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TBG Bee FAQ

1. Is there a list of plants in the bee pollinator garden?

The updated list is available on the TBG website: Pollinator Garden with Bee Hives.

2. What happened to our original bees?

The original bee colonies from 2011 survived for several seasons, some even splitting to form new colonies. Unfortunately, a very long, cold winter in 2013/2014 lead to a loss of all five hives. These were repopulated with bees and queens bred locally.

3. How many bees live in each hive?

The number of bees in a single hive varies greatly based on the time of year. In the summer about 60,000 – 80,000 bees live in a single hive. That number drops to about 20,000 in the winter.

4. What happens to the beeswax – could it be sold in the shop?

Most of the beeswax stays in the hive from year to year as part of the hive’s infrastructure. Recovered wax cappings from the honey harvest and retired comb from the frames are melted down and made into the soap sold in the TBG’s shop.

5. How often are the bees inspected/hives maintained and who does this?

In the regular season the bees are checked every 10 days. Many people care for our bees- primarily a provincial bee inspector/beekeeper and TBG staff beekeepers along with the instructors and students of our Urban Beekeeping class series.

6. How much honey was harvested from the hives last year?

Last year we harvested over 200 lbs of honey. This is not a lot by most honey producing standards, however we keep our bees primarily for a) their health, b) as a teaching tool and finally c) to harvest honey. Consequently, we harvest less honey but have happy bees and happy students.

7. Where are Ontario beekeepers listed on the internet?

The best provincial resource is the Ontario Beekeepers Association.They maintain a listing of all the regional beekeeping groups throughout the province, including the many urban groups found in Toronto

8. Where can one find a place to learn about bees other than the TBG?

9. When are the bees put to bed for the winter and what steps are taken to do this? Ditto wake up in the spring?

Winter
The bees are ‘put to bed’ for the winter when temperatures are consistently below zero in the daytime and evenings. A little cold weather helps trigger the bees natural winterizing behaviours- which include reducing their numbers to about 20,000 bees and gathering into a cluster within the hive. These clusters can be the size of a basketball for strong hives, or closer to a softball for weaker ones.

Winterizing procedures include:

  • Ensuring sufficient food is stored for reduced activity in the winter (think the slow spiralling emperor penguins in documentary ‘The March of the Penguins’.)
  • Honey supers (smaller, green boxes) are removed, and special ventilation boxes are installed to prevent condensation and mould development in the hive
  • Insulation is added (straw and a Styrofoam inner cover) to preserve heat and wick moisture
  • ‘Entrance reducers’ are inserted in the entrances to prevent heat loss and protect from possible intruders
  • A ‘bee cozy’ is wrapped around the outside of the hive to preserve heat. Bees can generate their own heat, but need help to conserve it.
  • Interesting winter beekeeping note: Bees will not defecate inside the hive, so on warm winter days when the air temperature rises above zero you may see bees taking to the air for a ‘cleansing flight’.

Spring
When temperatures are consistently above zero in the daytime and evenings it’s time to open the hives. Beekeepers will check on the hives prior to removing the wrappings, primarily to provide a boost of food (sugar syrup) to help the bees make it through the last weeks of winter.

Waking the bees up includes:

  • Removing vent boxes and insulation
  • Removing bee cozies
  • Removing entrance reducers
  • Doing a first hive check (only when temperatures are above 10 degrees C) to ensure the queen is healthy and is laying her first round of new workers who will bring in pollen and nectar to feed the colony
  • More supplementary feeding, as needed
  • Checking for Varroa mite activity- and treating organically with Thymol (made with oil of thyme) or Formic Acid (same organic substance created by ants in their bites) as necessary.

Other Resources:
1. David Suzuki Foundation’s ‘Guide to Pollinators of Toronto’
2. David Suzuki Foundation’s ‘Toronto Plant Guide to Attracting Pollinators’
3. Pollinator Partnership’s local guide to planting for pollinators

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