Well, Chelsea and I are very happy with our choice to make Lethbridge our new home. We have met many great people who are helping make us feel very welcome in our new community, and we are really liking the city.
Heck, we are even enjoying the weather! 26 days into a typical Lethbridge spring and it is time to turn our thoughts to bees & flowers & greenery & a foot of freshly fallen snow(?!?).
A few locals we have talked to have expressed interest in keeping bees, and are wondering how to get started. Great question!
We are always happy answer that, and any other questions about beekeeping if we are able to. But that is not the question I am here to answer right now.
Today, I want to answer a different (but equally relevant) question that nobody has asked me yet: “I live in Lethbridge, and I want to keep bees in my backyard – where should I start?”
Unfortunately, at this point in time, the official, by-the-book answer is NOT IN LETHBRIDGE!
It would appear that urban/backyard beekeeping is not permitted in residential areas within the City of Lethbridge:
3. No persons shall keep livestock, poultry or bees, other than a single pet rabbit per household, within the City of Lethbridge, unless the location in which such livestock, poultry or bees are kept falls within one of the following classifications:
(a) Those areas of the City of Lethbridge which would be classified as farms in compliance with the requirements of the M-3 (Urban Reserve District) of City of Lethbridge By-law 3574, being the Land Use By-law;
(b) Those locations in the City of Lethbridge for which development approval has been granted pursuant to the requirements of the Land Use By-law, and those locations in which an existing use which does not conform to the Land Use By-law continues legally, where the permitted or legal non-conforming use involves a farm, a packing plant, a livestock auction market, a livestock brokerage facility, a feedlot or a similar operation;
(c) Pet Shops;
(d) the Exhibition Grounds;
(e) Veterinary clinics or veterinary hospitals;
(f) the Sportsplex;
(g) City Pound.
The excerpt above comes from a document with a very catchy title: Consolidation Of A By-Law Of The City Of Lethbridge To Regulate The Keeping Of Wild Or Domestic Animals Within The City Of Lethbridge.
If that is too much of a mouthful you can always use the easy to remember acronym – COABLOTCOLTRTKOWODAWTCOL. (Another acronym that comes to mind is WTF – as in “WTF Lethbridge! What do you have against bees?!”)
One thing to keep in mind is that the enforcement of many city/municipal by-laws is complaint driven.
So if you have good neighbours, or good relations with your cranky or indifferent neighbours, or pragmatic neighbours whose silence can be bought with the promise of free honey & pollination for their gardens, then backyard beekeeping in Lethbridge is a possibility.
Of course, it would be prudent to have a back-up location sorted out beforehand in case a complaint does arise and the hives need to be moved on short notice.
And, above all else, do whatever you can to prevent swarms because they have the potential to draw much unwanted attention to a clandestine beekeeper.
If, however, you are not taken by the allure and danger of being a scofflaw, there is an alternative. Keep your bees somewhere nearby where beekeeping is permitted.
There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of people with acreages near Lethbridge who are willing to host bee hives on their property. It’s a good deal for both parties – the property owner gets reliable pollination for their garden or crop, along with some free local honey, and the beekeeper gets a secure location to legally keep their bees.
The good news is that there is still time to decide which way to go. Not much beekeeping can be done in the ~25 centimetres of snow expected to fall today!
Well, we have been hearing from other beekeepers we know in B.C. over the past couple of days, and aside from a few “good news” exceptions, there seem to have been a high number of lost colonies this winter. Some beekeepers lost 100% of their bees, others lost a large proportion, and there have been no easy explanations as to why.
It will probably take a little while for a comprehensive overview of the region’s total losses to be reported, but at this point the numbers we have heard are not sounding good. We’d be interested in hearing from anyone reading this post about how your bees fared over the winter, and what everyone has been hearing about winter survival/mortality rates in their region – please pass along your thoughts in the comment section.
As for our bees, there is no conclusive evidence as to why they died. Varroa mites would be a reasonable guess. The hives we tested at the beginning of August were all below the accepted threshold for treatment, but things can change quickly as the bee populations decline in preparation for winter while the mite population continues to increase.
Nosema Ceranae is also possibility since it doesn’t leave much evidence behind, and the bees tend to die in the field rather than in the hive. This was the case with our hives, there were virtually no dead bees in the hives.
The hives had lots of food stores in them, so starvation wasn’t an issue. There were no obvious signs of any brood diseases. No defecation inside the hives so Nosema Apis is unlikely. No piles of dead bees that might indicate some type of toxin being brought back to the hives.
BBD (bad beekeeper disease) is also a possibility, but I think we did a reasonable job preparing our hives for winter. In fact, I think we did a more thorough job of preparation than we had in any of our previous winters when we experienced no losses.
While it would be nice to know why the bees died, there is nothing to be gained from overanalyzing the situation at this point. Time to move on, start again, and continue to improve and refine our practices to improve our chances for the coming seasons.
In July of last year (2012), Chelsea and I experienced our first dead-out. Up until then we had had 3 seasons of beekeeping without losing a single colony, not too shabby of a track record. Now here we are in March of 2013, and we see how quickly things can change!
In our first season we started out with 2 colonies of honeybees which thrived and came out of the following winter very strong. Our second season saw us parlay those 2 colonies into 6, which also all survived into our third season.
To open season three we bought 20 packages of bees, which put us at 26 colonies in total. During the course of last year our number colonies peaked at 36, and after having our first colony die, and after combining a few of the weaker hives with stronger colonies we went into winter with 30 hives of bees.
As you may have read in my last post, our bees did not fare well over the winter of 2013, with only one viable colony surviving (*We only know the results from 27 colonies at this point, there are still 3 more to be checked). Now it is head-scratching time.
It is often difficult to determine exactly why a colony died unless there are some obvious clues – for example, if you open a dead hive and find lots of bee butts sticking out of empty combs then it is very likely that they died of starvation; there may be streaks of dysentry all over the inside of the hive and the entrance to indicate Nosema Apis as a likely culprit; or the brood comb may show the tell-tale signs of diseases such as American or European Foulbrood, etc…
Most times, however, there are no clear indicators and you find yourself working backwards to eliminate possibilities based on the lack of visible clues. That’s a fancy way of saying you try to make an educated guess. Even with obvious clues it is hard to be absolutely sure of anything since the evidence could be indicative of more than one possible cause for the dead-out.
Many bee ailments and parasites can only be confirmed by getting lab tests done, and the same could apply for external causes such as pesticide poisoning. Would the cost of lab tests be worthwhile? Would they result in any practical information? Would information gained well after the colonies died even be useful?
Lots to think about. Chelsea and I will sift through the information we have and let you know what our best guesses are on what happened to our bees during “The Winter of 2013″ very soon.
Today we discovered that 96.296296% of our honeybee colonies perished during the winter of 2013.
Or, put another way, 1 out of 27 colonies that we had going into winter survived to see spring
However you look at it, it is a brutal result. We’re not the first beekeepers to experience this type of winter losses, and we won’t be the last. We will examine this outcome to try to figure out what went wrong and what (if anything) we can do to prevent it from happening in the future.
Generally it is easier to understand and to accept the mortality of bees, or livestock in other types of farming or agricultural work – death, disease, killing are usually all part of the deal. However, when the mortality rate is so unnaturally high – and seemingly happens all at once – it inevitably causes one to question oneself. What happened? What didn’t we do? What could we have done differently? There will be time to look for answers in a future post, right now all I want to say is:
Sorry, friends, I feel like we failed you in our duties as caretakers.
One of my favourite parts of beekeeping is to stand quietly in the middle of a busy bee yard and take it all in – hear & feel the bees whizzing by in all directions, listen to the overwhelming chorus of buzzing, and it’s so easy to silence any other thoughts. Today is a little different…it’s my thoughts that are buzzing all over the place…they’re loud…and it’s our bee yards that are silent.
Because they certainly don’t seem to be on their blog very much lately…
Hey everyone! Jeff and I have had a very exciting last few months, and I’m sorry we didn’t keep you up-to-date. I’ll give you the status report, in brief, and we can try to fill in the gaps in more detail later on.
- We have moved to Lethbridge, Alberta. In 2011 we shortlisted Lethbridge and a few other places to be our new home-base. Lethbridge won, and we are thrilled with our decision. If anyone wants to hear about why this place is rad, in greater depth, please leave a comment or send an email. I could talk about it all day!*
- We had a fabulous beekeeping season in 2012. We were kept quite busy with our 30 (give or take) hives. Jeff did some amazing work with tracking inspections, and I’ll see if I can get him to give an update on that later.
- We tucked our bees in for the winter in Surrey/Langley – a bit earlier than usual because of our move. Food-wise they seemed good after feeding, disease/pest-wise they seemed good. They were a bit all-over-the place population-wise, as they have been all season. As is usually the case for our overwintering, we never feel terribly certain that things will turn out well. It’s our first (and will be our only) winter with two of our bee yards too, so we’re not sure about how the micro-climates and late-season forage will have affected things either.
- Our hives will not be joining us in Alberta in the spring. We had originally planned to move them to Alberta, but I think the better choice will be to start up from scratch out here rather than have to deal with the stress & expense of organizing an inspection, renting a trailer and taking them on a two-day road trip. It is now crunch-time for figuring out what to do with and for our BC bees. More on this ASAP because, seriously, it’s giving me anxiety and we could use a brilliant, original suggestion.
Where are YOU right now? How is your 2013 beekeeping plan shaping up? We’d especially love to hear from anyone in Southern Alberta; we don’t have a beekeeper’s association out here, and we’ve only met two other beekeepers so far!
*Most frequently asked question about our move: “Are you crazy?”. Yes. But seriously, Lethbridge is awesome. The crazy part was doing the move ourselves, in our pickup truck. Oh yeah, and I DROVE THE CAR THE WHOLE WAY FROM SURREY TO LETHBRIDGE.