March Fireside

The first day of spring, the spring equinox lands on March 20th this year.

Seems like a bit of a filthy lie doesn’t it? Odds weigh heavily toward no grass, lots of snow, cold nights, and slush during the day but ice at night. Hard to get all excited when you live a hair south of the 50th meridian. But the bees don’t care about any of this. The bees care much more about light then they do temperature because that’s how they gauge the closeness of the first blooms. Temperature is somewhat irrelevant despite its lethal potential. So as the days are adding more minutes of daylight, the impulse for the Queen to gear up her egg laying becomes more of a drive. We cannot see it, but it is indeed happening.

Oh No! Bees in the Snow! - One of the reasons I don’t let visitors look at my hives this time of year is they are aghast at all of the dead bees in the snow. It looks apocalyptic, and horrible like there was some calamity which drove them into the deadly cold, or desperation to find food, or some tragic tale of the sort.

In truth, it’s only hygiene. Forty to fifty thousand bees in population going into winter, with fifteen or so thousand coming out. That’s a lot of unaccounted for bodies, and those in the snow make up for a good portion of these. These are the bees that are aging out, and have reached the end of their (short by human standards) lifespan. If they die in the hive, then they make extra work for others to haul the corpse outside. Worse, if the colony cannot spare the labour force as they are busy keeping the heat on, their bodies would drop to the bottom board. A carpet of dead bees eventually rots, and becomes a source of mold and bacteria that can cause problems, but even worse than this, they are a sponge of humidity that fights heat retention in the hive which can have truly disastrous consequences.

So, the last task the worker bee will perform is expel herself from the hive so that her passing doesn’t compound problems for her sisters. It’s a sign of sustained life, and this time of year after a light dusting of snow I’ll walk the rows to see which colonies are showing this "sign of life" and which are not. Not that I can do a damn thing about it, but it helps me sleep at night... or keeps me awake depending on the numbers... did I mention all beekeepers are a little looney?

Things are looking pretty good in the yards this year actually. Myself and my beekeeping compadres are anxious, but hopeful for a normal spring. (We used to hope for an early spring, but after last year we’d be beyond grateful for normal.)

I have to give a shout out to Jeff at Bee Supplies (link to their website) for providing us with a much needed part for a very old honey pump. This saves us from manually bailing out a drum of honey, which especially in the winter, is a big old ball of fun. The folks down at Bee Supplies are very handy and helpful and can provide you with beekeeping equipment, suits, tools, and even bees if you are an aspiring beekeeper.

We have been in business for decades, and the last few years have been very hard on all of us. I’d like to thank our patrons who support us every day, and support local honey by selecting us as their source for high quality Manitoba honey. Not only is buying local better for the local economy and all of us who rely on it, but it's better for the environment, and it provides your community with true food security. It's a smart idea to know where your food comes from, and I answer many, many phone calls and emails with questions on how we produce the honey we deliver to your table. For those who may not be interested in the subject of accountability when it comes to your groceries, check out the article in this newsletter covering the CFIA report on food fraud! Definitely an eye opener for many!

Lastly, a poem attributed to chatgpt found on Reddit (crafted by user "red-it"):

Amidst the fields of gold and green, Where flowers bloom and bugs are seen, There lies a task that's sweet indeed, The art of beekeeping, a vital need.

With gentle hands and careful steps, The keeper tends to honey's nest, Ensuring that the hive is sound, And that the bees can safely abound.

The buzzing of wings fills the air, As the bees go here and there, Collecting nectar from every bloom, Their mission clear, their purpose in tune.

The keeper watches, day by day, As the hive grows in its own way, Adding frames and honeycombs, Helping the bees build their own homes.

For when the honey is finally ripe, And the time has come to harvest the hype, The keeper takes his share with care, And leaves enough for the bees to spare.

Beekeeping is an ancient art, That's close to nature, close to heart, It teaches us to care and tend, And to cherish the gifts that nature sends.

So let us all embrace this task, And honor bees, for what they ask, For without them, our world would be, A place devoid of sweet honeybees.

Thank spring, and keep safe!

John Russell