Field School at the Bees

Chinook Honey – 20 minutes south of Calgary, near Okotoks, Alberta.

Last weekend, the Calgary bee club’s introductory beekeeping course wrapped up with our field school section. After 2 full days (15 hours!) of instruction, participants had a chance to observe, study, touch, and ask questions about the innards of live hives.  We were lucky to have great weather and a great venue this year.

Instructor Neil, unveiled. Did I mention the mountains?

We (over fifty of us) met at Chinook Honey Company, an outstanding bee farm owned/operated by remarkable folks who have been into bees for about 20 years. You might remember an earlier piece I’d written about Art and Cherie Andrews. With their honey shop, store, meadery, and some healthy hives nearby,  it was the perfect place to give newbies some bee exposure.

Overwintered single-story (yes, even on our cold windy Canadian prairies!), an unwrapped hive obviously enjoying a pollen flow. Note the entrance reducer. A syrup feeder, in black,  sits under the hive cover.  (Photo credit: Laurie McClure)

A (potentially) grave aspect to leading novice beekeepers to isolated apiaries are the risks of allergic reactions and panic attacks. Holding our field discussions at an apiary in the backyard of an established bee outfit (Chinook Honey) with good cell phone reception and just five minutes from a hospital helped relieve my anxiety. You never expect problems (and there weren’t any!) but the good beekeeper is always prepared. Before starting, we checked that participants were properly white-suited and veiled. We asked if everyone was comfortable and invited the students to be aware of their fears and to alert us of any stings. We allowed cool puffs to drift from a properly lit smoker before any hivess were opened and we worked calm, relatively weak colonies. Keep these things in mind if you take friends into the depths of your own hives.

Students, left, examining a hive while Calgary bee club president Thomas gears up.

Photo Credit: Joycelyn Odney

‘Tis I, to your right, in the wheelchair. I’m holding a red metal box which I picked up at Canadian Tire (a hardware/car parts chain). The box was part of our safety demonstration – 2017 is Prevent a Fire in Your Bee Yard Year.  Smoker safety is incredibly important. I haul my smoker inside the metal box where flames gasp for air and sparks fall on steel walls.  Consider such a box in your future.

After smoker-talk, we found queens. Since it’s still ‘early’ spring up here near Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the overwintered hives are just building up and queens were easy to spot. This is a thrill for new beekeepers – actually catching sight of her majesty, the mother of all bees. We discussed queen quality and techniques for releasing queens into packages  and for introducing queens in splits.  Part of the talk centered around helping the bees and queen accept each other. Young foreign queen bees are vulnerable to palace coups. This is a common issue this time of year. In a day or two, I’ll cover some of what we mentioned to the class about introducing queens.  For today, I mostly want to post photos of our day at Chinook Honey.  Enjoy!

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
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5 Responses to Field School at the Bees

  1. Pingback: Field School at the Bees | How To Raise Bees

  2. Pingback: Field School at the Bees | Raising Honey Bees

  3. Erik says:

    Thanks for the post and advice Ron. Good to see out with the group and glad everything went well. I have a couple extra jackets for visitors who want to see the bees. Never thought about asking if they were comfortable. Next time I will.

    Liked by 1 person

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