Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beekeeping in Northern Climates

The seminar that was held yesterday was excellent. The EMBA is proposing an alternative method of beekeeping for northern climates, which is based on the "Horizontal 2-Queen" system that has been developed by Dr. Basil Furgala at the University of Minnesota. Our speaker, Dr. Gary Reuter, spent nearly the whole day outlining bee biology and this alternative system of over wintering colonies in cold climates - nominally Minnesota, but dates were changed to suit the St. Louis area. It seems spring starts about a month earlier here! I have to say Dr. Reuter was a first class speaker and could have kept my interest for another 8 hours, easily. Thank you Gary, and well done EMBA for securing him to speak!

The goal of this management system is to build a strong "three storey" daughter colony for over-wintering that can be split the following spring into 2 units. This system was presented as an effective system of perennial colony management; being geared toward ensuring colonies with young queens survives through winter.

In this system, colonies that over-winter are maintained in three deep brood boxes. The following spring the wintered colony becomes the parent colony. This is divided by removing one of the brood boxes, leaving the queen in the other two. A new queen is then introduced into the divide. The objective is to ensure the new split occupies three deep brood boxes by the following fall, in order that it survives the following winter, and as a result, the parent colony becomes the honey producing colony. This should have a 1-year old queen that came through the previous winter. Once honey is harvested this parent colony is "de-populated", which is a rather ugly euphemism for being "killed off". This all seems a bit harsh given the parent colony has been the giver" of the year's honey. Anyway, how does one "de-populate"? Well, the simple suggestion is to shake the bees out of their hive on a cold day! Nasty.

But why would we do this? Well, there are advantages...
  • A young vigorous queen is maintained in each colony,
  • Re-Queening is done at a favourable time,
  • Swarming problems are negligible,
  • The productivity per unit is increased,
  • The honey required for over wintering is halved,
  • wintering success is significantly increased, and 
  • Repair, recycling and replacement of combs and equipment is possible.

I suppose the bees are going to die anyway, and an old colony is susceptible to health problems. Plus, a colony with a young queen is more likely to be resistant to disease and infestation. So, by maintaining healthier young stock we should be reducing the chances of disease and infestation problems taking hold in an area, or even spreading.
So, on the whole I think this is a good idea and something I will try to adopt here. I need to purchase a new Queen and some more equipment to make this happen, and Susan and I are already scheming our plans...A trip to Hamilton is on the cards before too long.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I sneaked a peek!

Yes I sneaked a peek, last Sunday!  Susan saw her bees out on some cleansing flights on Friday, but she didn't see mine doing anything.  So curiosity got the better of me and I decided to just peek into the hive between the top feeder and the top hive box.  I waited for things to warm up a little, and I only 'cracked' the corner of the hive open in order to look inside for a couple of seconds.

Anyway, good news!  I still have bees! Mind you I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't see any!

Things are also warming up at the bee club.  The Advanced Beekeeping seminar is on 20th February and I will be more than likely ordering a new hive then.  I want to be in a position to either take advantage of a swarm, split my hive or bring in a new queen.  I can't do anything without equipment though!

It's all getting quite exciting - Spring is just around the corner! But I better sweep away the snow from infront of the hive tomorrow morning...