Well I knew when I turned the page on the new year that it was time. Time to order bees. I am not alone in the excitement. There is a limited window to put orders in for packages of bees and if you miss it they will be sold out. I was on the phone placing the order and e-transferring the cash by the end of January and then waited for the arrival of the precious cargo.
My decision to go with bees from New Zealand is based on the fact that I bought one colony from New Zealand last year and they had all the earmarks of what I wanted in a hive. The girls were even tempered, good foragers, ( I got lots of honey from that hive) The queen was a good layer and I was able to successfully split the hive into two by May of last year. I also did not use any chemicals in the hive and they survived. This could be luck or I am hoping it is the genetic component; these bees are good at grooming and clean varroa mites off of each other.
There are options when purchasing bees. The current thinking is that local bees are best. Since honeybees are not natural to our country all have been imported at some point. I have heard it said that the First Nations people referred to the honeybee as the “white man’s flies”. But that said certainly bees that have survived our damp climate for a year or more would be considered local.
The argument around importing from New Zealand would be that the bees from the southern hemisphere have finished their summer and are heading into winter. When they arrive here they are back to spring, skipping their natural cycle of downtime in winter. Some say that foreign bees are not as hardy to the pests and climate that we have here.
The first colony that I bought was from Australia and I had a problem with chalkbrood, not a fatal problem but still a problem. The young larvae dry up and drop out of the comb. They look all dry and white, hence the name, they look like bits of chalk. I would look at the bottom of the hive and find a large handful of small white dead larvae. It was a bit upsetting.
Some say it is the queen, not accustomed to the climate that can cause chalkbrood. If that is the case you can change the queen. If it is the larvae getting chill from the cold then a change in the weather and time should clear it up. The hive will have fewer bees than if the larvae had lived. The weather really plays a big part in a successful bee colony.
This year with the early and warm spring has proven to be a good start for our little pollinating friends. I go out and check them regularly and they have adjusted and are busy gathering pollen and nectar while the sun shines. The pussywillows were out in the sunshine so the bees could access a great pollen source. If it happens to rain during the time to pussywillows offer their lovely golden snack then as a beekeeper you are posed with the dilemma of supplementing their diet by providing an alternative food source.
I have purchased pollen patties, and offer a sugar syrup mixed with honey and pollen to help a new colony to get started. I put the treat right inside the hive with a feeder. If the bees need extra they will eat up the offering. If they have enough they will leave it alone, preferring to eat what they gather for themselves. A steady food supply tell the queen to go full steam ahead and lays those eggs, there is food enough for the thousands! A good queen will take off laying up to 2500 eggs a day, a relaxed queen will think about it and a queen that doesn’t respond is at risk of being replaced.
It really is a gamble, the weather, genetics, nutrition, my beekeeping abilities and predators and pesticides all contribute to the success or failure of the hive. I am going to roll the dice again this year and hope we will have better luck. Here goes…….
Time marches on.
– Loretta Jackson