The phrase ‘new normal’ is everywhere. Beekeepers in Alberta hope this year does NOT become normal. Our second honey harvest in mid September was very light because the late summer drought dried up any nectar the bees would commonly use. September and early October are usually when the bees bolster their honey stores and pollen stock. That hasn’t happened and this weeks snow killed any expectation of improvement. Overall our ‘honey season’ – the time the bees are making surplus honey – has been two months shorter that normal. Not only is the harvest much less as a result but beekeepers also have had to feed their bees much more than usual. From start to almost finish, it’s been an expensive year for most Alberta beekeepers!
As we prepare to put the bees ‘to bed’ for the winter it’s a good time to evaluate the queens that have ruled each hive through the season. A good queen is an amazing creature in so many ways. She must be a prolific egg layer, able to lay 1500+ eggs per day for rapid hive population growth. She must have a good temperament and be able perpetuate that in her offspring. She must produce workers who excel in their many jobs: feeding bees able to produce abundant royal jelly, nurse bees that can readily identify and remove diseased brood, foraging bees that can work tirelessly to collect nectar and pollen as well as tree resin and water, etc. And she must be able to gauge hive strength, health and food supply quickly to determine when and how many eggs to lay. This includes the ability to judge when to start laying drone eggs (unfertilized) in addition to worker eggs (fertilized). If a beekeeper notices that the drone/worker ratio is increasing dramatically it’s a sign the queen is past her prime (running out of stored sperm) and it’s time to replace her!