He was surprisingly gentle and certainly unexpected, especially… after so long.
He was patient until just the right moment and then, deliberate and methodical… as he took what he had craved.
I have heard that life is a game and we must all play our part. That night, he played his part well, expressing his true essence… unreserved power and strength but with a silence that I could never predict.
If it happened, I had anticipated a thunderous violence; unrelenting and unforgiving. But nature is unpredictable especially when humans become part of the mix. After that night… and in the days that followed, I developed a renewed perspective as I reflected on our interaction in the bee yard game board. He behaved as a bear should, and I learned that a bear could behave in many different ways.
Not straying far away…
Adrastus seems to visit every day with hopes of more honey.
Expansion is now underway to increase the perimeter of the electric fence. This however, is difficult given that the ground seems impervious to even a gas powered post hole digger. I guess it does not help when lost treasures at great depths appear while digging.
Beaver or Muskrat Trap?
Expansion has been full-on this spring and four stings later, we now have 11 hives at the Ranch. Progress inside the hives has been nothing short of dynamic. Our aggressive little buddies have been combing out the frames and the queens are laying prolifically. All thanks to the Bee Whisperer for his careful selection of queens that are mite resistant and, good honey producers (Italian cross Californian bloodlines).
New hive colour scheme… assembly in process!
Worth and Craig (the “Bee Whisperer”)
Transferring Craig’s nucleus splits into purple brood boxes
to be relocated to The Ranch.
All packed up and ready to head two hours north of Edmonton.
Moving in… so exciting!
Home sweet home!
Worth was executioner of the queen in the original hive when we noticed a drop in egg production and the appearance of queen cells. Queens can last up to two years but most commercial beekeepers replace the queen yearly. Observing the fatigued queen and the response of the hive was a good opportunity to further understand the life-cycle of bees and the role of the queen. Most importantly, we learned that a new queen should never be released directly into the hive. Because this queen is unfamiliar to the workers, they will cluster around her to form a tight ball and make it so hot that she will suffocate. Observe the procedure below…
The new queen will be placed in her cage inside the hive.
In about three days the workers will eat away at the candy that blocks the entrance to free the new queen. By this time, she will have released strong pheromones to enslave her new subjects (oh la la).
Replacing our first New Zealand queen was admittedly disconcerting… we will be forever grateful for her tolerance of our initial inexperience and awkward handling of the hive and, for making it through the harsh Canadian winter to produce a strong flush for spring.
Worth and I have been to the Ranch three times since my last blog and… the news is good; the bees made it through the winter!! So, on April 16th when I opened the lid on the hive in reasonably warm weather for a peak, I was happily stung by a brave bee that had made it through the long, cold winter and was still prepared to protect the hive. Of course, I made a run for it as best as I could in my cross-country ski boots with a half dozen bees chasing me. Then there was the matter of placing the hardened sugar in the hive. This, I left up to Worth who also got stung while he slipped the sugar under the lid.
During the busy season when bees are foraging and nursing their young, life expectancy is 40 days. As winter approaches, the queen cuts back on egg laying and begins rearing fatter, “winter bees.” These bees will live for 5-6 months. When I went to Bee Maid in Spruce Grove on May 18th for bee supplies, the word was that winter losses were around 35-40% and even higher in the USA. I guess we did alright for our first year as fledgling beekeepers!
On our visit to the Ranch on May 12th, Worth and I discovered that the ants had returned in their relentless pursuit of irritating the bees and… me. We decided to head off to St. Paul for a 22kg bag of food grade, diatomaceous earth from the UFA. We returned and sprinkled a generous serving around the hive. Diatomaceous earth is a white powder made from fossilized prehistoric crustaceans called diatoms. We are hopeful that the sharp edges of the DE will cut into the ant’s bodies to cause death by dehydration. The bees will remain largely unaffected by the DE as their fuzzy bodies act to repel the DE and they clearly do not crawl around on the ground as ants do.
Our hive inspection showed the queen was laying nicely with proof of various stages of development on display; from egg of the day to capped cells.
We took the opportunity to tidy up the hive by cleaning the bottom board and scraping other winter debris from the frames.
When we returned to the Ranch on May 19th, Worth replaced the trail cam in which the batteries corroded with one that was functional. This year we will be taking the trail cam out in November rather than leaving it out through the winter. A bit of an expensive lesson, but truly well learned.
After a quick peak at the bees, Worth started his chain saw to clear some of the dead-fall on the trail that agonized our passage to the hive. There will be a considerable amount of clearing in the next few months and a great deal more of transplanting the beautiful, baby spruce trees that seem to be sprouting up everywhere.
The sky was magnificently blue and the air frightfully cold when Worth and I made our second trip to the Ranch on March 31st. We skied in three weeks earlier to see if the electric fence was still intact after the long winter that still, does not seem to end. At least this time our journey to the hive was relatively effortless as the warm temperatures earlier in the week melted the snow creating a hard crust. Another 4 inches of fresh powder allowed us to carve a new path to pass alongside a plethora of wildlife activity as evidenced by the tracks and trails in the snow.
There even appeared to be a struggle…. an imprint of wings and a few drops of blood left behind in the snow. I am guessing that the prey did not escape the clutches of its predator.
A close up of the bird’s wing left imprinted in the snow.
On this trip, I had hoped to open the hive to determine if there were any signs of life but because of the frigid temperature, -13 degrees Celsius, I did not remove the cover as this would kill the bees. I also wanted to add a sugar patty from a recipe that I got from Murray Golden, a veteran beekeeper in the Edmonton area. I learned at the last Edmonton and District Beekeepers Association meeting that bees often make the winter only to starve out in spring. Murray’s recipe calls for 1.5 liquid ounces (of water) to a pound of sugar placed face down in the hive after a week of drying.
When we return to the Ranch next time, I will gather 30-60 dead bees for microscopic examination to check for nosema which is most prevalent in early spring. Nosema is a microsporidian fungal disease that infects an adult bee’s intestinal tract. If left untreated life expectancy of infected bees is reduced, queens cease egg-laying and die, and nurse bees turn to guard and foraging duties rather than brood rearing (among many other effects).
As the weather improves, I will also be keen to check the varroa mite levels. Rather than using an alcohol wash which kills the bees, I will try a method developed by Meghan Milbrath from Michigan State University Extension (January 2018). To see “VARROA MITE MONITORING USING A SUGAR ROLL TO QUANTIFY INFESTATION OF VARROA DESTRUCTOR IN HONEY BEE COLONIES” click on the link:
Good news… the electric fence is working!!
Over the last several weeks, Worth and I have been filling our frame feeder with a solution of 1:1 sugar water. We have also treated our bees for Varroa and Tracheal mites with 3 courses of formic acid. Varroa mites are everywhere, except Australia, and spread in the beehive beneath the brood cap where they attach to the larvae. Formic acid vapours penetrate the brood cap to kill the mites without leaving any residue in the beehive. If left untreated, the Varroa mite could weaken and wipe out an entire colony. And… according to my handy Bee Health App developed by Dr. Medhat Nasr and the Alberta Apiculture Team, the Varroa mite is responsible for the transmission of many bee viruses. When working with formic acid, we use respirators and gloves as it is corrosive and smells nasty.
Getting the grass down and thinking about expanding the bee yard for next year.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Worth and I wrapped our hive for winter and left a pollen patty for backup and for when the honey stores grow low. We will wait until the bears go into hibernation before we disconnect the electric fence.
We are planning to expand our bee yard to 10 hives next year and have worked to clear our gently sloping site of young poplars and the remnants of a decaying barn. We felt almost like vandals as we broke apart the logs that had been carefully chopped and painstakingly fitted together so many years ago. The long, crudely constructed, rusty nails that held the disintegrating wood in place, still offered resistance to our efforts. We imagined how these settlers bravely broke the land to eke out an existence and we thought… how fortunate we are that they came before us.
The leaves are all gone from the trees now but we hope to get the posts in to expand the electric fence around the bee yard before the ground freezes. With a bit of luck I will have another post with some photos of some posts!
In the mean time… Worth and I are VERY EXCITED to have the opportunity to attend our first Bee Economics Course on November 5th, right here in Edmonton! The instructors for the course, Making Money from Honey, are veteran beekeepers Ron Miksha (author of the Bad Beekeeping blog!) and Neil Bertram. They are coming from Calgary and we are really looking forward to meeting these guys and hearing what they have to say!!
Through September and October the wildlife activity around the hives seems to have heightened with our performers engaging in a variety of activities. I am not sure what attracts them to this particular piece of the property, but our trail cam captures images almost every day.
Moose frequent the area and seem to come out mostly at night. Or… hide from us during the day!
Maybe… the attraction is the tender, newly grown grass after we have gone with the weed wacker.
Two little whitetail bucks are sparring in preparation for the upcoming rut. In the weeks to come, the fight will be much more serious as the bucks establish dominance in an effort to claim territory and have first rights to breeding.
This mature buck wasn’t quite ready to step away from the bush line. Looks like the two little guys (above) will have to wait for a couple more years before they will be serious contenders!
At our last few mentoring sessions over at Craig’s we have been focusing on the honey harvest. This will forever be known as the time of year when the bees are exceptionally angry despite our best efforts to sedate them with smoke and Bee Go (a horrifically stinky compound that drives bees down the hive and away from the frames that will be harvested). Yes, my ankles have been mercilessly injected with venom which is not so bad except for an intense desire to scratch at 2am in the morning!
Frames (very heavy) full of honey over at Craig’s.
The basic drill is to go through the hive and select frames (not from the brood boxes) with honey that have a capped area of at least 70%. Selecting frames with capped honey is important because it is ripe as opposed to the uncapped, green honey. By ripe, I am referring to moisture content. Bees gather nectar from flowers and bring it back to the hive. They swallow and regurgitate the nectar over a span of about two weeks until it becomes a thickened liquid. The bees continue to lower the moisture content by fanning the thickened liquid with their wings to create the final sterile product (honey) which has only 19% water. Unfortunately some beekeepers take shortcuts and harvest green honey only to adulterate it by various nefarious methods so that it looks, feels and tastes like genuine honey. This is a huge disservice to the bees and to the bounty that they have worked tirelessly to create.
Craig and Worth moving the bees along.
With 10 frames bursting with ripe honey, Craig demonstrates his leaf blower method to quickly and effectively move along the remaining stragglers. We place the hives on the back of Craig’s pickup as these will be transported to his extracting workshop. The work is heavy and the boxes are cumbersome so it is a two man job to handle the move. My back is aching and I am sure my arms have grown by two inches. I am thinking… the hives will have to be off-loaded as well… Worth and I will definitely be investing in some smaller frames and boxes.
While these ones are resting, the bee yard has a gazillion bees flying around! About 500 are on the back of Worth’s suit.
While removing the frames for extraction, we also do a hive inspection.
Mean while, back at the Ranch our furry friends are still visiting frequently. Worth set the trail cam to get some short video footage.
At the bottom right side of the screen the bear is leaving the scene at a bit of a pace. I wonder if he got a surprise from the electric fence?
Recently my mum, Alexis, and I visited Texas. During our stay we ate at the Salt Lick BBQ Smokehouse. Of course having an interest in cooking I left inspired and, curious to see if I could recreate my own version of the tangy but sweet barbecued flavoured meats that we tried. I decided I would try to craft a similar kind of barbecue using our own honey which would contribute to some unique flavours.
At the Ranch everyone still has a nice selection of August flowers to craft some interesting flavours!
Anyway, I guess I should introduce myself to provide some context. Hi, my name is Skylar and I am the daughter of a beekeeper. I am currently a fourth year university student studying a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Ecology. This particular degree places great emphasis on a holistic, sustainable and experimentative lifestyle, hence I am naturally drawn to create my recipes. However, fashion is my main interest as my Human Ecology major is Clothing, Textiles, and, Material Culture with a minor in Fashion Merchandising. Although I like to cook, my real love in life is designing and sewing clothing.
In my upcoming blog posts, I will be providing some interesting information about storing honey and look forward to exploring various aspects of beekeeping clothing. Specifically, I will be making some modifications to Mum’s bee suit to prevent the bees from stinging her ankles (since she refuses to wear rubber boots). The bees also keep stinging Craig through his wet gloves, so I intend to determine what the problem is and find a solution to prevent the ongoing attacks. Finally, I will be sharing some of my own tried and tested recipes. I am formulating a barbecue one now and will be using some of our soon to be harvested honey in my creation!
The Wee One is Hungry!
Still hanging around…
Worth and I went out to the Ranch on August 5th. Our drone layer hive lay silent with ants meandering across the undulating wax landscape scavenging the sweet bounty that was left behind. Our AWOL hive was now bursting at the seams with its newest members. We added another super on top and hope to see more capped honey on our return.
Brood with Capped Honey
Little Buddies Hard at Work
Our trail cam captured images of another furry friend with a very keen sense of smell. Fortunately it is only a late night visit around the perimeter of the electric fence rather than a late night snack!
This bear looks bigger than the last one.
Moving on – phew!
Not so keen on these…