Starting Over

Last weekend Worth called in the professionals to pound the posts for our new fence.  In less than an hour, Alberta 1 Fencing had 24, 6 foot posts and 3 grounding rods securely set into the rock infested ground.

Dave and John made the work look easy using a custom built post pounder designed to work in a variety of conditions and landscapes.  The price was more than fair considering the Klassen brothers came all the way out from Myrnam.  After our futile attempts to build a suitable fence, we greatly appreciated the job that was done.

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John (pounding) and Dave (holding) had the ground rods installed in minutes.   I was puffed out just watching them!  Our previous experience of drilling into the high clay content soil was painful and tedious… not to mention the injury to egos that was sustained as a result of not completing the job.

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We now have our work cut out for us over the next couple of weekends to get the wire up and hot on all 6 strands.  Adrastus figured out that the bottom wire in the previous fence was just a wire, without electrical current.  Hopefully the surprise of all hot wires will be big enough to keep him, Ananke and Aristaeus out for good.

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We miss our bees… RIP little buddies 😦   #BringBacktheBees

The Three Bears

Once upon a time there were three bears and in three days, two of eleven hives that survived the brutal Alberta winter were also decimated…

Worth and I headed out to the Ranch on March 16th for the first time in 2019. Right at zero degrees, it was a brilliant day unlike the previous weeks of continuous minus 30 degree weather.

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Seeing the hives buried deep in the snow left us feeling uneasy about the winter survival rate. Still too cold, we resisted the urge to peek and instead, dug out the electric fence to find it in good working order.

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The hive in the far left corner was one of the survivors.

We were instantly elated when we returned again on April 14th to find bees buzzing about. However, the roller coaster we were riding plummeted to dark depths when we found that only two of eleven hives survived the winter. The sugar water that the bees were fed in September was long gone as were the plentiful honey stores that we refrained from stealing in August. Many of the famished bees were buried head first in the brittle wax, others were piled in the bottom of the hives, rotting, and in one, along side an emaciated mouse. We placed sugar patties on top of the frames and treated with Apivar. Veteran beekeepers that we spoke to also found some dead-outs due to lack of food, dampness, nosema or simply just for being a weak hive. I learned that bees tend to winter better with frames that contain older and thicker beeswax.

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Dead-out, RIP little buddies 😦

FROM BAD TO WORSE…
Nothing could prepare us for the chaos and anarchy when we returned to the Ranch on May 4th. Frames were mauled and gently mangled… some seemingly forgotten deep in the bush. The boxes were strewn all about but still intact with only one hive cover munched. Our two live hives were also toppled with not a bee in sight. The electric fence was working but still somehow this security feature had been breached.

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Worth and I reluctantly packed up hives or parts thereof to take back to the farm for cleaning and treatment with glacial acetic acid. The card from the trail cam was removed to discover what had actually transpired at the scene of the multiple murders.

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The Perpetrators of the Crime

It was just as we thought!! The kill was driven by Adrastus’ hunger fueled ingenuity and, the patience and perseverance of Ananke and Aristaeus.


THE TIMELINE:

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April 24th: Adrastus topples first live hive

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April 26th:  Enter Ananke and Aristaeus

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April 26th:  Eating, ummm…  Destroying the Evidence!!

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April 26th:  Breaching the Perimeter

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April 27th:  A Heated Exchange

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April 27th:  All this Licking is Hard Work!

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April 28th:  Back in for Another Go…

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April 29th:  More Work to be Done

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April 29th:  This Electric Fence Doesn’t Hurt At All!

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April 30th:  Not a Single Hive Left Standing

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May 4th:  Moments Before Worth and I Arrive on the Scene

Stay tuned…

The Start of a New Season

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We took the opportunity to tidy up the hive by cleaning the bottom board and scraping other winter debris from the frames.

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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.

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Spring Time at the Ranch (almost!)

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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.

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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.

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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:

https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/beekeepers/varroa-mite-monitoring1/varroa-mite-monitoring/

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Good news… the electric fence is working!!

Preparing for Winter

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.

 

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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.

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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!!

More Activity at the Ranch

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.

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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!

 

Honey Harvest

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!

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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.

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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.

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While these ones are resting, the bee yard has a gazillion bees flying around!  About 500 are on the back of Worth’s suit.

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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?

 

Fledgling Beekeepers

I have not written a lot lately…   mostly because I am really unhappy that we now have a drone layer hive. Yup, the boys and a few girls appear to be on their own doing the best that they can in what was once a vibrant and ordered industrial zone.  Prior to the queen’s demise, we had a great amount of difficulty with ants attacking the hive. We noticed many a brave bee, lying lifeless at the entrance most likely from a futile attempt to protect the hive from the onslaught of honey hungry ants.  The ant traps that we confidently placed in and around the hive seem to have been nothing more than a ladder for quicker passage to the honey.  We also made the mistake of leaving an empty super overtop the once dynamic and nicely expanding bottom super.  Our beginner’s lapse of thoughtfulness would have aided to the downfall of the queen.  Oh, how I am kicking myself for inadvertently lowering the temperature inside the hive and making conditions less than optimum for the once thriving queen and brood.

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Frame from the Drone Layer Hive

 

A few days later at bee mentoring class, I ashamedly pulled out my phone to show the damning photos to the Bee Whisperer.  As per normal, Craig saw an opportunity rather than a crisis for his fledgling students.  Later that evening, he proceeded to show us how to create our own queen by adding a frame of brood, including egg of the day, to the drone hive.  This last weekend at The Ranch, Worth and I pinched a frame from our AWOL hive and transplanted it to the drone layer hive.  We took the empty super off to increase the temperature for our new babies and fingers crossed, soon to be, new queen.

We learned in bee class that a queen will emerge on day 16 and a worker on day 21 from the same type of fertilized egg.  The distinction between worker and queen arises from the type and quantity of food that is fed to them by the nurse bees.  During the first three to four days of life, both types of larvae receive a protein-rich substance secreted by the nurse bees.  Later, the worker’s food gets diluted with regurgitated honey and pollen while the impending queen continues to receive the distilled secretion that is known as “royal jelly.”  The queen continues to receive a super abundance of food while the worker is fed regularly and in smaller portions.  A drone takes 24 days to emerge.

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Wild Flowers at The Ranch

 

 

 

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Wild Strawberries for Us!

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A Friend Blending In

The Queen Lives

We headed back to the Ranch on June 4th and now it was time to inspect the AWOL hive.  Having attended the mentoring session at Craig’s, Worth and I had a much better idea of what we were actually looking for.  In addition, we were not quite as reluctant to handle and move the frames around.  It was a sight for sore eyes when we saw one of the frames in the AWOL hive had yielded a fantastic combination of brood at various stages of development.  The presence of the “egg of the day” meant that the queen was present and actively laying. I would sleep better that night knowing that the split that Craig talked me through had actually worked… my colleagues (Raj and Sandra) at work now refer to Craig as the “Bee Whisperer.”

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Pollen, Capped Brood, Larva and “Egg of the Day”

 

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The “weak” AWOL hive with a huge desire to thrive.

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A Friend at the Hives

On our way back to the farm we encountered a rather interesting sight.  At first glance it looked like a ball of fur on top of a fence post.  When Worth backed up the truck so that we could get a second look, we found it most certainly was a ball of fur and that it was also alive!

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A real cutie – woodchuck – I think!?