Bee season in British Columbia starts, for many of us, with sending our deadouts through Iotron Industries' electron beam sterilizer. It kills all of the pathogens left in the boxes. Of course, we don't do this with overwintered colonies! Jeff Lee Photo

Bee Season Upon Us With Early Iotron Run

Who would have thought that beekeeping could be so complicated?
The honey bees aren’t really even flying right now, other than some exploratory flights looking for early pollen.
But it seems that the work of getting these little perishers ready for the new season starts early. So early, in fact, that I took this week off from writing, just before the huge TED conference comes to town, in order to catch up things critical to survival of our bees.
Starting in late February and early March we have at least 100 honey bee colonies arriving from New Zealand. They need to get here at that time in order to be fed and grown to reach minimum pollination strengths for the blueberry season. We expect, based on last year, that blueberry pollination will start a few weeks earlier than last year, with our growers calling for bees by mid-April. So timing is critical and the work is starting earlier than normal.

Installing Arataki bee packages from New Zealand in 2014. To meet early spring pollination demands, we often have to order new packages in Feburary.  This year will be no exception. Jeff Lee Photo.

Installing Arataki bee packages from New Zealand in 2014. To meet early spring pollination demands, we often have to order new packages in Feburary. This year will be no exception. Jeff Lee Photo.

In order to get ready for the packages, we have to send all of the boxes in which they will be housed over to Iotron Industries for sterilization.
Iotron is something of a secret weapon for beekeepers. Its main business is electron beam sterilization of things like medical parts, imported animal feeds and anything that needs to be hyper-sterile.
But they also do a brisk business at this time of the year with beekeepers, who send last year’s deadouts through the sterilizer. It means we’re starting fresh, with no possibility of background diseases such as European Foul Brood, American Foul Brood Nosema, Sacbrood and viruses carried by mites. Nothing lives in those boxes after they’ve been zapped by the beam. As a result new packages get a fast start, since they don’t have to fight background pathogens already in the boxes of used comb.
To get them ready, however, requires a lot of effort. Each box has to be scraped and repacked with empty frames, bagged tightly in black garbage bags. Any frames with honey have to be pulled out and bagged separately, since the electron beam doesn’t pass through honey too well.
All of this work has to be done quickly this week, as Amanda and I also have to prepare for a talk at the Home and Garden Show. On Saturday right after I cover TED we’re giving a one-hour lecture at the H&G Show on “Bees, Backyards and Blooms”, tailored to gardeners and neophyte beekeepers interested in encouraging both native and non-native pollinators. It’s being organized through The Vancouver Sun’s Gardening School.

Pollen-carrying honey bee

Pollen-carrying honey bee

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