A pan view of one of our yards at dusk, as we prepare hives for delivery to blueberry growers. Photo: Jeff Lee

Blueberry pollination time is here, a month early for our bees

It’s that time of the spring when the calls come in from our growers: the bees are wanted in the blueberry fields, and pronto, please!

It’s always a bit of a mad dash when getting ready for the blueberry “call”; colonies have to be equalized to make sure they’re strong enough, and then selected for which field they’ll be put into. Hives have to be strapped up for carrying – always a chore but so necessary if you don’t want middle-of-the-night accidents.

Just before the first move our home yard looks, literally, like a beehive of activity. Count the hives. Pick and label the hives that will go. Strap them. Stack the lids for separate transport later. Pick the pallets that the hives will sit on in their new homes. Make sure the trailer has insurance. Find the keys to the immobilizer (you don’t want to do THAT in the dark!) Tape down or close the entrances on moving night so the bees don’t get lost. It seems endless, the preparation.

Amanda working on strapping up the last of our hives for blueberry pollination. Unlike other pollinators, we tend to use screened bottom boards and telescoping covers. As we get bigger, however, it may be necessary - at least for pollination time - to switch to that lighter space-saving equipment. Photo: Jeff Lee

Amanda working on strapping up the last of our hives for blueberry pollination. Unlike other pollinators, we tend to use screened bottom boards and telescoping covers. As we get bigger, however, it may be necessary – at least for pollination time – to switch to that lighter space-saving equipment. Photo: Jeff Lee

But I love it, because it all takes place in the calm and cool of lovely spring evenings when you begin to hear the mating call of frogs, and the roar of the distant traffic has become muted.

The new packages are always a little smaller than the overwintered hives because there has been a short time to build up between arrival in early March and placement in late April or early May.

This year’s extraordinarily early spring has compounded the issue, with the package bees having even less time. But I guess that is why it is good to have strong overwintered hives; colonies that were booming and big enough to split ended up being equalizers for the rest of the stock.

I don’t think sacrificing potential splits in early April was such a bad idea, since the availability of mated queens was almost non-existent. It turns out that our regular queen suppliers couldn’t get, for love or money, any decent supply out of California or Hawaii. At least not until this week.

In fact, we’re heading to the airport this morning to pick up a very valuable 15 queens that came in last night as part of the first major shipment from Hawaii. About half a dozen commercial beekeepers got their first queens, really too late for creating splits for blueberries, but useful for building splits anyway.

Last night Amanda and I delivered our first load of hives to blueberry farmers in Langley. We’re going to be out for a couple nights more filling the contracts.

But other beekeepers have been out delivering bees for nearly two weeks; thousands of hives have been moved into blueberry fields throughout the Fraser Valley, and if you look carefully as you drive down adjacent roads and highways, you’ll see stacks of white boxes at the end of rows.

As I said, this is a surprisingly early spring. Last year we placed our first hives into blueberries on May 3, the same as for 2013. So being nearly a month early is, frankly, worrisome.

Yesterday, we also had our first swarm calls. One in New Westminster, one in West Vancouver. We missed both. By the time we got to the one in New West, all that were left were a few stragglers who had missed the train when it left the station it had been hanging on to.

This tells me we’re in for a long swarm season. It also tells me we have one more job this weekend: putting together the swarm kit we keep in our vehicle during the summer.

What’s in the kit? That’s for another post.

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