Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fire at our Community Garden

Photos by Mary-Ann Charney
     On Tuesday night we had a fire at our community garden (Cottonwood) in Vancouver.  Unfortunately the fire consumed our greenhouse and beekeeping/tool shed.  Arson is suspected. We lost everything including ladders, pruners, construction tools, weed eater, irrigation supplies and all of our beekeeping equipment which we had accumulated over many years (including my favourite 40 year old smoker). This also includes our community honey extractor and honey harvesting equipment which we lent out to the public and the protective clothing we used for our beekeeping classes.

No AFB there
Our honey extractor
     It is difficult to remain optimistic in the face of continuous vandalism and theft at the garden but it is a reality of gardening and beekeeping in a public space.  It is important to remember that 99% of the folks that come to our garden love and appreciate it and we can't let the acts of a few dictate the future of our beautiful garden.

     Cottonwood Community Garden 25 years ago.

     Cottonwood Community Garden today.  Built on a former dump site 25 years ago by a group of guerrilla gardeners this 4 acre oasis is a home to birds, bees, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes, frogs and over a hundred humans.  The city has proposed construction of a freeway through the middle of the garden.  Friends of the garden have proposed alternative sites for the freeway.  The future of the garden is in jeopardy but we are hopeful.  This video was taken on the 20th anniversary. 

We will rebuild and we will persevere.

     Remembering the good times.
Extracting honey in the bee shed
*  We have started a fundraiser to rebuild and restock our greenhouse and bee/tool shed. Any donation no matter how small is appreciated.  To donate by credit card go to "Cottonwood Fire" or you can donate by credit card or paypal on the top of the page on the sidebar.  You can receive a tax receipt with a donation of $25 or more.  Thank you.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Keep the Hives Alive

     "In June 2016 a group of beekeepers, farmers, community organizers, environmental groups, and concerned citizens banded together to host the “Keep the Hives Alive Tour” to raise awareness about the plight of pollinators and how toxic pesticides contribute to their decline.
     Collectively, our mission is to educate the public of the dangers of bee-toxic pesticides; share the stories of beekeepers whose livelihoods have been jeopardized (and some lost) by the continued use of these products; and urge the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress to take action on toxic pesticides and support sustainable agriculture.
      Bees and other pollinators are declining at an alarming rate and an overwhelming number of scientific studies link these population declines to pesticide use.  Unfortunately, uses of toxic pesticides are having far-reaching impacts on a wide range of environments – everything from urban parks, to croplands, to beeyards and aquatic ecosystems. Beekeepers, farmers, and consumers all need a healthier environment for bees! Honey bees and native pollinators are essential to our food supply and help to provide one in every three bites of food we eat. That’s why the Keep the Hives Alive Tour traveled across the United States during National Pollinator Week in 2016 to educate the public about pollinator declines and how we all can work together to protect our pollinators. We want to continue the momentum built last spring by sharing resources, engaging communities to take action, and working together to create healthier habitats for pollinators."

      Agrichemicals are not the only problem our bees face.  There is a growing number of mostly imported pests and diseases that afflict our bees; diminishing forage and habitat for native bees; reduced genetic diversity; global warming ...  but most will agree that a significant issue is that our present system of industrial, large scale monoculture agriculture is not sustainable or healthy for us or bees.  The overuse of agrichemicals and fertilizers and the sterilization and depletion of our soil is addressed in this documentary.
      A 2008 world food crisis which saw mass starvation due to extensive drought conditions led the United Nations to complete an extensive study by experts from around the world (U.N. Report on Agriculture Sustainability - Wake Up Before It's Too Late).  They concluded that "The 2008 food crisis was an important catalyst for realizing the need for a fundamental transformation and questioning some of the assumptions that had driven food, agricultural and trade policy in recent decades.  The world currently produces sufficient calories per head to feed a global population of 12-14 billion (global population = 7 billion).  Around 1 billion people chronically suffer from starvation and another billion are malnurished.  Therefore hunger and malnutrition are not a product of insufficient supply but results of prevailing poverty and above all access to food.  The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a “green revolution” to an “ecological intensification” approach.  This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."    

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bad Nuc Rant

     The last few years I have observed an abundance of bad bee nucs for sale in the Vancouver area. Last year a number of beekeepers in our beekeeping coop bought nucs from a local retailer, all of which contained swarm cells.  As a result all of the nucs swarmed within the first week creating smaller nucs and very small swarms.  The owner of the company explained that the nucs were made by inexperienced workers who improperly made the nucs with swarm cells and newly introduced queens.
      This week a few nucs were bought by beekeepers in our organization from another beekeeping supply retailer.  The nuc boxes had scotch tape on the entrance (half attached), the lids were not attached, the brood comb was black (old) and the nuc boxes were older.  The nucs contained 2 frames of old, spotty brood, 2 wet frames, a queen cage and no laying queen.  Both of these retailers are good, knowledgeable beekeeping suppliers and the criticism is directed more towards the lack of long term bee breeders not the bee retailers (though the argument could be made that you are responsible for what you are selling).
       The bottom line is that we have a very poor, unsustainable honey bee population in greater Vancouver with most of the bees produced done so for a quick dollar rather than creating a legacy of strong, survivor stock.  Mark Winston, an SFU professor, biologist and beekeeper produced a study 30 years ago that suggested it was economically feasible to produce honey bee nucs and packages in the Fraser Valley (Package and Nucleus production in the Fraser Valley).  This potential has not been realized and instead we have become dependent on imported packages and poorly created nucs.  Good breeders in our area produce relatively few nucs and queens that don't begin to match the demand. Part of the reason is the extreme property values that make beekeeping not economically feasible in the Greater Vancouver area.
       Beekeepers ask me constantly if I can recommend a good bee nuc or queen source and I can't because the good sources are sold out before the bees are ready. If anyone knows of a good source of bees let us know. Bad nuc rant over.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Strathcona Beekeepers

One of the girls enjoying a Kale flower in Cottonwood Community Garden
      The Strathcona Beekeepers' Association is a small group of local beekeepers devoted to bees (native and honey) that meet on the last Sunday of each month (weather permitting) during the bee season to talk bees.  We meet at Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona Park (Raymur and Malkin St) at 9 am from April to September.  Our next meeting is May 28th.  Everyone is welcome including prospective beekeepers.  This is an opportunity for veteran beekeepers to discuss issues and for new and prospective beekeepers to ask questions pertaining to urban beekeeping in East Van.  The greatest source of knowledge in life is experience and we love to share it.  Bee well.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

La Nina Beekeeping

     The La Nina weather pattern is cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean (3-5 degrees C.) resulting in colder temperatures and above average precipitation for us in Vancouver.  We have experienced these conditions through the winter with record snowfall in the local mountains and this weather pattern has continued through the early part of spring.

     As beekeepers we are always acutely aware of the temperature and rainfall and it's effects on our bees foraging particularly in the early spring.  This is a time of great potential brood development with the fruit trees in blossom (pollen) but because of the wet, cool spring both brood development and fruit production will suffer this year.  Although our bees will collect pollen and nectar at colder temperatures we don't get major colony foraging until it's 12 C. (53 F.) and sunny.  In Vancouver we have positive and negative honey bee food accumulation months.  This will vary on your specific location but for our urban apiary the positive months are April 1 through to October 1 with March and October dependent on weather conditions.  This year both March and April were negative.

        How does this effect spring beekeeping management?  For those who supplement their bees' diet feeding of both carbohydrates (sugar) and protein or protein supplement (to stimulate brood development) will be more important.  Keep in mind that below about 12 C. (54 fahrenheit) the bees won't take a liquid syrup as they are unable to process it (Feeding Bees in Winter).
       In order to carry out spring management we must assess the health of our hives.  Many sources (mostly southern) will insist you cannot inspect your frames until 15 C. (60 fahrenheit) for fear of chilling the brood.  Some northern beekeepers would have to wait til well into May for this.  Bees are hardier than most people think.  Peeking briefly into a hive during winter on a non snowy day to assess the food supply is fine as is inspecting the brood at 10 C. (50 fahrenheit).  Use common sense and minimize exposure.  This from the Huron City Bee Company in Michigan,
"How cold is too cold to inspect my hive?"
I hear this question quite often at this time of year. Let me just say, I was late one year and needed inspection papers to transport my hives. So, one January morning, at 28 degrees, the state inspector and I opened the hives and inspected brood frames VERY quickly. The result was no detectable loss of brood. We didn't stand around, and we didn't chat while the hives were open. We worked smoothly, so as to disturb the cluster as little as possible. And we closed them up as quickly as we could.
On the other hand, I've helped with inspections on a 70 degree day, where the beekeeper took out a frame of brood, stood it up and chatted for 20 minutes about what they found. Then later complained about chilled brood.  See where I'm going with this?  Go in, do what you need to do, and then get out quickly.  However, I want to temper this advice with another question. If you DO find something wrong, what's your plan?  Here in Michigan, it's 42 degrees right now. I wouldn't hesitate to pop open the hives. But, to what end? It's too late to replace a queen if I find one failing. The only thing I can do at this point is combine, and even then, they may remain clustered instead of merging.  The take away message is not to be afraid of opening the hives. But, if you have no courses of action if you find something wrong, why bother?"  I think this is a good year-round philosophy.  I go into my hives with a specific purpose and only when required for responsible colony management.
       For us in Vancouver that means we should be able to do a full inspection by March to assess the queen performance (brood pattern), presence of disease (continued excessive bee poop on hive) or mites (small hive beetle has arrived - Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites) and food supply (B.C. Government Spring Management).  Some of the spring beekeeping chores are: The cluster should be in the upper super so reverse the brood boxes; maintain a reduced entrance to prevent robbing or mice visits; optionally equalize the colonies by adding frames of bees of a strong colony to a weaker colony (Equalization of bee colony strength); cull your old foundation if you do so (Replacing brood comb); swarm prevention (checkerboarding, splits ... ) ;  maintain good ventilation and empty your bottom board of dead bees and debris.  In this article Randy Oliver and Dr. Medhat Nasr (Alberta Provincial Apiculturist) discuss the benefits of early season mite control through the formation of nucs with queen cells and the treatment of those nucs (Early Season Mite Management).
       I have been warned of the presence of nosema in some of this year's New Zealand packages.  Whether that is true or an attempt to boost the sales of fumagillin it's always a good idea to watch for signs of nosema (difficulty digesting food).  Nosema is difficult to diagnose without laboratory equipment (Nosema Assessment).  Some suggest a nosema infected midgut will become swollen, whitish and lose it's visible constrictions (a healthy midgut is tan with visible constrictions) but that is also true of other causes of dysentery.  Symptoms that may suggest the presence of nosema are the lack of population buildup as nosema infected bees tend to skip the nurse bee phase and become young foragers, dying at a young age.  Desperate they will forage at cooler temperatures and will not take syrup if fed.  This from Randy Oliver, "Perhaps the most noticeable effect of N. ceranae infection is the lack of population buildup of infected colonies, due to the premature death of infected foragers. Of interest is that nosema-infected bees tend to forage at cooler temperatures. Woyciechowski (1998) suggests that infected bees may engage in more risky foraging behavior, perhaps sensing that they do not have long to live. Additionally, infected bees may simply fly off to die, exhibiting an “altruistic suicide” to help prevent the infection of nestmates (Kralj 2006).  Another symptom, reported by several, and described by Bob Harrison on Bee-L, is that of bees not taking syrup, and then massively drowning in division board feeders. Bob feels that the symptom of going “off feed” is a good indicator for N. ceranae infection, which can be reversed with a drench of fumagillin syrup.  The drowning behavior may have an explanation in a recent paper by Chris Mayak (2009), in which he found that “N. ceranae imposes an energetic stress on infected bees, revealed in their elevated appetite and hunger level…. infected bees attempt to compensate for the imposed energetic stress by feeding more…” Mayak suggests that such hungry, nutritionally stressed bees, exhibiting risky foraging behavior, might play a role in the depopulation of infected colonies."
        Due to the cool, wet La Nina weather plant development (blossoming) and our swarm season will be delayed by a few weeks.  Other aspects of beekeeping like split creation and queen and local nuc availability will also be delayed.  Also, it appears the price of nucs has risen this year to $225-$250.  The delayed blossoming of plants may create a stronger late season September-October food supply for our bees.  The Weather Network predicts a cool, wet spring and a warmer summer than last year.  "Some years there are strong signals in the global pattern that allow for higher confidence in a seasonal forecast, but unfortunately this is not one of those years. During the next few months, one of the keys to our final summer forecast will be the strength of the developing El NiƱo and whether the warmest water remains just west of South America or whether the warmest water shifts west into the central Pacific."  The La Nina weather pattern can last for a few years but hopefully it will be replaced soon by the warmer El Nino phase.  We'll keep our wings crossed.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver Class

     It's spring which means the blossoms are blooming and the bees are active.  I've noticed each year a small number of bees collecting pollen at 8 degrees celsius (46 fahrenheit) and the number increasing to full hive activity at sunny and 12 celsius (53 fahrenheit).  Over the last few weeks the willow, forsythia, bulbs, heather and recently cherry blossoms have been providing protein for egg laying.
     It's been a long, cold winter and especially hard on our bees.  I work in the mountains and don't remember a year with this much snow.  This week it snowed 70 centimetres in the mountains (over 2 feet) in 2 days and there must be 20 feet of snow at the top of the mountain.  It will be awhile before the bears come out of hibernation and the bumblebees are pollinating the mountain blueberries.
     Every year we grow produce for the Vancouver Foodbank so this week we added composted manure to the soil.  I will also deliver some late season (September-October) dark, flavorful Goldenrod - Aster honey to the Foodbank.

     Half of the honey from our garden hives goes to the Foodbank and half to Cottonwood Community Garden.  We have a beekeeping cooperative at Cottonwood Community Garden and are faced with the challenge of colony loss this year.  Our apiary was vandalized last year towards the end of August.  Someone knocked over our strongest hive during the night which was preyed upon by skunks, racoons and wasps.  This was a survivor stock with lots of honey which made it all the more devastating.
     Every year in May we hold "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" classes.  The classes are not meant to take the place of a full beekeeping course but rather to inform you of what to realistically expect in your first few years of beekeeping in Vancouver.
     A recent study revealed that 70% of beekeepers quit within the first 3 years.  Having observed this through the years I believe the reason is loss of bee colonies and being overwhelmed with that challenge.  I believe this is because some people enter into beekeeping too quickly and are not properly prepared for the dedication of time and continuous learning that is required to be a competent beekeeper.  Also, new beekeepers often do not have the support needed to deal with problems that arise which can be aided through a beekeeping network or group.  The goal of this class is not to discourage you or take the place of a full beekeeping course but to assist you and better prepare you in your decision to become a beekeeper.

     The "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" course will provide you with a very basic overview of  honey bees and beekeeping and answer all of your questions.  The class is about 2 hours in length and as it is held outside is weather dependent.  We keep the class small so that everyone can have if they wish an intimate experience with the bees so reservation is necessary.  There is no cost and we provide the veil and gloves.  Our classes are held at Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona Park.  To reserve a spot in our "Introduction to Beekeeping Class" contact us at strathconabeeat gmaildo tcom.  The class is scheduled for Saturday, May 20th from 10am to 12 noon.
      All of theory needed to be a beekeeper is available for free online.  A good start is "Beekeeping 101" which is an assortment of books, videos and a course from the University of California.  Our Beekeepers' Library is also a good source of information.  While theory is important the practical application and guidance of experienced beekeepers is more so.  We look forward to seeing you at our beekeeping class.

P.S. All of the classes for this year have been filled.

"Being with Bees" Kurt Leibich, l869

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