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.

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