2021 was a busy year here at the HBRC! Last winter the snow arrived around Christmas and stayed until March, and the temperatures were very consistent. This kind of weather is ideal for the bees, so most of our hives were very strong in the early spring. We had low hive losses, around 10%. In March the weather warmed, causing the colonies to be very active and build up their numbers very quickly. The now large colonies quickly ran out of food because there were no nectar flows yet.
When we unwrapped the hives in late April, we saw that many colonies were preparing to swarm. In order to prevent swarms from happening, we went through all of our hives to look for swarm cells. We also put supers on our hives very early to give the colonies extra space. Even with these swarm prevention methods, we still had more swarms this season than ever before. We were busy catching swarms by the first week of May, and they continued all throughout the month. The swarming was un-bee-lievable!
But having strong hives that want to swarm does have its benefits, one is a good early spring honey production. Since the hives were so productive and already had supers, the first nectar flow from dandelions produced a lot of honey. We also took the opportunity to make more splits to increase our hive count for research projects and to offset any hives we lost. At our peak this year we had 323 hives, which is the most we have ever had here at the HBRC!
As the summer progressed, the honey flow was more varying and not as productive as the spring. Since we had such a good spring with lots of early drone production, the mites levels were much higher this year. We did mite testing midsummer and found that some hives had very high mite levels. We chose to spot-treat the hives with high mite levels in an attempt to prevent the colonies from collapsing and spreading their mites. Unfortunately, before we could treat the hives, an August heat wave hit the Guelph area. This made using formic pro, our chosen mite treatment, very dangerous and potentially lethal to the colonies. We held off on applying the treatments until late August, when it was safe to do so.
Over the summer we requeened all hives with queens that were over a year old with our Buckfast Island mated queens. These queens came from Thorah Island, where we have Buckfast colonies used for breeding purposes. We also purchased 6 potential Buckfast breeder queens from Denmark for use next year. This summer we had an average honey crop, producing 32 barrels of honey which is roughly 9000 kg (20,000 pounds!). You better bee-lieve our bees were busy.
In the fall the nectar flow is typically from goldenrod, which was quite slow this year. We hoped that it would pick up, but it never did. When we checked on our hives we noticed that they were all very light and had little to no food in their brood chambers. We had to wait until we got sugar syrup before removing the honey supers to ensure that the colonies did not starve. Unfortunately, our sugar syrup delivery got postponed 5 times before it finally came! Since we left our supers on longer, we had to wait to treat our hives with a miticide until late September and early October.
We did colony evaluations mid October and rated all of our hives on a scale of 1-10. Based on these evaluations, we would either wrap and leave the hives outdoors, or move them indoors to our overwintering room. We had to wait until early December when the weather was consistently cold before moving the hives indoors. Out of the roughly 300 colonies, we are wintering 130 indoors at 7-8 °C. Some of our splits from the spring hadn’t gotten up to full size so this was a higher number of hives overwintering indoors. Because we are overwintering smaller hives, the temperature is a bit warmer than the typical 5 °C used for overwintering indoors.
Looking in the future at this spring, we are expecting a high mortality rate for our colonies. Since last spring was very good, the mite levels in our hives were higher than average, causing more colony deaths in the following spring.
Overall, between research projects and our breeding programs, it was a successful year for our hardworking bees. We look forward to making a buzz next year!