Each year the CRBA negotiates access to secluded cut blocks just northwest of Jordan River, with access gained just across from the Juan de Fuca China Beach Campground. It’s about a 1hr drive from Saanich but for many beekeepers it provides a late-season natural forage that is far greater than any local nectar flow can provide.
“What is this late-season forage everyone is talking about?” you ask? Well, it’s fireweed, a native plant to BC that establishes itself on disturbed land, such as managed cut blocks within the forest.
There’s a lot that goes into taking your colonies on a winding road trip along the beautiful coastline. This post outlines some of the considerations for those adventurous beekeepers who don’t mind the odd bee escaping in their car as they drive this scenic route.
Stage 1: Preparation
- Access is only granted to members of the club, and spots is usually arranged on a limited basis in meetings prior to fireweed season (around May/June for July).
- Make sure you have access to the area that you’re heading to. Since the outyards are located within an active logging area, access is restricted using gates that may require a code or a key. If you have a spot in the outyard, the outyard organiser should provide you with this information.
- Go through the colonies that you’re going to transport and ensure they don’t have any diseases (thinks like heavy mite infestations or AFB). Remember that colonies may come from all across the CRD to this single location. Nobody wants to pick up something bad while on holiday, right?!
- When going through your colonies to ensure they’re healthy, remove any excess honey. There’s no need carrying up all that weight when they’re going to collect more anyway! Unless, of course, this forms part of your annual exercise routine…
- Strap your colonies down using TWO ratchet straps. The road up the mountain could be graded by heavy machinery, but be prepared for a bumpy ride! It’s alarming how angry the bees can get when you want to close them up again roadside after going through a couple of potholes. 😐
- Remember to provide your colony with sufficient ventilation for the trip. Some people pull out their mite tray with a screened bottom board. Others replace the outer/top cover with a ventilation screen, just for the trip up. Things can get pretty toasty, so best to give them some air!
- Bring a form of stand with you so your hive does not sit on the ground. Ants walk on the ground and you don’t want them walking into your hive; that’s not where they belong.
- Put your contact details on each hive. This may be helpful later… keep reading.
- Yes, you can visit the outyards using a regular vehicle. However, as mentioned, the road does not always resemble a highway, so having a larger vehicle is often more comfortable for transporting colonies to their summer holiday destination.
- You could consider bringing separate honey supers with you that aren’t strapped to the colony already. That way, when you deliver the colony, you can quickly crack them open, add the supers, and seal them up again. This lightens the loads and/or makes for a less awkward colony stack.
Stage 2: To the mountains!
- Consider tackling this adventure with someone. You’re heading up into the mountains where cellphone reception is virtually non-existent (you might get some US reception… maybe). Having someone help you unload your colonies will make light of the work ahead. Heck, consider going up in a convoy for that matter. That way there are a lot of resources available if you just happen to realize you didn’t bring that thing that you so desperately wanted to bring (…whatever that is).
- Since the outyards are located beyond active logging roads, access should be limited to very early mornings, or late evenings, or on the weekends. The best option is early on a weekend. So, lock your bees up the night before, do all the loading at home, and head west to the mountains at first light (or earlier)!
- You could consider bringing a dolly that you can use to move your colonies into position.
- Be aware of your surroundings when you drive up the mountains. There could be wildlife around (bears, cougars, deer, humans). You also don’t want to get lost, so consider marking the distances you’re on a road so you know how far you’ve gone.
- Bring some water with you to keep hydrated.
- When dropping off your colonies, consider other beekeepers’ colonies as well. Remember, this is a shared space. Don’t put your colonies right in front or next to someone else’s… leave space so inspections can be done without hassle. Be courteous.
- Remember that each yard is set up with a charger, solar panel and battery. This is to protect your investment – the bees and woodenware – from predators like bears. These wires can cause a tripping hazard when accessing the yard from the entrance/gate.
- Don’t block access to the yard with your vehicle on the road. If that’s the only way, promptly unload and move your vehicle, as other folks with 1000’s of bees in the sweltering sun don’t want to sit and wait for you for too long.
Stage 3: Outyard visits
This should be the best part of the entire expedition. You get to visit your bees in the mountains to see what they’ve been up to on the summer vacation… working extremely hard.
- Plan your visit based on the weather. Try not to go up when it’s raining, because that’s no fun (for you nor the bees).
- Don’t bring pets with you, since they may end up staying in a car, in the heat of the sun, and that’s no good.
- Don’t bring people with you that won’t be involved with the beekeeping (like children or other family members) for the same reason… they’ll end up sitting in the car in the sweltering sun.
- Don’t use a smoker. Why? This is the height of summer, and fire is a real threat. Instead, consider using some sugar spray that will let the bees focus on cleaning themselves rather than you poking around their stores.
- Bring some water with you to keep you hydrated.
- When performing manipulations, avoid leaving wax that you’ve cleaned up on the ground. Sure, you’re comfortable doing this at home, but in the outyard you’re amongst other beekeepers. Wax may have honey on it which attracts ants (or other pests/predators) when left out in the open. Collect it and take it home with you.
- Honey removal is done in a number of ways. Some people pull frames of honey and extract on-site in a tent. Others bring with them replacement frames that they place in the hives and take the honey home with them. Others remove honey frames, drive home and extract, and then drive back up the next morning to drop the frames back in. Consider what works best for you based on your equipment and time.
- Since access to the yards is provided by a gate, follow this simple policy: Always close and lock the gate. Always, no exceptions. Even if you’re just in the area and want to quickly check on your bees and it will only take 10 minutes. Why is this important? You don’t want people to arrive at an open gate who aren’t supposed to have access, then they drive in just as you’re leaving and you lock them in. Locking unsuspecting people behind a gate in the middle of a forest without cellphone reception is dangerous. If you don’t want that done to you, don’t do it to others. In short, ALWAYS lock the gate behind you.
- If you see a colony that is not yours that is under stress (like an ant infestation, or perhaps being terrorized by wasps, or robbed by other colonies, or even fallen over… yes, this has happened), do the right thing and help out. Reduce the entrances, or pick up the fallen colony setting it right-side up. You’d want someone to do that for your colony, so why not reciprocate if you find that. Note the details of the person who’s hives you’ve helped out and send them a note when you’re back home, or leave them a note inside the colony (between the inner/outer cover).
- When you enter the outyard, avoid leaving the outyard fence gates laying on the ground for your entire visit. This causes the battery to discharge and could leave the fence uncharged (useless) when you leave. Rather hook them up to the fence or an area that avoids discharging the battery – there should be a spot for that.
- Always check whether the fence is still working and providing a shock when connecting the live fence wire to an earthed wire. Are, listen a “tick” sound coming from the charger box. Without the charger being active, everyone’s colonies within the yard is at risk. If anything isn’t working as it is expected to, contact the person in charge of the outyards.
- Check the perimeter of the yard around the fence-line to see whether there are weeds growing and touching the lower fence wires. This could cause a short in the circuit that discharges the battery. Remove these weeds and keep any connection to the fence clear.
Stage 4: Colony removal
Once the fireweed is on its last legs, there are some other plants that can provide interim nectar supply (like goldenrod), but it’s by far less than what is provided by the great willowherb. It’s then time to extract your colonies and bring them home.
- Prior to your extraction date, prepare your colonies for removal. For example, close all entrances for which you won’t have access to when during removal. Perhaps reduce entrances so you’re not stuck with large openings filled with bees when you’re wanting to close them in. Consider ventilation during transport.
- Bring a dolly with your to wheel around your colonies around the yard and to your mode of transport.
- Bring a friend with you to help with the loading, because there’s nothing like a hard day’s work and tripping over fencing wire together.
- Best would be to pick your colonies up after dusk or before dawn to avoid having a bunch of foragers return and their home is gone… Have a “No bee left behind” attitude!
- Two ratchet straps per colony
- Inspect your colony for transferable diseases (heavy mite load or AFB); don’t take them up if that’s the case
- Put your contact details on each colony
- Access information (location of key or access code)
- Location of the outyards
- Dolly (for transport of colonies to/from your vehicle)
- Water (and something to eat?)
- Sugar spray (not smoke)
- Beekeeping suit and tools
- Report issues to the person in charge of the outyard