The Tell Tale Signs of Fall

This week we are enjoying our favourite season of beekeeping. The hives have all gotten their five gallons of sucrose for the winter. Our fall medication is all finished aside from some Oxalic fumigation that Dad is playing with. Today, Adam and I are out picking up feeder pails, putting in plugs, and replacing the entrance reducers that skunks and raccoon have spread over the entire yard. It took the hives longer than we expected to take the total five gallons. We must have gotten a small late flow of buckwheat and/or alfalfa because the hives are feeling very heavy. We find the alfalfa makes a really good winter feed when stored away with the sucrose feed, it keeps a lot softer than left over canola (concert) honey. On top of that it took us about two weeks to get the first round of feed and two more weeks to get the second round of feed in them, with a one week break between feeding rounds to allow them to drain the pails. The heavy smell of damp leaves, combined with the occasional sweet smell of burning propolis if we have to melt the screen on a feeder pail have always been a staple of fall for me. The crisp cool mornings with just a light jacket are always a welcome change from the +35C honey pulling days of summer. Although, I think it would be harder to appreciate the cool mornings with calm bees without the craziness of honey season. Both bees and beekeeper seem to be able to relax and take a breath.

Unfortunately fall also brings hungry bears. We set out on a cloudy morning with plans to move two yards that we had suspicion a bear may get at. We have had problems in the past with bears in these two particular yards, and sure enough one of the two yards had been hit. We ended up losing four hives in total with a few more chewed and some flipped over. The bear even ate the plastic foundation, something I am sure he will regret later. The loss of hives is never good but what really bothers us is we knew there was a possibility and had the intention to move them out of the yard. It's easy to blame the bear but it's more apt to blame ourselves. We have to always be thinking ahead or more importantly acting ahead, because some bear damage is only a minor consequence of reactionary beekeeping. This is something we constantly struggle with in the beekeeping side of the business, we always seem to be one step behind. Often this is chalked up to the fact that we are always busy in the wood shop and since the shop is the first stop in the morning we always get to the yards later than expected. We seem to be busy in the mornings returning a phone call, loading a customer, or resetting a saw blade for one of the workers. The bees never complain they just dwindle in numbers or not produce to their potential and because of that we face a constant struggle to give them the attention that they require.

The history of Lewis & Sons

Welcome to the inaugural Lewis & Sons blog post. My name is Dale Lewis, Murray’s youngest son and the person that usually answers the phone at the shop, I will be writing the majority of the posts with input and ideas from both my father and brother Adam. We have played with the idea of starting a blog for awhile now but figure with the success of our new website it seems like the perfect time to tackle this. We aim to provide insight into the day to day operations here at Lewis & Sons as well as running a ~1000 hive operation in Southern Manitoba. First some background about our business. My father Murray Lewis started keeping bees in the early 80’s with his brother and current beekeeper Dennis Lewis (New Rutherford Apiary). Both Dennis and Murray left their jobs as shops teachers in Winnipeg opting for the slower, less stressful life in the country running a small apiary (lol). To keep himself busy during the winters Murray employed some of his woodworking skills and begun making equipment in a small two car garage. As the years went on the small apiary and winter woodworking projects grew slowly and organically, soon enough he was able to buy the buildings and beekeeping operation from his old employer and mentor John Uhrin. Dad always says that he is most proud that he was able to start a business that employs both his sons, wife and brother Allan, he takes the greatest joy in watching it continue to grow with his sons taking more of a leading role in the company.

In the last few years it seems that the business has really started to take off. The hobby side of the industry is steadily growing and we seem to send more and more equipment into urban areas like Delta/Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal than ever before. There has been considerable growing pains over these last few years to try and keep up to the new hobbyist market but still be able to provide product to the Commercial beekeepers who got us to this point. Every year we add more equipment and more staff to try and satisfy the increasing demand but the greatest change has been Adam’s planning and organization. One look at mine or Dad’s work truck will reveal that we are not the most organized people. Adam is able to plan work orders and lumber shipments well in advance, this efficiency and planning has made the greatest impact on our stock and ability to serve our growing clientele. With Adam taking over the management role its has freed up Dad to spend much more time in the bees, what he truly loves. This year we started an aggressive Nuc program that filled most of Dad’s days, we produced over 475 6-frame Nucs that we will winter this year and will become our next year's producers with young, fresh queens. The excess of Nucs allow us to cull producer hives heavy in the fall and next spring and maintain a constant strength throughout our entire operation. Doing so allows us to our winter losses since we are not wasting time, feed, and medication on hives that are probably not going to survive the winter anyway. We always say that dead hives going into the wintering building are still dead hive coming out in the spring, only they get chalked up to winter loss when for all purposes they were dead in the fall.

If anyone has some topic ideas for future blogs we are all ears. I hope to post one or two entries a month depending on how busy I am.

Thanks for reading.