156 - Shelley Hoover - Preparing hives for winter


Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] I love the fall! I love the smell of fall, I love the look of fall and I love that in the fall we typically all get together. So things like beekeepers meetings or the NAPPC conference in Washington - there's an opportunity to share our stories from the past year. Of course, there's a pandemic going on, but lo and behold, these conference organizers are really determined and there's lots of wonderful virtual conferences that are available to anybody. But before you can go to a conference real or virtual, you have to get your honeybee colonies ready for winter. 

[00:00:31] So I thought it was a great opportunity to connect with one of my favorite people on the planet Dr. Shelly Hoover. Now Dr. Hoover used to be with Alberta Agriculture and she was an apiculture researcher with Upper Agriculture and Forestry, but she's since moved. She's a new faculty member at the University of Lethbridge. And in this episode, I'm actually in the bee yard with Dr. Hoover, she's getting her colonies ready for winter. And so she's going to lay it all out for you and she's going to tell us a little bit [00:01:00] about what she's going to be talking about at the Oregon State Beekeepers Association meeting.

[00:01:04] Yes, Shelly's going to be at OSBA this year. Also Ian Stepler a beekeeper from Manitoba and myself. That makes three Canadians at the OSBA conference this year. I'm going to be talking about honeybee - native bee competition also Dr. Sagili, and Elena Nino. It's going to be a really great conference, for only $60 and it's from October 24th to November 14th. Why so long? Because it's on two different weekends and also a couple of weeknights, so it's spread out. So you don't have to sit in front of zoom meeting for hours on end. You just get these great, intense, really well organized snippets of wonderful beekeeping information, very practical information.

[00:01:46] So without delay, you should register. Go to orsba.org register and we'll see you virtually in Oregon. Okay, without further ado, let's now go to Southern Alberta in [00:02:00] Lethbridge to learn how to get colonies ready for winter with Dr. Shelley Hoover today on PolliNation. 

[00:02:07] Good, all right. Perfect. Hi Shelly! How are you doing? 

[00:02:10] Shelley Hoover: [00:02:10] I'm good. I'm so happy to see you here in Canada. 

[00:02:13] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:13] And we're in Lethbridge in your bee yard. And as we were walking into the bee yard you said that you're putting into winter 95 colonies!

[00:02:22] Shelley Hoover: [00:02:22] That's right. We have two bee yards. One of them is a little crowded. This one that we're at right now has 40 colonies and the other one's a little bit bigger and we're just getting them ready to put them into winter. 

[00:02:31] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:31] It's beautiful! Tell us what you're doing here. First, I'm looking at the yard and you've got colonies with various sizes here.

[00:02:39] Shelley Hoover: [00:02:39] What you see here is two things. One is that we still have most of our feeders on. We feed a sucrose syrup to our honeybees. We're actually really lucky because we're near a sugar factory. So we have a ready supply of beat sourced sugar. And so we feed each colony. We try and put in our doubles [00:03:00] about 20, 21 liters before fall.

[00:03:03] We try and feed heavily so that I have to worry about it in the spring. For two reasons, first is that then we don't have to worry if the winter is long and we can't get to our bees. But also the less you feed in the spring, the lower the chances your honey will be adulterated with syrup. So we try and feed heavily in the fall and then only a little, or not at all in the spring. 

[00:03:23] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:23] I was at the Lane County Beekeeping Club and I asked the beekeepers there, how much syrup they feed. And what you indicated, which is about four gallons.

[00:03:38] Shelley Hoover: [00:03:38] Yeah. About four gallons, I mean five gallons.

[00:03:41] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:41] Five gallons is really, I think it was the highest level or there was one person that fed that much. Most people fed a gallon. So this idea of getting enough syrup into the colony now and not having to deal with it during the winter or in the spring, really getting the syrup in now. 

[00:03:56] Shelley Hoover: [00:03:56] Yeah, I mean I have two thoughts on that. One is it, you know, [00:04:00] I'm imagining our winter is a little bit longer than the winter in Oregon. But the second thing is, if you look at the data even from Canada where beekeepers do feed pretty heavily, starvation is a common cause of death of honeybee colonies. So we prefer to feed heavily and invest in the syrup rather than losing colonies.

[00:04:22] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:22] Dewey Karen does a survey of causes of death for urban beekeepers or beginner beekeepers and death from starvation is the number one cause.

[00:04:31] Shelley Hoover: [00:04:31] It's a huge one and sometimes it's not the beekeepers fault. Sometimes the bees just don't get on the food. But yeah, we try and feed five gallons for a double.

[00:04:39] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:39] Okay. So that's the one thing you're doing here. And these are big feeders, to get that much syrup in you're not using a division board feeder. You're going to the big guns!

[00:04:51] Shelley Hoover: [00:04:51] They're high top feeders. There's two reservoirs, one on each side and then a float in each one and they can really take down a lot of syrup pretty [00:05:00] quickly. So we're doing that, we're feeding. But you can see, you mentioned the newspaper we've also combined a lot of colonies. Anything that's weak or queenless gets combined. We want really two boxes full of bees for each colony going into winter.

[00:05:15] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:05:15] Okay, I'm imagining you might've had a colony at this time of year, it's in one box covering four or five frames there you're going to combine it. 

[00:05:25] Shelley Hoover: [00:05:25] Absolutely! We like to combine in the winter and go into winter with strong things. Rather than having high losses in the spring. We'd rather just combine them, take them in the fall and give them a chance to survive.

[00:05:37] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:05:37] You know, the other thing I'm noticing here is just how many bees there are, and I guess coming back to that question about feeding is like - you do have the population to take the feed and put it in the comb. Sometimes in the spring, you're down to not that many bees and it's hard to get feed into them and it's cold out.

[00:05:52] Shelley Hoover: [00:05:52] Exactly. It's easier to feed in the fall. You have bigger populations and then if you feed heavily in fall, you don't have to worry about it in the spring. 

[00:06:00] [00:06:00] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:00] Okay. Well, that's good. And the other thing I noticed is you have entrance reducers on the front of the colonies, tell us a little bit about that. Why do you do that? 

[00:06:07] Shelley Hoover: [00:06:07] So we have big, big populations in the summer, and we usually take the entrance reducers on in the middle of the summer. But this time of year wasps are a real problem, especially this year. So we try and reduce the interest down to something that bees can conceivably easily defend against the wasps. So we do see a lot of wasps up in the feeder, but hopefully at least they're not killing the bees themselves. 

[00:06:34] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:34] If you're a gardener or something, you don't know anything about beekeeping, usually at the bottom there's a big gap where the bees fly in and here now you've restricted it there's maybe three small notches.

[00:06:47] Shelley Hoover: [00:06:47] Yeah. Maybe three centimeters width total. 

[00:06:50] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:50] Okay. All right. So that's what's going on here. And the other thing I noticed is we are in Lethbridge [00:07:00] and you have bricks on every lid. 

[00:07:03] Shelley Hoover: [00:07:03] Yeah. So we have to put bricks on our lids cause it is really windy here and the lids will actually just blow right off. The other thing that you probably can't see because all the telescoping lids are on is that we use what they call here a decky. It's an inner cover that's not wooden it's made of burlap or canvas. And the one advantage to those is that when they blow off and they go tumbling around your bee yard and they hit you in the head. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as a regular cover. 

[00:07:34] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:07:34] It's funny for Oregon listeners, when you visit Alberta after all of this is done, you'll come out through the Crowsnest Pass and it's the only place I've ever seen a sign that says your car might tip over because of the wind. 

[00:07:50] Shelley Hoover: [00:07:50] Yeah, actually there's a lot of things I've learned since I moved here about, you know, living with wind. One of them is you never drive on the highway beside a potato chip truck because they are the most [00:08:00] likely to trip over. Even when they are loaded, they are not heavy enough!

[00:08:03] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:03] Oh, my God. Okay, all right. So you're going to be getting feed into these colonies now. And I guess, how long have you been feeding for? Right now it's the beginning of October. 

[00:08:12] Shelley Hoover: [00:08:12] Yeah, we started about three weeks ago.

[00:08:14] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:14] Okay. 

[00:08:15] Shelley Hoover: [00:08:15] It's been a little bit delayed because we had to wait for an order of sugar syrup. So we would have normally, probably been done by now and what we have left to do you can see there's some gaps. We have pallets, and normally there are full pallets of four colonies each and there's some gaps. So when it gets colder, we'll condense them down so that all the pallets each have four colonies. And then we'll wrap them up with an insulated tarp type wrap. 

[00:08:39] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:39] Hold it there. Let's just before we get to that. So you would feed and you get all this feed into these colonies. Five gallons of syrup, which is thick syrup two, it's 2:1. So you get all the syrup into these colonies. And then about this time of year, you take the feeders off and then you say, you're [00:09:00] going to put the colonies in so that you can push four together. 

[00:09:04] Shelley Hoover: [00:09:04] Right? So we take the feeders off, and we push them so that they're four to a pallet and they're right snug up against each other. And that helps them maintain warmth because if they're in a bigger group they're not losing heat from it all sides, just from the sides that are exposed, so two sides. So we push them together and then we cover them with an insulated wrap, which then we tie it down to the pallet so it doesn't blow off. 

[00:09:27] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:09:27] Describe this thing! Because I think what people don't quite have in Oregon - you don't need this in Oregon. But people don't quite have a picture of what this is. This is like a big quilt. 

[00:09:37] Shelley Hoover: [00:09:37] Yeah. Imagine a thick quilt made out of tarp material. So it's like a sandwich of insulated layer, a flexible insulated layer with black tarp on either side, so that helps it absorb some heat from the sun. And then there's an entrance, basically half of PVC pipe that goes in and under the decky are inner covers so that the [00:10:00] bees can still come and go. And then the bottom entrance is also open so the bees can still come and go. We sometimes get what's called a Chinook wind, it's a warm wind. And so our bees can often fly in February or March when we get this warm weather. And then having two entrances allows them both to come and go and take a cleansing flight, but also helps keep them dry. 

[00:10:22] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:22] You know, it's funny because in Oregon I noticed that another thing that people don't do is have upper entrances and here this is one of the driest places I've ever lived. My lips crack during the winter but still moisture venting is really important. Describe what's going on. 

[00:10:41] Shelley Hoover: [00:10:41] Yeah. Moisture venting is super important and the way I kind of imagine it is, imagine you're overwintering bees as a kitten. Kittens hate being wet, kittens that get wet, do not do well, they get cold. So imagine your bees are kittens. Keep them dry. Please keep your bees dry, give them an upper entrance so that [00:11:00] some of the moisture can get out. 

[00:11:01] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:01] Okay. So you're going to wrap these together. I can imagine it looks like this little black marshmallow or licorice with little holes sticking out of it. What goes on top?

[00:11:13] Shelley Hoover: [00:11:13] So we don't put anything on top of that. A lot of beekeepers, especially in Northern Alberta where there's more snow, will put a sheet of plywood, like quarter inch plywood on top.

[00:11:22] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:22] Oh but yours are like onesies. 

[00:11:25] Shelley Hoover: [00:11:25] Yeah. We just have the quilt layer, but a lot of beekeepers will then put plywood on top of that.

[00:11:30] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:30] Okay. 

[00:11:30] Shelley Hoover: [00:11:30] Yeah. 

[00:11:31] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:31] And so you tie that all down and then how long are they going to be in winter for? 

[00:11:35] Shelley Hoover: [00:11:35] So we try and wrap by Canadian Thanksgiving, which is this year, October 12th. So we'll wrap before then. And we won't unwrap till at least April, maybe May. It depends on the weather. It's hard to say this time, but this year we actually had like several feet of snow and a blizzard here, it's like really warm t-shirt weather. So you never know what the weather's going to be like. And you really got to pay attention to the [00:12:00] forecast and don't plan by day, but plan by what the environment is actually doing.

[00:12:03] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:03] That's a good point because right now, it's a beautiful day here, but it could change. And so the trick is to get your winter preparations done. Because it takes a long time for that syrup to go in and then also to mature. 

[00:12:16] Shelley Hoover: [00:12:16] And it's one thing for us we only have two beers. So if we have to, we can wrap them easily in an afternoon. But if you have, you know, 40 bee yards, your big commercial beekeeper, it takes days and days and days to wrap all your bees. So you can't wait until the weather is going to turn because then it's too late and they're not wrapped. 

[00:12:31] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:31] Okay, the last thing I want to ask you about is you do most of your mite management in August, but some people will use oxalic acid. Because these columns are nice and tight, they're wrapped together. Is that something that you guys do? 

[00:12:48] Shelley Hoover: [00:12:48] Yeah. So I'm glad you mentioned that because that was something I wanted to point out was we've already tested all of our colonies for Varroa levels and they were below the threshold. We actually only found like a few mites at each yard. 

[00:12:59] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:59] Oh, [00:13:00] congratulations!

[00:13:00] Shelley Hoover: [00:13:00] We were really pleased with that. And that was having used a pavar in the spring. So we didn't treat with anything this fall, but probably we will go around and hit them later when they're broodless and that might be November, might be December. We have the advantage because of our harsh winters of having a real solid break in brood cycle. So, I mean, they will brood up when they're wrapped and they will brood up in an indoor winter facility. But by and large, they're pretty broodless come, you know, November, December. 

[00:13:28] And so we can hit them with an oxalic acid vaporization and you can do that when they're wrapped. So that works really, really well. The only disadvantage to that is that you don't want to rely on that if you've had high mite levels because your winter bees will have already been compromised by the Varroa. So I only like to rely on oxalic acid sublimation if my bees are healthy, going into the autumn. 

[00:13:52] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:13:52] That makes sense. So you did a lot of your mite control in August.  

[00:13:55] Shelley Hoover: [00:13:55] We did our mite control in the spring. 

[00:13:58] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:13:58] Okay. [00:14:00] Oh, really? And that carries you through? I love Alberta. Okay. But you did know that you were going in low and that way those bees, because the bees that are born in August and September are going to be the ones that are going to be in April.

[00:14:17] Shelley Hoover: [00:14:17] Exactly. All the way overwinter. So you really need to make sure you have healthy, healthy bees going into the autumn. 

[00:14:26] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:26] How do you administer your oxalic acid here in Southern Alberta? 

[00:14:32] Shelley Hoover: [00:14:32] There's a number of different vaporizers you can use. I prefer the vaporization method because you can do it without opening the colony. You can do it when they're wrapped. 

[00:14:39] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:39] Oh, because they're all kind of tight, you don't want to go unwrap them.

[00:14:41] Shelley Hoover: [00:14:41] I don't want to unwrap them at that time of year. And that's when their broodless and that's when oxalic acid is effective when they're broodless. So we go in and do a vaporizer and there's a number of different Varroa vaporization devices that you can use. 

[00:14:56] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:56] How long does it take to treat this whole yard? 

[00:15:00] [00:14:59] Shelley Hoover: [00:14:59] Oh, probably like two minutes per pallet or something. 

[00:15:05] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:05] So, we're looking at about 40 colonies here.

[00:15:07] Shelley Hoover: [00:15:07] So about half an hour. 

[00:15:09] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:09] That's amazing. 

[00:15:11] Shelley Hoover: [00:15:11] It's fast and it's cheap. 

[00:15:15] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:15] Before we take a break, how do other Alberta beekeepers colonies look going into winter? Have you heard much? 

[00:15:22] Shelley Hoover: [00:15:22] I've heard relatively good things. We had a really hard year last year. The one thing I have heard beekeepers struggling with this year is European foulbrood quite a bit. There are also pockets where people seem to have trouble getting their Varroa down, so different things in different operations. By and large, I'd say overall, not too bad going into winter. 

[00:15:46] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:46] Good. Well, let's hope it's a good winter here in Southern Alberta. And everybody comes out with lots of beautiful bountiful bees.

[00:15:54] Shelley Hoover: [00:15:54] And the honey prices are high. 

[00:15:55] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:55] Let's hope for that too. Let's take a quick break. When we come back let's get a little update on what you're going to talk [00:16:00] about at the Oregon State Beekeepers Association meeting.

[00:16:03] Shelley Hoover: [00:16:03] Yeah, let's talk about that. 

[00:16:07] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:07] Alright, we are back. So OSBA this year is going to be online, the Oregon State Beekeepers Association meeting is going to be online. But we have including me, there's going to be three Canadians speaking at the meeting. So what are you going to be talking about? 

[00:16:24] Shelley Hoover: [00:16:24] Yeah, I'm really excited about the meeting. I'm sorry that I can't come to Oregon in person. But I'm going to be talking about some of the work we've been doing on trapping pollen, but also queen breeding. So for queen breeding, what we've been doing is working with the Alberta beekeepers in Southern Alberta. We pollinate hybrid seed canola so that's the crop that is used to grow canola across millions of acres in Canada and the US. So it's really a specialty cross where there's hybrids and bees are very much necessary for that. And it's the only canola crop that beekeepers get paid to pollinate in Canada.

[00:17:00] [00:17:00] So we've been working with the beekeepers that pollinate this crop to actually rear their own queens and mate them while their colonies are in canola pollination. And it's the perfect time for queens to be mating because the weather is really good, it's hot, it's sunny, it's not windy. There's thousands and thousands and thousands of big, strong doubles in the area. So there's tons and tons of drones for the queens to mate with. Weather is good, so it's really, I mean, you can't do any selection in terms of queen breeding, but it's a really good place and environment for production of queens. 

[00:17:35] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:17:35] Yeah. Maybe for some of our listeners who do pollination. This seems like a weird thing. It's like pollination, "I bring the colonies in and I manage them for swarming, but I really don't touch them." This idea is a little bit different is that as you go through and the colonies are growing and you service them, at that moment you're going to be making queens. Tell us a little bit about that procedure.

[00:17:56] Shelley Hoover: [00:17:56] Yeah. We're lucky because canola is a really good [00:18:00] crop for bees. So if you have to provide pollination services and that's part of your operation and how you make your income. It's a good crop to get paid to go to because your bees do grow and it's Midsummer, we're usually pollinating basically the month of July. And so it's a time when your colonies are doing well, they're strong, they're growing and there's lots of drones. So it really works. If you had a crop that was much earlier in the season, really early spring, it wouldn't work so well. 

[00:18:25] But it does work and in fact, we had some beekeepers actually take their splits out of the colonies they're pollinating, some beekeepers will pull some in reserve and split those and bring them to pollination. Some will just pull out a frame here, a frame there, wherever the colonies are strong enough to do that and then put a queen cell in those colonies. 

[00:18:43] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:18:43] Okay. And then when those queens emerge, it's going to be a billion drones. 

[00:18:47] Shelley Hoover: [00:18:47] Those queens emerge, there's a billion drones for them to mate with. And we've had really, really good overwintering success with those nukes. So they'll overwinter them usually as a single sort of fairly strong single cause that [00:19:00] single is going to grow in canola pollination. So we overwinter them as a single, usually indoors. And then we've had really good overwintering success with those new units with those new strong young queens.

[00:19:10] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:19:10] I remember Dennis McKenna who taught me everything, one of the many people who have taught me everything about beekeeping, pointing out that a new queen in a colony in the summer can really pick up - the population's really young, it's a very vibrant colony.

[00:19:24] Shelley Hoover: [00:19:24] Yeah they grow really, really fast. And you can actually get a honey crop off them depending when you do it a small honey crop. But it depends how big you want to make it to start with.

[00:19:34] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:19:34] Okay. So these colonies, you make them, but doesn't a grower worry? Because I imagine when you make these, you have to move them to another yard or else they'd fly home. Isn't the grower like, "well, you took away a box of bees, I'm upset." 

[00:19:48] Shelley Hoover: [00:19:48] Yeah. So the beekeepers are careful not to get their colonies below sort of the minimum standard. And so for canola pollination, it's basically two strong boxes of bees to [00:20:00] start with, to go into pollination. So these are big colonies that are pollinating canola and often, what they'll do is they'll just move them between the yard. So you're not actually overall removing bees. You're just shuffling them around.

[00:20:14] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:14] And so the great thing is that you come out of canola with good strong colonies, and you've probably made up the replacements instead of having to buy packages or something like that.

[00:20:23] Shelley Hoover: [00:20:23] You've made up your replacements. So if, you know, on average, say you lose 15 or 20% of your bees, you can just make up that many new units in the summertime. 

[00:20:35] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:35] I think this is going to have a lot of appeal to some of our beekeepers in Oregon who are really busy doing a lot of pollination. So the second thing you're going to talk about, and I'm excited about this, is pollen trapping. You've been doing a lot of pollen trapping for years now.

[00:20:48] Shelley Hoover: [00:20:48] Yeah. So this was also working with beekeepers who pollinate canola. We thought, well, you get paid for your honey, you get paid for your pollination services, but are there ways that it makes sense to sort of diversify the [00:21:00] operation? So what we wanted to know was, is pollen trapping a viable hive product to make in this situation? You have to remember that these fields are managed for pollen production because we have male and female rows of plants. 

[00:21:17] And so they're carefully managed so that there's always tons of polling available to fertilize the female flower. So there's a system where there's an abundance of pollen. So I thought, well, maybe the beekeeper can use that to their advantage. So we worked with commercial beekeepers, and we looked at, you know, how much pollen can you get? Does it impact the colony health? What is the loss, the hit to honey production? And is it economical to add pollen as a hive product? 

[00:21:45] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:45] This reminds me of an old study, Don Nelson, and John  Bergeron up in Beaverlodge. Because I remember their findings were something along the lines that there is a little bit of a hit, [00:22:00] but that value of that pollen it really came out on top. How did it work out for you? The principle was that you were taking pollen away, but it has this value and that even if there's a little bit of a reduction in honey production, that maybe will come out on top. 

[00:22:15] Shelley Hoover: [00:22:15] Are you asking me to give the Oregon beekeepers spoilers? You have to wait and then come to the meeting!

[00:22:21] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:21] Okay. Sorry guys and gals. Yeah, you're going to have to come to the meeting. I've heard people talk about this, people are very nervous about pollen trapping. They think, "I can only pollen trap for 24 hours or the colony is going to go downhill."

[00:22:38] Shelley Hoover: [00:22:38] Exactly. So we wanted to know in this system, and it's going to depend where you are when you are. In this system did it have a detrimental effect on the health of the colonies? Did it make economic sense? And what's the big picture for beekeepers or what do they need to keep in mind if they're considering polling trapping.

[00:22:59] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:59] All [00:23:00] right. Well, we will have the links to the OSBA meeting, how you can register on the show notes and I'll be in Oregon for OSBA. I'm going to be heading back right after this interview. Well, in a little bit after this, here in a week. So, thanks so much for taking time. I'm glad to see these big, beautiful colonies. Seriously folks, there are just like tons of bees at the entrance. We'll take a picture of this beautiful bee yard and we'll post it. But thanks so much Shelley for telling us a little bit about what's going on in Southern Alberta. 

[00:23:38] Shelley Hoover: [00:23:38] Always a pleasure to talk to you.


The highest period of honey bee colony mortality is during the winter. But there are a number of tricks to ensure high colony survival. In this episode we visit a Canadian bee yard to learn about what they do.

Shelley Hoover is an Apiculture and Pollination Scientist in the Department of Research and Innovation at the University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Her research focuses on honey bee health and management, queen production and breeding, and nutrition as well as canola pollination. Shelley is the current President of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists.

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