Dealing with a Bad Bee Seller (Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries)

Well, here I am writing another post warning people about another unscrupulous business. And so soon! Of course, it must be because I’m nine months pregnant and have a hundred better things to do…

Most beekeepers I have met in person so far in my bee tending career have been absolutely lovely. I have had a few transactions over the years buying bees and equipment and everyone has been the epitome of helpful and honest. Then I decided this spring to buy a nuc from Mr. Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries. Here is my horror story:

If you follow my blog you may know that I am trying my darndest to be a treatment free beekeeper. This doesn’t mean I throw my bees into a hive and ignore them until fall. I follow a very intensive integrated pest management program where I am constantly checking mite levels with sugar rolls, treating with sugar dustings and controlling mite levels with drone brood trapping, screened bottom boards, brood breaks and small cell comb. I keep very detailed records of mite counts, mite kills, colony health and progress. I just so far have not had to resort to any harder treatments such as oxalic acid, formic acid, thymol or agaricides.

Since I had been hearing more and more about the success that beekeepers in my area were achieving with hygienic and VSH queens, I really wanted to get some of these genetics into my apiary. For those who don’t know, hygienic bees are very good at detecting mites, diseases or issues within the brood cells and cleaning them out. VSH bees are very good at grooming varroa mites off of each other. They are different, but both types are better able to deal with varroa infestations than a standard hive. There is currently a program at the local university here (UBC) where hygienic queens are being bred with great success.

Lo and behold, I see a local online ad from Paul offering UBC hygienic queens for $45 and nucs for $220. I decide to inquire, and am told that the queens will be ready later in May, but the nucs will be ready in a few weeks. I ask if the nucs come with hygienic queens and he responds that they do not come with the hygienic queens from UBC (University of British Columbia), but that they ARE hygienic.

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All right, I thought. That sounds good enough for me. I also asked him if the nucs were 4 frame or 5 frame. He responded that they were 4 frames. Three frames of brood (and bees) and a frame of honey. So far so good, sounds pretty standard. So I sent him my $100 deposit.

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Then things started to get weird. I knew that hygienic bees didn’t necessarily mean treatment free bees, so I asked him what his treatment regimen was. No answer. Then the three week mark rolled around and I asked when my bees would be ready. I was told in another 2 to 3 weeks. What? Well, ok. The nectar flow was in full swing and I wanted to get my new bees going but I guess I had to wait.

I then get an email two weeks later asking me to call him. I did and he told me my bees would be ready for pickup the next day, I just had to drive 30 minutes to the pickup location in Nanoose Bay. He said he would email me the exact address the following day but that it was near a landmark gas station. All right, I said, see you at 6pm tomorrow.

The next day dawns and I’m excited to finally get my new bees home. I begin emailing Paul around noon to request the pickup address since I haven’t heard from him. I email over and over. Then I start calling and leaving messages. Finally 5:30pm rolls around and I have to leave if I want to arrive on time. We drive 30 minutes to the gas station and park. I continue to call and leave messages, by this time getting very annoyed.

He finally calls me back and says, “The pickup is tomorrow.” What? I tell him he told me the pickup was today. He says, “Oh sorry, I must have thought yesterday was today”. Seriously? Then he goes on to tell me he’s getting his bees inspected tomorrow so how could he possibly sell them today? Apparently my mind-reading skills didn’t pick up on that important fact. What was I thinking. We drive home.

After arriving home beeless, I email to ask him to please just drop the bees off at my house, which is no more than 5 minutes out of his way, since he is coming from Cobble Hill and since he has just wasted an hour of my time. He agrees, and tells me I need to get a deposit ready for the nuc box. I respond that I have a hive ready to put the bees in and can do it immediately, thus returning his nuc box right away. So far so good… Right?

So, it’s 6pm the next day and Paul arrives with one of his helpers. I show him to the backyard where the hive is waiting and he begins unpacking the bees. He removes two frames of brood and bees and a frame of honey, then he takes out an empty drawn comb and says it’s a fresh comb for the queen to lay in. That’s odd. I thought we agreed upon three frames of brood. I have boxes and boxes of empty drawn frames, I don’t need to buy another one for $55. I should have said something about it at the time but for some reason I didn’t.

Then, sensing he was not an entirely honest businessman, I asked him again if the bees were hygienic and what their treatment schedule was. He responds that no, technically they’re not hygienic but you know, they’re good bees. They’re fine. Still no elaboration on treatments.

Now I was getting upset. I told him I specifically wanted hygienic bees because I was trying to be treatment free, and that’s what I thought I was buying. Well, apparently that was the stupidest thing I could have possibly said.

For the next solid half hour I was laughed at, ridiculed, interrogated, debased and basically told how ignorant and unscientific I was in about a dozen different ways by wanting to be treatment free. I was told that it was impossible, that it was a “fad” that young people were caught up in, that my research skills and experience were insufficient, that the experienced treatment free beekeepers that I followed were scam artists and assholes just trying to sell me bees, that hygienic bees basically didn’t exist, that I was in effect just infecting everyone else’s bees around me and that I was doomed to fail. To top it all off his lackey called me over and asked me if my dog got sick, would I refuse to take it to the vet? It was an absolutely horrible experience and I could not get the two of them to leave my yard fast enough. To Paul’s credit he did begrudgingly say that I could pick up a free hygienic queen later on in the season.

As soon as they left, I shot him an email saying that he had promised me both a hygienic queen and three frames of brood, and I wanted the replacement queen when they were available as well as a refund of $55, 25% of what I had paid for the nuc. No response.

Three days go by and my phone starts ringing. It’s the bee inspector, saying a beekeeper has called her saying that my hives are diseased and she needs to check them. Well now, I wonder who that could be? She shows up later that day and I tell her the story of the nuc purchase. She checks my hives and says they are perfectly fine, then she checks the brand new nuc. I am told, “It’s not the worst nuc I’ve ever seen, but it’s close”.

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Doing business with Paul earned me a retaliatory visit from the bee inspector

Yeah. So there you have it. Mr. Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries in Cobble Hill, BC. He is on the board of directors for the Cowichan Beekeeper’s Club and he even used to be the president. I definitely recommend staying far, far away from this dishonest, rude and vindictive man and his bees.

 

 

 

Swarm Cell!

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I’ve been checking my hives on a weekly basis to try to head off potential swarming. Looks like I was right on time!

This is the first swarm cell I’ve seen in any of my three hives, and I only found the one. I immediately removed the frame it was attached to and put it into its own nuc box along with a frame of pollen, a frame of honey, two empty frames and some extra nurse bees.

The nuc was set up in a new location with a pollen patty and sugar syrup feeder and I anxiously anticipate what develops. The hard part now is keeping my paws out of it for a week or two while they get themselves settled. Here’s hoping for a a well-mated queen and the beginnings of a healthy new hive.

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DIY Convertible Screened/Solid Bottom Board

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I mentioned in the previous post how I didn’t really like the screened bottom board options available to me locally, not to mention the fact that they were all very expensive. All the designs I saw online seemed overly complicated or had what I perceived as flaws.

I have a lot of raw cedar boards left over from fencing my yard, and I figured this was a great way to use some of them up. Not to mention this is a very simple design that doesn’t require any rabbets.

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Solid bottom board base

I had seen a bottom board similar to this on the University of Guelph’s beekeeping videos on Youtube, but couldn’t find instructions to build them anywhere. It’s a two-part design that can be used either as a solid bottom board, or as a screened bottom board with mite collection tray. My design is a little bit different from theirs as I’ve incorporated a small landing strip. It’s not necessary for the bees but I like the look of it.

The unit consists of a simple solid bottom board made from two 1 by 2 by 21 1/4″ rails and a 1 by 2 by 14 5/8″ back rail. (These are all exact dimensions, I’m not using dimensional lumber for this.) I used 3/4″ thick boards for the base but you could also use plywood. It’s assembled with screws, nails and glue. The two inch entrance is a bit large, but it can be made smaller with an entrance reducer. The reason I kept it at two inches, is that I’ve read you get a better mite kill if they fall at least two inches down.

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Screened top piece

The second piece is a separate screened insert made from two 1 by 1 by 21 1/4″ rails and two 1 by 1 by 16 5/8″ rails, with a piece of 15 3/4″ by 21 3/8″ hardware cloth stapled to it (also known as #8 or 1/8″ galvanized or stainless steel mesh). I stapled the mesh to the long sides and back first, then screwed on the “landing porch” rail and stapled the mesh down well along the lip. If you go over the mesh edge and staples well with a hammer it presses it down into the wood giving you a relatively smooth entry point.

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Back view with screen installed and quality control crew

The genius of this design is that to use it as a screened bottom board, you simply turn the solid board around and place the screen on top. The old solid board entrance now becomes the back where you can insert your mite board or oil pan. Since the wood edges are all flush, there’s no lip under the mesh for the mites to land on and crawl back up, an issue I’ve noticed with a lot of other designs.

I will most likely use recycled plastic core-flute (coroplast) for my mite boards, and screw another piece of cedar to the edge of them to cover most of the back opening and serve as a removal handle. The large two inch space would allow you to fit a large metal roasting pan underneath filled with oil if desired. You don’t want to leave the two inch gap at the back wide open as bees have been known to build mini-hives under the screen in that space! You’ll also want to make sure the unit sits on some kind of stand so the flat bottom board is not in direct contact with the ground where it can wick up moisture.

I really like the versatility and simplicity of this design, and I love that I’m only really paying for the cost of the mesh and hardware. I finish the bases off with a few coats of tung oil and they’re ready to install!

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With screened board installed

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With screen removed

First Pollen of the Season

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The snow is finally all gone and each of my three hives are busy with housekeeping. When I looked in on them today I saw many dead bees being dragged out and amazingly, I saw bees loaded with pale yellow pollen coming in!

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I haven’t seen any flowers blooming anywhere yet except for the snowdrops, so perhaps they are harvesting those. I haven’t noticed a single bee visiting the snowdrops on my property though, even though we have a fair amount. At any rate, it was a very cheerful sight!

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There was lots of activity in all three hives and lots of fuzzy new bees. You can tell young bees by how fuzzy they are as the older they get the more bald they look. One new little bee took a break on my hand to warm up and groom herself a bit before returning to work. Did you know the first job a bee has is cleaning out the cell she has just emerged from?

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The Bees are Still Alive!

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It’s official, all three of my colonies are still alive!

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We’ve had a very cold winter for our area, and I wasn’t sure what to expect since this is my first overwintering with bees. So far things have been pretty shut down buzzwise with no activity at all and a lot of dead bees outside the entrances. Today was the first warm sunny day we’ve had in weeks and to my great happiness I noticed bees flowing in and out of all three hives.

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Some of my hive parts are a little worse for wear with all the moisture we’ve had and will likely have to be replaced in spring. All that really matters though is that there seems to be good numbers of girls busy cleaning out bee bodies, going on cleansing flights and generally looking very healthy indeed.

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Winter isn’t actually over yet, but I’m optimistic all my hives will be around come springtime when they will hopefully swarm, and I will hopefully catch those swarms!

 

Putting the Bees to Bed for Winter

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Hive 3, bursting at the seams

Well, today looked like it might be the last nice day for awhile, so I decided to get my hives set up for the cold season. My plan was to move them a couple of feet forward so they would get a little more sun, check for hive health and honey stores, and remove any supers with undrawn comb. Big job!

First I opened my nuc hive. I’ve been a little worried about this hive since the population seems to have dwindled and I sometimes see a wasp go inside. Upon opening them though they seemed like they had pretty solid numbers and I returned the two harvested honey frames I took out in August for them to clean up.

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The girls carrying out wax debris from the harvested frames

Hive 2, my split hive that kept the original queen was not doing as well as I thought. Here I was thinking they had so much going on that they were overflowing the brood nest into the honey super, when the reality was that their bottom deep hadn’t been touched all year. What the heck ladies? That will teach me not to check. I removed it and left them with one deep and one medium for the winter.

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Both these hives seemed a bit light to me so I decided to start feeding them. I don’t like to feed if I don’t have to, but I would rather feed than lose hives to starvation. Since it’s fall, they are getting a 2:1 heavy sugar syrup which they will be able to store more quickly since it needs less time to reduce in moisture content.

Then we have Hive 3, the one that requeened itself with feral drones. This hive is like a bee explosion went off inside! All three mediums and one deep totally overflowing with bees. Tons of honey and tons of attitude. Working this hive is like dealing with a lion while the other two hives are pussycats. Once I started taking boxes apart they freaked out and all jumped out at me, letting me know how annoyed they were. I didn’t get stung but it was still pretty intimidating! I decided that this hive didn’t really need to be moved two feet and left it in place to avoid total chaos.

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It was very interesting to me to see how well this locally queened hive has fared this year. They were the ones with the most disadvantage as they had no queen for weeks after the split. Could their extra defensiveness have anything to do with how well they did? At least I can be fairly confident that this large healthy hive will survive the winter. Of course, it also means that I have to deal with touchier bees in spring. In a way I don’t really mind but I’m not sure I would want to give these genetics to a brand new beekeeper.

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During my inspections today, I still did not see a single hive beetle, wax moth, varroa mite (alive or dead) or any signs of k-wing disease. I know at the last bee club meeting some people reported tons of mites while others reported none. I hope I’m not being naive in assuming my hives are relatively clean. I didn’t treat for anything this year so we’ll just have to wait and see.

A few last things that need to be done before it gets too cold are to put on entrance reducers with mouse guards and construct some top quilts to control moisture. All easy and quick projects.

Supposedly there is some very nasty weather headed our way over the next few days that is projected to be as bad as the worst storm in recorded history in the Northwest. Wish us all luck!

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How Much Honey is in a Single Frame?

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I never realized how much honey a single beehive can produce!

Just from one deep frame harvested yesterday using the crush and strain method, I got a total of over 5.5lbs of honey! That’s even after all the honey I managed to eat yesterday during the straining process.

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Blocking out the sun

As you can see, the honey is very, very dark. It’s impossible to see through even when held directly up to the sun! You’d expect it to be strong-tasting, but it’s not. It’s incredibly light and citrusy. I assume the dark color is because my bees have primarily been foraging on wildflowers. I did notice while processing that the honey at the top of the frame was much lighter, and mixed with the darker honey lower down to produce the final color. Quite interesting.

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Clean up crew

You’d think honey harvesting would be messy work and it kind of is, but don’t forget that any sticky equipment can be placed out near the hives and the bees (and wasps) will do the cleaning up for you. Zero waste. Honey also cleans up very easily with plain water.

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Thank you ladies!