We are setting up the student apiary this week: and expecting record temperatures in this endless, dry, hot summer.
Before delving into Week Two’s planned topics, I want to repeat one critical bit of information from Week One (yes, it is that important!), so bear with me:
***Critical Tip and Trick***
If you are starting with a package or nuc, keep an eye on the rate at which brood is being laid and capped. In every inspection, look for eggs, larvae and capped brood. A healthy hive will expand steadily through the spring until late June, and every time you look inside, should be taking up more and more frames to live on. If you do not see expansion, if they stay the same size as when you bought them, or suddenly stall out, reach out for help. ALL spring/early summer colonies should grow visibly between inspections! Most colony failures can be fixed if you catch the lack of expansion early.
With every inspection, you grow your sense of what a healthy, normal colony looks like. But at first it will all seem confusing. Persevere! Soon you will have a feel for whether what you are seeing is expected….and if you find the unexpected, you will reach out to bee mentors and advisors for help interpreting what you have seen.
Two thing happen after Midsummer’s Eve (June 21 in our hemisphere), one is universal, one local. The universal is that the bees, sensing the dying of the light and the approach of winter, begin to restrict their rate of lay. From here on in, the hive will be shrinking, not expanding as it has been all spring. And locally, our blackberries fall out of bloom and set fruit: this is the end of our main nectar flow. While in most years we can count on a trickle from the fields and forests, and more than a trickle if we are near large neighbourhoods with irrigated flower gardens (we hates low maintenance shrubberies, we does!!), this year is so dry, there is really nothing out there for the bees. And with little rain in the long range forecast, that means we are going to have to feed them a bit to get them up to winter weight, to get them to raise the winter bees, and to keep the queen laying at a meaningful rate.
This creates stress in the hives, and that can make the bees vulnerable to disease, in particular the foulbroods. And in late summer, the mite life cycle means mite levels are going to increase, so we’ll be keeping an eye on the mite levels, in anticipation of the usual late summer mite treatment. It is best to apply mite treatment before the winter bees are being raised, but in this unseasonably hot weather, that makes my favourite late summer treatment, formic acid, tricky to use. It is safest to use when temperatures will not go above 20C/68F…something that is not going to happen here any time soon.
The week’s topics for Week Two are:
1. beekeeping equipment basics and history (have a look at Beverly’s Bees equipment page for Langstroths, as that is the setup we’ll be using in class). Note that legally we are required to use hives with movable frames.
2. alternative hive types (Warré and top bar). Just a note on Warré: they are not constructed to be inspect-able…this means you cannot check for budding disease or queen-rightness problems, a fatal drawback particularly in bee-dense/disease-dense areas. Also check out Slovenian hives!
3. beekeeping objectives…some beekeepers run for honey, some for making new colonies, some for pollination and some just for pleasure. Your objectives will frame your beekeeping strategies.
4. ethical beekeeping…what is good husbandry, and how do you place bees ethically in bee dense, agriculturally dense, and human dense environments? What can you do as a beekeeper to give your bees a good life, and a chance to avoid extinction?
5. Just a heads up, we’ll open our class this week by reviewing our brand new beekeeping notebooks…have a name for your hive (so we can readily identify it in conversation…note it will be put on the front of your hive), and be ready to meet your own hive this week.