Bee drinking water out of depression in an old brick. Photo copyright Jeff Lee

On wintering, requeening and being back in the saddle

I’ve been offline for some time dealing with a number of domestic issues, not the least of which is an aging and ailing mother.

But of course, the bees never let you forget that they too need attention, if only to offer a diversion, and to deliver yet another lesson in the long line of lessons honey bees teach us.

We had a reasonable summer, given that we added in eight new packages of New Zealand bees. I learned the hard way what others tried to tell us; rushing in by buying packages may not be the secret to building our stock.

While some of the packages took very well, and in fact two became our biggest honey producers this year, we lost four queens to supercedure or requeening due to poor performance. We also lost one of our original hives, which wintered poorly and then never really grew back to strength. We’d requeened it with an extra New Zealand queen that came with the packages, but even that didn’t help.

What finished the hive off in late August was one of those new beekeeper mistakes; it was robbed out before we could realize what was happening.

We came out of the honey season with five producers that gave us 270 lbs in two takes. The early honey was this bright, golden liquid with a light, fruity flavour. The late take was much, much darker, an aromatic amber that reminded me of herbs and spices. At an average of 54 pounds per producing hive, I can’t complain. Unfortunately, the other seven hives produced only enough honey for us to leave them with healthy stores for the winter.

We requeened four hives in early fall with locally-produced queens from two area breeders. The hives were all strong and promising, but I wanted to have new overwintered queens from local stock. We kept three of the old queens in five-frame nucs on a sheltered balcony as an experiment to see how well they will survive.

After honey was taken off all hives, including the nucs, were finished with heavy sugar and pollen, and have gone into the winter packed full of stores. As far as I can tell they are all healthy and strong. We also took the advice of experienced beekeepers and put into the freezer a couple of boxes of capped and uncapped honey that we can install in the spring to give the weakest hives a boost.

I’m behind in my winter yard management; this week I have to finish by wrapping our hives. Wayne Neidig, the new president of the B.C. Honey Producers Association, gave a talk on wrapping and wintering at a recent seminar in Langley. I’ll put his advice to good use.

In my next post, I’ll report on the recent BCHPA annual general meeting in Kamloops. Hold tight.

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