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A Year of Bees

Have you ever wondered what bees do? We’ve put together a sneak peek into our hives throughout the year!

February/March

As the season starts to change, it’s time to take an initial look at the hives to see how they fared over the winter. Sometimes if we get a chinook and there’s a hive that needs checked, we’ll sneak an early peek!

March/April

The weather is getting warmer and the bees more active, so it’s important to make sure they have enough food to carry them through until they have a natural food source. We feed the bees sugar water and pollen to get them off to a great start!

Bees enjoying some delicious pollen!
Bottom black frame is full of delicious sugar water.

April/May

One way to start a new beehive is to get a package of bees. The bees come in a screened box with a queen, so they are ready to go into a hive. Each box contains 2-3 pounds of bees. 

Packages usually come in at the end of April and are installed as soon as possible.

Newly installed package of bees. On top of the frames is pollen for protein!

June/July

As summer progresses, the population in the hive grows.

Bees galore!

At this time, we keep an eye out for swarms and split hives (two more ways to start a new hive!). To split a hive, we put a few frames of eggs and brood from the main hive into another box. The bees will hopefully raise a new queen at which time we put them into a new hive.

Hive after a split. The small box on the left will hopefully turn into a successful new hive! There are so many bees at the front of the hive too!
The hanging cell is called a queen cell. Pretty soon this hive will have a new queen!

Sometimes, the bees get too crowded in their hive. This triggers a swarm where the queen takes 1/3-2/3 of the bees out of the hive to find a new home. The bees left behind will raise a new queen and continue on their way.

Can you spot the queen? She even has a crown 🙂

Although swarms may look scary, the bees are busy finding a new home and tend to be quite gentle!

Swarm of bees on a tree. This was a tricky one to capture!

July/August

Show us the honey! This time of year we have the big honey flow. It’s also time to extract the honey. We use the Flow Hive to make extraction super easy! Storing an extractor for use once a year wasn’t feasible for us, so the Flow Hive has worked great!

Back view of the Flow Hive. Look at all that delicious honey!

First drops of honey from our very first Flow Hive extraction!

Busy day extracting!

So much delicious honey!

We also collect pollen around this time of year. Pollen is a source of protein for the bees and is very important for raising new bees. Here’s some of the hive activity on our pollen trap:

And a view of a pollen harvest:

Well done bees! What a harvest!

September/October

The last of the flowers are finishing and the weather is getting cooler. This month, we do our final extraction and begin winter preparations. With the decline in flowers, we supplement the bees with sugar water as we did in the spring.  It’s extremely important to have strong hives with plenty of stores to get through the long winter months!

October/November to February/March

The hives are all tucked in for the winter and it’s time for a break! Over the winter, we prepare equipment and get ready for a new season of beekeeping.

Insulated and ready for winter!

What a year!

Every year is a new adventure and the bees have so much to teach us!

Bees and flowers. Can it be more perfect?

During the beekeeping season, we share pictures on Instagram and the occasional YouTube video. Follow us to get the latest updates!

Interesting Facts

  • Alberta houses 14% of Canada’s beekeepers
  • Alberta has 41% of Canada’s colonies
  • Alberta accounts for 41% of Canada’s honey production (Saskatchewan is next up with 25% and Manitoba follows with 16%)
  • Albertan honey makes up 46% of Canada’s honey exports, which is the most of all the provinces (Manitoba makes up 24% and Saskatchewan makes up 16%)

Facts are from 2016 courtesy Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Click here to get even more interesting statistics.

Learn more!

Are you interested in supporting the bees in your yard? Check out our blog post on supporting native pollinators. The post includes great resources on providing a welcoming environment, understanding the bees, and getting more hands on with a bee house.

Your Backyard

If you’re interested in having a hive in your yard, let us know by filling out this form. When we are expanding, you may get an email from us!

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3 Steps to Encourage Local Pollinators to Visit Your Yard and Stay!

3 Steps to Encourage Pollinators to Visit Your Yard

How familiar are you with your neighbourhood pollinators? Do you know how to attract them to your yard? Here in Canada, we have five main pollinators [1]:

  • Beetles
  • Flies
  • Wasps
  • Butterflies and Moths
  • Bees

This article focuses on bees and in particular native bees. However, many of the ideas will also encourage other pollinators.

Supporting our honeybees and native bees has become quite the rage over the last few years. Last season, native bee houses were extremely popular. I’ve put together a few tips to encourage pollinators to visit your yard. They will also improve your odds of hosting a successful bee house!

1. Attract More Native Bees (and other pollinators)

Supporting native bee species is a bit different than managing honeybees. Beekeepers can place a managed honeybee hive in a convenient location (with some restrictions). The bees are directly introduced into their new home. Native bees, however, need to be enticed. If you have a bee house, you will want to gently encourage them to inhabit the new home you’ve generously provided for them. The first step in this process is to provide a proper habitat to attract them. Good food and water sources can go a long way in attracting pollinators. In turn, it can increase the probability of a busy bee house!

Food

Crocus
Crocus

Bees need both nectar and pollen for survival. Pollen, which consists of small grains and carries the male reproductive cells of the plant, provides a source of protein and fats. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants to encourage pollination. Foraging bees use this as a source of energy [2]. Honeybees also turn nectar into honey. Some bee species are specialists relying on a single type of flower to survive while others are generalists. Bumblebees, for example, are generalists. They tend to be attracted most to blue or violet flowers although they will visit other flowers as well [3].

In planning your garden with pollinators in mind, it’s important to have food available all season. Crocuses, for example, are an early source of pollen. Echinachea provides pollen and nectar late in the season. Plan your garden to include plants that bloom throughout the season. Colour variety can also entice a variety of pollinators to frequent your yard. Heirloom and native plants have excellent nutritional value for pollinators. Native plants are also well suited to our climate. Some plants you may consider for your garden include:

  • Crabapple (early season)
  • Crocus (early season)
  • Willow (early season)
  • Catnip (mid season)
  • Chives (mid season)
  • Lavender (mid season)
  • Borage (late season)
  • Coneflower (late season)
  • Cosmos (late season) [2]

Water

Bee Waterer
Bee Waterer

It is extremely important for bees to have easy access to water because they do not store it. Bird baths tend to be too large for bees and introduce significant danger of drowning. Bee waterers, however, are easy to make. It’s fun to observe who visits them! These waterers provide landing pads for pollinators as they drink. If they happen to fall into the water, the landing pads are within swimming distance. To make your own bee waterer, follow the steps below:

Materials:

  • Shallow dish
  • Landing pad material (river rocks, marbles, and glass stones work great)

Instructions:

  1. Place your landing pad material in the dish.
  2. Fill dish with water leaving the top of your landing pad material exposed.

Tip: Since the dish is shallow and we live in a dry climate, keep an eye on the water level to ensure there’s enough water to encourage a steady stream of visitors. Last summer, I refilled mine as often as daily on the hottest days. A cat water dish or shallow dish from a second hand store filled with pebbles both work great!

2. Understand Your Bees

Bees on Sunflower
Bees on Sunflower

Depending on the species, bees are considered either social or solitary. Honeybees and bumblebees are two commonly encountered species. Both are social bees. Honeybees are a non-native species originating in Europe or Asia. These are the only species of bee that produce honey harvested for commercial purposes. Bumblebees, on the other hand, are a native bee species. They tend to live in underground hives with populations of 150-200 bees [3]. Honeybee hives can reach a population of over 70 000 bees during peak honey flow. In Alberta, we have over 300 native species of bees, most of which are solitary. If you have a native bee house, these are the bees you will be aiming to attract.

3. Provide a Home

Native Solitary Bee Houses
Native Solitary Bee Houses

Once you’ve attracted more pollinators to your yard, the probability your bee house will be used goes up. Now, where is the best place to put your native bee house? The ideal location provides an environment which is:

  • Low traffic
  • Sheltered
  • In morning sun

Solitary bee species tend to be shy and skittish. Low traffic areas will allow the bees to feel safe. Providing shelter can help them avoid predators such as birds. Early morning sun is helpful to give them an earlier start to the day.

If you can identify the species you have in your yard, do a bit of research on their preferences to figure out an ideal location for your bee house. I’ve provided some resources below to help you get started. For example, mason bees use mud to seal their eggs in, so having moist soil nearby is a must. Sources of pollen and nectar within 300 feet of the house is also helpful for mason bees as that is their greatest foraging distance [4]. A good location for your bee house if you’d like to attract mason bees could be at the back of a flower bed you don’t weed often. Other good locations may include a fairy garden, on a tree, on a building, or on a post. If the bees aren’t moving in after a season and you have a lot of bees in your yard, try somewhere else!

Encouraging pollinators to visit your yard can be an extremely rewarding experience. By implementing the ideas in this article, I’m sure your yard will be buzzing in no time! Good luck!


Resources

References