A Keeper’s Year – November

My November Beekeeping To-Do List – Serge Labesque

An open letter

Dear Bees,

Your lives are not getting better, are they? The recent years have been particularly hard on you. And yet, your resilience is truly amazing.

Most of you, dear bees, are deprived of the freedom you so profoundly need. You are forced to spend days, weeks, and sometimes your entire lives working in our vast expanses of monocrops. There, you can gather food only from plants that are loaded with all sorts of pesticides.

In mid-winter, you are fed large amounts of sugar syrup or HFCS to force you to produce large amounts of brood. Of course, this creates conditions that help varroa mites to multiply. So, the beekeepers use medications to fix a problem they caused in the first place. Then you are loaded on trucks that take you to the California almond groves, where you are expected to help generate revenue for the farmers and for the beekeepers. During the few weeks you spend among the almond trees, you get doused with cocktails of fungicides and you are forced to mingle with other bees that were brought along with their pests and pathogens from all over the country.

The almond pollination is barely over when you are brutally shaken out of your nests, orphaned and mixed with millions of other bees, exposed to more pests and diseases. You are crammed into package and nuc boxes, given queens you do not know, and shipped all over the country and beyond. Some of you are trucked to other monocrops, to work in pear, cherry, or apple orchards, only to be trucked again and again to other crops that will produce more money, thanks to your pollination work.

At times, you are taken to places where you can gather much nectar, which you transform into delicious honey. But all of it is promptly stolen from you. In exchange, the thieves may give you more of that insipid sugar syrup that is devoid of the nutrients you really need. Ironically, your keepers claim that they are taking good care of you. What a shameful lie! They also stuff more medication in your nests to “keep you healthy”, they say, which is another sham. They only do this to protect their livelihood.

Beyond the honey and pollination services you provide and your compliance in producing new colonies and queens for the beekeepers’ benefit, more of your amazing abilities are exploited. You’ve been trained to locate field mines, for example. Now, you are being coated with fungicide to apply these toxic substances to plants. That is supposed to cost the farmers less money. It will cost you your lives. But few care, and the current EPA has approved the process and the toxic products you’ll be ferrying.

The regimen you are given is so hard that many of you die every year. “Let’s produce more bees and more queens to make up for the losses”, the beekeepers say, “We will make even MORE money!” Yes, you are sold, dear bees, just like cattle.

Throughout the year, you are forced to nest in boxes that have very little in common with the natural nest cavities you’ve used for millions of years. The makeshift nests you are given have to be as convenient as possible for the beekeepers.

You are telling us, first with a soft hum and then with the silence of your death that the conditions, the environment are degrading at an alarming pace. You’re right, but our greed is more powerful than your wisdom. In a nutshell, the message is that “WE ARE HUMANS! You’re just bugs.” Please know that we do not ALL think that way.

I hope that when I hang my bee hat and veil up for the last time I will be able to look back at the time I’ve spent with you, dear bees, with peace of mind. Surely, I will regret the mistakes I will have made and that hurt you. I know that I’ll grab run-of-the-mill excuses, such as “I was told to do this or that”, or “I had to learn”. But I also want to be able to think that I succeeded in serving you, not me, well.

There is a new crowd of bee stewards growing, and their mindset is changing for the better. Dear bees, you offer us a wonderful opportunity to use a snippet of our lives to contribute positively to the grand scheme of the environment. I hope that I will have grasped that opportunity to help. Thank you.

November in the apiaries

The days are becoming short and the nights cooler. On mild, sunny days, the bee traffic in the flight paths is noticeably less intense than it was only a few weeks earlier. This is because the summer bees are vanishing. They leave in the hives only the winter bees. These form the clusters and will hopefully carry the colonies through the cold season that is ahead.

The hives have been secured against the wind. Mouse guards are in place in front of the reduced entrances. From this point on, we make sure that the bees are left undisturbed for a few months. Certainly, their nests will not be opened, as this would keep the bees agitated, and might possibly trigger undesirable bouts of brood production, not to mention that it would break propolis seals. However, we won’t forget the bees, and we will be visiting the apiaries regularly during the late fall and early winter. Clean monitoring trays have been inserted under the screens of the hive bottoms to help us figure out how the colonies are faring and what the bees are doing inside their nests.

Since our hive tools and smoker are going to be idle for a while, this is also a good time to do some maintenance. The equipment that we brought back from the apiaries during the recent weeks, when we were reducing the volume of the hives and harvesting the last of the surplus honey, can be taken care of. It will be inspected, repaired and cleaned or discarded, as warranted. Whatever we retain has to be protected from the weather and mice. A rapid inventory lets us know what we will have to procure or fabricate before the next beekeeping season.

As we are already thinking about next year, we can start to add a few plants. They will offer food to the bees and other animals, and they will also beautify our homes.

It’s time to enjoy some of that fresh honey. Happy Thanksgiving!

In summary, this month:

  • Complete the preparation of the hives for winter (early in the month).
  • Raise hives off the ground, if they are not already on stands.
  • Ensure that the hives are adequately ventilated (upper ventilation slot open).
  • Reduce the hive entrances.
  • Install mouse guards.
  • Secure the hive tops against strong winds.
  • Install clean monitoring trays. The debris they will collect will carry important information about what is happening inside the hives.
  • Inspect the exterior of the hives.
  • Observe the flight paths.
  • Clean and scorch tools and equipment.
  • Store unused equipment to protect it from damage caused by wax moths, mice and the weather.
  • Start building frames and other pieces of equipment for next spring.
  • Review notes from the year.
  • Enjoy some honey. Be thankful for the bees and look forward to next season.

Serge Labesque © 2019