I’m sure we’ve all noticed how hot and dry it’s been this summer. I thought I’d update you on how this is affecting the bees and flowers.
My bees are looking great right now, with no signs of any significant diseases. They have huge populations and I made plenty of new baby hives, or nucs, a few weeks ago. I breed my own queens and this was the first year I feel like I really nailed it. My new queens are big and beautiful, and it didn’t rain during the week they were getting mated. I’m hoping the dry weather allowed them to mate with enough drones that they’ll have long and productive lives.
The flowers though… the heat and lack of rain has been taking it’s toll on the plants. I just took off and jarred the first wildflower honey of the season. It’s got the same taste as other years, but it’s more intense. I think the lack of moisture must have concentrated the flavour compounds in the nectar.
The dandelion and clover haven’t been producing much nectar. You can tell when a plant species isn’t producing because there are just a few bees quickly passing from blossom to blossom, checking things out but not stopping for long. During a nectar flow, there are usually lots of bees spending quite a bit of time sucking down the nectar from every blossom. So it’s been too dry for those two species it seems.
The alfalfa hasn’t produced anything either. This worries me a bit: we cut some of our hayfields a couple weeks ago and got very few bales. The fields are yellow they’re so dry and if we don’t get inches and inches of rain, I don’t know how well the alfalfa will come back. My late-season Fall Honey is mostly thistle and alfalfa so we’ll see what happens with that honey this year.
The native plants seem to be doing better. There’s fireweed blooming right now, which is way earlier than usual but my bees are all over it.
With the rain yesterday and forecasted for this week, the nectar flows might improve. I’m not too concerned because even with the meagre flows I have been seeing, the bees are so strong that they’re managing to bring in a fair amount of honey right now. If there’s nectar out there, they’ll find it!
I’m taking a few Saturdays off from the markets so you might be having a hard time finding me right now. I’ll be back at the markets in Mid-May, when my main market, the Downtown/City Market on 104 St and Jasper Ave, goes back outside.
In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you need honey before then. We can easily arrange for you to come by and pick some up from a house near the U of A.
I wanted to let everyone know I’ll be at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market for the next few Saturdays. I’m near the back, on the way to the concession, beside the ATMs. Come find me! I grew up going to this market. I remember being so short I could barely see over the table tops. My mother would give me money to buy a maple sugar candy every week while she did her shopping. Those were probably the first purchases I ever made. It’s very exciting to become one of the vendors there.
The beekeeping season went very well and the bees were strong going into the winter. I’m looking forward to another year of beekeeping already. Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this year. Happy New Year!
I hope everyone is having a great 2014 so far! The bees are looking good right now; I think they’re all still alive at the moment but it’s too early in the winter to really say much.
I’m not at the markets right now but that doesn’t mean I’m not working! I’m currently developing some new honey products. I’m also making progress on improving my honey extracting building so you can access my honey in stores as well as farmers markets.
And Beanstalk Honey might have a new look for the new honey season! I want you to be able to tell the differences between all my types of honey more quickly and easily so I’m working on developing new labels & signs. I might even finally get a logo, which is something I’ve been reluctant to do until now.
Stay warm & I hope you have enough honey to last the next few months! If you don’t, email me and we can try to work something out.
I have a few quick updates:
– Please note my phone number has changed on the contact page.
-I am not currently selling honey at the French Quarter Market, however, I will be back there on Sunday, Dec 1.
-I am taking a break from all the markets for at least January and February. Either stock up before Christmas or contact me directly if you need more honey and I’m not at the markets.
-I have a brand new Spicy Honey I invite you all to try! Come see me at the Downtown Market in City Hall or Salisbury Market in Sherwood Park!
That’s all! The bees are wrapped up and warm for the winter. They looked really good going into winter so fingers crossed they come out looking okay too. In the meantime, I’m cross-country skiing!
I’m sure most of you have noticed, but we have a lot of snow still! It’s still knee deep out in the beeyard. Not only that, but the weather hasn’t warmed up enough for the bees to fly. The willows have been out for a week now, but the weather hasn’t been warm enough for the bees to be collecting the willow pollen yet. We try to do our beekeeping with as few inputs as possible, in other words, we don’t usually supplement our bees with pollen replacements and sugar syrup. However, the winter has been so long and the weather is looking so drab for the next while that I’m seriously considering it.
This time of year it’s really easy to lose hives. Individual bees raised in the fall have been alive all winter, and that’s a long time for an individual bee to live (winter bees tend to live around seven months; summer bees live for only a few weeks). Starting around now, the winter bees need to be raising lots of young ones to replace themselves. To do that they need pollen, which is what the larva are fed. Hopefully they packed enough away in the fall, and hopefully events coincide in the spring so they are able to fly out and collect willow pollen. A lot of beekeepers feed pollen substitutes around now to help them raise brood, but the best pollen they can get is the fresh stuff off the willow bushes. So that’s why the weather needs to be nice! If they don’t have pollen, they can’t raise much brood. Without raising enough brood right now, the hive can dwindle away as all the bees that hatched in the fall die of old age.
In addition, to stay alive bees need to eat honey or sugar syrup. We feed them lots of sugar syrup in the fall and that needs to last them all winter and into the spring, until a new nectar flow starts. (We feed them sugar syrup because sometimes bees don’t overwinter very well on honey- it can mess with their digestive tracts, and during long periods of confinement during our cold winters, we don’t want them having digestive tract issues. Most beekeepers feed sugar syrup because bees can digest it with fewer waste products so they don’t need to defecate as often.) A hive in the fall that’s full of sugar syrup can weigh around 120lbs or more. That’s how much food a hive will go through over the course of the winter and if they run out the bees simply starve to death. By this time of year, regardless of how much we fed them in the fall, they’re starting to get low. I have my fingers crossed my bees have enough food to get them through until the weather warms up.
Which brings me to why it’s so important that we be breeding our own bees. Bees that are well adapted to our climate tend to overwinter in smaller clusters and then build up their population very quickly in the spring. This means that in long winters such as this one, they have a better chance of making it because there haven’t been as many bees to feed all winter long. They are less likely to have run out of food by now because their population was smaller all winter. The best way to get locally adapted bee stock is to raise your own queens for a few years. Breed from the hives that have made it through the winter and over time you’ll naturally end up with bees that do well surviving our winters.
I’ll keep you posted on how my hives do!
One of the most frequent questions I get is “how do you get dandelion honey?”. This photo should explain it. Yes, those are all dandelions in the springtime!
Thanks to Becky, now you can follow us on Twitter too! https://twitter.com/#!/beanstalkhoney.
This time of year I’m answering lots of questions about how the bees did over the winter. The answer: overall, from what I’ve been hearing from other beekeepers, the mild was winter was good for Alberta bees. At our apiaries we had very, very few losses- less than 3%! The bees have already been collecting pollen for a couple of weeks now and we’re going to unwrap them soon. We’re looking forward to a great year of healthy bees and honey production. I’m excited to be able to offer our dandelion honey in late June; we’ve been sold out of it since December but people still ask for it every week. And by July we’ll have our much-loved wildflower too. This summer, there will also be a new face at our stall: Becky, my sister, will be working the stall while Dan and myself are out with the bees. So say Hi to her when you see her!
One more update from the beeyards: unfortunately, I have a skunk eating bees out of my apiary. We’ll be trapping it this weekend. Skunks can be big pests around beehives. They scratch at the front of the hive and when the bees come out to defend themselves they get caught in the skunk’s fur. The skunk then picks them out and eats them, slowly de-populating the whole hive this way. So we have decided the suspiciously rotund skunk marauding the bee yard has to be relocated somewhere else before it becomes a skunk family.
The work is finally wrapping up for the season! I’ve fed my bees sugar syrup to get them through the winter but with the warm weather they’re out flying around, robbing anything with even a trace of sugar or honey on it. In the fall, there are lots of worker bees who want to collect nectar but there is no nectar for them to collect. Instead, they steal honey or sugar from anywhere they can get it. That means they’re sneaking into my extracting room to take honey from the honey boxes I’ve taken off their hive. Once in there, they get disoriented and can’t get out again. They’ve been clustering on the top of my window overnight and in the morning I knock them into a bucket and take them out. I’ve only had to do it twice, but even that is too much. Robbing bees spread diseases and once they get robbing they are more likely to rob out neighbouring hives, which can devastate that hive’s ability to overwinter. So next year the top item I need is a 100% bee-proof extracting room.
On another note, thanks to the folks who came out and helped harvest potatoes! I have lots of beautiful potatoes available now, so contact me if you would like to stock up on your winter supply. I’m selling them unwashed to maximize storage life (but they’re just dusty rather than dirty so they’ll be easy to wash), and I would prefer to sell in 25 lb or larger quantities but I can do smaller as well. So contact me if you’re interested.
And I’m still selling honey at Salisbury Farmer’s Market. On October 6th the market moves inside the greenhouse for the winter and I’m looking forward to see how the indoor market compares to being outside!
I’m also still working on the little cabin… I spoiled myself by buying a beautiful soapstone stove to heat it over the winter. And I managed to get my paws on some 1″ limestone flooring to use as my hearth! I’m really excited to install it and I’ll post photos once it’s in.