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What the!?!?!!?

Follow-up to my previous post.

On Monday night, I opened up our hive, located the Queen and realized what I was about to do, was in fact a mercy killing. Her rear leg was actually only 1/2 a leg, making it impossible for her to effectively make her way around the frames, or even hang on properly. I thanked her for her service, and then did the deed. A new Queen was on order and we picked her up last night.

The Adventure Continues

Our adventure to re-queen our Canadian hive hit a small snag….when we returned from picking up our new Queen, only to open up the hive and find…a QUEEN!

What the?!?!?

So now we had two hives, and three Queens. We began to panic. How on earth did our hive have two Queens in it? The interesting part is that we both recall searching for the Queen the previous week when we suspected there was something wrong, and we located her, to find she was lame. Then out of nowhere, we swore we saw another Queen, but she disappeared quite quickly and after lots of searching we never saw her again, and after awhile we chalked it up to our lack of experience and there was no way the hive would have two Queens. Was there?

Ultimately we were wrong, and this colony in fact had two Queens – living on the same frame in the single box. So now what to do with the new Queen we just purchased? We called a beekeeper who lives nearby and asked him for advice. He generously offered us five frames of bees, so we quickly got some hive boxes together to assemble a third hive and we went to his home to pick them up.

When we finally arrived home we made space beside our two existing hives, put everything together and introduced the Queen to her new colony. Hopefully within a few days they will have accepted her and she will soon take charge of her new colony.

New Queen Bee introduction, to our unexpected hive.

New Queen Bee introduction, to our unexpected hive.

 

 

 

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The Reluctant Executioner.

In the four weeks following our hive setup, we have been watching the activity closely.

Our South African hive is buzzing with activity, and really thriving. The sky above our house is like a little freeway for honeybees! They are coming back covered in pollen and it is really exciting to watch.

Our Canadian hive however, is very slow in comparison. Yes, there are bees coming in and out of the hive, but not nearly at the rate of our other hive. At first we chalked this up to the fact that this particular hive came with one less frame, so we figured it would naturally be a bit slower. But when the activity level didn’t really increase over the next week, we decided to take a look around for the Queen.

Looking for the Canadian Queen.

Looking for the Canadian Queen.

After I finally found her, I noticed there was something wrong. Her movements were slow, and it seemed as though she had difficulty walking, and she eventually tumbled off the frame into the bottom of the hive. I carefully replaced her, and a few minutes later, it happened again. This was not due to my handling of the frames, but there was something wrong and she was unable to hold onto the frame properly. We knew we needed the help of an experienced beekeeper to help us assess the situation and decide what needed to be done.

Our local beekeeping club has a Mentor program and we were fortunate enough to have an experienced beekeeper pay us a visit and check out our hive. Our suspicions were confirmed, and our Queen has a damaged leg. We don’t know if she came to us that way, or if something happened in the hive, but it is an issue that must be resolved asap. Sigh.

We called a local beekeeper who raises Queens and he has one ready to go. So tonight, four weeks after starting this journey, I must remove our Canadian Queen, take her away from the vicinity of the hive and execute her. *sniff*. I’m sure this all comes with the territory and is to be expected, I just never thought it would happen so soon! We will let the hive sit Queen-less for three days, then pick up the new Queen and introduce her.

Off I go. With reluctance.

 

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We finally have bees!

Three weeks ago, on National Honeybee Day, we got the call. Two Nuc’s were ready for pickup. Finally!!!

The hives of choice were Canada and South Africa (nothing wrong with a little friendly bee rivalry between a husband and wife is there?).We were lucky enough to have a local beekeeper offer to come and help us hive our new bees – out came the burlap sack, scissors, propane lighter, smoker, suits, tools… my parents even came over to watch the setup. Before we began he gave us some very valuable advice.

  • Have all your tools ready to go before you start.
  • Go to the bathroom before you suit up!

 

Honeybees in Nuc.

Honeybees inside the Nuc – waiting to be transferred into their new hive.

Everything was handled so calmly, the bees really didn’t seem to be bothered at all. The transfer of frames into our new boxes took about 1/2 hour, with all of the instruction and so many pointers along the way. We found the queens in each of the colonies, however to my disappointment, they are not marked – it takes a sharp eye to spot them in amongst all of the activity of their respective hives, which is sure to prove challenging.

We are grateful we had an experienced beekeeper on-hand to guide us during this first crucial step. Our bees are now enjoying their new homes, buzzing about our neighbourhood, and returning with pockets absolutely stuffed with pollen.

 

Nucs and our new beehives.

Two Nucs of honeybees ready to transfer into their new homes.

 

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The Lucky Beekeeper

Well, after weeks of anticipation our free beekeeping equipment finally arrived in the mail. Yes, you read that right – free equipment. I feel like the luckiest beekeeper ever!

It all started when my husband (a PhD in Applied Mathematics) became a moderator on a web forum. He spent hours doing this, days, weeks, months! Evenings and weekends found him consumed with answering questions and making his way up the moderator ranks. I admit I became frustrated at this, because not a lot else was getting done. He was glued to his laptop. I used to call them his ‘virtual friends’. Well, one day, all his hard work paid off in an unexpected way, when a group from New York contacted him, asking for help with a product they were developing.

This was the start of a great working relationship and he eventually flew to New York (from the West Coast of Canada), to assist with a product launch. One of the persons involved had dreams of becoming a beekeeper – he took a course, bought all the equipment… and then along came a baby, so his beekeeping dream didn’t get a chance to take flight. He then made my husband an offer he couldn’t refuse. If we could use the equipment, it was ours! All brand new, still in sealed packaging and boxes. He would even ship it to us for free!

So here we are, with inspector jackets, various hive tools, brush, gloves and a smoker – delivered to our doorstep.

I Heart New York!

Equipment

 

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Painting the Beehives.

As my husband was busy building the supers, I had plenty of time to consider how I would paint them. I am not a particularly artistic person, so spent a lot of time online, searching for photos of beehives for something that would hopefully inspire me. I found an abundance of fancy and elaborate hives out there, but nothing that really got me excited about the task.

What ultimately inspired me was a photo of a beehive in Germany. This person had embellished their hive to look like a classic German house, complete with cuckoo clock and window boxes, it was amazing. The concept got me thinking – my Father was born in Germany so I could paint a hive that celebrates my ancestry. Here the idea of painting my hives as flags was born – I am Canadian, with German heritage. My Husband is South African with Dutch heritage.

I’m a tad bit of a perfectionist, so if I was going to paint flags of the world, I wanted the colours to be accurate. Next I was online researching for the correct pantone colours for each of the four flags, and asking the paint store to exact match the pantone colours – it took a full day to for them prepare eight cans of paint. Three different shades of red, two different shades of blue, two different yellows, white, black, green…. I was ready to roll. Literally.

Image

Beehives built, primed and ready for paint!

Phase one was priming the hives with a grey tinted primer. I was not looking forward to it because a) it was going to smell, and b) two coats three hours apart and there were a LOT of supers. I’m also impatient. I just wanted to get some colour on these hives!!

After the priming was complete I was ready to paint. But was I? I had NO idea it would take so long. The yellows and reds took so many coats of paint I almost lost count. There was so much taping involved (huge thanks to my Husband for pitching in and taping the intricate designs of the Canadian Maple Leaf and the South African flag) – tape for one coat, take it off, wait for paint to dry – tape for second coat, take it off, wait for paint to dry… over, and over and over…for every colour. It was ridiculous! Who’s crazy idea was this?? But – each day I could see the colours start to take shape and I knew they were going to turn out exactly as I had hoped.

Beehives painted like flags

A long way to go yet, but they are starting to look like flags!

Finally after three weeks of painting, my job was complete. I am so happy with how they turned out.

Beehives Painted Like Flags

After many nights, weekends and endless coats of paint, my beehives are finally complete – flags of the world.

Our next step will be to get all of our equipment (blog post coming on that experience soon), and next we’ll get bees! Three weeks and counting!

 

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Honeybees live the good life, at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Beehives at the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Beehives & observation hive | Fairmont Empress Hotel

Just a short walk from my workplace in downtown Victoria BC, is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Besides being a world renown hotel, it is one of a chain of Fairmont Hotels across the globe that takes beekeeping very seriously.

In 2011, 10 hives were set up at the front of the property, in an area known as the Centennial Garden. Located on a small plot of grass, against a backdrop of boulders and foliage, the area is low-traffic and not visible from the surrounding roads. There are no signs pointing visitors to the location, but those lucky enough to catch on, are treated with a little piece of heaven that 500,000 Italian and Carniolan bees call home. It is really quite Empress-ive.

Honeybees

Honeybees | Fairmont Empress Hotel

Victoria is known as the City of Gardens and the Fairmont Empress Hotel certainly lives up to that reputation. In addition to the Centennial Gardens and the very impressive Rose Garden, the groundskeepers work year-round to ensure continued seasonal plant and foliage growth – these lucky bees have it made.

The 3,000+ pounds of honey harvested each year is used in the the various dining outlets throughout the hotel, served with the famous Empress Afternoon Tea, is packaged and sold in the hotel gift shop and they have even crafted a wheat and honey beer with a local brewery, Hoyne Brewing Company! I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit when the beekeeper is tending to the hives, but one of these days I’d like to see him in action.

As an aspiring beekeeper myself, I can’t think of a better way to spend my lunch hour, than wandering through the gardens of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, peeking inside the observation hive and marvelling at the buzz of activity.

Fairmont Empress Hotel Observation Beehive

Observation Beehive (Left) | Wasp meets Guard Bee (Right)

Honey in the Fairmont Empress Hotel Gift Shop

Honey for sale in the Gift Shop

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Continuing to Learn.

Even though we were disappointed following the highly anticipated meeting, we’ve been doing our best to continue to try to connect with people experienced with beekeeping in our area and learn as much as we can, even though we don’t actually have bees. Yet.

BeeSuit

Trying on a beekeeping suit.

Last weekend we went to a friends home and met with an ex-beekeeper. He hauled out all his old equipment, which included tools, suit (which my husband just had to try on), extractor, and old hives – we’re talking well-used, un-salvageable hives. I almost wanted to take them home because they looked so cool!

He loaned us three books: Honey Bees – A Guide to Management, Beekeeping – The Gentle Craft, and Beekeeping – A Complete Owners Manual, as well as a large file folder full of his personal notes and brochures he’d collected over his years of beekeeping. Of course I am interested in reading the volumes of information, but I find myself quite distracted as I leaf through the papers. It only dates back to the mid-90’s, but a large percentage of the notes are typed handouts from courses or seminars. These days, I’d have all that information bookmarked in my browser. There are catalogues full of bee equipment – Bee Suits for $49.00, Little Wonder Extractor M00396 for $265.00 that can be found online today for $417.00. I’m tempted to fill out one of the order forms and mail it in… see what comes of it!

Our next step will be to buy equipment – we know what we need, we just need to get it and set it up. Then if the opportunity arises that bees become available, we can jump on it.

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The day the last dandelion died (in my yard).

Every spring and fall our lawn comes to life, and so too do the weeds. My front lawn is a breeding ground for dandelions and I furiously pluck the heads off each new bud before they have a chance to go to seed. A few years back I even hired a service to come and spray my lawn to eradicate the weeds. It was satisfying to see the last of the dandelions shrivel up and die. My quest was complete.

When we got backyard chickens I no longer felt good about spraying the whole lawn to control the weeds, so I cancelled the service. I then began selectively spraying the dandelions with eco-friendly sprays and plucking their heads off before they could go to seed. This was more labour intensive, but with my chickens in mind, I was happy to do it. Maybe I could strike a balance after all.

'Weeds' have a purpose after all.

‘Weeds’ have a purpose after all.

I was recently in my yard spraying and popping heads off dandelions, when a mason bee landed on a ‘weed’ I was just about to pull. I stopped to watch it in action, furiously working to cover itself in pollen – it was fascinating. Then off to the next dandelion it went, and to the next and then the next. I looked around my yard and suddenly noticed that in addition to the dandelions, a lot of the ‘weeds’ on my lawn produce tiny little white and purple flowers, bees buzzing all around them collecting pollen and nectar. At that moment, I had a revelation: these weeds actually have a purpose! I just couldn’t bring myself to pop off one more head, or spray one more leaf.

Now we are on the verge of becoming beekeepers, so naturally I want to make sure our yard is inviting and free of chemical interference. With all the information out there about declining honeybee populations, disease and crop spraying, it is only right to try to give them the best opportunity to survive as possible.

It has been a long process, accepting the weeds. Accepting that they do have a place, even if it is on my front lawn.

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It’s not too late

I have just found out it is NOT too late to start beekeeping this year. This is great news, as I had thought all bees are now out doing their busy work, and to get some would be disrupting the natural flow of things. Not so apparently, thanks to Swarms – a term I am just now beginning to understand.

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