Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hapbee 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!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Gifts for Beekeepers

      At this time of year I'm especially appreciative that I have a roof over my head and food in my belly when so many in the world have neither.  You don't need to be a Christian to celebrate the idea of Christmas which should be a time of peace, love and selfless giving rather than the modern concept of commercialized over consumption.  Here are a few Christmas gift suggestions that we can give to beekeepers less fortunate than ourselves.  
     In many countries beekeeping is a practical solution to reduce poverty and relieve suffering.   Beekeeping requires little space, minimal cost and offers much needed income from the sales of honey, beeswax and pollen. In addition increased pollination from the introduction of these bees can substantially increase fruit and vegetable yields as well as pollinating native plants.  For most beekeeping has become a supplement to the family income but for an increasing number it has become a major part of the village economy.  This is one of reasons we created our Beekeepers' Library, to provide free localized information to beekeepers worldwide.  There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations worthy of your Christmas donations like "Bees for Development", "ICIMOD", "Global Hand", "Bees Abroad", "The Bee Cause", "The Bumblebee Conservation Trust", "The Xerces Society" and for me, in my community "Hives for Humanity". 
     One organization on my gift list is "Heifer International" which has been operating throughout the world for over 70 years.  For a mere $30 you can give the gift of honey bees.  

    Although I grow much of my own food and support local, organic farmers an organization that I support at Christmas and throughout the year is Fair Trade.  Farmers in developing countries have traditionally been exploited by greedy food distribution corporations.  A small portion of the price you pay for agricultural products from developing countries goes to the farmer.  The concept of "Fair Trade" has empowered these farmers and provided them and their communities with a fair income which has allowed them a healthier, happier lifestyle. This documentary "Hope is Golden" is about the beekeeping cooperatives in Brazil’s arid Caatinga region that produce Fair Trade certified honey.

     The Fair Trade organizations provide funding for the infrastructure required by farming cooperatives in developing countries.  "Fair Trade International" began 25 years ago and in 2012 the number of Fairtrade producing organizations grew by 16%.  It works and it is growing.  Each time you buy a Fair Trade product you are supporting the farmer and their family in the developing world rather than the multinational food distribution corporation.   Buying "Fair Trade" products (honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee), easily identifiable by the "Fair Trade" symbol is a good idea throughout the year.
     Another organization that I support is "Schools for Chiapas".  Mexico is a prime example of how corporate agriculture exploits local farmers in developing worlds.  The Zapatista organization "Schools for Chiapas" struggles to educate (Schools for Chiapas projects) and empower local, native communities.  One part of this is the promotion and education of the beekeeping tradition of Meliponiculture.  Melipona beecheii are  stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America (Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya) which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.  In much of Latin America stingless beekeeping has been replaced by the introduction of the Africanized European Honey Bee (Killer Bees).  The native stingless bees are the only honey bee native to the Americas and are essential for the pollination of some native plants and Schools for Chiapas is supporting a revival of this traditional beekeeping practice.  You can support this initiative through the American Stingless Bee Recuperation Gift of Change.  They are also working to preserve the native, non gm varities of corn. (other Gifts of Change).
       In this video a group of Mayan women are challenging social norms and preserving an endangered species (The stingless bee, Melipona Beecheii).  Traditionally the prerogative of men in Mayan culture, beekeeping is providing this collective with a source of income and a reason to keep the species from going extinct.

          Organizations that I do not support or legitimize are Monsanto's Honey Bee Health, Bayer's Bee Care and Syngenta's Operation Pollinator.  There are a number of factors contributing to the demise of all species of bees including imported diseases, pests and diminished available forage but a major cause is the overuse of agrichemicals.  Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are in the process of monopolizing the world seed market with patented genetically modified seeds that contain or are designed to accept massive quantities of agrichemicals that are dangerous to both bees and humans.  Their bee programs are a public relations ploy to divert you from the true danger of their products.

     A free gift I recommend to beekeepers of all ages is the wonderful book, "The Travelling Beehive".  This book is  written by Elena Garcia and Manuel Angel Rosado and beautifully illustrated by Juan Hernaz.  It is published by Apolo which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of pollinators and their habitat.  You can follow Polli the honey bee and her friend Dipter the hover fly as they face the challenges of a disappearing green space.  They are joined in their struggle by Bazumba the wild bee, Missus Bombus the bumblebee, Lepi the butterfly, her majesty the queen, Dorian the farmer and Ramon the beekeeper. Sit back with your children or grandchildren and enjoy the The Travelling Beehive.

     The bees are snuggled in their hives waiting for Santa.  Penny, from the Natural Beekeeping Trust of the United Kingdom says "Traditionally, Christian beekeepers have visited their colonies at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell the bees of the nativity.  They also hoped to hear the special melodious humming that the bees were said to perform at this time, portending health and prosperity throughout the coming year.  It was thought that this custom was predated by an earlier pre-Christian one when the return of the sun was by no means guaranteed!" If you're wondering what to recite to your bees on Christmas Eve here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight's key;
all the garden locked in ice -
a silver frieze -
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive -
trembling stars cloistered above -
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

     I hope that you, your bees and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.  Peace on earth and good will to all.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Winter Preparation for Vancouver Beekeepers

      It's September and it's time for Vancouver beekeepers to prepare for winter.  Actually the preparation should have begun weeks ago  (Beekeeping Calendar for B.C.).  The main reasons our bees die over the winter is starvation, colonies suffering from parasitic mite syndrome, too few bees to heat the cluster and moisture.  I complete my winter hive setup by the middle of October.  Much of what you do in preparation depends on your management style of beekeeping (virtually nothing for the extreme natural beekeeper to intense management for most commercial beekeepers).  This is a revised post from last year and are just a few suggestions based on my experience keeping bees in Vancouver.

     To address the food issue you will need at least 10 deep frames or 12+ medium frames of honey (65 lbs or 30 kgs) depending on the size of your colony and specific location within Vancouver to overwinter.  In our specific location (Strathcona) we still have a strong availability of nectar and pollen with many different plant species still in flower in our 4 acre garden and the surrounding area.  Due to global warming plants in Vancouver can begin to flower 2-3 weeks earlier than in the past so our forage shortage begins in mid September.  The problem occurs when the temperatures are still warm and dry enough from mid September through October for the colony to stay active.  An active colony without a natural food source will consume much of the winter food supply.  I'm fortunate this year to have a good supply of honey frames from my stronger hives that I can share with my weaker hives.  This is why I prefer to wait til October to extract honey when I know the state of my winter supply.  Some beekeeper friends of mine have started feeding 2 to 1 syrup to their hives now because their honey reserves are low.  This is a personal decision based on your style of beekeeping and your location.  I like to reserve my feeding to emergency late winter feeding.  An issue with syrup feeding this time of year is making sure most of the syrup the bees store gets capped.  The uncapped syrup will become a source of winter moisture and mold.     
     I've identified our foraging shortage to occur from mid September to mid October so to address this issue I have separated the root balls of common Asian Asters for planting and transplanted the invasive Canadian Goldenrod (Aster).  When mature the common Asian Aster becomes a 1.5 by 1.5 metre (4 by 4 foot) bush with hundreds of flowers and can bloom well into October.  We have about a hundred autumn flowering variety Asters in our 4 acre garden.  Other late bloomers in our garden are Japanese Anemone, Mint, Autumn Joy Sedum, Scarlet Runner Bean, Jersulam Artichoke, and the invasive Japanese Knotweed  (Nectar Plants of British Columbia).  A mixed diet is essential for the girls so some other late blooming plants are Caryopteris 'Dark Knight' (Blue Mist Spirea), Dahlia, Hardy Fushia, Seven Sons flower (Autumn Lilac), Impatiens omeianan, Camellia sinensis (Hardy tea bush) and Osmanthus fragrans (Fragrant Olive) (Nutritional Value of Bee Collected Pollens and Pollen Sources).  I will avoid the temptation to plant the invasive late blooming ivy and Himalayan Balsam. 

It's good at this point to make sure you have your emergency winter feeders ready if you plan to use them. A major cause of colony death is late winter starvation (February - April) which can be solved by the use of an emergency winter feeder (Candy Board).  

They're easy to build with 1x2's and quarter inch wire mesh and can be a colony lifesaver.  You can quickly check on the feeders through the late winter to gauge the status of the food supply.  Some beekeepers begin feeding in August.  Personally I don't feed unless needed and in most years it's not.  This article "Feeding Bees in Winter" describes the different methods of feeding at different temperatures.  The girls will take a 2 to 1 syrup down to about 12 celsius (53 fahrenheit) after which they find it too difficult to dehydrate for storage.  Some beekeepers will feed syrup baggies in colder temperatures on the theory that heat from the cluster warms the syrup.  I've not tried this.  In the Greater Vancouver area there are very big differences in winter food requirements based on available foraging days and available forage. Because of the  effect of the North Shore Mountains precipitation varies from 150+ inches (380 centimeters) annually at the upper altitudes of the mountains to 30 inches (75 centimeters) along the U.S. border.  This effect reduces precipitation and increases hours of sunlight as you move southward.  The graph below divides Greater Vancouver into 9 zones with 9 being the upper altitudes of the North Shore Mountains and 1 being the southern region along the U.S. border (Greater Vancouver Precipitation).  As the crow flies this is a distance of less than 30 kilometers or 20 miles.

Though active at lower temperatures I have found high population foraging in our apiary at 12 degrees celsius (53 fahrenheit) in March (Willow trees, Forsythia, Flowering Cherry).

This means more flyable, foraging weather the further south you live and the more active the colony with the additional needed sunshine warming the hive and bees. I have observed the activity of the bees throughout the lower mainland to be directly linked to the number of hours of sunlight on the hives.  Conclusion, for optimum colony health move to a southern suburb like Tsawwassen, Ladner, White Rock or Abbotsford or maximize the sun exposure on your hives (South to southeast exposure with minimal shade).  We moved our apiary because it was surrounded by fast growing Black Locust, Willow and Cottonwood trees (Great pollen and nectar sources). 
      Also effecting hive performance is available forage which can vary according to whether you are in a rural agricultural or urban setting. The rural, agricultural areas in Surrey, Delta and the Fraser Valley tend to have extreme honey and brood production during crop blossoms but can suffer in the off season while the urban areas tend to have a more consistent food source availability throughout the foraging period (March - November) due to urban landscaping and irrigation. We're fortunate to have 7 cultivated acres in our 2 combined community gardens surrounded by fields of clover and flowering trees.  While it varies by region, because of the reasons discussed above (weather and available forage) and the size of the colony we need on average a minimum of 10 deep or 12 medium frames of honey (65 lbs or 30 kilograms) to over winter.  The honey frames should be positioned on both sides of the cluster in the bottom box and above the cluster in the second super (super = hive box).  If the cluster is in an upper box it's recommended to switch the box to the bottom in preparation for winter.  In the spring you can reverse that process as the girls will have worked their way up to upper part of the second box.

Winter cluster
For a Kenyan Top Bar put the cluster at one end and the honey frames next to the cluster.  I've always run all deep supers in my Langstroth hives because universal boxes and frames are easier to manage.  I can add honey frames from my third or fourth box to the brood boxes to over winter.  Many new beekeepers and some old are moving towards all medium boxes because of the lighter weight.  This makes sense as a deep box of honey can weigh 80 lbs (36 kgs).
      All beekeepers have plus and negative food accumulation months and generally April 1 to Oct 1 are positive food accumulation months for us in the Strathcona area of Vancouver.  March and October can be neutral but are usually negative depending on the available foraging days (weather).  November through February are winter cluster, negative food accumulation months.
Pest and Disease Control      
     The biggest problem I see with new beekeepers is not planning ahead.   In our beekeeping coop new beekeepers are always rushing around for needed hive boxes and frames, feeders, robber screens, quilts …. The best advice I could give new beekeepers is to plan 2 months ahead of where you are at.   Pest and disease identification and control should be an ongoing process and if you are beginning now it may be too late.  Evidence of chalk brood or nosema would indicate a weak colony (Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites).  Increased ventilation and removal of old comb can be done to combat the chalk brood and a pollen patty/fumagillin mixture may help combat the nosema.  Mite counts throughout the year and subsequent treatments should let you know whether you have a major issue.  Mite treatments like formic acid can continue into October as long as there is a day time high temp of 10c and oxalic acid is usually done in December when there is little to no brood present.  A reduced screened entrance using eighth inch hardware cloth can be used to allow for needed ventilation during formic acid treatments while providing a more easily defended reduced entrance.  The video below "Getting Your Hives Ready for Winter" is a recorded webinar with Kim Flottum (Bee expert and editor of Bee Culture magazine) which does a very good job of discussing winter preparation for bee colonies focusing on year around mite control.  Controlling mites goes a long way to controlling virus transmission and overall colony health.


Cold and Moisture
      The U.S. Bee Informed Survey of wintering hives (the only large scale North American winter survival survey) showed that only 3 conditions determined winter survival success and they were adequate food, strong colonies (equalization or combining hives) and ventilation (moisture reduction).

The survey is extensive and includes the results for geographic region, all types of pest and disease management, feeding and winter preparation.  The Bee Informed Survey 2016 - 2017

     Wrapping and insulation showed no benefit but I think that depends on where you live.  If you live in cold northern climates like Winterpeg either you wrap and insulate or you bring the girls inside. 40 below is 40 below.  Insulation is not necessary in Vancouver and can be counter productive by keeping the heat out and preventing the hive from warming up.  Some local beekeepers wrap their hives with black roofing paper to prevent wind penetration and to help absorb the heat (Black objects absorb more heat).   The argument against this is that the girls take care of any wind penetration with use of propolis and do we want a warmer hive in the winter?  Warmer means more active bees and more food consumption.  For us wrapping in March may be an option as we have lots of blossoms (Willow, forsythia, flowering cherry, bulbs ...) but marginal foraging temperatures.  Wrapping would warm the hives and get the girls flying earlier in the day increasing their pollen and nectar intake and stimulate egg laying.

Temperature difference on black and white surface
     Wintering your bees is like real estate value in that the 3 most important considerations are location, location and location.  Location dictates the methods you will use to protect your bees from the elements. Windbreaks are essential in some areas where there are cold, winter winds.  In winter Vancouver has a predominant, low pressure weather pattern with winds from the southeast that bring with it fairly constant cool, wet weather.  We have only a few snow falls per year and a few weeks of freezing temperatures.  Therefore moisture not cold is our biggest issue.  The moisture is created when warm air created by the cluster of bees rises and contacts the cold inner cover creating cold condensation which drips onto the cluster.  There are a lot of different methods to reduce moisture in the hive like tilting the hive forward by putting a 2x4 under the back of the hive to allow the moisture to run down the front of the hive and not on the cluster.  Most of the beekeepers in our coop use an Insulated Moisture Quilt placed above the hive boxes to reduce cold condensation dripping on the winter cluster.
The bee hive in winter without any form of moisture reduction

Insulated Moisture Quilt
The heat produced by the cluster rises to contact the warmer insulated cover producing less condensation, which then drips onto the wood chips (not the bees) which are dried by the vent holes.  They are easy to make out of scrap material and the link above provides detailed building instructions.  During winter you must have an upper entrance in your Langstroth hive for ventilation and because dead bees can block the lower entrance.  I presently have my upper entrance covered with eighth inch hardware cloth to keep out robber bees and wasps.  I will remove this once those threats have passed.  For moisture reduction in a Kenyan Top Bar Hive beekeepers can use an insulated moisture quilt, carpet over the top bars (Bill Stagg's method) or reflective insulation (Sam Comfort's method).  Whether you leave your screened bottom board open or not (for increased ventilation) is debatable but if left open you must block the drafts from blowing under the hive.  I put the mite test board in to block the winter winds but have friends who do not and successfully overwinter their bees.  One moisture issue is that if you feed syrup to your bees in September and October some of the stored syrup may not be capped before the arrival of winter and it may ferment and mold and increase the moisture within the hive.
     In Vancouver we get at least 2 major storms a year of 80+ km winds (50 miles per hr).  For this reason and the presence of skunks and racoons we use cinder blocks on our hives to prevent the outer cover from blowing off or being removed and have positioned the hives to have a natural wind break (berm to the south).  A wind break is particularly important for roof top beekeepers.  Though not necessary some of us use pieces of plexiglass extending 4+ inches over our outer covers to provide additional weather protection and extend the life of our beekeeping equipment.

 Winter Hive

      By October bee colonies are actively into winter preparation by increased house cleaning, increased hive defense and the removal of drones.  The drones having fulfilled their roles in hive thermoregulation and mating become a liability as they do not participate in foraging or hive tasks and can consume twice that of worker bees.  Hygienic house cleaning (i.e removal of dead bees, applying antiseptic propolis ...) which is difficult in the cold of winter when the bees are confined to the cluster is an important part of disease reduction.  With the decrease in available forage robbing and wasp attacks become a real concern starting in August so guard bees will become more defensive and in the wild the colony may reduce the size of the entrance with propolis and wax.  The beekeeper can assist by reducing the entrance to as small as 1.5 centimeters or a half inch to make it easier to defend.  The Yellowjacket wasps have been aggressive in our apiary for about 2 weeks, attempting to enter hives and picking off stray bees at the entrance.   I have reduced the bottom entrance of my hives to between 1 inch (3cm) for weaker colonies to 3 inches for stronger colonies and screened off the upper entrance (eigth inch hardware cloth).  This blocks potential wasp intrusion and robbing by other bees if you are feeding and still allows ventilation. The girls are better able to defend the reduced single entrance.  Wasps will stay active at cooler temperatures than your bees so when the girls are in cluster the wasps may enter the hive.  I don't indiscriminately kill wasps (I've identified 9 different types in our garden including recently a parasitic wasp in my blue mason and leaf cutter bee cocoons) but have found them increasingly aggressive towards our colonies for a longer period of time in the fall (last year until December).  I've found the lure variety to be very effective on our greatest threat which are the common Yellowjacket wasps.  This lure trap can also be used in the spring to kill the emerging wasp queens.  The Rescue brand lure variety works well.

Wasp trap
You can also make your own wasp trap.  Here is a study from the University of Athens showing the effectiveness of 3 different types of traps (Wasp Traps).  Maybe the easiest and most popular is the pop bottle trap.  It is important to use a protein bait like meat or fish and to clean your trap regularly.  Here is a study from the University of California on the effectiveness of different baits (Baits for the Control of Yellowjackets).  Do not use a sweet bait as this will attract honey bees.

  If wasp attacks or robbing persists you can use a robber screen which are easy to make.

Equalization or Combining Colonies     
      It is recommended that new beekeepers have 2 hives rather than 1 because inevitably one will be stronger than the other.  This allows you to strengthen the weaker hive with bees from the stronger colony (Equalization of Bee Colonies Strength by Khalil Hamdan) or to split the stronger hive if you lose the weaker colony.  Though this can be done in the spring it can also be done in preparation for winter by adding 2-3 frames of bees and brood as needed and available every 3-4 weeks starting in July.  If you find you have a weak colony now you can combine the colony with a stronger one using the newspaper method (Uniting Honey Bees by David Cushman).  Although some will insist it imperative to kill the weaker queen others like David Cushman and myself suggest that it is not necessary: "Many texts will tell you to kill the least desirable queen in one of the two groups to be united, but I find it is often prudent to leave both queens, so that the bees can make the choice, in most cases the younger and fitter queen remains, but there may be subtle things in a queen's make up that the bees are better able to make choices about rather than the beekeeper (David Cushman)."  Some beekeepers (not me) like to requeen as part of their winter preparation to make sure they have young, active queens the following spring.  In October most beekeepers reduce their Langstroth hives to 2 deep supers and Kenyan Top Bar hives are reduced by moving your follower board or your false backs forward (Winterizing your Top Bar Hive).  Queen excluders should be removed so the queen can move with the cluster as it moves upward.

The newspaper method of combining hives

      Though still mild it's time to think of mice which like to winter in the hives. There are a hundred different varieties of mouse proof entrances from quarter inch screened mesh, drilled metal sheet to simple nails minimizing the entrance.  The mice can get through a fairly small area and will chew through wood.  I use a simple wood entrance reducer with a nail reducing the entrance to just over the width of a bee.  This allows for the removal of dead bees which the girls do as part of winter house cleaning.  If you find the mice chewing on the entrance reducer you can wrap it in wire mesh.  Here is an easy step by step guide to making a mouse guard from Brooksfield Farm just south of us near Mt. Baker.

Difficult house cleaning
Wire mesh mouse proof entrance reducer
       For more information on wintering your colonies check out the recorded webinars by Kim Flottum, "Getting your hives ready for winter" or "Putting the hive to bed for winter".  You may also want to check out The Biology and Management of Colonies in Winter , Winterization Guide for Beekeeping , The Thermology of Wintering Honey Bee Colonies or Wrapping a Honey Bee Colony with Tar Paper  from the "Winter Management" section of the Beekeepers' Library.  Good luck to you and your bees and stay dry.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Effects of a Solar Eclipse on Honey Bees

     With a solar eclipse scheduled for tomorrow morning (beginning at 9:10 am, reaching it's maximum at 10:21 and ending at 11:37am in Vancouver) and the obvious concern for eye safety I wondered how bees and other critters coped with this phenomena.  It appears that unlike stupid humans animals generally don't stare at the sun so don't suffer from the damaging effects of the sun on eyesight.

       As for honey bees, studies like the one above from HOBOS honey bee research in 2015 show that foraging bee activity is decreased during an eclipse as it would be at the normal setting of the sun.  "The reduction in flight activity commenced as soon as the brightness was lower than 400 watts/m2. Only as the re-emerging sun reached a brightness of 400 watts/m2 did the bees’ flight activities begin to increase once more. The bees also reduced their flying ventures in the evening when the brightness level falls below the 400 watts/m2 mark."  Similar conclusions were drawn in a 1957 study of Apis Dorsata in India (Behaviour of Apis Dorsata during a partial solar eclipse in India).  I'm relieved I don't have to look for solar eclipse glasses for my bees.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fire at our Community Garden

Photos by Mary-Ann Charney
     On Tuesday night we had a fire at our community garden (Cottonwood) in Vancouver.  Unfortunately the fire consumed our greenhouse and beekeeping/tool shed.  Arson is suspected. We lost everything including ladders, pruners, construction tools, weed eater, irrigation supplies and all of our beekeeping equipment which we had accumulated over many years (including my favourite 40 year old smoker). This also includes our community honey extractor and honey harvesting equipment which we lent out to the public and the protective clothing we used for our beekeeping classes.

No AFB there
Our honey extractor
     It is difficult to remain optimistic in the face of continuous vandalism and theft at the garden but it is a reality of gardening and beekeeping in a public space.  It is important to remember that 99% of the folks that come to our garden love and appreciate it and we can't let the acts of a few dictate the future of our beautiful garden.

     Cottonwood Community Garden 25 years ago.

     Cottonwood Community Garden today.  Built on a former dump site 25 years ago by a group of guerrilla gardeners this 4 acre oasis is a home to birds, bees, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes, frogs and over a hundred humans.  The city has proposed construction of a freeway through the middle of the garden.  Friends of the garden have proposed alternative sites for the freeway.  The future of the garden is in jeopardy but we are hopeful.  This video was taken on the 20th anniversary. 

We will rebuild and we will persevere.

     Remembering the good times.
Extracting honey in the bee shed
*  We have started a fundraiser to rebuild and restock our greenhouse and bee/tool shed. Any donation no matter how small is appreciated.  To donate by credit card go to "Cottonwood Fire" or you can donate by credit card or paypal on the top of the page on the sidebar.  You can receive a tax receipt with a donation of $25 or more.  Thank you.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Keep the Hives Alive

     "In June 2016 a group of beekeepers, farmers, community organizers, environmental groups, and concerned citizens banded together to host the “Keep the Hives Alive Tour” to raise awareness about the plight of pollinators and how toxic pesticides contribute to their decline.
     Collectively, our mission is to educate the public of the dangers of bee-toxic pesticides; share the stories of beekeepers whose livelihoods have been jeopardized (and some lost) by the continued use of these products; and urge the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress to take action on toxic pesticides and support sustainable agriculture.
      Bees and other pollinators are declining at an alarming rate and an overwhelming number of scientific studies link these population declines to pesticide use.  Unfortunately, uses of toxic pesticides are having far-reaching impacts on a wide range of environments – everything from urban parks, to croplands, to beeyards and aquatic ecosystems. Beekeepers, farmers, and consumers all need a healthier environment for bees! Honey bees and native pollinators are essential to our food supply and help to provide one in every three bites of food we eat. That’s why the Keep the Hives Alive Tour traveled across the United States during National Pollinator Week in 2016 to educate the public about pollinator declines and how we all can work together to protect our pollinators. We want to continue the momentum built last spring by sharing resources, engaging communities to take action, and working together to create healthier habitats for pollinators."

      Agrichemicals are not the only problem our bees face.  There is a growing number of mostly imported pests and diseases that afflict our bees; diminishing forage and habitat for native bees; reduced genetic diversity; global warming ...  but most will agree that a significant issue is that our present system of industrial, large scale monoculture agriculture is not sustainable or healthy for us or bees.  The overuse of agrichemicals and fertilizers and the sterilization and depletion of our soil is addressed in this documentary.
      A 2008 world food crisis which saw mass starvation due to extensive drought conditions led the United Nations to complete an extensive study by experts from around the world (U.N. Report on Agriculture Sustainability - Wake Up Before It's Too Late).  They concluded that "The 2008 food crisis was an important catalyst for realizing the need for a fundamental transformation and questioning some of the assumptions that had driven food, agricultural and trade policy in recent decades.  The world currently produces sufficient calories per head to feed a global population of 12-14 billion (global population = 7 billion).  Around 1 billion people chronically suffer from starvation and another billion are malnurished.  Therefore hunger and malnutrition are not a product of insufficient supply but results of prevailing poverty and above all access to food.  The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a “green revolution” to an “ecological intensification” approach.  This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."    

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bad Nuc Rant

     The last few years I have observed an abundance of bad bee nucs for sale in the Vancouver area. Last year a number of beekeepers in our beekeeping coop bought nucs from a local retailer, all of which contained swarm cells.  As a result all of the nucs swarmed within the first week creating smaller nucs and very small swarms.  The owner of the company explained that the nucs were made by inexperienced workers who improperly made the nucs with swarm cells and newly introduced queens.
      This week a few nucs were bought by beekeepers in our organization from another beekeeping supply retailer.  The nuc boxes had scotch tape on the entrance (half attached), the lids were not attached, the brood comb was black (old) and the nuc boxes were older.  The nucs contained 2 frames of old, spotty brood, 2 wet frames, a queen cage and no laying queen.  Both of these retailers are good, knowledgeable beekeeping suppliers and the criticism is directed more towards the lack of long term bee breeders not the bee retailers (though the argument could be made that you are responsible for what you are selling).
       The bottom line is that we have a very poor, unsustainable honey bee population in greater Vancouver with most of the bees produced done so for a quick dollar rather than creating a legacy of strong, survivor stock.  Mark Winston, an SFU professor, biologist and beekeeper produced a study 30 years ago that suggested it was economically feasible to produce honey bee nucs and packages in the Fraser Valley (Package and Nucleus production in the Fraser Valley).  This potential has not been realized and instead we have become dependent on imported packages and poorly created nucs.  Good breeders in our area produce relatively few nucs and queens that don't begin to match the demand. Part of the reason is the extreme property values that make beekeeping not economically feasible in the Greater Vancouver area.
       Beekeepers ask me constantly if I can recommend a good bee nuc or queen source and I can't because the good sources are sold out before the bees are ready. If anyone knows of a good source of bees let us know. Bad nuc rant over.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Strathcona Beekeepers

One of the girls enjoying a Kale flower in Cottonwood Community Garden
      The Strathcona Beekeepers' Association is a small group of local beekeepers devoted to bees (native and honey) that meet on the last Sunday of each month (weather permitting) during the bee season to talk bees.  We meet at Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona Park (Raymur and Malkin St) at 9 am from April to September.  Our next meeting is May 28th.  Everyone is welcome including prospective beekeepers.  This is an opportunity for veteran beekeepers to discuss issues and for new and prospective beekeepers to ask questions pertaining to urban beekeeping in East Van.  The greatest source of knowledge in life is experience and we love to share it.  Bee well.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

La Nina Beekeeping

     The La Nina weather pattern is cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean (3-5 degrees C.) resulting in colder temperatures and above average precipitation for us in Vancouver.  We have experienced these conditions through the winter with record snowfall in the local mountains and this weather pattern has continued through the early part of spring.

     As beekeepers we are always acutely aware of the temperature and rainfall and it's effects on our bees foraging particularly in the early spring.  This is a time of great potential brood development with the fruit trees in blossom (pollen) but because of the wet, cool spring both brood development and fruit production will suffer this year.  Although our bees will collect pollen and nectar at colder temperatures we don't get major colony foraging until it's 12 C. (53 F.) and sunny.  In Vancouver we have positive and negative honey bee food accumulation months.  This will vary on your specific location but for our urban apiary the positive months are April 1 through to October 1 with March and October dependent on weather conditions.  This year both March and April were negative.

        How does this effect spring beekeeping management?  For those who supplement their bees' diet feeding of both carbohydrates (sugar) and protein or protein supplement (to stimulate brood development) will be more important.  Keep in mind that below about 12 C. (54 fahrenheit) the bees won't take a liquid syrup as they are unable to process it (Feeding Bees in Winter).
       In order to carry out spring management we must assess the health of our hives.  Many sources (mostly southern) will insist you cannot inspect your frames until 15 C. (60 fahrenheit) for fear of chilling the brood.  Some northern beekeepers would have to wait til well into May for this.  Bees are hardier than most people think.  Peeking briefly into a hive during winter on a non snowy day to assess the food supply is fine as is inspecting the brood at 10 C. (50 fahrenheit).  Use common sense and minimize exposure.  This from the Huron City Bee Company in Michigan,
"How cold is too cold to inspect my hive?"
I hear this question quite often at this time of year. Let me just say, I was late one year and needed inspection papers to transport my hives. So, one January morning, at 28 degrees, the state inspector and I opened the hives and inspected brood frames VERY quickly. The result was no detectable loss of brood. We didn't stand around, and we didn't chat while the hives were open. We worked smoothly, so as to disturb the cluster as little as possible. And we closed them up as quickly as we could.
On the other hand, I've helped with inspections on a 70 degree day, where the beekeeper took out a frame of brood, stood it up and chatted for 20 minutes about what they found. Then later complained about chilled brood.  See where I'm going with this?  Go in, do what you need to do, and then get out quickly.  However, I want to temper this advice with another question. If you DO find something wrong, what's your plan?  Here in Michigan, it's 42 degrees right now. I wouldn't hesitate to pop open the hives. But, to what end? It's too late to replace a queen if I find one failing. The only thing I can do at this point is combine, and even then, they may remain clustered instead of merging.  The take away message is not to be afraid of opening the hives. But, if you have no courses of action if you find something wrong, why bother?"  I think this is a good year-round philosophy.  I go into my hives with a specific purpose and only when required for responsible colony management.
       For us in Vancouver that means we should be able to do a full inspection by March to assess the queen performance (brood pattern), presence of disease (continued excessive bee poop on hive) or mites (small hive beetle has arrived - Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites) and food supply (B.C. Government Spring Management).  Some of the spring beekeeping chores are: The cluster should be in the upper super so reverse the brood boxes; maintain a reduced entrance to prevent robbing or mice visits; optionally equalize the colonies by adding frames of bees of a strong colony to a weaker colony (Equalization of bee colony strength); cull your old foundation if you do so (Replacing brood comb); swarm prevention (checkerboarding, splits ... ) ;  maintain good ventilation and empty your bottom board of dead bees and debris.  In this article Randy Oliver and Dr. Medhat Nasr (Alberta Provincial Apiculturist) discuss the benefits of early season mite control through the formation of nucs with queen cells and the treatment of those nucs (Early Season Mite Management).
       I have been warned of the presence of nosema in some of this year's New Zealand packages.  Whether that is true or an attempt to boost the sales of fumagillin it's always a good idea to watch for signs of nosema (difficulty digesting food).  Nosema is difficult to diagnose without laboratory equipment (Nosema Assessment).  Some suggest a nosema infected midgut will become swollen, whitish and lose it's visible constrictions (a healthy midgut is tan with visible constrictions) but that is also true of other causes of dysentery.  Symptoms that may suggest the presence of nosema are the lack of population buildup as nosema infected bees tend to skip the nurse bee phase and become young foragers, dying at a young age.  Desperate they will forage at cooler temperatures and will not take syrup if fed.  This from Randy Oliver, "Perhaps the most noticeable effect of N. ceranae infection is the lack of population buildup of infected colonies, due to the premature death of infected foragers. Of interest is that nosema-infected bees tend to forage at cooler temperatures. Woyciechowski (1998) suggests that infected bees may engage in more risky foraging behavior, perhaps sensing that they do not have long to live. Additionally, infected bees may simply fly off to die, exhibiting an “altruistic suicide” to help prevent the infection of nestmates (Kralj 2006).  Another symptom, reported by several, and described by Bob Harrison on Bee-L, is that of bees not taking syrup, and then massively drowning in division board feeders. Bob feels that the symptom of going “off feed” is a good indicator for N. ceranae infection, which can be reversed with a drench of fumagillin syrup.  The drowning behavior may have an explanation in a recent paper by Chris Mayak (2009), in which he found that “N. ceranae imposes an energetic stress on infected bees, revealed in their elevated appetite and hunger level…. infected bees attempt to compensate for the imposed energetic stress by feeding more…” Mayak suggests that such hungry, nutritionally stressed bees, exhibiting risky foraging behavior, might play a role in the depopulation of infected colonies."
        Due to the cool, wet La Nina weather plant development (blossoming) and our swarm season will be delayed by a few weeks.  Other aspects of beekeeping like split creation and queen and local nuc availability will also be delayed.  Also, it appears the price of nucs has risen this year to $225-$250.  The delayed blossoming of plants may create a stronger late season September-October food supply for our bees.  The Weather Network predicts a cool, wet spring and a warmer summer than last year.  "Some years there are strong signals in the global pattern that allow for higher confidence in a seasonal forecast, but unfortunately this is not one of those years. During the next few months, one of the keys to our final summer forecast will be the strength of the developing El NiƱo and whether the warmest water remains just west of South America or whether the warmest water shifts west into the central Pacific."  The La Nina weather pattern can last for a few years but hopefully it will be replaced soon by the warmer El Nino phase.  We'll keep our wings crossed.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver Class

     It's spring which means the blossoms are blooming and the bees are active.  I've noticed each year a small number of bees collecting pollen at 8 degrees celsius (46 fahrenheit) and the number increasing to full hive activity at sunny and 12 celsius (53 fahrenheit).  Over the last few weeks the willow, forsythia, bulbs, heather and recently cherry blossoms have been providing protein for egg laying.
     It's been a long, cold winter and especially hard on our bees.  I work in the mountains and don't remember a year with this much snow.  This week it snowed 70 centimetres in the mountains (over 2 feet) in 2 days and there must be 20 feet of snow at the top of the mountain.  It will be awhile before the bears come out of hibernation and the bumblebees are pollinating the mountain blueberries.
     Every year we grow produce for the Vancouver Foodbank so this week we added composted manure to the soil.  I will also deliver some late season (September-October) dark, flavorful Goldenrod - Aster honey to the Foodbank.

     Half of the honey from our garden hives goes to the Foodbank and half to Cottonwood Community Garden.  We have a beekeeping cooperative at Cottonwood Community Garden and are faced with the challenge of colony loss this year.  Our apiary was vandalized last year towards the end of August.  Someone knocked over our strongest hive during the night which was preyed upon by skunks, racoons and wasps.  This was a survivor stock with lots of honey which made it all the more devastating.
     Every year in May we hold "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" classes.  The classes are not meant to take the place of a full beekeeping course but rather to inform you of what to realistically expect in your first few years of beekeeping in Vancouver.
     A recent study revealed that 70% of beekeepers quit within the first 3 years.  Having observed this through the years I believe the reason is loss of bee colonies and being overwhelmed with that challenge.  I believe this is because some 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 often do not have the support needed to deal with problems that arise which can be aided through a beekeeping network or group.  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.

     The "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" course 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" contact us at strathconabeeat gmaildo tcom.  The class is scheduled for Saturday, May 20th from 10am to 12 noon.
      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.

P.S. All of the classes for this year have been filled.

"Being with Bees" Kurt Leibich, l869

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