Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Wild

 I love The Pines.
[early spring photo]
Originally the land was a gravel pit which would explain the gorgeous large pond at the base of the hills.  The rest has been let to go naturally and it's grown into a lovely meadow filled with native plants and flowers.
The property is now conservation land.
Beekeepers are permitted to set up (with permission) on conservation land.
If you are having trouble finding a decent bee yard for yourself you might want to touch base with your municipality and any conservation organizations in your area.  You might be surprised and find a great spot.
But there are challenges to this property.  I've blogged about the raccoons that live in this wild area.  Another issue is field mice.
They moved into my large plastic bins with glee and made nests in the bottom.  Every spot that provides some shelter from rain was quickly moved into.
They chew through duct tape pretty readily too.  I'm glad there are owls and hawks in the area to hunt them.
I left two inner covers sitting out and two weeks later I came back to see mommy mouse nursing her two babies.  She got up to run away, dragging her babies who were clutched to her nipples.  I let them go.
I'm learning that in my new wild yards I can't leave stuff out like I did at my old yard.  Here the wild encroaches and takes every opportunity it can to make a home.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Summer Bees 2014

When people hear that I'm a beekeeper they always ask how the bees are doing.
They've heard the news and now most people are familiar with the problems bees are experiencing.
After losing 60% of my hives in the spring I was carefully optimistic that my remaining hives would grow and do well in the summer, especially since we moved.

We're now in two new bee yards that put us as far away from corn as we could get (which isn't really as far away as we should be.  Southwestern Ontario is heavily planted in corn for ethanol). 
The hives did build up and appeared to do well in spring and early summer.   I did my usual spring treatment for AFB, Nosema and mites.
Most of the hives built up as usual in late spring and created queen cells.  I did splits and even  nucs. for new hives.
But as the summer moved on the number of bees did not max out like it usually would in mid summer.  Most likely like last year they were requeening multiple times--the same issue as last year.
My answer for the summer of 2014 has been that the bees are okay but not great.  I must add to this that we did not have a hot sunny summer as we usually do and I think this played a huge part.
[Photos from The Pines.  The tall pole in the background has an Osprey nest site at the top].

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mid Winter Hive Check (2014)

(Catching up on winter 2014)
I try at least once in mid winter to check on the hives, especially if there's been lots of snow.
I like to make sure their bottom entrance is clear of snow and debris so they can exit the hive.
There is a top entrance as well, which is left open in winter to diffuse moisture from the hive (never block this or cold water droplets will form inside the hive and drip on the bees).
The hard part is getting into the hives.  I've had some experiences where the snow is hard and crusted on top and once you step your leg sinks to thigh deep.  One time there was mud at the bottom and it sucked my boots off.
I use a knapsack to hold my tools so my hands are free to use the ski poles.
On a sunny winter day it can be a pleasant hike.
I don't bang on hives or disturb the bees and putting an ear on the hive you won't hear the buzz this time of year since the cluster is smaller.
But I do peek in the top entrance and I will most often see guard bees resting just inside the entrance.  On warm sunny days they'll even be poking out the entrance. 
I always consider that a good sign.
I observe bee poop on the plastic wraps as well.  We can be quick to conclude nosema but both 2013 and 2014 we had a very cold winter.  I believe when it's very cold the bees slip just outside to poop and then get back in quick.  I think if they tried to fly out it'd be too cold and they wouldn't make it back.
This photo of bee poop and a few dead bees isn't unusual for the middle of winter.
Oh, and if you take a hike to your hives, make sure you have your cell phone in case you get yourself stuck in a snow bank!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Best Robbing Center

I've gone through a few different methods of setting out sticky items for the bees to lick clean, from empty pails to emptied sticky honey frames.

There are a few issues that come up when leaving frames outside, mostly rain and wind that flaps the tarp around (often blowing it right off) and then there's the wild animals looking for a meal.

At The Pines bee yard my traditional method of setting frames on a table wouldn't work.  This yard has some clever acrobatic raccoons which have shown me they can get into anything I set up no matter how high I set it up.

I put my problem solving to work and I thought over different methods but all of them had pitfalls.

Then one morning quite unexpectedly  I woke up with the solution.

I had two large outdoor rabbit hutches which I was not using.  They had single roofs which would take care of rain and snow and they have a wire face which would keep the raccoons out.  The lid was even hinged so I could lift it and set the frames inside.  Perfect solution.

I put one in each yard.  One yard we call The Pines because of it's soaring pine trees.  It's beautiful there just to sit and watch nature and the bees.  I put that rabbit hutch on top of a large wood box and weighted everything with bricks.  The black tarp helps to add heat from the sun.

So far it's stood up well... but raccoons are problem solvers too.  Time will tell

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Canadian Beekeepers file Class Action Law Suit against Bayer and Syngenta

A quote from CBC News:  Canadian beekeepers are suing the makers of popular crop pesticides for more than $400 million in damages, alleging that their use is causing the deaths of bee colonies.

Dad and I have signed up for the class action law suit filed by Canadian beekeepers  against Bayer and Syngenta, the creator of the neonicotinoid pesticide, coined by beekeepers as "neonics".

The issue is of course neonics and the extensive damage this pesticide is doing to bees.  Bees have suffered terribly and beekeepers have suffered huge financial losses.

There are videos on the net and multiple news articles  showing bees struggling and dying painfully on the ground outside their hives.  I won't go to see it.  Too painful to watch.

The process will be long and drawn.  Most beekeepers in our club have signed on.  The expense of the lawsuit is absorbed by our lawyer Siskinds Law Firm.

The lawyers came to our club bee meeting in October 2014, and I was very pleased with the huge amount of research they have done on the topic.  They have thoroughly educated themselves on the subject.

-or I should say when--we win we'll receive a cash reward and Siskind would gain a percentage which should hopefully cover their costs.

But more importantly, when we win there won't be neonics any more and the bees will be saved.

For more information here's a link to CBC news:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Skunk Bees

I remember about two years ago while visiting a friend's bee yard that her bees were coming back with a yellow stripe  formed in a perfect rectangle on their thorax (back).

We were really concerned for a bit there.  Was it some disease.

As we looked and observed the bees we could see they were healthy.  And then I remembered a documentary from a long time ago about how certain flowers want to ensure that their pollen is spread.

Some flowers are set up with triggers and so when the bees enter or leave, the flower has internal parts that trigger to stroke, slap or spray a puff of pollen onto the bee.

What was most interesting is that the pollen on their thorax is really hard for them to remove completely on their own.  If it was on other parts of their body they could wipe it off themselves and brush it into their baskets.

So the flower isn't just pretty--it's smart.  It knows to brush the pollen into a spot where it won't get rubbed off easily, all the more to ensure it gets transferred into the other flowers of the same species that the bees will visit.

This summer I watched as most of my hives had bees coming back with white strips on their backs.  Like skunks they were all entering the hive.  I maaged to get some photos and video as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Masked Bandits

(Catching up on beekeeping in 2014)

Cue the music from the Mission Impossible movie.

I don't know if it's one or a little band but there are some very clever raccoons at The Pines bee yard.

[Photo: Bonne nuit by Stefan Ilic on Fivehundredpx ]

Every time I showed up at the yard I'd see pails I'd left on top of the hives were knocked to the ground and completely licked clean. These hives were 4 or
5 supers high so whoever climbed up them is a real pro.

I could not figure out how the raccoons are getting on top of these hives. They are stacked tall with supers. But then I saw these Pinterest Pins and I think I know how they're doing it.

The area at the back of the hive I have a couple bricks covering the bottom opening where the sticky board is.

I'd also have a flap of board over the opening. Not only were the bricks pulled away and the flaps removed but amazingly the raccoon had put it's paw in the pull string and pulled to slide out the sticky board. And licked it clean. Now that's one way to clean sticky boards and get rid of mites.

 I have plenty of raccoons at my home in the subdivision but these "conservation area" raccoons had a level of sophistication with human objects that was surprising.... until I thought a little bit more... The conservation area is next to Fanshawe Lake and on this lake about one km away is a large camp site. I'm pretty sure these are savvy campsite raccoons.

That's a whole different animal. They're tent zipper, cooler opener, get into everything experts. They get lots of practise every night all summer long. So I used duct tape to hold the flaps closed. So far it's worked.

Dead Hives Spring 2014

(I'm catching up on my blog for 2014)

The spring of 2014 was not a pleasant start. Close to the end of March I was finally able to get into the bee yard to feed the bees.

I lifted the hive tops off to insert baggies of honey but instead of being met by a cluster of bees on the top frames I was met with silence.

It was awful. Dead hives.

It started with six dead and as I continued it increased to 10. One hive was so tiny it had only about 25 bees - a write off and considered dead. Another had a small cluster that looked like it might survive but it didn't.

It was my first experience with over-wintering hive deaths. I had been lucky for over five years but not any more. I knew the bees were weak going into winter. The whole summer of 2013 they didn't reach peak numbers and they were constantly requeening.

I knew it was neonics. For the first time corn was planted across the road - about 400 acres of it. That's a lot of neonics blowing in the wind, in the soil, in the water, in everything.

When it got warmer I returned to clean up the dead hives.  I pulled frame after frame and saw lots of bees--dead and resting on the combs. As I lifted supers I found them very heavy with honey.  Some frames had dead bees dunked down in empty cells but every hive had honey.

It was not a good feeling as I'm sure you can relate. I gave all the living hives baggies of warmed honey and I ordered pollen patties and planned to return in a couple days to put them on the hives. But I came down sick and didn't return until a week later. As I was putting the patties on I discovered one more hive had died. This was more painful since they were alive a week ago.  They had not eaten the honey even though temperatures had been warm enough. They should have been able to break cluster.

When disassembling the hives the frames were so packed full of dead bees that I got the feeling that the hives collapsed early in winter. These hives didn't peter down slowly and get weaker and weaker. It was like a massive die off.

Very depressing.  It was not a pleasant spring.

With our recent move in April 2014 to two new yards we are hopefully in a more healthy spot for the bees and father away from corn. Finding healthy places for bees is becoming a real challenge for beekeepers these days.