma was that I needed the power of both hands to operate the clippers. I planned to half cut the branch and then slow cut the rest while I held the end— Suddenly, SNAP!

The branch broke and fell. Thousands and thousands of bees went up in the air.

Damnit! I was swearing a blue streak. I nearly got this swarm and then the darn branch broke too soon.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Once on the ground the bees were in clumps in the grass and plants.

It was an impossible mess to try to brush them into a hive.

In frustration I took a hive and set it right up to the largest clump of bees.

I was able to brush a few clumps and pour them in the hive. Many had climbed into the nuc box and so I poured them into the hive.

Then I stood back and quit.

What else could I do?

I remembered a scene from A Man From Snowy River when the cowboys are chasing the wild horses and the horses ran down a steep ravine, leaving the cowboys behind. The leader said, “Well you can bid the mob good day.”

It just wasn’t meant to be.

Then unbelieveably I noticed the bees were home scenting on the stoop of the hive. Some were walking inside.

Somehow, some way I must have got the queen in the hive or they had had enough of being wild bees and were ready to be housed.

The deep was filling up fast because there was so many. Now it was full dark. I added a super too and left them. Morning would tell all.

They were there the next morning. Some were still on the grass (I had covered them with a nuc box to protect them).

The guards were scenting on the front stoop and within a short time everybody was inside. Lifting the lid I could see both the deep and super were exploding with bees so I added another super.

[Photo - I placed a frame in front of the hive so the bees wouldn't have to struggle in the grass.]

I then took a frame of eggs from another hive and inserted it into this one.  Also one of the supers I gave them was what I call a "sticky", wet combs taken out of my freezer from last year.

I've visited them daily and they've settled down.  These might actually be nice bees after all.  I mean I raised them didn't I?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bugs bug bugs too you know

I had not seen this before and it caught my eye.  The bees were doing what I call a Bug Dance.

There were potatoe bettles (those black bugs with white dots that often show up at picnics) crawling across their front stoop.

I believe they were attracted because of sugar syrup I was feeding a new hive.  The bees did not like having these bugs around and collected around to dissuade them.

Later the bees bit at the bettles and one grabbed one in her mandibles and then flew off the platform.

See the video below.  The dance is quite interesting - a twirling motion.

Monday, May 14, 2012

And now for something Pleasant

I was still sore from stings and I admit a bit miffed that my own hive swarmed the other day and then after I caught them they absconded.

After a busy day I was really pleased when I got an email from Laura.  An email about a swarm.

She said there was a swarm of bees at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  They were hanging in a tree and had been there three days.

She knew bees were having hard times and she was concerned this swarm was in danger. 
I got the email after dark so there was nothing I could do that night.  The next day I was fully committed with appointments which I could not change so I wasn't free until late afternoon the following day.

I asked her if it was baseball, or basketball in size.  The answer was basketball.  I asked her to let me know if they were still there the next day.

They were!

Laura had assured me the bees were within reach, hanging on a branch only about 6' off the ground.

I headed for the truck and loaded up my step ladder.

My friend Janice had been making fun of my recently converted swarm catching truck, complete with broom, hockey stick, deeps, supers and nuc boxes.  She had been singing the Ghost Busters theme the last time she saw me.

The swarm was just as Laura described and easy to find.  What a nice medium swarm - all nicely packed together on a branch within easy reach.

I set the nuc on the ladder and then lowered the branch into the box.  I clipped a couple small branches and opted to not cut the main branch.  It'd take a bit longer to get them off but it'd save the branch.

The bees had been through three days of cold night temperatures and rain.  Various sized sticks and chunks of wood littered the nicely mowed ground.  It was plain to see that children had been throwing sticks at the swarm.  Lord only knows what else they'd had to endure.

It was already after 6:00 p.m., and a cold wind was blowing.  As soon as I lowered the branch into the box the bees started to climb off.

I could tell these bees were different.  They were grateful bees.

I decided not to do any shaking and get bees airborne.  There were pedestrians going by every couple minutes on the path behind me and I didn't want to frighten anyone.
After holding the branch for a few minutes there were only a few bees left and I shook them into the box.  Then I picked up a few strays that fell to the ground.

[Note how swarms often leaving clumps of beeswax on the branch they were clinging to].

The bees were climbing over the combs in the nuc and I could tell they were content to settle there where it was warmer and out of the wind and rain...and children with sticks.

Several pedestrians came at the last minute wanting to see the bees again before they were taken away.  They all expressed thanks that the bees were going to be given a good home.

One man even brought his camera.  After all, it's not every day one gets to see a swarm.  I had brought my camera too!

Once home I transferred them to a hive for the night which would be warmer than the cardboard nuc box.  I shut them in though so that they wouldn't orient to my yard since that was just a temporary location.

Early the next morning I transported them to the bee yard and set them up.  Within an hour they were doing orientation flights in front of the hive.  The next day they were full of activity, coming and going.

I put my ear to the hive in the fading light of evening.  No sounds of an empty hive this time.  All I could hear was a happy hum.

Yes, these were very pleasant bees indeed. 

Mt. Pleasant Bees.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Eat . Sleep . Bees .

Eat. Sleep. Bees.

True enough but I couldn’t sleep.

I was obsessing about the one that got away. That swarm from my own hive. Bad enough that I hadn’t caught them, but they were still there as the skies darkened and it grew cold and rain pelted down. The thunder rolled and I thought of them being cold and hungry. I knew what I wanted:  To try again.

It rained all day.  At the end of the day it finally stopped raining.  I headed for the yard

They were still there, hanging much lower and less bees were clumped on the different branches and limbs. This looked like it was possible. I got the extension ladder out and set it up, this time going straighter and right up to within inches of the swarm.

I had a big pail on one arm and a shopping bag on the other. Inside it were my tree trimmers and bee brush.

My socks were over my pants and I had gloves on too. I trimmed the small branches to get closer. Then looping my arm around a thick branch to brace myself I held the pail under the swarm while I took the brush to the clump.
The pail got heavier and heavier but I was successful. Clump after clump I brushed off. Many fell on my hand and stung but I was determined

The air filled with bees. I climbed down carefully and poured the pail into a waiting hive. I watched as bees on the stoop walked inside the hive. That was a good sign. I hoped I got the queen.

Twice more I went up the ladder with the pail and brush and brought down more bees.

I had a sheet on the ground too and shook those bees into the hive as well (if you use a sheet, don’t use cloth as the bees sting it. I think plastic would work better.)

My gloves were so full of stingers that they looked bedazzled. Thank goodness most of the stingers didn’t reach my flesh. I put on sugar syrup and then packed up.

An hour later I saw them coming out of the hive and bearding all over the front. It was not a hot day so this was not a good sign.

It was growing dark and I needed to call it a day. I had done all I could. I got them.

Now it was up to them whether they would stay.
I went home and put my hands in a bucket of ice to reduce the swelling.

The next morning there was significant bee activity outside the hive, but on observation it looked like bees robbing the feeder inside.

I cracked the hive open to have a look …

It was empty.

The scoundrels had absconded. And no, they weren’t back up in that tree again.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tis the Season for Swarms

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.  But by my calculations this swarm will be worth a silver spoon by June.

The swarm calls were coming in fast and furious to Ontario beekeepers this last week.  When we got a couple days of nice warm weather it was like the starting gun at a race.  And the bees were off...

I had a frustrating time.  A man called my parents about a swarm and it turned out the phone number wasn't right - whether it was given or taken wrong didn't matter and unfortunately he didn't call back.

Then a second swarm - a fairly easy reach on an arbour didn't go well when the clump was brushed and missed the box.  It all hinges on that queen.  You get her and your golden, well mostly.

But then again maybe not.  On the weekend I was mentoring some new beekeepers and letting them get some hands-on experience.  In one hive we saw fully capped queen cells.  So the next day they came back and we were set to do a split.

Then right in the middle of doing the split one of my other hives swarmed.  It was a pretty cool sight seeing thousands of bees in the air.

But my bees!  They were leaving.

Of course they settled 20' high up in the apple tree.  A couple quick phone calls later I had an extension ladder being delivered.

[Photo - Beek Team Canada approaches swarms much like hockey]

This is when I learned how unprepared I was for a swarm.  We scrounged a blanket and found a hockey stick.

New beekeeper Dan went up the ladder first and then me.  Huge clumps of bees fell to the blanket.  Our mistake was not then immediately tipping them into a hive.  By the time I got down the ladder most had flown back up the tree again.

After a while we realized it was time to give up.... The bees had won.

For now.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Media Release from the Ontario Bee Association

This is a media release put out earlier this week by the OBA.  The problem with poisoned hives has grown over the last few days.  We all hope that the rain we've had recently will make a difference.  The results of the samples taken is still pending.

NEW THREAT to Ontario Bees!
After the most successful overwintering of honeybees in Ontario for a number of years, beekeepers are experiencing a new threat to their livelihood.

May 1, 2012, Milton, Ontario

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association has received numerous reports of Honey Bees observed to have acute poisoning symptoms. To date we have had 50 + reports involving multiple hives per location. The beekeepers have reported the incidents to several agencies including Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry Of the Environment and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. In most of the cases Ministry inspectors have responded and taken samples for analysis. We are still awaiting the results which could determine the exact cause of the honey bee mortality.

Anecdotal observations show a strong link to the air seeding of treated corn. In all cases surrounding fields have been seeded within a day of the observed bee mortality. This phenomenon is especially troubling because the seeding season is really just beginning in the rest of the province.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association has been in contact with OMAFRA officials who have indicated serious concern and are working to determine the reason why this may be happening in such large numbers this year.

Because honey bees play such a large role in the pollination of crops in Ontario, and that this may indicate that other non-managed pollinators are also affected, the Ontario Beekeepers Association is sending out this press release to express our concern and to indicate our desire to find a solution to this troubling trend.

We understand that farmers are doing what they need to do to get their planting done in a timely manner, and the farmers that we have spoken to are equally concerned about inadvertently causing harm to pollinating insects. We would like to see all parties work together to find a solution.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, established in 1881, is one of the oldest established farm organizations in Ontario. It is incorporated under the Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act (1987).

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association’s mission is to ensure a thriving and sustainable beekeeping industry in Ontario. For more information please call Ontario Beekeepers Association.

For more information or media interviews, contact:
Nancy Comber, Promotions/Media Coordinator
Ontario Beekeepers’ Association
Telephone: 905-636-0661
email:  media@ontariobee.com
website:  ontariobee.com

Funding for this position is provided in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agriculture Adaption Council's CanAdvance Program.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

19 Reports of Bee Deaths

It's raining as I write this article.  Finally we're getting more rain.

About two or three weeks ago reports starting swirling around southwestern Ontario that beekeepers were finding dying bees on the front stoops of their hives.

Photos were taken and samples of dead bees as well.  Most beekeepers suspect it's insecticide poisoning, possibly from corn planting, however the results are not out yet.

Below is a communication from Crystal Lafrance, Regional Pesticides Specialist, Ministry of the Environment

The ministry has received 19 reports of bee mortality from Ontario beekeepers. We are working with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and Pest Management Regulatory Agency to respond to these reports. Samples of dead bees are being analyzed to determine if pesticide exposure could have contributed to the deaths. At this time no definitive cause for the deaths has been determined.

Samples are currently being analyzed by the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and results will be shared with our ministry. If the bee deaths are determined to be related to misuse of a pesticide, then ministry compliance staff will take the appropriate next steps. If the bee deaths are found to be a result of a natural factor such as weather or disease, then the ministry will have a much more limited role.

Beekeepers are encouraged to report cases of bee mortality (please see contacts in the hyperlink below) to the Provincial Apiarist, Paul Kozak or your local bee inspector as MOE, OMAFRA and PMRA continue to work together to identify causes for the bee mortality observed this spring.

Bee Inspector Contact Information