The interest in beekeeping in the Northwest Territories is growing. The bee symposium hosted in Yellowknife in February of 2019 was very well attended and introduced a few of the Northwest Territories beekeepers to each other and the general public. We were there and spoke about our experience keeping bees.
The hardest challenge that we have faced is in the overwintering process. Even hearing from other beekeepers from around the Northwest Territories there was no clear method for what works best. A fellow in Fort Smith has success in a shed, while a couple in Norman Wells had success in just leaving their hives outside clustered four hives per pallet. We had no luck in storing our 4 hives from the summer of 2018 in a climate-controlled shed over winter. In the end, they perished due to lack of airflow. While they were at a stable temperature, condensation built up inside individual hives and lead to the demise of each colony.
Despite unsuccessfully over-wintering our hives, we were determined to try again. In late February of 2019, we ordered more hives from a new supplier based just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. In total, we ordered 8 hives for ourselves and 8 for other beekeepers in the Northwest Territories.
At the end of May and the beginning of June, we drove down to Edmonton. We had to drive around High Level, which at the time was evaluated and closed due to extreme forest fires. This meant we had to carry extra gasoline with use to ensure we made it to the next possible gas station. This was not our only challenge.
After meeting with the distributor we were buying the hives off of it was explained to us that the 10-frame colonies were not established yet and that because we were on a time crunch to get back to Yellowknife we were going to have to bring back 5-frame nucs (smaller colonies). Not a problem, right? Wrong! This significantly affected the strength of our hives and their ability to build up enough stores for winter.
To bring back all these nucs, we rented a uHaul trailer, an enclosed one. When we picked up the nucs, we packed and strapped them and their frames into the trailer, while also propping open the rear retractable door to ensure airflow for the bees.
With it being so dry and forest fire season we did not think we’d encounter any rain. It rained from south of High Level (which was on fire) to just south of Yellowknife. While none of the hives outright died at this point we felt this was a significant factor to their weakened state. We drove 1500km straight through to minimize the time the bees were in transport mode.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we believe we may have lost a few queens during this time.
Back in Yellowknife, the weather continued to not be ideal. It was wet and raining most days throughout June. We kept most of the hives, which we had transferred from their 5-frame containers to their new 10-frame hives upon arriving in Yellowknife, under a tent structure to keep off the bulk of the rain.
Although protected from the rain, the bees knew enough not to fly, so we fed them sugar water to ensure that they were getting enough of the nutrients they needed to expand their colony. Eventually, the weather improved.
When were determined the hives were established enough, 4 hives were transferred to hive hosts who had previously volunteered to have a hive on their property throughout the summer. There were our 6 hives in Yellowknife South, at our house, one in Kam Lake, two in Downtown Yellowknife, and one in Old Town, Yellowknife.
Over the summer we watched and maintained all the hives, adding supers as needed. The summer of 2019 was certainly not ideal for bees as it was another wet and rainy one. Although they did get out and pollinate the areas they were in, it was not to the extent we were hoping.
One obstacle that we really should describe more in its own post was the loss of three queens. In early July we determined that three hives were trying to replace their queen, which can be a very tricky business. Either she wasn’t laying eggs or simply had perished. We acted quickly and had three queens flown up from a queen breeder outside of Edmonton. A different operation than the one where the hives came from. Reintroducing a queen back into a colony is a tricky operation with the success rate varying. We believe 2 of the 3 queens took to the colony, and the colony themselves accepted the new queens.
Knowing that the hives were not the strongest coming up to Yellowknife and not having a successful winter the year previously the decision was made to not harvest any honey in the summer of 2019.
Due to the stress of travel in June and a pour season, 3 hives were amalgamated into one. This was done by ensuring there was truly only one queen and then adding the weaker hives on top of the strongest hive. The result still was not to the level of what we would consider a strong hive, but enough that we felt we should keep that hive and include it in our over winter process.
There was much more involved in keeping these 8 hives throughout the summer, but this is a quick overview for those interested and our archival purposes. We will be putting together an additional post on how we plan on winterizing our bees over the 2019/2020 winter.