Category Archives: Beekeeping

Preparing for the Season

Today we scraped, and cleaned and sanitized the “supers” and frames that we will use during this years beekeeping season. This is an important process to kill any spores of parasites that might be present on the wood within the frames and boxes.

We first brought all the boxes out of deep basement storage, and removed the frames from the supers in order to scrape off any propolis, honey and excess wax build-up that might get in the way of sealing the frames. The bees use propolis as a kind of glue to fill in cracks on their structure. If the frames don’t fit well together because of a build up of junk, this impacts the work of the bees.

Once scraped, the frames are washed with a water-bleach solution. Most of the frames contain a plastic support to give the bees a starting point for building up their combs. Some of our frames are just frames. The bees can build their combs without any help from us, but this takes longer and the beekeeping season in Montréal is already quite short. However, if you want to remove and eat the honeycomb, then an empty frame is the way to go.

The supers, or boxes, are free of plastic and therefore can be sanitized using a propane torch. As the resin and wax on the box are heated, the supers give off the most lovely smell: a mixture of burnt pine wood and beeswax.

To our delight, one of our bees was out for his cleansing flight. On the earliest days of spring, bees leave their hives in search of a place to “read a magazine”.  Bees are very clean animals and they never eliminate their waste within their hives. Our bee came to visit the newly cleaned frames, and poked around. He seemed to know they were intended for him, even after the frames had been bleached.

As winter goes on, the bees within the closed up hives gradually eat through their stash of honey (or maple syrup). Now the days are warm and they may leave the hive, but the flowers are not out yet. This means our bees cannot collect any new food. Though our colonies can definitely survive on their own, we will probably feed them with pollen packs, in order to build up their strength early in the season. Image result for bee supers Sonoma County Beekeeper’s Association. (2011). Beekeeping Basics. Retrieved from http://www.sonomabees.org/honey/index.html

Cleaning of equipment also provided the seasoned members of our collective with an opportunity to educate us on parasites (why we clean), different frames, screens (to restrict the queens access to the honey supers), and other clever accessories. The drawing above shows that the honey supers are separated from the deep super where the queen and larvae live. This keeps the baby larvae away from the supers which are removed for honey harvest, and is similar to the segregation that exists within the hive in nature.

So our frames and supers are clean and ready to be used. Now we have to do a quick inventory of all our equipment. If the weather stays nice, we will need to consider opening our hives in the next week or so!

Becoming a Beekeeper

The beekeeping season is almost underway, and I hope it will be the first of many. But for now, I have lots of learning to do!

This year I became a volunteer amateur beekeeper with the Bee Collective of Santropol Roulant, a non-profit organization that, through volunteer collectives and community programs, is doing many things to bring the community together (Meals-on-Wheels, etc). What makes the experience extra special is that those of us lucky few will be trained in urban beekeeping in downtown Montréal within a collective that is run on democracy and consensus, just like our bees.

Image result for beekeeping

For now, our beekeeping involves weekly meetings to discuss bee education, Epi-pen procurement, how many hives we will manage for the season and discussion of lessons learned from last year. It was collectively decided that we will keep  3-6 hives, order 3 new queen bees, and split two existing hives if they prove healthy enough after opening.

Our 6 rooftop hives are located at McGill University, and on the Santropol building itself, in the heart of plateau Mont Royal. The hives are still covered in insulation for winter. They look innocuous except for the small visible holes in the side of the hives, below which several dearly departed bees can be seen (nothing to worry about!) By audio check, it is possible to check the health of these hives, even while still “dormant”, in order to assess the health of the hive and whether intervention is required. Our assessment showed one healthy hive, and one hive requiring a bit of TLC. 

The Bee Collective is mandated with connecting urban-dwellers and food sources through education. We also harvest honey twice per year. Each beekeeper will receive a large portion of honey (relatively speaking) and the rest will be sold with profits donated back to fund Santropol Roulant.

We are finishing up our inventory of tools and gear this Sunday, and the hives will be opened in late April, weather permitting. In the meantime, it’s just the right time to plant those bee friendly seeds : Asters (pictured below), black-eyed susans, snapdragons, cone flowers, zinnias, salvia, sunflowers, etc. This is especially important for our urban bees who might struggle to find food and clean water sources in the downtown areas! Happy planting!

photo credit: http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/9-honeybee-friendly-plants