Upside-Down Almond Pollination

holeinground

Arriving in Australia.

It’s September, but some beekeepers are just wrapping up almond pollination and moving their bees to canola.  Sounds late. California’s almonds finished in March. Canola blossom ended months ago, too. But not for Australian beekeepers.

Here’s a news piece from SunraysiaDaily:

MILLIONS of bees trucked into Victoria to pollinate almond plantations last month are now working their magic to help boost the state’s spring canola crops.

“The honey bee industry provides benefits of between $4-6 billion to the Australian economy each year, and specifically to pollination-dependent plant industries such as almonds, cherries and pome fruit,” she said.

Beekeepers who move to almond pollination into the southern state of Victoria will face many of the same issues as California pollinators – monoculture limits nutritional diversity, pesticides wreck hives, trucking stresses the bees, and pests transfer hive to hive in the dense apiaries.  Hopefully, the migratory beekeepers are being compensated for all this.

Australia is now the world’s second largest almond producer, having just passed Spain’s production. Australia is still far behind the USA. California produces about 2 million tonnes a year; Australia, about one-tenth that. But the Australian groves are expanding. With that, the need for pollinating honey bees is growing, of course.

In 2009, just 55,000 colonies were rented for almond pollination in Australia. In 2012 about 110,000 honey bee colonies were trucked into Australia’s almond groves. This year, it was 195,000 with 300,000 expected to be rented within 5 years.

australia-almonds

Posted in Beekeeping, Commercial Beekeeping, Pollination | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why do bumblebees follow ferries?

This is a fascinating observation. Bees appear to ‘follow’ ferries across long stretches of open water. Shared at Bad Beekeeping Blog…

Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

Sejero - 20160910_180359.png

A few years ago I mentioned in my post “Garlicky archipelago” that I had seen bumblebees (Bombus spp.) following the ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight, a distance of about 1.5km across water.  If I remember correctly it was my colleague Scott Armbruster who first mentioned this to me: he lives on the Isle of Wight and commutes regularly to the mainland.

I’ve not thought much about this since then as 1.5km is a fairly modest distance for a bumblebee to fly.  But then a few weeks ago I saw the same thing in Denmark, but this time over a much longer distance.

Karin and I were visiting friends on the small island of Sejerø, which (at its closest point) is about 8km from the mainland of Zealand.  To get there you have to catch a ferry which takes about an hour to cross…

View original post 258 more words

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No bees, no honey, no Rosh Hashanah

No bees, no honey, no Rosh Hashanah. Sweet. The Calgary Jewish Community Centre (JCC) is hosting a “beeswax and sweetness marketplace” this week, Tuesday, September 27th from 3 to 7 pm.

honey-and-applesRosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – begins at sunset, next Sunday (October 2). For most, the day includes a taste of apple sweetened with honey. It’s a hope for a good, sweet year ahead.

This year’s market at the JCC: “No bees, no honey, no Rosh Hashanah” is a nice reminder of the bees’ role in the world.

From the JCC website:  Apples & honey tastings, cartis bracha (greeting cards) crafts. 
Everybody welcome. Free admission.

I’ll be there. Events like this really bring communities together.  If you’re in Calgary, drop by. If you are in England or New Zealand, there is still time to fly in. Let me know.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Honey, Outreach | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Brood in Front of the Hive?!?

Everyone has a question...

Everyone has a question…

I’m continuing with the series of questions which I overheard at a bee meeting a few days ago. Today, it’s dead brood.

Here are those questions:

Why is there dead brood in front of my hive? This is hard to answer without samples, a photo, or a trip to the beekeeper’s apiary. But anytime there’s a suspicious bee death, we should pay attention.

More winter-dead bees than you want.

More winter-dead bees than you want.

Usually, of course, dead bees in front of a hive are adult bees. The most common ‘natural’ cause (at least here in Canada) is cold. Bees may fly out on sunny winter days (to use the outdoor plumbing) but then get chilled and drop in the snow before they get back into the hive. A few dozen such casualties is completely normal, but hundreds of bees lying in the snow may mean some sort of trouble.

Fog can play the same nasty trick on the bees. Years ago, my father worked for Al Wynn, a California queen breeder. Along the coast near Napa Valley, according to my father, they would occasionally lose bees when heavy fog drifted inland. The beekeepers found chilled damp bees near the hive entrances and queen mating was poor for that round.

skunkAt almost any time of year, skunks might bother hives here in western Canada, and around much of North America, I suppose. Mephitidae scratch beehive entrances at night, inviting bees to come out and see what’s making all the commotion. Then the skunk laps up bees like a kitten with milk. The next day, the beekeeper finds hundreds of desiccated adult honey bee bodies in scat or spat piles near the hives.

Another big cause of lifeless adult bees in front of hives is poisoning. These days this isn’t too common up here in western Canada. But a generation ago, aerial spray to combat pests on canola and alfalfa led to honey bee deaths by the millions. Today, farmers are more aware of the need to keep honey bees and other creatures alive and healthy. Farmers have changed some of their bad habits and they’ve switched to pesticides that don’t blanket the entire field (and nearby apiaries) in poison. It’s been a while since I’ve heard of bee kill here on the prairies, but we know that insecticides are still used around honey bees – most recently the disaster in South Carolina where the county used bombers to attack mosquitoes. That resulted in millions of inadvertent honey bee deaths.

Those (pesticide, skunk, weather) bee massacres result in mounds of adult bees in front of hives. It’s all too common. But it’s rare to find dead brood in the grass. Obviously, the brood must be carried out of the hive by adults because bee brood is immobile. (It would be pretty creepy if you opened a hive and found your bee larvae crawling around.) Honey bees like to keep things tidy, so they drag out anything that seems out-of-place. That includes bits of paper that wrapped your pollen patties or united your colonies as well as dead brood.

Chalkbrood

Chalkbrood discarded

If the larvae died from foulbrood, it’s unlikely you’ll see it in the hive’s front yard. Such stuff deteriorates quickly into a smelly mess, then hardens and sticks in the cells. However, if the brood is chalk (or ‘stone’) brood, you may find masses in front of the hive and on the landing board. Chalkbrood stays together is a tidy clump that the bees pull out of the cells. Usually it falls to the bottom board after the bees excavate it. Often workers drag it from the bottom board, or directly from the cells, and deposit the chalk mummies in the grass. Serious cases of chalkboard reduce a hive’s population by ten percent or more, but I’ve never heard of it being fatal. Hygienic bees clean it up more quickly, so you can sometimes reduce chalk by replacing the queen. Moving the hive to higher, less mould-inducing turf also helps.

I couldn’t answer the question about why dead brood was in front of the hive because there is another possibility. Without a clear description of the dead brood, I couldn’t know if it had died from chalk or from mite infestation. Both relate to bees’ hygienic behaviour – honey bees remove sick or dead brood, reducing the chances of disease spreading within the hive. If the dead brood in the grass is plump larvae and not chalky gray/white mummies, then it could be brood that was accidentally killed during your last hive visit, or more likely, it’s brood that was infested by mites and then flown out of the nest by house-cleaner bees.

So, once again, I have failed to answer the question, except to say “It depends…” on factors that I wouldn’t know unless I visited the apiary myself. And even then, I might be wrong.

Posted in Bee Biology, Bee Yards, Beekeeping, Diseases and Pests, Pesticides, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Bright Shiny Extractors

hand-cranked-extractor

We saw this cranky extractor a few years ago, somewhere in southern Europe.

I’m continuing with the series of questions I overheard at last week’s bee meeting. Today, it’s the bright shiny extractor.

Here are those questions:

  • My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it? (I heard that one from three different beefolks.)
  • Wasps are attacking my hives. How can I stop them?
  • What’s the best extractor to buy? (Today’s topic)
  • There was a pile of brood in front of my hive. Why?
  • I have four good hives, but I think that the fifth might be queenless. What should I do?

museum-benny-extractorWhat’s the best extractor to buy? Someone whom I’d never met before asked me that question. I didn’t know anything about the beekeeper, so it was hard to answer.

What’s the best extractor to buy?  It depends. It’s the extractor that returns the most value for you based on your number of hives, average honey crop volume, food-health inspection requirements, extracting room’s space, your physical abilities, and your budget.

Plastic/stainless steel, homemade/store-bought, horizontal or vertical axis, radial/tangential, 2-frame/240-frame,  electric-power/crank, rent/borrow/own, permanently mounted or mobile –  so much to decide and so little time, especially if you are in the northern hemisphere and still thinking about extracting this year’s crop.

taylor-1880-extractorYou can see how complicated this is. A lot of beekeepers buy the smallest, cheapest extractor that suits all the criteria I mentioned (and more, I’m sure). Buy small and trade up if business grows. A 20-frame extractor will handle your small crop more quickly than a 4-frame, but set-up and clean-up take longer. You must also consider storage space for a contraption you use just two or three times a year. Most beekeepers suggest that nebbies start small and grow if interest in beekeeping continues.

I won’t write more than this about extractors today… there are oodles of websites and youtube videos to confuse inform you.

Here’s a review of a 2-frame extractor:

Reviews of 5- and 10- frame, electric and hand cranked:

A 20-frame extractor:

Finally, let’s pretend that someone gave you a 60-frame extractor and you don’t have a clue how to use it:

    🐝 🐝 🐝

Posted in Beekeeping, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Remembering: Charles Valentine Riley

cv-rileyCharles Valentine Riley (1843-1895)

September 18 is the birthdate of British-American    entomologist     Charles Valentine Riley. Riley pioneered the scientific study of insect pests and their impact on agriculture.   He founded the US Department of Agriculture’s Division of Entomology and was one of the first to use biological pest control. Oh, he saved the French wine industry, too.  He had an unlikely start.

C.V. Riley (as he was usually known) was born in Chelsea, the yuppie section of 19th-century London. His father was a minister, a rising star in the Church of England. At age 11, C.V. was sent to the continent (France, then Germany) to study languages, art, and science. But within a couple of years, his father died and C.V. was brought back to London. His widowed Mum remarried and C.V. was disinherited.

By 17, C.V. Riley was on his way to America to work as a farm labourer on property owned by a British investor who had taken an interest in the young man’s plight. After a few years of grueling farm work, Riley found a job as a reporter and artist for a farm journal, Prairie Farmer. It was 1864 – Riley was 20, drafted into the American Civil War, and released after his compulsory 100 days of service. Riley then went back to the magazine, continuing as an artist and reporter, but taking on the added job of editor of the journal’s bug division. The boy from Chelsea was the Prairie Farmer’s entomology editor.

riley-moth-drawing

American politics

His talent as an observer and artist were noticed. In 1868, at age 24, Riley was appointed Missouri’s first state entomologist.  It was a time of huge emphasis on all thing farm-related. America’s first universities were “state agriculture schools” where research on best farm practices were conducted. The west was growing explosively, populated by European homesteaders. The government bolstered settlement and farming. To assure success, new crop varieties were developed, including drought-resistant wheat and fast-growing cotton. As farmers specialized, miles after mile of grain was seeded in 1870s-style monoculture, resulting in insect plagues. The concentration of food led to infestations of bugs, beetles, and especially grasshoppers. Economic entomology – mostly geared towards killing pests – was born.

riley-silkworm-drawingOne of C.V. Riley’s first distinguishing studies involved the 1873-1877 Kansas locust plague. He convinced Congress to form the US Entomology Commission. Riley was appointed chair of its Grasshopper Commission. In 1878, he was appointed the USDA’s first entomologist. But he got into a big spat with the ag department’s chief, a political appointee and Civil War general, so Riley quit. But two years later, the general was gone and Riley was back. But he never mastered diplomacy.

He was volatile  – I read a letter which he wrote to a famous naturalist, Mary Lua Treat, where he mocks her efforts at mailing galls (caused by parasitic insects) to him, then wishes she has many more galls in her future. He was probably teasing, but the letter sounds really rude. Riley was also severely overworked and given to bouts of “nervous exhaustion”. He held a USDA post until 1894. Simultaneously, he was the Smithsonian’s first curator of insects.

Science and wine

Throughout all the politics, C.V. Riley edited entomology journals which he founded and published – the American Entomologist (1868–80) and Insect Life (1889–94). These journals were brightened by Riley’s sketches and drawings of all manner of insect. He was a gifted observer, an talented artist, and an influential author. Charles Darwin’s work (butterfly colouration; insect kinship; cross-fertilization of plants; insect/plant dependence; insectivorous plants) was mentioned in nearly every issue. In 1880, Riley showed how flowering plants, hymenoptera, and diptera co-evolved during the Cretaceous.

1868-the-am-entomologist

On the science front, he is credited with the first use of biological control (instead of chemicals) when he imported a beetle from Australia to eat scale that was destroying California’s citrus industry. Soon after, he was one of the first to notice that American grapes, Vitis labrusca were resistant to a yellow sap- sucking insect called Phylloxera which was devouring European vineyards. With J. E. Planchon, Riley grafted French grape stems on American V. labrusca root stock and shipped them to France. Together, they saved the French wine industry. For this, Riley was awarded the French Grand Gold Medal and was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Not so enthused about bees

With all this brilliant bug stuff – saving the French grapes from Phylloxera,  starting entomology journals, founding biological pest control, rising rapidly in the ag department – I wondered what C.V. Riley had to say about honey bees. riley-the-bee-nuisanceNot much. And the wee bit of ink that he spilt towards bees was mostly negative. His magazine, The American Entomologist, carried a piece called The Bee Nuisance, which describes all sorts of bee complaints. At the Illinois State Horticultural convention in 1874, his talk was titled “Apis mellifica as an enemy to horticulture.”

His main contentions were that honey bees injure ripening fruit and they are a nuisance to farm workers. Riley’s journals carried numerous stories about honey bees attacking grapes, peaches, and raspberries, making farmers flee in fear while the bees bruised and battered crops before harvest. Riley also urged people to chase beekeepers out of their neighbourhoods if they ran too many hives.  Meanwhile, from what I could see as I leafed through several hundred pages of Riley’s journals, he wrote very little about the honey bees’ importance as a fruit pollinator. Because of Riley’s prestige, all of this created problems for beekeepers in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Much of Riley’s criticism was unwarranted – I’ve not heard complaints from growers about excessive fruit damage and today they recognize the importance of honey bees as pollinators.

cv-riley-olderRegardless his apparent honey bee animosity, C.V. Riley was one of the world’s first true practical entomologists and his contributions (especially making Rhône Syrah and Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon possible) deserve our recognition. We can only speculate what he may have accomplished if his life had not ended tragically at age 52. In 1895, he and his fourteen-year-old son  were racing their bicycles down Columbia Street towards Riley’s Smithsonian office when he hit a granite building stone that had fallen from a wagon. C.V. Riley smashed into the pavement and was carried home where he died that evening,  never regaining consciousness.

Posted in Diseases and Pests, Ecology, History, People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Can I Stop Wasp Attacks?

angry-wasp

(Source: Reddit)

A few days ago,  I wrote about the way new beekeepers are generally sure about the right way to keep bees while oldtimers are reticent when it comes to answering questions. Sometimes there are a dozen ways to solve a bee issue but maybe only one of them is right at any particular time. Anyway, on that earlier post, I introduced the following questions which were overheard at a recent bee meeting. I intend to eventually answer all of them. Just keep in mind that my solutions are likely wrong.

Here are some questions that were tossed around at the meeting:

  • My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it? (I heard that one from three different beefolks.)
  • Wasps are attacking my hives. How can I stop them? (Today’s topic)
  • What’s the best extractor to buy?
  • There was a pile of brood in front of my hive. Why?
  • I have four good hives, but I think that the fifth might be queenless. What should I do?

paper-waspI tried to answer the first question, about uncapped honey, a couple of days ago.

Today, I’m going to look at those nasty wasps. But first, an awful joke: What do you do with a limp wasp? Take it to a waspital. Or, step on it a second time.

Wasps deserve their bad rap. I’ll admit that I don’t like wasps (the insect kind) at all. Their stings are dreadful – one knocked me off a ladder years ago and I’ve never forgiven any of them for that. Even now, I can feel the pain of those stings on my forehead while I was holding paintbrush and paint can. Even now, as I type these words, I get a shutter down my back. The pain is unmended.

My dislike of wasps goes way back. I was a farm kid. If insects didn’t pollinate or produce some sort of crop, they weren’t welcome. I’m trying to come around to the PC view that all of nature’s little buddies have their job to do, but wasps will take me a while.

decoy-wasp-nest

A decoy wasp nest, spotted in Banff, Alberta. Does this actually work?

Around the apiary, wasps may mean the end of your beekeeping career. We don’t see many wasps in Calgary, where I live now, but up near the Rockies, beekeepers seem to have serious wasp problems. Now that autumn is close and bee populations are dwindling, the harassment caused by wasps is increasing.

What to do? I think you really need to minimize beekeeping activity, reduce entrances and keep colonies strong. Minimize activity by working quickly and deliberately. Don’t leave the covers off while you’re eating your lunch. Reduce entrances. Maybe duct tape holes in boxes and close extra entrances if the wasps are attacking. Keeping colonies strong is good policy all the time. Bees will defend themselves if they can. What about decoy wasp nests? I have no idea if they work.

bees-attack-wasp

Strong hives try to fight wasp invasions. Here’s a picture from China. Wasps there attack  Apis cerana and Apis mellifera with equal malice. You can see that the bees have surrounded a wasp and are killing it. They have tightened around the intruder, raising body temperatures by 5 ºC – they’ll persist until the wasp is dead.

Last August, my friend Dieter sent me the picture below. It shows a honey excluder which has trapped large black wasps by the dozens. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t know the whole story – maybe wasps had found an upper entrance and were trying to get down to the brood nest. If you look closely, you can see a honey bee near the center, clasping a dead wasp, probably pulling it towards the great garden cemetery just outside the door. All of this is good evidence that small restricted passages (especially since the honey season is over now) and a strong colony are the best defence against these awful dreadful horrible foul deadly creatures.

dieter-wasps-on-excluder-bee-pulling

Dead wasps stuck on excluder. Bee near center is dragging one to the exit.
(Photo credit: Dieter Remppel)

Posted in Beekeeping, Diseases and Pests, Stings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Noxious Milkweed?

milkweed-and-monarch

The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette had a story yesterday about a fellow in Monticello who ran afoul of the law for something he’s growing in his back yard. His crime? Cultivating (Milk)weed.

milkweed-seedpodBee and butterfly enthusiasts know milkweed. So do curious kids who squeeze the stem and watch white sap drip out. I used to love pulling apart milkweed pods in the fall. I’d liberate the seeds, back in the day when such activity was legal.

Milkweed is the main plant that stands between the fluttering wings of a Monarch Butterfly and extinction. But milkweed is a noxious, obnoxious invasive plant within the city limits of Monticello, Iowa. Mostly because it’s unsightly. Considered invasive in places where manicured lawns and Wal-Mart discount flowers flourish, milkweed is actually native to Iowa. It has fed migrating monarchs for centuries. But Monticello has its rules – no milkweed, no matter how hungry the butterflies get.

At a city council meeting, defendant Michael Felton explained how his property is a designated waystation and restaurant for monarchs heading to Mexico. His milkweed patch is registered and supported by Monarch Watch (and possibly by Prince Charles & Sons’ lesser-known charity, Monarchs for Monarchs).

According to the Gazette, Felton was reminded that inside Monticellian limits, all weeds over 8 inches tall must go.  Felton explained that the plants are lovely and he considers them flowers, with all the rights and privileges generally granted to flowers. Council, which apparently sets standards for lawn care as well as definitions for beauty, wasn’t budging on that.

Felton then asked how he should get rid of his cone flowers and milkweed.  The answer came quickly from an attending councilman: “Roundup.” Most of my readers know that Roundup is a dandy herbicide that can clean up the nastiest herbal lifeforms, even milkweed, unless the plants contain a patented anti-Roundup GMO gene. That’s an option that could make Mr Felton’s milkweeds Roundup-resistant and I’ll bet money that he hasn’t thought of it.

hungarian-milkweed-honeyIf you are a beekeeper or beefriend or monarch lover, milkweed has already captured your heart. The lanky, homely weed has nondescript leaves that only a monarch caterpillar would munch and dull flowers that only a hungry bee would seek. But when the weather is right and the stars are aligned, milkweed nectar is collected in great gobs.

Honey from milkweed fills supers and honey jars. Frank Pellett’s American Honey Plants reports that bees sometimes stored over 100 pounds of milkweed honey and, Pellett wrote, in northern Michigan, beekeepers used to expect 50 pounds of light-coloured, mild-flavoured honey every year. Berkshire Farms in western Massachusetts tells us that milkweed is a good honey plant there and it grows in meadows near their old mill house along a river.

So easy to get tangled up here. Also, note the 'milky' latex at the branch.

So easy to get tangled up here. Also, note the ‘milky’ latex at the branch joint.

There are 55 milkweed species. Some, like the swamp milkweed at the top of this post, have flat flowers, but most are globular, like the one to your left.  Honey bees are fond of fragrant milkweed flowers, but sometimes find big trouble while milking the milkweeds. Bees can get trapped by the pollen-containing pollinia. Rather than face certain death in the flower trap, some bees manage to rip off their stuck legs or antennae and then hobble home with a tank of honey. (Others just sit there and die.) If homeward hobblers manage to make it back they’re greeted as disabled veterans by their hive mates – they are dragged out of the nest and exiled until dead. (So much for embracing the bees’ utopian society.)

If you have a hankering to be a rebel with a cause and make urban mischief, here’s a link on How to Grow Milkweed. But beware that you may be breaking some stupid archaic nanny-state law and also be aware that I’m not Donald Trump – I can’t afford to pay your bills if you get sued and need a lawyer. You’re on your own. But here’s that link again, just in case you missed it the first time: How to Grow Milkweed.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Ecology, Honey Plants, Humour, Save the Bees | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What Do You Do with Open Honey?

partly-sealed-frame

Ready or not? This frame is 60% sealed.
To be sure it can be safely extracted, test it with a refractometer.

Yesterday, I droned on and on about how beekeepers who are smart and mature don’t know anything. It’s the new beefolks who have all the answers. I’m not quite at the point where I know nothing, so I’m going to try to tackle a few questions that I heard from some bee folks.

Here are some of the questions tossed around last night:

  • My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it? (I heard that one from three different beefolks.)
  • Wasps are attacking my hives. How can I stop them?
  • What’s the best extractor to buy?
  • There was a pile of brood in front of my hive. Why?
  • I have four good hives, but I think that the fifth might be queenless. What should I do?

Each of these deserves a long, winding, exhaustive answer, so that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll just answer the first one on this blog post.

My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it?

It depends on the moisture content and on your plans for your bees. Since it’s mid-September and we are in the Ice Kingdom of Canada, our honey season is pretty much over. Especially out here on the western prairies were minus thirty is only a few sleeps away. So, get those stupid boxes off the bees and quit hoping that they will seal everything. They probably won’t. (Though there was late September 1987 when the bees gained 40 pounds around October 1. And a huge late flow in 2008.  So, I may be wrong.)

Most beekeepers properly worry that unsealed honey will spoil. That’s what they’ve heard at our beginner bee courses. It’s true – it may spoil, but maybe it won’t. Usually (but not always) bees reduce the moisture in honey to a non-fermenting level (below 18.6% water) before they seal it with wax. If honey has less than 18.6% water, yeast usually can not grow in it.  Below 18.6%, the honey rarely becomes a bubbly, fermented or sour product best suited for bibation. Bees usually don’t seal properly dried honey. However, the bees are sometimes wrong. A beekeeper in our area came to my house last week with a sample taken from sealed combs. We tested it with a refractometer. It was 21% moisture. Why was it so wett when it came from sealed frames?  I don’t know – maybe the hive was in a damp forest, maybe the honey was gathered and sealed during mid-July when we had four inches of rain in a week. I’d not seen sealed honey with such high water content, but bee stuff happens.

Just as wet honey may be found under cappings, dry honey can appear on unfinished frames. Late in the season, if the flow abruptly ends, the bees usually won’t cap half-finished frames even if the honey is completely cured, dry, and ready for storage. In a dry climate, it’s entirely possible that unsealed honey will be dry enough at any time – even mid season – to be harvested and extracted. The only way you can be absolutely certain is to test the honey with a refractometer.

Not sure what a refractometer is or how to use it?  This video will help:

So, here’s my suggestion. Bring the boxes in from the bees. Prepare your bees for winter – in our area, that may mean feeding and medicating. If the bees need feed and medicine, those should have been on the bees yesterday because the season is getting late. For those using Apivar to fight varroa, treatments must be removed from the hive within six weeks, so you need to be on that right now. All of this means that pulling the last honey supers is something that needs done immediately.

In the extracting shop, scoop a few drops of honey directly off the frame from a few different unsealed spots and blend it together on the refractometer prism. (Connfused? See the video above.) Test the honey with the refractometer. If it’s below 18.6% moisture, you may sell it or use it without too much concern for spoilage. If it’s over the moisture level and still in the frame, you may try drying it by keeping the combs in a warm, dehumidified room for a few days (or at least use an electric fan to circulate dry air – you’ll remove some moisture).

Posted in Beekeeping, Honey, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

It Depends

Canada and District Beekeepers Association. I was about half way up the aisle when I snapped this. It was a big meeting!

Calgary and District Beekeepers Association.
I was about half way up the aisle when I snapped this. Big swarm of beefolks!

Last night we had another meeting of our local bee club, the Calgary and District Beekeepers. These are becoming legendary events with over 150 bee people, sipping coffee and doing bee-talk.  Although it’s great fun mixing with so many nice folks all at once, many bob up with  peculiar questions, issues, or observations in tow.

Our meetings’ organizers always leave a bit of time for questions, but most beekeepers don’t want the weight of 300 ear lobes thrust upon their personal bee problem. So old timers get questions before the session starts, during the coffee break, and while we are packing up and sneaking towards the exits.

Here are some of the questions tossed around last night:

  • My honey isn’t capped. What should I do with it? (I heard that one from three different beefolks.)
  • Wasps are attacking my hives. How can I stop them?
  • What’s the best extractor to buy?
  • There was a pile of brood in front of my hive. Why?
  • I have four good hives, but I think that the fifth might be queenless. What should I do?

There is only one correct way to answer these questions. Start with “It depends…” and then draw out details that help form a decent answer.

However, when such questions float among us, beekeepers with just a little experience often step forward, answering quickly and confidently. Sometimes they nail it, but too often they confirm Abe Lincoln’s admonition about keeping one’s mouth shut (and looking foolish rather than opening it and removing all doubt). Actually, that’s not quite fair. Usually any answer will be correct in some situations. Either “Kill your bees” or “Don’t touch nuthing” might nail it.  It depends.

In contrast, the ‘mature’ beekeepers in the club drone on and on with long-winded explanations which beeginers find annoying.  “I just want to know what to do, I don’t want the history of beekeeping since Aristotle.”  However, mature advice should begin with “It depends” followed with several scenarios. To me, this is the only way to answer cold-off-the-street beekeeping questions.

Beware of the confident beekeeper who can answer all your questions quickly and easily. When most people start beekeeping, they understand it thoroughly. They have it figured out. They know everything. But as time goes on, they realize that bees do unexpected things and each season and each location adds nuances to bee behaviour.

My favourite beekeeping adage goes like this:

Beekeeping is one of those things where you start off knowing everything, but as time goes on, the bees show you that you know less and less – finally, if you live long enough, you realize that you don’t know anything at all.

About those questions: unsealed honey, wasps, extractors, dead brood, and weak hives. Will I answer them?  …It depends on whether I have time tomorrow.

Posted in Beekeeping, Culture, or lack thereof, Friends, Outreach | Tagged | 7 Comments