Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year

     To everyone I wish a very happy and healthy new year to you and your loved ones (including your bees).  May your bees survive the cold of winter, develop a resistance to Varroa and other pests, be free of all diseases and produce buckets of honey.
     Please don't drink and fly!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cottonwood Beekeeping Cooperative Honey Harvest

     We did a honey harvest this past weekend with our 2 frame hand crank extractor.  A lot more fun than a Flow Hive.  I felt neither the animosity or admiration other beekeepers felt for the "Flow Hive".  At $500 Canadian for a few frames I was more disturbed by the price.
     We're experiencing a drought in Vancouver with no winter snow in the mountains and water restrictions in effect as of last week.  This is obviously a concern for beekeepers as the amount of moisture present determines the nectar available for the bees.  We kept this in mind when pulling honey frames leaving lots of partially wax capped and wet frames (uncapped honey) in each hive.  Also, important to note no blow outs on foundationless, unwired frames.  It seems as long as they are firmly attached on all 4 sides we have no problems.  Half of the honey from each hive goes to the Vancouver Foodbank or is sold to support Cottonwood Community Garden.  Thanks to Bruce for these photos.

Serge demonstrating the proper wobble proof sitting position on the extractor
Though we have fine filters we have determined that we and our customers (friends) prefer a very large filter removing only the largest bits of wax.
     While pulling honey frames for the harvest we checked on the queen status of two previously queenless hives and found fresh larvae.  We had added frames of young brood to create the new queens.

Our Honey Bee Larvae
     A major concern for us beginning in September when they leave their nests is the Yellowjacket Wasps (Vespula pensylvanica - Western yellowjacket) that attempt to enter the hives and kill our bees.  Last year they were much more aggressive and persistent well into December surviving many a frosty night.  With this particular species of wasp all die with the arrival of cold weather (we thought) except for the newly mated queen who survives in a sheltered location.

Vespula pensylvanica (western yellowjacket-Queen) in our garden.
     The wasps like all living things play an important role in our ecosystem by preying on our crop pests and pollinating some of our plants.  I've identified 8 different species of wasp in our garden.  Actually I had help from the experts at Bugguide .  They will do their best to identify any insect photo you send to them.

Polistes dominula- European paper wasp in our garden.
      Of greater concern for us than the aggressive wasps may be a September dearth or bloomless period.  The Goldenrod and Rudbeckia are in bloom and I'm picking apples, all a month premature.  September is usually a good foraging month for us but with warm temperatures, hungry bees and few blooms many local beekeepers will consider syrup feeding.  Let's hope I'm wrong.

Ahhh, filling my favourite honey jar.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cottonwood Cooperative Apiary Hive Inspection

One of the girls enjoying a flowering Allium.

     We have created a beekeeping cooperative at our community garden.  Initially the main purpose was to provide a home for yardless apartment dwelling urban beekeepers but the sharing of resources and particularly expertise for novice beekeepers has proven to be added benefits.
     We're fortunate to have 3.5 planted acres with 120 individual garden plots, over 150 gardeners and 10 beekeepers.  There are also over 50 fruit trees (some of our garden nectar and pollen sources) and a native forest with among others, Cottonwoods, Willows (great early season (March) pollen and nectar source) and Black Locust trees (May blooms - great honey source).  We also have a number of flower gardens and a wide variety of berries (Thimble, Salmon, Raspberry, Blueberry, Blackberry, Gooseberry and Currents).  As a vegetarian I am living almost exclusively off the produce from the garden this time of year.  Our bees are actively foraging from March til October and our only period of dearth (bloom shortage) is late September into October.  We're planting Goldenrod Aster to make up for this short fall.  Next weekend we will be doing our second honey extraction of the year with part of the honey going to the local Foodbank and part being sold to help support the community garden.
     Each individual beekeeper in the cooperative has their own style of organic beekeeping which is the interesting aspect of beekeeping.  We even have a treatment free Kenyan Top Bar beekeeper which we are monitoring to see if the treatment free methodology effects other hives.  The top bar nuc came from a long time local, successful treatment free bee breeder.  All of the beekeepers are transitioning to foundationless frames with a 3 year turn over practice to reduce toxic and disease build up.  This is the first year that a number of the hives has gone through a natural requeening with a 3-4 week broodless period.  The result is slightly smaller yet healthy colonies with less honey and extreme low 24 hour mite counts (0-3) for this time of year.  The broodless period is obviously beneficial for mite control as mite reproduction takes place in the bee brood.  I've noticed the wasps actively hunting around the hives (not the entrance) preying on sick or dying bees.  Will have to monitor this as the Yellowjacket wasps (I have identified 8 species of wasps in our garden) were a major problem last fall.  I have the wasp traps ready to go.  Thanks to Matt for taking these photos of our last apiary inspection.         

Mary keeping records of our 10 hives (We also use Beetight online hive tracking).

Some of our beekeepers are transitioning from deep to medium supers for easier lifting.

Good brood pattern.

Foundationless medium frame with wood starter strip.

Medium frame in a deep super.

Foundationless (With wire or without?)

Honey frame almost completely capped.

Feeding syrup to new split nuc.  Some feed, some don't.

The girls drawing out a foundationless medium.

Drawing out a medium frame of a new split nuc.

Artichoke Thistle.  A favorite of our girls.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver Class

One of the girls enjoying a Kale blossom
     Last year's Kale is in blossom and the bees are enjoying it.  The spring has provided good foraging weather and we are entering May which is the most productive month in the bee colonies for us.  While April has as many blossoms the warmer, dryer longer days of May gives more foraging time for the increased population of bees.  The blossoms that dominate our 4 acre garden in May are Raspberries and Black Locust trees.

Our bees love Raspberry blossoms
       May is also a time when we present our first "Introduction to Beekeeping" class of the year.  Beekeeping has become popular and a recent survey in the U.S. revealed that over 70% of beekeepers quit beekeeping within the first 5 years.  I believe this is because people enter into beekeeping too quickly and are not properly prepared for the dedication of time and continuous learning that is required to be a competent beekeeper.  Also, new beekeepers do not have the support needed to deal with problems that arise.  The goal of this class is not to discourage you or take the place of a full beekeeping course but to assist you and better prepare you in your decision to become a beekeeper.  We will provide you with a very basic overview of  honey bees and beekeeping and answer all of your questions.  The class is about 2 hours in length and as it is held outside is weather dependent.  We keep the class small so that everyone can have if they wish an intimate experience with the bees so reservation is necessary.  There is no cost and we provide the veil and gloves.  Our classes are held at Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona Park.  To reserve a spot in our "Introduction to Beekeeping Class", Saturday, May 16th contact us at strathconabeeat gmaildo tcom.  For more information on beekeeping courses check out our Vancouver Beekeeping Courses page.
     All of theory needed to be a beekeeper is available for free online.  A good start is "Beekeeping 101" which is an assortment of books, videos and a course from the University of California.  Our Beekeepers' Library is also a good source of information.  While theory is important the practical application and guidance of experienced beekeepers is more so.  We look forward to seeing you at our beekeeping class.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Honey Bee Nucs vs Packages

     There are few hard, set in concrete rules in beekeeping despite what some will tell you. Whether to buy a bee nuc or package depends like a lot of things on your location and your needs.  A nuc (nucleus of a colony) consists of 4-5 frames of bees in a half sized Langstroth deep box: laying queen, 2 frames of brood and 2 frames of honey and/or pollen. A typical package consists of 3 pounds of bees, and a queen. Normally the package bees are from production hives where they shake out bees into the package box. A mated queen is then placed in the package, protected in a queen cage.  There is usually a container of syrup in the package to feed the bees for the days before they are transferred to a hive. A package is usually put together a few days before sold and in the case of cold weather beekeepers in spring comes from a warmer location to the south. In our case because of government restrictions (No U.S. Bees to Canada) this means thousands of miles south from New Zealand or Chile. The video below shows the process of creating a package of bees.

      The main advantage of the package is that in cold weather areas they are available (March) a few months before local nucs (May) which allows beekeepers to take advantage of spring fruit blossoms.  Fortunately for us at Cottonwood Garden Apiary in Vancouver a supply of "overwintered nucs" are available this year at the same time as the package, cheaper than the package (devalued dollar) and a much better option.  However, in British Columbia the supply does not meet the demand as over 3,000 packages of bees will be imported this March from New Zealand to help pollinate the Fraser Valley blueberries.  In l985 biologist and author Mark Winston wrote "it is estimated that, at present colony densities, BC has the potential to produce 75,520 spring packages each year, and increased colony density and a higher level of commercial beekeeping could elevate this figure. Continued and increased package and nucleus production, coupled with increased wintering and queen production, could result in a high degree of Canadian self-sufficiency within the next few years (l989 Study on package and nuc production in B.C.)."  That self-sufficiency was never realized.  Large scale package and nuc production was never developed and with current 30% winter colony losses our dependence on imported packages will continue.
      Packages are a necessity in some areas because of the lack of nucs available.  They are usually cheaper, have less pests and diseases (no comb) and can be installed into any type of hive.  In most areas the packages come from a warmer climate so winter survival is less likely as proven in a good, small scale study carried out in New England by master beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes (Comparison of colony strength and survivability between nucs and packages).  This single study is certainly not conclusive evidence but suggests a problem with imported warm weather packages and a need for more projects like this.  Erin found a significant difference in winter survival between the southern package and nucleus (the nucs had twice the survival rate) but also found that a southern package with a replaced local queen performed as well as the nucleus.

      In our situation bee packages come from a similar climate but the opposite hemisphere so they leave New Zealand in late summer and arrive in Canada a few days later in early Spring where it can be freezing and snowing (I have experienced this).  This obviously can be hard on the bees.  Erin also found in her study that the packages outperformed the nucs in terms of honey production which she attributed to a high rate of swarming by the nucleus colonies. I don't know if she took measures to prevent swarming but this has not been my experience .  I've not had exceptional problems with nucs swarming but have used swarm prevention methods like checkerboarding and splits (Check out "Swarms" in the "Basic Beekeeping" section of our library).

       The benefits of using a nucleus over a package are that the queen is established, she is laying, you can see the brood pattern and there are usually at least 2 frames of brood.

Good brood pattern
     The worker bees in a nucleus colony know their roles so there are nurse bees and foragers and the foundation is set (drawn comb) which will put them at least a few weeks ahead of an imported package. 

Bees with a sense of humour drawing out a frame
     Many backyard beekeepers will not have drawn frames to install their packages on to so a lot of energy and feeding will be required to produce the wax to draw out the frames.  Because there are foragers and at least one frame of honey and pollen the nucleus will not require feeding.

Frame of honey

     A survey by the Beekeepers Assocition of North Virginia to determine if the source of queens effected colony winter survival found significant differences between southern packages (23%) and local nucs (87%).  While this is an extreme example I thinks it supports the theory of the benefits of local nucs over imported southern packages.     
     While the package may be a necessity for the commercial beekeeper, in my humble opinion if available the nuc from local, survivor stock is a better option even two months after the package particularly for the new beekeeper.  With the nuc, because you have an established colony (Queen) with drawn comb and stores there is less likelihood of problems like absconding or queen failure that can occur with packages.  Biologist and author Mark Winston (Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive) suggests we need to wean ourselves off of this dependence on imported bees.  The solution lies in the lowering of the winter loss rate possibly through the development of a strong local, survivor stock with hygienic behavior and a love of mushrooms.  The increasing popularity of overwintering nucs may also be helpful.


     In the video below Michael Palmer describes some of the difficulties associated with starting a bee hive from scratch using package bees including the lack of nurse bees for the new brood.

     For more information on nucs and packages check out "Splits, Nucs and Packages" in the Basic Beekeeping section of the Beekeepers' Library.  Be sure to check out the articles on overwintering nucs by Kirk Webster, Mel Disselkoen and others in the "Winter Management" section of our library.  In Vancouver Urban Bee, West Coast Bee Supplies and Dancing Bee Apiary will be selling New Zealand packages in March and B.C. Beekeeping will be selling local, overwintered nucs from March to May (Vancouver Bees for Sale). 
     Vancouver has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather with temperatures in the 50's (10-12 Celsius).  The willow, witch hazel, early flowering cherries, crocus and hellebores are in bloom and the girls are actively bringing in the pollen.  Spring is in the air.

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