By Diane Dunaway –
Kids of all ages love Scout Island Nature Centre’s observation honey bee hive. It’s a popular display that draws those who wish to see the lives of bees from behind the glass walls of this unique fixture. Volunteer carpenter and retired beekeeper Jürgen Hornburg crafted the five-frame hive from plans shared by the Kamloops BC Wildlife Park. Over the years he’s maintained the double glass cabinet with feedback from the bees and me. In fact, he’s made so many thoughtful alterations to better suit the inhabitants that it’s not uncommon for us to leave the bees to overwinter inside this structure.
Unfortunately, last winter we lost our bees. The queen was somewhat of an overachiever. She didn’t reduce her cluster of worker bees by slowing down egg laying in the fall, so by December the hive was bursting with active bees with nowhere to go and voracious appetites. Sadly, they starved. This is a problem we run into with Apismelliferalinguistica, also known as the Italian subspecies of the European honey bee. These bees thrive in moderate Mediterranean climates but unlike Apismelliferacarnica, the Eastern European Carniolan honey bee, the Italians aren’t as well suited to Cariboo winters.
Recovering from this loss meant making a new nuc, a small starter colony. To ensure a good beginning, I monitored my home colonies for Varroa destructor, commonly know as Varroa mites, the leading health threat to honey bees worldwide. At an under one per cent infestation level, it was safe to proceed. A nuc is composed of a heavy frame of honey with pollen, two frames of brood both open and capped, a couple of frames of drawn comb, a few shakes of young nurse bees, a scattering of drones, and the all-important local queen bee. This year’s queen hails from an established queen breeder out of Armstrong.
Frames with black plastic foundation were selected so that the public can better see eggs, larvae, and what have you. The new queen is marked with non-toxic white paint on her thorax to indicate she’s from 2016. Just as with other livestock data systems, there’s an International Queen Marking colour code for just this purpose. Marking the queen also makes it far easier to find her in a crowd.
It’s a fine balance to keep the colony size under control in such a small unit over the summer months. Time will tell when I’ll first need to go back in and knock down the population by removing a couple of full frames and replacing them with foundation. This proactive step in no way harms the colony, and it will prevent them from swarming.
Feel free to stop by and say hi to Scout Island’s resident bee colony next time you’re in the neighbourhood. You can witness newly born bees emerge from their brood cells. See the queen deposit a few of the thousand eggs she lays each day and watch foragers march through the clear tube that connects them from their glass hive to the outside wall. Often you’ll spot the worker’s corbicula, or pollen baskets, laden with brightly coloured flower and tree residues. The bees always do well here; it must be due to all of the love and attention they receive.
Diane’s kept bees for nearly 20 years. A provincial apiary inspector since 2015 and master beekeeper since 2001, she runs about 50 colonies from her Bee Happy Honey farm in the Soda Creek valley of the Cariboo. Diane produced and edited BeesCene, the BC Honey Producers Association (BCHPA) quarterly journal for five years. In 2013 she became a BCHPA certified instructor of introductory beekeeping. When she’s not chasing swarms around the countryside Diane can be found at home with Dave, her husband of 25 years, and their menagerie of rescue animals.