Some Mountain Beekeeping

Catching Ron in his natural element.

A month ago, friends invited me to see some bees at a ranch up in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Beekeeper Stephen, a fellow geophysicist, guided us as we meandered the secondary roads west of Calgary. We gradually gained a bit of elevation (from 1,100 metres at my home to nearly 1,500 metres at the ranch). I was curious to see how bees might survive in that largely forested locale – remote from large fields of alfalfa and canola, and in an area where grizzly bears roam and frost and snow are possible intruders even during the summer months. The bees I saw were not merely surviving, they were thriving.

The resident beekeeper, Mike, had installed 20 packages. The first round of brood was hatching and the bees looked great. They were smartly provided a perch beside the workshop, overlooking a broad valley spotted with hay pastures. Dandelions were blooming and nectar and pollen were arriving by airborne express. I wondered about the grizzlies, the potentially windy exposure, and the fact that the best forage was down in the valley, about a hundred metres below us. But Mike had been keeping bees at this spot for a few years. They did well, in both quantity and quality of honey. This bee yard had produced honey that won Best of Show at three different competitions last year. I reminded myself that not every location is perfect and you work with what you have. Here are a few pictures from last month’s expedition.

Who has seen the queen?

Stephen, Mike, and Ron

Ron and Mike

Quite a view, eh? But as usual, beekeepers can only see bees whenever bees are around.

Quite a dramatic location, isn’t it? In the pictures above, you see an easily moveable plywood windbreak that Mike made. This doesn’t stay in the bee yard. It is just in place for a few moments to help calm the bees and to keep smoke from whiffing away in a sudden gust. The blocks that you see hold the lids down when it gets windy. Their orientation is a reminder to the beekeeper if something is amiss. If this sounds a bit odd, it actually stops the beekeeper from roaring through the hives, lifting lids and forgetting that one hive or another had supersedure queen cells or any other issue that should bring caution to the hivetool. It was a great day, and a wonderful feast was provided by Brenda Peatch. Brenda also took all of the photos you see in today’s posting. Many, many thanks to everyone!

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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