Friday, June 29, 2012

The long and winding road

Today the Beatle's song is going through my head.  The long and winding road.  It often leads to unexpected places.

In this case my mind is saying, "back home."  In truth I don't know where I'll end up.

Today I join with millions of other Canadians and citizens around the world that have or are experiencing the terror and uncertaintly of unemployment.

For many of us the future is uncertain to a degree.  Will I get sick with cancer?  Will the economy in my area totally collapse?  Will my investments go bust?  Will my reduced pension be enough to live on?

All I can say is that I have been especially blessed in life with a job for 31 years.  I thank God for that.  I will do my best to look to a bright future and stay positive.

That's where the bees come in.  They help me.  They keep me going.  They don't necessarily need me as we know--they're pretty good at taking care of themselves--but they allow me to dip into their lives every so often and watch as this social insect works together for the common good.

In so many ways they exemplify how I think humanity should work.  But it doesn't.  That's when I hold steady to those folks out there that I've met that hold the same ideals.  And most of them are beekeepers.

They say that when one door closes another will open.  I believe that.  I hope I choose the right door.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Middlesex, Oxford, Elgin Beekeepers Association Annual Bee Yard Meeting

Every year in June the "MOE", Middlesex Oxford, Elgin Beekeeper's Association ( meet at a beekeeper's yard.

It's a chance for the experienced and non experienced to get together where we can get some hands on the bees and learn from those that have been beekeepers for years.

[Photo - Albert Devries holding up a frame of queen cups]
I remember a couple years back when we held the event in my bee yard that I learned more in 10 minutes with an experienced beekeeper than reading all kinds of books.

You just can beat some good old fashioned hands-on training.

This year we met in Elgin County at Albert Devries' home where he raises Buckfast bees.

He was trained as a beekeeper in Guelph but for a while other occupations kept him busy.

Recently he's started working for Clovermead Apiaries.  He was quick to recommend following your dreams and was very content to be doing work that he loves.

On his property was a lovely ravine with a creek.  Multiple hives were nestled there among the trees.

Dappled sunlight was lovely, mixed with just enough shade to make it comfortable.

We geared up and formed groups of beginners and queen rearing wannabees.

I was asked to mentor a group of beginners and so we gathered around a grouping of hives.

Albert breeds and sells queens too.  He demonstrated queen breeding, showing a frame filled with queen cups.

This is when I learned that when grafting tiny larvae into the queen cups that they cannot be flipped.

They only have breathing spiracles on one side of their body.  So if the larvae is flipped in the pool of royal jelly it will drown.

Everyone took turns prying frames from hives and holding up the bees.

We saw queen cups (empty), drone cells, drones and workers.

[Photo - new beekeepers try their hand at grafting larvae into queen cups]

Frames were passed around and even my mother got in on the act and held up a frame--with no veil or hat on!

Afterwards we returned to the shade trees and our lawn chairs and enjoyed some cool drinks and sandwiches.  Of course the talk was all about bees, naturally.

It was a good day.

If you're interested in purchasing Buckfast queens you can contact Albert at 519-868-9429 or via email at 
[Photo - my Mom holding a frame of bees.]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys

The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural HoneysIn the first two minutes flipping through this book I got the perfect answer to how to warm my honey up slowly without using too much heat (how to build a warming box which I will report on in the near future).

[Photo - of the book on]

This book would be enjoyed by a beginner, giving them information they can use but I think the perfect reader for this book is a beekeeper with a couple years experience or one who is preparing to expand their business.

There are many large colour photos throughout which add to the written descriptions.

The primary focus of the book is giving pointers on how to preserve the flavour and quality of the honey right up to point of sale. The secondary focus is on how to produce artisan honey - those lovely unique flavours from mono floral sources.

The third focus is a review of all the equipment and techniques used to remove frames of honey from the hive, and covering all the equipment used for extracting--showing hobbyist equipment right up to equipment used in a large commercial operation.

Honey house layouts are pictured and explained from a small corner in a room to a warehouse sized operation.

Flowers that provide great tasting honey and also not so great are covered. (I knew bees loved common privet but I had no idea it made a horrible tasting honey).

The back of the book has numerous recipes that include honey.

The author is a bit repetitive about not overheating honey and mentioning the value of artisan honey but the rest of the book has enough information to satisfy the reader.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Little Echo Swarm

It was 7:30 at night and I was packing up my bee tools out at the bee yard.  I had a date at the drive-in.

While loading the truck I noticed there were bees in odd places.  I hadn't spilled any honey or sugar syrup so there was no reason I could think of why bees would be investigating the crooks and crannies of the truck.  No reason--except one.

House hunting.
I looked up and that's when I saw the air swirling with bees going in wide loops.  They weren't going home or going to the field.  They were swarming.

Now who on earth would swarm at 8:00 at night?  My bees, that's who.

I've learned from watching swarms that the bees point in the direction they intend to go.  At first they were pointing at the truck but then they changed their position.

They were pointing at the pear tree.  I waved a goodbye.

The swarm was small and they were looking to land about 20' up.  I couldn't be bothered.  Besides these bees looked like a little echo of a previous swarm.

I was suspicious that they had come from the infamous Hive #7 which had already put out a huge swarm which I finally got... but the hive was growing again rapdily.  Maybe there's a strong swarming gene there that's better left out.

Then the bees came down to hover over a brand new platform that I had just finished setting up.  They circled and circled around it with great interest.  I think they were sending me a message.

So I set out a super with frames.  I didn't even have a bottom board so I used an inner cover for the bottom.  They certainly weren't fussy.

I didn't try to brush them or do anything but within a few minutes they were clustering outside the super and going in and out of it.  Then the scouts were dancing at the cluster.  They were pretty excited.  They were flying up to the branches too and encouraging the others to come down.

The clump in the pear tree was growing smaller by the minute as they moved down.  It was a democractic moment.  The dancers were very convincing.

This was definitely a teriertary swarm because it was quite small.  If they had a queen she'd be a virgin and inexperienced which might explain why they thought the truck might be a good new home.

They were entering the hive.  The dancers had done their job.

It was getting dark when I left.  And I missed my movie.

But I got another swarm!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Let your bees do the shopping

Like many shopping excursions, this one branched out a little more than I expected.

The plan was to go to the local Home Depot and buy large cement bricks.  I use them as the feet to set skids on to create a platform for the hives.

[Photo - Cat Mint plant]

Two cement blocks stacked up in each corner raises the platform enough to help deter skunks.  They'd have to stand on their back legs to reach the hives, baring their tummies.

And the bees know what to do with bared skin.

Just outside the store were racks of flowers.  I'm a huge fan of perrinials.  In fact, I don't have grass at home any more--just flowers.

I also have just about every flower going.  I stick with hardy perennials that can handle a dry summer and come back year after year.

[Photo - Dwarf Cranesbill plant]

When walking by the flowers I saw a foraging bee.

She was visiting the tiny purple blooms of a catmint plant.  Then she flitted to a purple cranesbill flower and fed there too.  I realized that that would be my bee since my hives aren't that far away.

I scooped the plants up and into the cart.  I had plans to put in a small garden out at the bee yard.  I wanted to plant flowers that bees like.  And these had been taste-tested by a pro.

Back home, I've been observing my plants as they bloom and I've been disappointed to see that most of the plants don't seem to attract the honey bees.  I regularly see bumble bees foraging in my garden.

Maybe I'm not watching at the right time of day.  I do have many well known plants that bees prefer but I figured most flowers would offer pollen and/or nectar of some sort.

[Photo - Obediant Plant]

Today I watched a bee waddling with a huge load of orange pollen.  She may have got them from tiger lilies which are just starting to bloom now.

Next time you go to buy some plants for your bees, take them along to help you choose the right ones.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fourteen ... and a Half

So I went cold turkey.  No more swarm collecting.

The decision wasn't that hard--I was forced to quit because I had no more equipment left to put them in.

With splits from my own yard I had planned on only collecting one or two swarms and end up with about 10 hives.  Now I have 14.

Well, 14 1/2 ....

[Photo - the bottom entrance of a hive feeder was beckoning to some bees to make themselves at home]

I discovered a very tiny swarm had moved into a hive top feeder that was sitting in the yard.  In early spring it had sugar syrup in it so out for robbing but now it was empty.

I shook them out of the feeder and sure enough, just like a swarm, they all gathered in one spot on the table edge.  So I set a nuc box where the feeder had been.

It took about five democratic bee minutes for them to decide to move in.

The next day I found a honey super and put them in it.  I suspected the bees didn't have a queen but I'd wait and see.

There was only about 150 of them - so tiny is the word.

This exact thing happened last year and that tiny swarm didn't have a queen at first and then a few weeks later they had a queen.

What I found touching about these bees was that they were such a motley crew.  They were an assortment of ages and bee races.  Several bees had damaged wings and were unable to fly but they were still part of the family.  It was like everyone was accepted and belonged.  Maybe the hive feeder became a place where stragglers gathered together and became a hive on their own.  A motley family.

So I'll give them a bit of time.  I haven't seen a queen yet.  When inspecting another hive I removed a queen cup with an egg in it and gave it to this Motley Crew swarm.  When I checked the cup a few days later there were about 10 eggs in it.

They definitely have a worker laying drone eggs.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hit the Ground Running

The last three weeks have been a blur of activity.

After a couple days deployment volunteering for Red Cross, driving a 26' U-Haul across the province from city to city, I sat in the a hotel room.

I realized I couldn’t remember what city I was in. We had hit the ground running that morning and had been to many cities, loading shelter cots to take to northern Canada where wildfires blazed. It was hot and sweaty work.

[Photo - a secondary swarm on a cedar hedge].

And after relaxing and washing off the sweat I couldn't remember where I was.

Back home bee swarms were happening like wildfires too. Every day the phone would ring and I’d be running. A swarm hanging on a branch, the person would report. It’s only six feet off the ground.

Who could resist free bees like that? It’s like picking apples.

I learned from a fellow beekeeper to ask the caller if the swarm was tennis, baseball, football or basketball sized. This would help a lot over the phone for me to determine if this is a first swarm (large) or a smaller secondary or tertiary swarm.

[Photo - two new hives set up].

The second or third swarms would have virgin queens. The best producing swarm is that first one with the mature mated queen.

I think it was the first three swarms that I lost out on that fed this new swarm collecting addiction. I just couldn’t let them go. I caught one off a cedar hedge, a secondary swarm 6’ off the ground. Easy as pie.

I got another in a man’s backyard. Football sized and after being clustered for 3 or 4 days it only took two small shakes of the tree branch to fill the nuc box. I left the box until dark and came back to pick them up and take them away. So easy.

Then back at the bee yard I was hitting the ground running every free minute I had doing inspections and splits, painting equipment and setting up new platforms.

I decided to change the orientation of the new hives from east to south facing.

After a couple weeks on the run after swarms I had a moment to relax in the bee yard.

I found myself looking at all these new hives. There were so many I couldn't remember which hive came from where.

I had six.  But now I have 14.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Recycle Bees

Every time I set my hive tool down bees would collect on it.

I had not had the tool in honey and so I stopped to watch to see why they were so interested in my hive tool.

They were collecting the propolis.

On a table I had a hive feeder sitting on end, waiting to be scraped down with my hive tool.

But the bees had got there first.

This time I could see they actually were attaching the comb to their back legs.

This wax is what some people call burr comb--a mixture of propolis and wax.A few days later I actually witnessed a bee with proplis on both hind legs.

She also grabbed a piece in her jaws and tried to fly off with it, but she dropped it.  I witnessed this behaviour again on another day.

I believe these are my bees from swarms I collected.  They need propolis to seal up those frames and what better place to find it than the discarded bits I scrape off in the yard.

I discarded them but to the bees they are like gold.  So now I put the scrapings on a table and the bees collect there to gather it.