Nouvelle saison pour les apiculteurs

" Peu de choses dans le monde de l'apiculture soulèvent autant d'excitation que l'arrivée annuelle des nouvelles abeilles au printemps, à la fois pour les abeilles et les apiculteurs, " explique l'auteur Richard Duplain.

Normalement, les abeilles s'accroissent simplement par le processus naturel de la ponte des œufs, et quand la ruche est pleine, une partie des abeilles quitte la ruche pour se trouver un nouveau logement. Les apiculteurs expérimentés peuvent prévoir le moment quand la ruche est prête à se diviser et savent comment retirer une nouvelle reine avec quelques abeilles pour les placer dans une nouvelle résidence préparée à cette fin. C'est une des façons pour les apiculteurs de multiplier leurs propres ruches ou d'en vendre à d'autres apiculteurs ce qui est à leur profit et à celui de l'environnement

L'hiver et le printemps de 2008 ont été particulièrement sévères pour les abeilles de Duplain; il a dû trouver quatre nouvelles ruches pour remplacer celles qu'il avait perdues à cause de la température et de l'eau. Et maintenant que ces quatre nouvelles ruches sont arrivées et installées, la nouvelle saison d'apiculture a commencé!

A New Season for 
a New Beekeeper

Richard Duplain
August 2008

here's very little in the world of beekeeping that can generate as much excitement as the annual arrival of the honeybee stock each spring.

This year was no different, especially at the Bee Store in Maugerville, from where proprietors Ruth and David McKinney sent out notices advising beekeepers, "The bees have arrived."

News of this year's spring arrivals from bee breeder Murray Forgrave was the spark that ignited a fuse of excitement and nervous anticipation.

Within hours, the store became a depot where beekeepers anxiously cradled their "babies" to awaiting trucks and cars for one last ride to the beeyard.

The arrival or emergence of the first brood of soon-to-be foragers or field bees coincides with the earliest blooms of wildflowers like dandelions and willows and is heralded by a chorus of songbirds. Memories of the cold and snow of a long harsh Maritime winter and a merciless spring flood ultimately give way to the promise of spring, longer days, and nature's rebirth.

And, just as a fresh surge of sap awakens and invigorates the countryside, the warmer rays of sunshine enliven the spirits of beekeepers all across New Brunswick.

Richard's daughter, Elizabeth, 
is a great deal of help in the beeyard.  

(Photo: Richard Duplain)

As nucleus and brain centre of the colony, the queen is aware of the seasonal changeover and delivers the message to her community by dispensing a complex mix of chemical scents called pheromones.

The queen is the sole egg layer in the colony and begins her never-ending task as worker bees prepare the nursery of thousands of hexagonal cells made of wax produced by their glands. These wax cells are also used by the honeybees to store their food - pollen from plants and flowers, and honey they make from the nectar of flowers.

And, just as there's a flurry of activity inside the hive where the honeybees live, there's a great deal of excitement outside the colony or hive box where the beekeepers work.

Some of the larger or commercial beekeepers are experts in helping queen bees reproduce their colonies.

Normally, honeybees will grow their populations simply through natural processes of egg laying and swarming. Swarming is when a queen bee and a host of worker bees leave the hive in search of a new home.

Over time the bees will fill their home to capacity. A new queen is born and she will assume the current residence while her mother, the original queen, accompanied by a swarm of workers, will take leave of her birthplace and establish a new home in a new location.

The expert beekeeper is well aware of the pulse of the hive and can often predict an imminent swarming.

The experts can create a nucleus hive by removing a new queen or a queen cup where a baby queen is developing along with a complement of bees and place them in the new pre-arranged home.

Pollen sacks on a foraging honeybee.
(Photo: Richard Duplain)

The nucleus hive is monitored for growth and health before it is delivered to a beekeeper. Immediately, the colony begins to build its population to close to 40,000 honeybees and soon it becomes a strong honey and wax-producing community.

That's one of a number of ways beekeepers multiply their stock of bees for the benefit of other beekeepers as well as themselves and ultimately the environment.

For the new or beginning beekeeper like me all this is far in the background.

There are pressing concerns before the actual arrival of the nucleus colonies.

Preparation work includes establishing the beeyard and that means situating in an area with good southern exposure and nearby sources of water and nectar.

Before the bees arrive, the beekeeper sorts through an on-hand inventory of necessary equipment including wooden hive boxes, covers and bottom boards, wax foundation that give the bees a head start on cell production, and frames in which to firmly hold the delicate wax structures inside the hive boxes.

The beekeeper will set out all the required pieces of each boxed colony according to the number of nucleus hives to arrive. When the nucleus hives arrive, the beekeeper gently removes the queen and her bees and places them in new and larger hive boxes.

The winter and spring of 2008 will go down in recorded history as one of New Brunswick's most trying times. Record snowfalls and spring flooding along the St. John River Valley cost farmers millions of dollars in damage, lost revenue, and hardship.

Snow covering elevated hive boxes.
(Photo: Richard Duplain)

The season was particularly hard on my bees in two yards and I required four nucleus hives to replace those I lost to weather and water.

A prolonged winter claimed four colonies, while floodwaters in Sheffield all but eliminated the colony I established a year ago on the small Bartlett family farm.

About a handful of bees huddled in the upper reaches of the upper brood box was all that was left of an otherwise strong and healthy wintered hive. I combined them with my one remaining hive in my Hanwell beeyard, and the colony shows a good rate growth.

Now with the arrival and installation of the four nucleus hives, the new beekeeping season has begun.

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