Kat and I took a drive down to Campbellford to visit some friends who are rapidly getting themselves acquainted with everything farming related. They had previously been mainly bee and honey farmers, with a few fowl creatures thrown into the mix, but they have since expanded to full farm status, with cows, pigs and goats added to the mix. My main interest for this visit was working with the bees, but getting to experience all of the farming aspects is always fun. You never know when you’re going to need to know how to hold down a goat so you can vaccinate it.
Pssssst. That’s me in the green hat 😉
Laura and Derek were lots of fun and great to talk with about all sorts of things. They’ve only had their farm for about six months so they still have a tonne of things they are working on (kinda like us, but more animals involved.)
Kat doesn’t like bees and their buzzing, so we split off into teams and I went with Derek out to inspect the hives now that the warmer weather was starting to arrive. They had a number of hives in different locations so we trundled around in their off-road vehicle and opened each one to take a look. Alas, we had a particularly cold February this year and unfortunately, the bees didn’t fare so well.
Here you can see a row of hives. The one at the end had some bee activity, but that wasn’t the case for most of the ones we opened. There were many hives that didn’t make it through the winter. Losing a few hives over winter is to be expected, but when you only have three out of fifteen or so (the ones that we looked at anyway) those aren’t good odds.
Once you pop the top off, there is a big pile of wood shavings used as insulation. I don’t have a picture specifically of that, but you can see the residue of it in the next picture, which is of the sugar layer. The sugar is there to help the bees get through the winter; it ensures they have enough food to last.
Here is a clearer picture of the sugar layer.
Then, once you take off that, you get to the frames which is where the hive is actually located. It’s not really shown in this picture, but when we pulled the frames out, you see all of the dead bees clustered together. This was referred to as died in cluster. When it gets really cold, the bees pack themselves tightly together and buzz around generating heat. Unfortunately, they can’t move from their spot once they start this as that would cause a loss of heat. The only way they can move is if it warms up enough. With all of the bees locked in cluster, once they have eaten all the food they are standing on, if they can’t move, they will start to starve. If it stays cold too long, all of the bees will die.
It was pretty depressing to be opening one hive after another and all you find is piles and piles of dead bees, and they weren’t even my bees. Hopefully the other hives that we didn’t get to will have fared better.
On the plus side, however, there were a number of hives that had full frames of honey that the bees never ate. Mmmmmm, this is a tasty treat.
This particular honey was very light and tasted just like clover. It’s really interesting how much the flavour of the plants that the bees were visiting shows up in the taste of the honey. There are apiaries who hire out their bees to do pollination on fruit crops. That’s how you can end up with things like apple honey, or blueberry honey.
Overall, it was a good experience but it would have been better had there been more hives that had survived. Of the ones that were still going, they were robbing the dead hives of their honey. Sometimes they will do that to other live hives, which can cause you all sorts of difficulties, but in this case it was a good thing as there aren’t any plants in bloom yet. So taking honey from the dead hives to keep them going is a good thing. I also didn’t get stung and we weren’t using bee suits, though I did wear gloves. I did get a bee stuck in my hair at one point though.
I hope to get the opportunity to do some more bee keeping at some point as it is something I am interested in trying myself. I don’t want to do it for a living, but having a hive or two to pollinate our plants and give us tasty goo sounds like a good thing to me.