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 Game

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.

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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.

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Adrastus

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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.

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Beaver or Muskrat Trap?

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Working Hard

Deformed Wing Virus by Prime Bees – College Station Bee & Honey Farm

Beekeeping365

Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a highly viral disease transmitted by Varroa destructor. The disease is commonly found in colonies infested with mites. Deformed Wing Virus is regarded as deadly due to its ability to spread fast in any colony. It causes massive wing deformation in bees making it difficult for them to live normally. DWV which is regarded as a low-grade infectious disease is commonly triggered by mite infestations. It has a reputation for being massively destructive leading to the decimation of well-established colonies globally. The deformed wing virus is common in late summer and early fall. A high concentration of mites can be overwhelming for any bee colony.

Read the full article here: Deformed Wing Virus — Prime Bees – College Station Bee & Honey Farm

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Execution and Expansion

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!

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Worth and Craig (the “Bee Whisperer”)

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Transferring Craig’s nucleus splits into purple brood boxes
to be relocated to The Ranch.


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All packed up and ready to head two hours north of Edmonton.

 

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Moving in… so exciting!

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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…
 

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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).
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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.  

 


 

 


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!!

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?

 

Up & Coming Experiments

     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.

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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!

Wildlife Haven

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The Wee One is Hungry!

 

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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.

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Brood with Capped Honey

 

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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!

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This bear looks bigger than the last one.

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Moving on – phew!

 

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Bumble Bee

 

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Not so keen on these…

 

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Another Muncher!