Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Sister, the Secret Beekeeper

Seven years ago I had not yet become a beekeeper. I was busy doing tons of research on bees.

It was 2007 and I was about to start writing a children's novel about honey bees (I'm still working on it).

I held off getting bees so I could focus on research and writing. Turns out that was a good idea because since starting beekeeping I've stopped working on the novel. But I digress...

During this time of research I was busy at home and my nephew left me a voice mail. He was very upset because there were lots and lots of bees at his house and he was scared of them.

Then my sister called to advise there were thousands of bees flying over her house and she didn't know what to do and the kids were scared. I told her it sounded like a swarm and that probably within a short period of time they would all gather in a mass and fly off.

She called back an hour or so later and said that it happened just like I said it would. The bees formed a mass and then they all flew off all at once. She was thrilled at the experience.

Then in 2013 I got a call from my sister's neighbour. She had a swarm of bees in her tree and she'd googled swarms and came up with my web site and contact info. So she called. At the time she didn't know her neighbour was my sister.

Dad and I collected this swarm (see photos) and I blogged about it Prepare for Swarm Season. It turned out that those bees have been my best bees.

They build up fast and because of that they can swarm.  I found I'd have to keep an eye on them but they are survivors.

They have all the great traits a beekeeperis looking for:   They are friendly and produce a lot of honey, they're hygienic and are always strong.

The only downside being their tendency to swarm but even that can turn for profit by producing nucs from the hive and selling them.

These bees have produced most of the hives in my yard.

The other day while I reflected on these bees and how they are so great I recalled the swarm my sister had over her house all those years ago. It was light a light bulb moment: That swarm I collected probably came from my sister's house She's probably had bees on her property all along and never knew it!

Then came the realization: My best bees came from my sister!

I wanted to confirm it so I went to her house and we had a look at the garage.

Sure enough we found a hole in the soffett of her garage right over the driveway - right where she had the bees swarming that day back in 2007.

I told her, she'd been a beekeeper all along and never knew it.

Just as a further note to this - my sister's next door neighbour on the other side, two members of that family are very allergic to bees. In all the time that bees were secreting living in my sister's garage there was never a stinging incident.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bee Poop

We learn that bees have a rule about poop and that is they're not supposed to do it inside the hive.
But if the bees are suffering from Nosema, they can get a bit of diarrhea and there can be poop on the inside of the hive - on the tops bars.
This winter I had two hives that had poop on the top bars and I suspect it was Nosema. These hives did not survive the winter.
I've had a problem feeding medication for Nosema.  The bees won't eat the medicated syrup.
I feed Fumigilin B in sugar syrup in both spring and fall. Last fall they wouldn't eat it at all and I ended up throwing most of it out--a waste of money buying sugar and the medication and the bees go untreated.
The last two years they haven't shown a great deal of interest in sugar water even non-medicated. With this winter being so brutally cold I believe that the bees went out through the top entrance and pooped on the side of the hive and then went right back in. If a bee tried to fly, she'd never make it back. It was that cold.
There's a ton of poop around the entrance hole on most of the hives. I don't think it's entirely from Nosema.
I've taken my hive tool and scraped most of it off. I'm sure the bees would dread having to clean that up. The rain should help rinse some of it away too.
This spring I'm feeding honey in baggies and no bee will turn down honey.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Beautiful Social & Solitary Bees

I had some extra baggies of honey so I put them on my robbing table a couple weeks ago.

On warm enough days when the bees were flying they'd come and rob out the honey.

I was very pleased to see about 10 species of bees show up at the robbing table.

It had been a cold spring and I know bees would be very hungry.

There was a wonderful invasion of this little black and white striped bee with yellow fuzz on it's thorax.  I have yet to identify what species but I think it might be either a mason bee or a leafcutter bee.

They must be stingless because I was picking them up to say hello and they didn't complain.

On cold days when bees were in a stupor I'd pick them up and warm them back to life in my hands. I did this with the little black and white striped bees very effectively.

They have strong little wings and make a loud buzz when they fly.

I fell in love with these little sweeties and now I want to know all about them. I wonder if I could raise them ... just for fun.

Last time I was at the yard I found what looked like a family of these bees under the rim of a pail I had turned on its side.

There were two full size bees and about three tiny ones.  I think the tiny ones were offspring of the larger bee but they may have flown to the pail.  I'm not sure.  It did have honey in it which would have been the original attractant and then the weather got colder.

I don't know if these are colony or solitary bees.

The Pines bee yard is on conservation land. A while back it was a gravel pit but now it's a lovely meadow of wildflowers and grasses complete with a large pond.

No fear of a "developer" here as the land is protected. There are so few places like this left. There were several fly-like bees with fly tongues and striped bodies that came by as well. It was very heartening to see these solitary and social bees.
It's a sign of a healthy area with a diversity of species.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Moving Hives Easily with a Backing Board

This backing board is my invention. It's based on a couple experiences I've had with disabled people who needed to shift from one structure--bed, chair, car, etc.--to another.

A backing board is a very smooth board that could be slid underneath the disabled person and then they could be transferred to another surface by being sliddeh off the backing board.

Anyway, that's where I got the idea on how to move hives more easily.

If you've ever had to do it, you know it's a pain.

Small time beekeepers don't have the big equipment to lift and carry... so we improvise.

Carrying a hive that's not taken apart takes two people because it's so unwieldy and because it's heavy.

The boxes can slide apart too - the bottom board and varroa screen can separate at the wrong time and the boxes can slide apart when you don't want them too.

Also, if you've blocked your bees in for the move, you've got a few thousand very anxious bees that are looking for any tiny crack or opportunity to get out of that hive.

What I wanted was to move these heavy hives that were a deep and two or three supers high without taking them apart.

The hives were heavy but not overly so being that it was early spring. I decided to make my version of a backing board.

I imagined two or more people holding the edges to carry the hive and that's when I got the idea to cut handle holes into the backing board. And this is what I came up with. And it worked beautifully. Anywhere from two to four people could lift and carry the hive.

Our heavy duty wagon made the transition even easier. We could tip the hive to get the backing board under the edge and then move until it was centered on the backing board.

Then we'd slide the works onto the wagon. We'd pull the wagon up to the tailgate of the truck and then each person would grab a handle and we'd do a lift onto the truck.

Now those political signs that you may have read about (using to add shade to the top of a hive or give a little roof to the front porch) make fantastic sliders to transition a hive from the back of the truck bed to the front.

Once the hive was on the political sign we used a simple board--we called it the pusher board--to push/slide the hive by placing it against the bottom board and pushing until the hive was at the front of the truck bed. This made room for 2 more hives.

The move went fabulously and we didn't have any problem managing the hive weight or keeping the hive parts together.
The biggest challenge was keeping those determined bees locked into their hives.

We did most of the moves in daylight and so the night before I had taped screening over the entrances so they had air flow but the bees couldn't get out.

But the tape failed and the bees were determined and a few times they got out on me and were flying.

I waited until night time again and came with the staple gun to attach the screening and that was much more effective but somehow 3 hives still managed to have some bees sneak out through the bottom entrance.

The backing board was made with 3/4" plywood.  The handles were cut 1.5" from the edge which was just right to get a strong grip.  I used a bottom board to measure the center and then added about 8 to 10 inches and cut the rectangle out.

It was a big job since the move also meant removing the hive foundation - a 4'x4' plywood base, the wooden flat and all the large bricks.

You can see from the photos that most of the hives were 3 or 4 supers high.

I certainly could not have done the move alone and I'm very grateful for family members that are willing to help and aren't too afraid of bees to pitch in (even if one or two of them did get stung).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

We have to Relocate

I do have lots to tell and so I will be updating on what has happened over the last while.

In mid March while the snow was still on the ground I got the dreaded news.

Like a thunderous dark cloud that would follow me everywhere I knew it was only a matter of time before lightening struck. I got a call to advise that the property where we kept our bees was going to be developed.

[Our old yard in the abandoned orchard]

A nice term: Developed. It has many different meanings. For us and the wildlife that take refuge in the abandoned orchard, it means the place will be leveled to make room for a factory some time in the future.

My first thought was for the nesting birds in spring. The orchard is a bird watchers paradise and I can only hope that the offspring are fledged before the bulldozers arrive.

We were certainly grateful for the four years we'd been allowed to stay on the property but the time was up. We had until the end of May to relocate our bee yard. We didn't have any prospects lined up and were kind of caught by surprise.

The scramble was on and Dad and I started call around to find a new location.

We wanted to avoid corn and neonics as much as possible and hopefully find a spot a reasonable distance from home. I also wanted to have two locations.

I'm happy to report that we found two new locations.

[One yard we call The Pines because of all the super tall pine trees that create a wind break.]

Both locations are within 5 km from home and have a great woods with lots of maples and water close by.

[Our second location we call Berry Fields is at Heeman's Garden Centre where there is a large bush as well as strawberry and raspberries to pollinate].

On the Easter weekend, my sister, her husband and their sons to helped with the move.

It took most of the weekend to move 18 hives.

Seven of the hives were dead (more on that later) but they still had to be moved. We got it done though and we're all settling in.

Next post I'll post on my invention that helped to move hives easily without taking them apart or putting our backs out.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Feed Them! A Mud Sucking Adventure

A couple weekends ago I went skating. Then I did gymnastics. Next I went swimming. Following that I did a mud pack.

Sounds like a weekend at a retreat right? Well, it wasn’t.

Recently we had a bee meeting and the advice given was to feed the bees even though there was still snow on the ground. I’d been thinking the same thing and so armed with this information I borrowed a toboggan from my sister. I made a decision to feed the bees honey instead of sugar water.

We have quite a bit of honey and I’ve been concerned about their health since they struggled last summer to produce. I figured honey would give them a good boost. I loaded the toboggan with rim spacers, smoker and honey pails. I had baggies to fill and the honey was still warm from being melted.

There was still some snow on the ground with many large, damp patches. When going over the snow my feet broke through down a foot or so to wet and watery ground below. And my leg was stuck.  While pulling desparately on my right leg it popped out, without my boot but then at the same instant my left leg broke through the icy snow right up to my knees and then as I went down my right leg went back into the hole.

Of course I fell backwards too.  So I laid there a minute on the icy snow and had a rest.  Eventually I was able to wiggle my legs out and stand up again.

The areas of the yard not covered in snow turned into mud holes that sucked the boots right off my feet. So with mud covered clothing and wet boots and socks I finally hiked into the yard.

The temperatures the last couple days had been about 10+ Celcius which we haven’t had for many weeks. I had 18 hives. The first day I was there it was colder so the bees weren’t flying, but the second day (wearing rubber boots this time) the bees were flying—at least from most of the hives.

Those hives where I didn’t see any activity did not look good. Six hives appeared to be dead. I pulled just a few frames and they were plugged with dead bees. Sad. This was the first time I’ve had losses after winter in five years of beekeeping. It was also the first time the bees had struggled all summer to keep queens alive and in the fall they had not been able to build up their supplies so I gave them back frames of honey we had that hadn't been extracted yet.

It was also the first season to have corn planted across the road.

The dip in the area in front of the hives had turned into a pond and as I put stepped on a bit of ice at the edge of the pond my foot slipped.  As my right leg slid into the water I desparately tried to stay on dry land.  I actually (painfully) did the splits.

Then I fell splat into the icy water.  It was somewhat refreshing.  My knees are so painful that all I had to kneel on was ice.  It was very painful but I managed to wiggle back a bit until I found a somewhat muddy spot where I could kneel and get my footing back.

So after this adventure I refused to go home.  I continued on and feed the bees the warmed honey.

I got warmer too as I worked and my clothes dried out.