My Seasonal Harvest blog is an effort to share my passion for the outdoors, nature and the environment with others, and connect with like-minded individuals. Here I share my experiences as a maple syrup producer, beekeeper and gardener.
I love good food. Moreover, I genuinely appreciate knowing where my food comes from. Knowing how my food got from its raw state to my plate gives me great satisfaction: knowing the trees my maple syrup came from, knowing the garden my vegetables were grown in, knowing my bees have access to food that hasn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals, or pesticides. This is why I am a maple syrup producer, a beekeeper, and a gardener.
The maple syrup pursuits I share here are really family pursuits. A tremendous amount of work goes into the maple syrup season and I am thankful to everyone who helps out. The slogan of Julia’s Tree Stand Maple Syrup, From my trees to your table should really be ‘From our trees…’ or at the very least ‘From my family’s trees…’. I chose to use ‘my’ to emphasize that I am involved in every step of the process and know exactly what is in my maple syrup, that I am confident it is 100% pure.
My newest pursuit, beekeeping gives me great joy. I am thrilled to see my colonies grow and flourish. For me, beekeeping is a natural extension of my passion for the outdoors, environment and nature.
An interesting conversation I had with the head beekeeper of the Ottawa Community Beekeepers Association stands out in my head. He told me to always be thinking about the next winter – in the fall, do the bees have enough honey stores in the hive? Winter is coming. Is there enough brood for the winter cluster? Winter is coming. In the summer, do the bees have enough to forage on? Winter is coming. Are the bee pests at a manageable level? Winter is coming. In the spring, is colony build up happening fast enough? Winter is coming. Is my queen healthy and strong? Winter is coming. The list goes on. He stressed to always be two steps ahead in terms of preparation. As with most things in life, my honey production will depend on my preparation and anticipating my bees needs.
These past few weeks have been busy. I got 5 more nucs last week, totaling 8 nucs now: 4 at our property, 2 at a farmhouse down the way, and 2 more next to some clover fields around the corner. I am filled with appreciation on how welcoming my family and the neighbors have been about this venture.
After an afternoon in a beeyard, trimming, tidying, and arranging bee equipment I was bagged and thought little of leaving my beekeeping apparel in a pile at the front door. Come morning I pick up my jacket from this pile and who lazily flies out but a stow-away honeybee! She lazily flew up the staircase to land on a window curtain high up on the wall, out of my reach. I laughed while wondering where she had hidden herself when I was wearing the coat.
Later on in the week with my Dad’s assistance we set-up another electric fence around 2 hives in a different bee yard. This location was previously a bee yard to another beekeeper but hadn’t been used in years. There were old, broken hive boxes, disheveled frame parts, some with comb still attached. As I walked around, saw and tidied up odds and ends of wooden-ware from years past and prepared the site for growth I felt like I was in the right place at the right time again.
I became a beekeeper today with the arrival of my bees. It was an exhilarating day. I chose to get my bees from a local bee supplier, Mahmoud Elzeftawi at Forestdew Apiaries lives. I’m glad I chose to get the bees from a nearby location: driving with three nucs in the trunk sure made me nervous. When I picked up a box to move it, the buzzing and vibrations coming from the bees inside the box sent a thrill through me.
With the help of my parents and partner we prepared the hive site in the morning and installed the bees in the late afternoon. More photos, explanations and updates to come in the next couple of days.
We began putting together the hive boxes this weekend. After cumulatively drilling 284 pilot holes in the finger-joints of the box sides (day 1), we began gluing and nailing them together (day 2 & 3). Here is our progress so far:
My Dad and the hive boxes.
I feel better knowing the bees will have comfortable quarters to live in. Even more luxurious quarters are going to be available after I get down to Sarnia to pick up the hives my Opa is constructing.
We have decided to start with white paint for the exterior this year. Every year subsequent to this we will paint new hives a different color, for example, 2017 orange, 2019 blue, to better keep track of which year each box was constructed. That will make judging which boxes need replacing first easier. Next task is to paint them (exterior only).
Knowing everything I’ve been learnt about beekeeping floating so far – the bees’ living needs, nutritional needs, foraging needs, wintering needs, etc. – I thought it best to get a second opinion on the potential hive site we’d found. I invited Graeme Peterson, the founding member of the Ottawa Community Beekeeper’s Association to come assess the spot. He gave me loads of wonderful advise and suggested that atop the bluff was probably too windy, but around the side was an ideal location. Perfect. And I spotted a crabapple tree for foraging but 10 meters away too. They will be happy there, as there will be ample food around – corn that is treated with a bee-safe chemical in the field close-by, clover over yonder, hay in the opposite direction, the apple trees we’ve been planting nearby, a diversely treed forest, ponds a stone’s throw away. Better yet, this spot can practically be driven to by the RTV. Bueno. With that decided upon, the hive assembly begins on Sunday. Thankyou Graeme for your input; it was invaluable to me.
Ottawa Tool and Fastener Supply is having a sale and we might be buying a drill press tomorrow! I never thought I would be this excited to get a workshop tool. The hours and days of back-breaking bucket cleaning are over!! ….Hopefully…! Plus, now we have the precision drilling tool needed for putting together the beehives. Excellent.
I am looking outside at a snowstorm. It is April 6 and it is snowstorming outside. Brrr. It has been too cold the past few days for any sap to flow. The forecast for tomorrow is promising for good sap run.
I am torn between feeling elated that I’ll be able to get at least one more boil in before the end of the maple syrup run, and feeling angst about the cold weather’s effect on the health of the bees’ that I am ordering. Talk about a new feeling, being worried about bees. The bees are not even in my possession yet and I am already worried about them. I must remember that the bees I am ordering from my local supplier, Mahmoud at Forestdew Honey (www.forestdewhoney.com), are overwintered in an indoor, climate controlled ‘beedome’ so they will not be subjected to the erratic weather conditions outside. The bees I have ordered are New World Carniolians. While half of the colonies I am getting will have imported queens, the other half will have Ontario queens. (My reasoning behind this: why not?) I will take note of which are which and make observations on whether the colonies featuring imported or domestic queens perform better. Courtesy of my Opa, the beeyard will host several homemade hives, as pictured below. What a craftsman he is. The bees will be ready for pick-up in late May. In the meantime I have more beehives to assemble and a bee yard to prepare for their arrival. That, I believe will keep me busy as a bee until they arrive.
Our venture to Toledo, Ontario for maple syrup and beekeeping equipment was successful today. First, I bought 30 more sap buckets, spiles and lids to make my grand total number of taps to 300. We’re going to put my evaporator (150-300 tap capacity) through its paces that’s for sure. Next, I visited a beekeeping equipment supplier who equipped me fully for my beekeeping endeavors. What a day!