Category Archives: Beekeeping

Lists and Plans, This and That

Lately we’ve been making lists and sitting by the wood stove. The crocuses are dusting off their white little heads and our thoughts are turning to Spring. After all, it’s halfway through February.

On the lists are plans to haul Nesika out for a bottom-painting, perhaps install a new head as the other one is leaking a bit and stinking up the boat. We’ve also been considering installing a wood stove to extend our sailing season. Right now she has no heat whatsoever and it makes nights very very chilly. Other boat plans are to fix our dinghy seat. The fibre-glass actually broke away on the back seat, making my ride quite wet. We have another dinghy but it’s quite waterlogged (and came with the boat) and weighs nearly 300 lbs. That makes moving it quite a challenge for my burly husband and really, I’m no help when it comes to heavy things. When something outweighs me three times, I usually just run away.

And then there’s the bees. Oh the bees. I haven’t cracked open my hives since the end of October, what with heart surgery and all. I’ve started emailing people regarding buying more bees but I haven’t found anywhere that is convenient yet with a time-table that would be helpful. A lot of beekeepers won’t have their packages ready until June sometime and around here, that’s halfway through the season. Also, I find it just gutting to pour more money into the bees when the return has been so slim. Selling honey at $10 a jar seems atrociously expensive to me, yet it doesn’t even put a dent in my expenses to keep the bees healthy and well-fed. It is decidedly the most expensive hobby I’ve ever pursued. Honestly I had high hopes of it becoming more than just a hobby, but even though there is a demand for the product, the bees with their new parasites and diseases are so fickle and keeping them alive (that’s just alive, not necessarily producing copious amounts of honey) seems to be a full-time job. If we were rich, I would be happy to invest all our extra earnings into such a satisfying pursuit.

So I’ve turned to other hobbies, that are more conducive to wintering and hibernating right now. Knitting. I’ve picked up wool at the Nu-to-U and an expensive wool store in town and have turned my needles to hats lately. Hats and more hats. It’s lovely to feel the fibre between my fingers. And our little knit nights are so inspiring. There is a wonderful group of ladies who meet once a week to drink tea, eat cookies and oh yeah, knit!

Gabrielle is beginning to try to shape words. She’s quite interested in poking everyone in the eye, and poking her own eye, and saying “aaahhh” so intentionally. We can’t believe how much she is eating these days. And most of the food she’s preferred is distinctly Orange. So much so, that her fingers and mouth are getting this fake tan-O look to them. Luckily orange is a pretty easy colour to satisfy. Purple food, now that would be trickier.

Marc is in an unemployed stint again as we wait for work to start up at a farm down the road. We’ve been taking advantage of this by hiking together in the rain, making lists, and talking about meaningful things like “5-year-plans.” *shudder*

We’ve been fighting the February blues (because February is the worst of months, don’t ya know) by having friends for dinner, puddle-stomping, baking cookies and attending play groups. Man, there’s a lot of babies on Pender right now. It is fabulous.

My camera’s been on the fritz lately so the photos have been slow coming. Hope you enjoy the ones I’ve included below.

In a Dress

This is my mother-in-law’s kitchen. She just washed the floors.

This is us, extracting honey on her recently-washed floors.

Extracting honey is very sticky business.

I promised to mop up after. I hope I didn’t miss a spot…

Thank you Gail for your generousity!

And yes, I extract honey in a dress.

… not my smartest move.

Beekeeping Season Anew

It is beekeeping season anew. And each year brings new challenges. Last year I really ramped up production, buying quite a few new hives and building a lot of equipment. But with the combination of factors, this year will be quieter than last. At the end of beekeeping season, November, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant and could just barely zip up my bee suit. And when I did, I had an incredible wedgie. I looked hilarious, leaning over the hive, belly brushing the top of the frames. I couldn’t really lift the supers like I needed to. Luckily my mother in law is very brave and was a wonderful help.

Then, this Winter and Spring were so wet, and distracted with a heart surgery, hernia surgery etc. that I did not get to do what I needed to do to the poor bees. Some survived but most didn’t. As I’ve been taking the dead hives apart to clean and diagnose, I’ve found that some hives died from mites, some died from starvation, one from red ants, a couple from dampness. There is not an overall answer, only hints of what may have gone wrong.

As for what went right; I have 4 hives now that survived. I had 5 until last week when one decided to play hooky and take off into the great unknown. Safe journeys bees!

Katja the hive is doing fantastically. Probably the best hive out of the bunch. The queen, which I fondly call Elegance, is long and shapely and a good layer. They have lots of honey, lots of pollen and lots of babies waiting to hatch. It is broom season right now, and all the broom is blooming. We see lots of bees who look like cheezies flying in, all dusted in yellow pollen. They have to stop at the door and get licked off by the house bees before going back out. It’s a fantastic dance to watch.

Lucinda is missing their queen so we are in the process of coaxing them to grow another. We also fed them some honey we found in one of the vacant hives. Hopefully this gives them a bit of a boost that they need and we can get them back on track. If they do not raise another queen, I will combine this hive with another.

Clotilde is well. Her queen is a motivated layer but they are hungry. With all the mouths to feed, I gave them a few frames of honey to boost their production. I think I’ll be splitting this hive if I can do it before they get swarmy.

And Pope’s hive has lots of honey. No wonder with the beautiful flowers these expert gardeners provide. They hum alongside the bumblebees and keep the flowers well pollinated.

Right now the arbutus are blooming, and the lilacs. The blossoms around the island are plentiful and I hope to supplement the bees only a little as they build up their population for the big blackberry bloom. I’ll have honey to swipe again this year and an extractor to repair so I hope to have honey available again soon.

Summer arrives late this year, but somehow it feels even sweeter because we’ve had to wait. I just hope the bees find it sweet here too. Because they certainly spice up my life and make me smile.

Forts and Fumbling with Bees


I have been absent from the blog-o-sphere and I apologize. Marc has the computer on Salt Spring and I stayed on Pender recently to catch up on my tiny island rhythms. Yes, I could blog at the library but have you ever tried to blog while people clack away beside you on other computers and your neighbours peek over your shoulder as they pass behind you “looking for a book.” Plus I have to use one foot to constantly rock Gabrielle in her car seat so she doesn’t break the silence at the library.

So what have we been up to? Visiting, baking cookies, giggling, napping, dressing in dresses as the weather finally changes. I wish I could say picking flowers. Perhaps this coming week.

And we have been beekeeping!

Through the Winter, I usually miss the bees so much. But this Winter I was a little preoccupied. Ya know, what with moving onto a boat, pregnancy, birth, Christmas, heart surgeries, hernia surgeries. I didn’t have much time to think about those precious little insects. Though I remember one vivid moment sitting in ICU, watching my little girl breathe, with snow falling outside, wondering how those bees of mine were doing.

Unfortunately many of them were not doing well. If you haven’t been able to tell by now with all my complaining, it was a long and cold Winter. Spring has found me with 5 solid hives. I believe this is out of 20. It’s not great numbers but considering what I had to deal with as I closed up the hives last Autumn, I’m not completely disheartened. It also means that I’ll be able to really pay attention to the ones I have left. Because folks, I got a busy Summer coming up with a heart surgery slotted in there somewhere.

Which hives survived? Katja, Lucinda, Matilda, Clotilde and Daisy. In my losses, sadly, was Gertrudabelle who provided me with more than 80 lbs of honey last year. And the community garden bees, Cleopatra. Though they left behind probably 40 lbs of honey which I hope to redistribute to the surviving hives. Some places, where once was a bustling bee colony, only empty boxes remain and I watch as the pear trees and maple trees come into bloom.

I think I lost many of the bees from the cold, and a couple were in really windy places. A few hives succumbed to mites by the look of them. And a couple to starvation. The ones who died of hunger are the most frustrating because, as their beekeeper, they are the ones most preventable in my opinion.

This is Gabrielle bundled up and ready for whatever Family Day throws at her.

Today, we woke up to bright sunshine and a breeze. Which means a great day for Sailing. But our sail boat (the functional one) was sitting alone on Salt Spring. So we decided to go out into the woods and build a fort. Really, when was the last time you trucked out into the woods to build a fort? Not since I was maybe twelve I think! It was great fun. Even Gabrielle thought so.

We even had time to cook a snack.

Hope you have had a good week. And wishing you the best in the next one.

A Whiff of Spring

This is our “new” manual coffee grinder. Given to us by a friend, found at our local thrift store, this little gem does a fabulous job grinding our coffee. And it is so cool!

Little by little, we are replacing our electricity-hungry appliances with manual appliances. We have a manual food processor now too and just recently, we acquired an 80 year old washboard. Yeah, where do you even get a washboard these days? From very special friends, that’s where!

We don’t have electricity down at our dock, and though we have lights now from our batteries, we would prefer not to use very much power. I mean, the whole human race used to live without power until very recently and not feel it a hardship. We are learning that it is amazing what you can do without and what creative inventions we use in the meantime.

The internet and the laptop still require power. Anyone done a peddle-bike hook up for a laptop? Or are we being absurd?

Even with all our manual gadgets and the ways we are getting by, it bugs me that living on a boat cannot be self-sufficient. You cannot grow your own food in any quantity on a boat. We rely on propane and diesel to heat and cook in our boat. And with oil getting more and more expensive, it bugs me that we are not self-reliant in this way.

True self-sufficiency is very difficult and we aren’t aiming for that. But further self-reliance in case, oh I dunno, the world ends or something silly, we’d prefer not to be left out in the lurch. I don’t think we’re paranoid, just exploring a different angle on life… It’s interesting if only as an experiment.

Now that Gabrielle has healed from her hernia surgery, we are starting to get her on the EC’ing campaign again. That is, diaper free. No, we do not have a three month old that is out of diapers. But in the morning, when she wakes up, I take her to the potty, hold her over and she goes poo and pee. Then an hour later, I do it again and she usually goes again. Some days I have more luck than others. And sometimes our rhythm is off and I miss all her poops and we simply change her diaper more often. It’s a process and we’re not totally stuck on it, but it’s interesting to see her intelligence growing as she recognizes more and more what she is doing. Though, for anyone out there who does Diaper Free, when I hold her over the toilet, she spits up more because her belly is crunched into a bit of a ball. Have you found any way to counter-act this?

Yesterday we celebrated Family Day with a sleep-in, a good breakfast and a hike up our local mountain.

Gabrielle falls asleep fairly instantly when she’s wedged into the Ergo, especially when she’s cuddled up to her Daddy.

And what a handsome Daddy you have, indeed!

We smelled our first whiff of Spring today and I took the opportunity to dash into a couple beehives for a Spring clean out. I only saw two today, and one did not make it through the Winter. *sigh* It’s so hard to clean out a hive of piles of dead bees. Rather heartbreaking. I hope to visit my other hives sometime in the next week and feed them if need “bee.” March is a difficult month for them if there is a cold snap because they can be out pollinating the arbutus, maple and fruit trees and then get stuck as the temperature drops.

I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to the change in seasons. Spring means skirts and flowers and bees and sprouts. Spring means new life and I could sure use that Freshness inside and out.

Happy First Whiff of Spring, dear friends. Take a deep breath with me and wish Winter good-bye!