By Tom Read
In the spring we clean our houses, after a long winter, and so it is with bees. Beekeepers on Texada find that April can bring the right weather conditions for opening a hive to check on its health and clean things up a bit.
By this time there are plenty of flowers and pollen-bearing plants around to feed the bees, but spring weather is notoriously capricious. If a stretch of cold, windy, rainy days ensues, our bee friends may not be able to fly, and could even starve to death if they’ve used up their over-winter store of food. So we help out by feeding some sugar during such wet and cold spells.
I am a novice beekeeper, but I find this activity a fascinating mix of art and science, as is all animal husbandry. When a beekeeper opens a hive that’s been undisturbed since the previous fall (except for occasional feeding as mentioned above), one wants to get a feel for its state of health: how many bees, how much pollen and honey remains stored, is the queen healthy and laying lots of eggs to make new “daughter-worker” bees, are there signs of a potential swarm, are there other creatures living in the hive that shouldn’t be there, such as slugs, sow bugs, snails, mice, and wax moths. There’s also a visual check for the dreaded varroa mite, which so far has not come to Texada Island.
Spring cleaning consists mainly of scraping excess wax off of frames and boxes, and cleaning off the bottom board. Bees are quite clean by nature, and will remove debris and dead bees from their hive by themselves. But after a long winter of staying mostly inside the hive, there’s a build-up of stuff that needs removal, so we give them a little help.
One result of this check-up and housecleaning is that we get a better idea of how to manage the bees as we enter the new season. For instance, a beekeeper will usually ponder, at this point, whether the hive is strong enough to support a division (making a new hive, also known as a colony) or should the bees be given more time to build up their numbers and food stores?
Our goal at Slow Farm is to facilitate an optimum number of healthy bee colonies for our area, and eventually to take some honey when the bees can afford to part with it. This is an agrarian rather than industrial standard, and sets a sustainable example we intend to follow throughout our agricultural endeavours.