Quick Introduction to Beekeeping North of 60
Our beekeeping season runs from April to August. Experienced beekeepers will feed pollen supplements and hard sugar (candy/fondant) during the 1st warm spell in March if we get one and if it is determined the hive has enough stores left in case of a another extreme cold snap. We start feeding sugar syrup mid-April. Hive insulation stays on into early May but some will have to remove some to ensure adequate ventilation. Our 1st pollen comes mid to late April. We get a mid-June Yukon native wildflower nectar flow that most hives will miss as they are still getting up to strength. Our main flow comes in the middle of July and typically last 2-4 weeks. This one is mostly Fireweed and the patches of Sweet Clover in more urban/developed areas. We also get a nice honeydew flow in August but it comes with the risk of being caught out if your honey supers aren’t taken off early enough to start our winter preparations. Our prep typically starts in early to middle of August and requires both pollen supplements and heavy sugar syrup. Our 1st frost typically comes in August at which point all pollen stops coming in if the weather doesn’t warm up again. We often get a late July pollen dearth that will seriously affect overwintering success as the winter bees will be too skinny.
As for disease and pests up here, Varroa can be a problem but is easily mitigated with IPM and some type of treatment. OAV is the preferred treatment up here as many of our hives will be broodless from mid-August to mid-September. If nucleus hives are treated when 1st received, mites will typically no longer be a problem due to our very low hive densities and very long brood breaks. The attached chart in figure 2 shows last year’s “Bee Annual Brood Cycle”. Nosema Ceranae seems to affect certain beekeepers more than others so more research is required to better understand what drives this. It is likely due to poor late summer natural nutrition when winter bees are being raised. Our winter losses were 38% (n=79 hives) last year which was an improvement on the previous year 54% (n=108) which was also one of the coldest in a very long time. This has been my focus area for the last 4 years. To develop a Yukon northern beekeeping education program, analyse our weather from a bee’s perspective (see figure 3), understand our local forage cycles using weight scales and by mapping out our bloom dates, develop a disease and pest management approach with some basic monitoring (home based microscopy), collect data on our hive management approaches (Winter Surveys), and develop better wintering setups through hive monitoring of vital measurements (temperature, humidity and pre-winter hive weights). An important aspect of making beekeeping up here more sustainable will be to produce our own nucs and even breed our survivors. Last year I started collecting data on splits/queen mating approach and successes. In my area I know of 8 attempts at rearing queens from swarm cells and all resulted in successful mated queens (very nice brood patterns and fair to very good summer expansion). I myself created 2 splits from swarm cells taken from my best overwintered hive. Next time, I will discuss one approach being used up here to help us increase our honey yields which forces us to make early June splits by using Single brood chamber hives.
Northern Beekeepers Calendar
•January – Buy your bees (Nucs / Packages)
•February – Go cross country skiing (Not much to do) – Read a beekeeping book
•March – Build/assemble/maintain your beekeeping equipment / Check store levels during warmer >+5C day - Candy Board
•April – 1st Hive Inspection on warm day +14C (Spring clean-up/consolidate hive/count frames of bees/feed pollen supplement)
•May – 2nd Hive Inspection to assess growth rate / start 1:1 sugar syrup feeding (pollen supplement if required) / Install Nuc or package into new hive
•June – 3rd & 4th Assess growth rate of hive (re-queen if necessary); be on the look out for signs of swarming / Add your second brood box on your new hive @ 7-8 frames of bees / Treat for mites as required
•July – Prepare for main nectar flow – look for white wax accumulation on top bars; add you honey supers
•August – Harvest honey supers and start winter preparation (measure hive weight, look for dark honey frames and remove/extract) - Feed 2:1 syrup from late August and pollen supplements
•September – Continue winter preparations (Install Sugar Candy and Moisture quilt)
•October – Wrap/Insulate and move your hive for winter once temperature are consistently below zero (easier as the bees won't be very active
•November – Review your past beekeeping season (learnings, improvements, plans)
•December – Dream about spring and start looking at bee suppliers if you are looking at buying new bees