Archives for category: Questions

Character leaning against question markSo you’d like to keep bees. You’ve read, or perhaps experienced how awesome beekeeping is and you’d like to give it a shot. However, you have a small property or you’re worried about having bees in a residential area. Fair enough. I was in the same boat. So, how can you find somewhere to put a beehive?

Start with friends and family

If you don’t personally own a chunk of land that would be suitable for beekeeping, perhaps you already know someone who does. Check with your friends, and friends of friends. Maybe you have a coworker with a piece of land just outside the city? The best thing to do is to talk to people, get them excited about bees (in my experience, that’s not very hard), and then ask if they know anyone that would like to have a beehive on their property.

Ask a farmer

Most people – especially here in Canada – only live a short drive away from a rural area, filled with fertile land and plants that are just begging to be pollinated by honeybees. If this sounds like your area, then I have a suggestion that is almost certain to help you find a place. This plan comes with a 90-day money back guarantee, given you follow my directions precisely:

  1. This Friday night (put it in your calendar), sit down and draft a friendly letter to a farmer. Introduce yourself, and explain that you are beyond excited to keep bees, and you’re currently looking for somewhere to put a hive or two. Ask if they would be interested in having bees on their property and let them know that you will take care of the bees completely on your own, and require nothing of the farmer other than their land. Keep it short and sweet. Just about any farmer will understand the pollination benefits of having honeybees nearby, and many farmers actually pay people like you to come and install hives. The fact that you’re offering to do it for free should be enough.
  2. Don’t forget to include your contact information (Name, phone number, email address) on the letter.
  3. Print off about 20-30 of these letters. Stuff them in envelopes.
  4. On the weekend, get into your car and start driving out into the country. Whenever you see a farm, a property, or rural area that has good potential for your apiary, pull over and drop a letter into the mailbox on the side of the road. For an added touch, write the farm address on the outside of the envelope so that it has a personal feel for the recipient.
  5. Do not go any further than you would be willing to drive every time that you would inspect your bees. Remember you’ll have to drive there and back for every inspection.
  6. Come home and wait by the phone.

I must be honest… I haven’t personally used this tactic for finding a home for my bees, but this is only a small variation for how I found a home for my own family – dropping off letters in mailboxes. The hardest part is getting up and doing it, but once you’ve done it, you stand a very good chance of finding somewhere to put a beehive. Possibly even multiple locations.

In closing

One other point that I would like to make is that you should not be fooled into thinking that keeping your bees in a rural area is better for the bees. It’s often the case that urban areas are in fact better. Why is this?

Rural areas are often farm land, and farms are often mono-crops. In other words, only one type of plant would be available to your bees. If you surround your bees with a few kilometres of corn, they are not going to do so well, especially if those crops contain harmful pesticides. In the city, avid gardeners make it their mission to provide a variety of flowers that bloom from the first thaw in the spring to the first frost in the winter. This is perfect for bees, so don’t be afraid to consider the possibility of setting up a rooftop or backyard hive. As Luke Dixon puts it, “If you have room for a composter or water barrel, you have room for a beehive.”

Good luck, and please share your own stories about how you found a location for your apiary in the comments below.

University of Waterloo original logoI was recently interviewed by a group of Systems Design Engineering students from the University of Waterloo regarding beekeeping. The students are working together on a project to improve beekeeping practices and reduce the time or effort involved in performing routine tasks as a beekeeper.

These students have assembled a survey that they would like many beekeepers to fill out to help with their project. If you have 5 minutes and would like to help out this group of students, please fill out their survey. Fill out only the questions that apply to you.

Here is the link to the survey: Beekeeping Engineering Survey

Some graffiti of a stenciled bee with stinger

Image used under Creative Commons license. Provided by Manuel Faisco.

My cousin asked me recently if bees die when they sting. I had a short and a long answer for her. (People who know me realize this is often the case).

The short answer: Yes, a typical honeybee will die when she stings you. A worker bee’s stinger is barbed, similar to a fish hook, and when she stings, it  remains in her victim’s skin. When she pulls away, her venom sac and part of her abdomen are ripped out of her tiny body. This, in turn, causes her to die.

The much longer answer: Well the above fact is true for all female worker honeybees, I must clarify the statement because not all bees die when they sting. In fact, not all bees can even sting.

Only female bees can sting. Male honeybees (drones) have no stinger at all. This is because a bee’s stinger and venom sac are associated with the female bee’s reproductive system. Drones do not have this same anatomy and are missing their stingers altogether.

Secondly, even though a female worker bee’s stinger is barbed, I should note that her barbs will only stick in skin that is fairly thick and rubbery, like a mammal’s. If she stings through a much more delicate surface, she may be able to pull her stinger out without damaging her own body. This is a case where she can sting but not die.

Lastly — and far more interestingly — the female queen honeybee does not die after stinging. She is obviously a female bee, and therefore has a stinger, however it is not barbed like the other females in the hive. The queen’s stinger is smooth and can sting and be retracted from a victim without doing any harm to herself. There are several theories as to why she has evolved this way. One plausible explanation is that she must be able to defend herself against rival queens repeatedly, and that it’s her last line of defence against an intruder who has made it into the hive.

I will finish by mentioning that honeybees are the only types of bees/wasps/hornets etc. that have strongly barbed stingers. Therefore they are the only insects in the order hymenoptera that die when they sting. All other types of bees, wasps and hornets that you encounter will likely be able to sting repeatedly without committing suicide. This applies to bumble bees and yellowjackets as well. If they’re not a honeybee, they can sting you as much as they want.

Character leaning against question mark

This morning I received an email from a reader of my blog. It is a good question about whether you should keep a jar of feed for your colony after installing a nuc.

Hi, I just got a nuc of bees brought in and setup into a brand new hive that my neighbours have built for me. At this point it consists of two boxes with ten frames per box and a third on the top. The bees were introduced about one week ago. My neighbour set them up, he put a mason jar of sugar water upside-down with holes in the lid in the top box. There has been slight activity during the first part of the week as the daytime highs have only been about 12 degrees (Celsius) or so. Yesterday the temp was about 18 degrees and sunny. The hive was very active at that temp. Today was colder and this evening before dark I had a quick peek in the top box by gently removing the lid. I noticed that all the sugar water was gone. My question (finally) is should this quart size mason jar always have sugar water in it???  What should I do? FYI they are Buckfast Bees.

I answered this email directly, but I also thought I’d post my answer here and spark a discussion. If I understand correctly, this reader has two boxes with frames in them, and a third box on top of those that contains a mason jar for feeding. The nuc only arrived one week ago.

To answer the main question first: No, you don’t need to keep that mason jar filled with sugar syrup. You can remove it and take off the 3rd box that it’s sitting in. The feed is sometimes used to boost production in the hive. It’s typically used in smaller/weaker colonies. Your bees will eat the sugar syrup, but it is not what they’re designed to eat regularly. You don’t want them to choose that over nectar from flowers.

In the winter, or early spring, you may need to feed them again, but for now, as we head into summer, you’re fine without it. In fact, I didn’t use any feeder at all when I installed my nuc, around the same time.

Also, just a bit more information to help: Your bees will likely stay in their hive during colder weather, especially if it’s a bit rainy. It’s perfectly normal to not see a lot of activity around your hive on these cold & rainy days. As you mentioned, it’s when it’s sunny and 18 degrees that the bees get to work.

Try to avoid checking your hive when it’s chilly outside. If it’s around 10 degrees Celcius or colder, then you risk chilling your brood if you have your hive open for too long. It’s best to do your inspections mid-day, when a lot of your bees will be out foraging.

Another point I thought I should mention is that if you had a 4-frame nuc and you just installed it one week ago, then you might not need to have a second box with frames on it yet. You add boxes as you go, when the first box is roughly 75%-90% full. That’s the time when you plop another box with frames on top. If you give them too much space early on, it might be difficult to stay warm during really cold nights. At this point, however, they may have already started using that box, so it’s up to you whether you want to remove it or not. It may just be easier to leave it now.

In the future, it’s good to know that if you’re buying your nuc from a reputable breeder, there are guidelines to follow which are in place for your benefit. Your nuc should have been shipped with some food stores when it arrived. Adding sugar syrup is an extra safety measure to provide a bit more feed to your bees after their stressful journey to their new home. For information on what the Ontario Beekeeping Association recommends for nucs, please visit my blog post here: Buying nucs of bees in Ontario. Take into consideration that these are just guidelines, and your nuc may have been a bit different.

I hope this answers your question. I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy bee season. Good luck!