Saturday, 23 January 2016

Insect Hotel

Insect Hotels:

So many of our native bees and small insects are struggling with the availability of suitable habitat and non-toxic food supplies.  Many of the hedgerows have disappeared in rural areas as have hedges and untended gardens in heavily densified urban areas.

Insect Hotels are beginning to appear in parks in our cities and can be interesting and attractive additions to our small home gardens as well.

My handy husband has just built one in the hope of attracting more of those desirable insects to our garden. In our research it seems that the most popular spaces are those drilled holes in logs but we are offering a variety of likely habitat for spiders, native and solitary bees, wasps and insects.

Our Australian friends laugh at what they consider folly as, in their gardens,  they try to remove likely places that poisonous spiders and snakes may find shelter.

If you want to offer a small haven for insects even one log drilled with various sized holes may increase habitat for some varieties of solitary bees.

Residences offered - drilled bamboo and wood blocks, pine cones, moss, rough bark, twigs, clay pots and clay pieces.

A slotted entry for butterflies - inside is a wall of rough bark to make it easy for them to hold on to while they sleep.

I aways wondered what to do with these pewter models of Dutch canal houses. The platform on which they are assembled has holes drilled to allow access to the open bottoms of the houses. I wonder what will rent these spaces. 

More wood drilled in many different widths.

Pine cones, upside down clay pots and broken clay pieces.

Also a few empty spaces just as I am sure we will receive more suggestions of what to add to the collection.

The resident Anna's hummingbird has no fear of us and is very curious about what we are doing in the garden.

You can see the hummingbird at the top of the picture.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Year One - Beekeeping

Bee 2015:

It was a very warm and dry summer in 2015. The garden thrived and our our new hives enjoyed a bumper harvest of pollen and nectar.

We dug a small pond to create a safe and ready supply of water. To facilitate their landing we planted Salvinia Minima  and Lindernia Grandiflora to provide a platform of small floating foliage and were rewarded with a steady flight pattern of bees landing, drinking and taking off. We wondered where they had been taking their water from previously.

Hive 2: Our old queen soon resumed her steady laying. We have read that each hive has its own character and it has certainly proved true. Hive 2 has always been passive.

Hive 3: This hive was the result of a secondary swarm from Hive 1.  We believe that the virgin queen was not successfully mated so we moved a frame of brood and eggs from H2 to give the bees an opportunity to build new queen cells.  A new queen developed and the demeanour of the hive changed from constant agitation to focused activity so we presumed that the hive was now Queenright.

At the end of July all hives had brood, larva and a good supply of nectar and capped honey in the super. As our nuclear box of bees had swarmed twice we decided we would not remove any honey as each hive needed to increase their numbers of bees and stores for the winter.

We sugared the hives and found very few mites. Sugaring the hive is done by dusting the frames with icing sugar. The bees clean themselves of the sugar and in doing that remove some of the Varoa mites. H1 had 13 mites on the bottom board of the hive after 24 hours and H2 and H3 nothing observed.

We went away on our boat in B.C. for a month (that's another story). On our return we noted that the the reserves of honey had been almost completely depleated. During a careful inspection we also noted DWV - deformed wing virus in H1 as well as Varoa mites.  We decided we had no choice but to treat the hives chemically for mites

What a disappointment and what a challenge for our bees .... now their stores were low and they were obviously struggling with Varoa. Varoa mites weaken the bees and make them more susceptible to disease.

We began supplying sugar syrup with added essential oils - lemongrass and tea tree, in the hope of providing some chance of their rebuilding their stores of honey.  The Apivar treatment, is a chemically treated plastic strip inserted between the frame. It soon confirmed the heavy infestation with hundreds of mites falling to the bottom board.

It was surprising how quickly the "girls" rebuilt their stores of capped honey. Pollen was still being bought into the hive till the first week of November.  We are now hopeful that they will have enough stores to go through the winter.

Due to the heavy infestation of mites we are considering further treatment by using oxalic acid crystal fogging treatment in January. That will require further study.

Update late November:

The mite count gradually dropped and with the cold weather we removed the liquid feeders and added a small topper super that contains dry sugar blocks for extra feed and a layer of insulation.
We also wrapped the hives with tar paper to help cut the wind which is often strong here on Boundary
Bay. We also tilted the hives forward to allow any condensation to run down and out of the front.

I should mention that we live south of Vancouver BC and the weather is relatively mild compared to much of Canada. We will often have a week of snow and temperatures below zero C. but more likely winter weather is heavily overcast days and non stop rain.

All we can do now is wait and hope that our bees make it through the winter.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Bee Calmed:

Bee Aware:

Our cottage should be renamed Bee-calmed cottage as at in mid June 2014 a nuclear hive of bees arrived in our garden.

Second Grandson was fascinated by their behaviour.

I do say arrived, as we had no contact with the mysterious beekeeper who delivered the box.  Its arrival was the result of a casual remark to a neighbour that I had always wanted to keep bees. They had an acquaintance who knew someone who rescued bee swarms.

Bruce made a stand and we placed in in a south facing position that would receive the most winter sun.  Then we went away for six weeks on our boat and hoped that the apiarist would drop by to check on it while we were away.

All was as we left it when we returned and the hive seemed very busy and very calm.

I had read lots about bees while onboard so I knew by the end of August the bees would have probably already stored most of the honey they would need for the winter. I would not mention it to any real beekeeper but when ever the temperature dropped to below 0 C. I would throw a wool blanket over it to help them keep warm.  The bees probably did not need my help but it made me feel better. We also put a large plastic lid over the top to lessen the amount of rain that would dampen the wooden box.

When we returned from Australia in March they were very active so we were anxious to see what was to happen next.

The golden-plum in bloom, garlic and kale in the raised beds, dormant espalier apples on the grey fence and espalier pears dividing the flower garden from the vegetable garden. Honeysuckle on the garage grid.

To make a long story short our elusive beekeeper did not contact us but through the neighbour's acquaintance gave us permission to do as we wished with the contents of the box.  That same day Bruce bought the makings of the first hive box and in no time had them assembled and painted.

Ah the excitement. This is the first time I have ever opened a hive. I am covered head to foot. I have even tucked my pants into my socks! We did not bother buying too much equipment - just a net that went over our hats, a smoker and a hive tool.

Gus helped too by getting the smoker to puff cool smoke.

This shows the empty nuc box. The frames have been moved into the new box  and extras added. There were a lot of bees still in the nuc and they spilled out to make their way into the new hive by sensing the pheromones of the Queen.

We were lucky enough to see her as she posed for this photograph. Notice her length and colour. Not as distinct as I would like it to be but the black patch on her back is smooth, not fuzzy like the worker bees. I believe we can see a couple of drone bees on the left as well. They are large and have huge eyes.

That was not the end of the story. The hive did so well that two swarms, a week apart, issued from the first hive.  We witnessed the second swarm leave the hive. It was quite a sight with the garden filled with thousands of circling bees waiting for the Queen to emerge. Once she settled they crowded about her to protect her while scout bees searched for a new space.

Fortunately both swarms settled in our plum tree where we shook them into a box and ...

quickly assembled another hive.

Now three Queens are busy producing eggs and the whole cycle will begin again.

Hopefully they will make it through the winter. We would like to keep two. If three survive we will be able to pass one on to a new beekeeper.

We have not taken honey from any of our bees as we suspect they may need everything they make to get them through the coming winter. The flowers have been about three weeks early in our Boundary Bay area and with the extremely hot and dry conditions we are concerned that nectar and pollen supplies will dry up.

I will report another time.  Any questions, happily answered.

regards Janine