36 John Gruszka – Independence From Packaged Honey Bees: the Case of Saskatchewan, Canada


Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. Dear listeners, this show is a sequel to a show that we had a couple of weeks ago with Dr. Dokey on wintering honeybees, and it features one of my all-time beekeeping heroes, John Grushka, who's the former provincial apoculturalist for the province of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan is a Canadian province that's north of Montana and North Dakota. It's very cold in the winter, but it's one of the most productive places to keep honeybees on the planet. Anyways, this episode is a kind of repeat of a conversation I had with him 10 years ago having copied a Saskatchewan beekeepers association meeting where he described how Saskatchewan went from becoming very, very dependent on packaged bees, which are bulk bees that are shipped from one place to another, to becoming relatively independent. It's a great story. There are some great lessons here, I think, for beekeepers here in the US, especially now when packaged in queen prices are high on how to become relatively independent, using things like queenwearing and just learning how to winter colony. So I hope you enjoy this bee biology slash save you money slash history lesson episode of pollination. I am very, very excited today to be talking with John Grushka. Welcome to Pollination, John. Thank you very much.

Happy to be here. Now, I checked the weather in Saskatoon and it's forecasted to be a high of minus 10 Fahrenheit by the end of the week. You've been the provincial apiculture in Saskatchewan for many years. Why on earth would anyone keep bees in a place so far north?

Speaker 2: Well beekeepers around the world have a passion. In Saskatchewan, it is very cold in the wintertime, sometimes for an extended period of time. But if you look at the history and turn of the 18th to the 1900s, Western Canada, the Prairies in particular were being a lot of immigration coming from Europe. The bees probably arrived either from Eastern Canada, Quebec, or Ontario or up through the states through the Dakotas. Sure, because there was a lot of migration back then also between the border between Canada and the United States. There are a lot of folks who came up to Canada from the U.S. and settled here.

And perhaps some of them brought bees. But for us, most of Canada's population is between Detroit and Quebec City along the rivers. That's a relatively mild winter and short winter.

In the Prairies, I refer to Saskatchewan as equivalent to Siberia because you can't get any further away from salt water and it's at the very northern tip of the Great Plains. And our winters are harsh and long. But, you know, I guess people always kept bees. And the conditions were hard for the people. A lot of people, and I'm sure they know about this, built sod houses, broke land, did all of this stuff. And back at that time also, for survival, there were a lot of people who had root cellars. And one of the first ways of trying to keep bees over the harsh winter was in root cellars. And we've gone a long way from there.

Speaker 1: But let me get this straight. They'd put their bees in a root cellar for the winter.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that was popular in Quebec and Ontario. And that was the first kind of method that was explored on the Prairies for trying to keep bees alive in an even harsher climate.

Speaker 1: OK, this seems like a lot of trouble. Why do it?

Speaker 2: Well, beekeepers are passionate about keeping bees. What can I say? The whole bee industry in Saskatchewan, across the Prairies, was one of the big impetuses during the First World War and the Second World War, because of shortages of foodstuffs, beekeepers were given a sugar ration. So if you had a hive, you got sugar to feed the bees in the fall to put into winter.

So that was an immediate impetus. But on top of that, if the bees did well, then you had honey and you had something to sell in barter and whatever. So back in the 30s in Saskatchewan, there were probably 10 or 12,000 beekeepers, all of them homesteaders on land that they were farming. And they tried their best to winter the bees.

One of the benefits of Donnie is being so far north in the summertime, I've told people over and over again, that it's God's country for beekeeping. The daylight starts at four in the morning at 11 o'clock at night. You can still read a newspaper outside.

Just fly from dawn to dusk. And we are an agricultural zone. And you can't stand anywhere in the Prairies these days and make a 360-degree turn without seeing thousands of acres of canola around you. Right.

Speaker 1: So this is much different than when you go down to the States, where on the plains, you might see corn and soybean. There's a lot of forage for bees in Saskatchewan. Absolutely.

Speaker 2: Canola, sweet clover, red clover, alfalfa. And then there's, you know, we in the northern part of Saskatchewan, anyhow, in the south, it's pretty barren. But in the north, we're in a woodland kind of situation. And so with that comes a lot of spring flowers and a succession of spring flowers so that, you know, the colonies just expand and grow rapidly.

Speaker 1: So that must mean the colonies make a lot of honey too. The honey yields must be fairly high as well.

Speaker 2: Well, all of that spring buildup with colonies that have been wintered, which are extremely strong. They're three or four times the size of a package that we used to get from the United States. But the added bonus that people forget about is that they already have brood. Starting in the middle of February, their biological clocks are ticking and telling them that it's time to raise the next generation of broods. So regardless of whether they're indoors or outdoors, they're coming out into the open with already solid sheets of brood in the colonies, three, four, or five frames, depending on how strong the colony is.

And that's just such an advantage. So they take advantage of all the spring honey and nectar and pollen sources to build up quickly. And then in the summer, an anecdote, a man named Earl M.D., he and his sons ran, I don't know, 30, 40,000 colonies out of Florida and across the Midwest. And when he retired, he kept a couple of hundred colonies up in Northern Saskatchewan, not far from me. He phoned me one day.

He said, Johnny says, I've got to tell somebody. I've got a scale hive here in all the 60 or 65 years that I've kept bees. I've never seen a scale hive have a net gain of 35 pounds of honey in a day.

Speaker 1: In a day, 35 pounds of honey in a day.

Speaker 2: Now that's exceptional. That's what is possible. But, you know, in the years that I've kept bees, there were three years that I made 300 pounds per colony on average. 300 pounds in that colony?

40 colonies or then 80 colonies and then 160 colonies. Again, a lot of that has to do with the circumstances that we find ourselves in. But a lot of it also has to do with the skills of the beekeeper and wintering bees and strong and all of those things.

Speaker 1: So let me get this straight. On average, it was 300 pounds in that year. Yes.

Speaker 2: Good gracious. Commercial beekeepers that are operating a thousand colonies are better, up to four or five thousand colonies and their long-term average is well over 200 pounds per colony.

Speaker 1: My goodness. Okay. I can see why in addition to being passionate, there is a seems like a great payoff to being able to figure out how to keep bees through winter. Now, we've got this long inhospitable winter. It strikes me, you know, you're going through the history. People originally were wintering their bees, but there came a switch when people started to really rely on packages. Can you explain why that came about and why it came to an end?

Speaker 2: Well, as I understand it, this all happened in the late 30s, early 40s. And then it caused a rapid expansion in honey beekeeping across Western Canada, because now instead of two things happening, people were looking at honey operations as a business. A lot of the colonies that were there before were, you know, hobby beekeepers that kept the colony or a few. And when it, you know, it was one way to make a living on a small acreage.

You didn't have to have a large land acreage. So a lot of people started to get into it. And it grew significantly with the availability of packages. After the war, the beekeepers in the South, in the Gulf Coast States, in Northern California, spring came earlier. Their bees grow quickly. And before the major honey flow later in June, July, beekeepers were losing colonies to swarms, and some entrepreneurial beekeeper, I'm guessing, said, you know, if we could keep these bees, raise packages, raise queens, there's a market or they've made a market over a very short period on the Northern Great Plains of Canada.

And we're solving two things where, you know, we're not putting the bees in the trees and we're selling them at a profit. And so it blossomed into a significant industry. I think in 1978 when I came to Saskatchewan, I think Canada was importing well over a quarter of a million packages with queens every spring.

Speaker 1: And I remember we've had a conversation about this some years ago. And I remember the other things that you're pointing out was farm credit was really available and prices were just continually rising.

Speaker 2: Well, that was a phenomenon that took place in the 80s. Okay. There were all of this was sort of happening at the same time. There were when I started in 78, I just finished my master's degree at the University of Manitoba in indoor wintering. When I came to Saskatchewan, there was a dedicated group there that was looking at outdoor wintering and they went back to research that was done at the Canada Ag Research Station in Brandon by a man named Ed Braun. And they did all of that and it took three or four or five years to determine the appropriate methodology and to keep these over the winter. They tried different packs of these two together, four together, 16 together, 32 together, different types of wrapping back in the 40s and 50s.

You could use hay bales and virtually nothing else or wood shavings. Well, that was determined by this group of dedicated beekeepers who wanted wintering. What came of that was the discovery that the strong colonies that came through were just tremendously strong. And once you've learned really the essence of keeping these over winter was to have strong colonies, a young queen, and sufficient food, which in our case meant 60 pounds of honey or sugar syrup in that colony to ensure that they didn't starve over the winter. A sheltered location and upper entrance to the hive so that the heat and water moisture vapor was escaping from the hive. And really the last thing that was important was the insulation in the wrapping. It would save you some dollars and over on a commercial basis, over a long period, it paid for itself and it made the colony stronger.

But even without those, if you did all the other things right, they would winter. Then when the prices started doubling and the package prices went up, knowing that these bees made more, I became kind of like a Johnny Apple seed, except Johnny wintered, going around the province and promoting the wintering. We had the methodology down. Clearly, we had the evidence that showed that our provincial average honey production had gone from 125 pounds per colony to well over or close to 200 pounds per colony if not the highest per colony in the country.

I was doing this on the basis of having worked in Africa before then knowing how nasty the African bee was and knowing that it was coming through the Americas and heading into the southern United States. I envisioned a time when for love and money, we wouldn't want to buy packages because we wouldn't be able to find any place to put them. After all, the landowners would say that stuff can't stay on my property. So the first turtle was I paid for these packages in the spring and now you're saying I need to winter them and I need to buy sugar and I don't have the money, the cash flow. So I got the beekeepers association interested in taking advantage of an advanced payment for crops, which was available for cereal crops. And they said, sure, we can work for bees. And so a beekeeper could put his honey under the program, and get the advance of the money, but once he sold the honey, he would then have to pay the loan back or there would be interest charged.

So all of a sudden the beekeepers had a source of funding so that they could hang on to that honey and then sell it later on when they needed to in the springtime or during the winter.

Speaker 1: Oh, great. That initial hurdle could be overcome with a program and they could see the benefits after time.

Speaker 2: Sure. That was a major hurdle for a lot of guys. Look, I've bought these packages. I haven't paid for them yet. I need to sell the honey so I can pay off the package loan and where am I going to get the money for sugar? Right. Thus the advanced payment for the Crops Act provided that opportunity. Within a very short time, we also realized the next issue that we had to deal with was Queens, Queens with packages. You've got a fresh queen every year. They lasted through the year. The next year they're probably going, all right, until halfway through. And then they peter out and the colony's requeening itself.

And if you don't do something about that, then you're going to lose, you may lose money production from it. And so I began promoting, uh, Queenery. The reality is that regardless of where you keep these, there's an area, uh, of the summer where you can produce the best quality Queens you can because the weather's there, the drones are there. The problem was for our guys, they were accustomed to buying their Queens in the springtime from California or the Southern Gulf Coast States. And this didn't fit very easily for them. But if they started to winter on their own, they were raising Queens that were more adapted to our winter conditions.

Oh, right. We, determined fairly quickly this, in this wintering work that was being done to get us to learn how to winter bees that Italian bees weren't what we wanted, even as packages at the end of the season. By the time the beekeeper got out to gas the last of the thousand colonies and put the equipment away for winter, the bees had starved already because they'd run on food.

The attitude was, you know, 2%. If you can raise your Queens, uh, improve the stock over time, it's not going to be a panacea right away, but you'll get into a system where you have less supercedure, less swarming stock that's more suited to our climate. And that meant for most of us putting some color into the stock, other Caucasian or Carniolan.

Speaker 1: For listeners out there, do you mean darker colors? A darker train of, yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2: And we had in the late 60s and 70s, we had the tremendous fortune to have a man in Saskatchewan who had some Carniolan, fewer Carniolan than Caucasian stock, and was in fact providing those breeder Queens to some of the package producers in the United States.

So we knew that that's, so that was the next turtle was everyone needed to raise their Queens. So we put on workshops to anyone who cared to come to them for a number of years and slowly, uh, we overcame those obstacles as well. Okay.

Speaker 1: So just to recap, these key innovations were the configuration of being able to winter colonies in sort of clumps of four, these upper entrances, the installation, but also incorporating Queen rearing into your system. Yes. Okay.

Speaker 2: And that took, that took a bit of a change in attitude because, in July, we can raise wonderful Queens. You know, the bees are on a honey flow. The drones are there. There are lots of them. They're mature, but June is not when most people want them.

We wanted them in the spring. Oh, right. How do you get around that? Well, how we got around that was to raise Queens to put in nukes. And if, you know, under our circumstances at the beginning of June, if you made a two-frame nuke, it was strong enough to winter outside. If it was the middle of June, you made it a three-frame nuke. If it was into July, you made it a four-frame nuke. And those would be two, two-story strong colonies with a fresh queen going into winter the next year.

Speaker 1: So let me get that straight. The objective was to get you're make nukes that were, became essentially full-size wintering colonies by the end of the fall.

Speaker 2: That's right. Now that, that takes a little more equipment, a little more time. Uh, you've got to raise Queens. It's, you know, it's not free. It's costly. But what we had to, what we came to understand with wintering is that regardless of how good a beekeeper you were, you were going to lose some colonies as many as 10%, 10, 15%. Now that's increased significantly with the advent of mites and the viral problems that they are spreading. Okay. But back then we said, okay, if you want to run a thousand winter colonies in the springtime, you want to put 1200 into winter.

Speaker 1: Oh, so you would, you would dub essentially double in a little your operation in making nukes.

Speaker 2: No, not double. You, you, if you wanted to run a thousand in the springtime, you put 1200 into winter.

Speaker 3: Oh, okay. Okay. Okay.

Speaker 1: Let me get this straight, John. So you'd, you'd make 200 nukes to make up for that, uh, that loss. And that might increase if you have viruses and for Oa, you would have, you know, make a few more to make up for that loss.

Speaker 2: Well, what these days, instead of a hundred or 200 more, people are making 300 or 400 more. Okay. Gotcha. For a thousand colony operations. Okay. But the other thing, the other thing that we, we did was we promoted the idea of making enough queen cells to drop a queen cell into every colony, existing colony. And the thinking there was, and there's been a lot of controversy over, you know, how many of those take, it varies from year to year. Some people said they got as, as good as 80% acceptance.

Others were getting 30% acceptance. My attitude and what I was telling beekeepers is to do it regardless. And if the colony, if the queen in the colony is fading, they will accept that queen cell. And if it's not built, tear it down. But at least you know that the queen that's in there, maybe it's been superseded already, but it's younger and it's vital and it will carry you through. And so that made a significant decline in how many colonies we're dying over winter because we were re-queening everything.

Speaker 1: So explain that procedure for me, because I've heard it various ways from, you know, reading some of Tipo Zabo's work. Where, where would these queen cells go? You put them in the brood nest?

Speaker 2: Well, yeah, I put them on top of the brood nest, in my case. But, you know, I'm doing this in July. Yeah. It's gorgeous weather in July. Yeah. The queen and I've timed it. So I'm doing this, putting it in where that queen cell is going to hatch that day or the next day.

Yeah. And I don't have to worry about the queen cell being chilled and coming out with stubs instead of wings because the colonies are strong. They're filling two boxes and they're probably a third on there for the space. And the weather's warm. And so they're going to come out. Weather, you know, and so that solves some of your superseded problems later that summer.

Speaker 1: Oh, so the queen cells go up in the honey supers? Well, in the first box.

Speaker 2: Above the brood nest. Yeah. Above the brood nest. Yeah. Gotcha. Okay. Cool. Now, if the colonies, if the colonies weaker, you might put them at the top of the brood nest. It all depends on the size of the colony that you're dealing with.

But as well, we're also making these extra colonies in anticipation. And so, you know, the bottom, I talked to a beekeeper in Northern Saskatchewan who took over his father's 300-package beekeeping operation back in the 70s. He got into it, he was an early adopter of this wintering. He started, he says, after about 10 years, he was running 2,500 colonies. And I said, Tim, what happened?

He said, the extra colonies, I mean, the nukes, they just wouldn't die. So he found that, that he was more and more that he was having to increase and buy more of B honey boxes and whatnot because the colleagues I mean he wanted to anyhow but he said it just nature took his course the other thing that took place during that time also not everyone in Saskatchewan wintered outdoors but clearly the majority of people did some producers wintered indoors and they had environment environmentally controlled buildings to do that but for the smaller beekeeper or for the guy who was wintering outdoors anyhow they converted their many of them converted their hot rooms into winter storage facilities for their nukes for their single-story colonies that might have been a little bit weaker for six frame nukes for two story colonies so you know there was a lot of wintering that taking place to make sure that you had the number of colonies that you wanted to operate next spring

Speaker 1: John let's take a break I want to I want to come back to indoor wintering in small colonies and all of those things and also maybe talk a little bit about who some of those people were who came up with these innovations let's take a quick break and we'll come back and pick all that up all right welcome back that was a really exciting beginning of the interview and I wanted to pick one thing up john is the idea of indoor wintering bees and what I got from the conversation is one of the strategies was colonies that may have been not quite up to full size you could take inside building tell us a little bit about those buildings but you bring them through winter tell us a little bit about that process and how it got started sure

Speaker 2: when when I was a grad student at manitoba 76 77 I studied indoor wintering when people got interested in wintering in manitoba the provincial apres at the time a guy named randy barker took a busload of beekeepers who were interested in starting wintering down to Nebraska somewhere I think uh-huh tulle brothers and so there were indoor facilities that they looked at and really in Nebraska yeah okay these well you know it's they have a nasty winter it's not quite as long but it's it's wet and it's harsh they get winds so they they they were doing that for a long long time so that technology was kind of brought into manitoba and the reality is that there were a lot more people once that went into wintering in manitoba that did indoor wintering it's because the group here had started on outdoor wintering and went back and looked at the research there they they decided on outdoor wintering okay this pros and cons for both the indoor wintering you know it's not simply a question of putting them in shelter going back a century when people put them in root cellars I mean they were dark they they had a ventilation hole so that the air was escaping it it stayed at a constant temperature because it was underground that was fine for a few colonies but we realized that for the commercial industry anyhow you had to have buildings and the buildings were environmental they they would circulate a certain amount of air on a regular basis in the winter you didn't have to cool the rooms you just had to augment them with with heat so that the temperature stayed just a degree or two or three above freezing

Speaker 1: oh because the bees themselves generate so much heat I

Speaker 2: imagine exactly okay and it wasn't so much that you could winter smaller colonies the the thinking behind it was that it was easier on the bees they might consume a little less food and they'd come out more colonies alive in the springtime by and large that was true however the colonies that are wintered indoors came out maybe as strong as the bees that were wintered outdoors yeah but what happened was that they've been in the darkness they didn't have any opportunity for cleansing flights like the ones outdoors when you got a saw in February or March and so they were desperate to get out and if you weren't careful when you took them out people quickly realized they had to clear snow for you know the 200 or 300 or 400 colonies put them out on a cloudy day because the bees that needed to go would go yeah and they'd get confused and they'd end up in the snow banks and so overnight your population is dwindled by almost half okay all right all right and then there's always the the issues of when do I put them in is it cold enough yet when do I take them out and a lot of manpower involved in doing all of that

Speaker 1: all right because you don't have cooling units so if it gets too warm outside you gotta that's right but the weather could change on you I guess

Speaker 2: yeah yeah they would have supplemental cooling in there and ventilation systems you know as they have in chicken barns and whatnot you know the ventilation was part and parcel of them and I'm pretty you know you needed to do that when you had a thousand colonies or more in a building okay gotcha but when you made the decision to take it out because already you're getting some springtime days out there but there's still snow banks everywhere what do you do the bees want out right right right and so you have to make preparations ahead of time to make sure that you know they wouldn't that they would dwindle as least as possible

Speaker 1: but generally you're talking about moving bees in November and not taking them out for six months like they're in there for a long time that's correct okay can you tell us a little bit about where some of these techniques came from you were talking a little bit about some you know older research done with Agriculture Canada but I know in previous conversations with you there were a lot of innovators beekeeper innovators who kind of pulled a lot of these techniques together

Speaker 2: well I can I can speak for Saskatchewan because when I came there in 78 there was a group of beekeepers in the nipwan area that were the leaders in this wintering they were the ones that were upset with the package prices because they were all package operators and they were the ones that said you know we've got to relearn how to do this there was a group there that that had kind of a little co-op where they got together once a month during the winter time they had a buying co-op so one guy bought the drugs for everybody one by guy bought the sugar for everybody one guy bought the barrels for everybody and so they got these things at discounted prices and when they started talking about wintering then there was there was second and third generation beekeepers in that crowd it was kind of spearheaded by people like Dr. Don Peer Tom Taylor who was a second generation beekeeper who went to the University of Guelph Bob Knox who was a second or third generation beekeeper Bill Hamilton who was a second generation beekeeper and they were all doing it they were all looking at their colonies they were all sharing the information they got and those guys went ahead and solved a lot of the technique problems fairly quickly

Speaker 1: that's remarkable it's really amazing to have kind of everybody working so closely together and working these problems out

Speaker 2: well and you know what I saw what was going on and as the extension guy for the problems I encouraged that to happen in other places and to some degree it did and you know in Saskatoon or Regina or Yorkton guys saw the model and started cooperating and the wintering got better that much faster

Speaker 1: you know another thing I remember you were talking about earlier was and I know it has some bearing here in the U.S. because I seem to recall Sukobi made some collections are these carneolin stock that was sort of developed in Saskatchewan you talk a little bit more about that stock

Speaker 2: well it was before my time but the man who had that stock was a man named Everett Hastings and the story goes that somehow or other he managed to bring I think there was an apomonia meeting somewhere in Australia don't quote me because I'm not sure but he came back he came back with some breeder queens of both the carneolin strain and the Caucasian strain both of these are mountain regions in Europe that proved to be just what we were looking for in terms of improving our stock for wintering on the prairies they would survive as smaller clusters they'd go into winter smaller clusters they'd start packing away for winter before the Italians did you hardly you didn't have to feed them half as much as you did the Italian races because they packed away more honey in the brood chamber and in the spring time they would start brooding in February when the day length started to increase then they'd start brooding and so they turned out to be generally speaking a whole lot better be and most of Saskatchewan beekeepers started to incorporate that into their queen herring systems

Speaker 1: and I was always impressed in Saskatchewan like I remember visiting Karen Peterson once and that there were actual breeding programs in Saskatchewan that people were you know it wasn't it wasn't this model of just propagating queens but there was a lot of attention to the traits of those bees

Speaker 2: yeah well the first step was getting everyone to try it because there are lots of places that you can make mistakes you don't build your cell builders strong enough you raise your queens too early so they don't get mated you raise them too early or in small unsatisfactory cell builders so that they're short and the queens you know the queens are short and you end up giving yourself a monstrous problem instead of solving a problem so but then beyond that once that got sorted out by most of the guys it was let's pay attention to the stock

Speaker 1: well I want to maybe end this section just to talk about lessons learned I know for a lot of beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest you know we're facing something very similar to it sounds like the situation with those beekeepers in Nipahuan where package prices are increasing queen prices are increasing is there anything that we can take from kind of this history of you know this big paradigm shift that took place in Saskatchewan and applies it here in the US

Speaker 2: I think the thing that most small time beekeepers need to recognize is that you can do this to learn how to raise queens you want very the largest queens you can get timing is critical you know we we start raising our queens in at the end of June because by the end of June we've got significant numbers of drones in our colonies which even if they're young three weeks later when those queens are looking to be mated that I'm raising they'll be ready now for for people in other jurisdictions you have to ascertain what that timing is for you okay your spring is going to be sooner but still those are the kinds of things that you want to ensure that you're raising really good queens once you get into winter if you've got any more than one hive and they both you know two survivor 18 out of 20 survive you pick you select the colony that came through the strongest that the previous year produced you the most honey and that can be just a simple simple manner of keeping track of you know I put a crayon mark on the brood chamber for every honey super I take off and next spring when I come through here's the one that here's the two or three that are the strongest hives here's how much honey that they took off those are the ones I make my selections for to raise queens from for the next year doesn't have to be complicated it doesn't forget dr. Does fear tell me he says John I'm a two percenter and these things if I can improve by having two percent fewer winter losses two percent more honey two percent less aggression in my bees whatever you're selecting for over five years I'm ten percent better right here's you know and you will find that if you constantly pick from your best your stock's going to improve winter wise proportionally at a much more rapid pace and you've got you to know if you don't have a whole bunch of dead colonies to deal with life is really sweet when you've got nothing but strong colonies in the springtime there's nothing that you can't do?

Speaker 3: in terms of raising queens or making you know a big honey crop or both instead of you know cleaning out dead bees scraping up the equipment and hoping to get them filled again for another year

Speaker 1: well I suppose the other thing is if you've got extra bees you can always sell them

Speaker 2: well there's that too yeah yeah and these days I mean beekeeper everybody wants to have some bees to you know do their part to save the bees in the world and you know that it's amazing the price is a price increase for bees

Speaker 1: over the last 30 it is's pretty stunning well let's take a break John and let's I have three questions I want to ask you we ask all our guests so John three questions we ask all our guests the first one is a book or a book that's influential to you or that you would really want people to know about

Speaker 2: well it's a loaded question adani you know there was a book in western canada by my predecessor the man that I took over from Rhoda a pamphlet on beekeeping in Saskatchewan and then there was one that was produced for you know beekeeping for Alberta and I was asked to edit a book that became ultimately beekeeping in western Canada and I think it's a really good book and I certainly am geared for western Canada but the essence of the management of bees has no boundaries and as I said earlier if you change the timing and the environment you can follow what we're doing what we've done in western Canada by just making alterations for you know how I can do this earlier or I can do it later or but ultimately I think you'll find in that book how to keep strong colonies and keep them strong

Speaker 1: I think it's a great book actually people who've seen me talk here in Oregon have probably seen stills out of that of that book because it really lays out it's a very practical book it has real clear images it kind of like lays things out how to lay the brood nest out for your packages it has everything in it that you need in a practical sense to kind of I really love the kind of brass tacks let's get to business aspect of the book

Speaker 2: thanks and Donnie that was my intention

Speaker 1: and I think you can I think we'll put a link as well I really it's a really great spiral bound it's really inexpensive and be made sells it I think to our American listeners you can pick it up for sure

Speaker 2: yeah I mean it's a little bit dated in that you know when we did that the the circumstances with mites were not as severe as they are these days but still it's good for the basic biology and basic management of these

Speaker 1: no I totally agree well that's a great suggestion and now for the next question I have is a tool that you use in beekeeping I know you also are you know ran alfalfa leaf cutter bees for a long time so you can make your you can go either way what kind of what tool is your go-to tool for beekeeping working with bees

Speaker 2: I guess if it's if you're talking about commercial beekeeping operation it's kind of very quick I'm more basic than that I think the major the major tool that a lot of beekeepers don't use properly or don't use at all with consequences is a smoker and hive tool I'll I'll face any colony if I've got a smoker because I can control that you've got to learn how to use it you've got to you know you don't smoke smoke them so that they're rubbing their eyes but you keep them off the combs and then you can you know manipulate the hive you can take out a frame at a time without killing bees set them aside you can tear down a two-story colony and have the frame scattered all over the place not in the fall

Speaker 1: but in the summer but in the spring summer

Speaker 2: too many times I mean I spent a lot of time traveling across the sketch when I don't think it'd be any different anywhere else where I go and visit to do an inspection for beekeepers and they're surprised at how easy it is to tackle this hybrid three or four that they've got because they're so angry and then they say what's that well that's a smoker

Speaker 1: oh no

Speaker 2: so I guess I'm not being facetious at

Speaker 1: doing no I know I've experienced this

Speaker 2: myself yes I think that's I've gone into places where you know there are 50 colonies in the yard and they're bouncing off the windshields already before you get out of the truck and the beekeeper who owns them is already suited up in his truck and he goes in there and it's like a bear tearing bee colonies apart because he's not using a smoker and you know life's too short to fight with angry bees and if if you've got a smoker and learn how to use it beekeeping becomes a real treat but you need to use a smoker

Speaker 1: okay that's great and I think a lot of beekeepers I know they're in and out of the yard you know I'm bees are pretty calm and they just go in they start working and then it's like halfway through it's like I'm Hannah should have started with my smoker

Speaker 2: yeah or you know I'm only going to check a few highs and I'm yet but you don't know what the circumstances of that have been for the previous week that you weren't there right and maybe it's okay and no no it's it's an essential tool I think it's simple and basic but it's required

Speaker 1: okay well my last question for you is do you have a favorite bee now you work you've worked or it could be we've interpreted this broadly some people are like my first package or something but what would you say your favorite bee is? Boy, I would love to hear your opinion on leaf cutter versus honey bee.

Speaker 2: Well I kept both because when I first came to the sketch one I was the extension guide for both and and the leaf cutter bee was industry was just taking offense to sketch one and and so I thought well if I'm going to be the extension guide for these these folks I better keep some myself and know what I'm doing so I really enjoyed the leaf cutters you know the the two meshed in that with the leaf cutter bees you incubated them based on your anticipated time when your alfalfa field was going to be in 10% bloom and you prepared the shelters the boxes got the min incubation and then over a weekend you could release the bees and you were done until September when you came and took everything away they're incredible what they do and and the potential I mean the but it's my passions honey bees I don't have a particular one I've worked around the world different places but still I I have a passion for western Canadian beekeeping because we have such opportunities with the forage with the long day lengths to make big crops and for both you know there's I grow my own alfalfa and I combine it myself and there's nothing more satisfactory than getting a really nice alfalfa seed crop and it's same and it's the same with honey bees there's nothing more satisfying than you know with 160 colonies filling a semi with you know 40 000 pounds of honey all

Speaker 1: right okay well honey bees take the slight edge but they're obviously both I guess you know I guess in that answer is just being able to master and being able to sort of learn and advance and I really always think with beginning beekeepers where they have some losses or something that it's so important to learn what those losses were caused by because then they get better and there is something absolutely rewarding about just becoming a better manager over

Speaker 2: time absolutely and one last thought I'll leave you with you know when we were trying to get everyone on the same page about raising their own queens I spoke to you know beekeepers who'd been beekeepers for 15 20 years or better and they were frustrated and my response to them would be you know if you can master this it's money in your pocket and so if at first, you don't succeed try try again and you know these guys who come back to me after a year or two and say got it lit hmm that's satisfying sorry sorry sorry it took me so long

Speaker 1: Well John it was a real pleasure talking with you I'm so glad we had this chance to record this conversation

Speaker 2: to Darnia it's really nice to have had a chance to talk with you great thank you so much

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oreganstate.edu we'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect for one you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment suggest a future guest or topic or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode you can also email us at pollinationpodcast at organstate.edu finally you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities just look us up at osu pollinator health if you like the show consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating it makes us more visible which helps others discover pollination see you next week

John Gruszka served as the Provincial Apiculturalist in Saskatchewan, Canada between 1978 and 2011. As John mentions in the interview, Saskatchewan is one of the most productive honey producing places on the planet, but it suffers from quite an inhospitable winter (John says it’s the closest you get to ‘Siberia’ on the continent). In this episode, John describes how Saskatchewan beekeepers learned to become less dependent on imported package honey bees during the 1980’s. John has a biology degree from the University of Waterloo, and a Masters degree in Entomology (Apiculture major) from the University of Manitoba. He worked in Tanzania from 1971-1975, 3 years of which was on Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) sponsored beekeeping training, research and development. During his term as Provincial Apiculturalist, he served three terms as President of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturalist (CAPA).

Listen in to hear about the history of pollinators in Northern Canada, wintering techniques, and how packages of bees have changed the beekeeping industry.

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“I will never forget Dr. Don Peer telling me, ‘I’m a 2 percenter. If I can improve by having 2% less winter losses, 2% more honey, 2% less aggression in my hives – whatever else you are selecting for – over five years I am 10% better’.” – John Gruszka

Four colonies pushed together and insulated
into a four-pack (Southern Alberta, photo: Lynae Ovinge)

Show Notes:

  • Why anybody would keep bees in such cold climates
  • How bees were kept alive during the harsh winters of the past
  • What makes Northern Canada so ideal for pollinators
  • When the trend changed from wintering bees to relying on packages for winter
  • The key innovations afforded by packages of bees
  • How different ways of wintering bees can provide different benefits
  • Where many wintering techniques come from
  • The history of the Carniolan bee in Saskatchewan

“Beekeepers need to recognize that when it comes to queen rearing, you can do this!“ – John Gruszka

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