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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


The answers and information listed here is what we have learned after observing our bees for many years within the environment that we live in with our beekeeping practices.   Everyone knows that genetics, environment and treatment changes animal behaviour in people, pets and livestock.  The same can be said about bees.  

For example, most times we can work our bees without a veil on, but there are a few specific hive locations in our beeyards that no matter how many times we change the genetics of that hive, the hive is still cranky. Most likely the environment is affecting them, whether it is wind or something else.  Likewise, when we use that same gentle genetic stock for cell builder hives they also become nasty because we are going into them several times a week. Those hives are reacting to how we are treating them.  

So, read the information here, read other information elsewhere, but remember to always read your bees and act appropriately.  They have their own personality and may not have read the same information that you have.

  1. Do you get stung?
  2. I have a bee problem.  Can you help?
  3. I want to start beekeeping.  What do you recommend as a way to get started?
  4. Who from or where should I get bees?
  5. Do you supply bees?
  6. What is the difference between nucs and packages?
  7. How can I get your stock if I can't get nucs?
  8. Why don't you supply queens before the first Monday in July?
  9. How should I introduce a queen?
  10. How do you overwinter your hives?
  11. Is there enough space in a single for a queen to lay eggs?
  12. What is the difference between running a single vs. a double?
  13. What are the signs of a queenless/not queen right hive?
  14. Do you use cages to introduce a queen?
  15. What is the best method to strip honey from a hive?
  16. What do you know about top bar hives?
  17. What do you think of the flow hive?
  18. I want to save the bees.  I can just keep a hive and let them swarm right?
1. Do you get stung?

Yes, we get stung.  We have gotten stung enough times that our bodies don't tend to react much anymore.  It still hurts, but it doesn't keep hurting as long as a paper cut or a muscle cramp.

In a honeybee hive, bees have different jobs.  The guard bees are charged with defending a hive and are interested in stinging threats.  They are at the entrances of hives protecting them.  Bees that are out, away from the hives, collecting nectar, pollen or water have nothing to protect and are therefore not particularly interested in you except to check out if you are a flower or source of water.  However, if you start swatting at them and trying to kill them and they can smell the fear on you, you quickly become a threat.  If they are going to die, they might as well go out with a bang.  Just as dogs, horses and other animals will react to someone who fears them or starts to hit them, so will bees.  Put your hands in your pockets and walk calmly away or walk into bushy trees/shrubs so that the bee is distracted by other things.  If you do get stung, swelling connected to the sting site is normal.  You should be concerned if swelling happens not connected to the site (so you get stung on the finger and your neck swells rather than your finger, hand and arm), your reaction is unusual like getting hives on your skin or breathing difficulties.

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2. I have a bee problem.  Can you help?

Is it honeybees?  Take a picture and compare it to Wikipedia.  Honeybees are our only department.

What does the colony look like?  If it looks like a grey paperlike ball, it's not honeybees.  If it looks like a brown ball of bees, a beekeeper could collect the swarm.  If all you see is the hole that the bees are going in and out of the wall you need to know that the colony is not necessarily that close to the entrance.  While I can tear a wall apart looking for bees, it is not my department to rebuild the wall.

Are you within range of our bees?  Send a couple of pictures of the bees and swarm to us so that we know they are honeybees and know what kind of equipment we need to collect them.  Then call us to make sure that the message came through and so that we can discuss a collection plan.

Are you sure that the bees are actually a problem?  If you truly do want to get rid of them.  Spraying them with a little dish soap in water in a handsprayer will kill them.  You cannot seal a colony into a cavity.  They will chew their way out.  However, you can seal a colony out of a cavity.  So, if a colony dies for some reason, for example in the winter, you should seal the cavity so that another colony cannot move in.

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3.  I want to start beekeeping.  What do you recommend as a way to get started?

Start small and get your feet wet first.  Take the Beginner Beekeeping Course and or go visit a beekeeper who is willing to host you.  See if you REALLY want to do it.  Think about how much money and time you want to invest. Read a lot of local beekeeping information and talk to local beekeepers.  It is not the same keeping bees in Saskatchewan as in the United States or other parts of Canada. For example, some articles I have seen circulated recommend that you not take honey from a hive the first year.  To follow that advice in Saskatchewan would mean that you would potentially kill your hive because it would swarm, perhaps multiple times.   A good rule of thumb is to look to similar climates where you would get gardening advice for Saskatchewan as a source of beekeeping advice.  If you think you still want to become a beekeeper, start with one or two hives.  Two hives gives you the ability to steal from the good one to fix the other if something goes wrong. Buy new standard equipment or make sure the equipment has been used recently and has been inspected by the official bee inspector in your area. Ask to see the certificate of inspection that they are required to get before they sell the equipment.  I've known hobby beekeepers that have bought equipment from a local beekeeper that was retiring or getting out.  Often, they received AFB (American Foul Brood) at no extra cost.  You don't want the experience to end badly before it even starts.  Standard equipment is easy to get and resell as opposed to special equipment.  Pay attention to your bees.  Neither your neighbours nor your local beekeepers will appreciate it if your hives start swarming or spreading diseases because you weren't paying attention.  As you learn what to do, grow gradually.  Have fun!  Bees are addicting and fascinating.  Beware that you might get hooked!

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4.  Who from or where should I get bees?

If you can't source local bees, buy inspected disease free bees and replace the queen with a local queen so that within about 6 weeks you have local bees.

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5.  Do you supply bees?

We are selling nucs through the Regina Bee Club.  We sell queens

6.  What is the difference between nucs and packages?

A nuc (short for nucleus hive) is a small colony of bees usually on 3 -6 drawn combs.  The queen is already laying and there is a few combs of brood already.  A nuc is sourced locally as they cannot be mailed.  Ask whether it is a local or foreign queen.  They are typically more expensive than packages because they are already significantly farther advanced than a package and it includes some equipment (some drawn combs).  Make sure they have a valid current inspection certificate so that you are not buying diseases for no extra cost.  All nucs are not created equal - reputation is an important guiding post in the sourcing of nucs.

A package of bees is usually 2-3 lbs of bees with a queen.  When they are received, the bees and queen must be put into equipment to start them.  The population of the colony will continue to drop for weeks because the queen does not start laying immediately and it is only when those new bees hatch that the population starts to grow.  Typically, they arrive earlier in the spring from offshore (New Zealand or Australia).  They have been inspected before they come into the country.  They must be fed.  My experience with packages is extremely limited.

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7.  How can I get your stock if I can't get nucs?

If you can't source nucs, you will have to get packages.  You should then replace the queen in the package with one of our queens.  If you buy a queen she will start laying eggs.  Her first bees will emerge 3 weeks from when the first egg was laid.  In about 6 weeks, most of the workers will have been replaced with her progeny.  Therefore in 6 weeks you will have our stock.

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8.  Why don't you supply queens before the first Monday in July?

We control both the maternal and paternal lines of our breeding.  It takes about 35-40 days for drones to get from egg laid until sexually mature.  Each queen should mate with up to 40 drones.  That means that we must flood the area with sexually mature drones during good weather to get properly mated queens.  Then research indicates that a queen should be left to lay for a while before putting her in a cage.  Saskatchewan springs are difficult to predict when they will arrive.  There would be no point in raising queens, if we didn't allow 1 month for drones to mature and another month for queens to get mated and start laying.  It is safe to predict that queens will start laying drones by the end of April, but in this part of Saskatchewan, it would be irresponsible for me to assume they would start laying them before that.  It would be possible, but not probable.  Therefore, we know that we can promise well mated queens in July, but it is a gamble with Mother Nature to promise them before that.

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9. How should I introduce a queen?top

10.  How do you overwinter your hives?

Outside in singles, 5 frame nucs and mating nuc hives.  See the following articles for more information:

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11. Is there enough space in a single for a queen to lay eggs?

A standard comb is approximately 78 worker cells wide by 42 worker cells deep on each side of the comb.  In our singles we have 9 combs.

78 cells x 42 cells x 2 sides x 9 combs = 58968 cells

Each new worker occupies a cell 21 days from the day that the egg is laid until the adult hatches.

58968 cells / 21 days = 2808

A queen would need to lay 2808 eggs per day to fill up the single with brood.  While she might be able to do that for a very short time, she cannot sustain that.  So, yes there is enough room for a queen to lay eggs.

However, there is never enough room for large patches of drone cell.  Nor during the summer is there room to store excess unused crystallized honey.

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12. What is the difference between running a single versus a double?

First of all a single is when you only give the queen 1 standard sized brood box to lay in all year round versus a double is having 2 standard sized brood boxes/hive. 

Here is a link to a powerpoint presentation that I did for the Regina Bee Club about the difference.

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13. What are the signs of a queenless/not queen right hive?

Beekeeping is an art as much as a science.  The following are signs that a hive is queenless, but depending on the time of year or beekeeper behaviour they could also indicate something else.

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14.  Do you use cages to introduce a queen?

We have used and continue to use depending on the situation:
  • JZ-BZ cages with candy
  • hardware cages with marshmallows
  • push-in cages with brood that allow the queen to keep laying
  • newspaper

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15.  What is the best method to strip honey from a hive?

That depends.  We use each of bee escapes, bee blowing, tip off and brushing combs depending on the situation.  We use bee escapes most often, but we use blowing to empty the bee collection boxes from our warm room.  We also sometimes use tip off or brushing to strip honey from our queen mating nucs or cell builder hives.  I'll give you the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can make up your own mind.  (I'm not qualified to evaluate fume boards.  I have only used them once when I was helping another beekeeper.  That particular day, we finally started brushing off each comb because it was quicker.)



Advantages
Disadvantages
Bee Escapes
  • can be used with a mechanical lift so that it requires less muscle
  • don't have to break wax and honey between supers, so less messy
  • can be used on a cold day and still works
  • does not promote robbing while stripping so you can strip as many hives as possible
  • no confused bees
  • quick
  • requires a mechanical lift if you are not going to break the supers apart
  • need to be able to get mechanical lift into the spot
  • honey supers will be robbed out if there are any cracks or holes that the bees can get through from the outside to the honey supers
  • requires 2 trips to the yard to pick up the honey
  • will not work if there is brood in the honey supers
Bee Blowing
  • removes all the bees from the combs
  • works when there is brood in the honey supers
  • if stripping close to an electrical outlet, can use an air compressor
  • can strip the honey in one trip providing it isn't robbing season and there aren't too many hives in the yard
  • makes more of a mess because the honey supers must be broken apart separating the honey and wax between the combs
  • requires more muscle to break each super apart
  • loud
  • takes a long time
  • tends to encourage robbing
  • cannot be done in cold weather
Tip off
  • doesn't require any extra equipment
  • quick
  • makes more of a mess because the honey supers must be broken apart separating the honey and wax between the combs
  • requires more muscle to break each super apart
  • requires 2 trips to the yard to pick up the honey
  • cannot be used during robbing season
  • will often result in confused bees congregating on a few stacks that may still have to be blown off
  • will not work if there is brood in the honey supers
Brushing combs
  • can be done with very little extra equipment - only a bee brush
  • works when there is brood in the honey supers
  • can be done during robbing season
  • can strip the honey in one trip providing it isn't robbing season and there aren't too many hives in the yard
  • makes more of a mess because the honey supers and combs must be broken apart separating the honey and wax between the combs
  • requires more muscle to break each super apart
  • takes the longest amount of time
  • tends to encourage robbing
  • cannot be done in cold weather
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16.  What do you know about top bar hives?

You have hit on an area of knowledge that I have read about but don't understand.  I don't understand how to get bees for them.  Because they are not standard, you can't get a nuc to transfer into them. Because it takes about 10 lbs of honey to make one pound of wax and packages come in too early in our season to successfully get the bees to draw the wax (which they have to before they can make new bees), I don't know how you get bees for them.  They were designed for Africa where they could easily catch a swarm because of the race of bees.

 

I don't understand how you can get the bees to stop making drone comb on a top bar hive.  Every time we stick an empty frame into a hive either by design or accident they draw it to drone comb.  That works great for us because we then use that as a way to catch varroa mites.  We stick an empty frame in.  They draw it to drone. We pull it out before the drones hatch so that we can destroy the mites. Drone cell is a mite producing factory, and I don't want that.  But, I don't understand how you stop it in a top bar hive.  And therefore, I don't understand how to get them to live through the winter with all the mites.


How do you get the combs out to inspect them?  I've never seen a hive yet that doesn't build bridge comb.  How do you cut the bridge comb and get the comb out without tearing it to pieces.  It's hard enough when the combs have a wooden frame holding the wax together.


I don't understand how you stop the wax from bending over, particularly on a warm day and falling off the frame when you inspect the combs.  I've had that happen when I've been dealing with swarms and I don't know how to stop it then and I don't know how you would stop it in a top bar hive.


How do you separate the honey from the brood without injuring the queen or disturbing the hive?  Again this is based on me not have been able to figure that out in swarms either.


Why can't I just replace the foundation in my frames regularly to ensure that I don't have residues in the wax?

 

So, I'm sorry that I have more questions and no answers, but I truly don't understand top bar hives.  I know that they were designed for Africa, a very different climate where the people were poor.  They were cheap and would allow them to keep bees with little investment.  But that is the only thing that I understand about top bar hives.


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17.  What do you think of flow hives?


Flow hives were designed in Australia, a very different climate.  Given that a Saskatchewan hive can fill a flow hive in 24 hours with nectar, I'm not sure how you could use it in Saskatchewan without either removing nectar rather than honey or making your bees swarm.


There is a good article in the Regina Bee Club Newsletter that evaluates it.


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18.  I want to save the bees.  I can just keep a hive and let them swarm right?

Hives only successfully requeen themselves about 50% of the time.  If that weren't the case, bees would have taken over the world long ago.  If you just let your hives swarm, you are just as likely to kill them as they are to survive because of that 50% chance.  The stronger a hive is, the more bees there are pollenating.  A strong hive is achieved by properly managing your hive.  That requires time and work.  Finally, we did not get Varroa for decades because we were isolated from other beekeepers.  Even though we are close to Alberta, there were no beekeepers in between the border and our bees so Varroa did not cross that border to us.  Now, that is no longer the case.  There are so many beekeepers that you cannot keep your bees isolated.  The beekeeper who does not manage their bees, but instead just lets them swarm, spreading their diseases with them is not a friend of either the bees or the beekeepers.


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