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!!