Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you know I won’t be at the Downtown Market tomorrow. I’m taking a week off! I’ll be back for every week in December, though, so I’ll see you then.
I’ve got fresh Wildflower Honey now! It’s a darker honey, with a nice and mellow caramel taste. It’s completely raw and unprocessed, and may even come complete with the odd flake of wax.
I wanted to apologize about spreading misinformation! I said in a previous post I would be at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market every week until Thanksgiving. That’s not correct! I have an outdoor stall there, along the east wall of the building. That makes me really easy to find and access, once you know I’m there.
However, the Market is only having the outdoor stalls when there are not special events happening. This past Saturday was Artwalk so I wasn’t at the Market. Similarly, I won’t be there for the two weeks of the Fringe Festival, August 15 and 22. But I will be there every other week!
On occasion, I will be at the Salisbury Market in Sherwood Park this year. My main market is the City Market Downtown. I will always be there.
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!
While the dandelions were blooming I was building new hives, called nucs, from my full-sized ones. I don’t have many hives this year and building nucs is a way of increasing hive numbers. Increasing involves two distinct procedures. As we know, in order for a hive to thrive it needs two basic thing: lots of bees of different ages and a laying queen. So when we’re increasing our number of hives, we need to concentrate on these two things. Firstly, we need to build nucs, which means populating an empty box with lots of bees and frames of brood to achieve the requirement of having a lot of bees of different ages. Secondly, we need to graft, or breed, queens. These steps occur simultaneously and need to be carefully timed so everything comes together in the end, with the result being a happy new hive. The rest of this post will give a brief overview on how to graft queens and how to build nucs.
When making new hives, about a week before the nucs are built the queens need to be grafted. This is a rather complicated procedure that some other website will explain better than I could. But basically, I transfered barely visible larva from a frame of brood into plastic queen cups and placed them in a swarm box, a box stuffed full of bees. After 24 hours I transferred them into the upper brood chamber of a strong hive in my apiary. I first made sure that hive’s queen was trapped in the bottom box with a queen excluder so she wouldn’t get into the queen cells and destroy them. The queen cells mature for ten days in this hive, after which time I placed them in the nucs to hatch. This is a photo of the frame of drawn-out queen cells after ten days. The cells are hanging from the bottom two bars; the top two bars were empty space for the bees to put wax in. A caveat: this is the first year I’ve bred queens and the cells don’t look the greatest!
At the time this photo was taken, I’d already put the best cells into nucs. The rest, the ones you see here, were covered with too much wax. I think the mistake came when I put a box of foundation above the box containing this frame so the wax bees were concentrated in the area and got carried away drawing out wax.
Now let’s back up a minute and I’ll show how the nucs are built. Two days before I put the queen cells in, I selected frames of brood from my hives and put two or three frames of brood into four frame nuc boxes. I also put in one or two frames of honey and pollen.
I checked the nucs yesterday and they all have eggs in them now. This means the queen cells have hatched, the virgin queens were successfully mated and they made it back to the hives to begin laying.
So there you have it, a crash-course in queen breeding and nuc building. There are lots of other places on the internet that provide more information if you’re interested in learning to do this too.