Thursday, March 26, 2015

Minnesota Nice Bee Breeders

We Are Special

For beekeepers here in Minnesota, we have our own special challenges.  Most of our challenges come with over-wintering hives in extremely cold temperatures, but many of us also have to contend with big black bear challenges. The bear challenge can be met with a high voltage electric fence, so that may be the easier of the two. The climate challenge is made more difficult by the ironic fact that most of the bee breeders are in southern or coastal locales.  

Here They Come To Save The Day!  

Guess what?  Now we have local bee breeders in our own back yard!  Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud from Four Seasons Apiaries are breeding bees with selected traits for our unique environment.  Joe and Yuuki generously trekked to our town to educate the Honey Bee Club of Stillwater  on their operation and techniques. Here is a summary of this most interesting meeting.

They Ain't From These Here Parts.

Our beloved honeybee is not native to the US.  Subspecies of the apis mellifera have been transported and propagated around the world. Natural selection has been at work, and beekeepers have been artificially selecting for specific traits for centuries.  The traits that beekeepers desire have changed over the years. Back in the day before our fancy bee-boxes, beekeepers used to select for colonies that swarmed.  After the advent of boxes, beekeepers selected for less propolization so they could remove a frame without the use of a jack-hammer.  

Rearing local bees is what Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud do at Four Seasons Apiaries.  They understand that beekeeping is regional.

Selecting for winter hardiness and hygienic behavior is just part of the work.  Joe and Yuuki endeavor to use as few treatments as possible.  When and only when the mite concentration becomes intolerable (threshold is 3-5%) do they use treatment, and then they use only 'soft' treatments, such as thymol or formic acid.  Part of the laborious hygenic selection process is the testing for nosema by squishing and counting spores. 

Raising Minnesota Nice Queens

We have our standards here.  Joe and Yuuki have no tolerance for aggressive bees or bossy queens.  The queen you buy from Four Seasons Apiaries is the daughter of queen that has gone through a Minnesota winter....hardy with impeccable manners.  

By placing queen cell cups in a well-fed, chemically free swarm box, the cups will be packed with royal jelly for the sturdiest queen possible.  A well provisioned 2-frame mating nuc in the mating yard serves as the "Queen's Castle". This is conveniently located near the carefully selected drone yards....the rest is all about the birds and bees.

Timing is Everything

Four Seasons Apiaries has queens available June - August, weather permitting.  Perhaps you are thinking, ....well I split my hive in May, and I need a queen earlier than June.  FEAR NOT, there are solutions.  You can:
  • Use a queen cell from Four Seasons Apiaries.  Purchase queen cell cups by contacting this address:
  • Simply walk away.  Ok, not that simple, but pretty simple.  Split a strong colony, and let the queenless split make its own queen.  
    • You can use a nuc for this.  Make sure you have a frame of eggs and two frames of brood, capped and uncapped, and a couple frames of pollen and honey.  Remember brood in the center.  Have loads of nurse bees covering the frames.  Give them some sugar water, and leave it alone for 4 weeks.  When you check back, you should see eggs.
    • It is important to have 2 weeks of 70 degree days before doing a walk-away-split.  This is to ensure drones are present.
  • You can move capped swarm cells to a mating nuc.
    • And allow some colonies to make drones.  *Caution* on this!  Varroa mites prefer drone cells.  
  • Re-Queen bad stock by buying a local queen from  

Overwintering Nucleus Colonies

There was a discussion regarding overwintering in nucs.  Joe and Yuuki are in consultation with our own Honey Bee Club of Stillwater member Adrian Quiney to define the best methods for overwintering nucs.  The power trio of Joe, Yuuki, and Adrian, feel that overwintering in nucs is the key to sustainable beekeeping in northern climates.  As a BONUS to you, Adrian will be speaking on this very topic on April 14 at the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association meeting.  Here is info:

Matt Brooks will discuss landscape design as it relates to pollinator habitat.  

As always, we thank our members and to those reading this blog.  

Marcie Forsberg
photo credits to Laurie Schneider