Foster Bees in Spring
Updated: Mar 24
Our haskap berry orchard provides an early source of nectar for bees. One spring we fostered 10 baby nucleus hives from that tropics because their new home east of the Rocky Mountains was still in a deep winter freeze. They stayed on right through our orchard bloom and we reaped the benefit of heavy pollination which meant tons of berries that year!
Honeybee head down in a super early winter aconite flower bloom
When our beekeeper friend Joe (aka Mr. Myagi because he's a teacher like that), asked us about putting a few hives on our farm temporarily and we immediately said YES! In April, it was still very wintery east of the Rocky Mountains and a shipment of packaged bees from the tropics was expected to arrive any day. Frost and snow is not a pleasant way to start a new hive...and so we were soon looking at a cluster of ten foster hives in our pasture!
To set up the foster beehive apiary, a temporary electric fence was quickly installed - four strands high to keep out bears mostly. This was easily tied onto our existing solar powered fence charger. Pallets were laid down and eyeballed to level, then finally the bee boxes were settled on top. Each hive opening was positioned to face in a different direction so the bee's flight paths would not be confused. Since the hives were very young, a 'reducer' was installed at each entrance to give the bees a smaller opening to defend from other insects and field mice perhaps. Additionally, to help the young bees keep warm, foam inserts were placed on the outside of the five middle frames. This essentially decreased the space the bees needed to keep warm for the anticipated baby brood cells. The electrical charge on the fence wire was double checked and a rock laid atop each hive cover. Having just two of our own hives, the jump to seeing an apiary full of ten hives in our field was a little unnerving and exciting at the same time! Silly thoughts went through my mind like, would I notice bee poop on my deck...and would the children and pets be safe to run around?
We've been on a steep learning curve with beekeeping over the past few years. The first year we read up all we could and attended a couple of workshops to get a basic understanding...only there's soooo much more to learn. Much of the online material and books describe beekeeping in warmer climates or were written before the varroa destructor mite became such a problem. Then there's the hundreds of entertaining YouTube videos - often put out by new-bee beekeepers so inspired to share their recently acquired knowledge. That first year we were a pitiful failure at keeping bees. Here's a list of beekeeping skills some of the things we've learned along the way.
As the season warmed, all of the foster beehives were moved to their permanent apiary homes and well before the honey-flow was over. I was a little sad how our field looked suddenly so barren without all the hives and the sheer volume of bees that we got accustomed to walking among. Then... just a few weeks later the berries started taking shape in our haskap orchard and on our other fruit trees and berry bushes. Wow the pollination results were incredible! We had provided a safe place for the foster bees to establish their new hives and they had gifted us with what they do best - pollination. Grateful and in exchange we provided our beekeeper friend with fresh berries. Reciprocity all around.