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Pacific Harbour Seals at an entrance to Silva Bay

Sunday April 20th 2014

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It is Easter Sunday.  I'm tied up at Newcastle Island and boats are coming in for the Easter Egg Hunt organized by the local yacht club.

I wandered up to watch the kids in our group hunt for Easter eggs, retrieved my life jacket from the Pub, then left the dock at 1054 and motor-sailed out the channel between Newcastle Island and the mainland.

Once out in the open, I found the wind was gusting and had to shorten sail down to 1/3 jib and with that little bit of sail, I was making six knots upwind.  I worried the wind might flip the dinghy, adjusted the tether, and slowed down.

Soon the wind calmed a bit and I was able to put out all the sails again.  The wind proved to be directly on the nose, so I tacked close-hauled all the way to Silva Bay.  I was the first boat in.

All the way, I listened on the radio to the troubles Scottish Mist was having.  Apparently the alternator belt was slipping and Peter was forced shut down the engine and sail.

I sailed everywhere and all the time except for leaving the dock and in tight places or when the wind died to nothing, but Peter never hoisted a sail on the whole trip up to this point, when he had to. 

When he did raise the sails, he was unable to make headway into the wind and eventually it was decided that one of the other boats would have to give him a tow the six remaining sea miles to Silva Bay.

Before that was attempted, though, one of the other men transferred to the troubled boat and tightened the belt.  The belt was damaged, but Scottish Mist was able to take down the sails and proceed under power.  The belt lasted until Silva Bay where where more permanent repairs were possible.

Jealousy is, I think, the worst of all faults because it makes a victim of both parties.
Gene Tierney

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Monday April 21st 2014

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I've been busy, and am just hitting the high points here.  I've been sailing all day and partying at night, so have been short of time.  I did a bit of writing on the passages, but have to keep a watch for logs and traffic, plus the rocks that are scattered around the area.  Most have markers, but it is easy to get distracted and it only takes one oversight to sink a boat

I see there is still ice in the pond at home (right).  Elijah texted that he did the ashes today.  I hope Shirley watered the plants.  The days are getting warmer and some plants use a lot of water.

This morning the rest of the flotilla headed out for Vancouver.  I stayed at the dock until noon, then left.  I have not decided whether to cross at Porlier or Active Pass, and figure to see how far I get by slack water, which is later than usual: 1544. 

*     *     *     *    *

There wasn't much wind and what there was came from directly behind me.  That makes for slow, tedious progress but I got to Porlier an hour early and sailed through on the ebb tide, pushed though with two knots of current.

From there, the wind was variable and I sailed a bit, motored a bit, and gave up and motored the last hour and a half into Birds Eye Cove where I am now anchored for the night.

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

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Tuesday April 22nd 2014

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This is going to be a warm day at home if the forecast pans out.  I worry about my plants as they use a lot of water on warm sunny days.

The bees will be coming on strong and I am thinking several hives may be getting close to starvation.  Well see on Thursday.

This morning, I am swinging on the hook directly across from Maple Bay Marina.  That is my nearest neighbour at right.  I shot the photo in the early light when I popped up to check my clearance from the nearby boats.

When I dropped anchor last night, I was expecting a northwest blow, anchored accordingly with one hundred and fifty feet of chain in nine metres of water, and set an anchor alarm,  but the wind did not materialize.  I checked several times during the night.

This morning, I awoke at 0556, hearing water moving under the hull and looked out to see a shore breeze from the east has sprung up, swinging me around.  Fortunately, I am still a respectable distance from the other boats.

I'm happy to see that I guessed right in placing the anchor.  Last night, I anchored and re-anchored several times before I was content.

Guessing how the nearby boats are anchored is always tough when the conditions are calm and the boats are drifting around their anchors.  Moreover, some boats are on mooring balls and some on anchors.  The balls should be on chain with at least three to one scope, but boats on anchor use five to seven to one.  I used six to one since that is all the chain I have.

One of the things on my to do list is to add one hundred and fifty feet of rope rode to the chain so I can anchor in deeper water.  Things can get quite crowded in the shallower anchorages.  As it is, I am limited to anchorages with seven metres of depth or less in overnight or windy conditions.  Last night I was pushing it a bit, anchoring in the nine metres I found at the only suitably empty spot here in this anchorage.

Today, I have a meeting in Cowichan Bay at noon, and supper with Bruce and Karen this evening.  The distances are not great, and the current in Sansum Narrows is not predicted to be more than a few knots, so there is no rush to get moving.

*   *   *   *

The trip to Cowichan Bay was slower than expected due to shifting winds and calm periods, but I was there an hour early.  I tried finding a spot to anchor, but found that the places that were shallow enough for my rode were too crowded and finally docked at Fisherman's Wharf.

Howard was right on time and we had lunch, then looked at a boat that is for sale there.  I decided it is not my style, but have an open mind as apparently it is an ideal charter boat.

From there, I sailed to Fulford, experiencing conditions from dead calm to gale-force gusts along the way.  Cassiopeia is a stout and strong boat and handles everything without problem.

Bruce met me at the dock and we drove to his home.  Karen and Ky had cooked supper and we had a pleasant evening.

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.
Robert A. Heinlein

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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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I slept well at the Fulford dock and did not rise until around 0800.  I had a quick breakfast, untied from the dock, and motored out of the bay towards Sidney. 

Today I return to Sidney, tidy up, and fly home.

In recent days, I have seen more empty and apparently abandoned deep water grain ships anchored at random points around the Gulf Islands than I have ever seen.  There were three in Cowichan Bay and two out by Kuper and Thetis Islands.  I wonder if this is a result of a backlog from the recent Vancouver truckers' strike.

The wind was on my nose all the way across to Schwartz Bay.  When I got that far, I decided to be adventurous and take one of the narrower, rock-strewn channels that I have avoided until now since I have been unfamiliar with the boat and the area.  By now, though, I have enough experience to be confident and went through without incident.

I doubt I would try this route with a deep-draft boat without a chart plotter, but my Raymarine C80 guided me through accurately.    The surface and surrounding terrain give few clues as to what lurks under the surface.  There are twists and turns, and the current adds to the fun.

Out the other side, I motored up to the Van Isle Marina fuel dock and was told that they had no fuel today due to construction work, so I had to go all the way in to North Saanich Marina.  That means threading down a shallow, narrow channel, but that went well and I fuelled up. 

By now, there was an eighteen-knot wind out on the bay.  Even in the shelter of the harbour, breezes made docking and leaving docks challenging.  When I left, I had to do a 180 in a small space, and that involves shifting from forward to reverse and back on the throttle several times, plus some work with the wheel.

As it happened, I was pulling the dinghy with fairly long painter, and on one such move that line was sucked under the boat and down into the prop, stalling the engine instantly.  The left me adrift in a breeze in a tight channel with boathouses and rocks around me.

The dinghy line is a floating line, but I guess the vortex from the prop sucked it down.  I had been told this is possible, and now I know it is true.

I ran forward and dropped the anchor.  It dragged at first, but brought me to a stop mere feet from a boathouse.  From there, I drifted neatly down between a row of boathouses and stopped in the middle of the space.


I happened to have my shorty wetsuit for just such an occasion, and the water looked clean enough for a swim, so I stripped down and put it on, then dropped the ladder and went over the stern. 

I did manage to cut the line, but found I really could do no work under the boat without a mask (note to self - take a mask next time).

The water was bracing, being at about forty-five to fifty degrees Fahrenheit (eight to ten Celsius), but I quite enjoyed the dip.  It was most refreshing, and I may make a morning dip a regular part of my regular morning boating routine.

Most consider the water in the Gulf Islands too cold for swimming, but I don't mind it once I get in, especially with the shorty wetsuit, which makes cold water feel much less frigid. Some people do not like to have salt water dry on their skin and like to rinse off right away, but I find salt water is great for my skin and I just dry off.

Luckily, the prop seemed to work fine after I cut the dinghy free, although I suspected some line may remain wound around the shaft.  I shifted from forward to reverse several times to throw any free line off, but did not see any line float up.  Everything seemed normal, so powered up and left the bay.

From North Saanich, I returned to Sidney and had one hell of a time docking due to strong breezes and narrow spaces.  In addition to wind and current, the dock crew showed up and Howard decided to train them.  I hate having observers at the best of times.  We did it, however, and I spent the rest of  the day packing.

At four forty-five, a cab took me to YYJ, and as often is the case with Westjet, the flight was a bit late. but we all got on and eventually took off. 

As it happened, I was sitting beside a talkative octogenarian preacher type from Chemainus and beside him was a young lady from Fernwood, a stone's throw from where I anchored for lunch on Friday.

Usually on larger planes, passengers avoid conversation these days, but these two were chatty. She described the house where she grew up and I recall having seen it when I anchored as it has a large and distinctive bright red roof and is on shore right where I stopped for lunch on Friday.  

We landed pretty much on time and I retrieved my van from the so-called budget lot, paying $70 to get out. How could it have cost that much? I was only there a week.  Anyhow, from there I bought gas and groceries and drove home.

Everything is looking good at home and more tomatoes are ripe.  I ate several and they are nothing at all like what they sell in stores.

So the adventure ends.

Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.
Robert A. Heinlein

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Thursday April 24th 2014

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Max: 14C  Min: 1C Sunrise: 6:18 Sunset: 20:44

I'm home and will be for a while.  I am quite weary this morning, having slept fitfully last night.  Maybe I was missing the motion of the boat?.

Today, I'll get Zippy back from Ruth and hope to get out to see the bees.  I still have the truck starter to service, too.

The morning passed and after lunch I drove to Ruth's.  I opened the door and Zippy got in.  No reluctance about coming home.

I had a nap, then went to The Mill for supper.

You have to dream before your dreams can come true.
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

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Friday April 25th 2014

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I awoke at dawn and saw deer in the yard again.  We'll have to see how much damage they are doing and decide what, if anything, to do about it.

It's dull today and snow is expected tomorrow.  Elijah is coming over to work today.  It is time to get the garden work underway.

Elijah came and did some garden work.  I went out to look at hives.

Here, at left, is the first hive I opened.  This hive was loaded up five patties less than two weeks ago.  At right is the same hive after I smoked the bees down.

I went back in, got a bee suit on, started the forklift, lit a smoker and went back out with more patties.

Here (left) is another hive that had lots of patties.  From the top, it appears they have plenty left, but when the remaining patties are turned over (right), we can see they have been mined out from below.  Of course, I added more feed.

As I went down the row, I found one weaker hive with a good laying queen and a strong hive that has gone queenless.  I combined them.  Maybe I should have used newspaper due to the time of year and the fact the bees are confined by weather, but I did not.  I simply placed the one box with bees from the weak hive on top of the other.

Here is another hive that has eaten all the feed above the brood.  They will eventually consume the rest, but if I don't replace what is eaten, the rate of consumption will drop drastically until the brood nest expands further.

At this time, we can see the brood by glancing in at an angle obviating the need to pull frames.  We already know that any hive that is eating a lot of patty does not need to be disturbed unless a disease check is required.  I am leaving that for later.

I finished off by examining the bottom board from under the hive I eliminated for uneaten patty pieces, chalkbrood mummies, and other signs of troubles, but found mostly wax from cappings, dead bees and other junk. 

Then I ran over my smoker with the forklift.  Ooops!

I may have to order more patties.  In fact, I know I should.  Pollen should be coming in soon, but we will have weeks with rain and cold winds during which the bees will be short of protein to feed the important emerging young generation, or struggling to forage for it in adverse conditions. I had ten boxes of 40 lbs for my fifty hives, or eight patties each, but am now about to run out.  I'm down to three boxes and have forty hives to go in this round.  The nine I did so far today took a whole box between them

 I count ten good colonies in this North Yard.

I have to repeat my comments for beekeepers who feed only a patty or two then leave their bees wondering what happened after they expand the brood and run out of protein to feed the emerging bees.

To them I say, all you are doing is teasing your bees and wasting your money.  If you are going to feed your livestock, feed them.  Don't just tease them with samples.

With 2-lb packages in Canada going for $165, why not just feed your wintered hives properly and split them?

Feeding now does not just give more and better splits, but I am sure it prevents diseases that come from stress, and guarantees lower summer loss, plus better wintering after this summer ends.

I should have fed more last spring and paid for it this last winter with a 30% loss instead of the 15 to 20% expected.

Below are several more shots of hives that ate all their patties, even though they had three and five patties only two weeks ago.


Contrary to what most beekeepers think, the critical time for feeding patties is now.  This is the time big batches of new bees are hatching and need protein in order to develop properly and to feed the next round of larvae..

The pond has now melted and I see I have a muskrat in the pond again this year.

I had a nap and now I'm going back out to do another ten hives.

I did fifteen and one of them was queenless.  Otherwise, they were good and strong with few exceptions.

West Quonset has 8 good hives.

I'm still working on the Quonset Yard.

I see enough sealed drone brood now that I could start raising queens if I were so inclined.  Doing so this early requires special effort, however as there is still cold weather coming and a shortage of pollen.  Nonetheless, seeing this much drone brood means that my hives are well nourished.

Raising queens before drones are ready is pointless.  Drones require two weeks to mature after emergence to reach sexual maturity.

Looking at my hives, I think I could reverse most of them next week.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND reversing except for experts as the potential damage is greater than the potential good if it is not done in the right way ate the right time for the right reasons.  The reason I think I may reverse is that I want brood in both upper boxes at splitting time so I can split hives in half box by box without moving frames.

From now on, I'll connect the dots my own way.
Bill Watterson

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Saturday April 26th 2014

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From Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk via BEE-L.

...Around the turn of the century, researchers estimated that 5000 workers made up a pound (11,000 per kg).

Extreme values range from 5,600 workers per pound (12,500 per kg), to 3,000 workers (6,662 per kg).

They concluded that "Mitchell, C. 1970. Weights of workers and drones in Am Bee Journal, 110" had published the most thorough methodology.

She found 4,451 newly emerged workers per pound (9,804 per kg), 5,159 mature workers per pound (11,360 per kg), 3,492 heavily smoked bees per pound (7,690 per kg), and 2000 drones per pound (4,400 per kg) in bees from colonies in Davis, CA.

Literature extremes run from 3,000 workers per pound (6,662 per kg) to 5,600 per pound (12,500 per kg).

Today, I have company for supper and am hoping to get out to replace patties on a few more hives.  The weather is not too promising, but for what I am doing, it is okay.

The strong colonies can stand being opened in cool weather without harm.  Although the weaker colonies will be affected, they will receive more benefit than harm from being examined and fed.

We can't wait for ideal weather.  At this time of year, the clock is tickling and every day counts.  The activity inside the hive continues regardless and if we do not do what must be done on time, we miss that opportunity.

I'm about half finished this round of patty feeding.  I should have enough patties to finish, but will have nothing left. 

At that point, I will have fed eight patties per hive and need to stock up with at least another five per hive to get me through to the end of patty time.

Eight patties per hive means an investment of about twelve dollars per hive and ensures health and larger splits. One queen is costing $26 in Western Canada these days and the best price for a 2-lb package is $165 from what I hear. 

Patties are cheap in comparison IMO.

Pricing brood and bees when pricing nucs

If we take the $26 for the queen off the package price, we get $139 for the 2 lbs of middle-aged bees in the box or about $70 per pound of bees.

One completely full frame of brood on Permadent contains about 7,000 pupae.  Pierco can contain 30% more than that and PF-100s, 40% more.  A typical good frame of brood contains from 60% to 90% of that amount, or anywhere from a pound of bees up to almost two pounds!

The number of bees in a pound is variable, but 4,500/lb is probably realistic and conservative for our purposes here. See the panel at right.

This means even one extra frame of emerging brood is worth at least $70 and probably more -- if compared to package bees. 

Open brood and younger pupae are of less immediate value as they will take a while to develop. Open brood will not contribute bees for about two weeks.  Sealed brood can take up to eleven days to emerge.

Assuming that there are enough bees to keep it warm at night, a frame of brood in all stages will continue to add bees to a hive whereas adult bees from a package begin dying off from the day they are packaged and are all getting pretty old by the time the last new bee would be emerging from that  frame of brood 21 days later.

A typical frame almost completely covered with brood in all stages will provide several hundred young bees a day for three weeks.

How many extra frames of brood do you imagine that eight patties are likely to produce for a cost of about $13.50?  I don't know, but I would suspect much more than one extra frame of brood.

To my thinking, that means beekeepers are paying $70 per pound for bees -- and on average, half of those bees are already old -- when they could be raising young bees themselves for a few dollars a pound plus the time it takes to obtain the patties and place them on the hives.

Is this crazy, or what?

Of course, many beekeepers cannot manage strong hives and in their case, feeding more just means bigger swarms earlier, so they buy weak hives in the form of packages since in most years packages won't swarm.

I have seen years where almost every package in a yard of forty hives swarmed, though.

We are nineteen days from May 15th, which is a benchmark splitting date. 

That date is less than one complete 21-day brood cycle from now, meaning that the all bees that will be in the hive on that date have hatched or been laid as eggs and are developing now.

Around mid-May, swarming becomes a concern in Central Alberta since hives can become plugged with young bees if sufficient space is not provided and pollen and nectar are available.

I am planning to go away for a week on the 15th, so I have to be sure to provide extra room or split by then so that my well-fed bees don't swarm.  I'm guessing that by then I should be able to split at least a few hives.

I will not buy queens.  Raising the queens in the hive where they will live has worked well for me. 

Should I raise and mate some extra queens in the min mating nuc boxes I bought some  time back?  We'll see.

I'll also have to remove the Apivar by the second week of May. That works well since I won't have to worry about moving Apivar around or worry much about varroa until fall.

I installed the last of the Apivar during the last week of March and should remove it during the second week of May.  To be exact, I can start on the 7th.  That allows a week to work the bees without worrying about Apivar before going away.  I'm glad I made the effort to place it in the hives when I did.

The bee work did not get done.  I did housework and went to town for groceries, then cooked a supper of turkey legs, thighs and breast, broccoli, three rice varieties, carrots and salad.  Five friends came over at six and we had a good time.  I kept the group smaller than usual this time as I was a bit weary from all my travels.

I am amazed at how much housework can pile up if I am not right on it.  I am away a lot and thought I was caught up when I left last time, but somehow, the house still needed vacuuming, surfaces needed wiping, floors needed mopping and the wash needed doing today, and there is more to do.  I never let the dished pile up, though.  Unless I have company, and have a load for the dishwasher, I usually do them by hand twice a day.

The idea is to die young as late as possible.
Ashley Montagu

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Sunday April 27th 2014

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There is new snow in the mountains today and I have not managed to get out there for skiing this year, yet, and the season will soon be over.  I also have patties to put on hives and plenty of bee work to do, plus house and yard work.  Decisions, decisions...

Do I really feel like going skiing today?  Probably not. I'd have to drive two hours there and two hours back, all for three or four hours on the hill, and besides, I am feeling lazy.

From the forecast, we can expect several more cool, days until we are promised sun and normal temperatures here in Swalwell again, but it is warm enough for bee work, at least for those who know what they are doing.

Regardless of weather, the staff in commercial operations are out almost every day working through hives and tidying the out-yards.  They can't wait for that perfect weather. 

Commercial beekeeping is done to a fairly rigid schedule.  Allowances are made for variations due to season and location, but the bees are developing in the hives just the same. 

Regardless of today's weather, dandelion flow and the beginning of swarming season are now just weeks away.   It is easy to be lulled into assuming nothing is happening, but before long those small hives will suddenly mushroom and be overflowing with young bees.  In most cases, unless a second box is added around the third week of May, hives will swarm.

Late packages are the exception as they are off to a slow start and packages installed now will not be any bigger three weeks from now.  After that, though, they will begin to expand.  Packages installed in the first week of April -- the ideal time IMO -- may have had less perfect weather for a start, but will be completing their first round of brood shortly.

Deciding on a delivery date for packages is always hard.  Nobody wants to buy bees from the first shake, as the first shake includes old bees, and bees from hives which may be queenless or shut down for the season.  They come early, though.

Later shakes will have greater proportions of young workers, but the season may be ending in the source country and queens raised then may be less ideal.

Swarming season is the natural time to split hives and when we can expect the best results.  That is when most of the real beekeeping is done in Western Canada.  The brood chambers are accessible and the honey work has not begun to demand all the available time.  Also, the season is ahead and the colonies have time to recover from splits, requeening, and other manipulations before the main flows and the fall.

What is done -- or not done -- in the next two months is critical to the entire coming year and have a huge effect on survival next winter.  Mistakes made now take bee generations for recovery.  Starvation or over-splitting and stress now and until the main flow will affect the crop, the general health of hives, and expected losses over the coming summer, fall, and winter.

We have now passed the critical window for varroa treatment, are in the middle of the protein feeding window, and coming up on the time for splits and equalization.

After that comes supering, extraction and fall work...

I noticed capped drone brood the other day.  Capping means the drones are at least 14 days into development.  They do not become fertile until about 38 days after the egg was laid, so these have less than 22 days to maturity.

Tables courtesy Wikipedia.

A queen emerges about 16 days after the egg is laid (or about 12 days after grafting) and flies out for mating around day 20 from the day the egg was laid (or 16 days after grafting) -- at the earliest.

It is unlikely that we will be there the first day drone brood is capped or come across it until there is a fair amount, so from all this math, we can see that a simple indicator is that we can start thinking about raising queens once we see sealed drone brood and should be safe to start a week after that date.

We need at least 20 mature drones, and preferably 50 drones per queen being raised, to ensure good mating so there is no need to rush, but it is time to start setting up for making queens.

There are many ways to raise queens and as long as some basic rules are followed, IMO, all the methods achieve a satisfactory result and the difference between them will not be noticed by most beekeepers.

Here are the basic requirements:

  • A good location with some shelter
  • Good suppression of varroa mites.  Anything more than low, low levels of varroa will drastically reduce queen rearing success and acceptance.
  • Protection from predators.  Some birds find mating bees a tasty snack
  • Some understanding of the timing of bee development and commitment to be there when needed.  Bees do not take weekends off.
  • Hive insulation or sufficient populations in the cell-building hive(s) to ensure brood-rearing temperatures are maintained without stress or interruption throughout the cell-raising period, and throughout the entire cell-building and incubation hive(s), regardless of weather.
  • Suitable parent stock to provide eggs and drones.  Breed from good hives.
  • Populous, healthy hives with lots of emerging brood to provide young bees, to build the cells and feed the pupa, and to populate the mating nucs (if mating nucs are used).  Raising queens uses up young bees.
  • Plenty of feed -- nectar and real pollen -- in the hives
  • Both nectar and pollen coming in throughout the cell building or a satisfactory imitation achieved through feeding thin syrup and pollen patties with real pollen.
  • Lots of robust, well-raised drones -- 50 per queen being mated

All the rest -- method, equipment, etc. -- is a matter of choice and it is best to choose one which suits your personality and needs.

Regardless of what people say, all methods -- other than finding swarm cells or supercedure cells and using them -- take advantage of the emergency impulse to get the cells started.

Walk-Away Splits

The simplest method of raising a new queen is to simply split a strong hive in half and let them raise their own queen -- the walk-away split.

Anyone can do this, and the results, in spite of the fears some raise, are excellent as long as the above conditions are met.

Unsubstantiated rumours are circulated against this method, regardless of scientific evidence that it works well,  simply because it is so simple, easy and cheap.  Nobody makes a buck from it and nobody controls access.  Those who sell queens or try to control beekeepers resent this very simplicity and zero cost.

There is, however, some slight downside in that any queen rearing attempt is likely to be about 80% successful over the long run and if this method fails, we have a queenless half-hive sitting there queenless after three weeks have passed, so it seems we have wasted those bees.

The truth is, though, that this half has bees which have not been used up raising young and when they do get a queen or are recombined, they will have amazing vigour and the pent-up potential will result in extraordinary performance.

Another objection is that this method takes a little longer than just putting in a purchased queen or a ripe cell since the newly raised queen is typically not laying as soon after splitting.

  • Walk-away split: ~21 days after splitting
  • Introduced queen: Anywhere from a few days to 10 days or more
  • A mature cell inserted into a queenless split: 7 to 10 days

For most beekeepers, the cheapness, convenience, and lack of extra visits required, and lack of need for specialized equipment, knowledge and scheduling makes up for the deficiencies.

This kind of split can be done when the hive shows it is ready without the need to consider whether queens are available and waiting for them to arrive, having to replace duds, etc.,

As a result, since the splitting date is not constrained by weather, availability of queens, etc. maybe not as much time is lost as one would initially conclude by just looking at the above idealized times.

Although purchased queens may cost $26 here in Alberta, the real cost is much higher after the driving, banking and losses are considered.  At times, for me, it has far exceeded $50 per queen after considering these factors!

Additionally, research shows that introduced queens are often superseded within weeks or months of introduction, so the main reason that justifies using purchased queens is, to me, the introduction of new genes into an outfit.

Most who denigrate the walk-away method of increase do not actually observe carefully, and some advocate breaking down capped cells after six days after splitting on the assumption that those cells were raised from older larvae.

Worker larvae can be used for queen rearing anytime up to two or even three days after hatching, but those selected for special treatment in their first 24 hours yield the best queens.  Given a choice, bees naturally choose bees of this younger age if available and no such intervention is required,  In fact, breaking down cells could render the hive hopelessly queenless.

An interesting observation I have made in recent years is that a hive will not raise cells until the last eggs hatch, so giving a hive new eggs and not eggs that are hatching, while ensuring young larvae will be available, actually delays the start of cell building by several days.

The sun is out and the day is warming up.  I'm itching to get outside and play with the bees.

I see bees at the bird feeder, so I assume that no pollen is coming in yet.  All the more reason to get out there and put on more patties.

Later, I will discuss how I'll raise some mated queens in the mating nucs, assuming I get around to it.  You can be sure I'll use the easiest, most reliable method that requires the least work.  I have to consider my time window, too.  Raising a queen takes three weeks and I will be away again then, so I may have to delay until just before then or use another method that does not require my presence.

I went out and decided to heft a few hives.  They were a bit lighter than I like, so I hauled out the syrup pump.  I'd been putting that off as it always means work getting it going, and besides it was behind Jean and Chris' camping trailer.

I need the pump because my friends dropped off as tote of syrup that proved too heavy for my forklift.  I have to lighten it up and it has a top port too small for a pail.

So, I tried the pump and found it turned a bit, then stalled.  It is a gear pump and some syrup had been left in it when it was last used.  That syrup had precipitated a hard chunk of sugar that prevented turning and I had to disassemble the pump to get it out. 

Note the nicks on the teeth.  At some point, a piece of frame wire got into the pump and damaged it slightly. These gear pumps make good honey pumps for light duty and this pump probably was used for that purpose at one time.  Honey pumps can take in stones, nails, wood or wire unless one is very careful.

I could have filled the inlet with hot water and waited for the sugar to dissolve, but I am not that patient.  Taking the pump apart allowed me to inspect it and lubricate it, too. 

I got the pump going and hooked up my 100+ feet of hose and went to work filling the frame feeders I had put into hives the other day.

I looked at some brood again today, too and see that the first big hatch has emerged and the newly empty cells are now filling with eggs and new larvae. 

That hatch explains the increase in populations and maybe also the fact that I got stung a few times.  It also explains that hives I loaded with patties less than a week ago needed several patties more.  Young bees eat voraciously.


When I fill feeders, I always get syrup on my feet.  I always tell myself I won't, but I always do.

We still have a few remnants of snow in the yard, but I saw my first pollen coming in today.  There was not much, bur some was bright yellow and some was off-white.

The grass turned from brown to green today and the growth in one day is noticeable.

The syrup I feed is 67% white sugar.  Thinner syrup is recommended for simulative spring feeding, but it spoils easily and also drowns bees when added to frame feeders since the bees get wet and don't float without breaking surface tension the way they do on stronger syrup, so I use the full-strength product.  Stimulation is not my goal anyhow.  My goal is to prevent hunger and stress.

I partially filled some drums for open feeding as well as filling frame feeders.  One can never rely on bees to empty drums in spring, but it is worth a try.  If rain gets in, water floats on the syrup (water is lighter than syrup) and the syrup spoils, so drums must be protected from precipitation.

One reason I added syrup to drums was to lighten he tote and by the end of the day I was able to push it around with the forklift even if I could not get it off the ground.

Some of the hives are flying from all three boxes.  I feel they are strong enough that I remove the plugs.  Some are still in two boxes, but I should place a third under when I reverse later this week or next week.  When I do it depends on how fast the hives achieve the necessary populations. 

Note: I will do this reversing judiciously and with several specific purposes, but do not recommend reversing in Central Alberta as a general practice and warn that it can do far more harm than good in the hands of the inexperienced.  Good queens will generally go down when the time is right.

Why will I reverse the best hives?

  • My hives are strong and I plan to split the strongest in half in the next week or ten days
  • I want brood to be spread evenly between the two upper boxes.
  • By separating each box now, I will be able to evaluate each box for condition, weight and colony progress
  • I will have an idea how many splits I'll have.
  • I will identify any duds now while they can be combined
  • I can scrape any burr and ladder comb which will present problems at splitting time
  • I can clean floors as I go


  • I will only reverse and split the ones which will not be harmed by this. 
  • Keeping colonies at least moderately strong is important to prevent stress.
  • My hives are in insulated boxes and can stand handling which might chill wooden hives.

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise,
not too little and not too much,
we would have found the safest way to health.

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Monday April 28th 2014

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At 0311, the temperature is minus 1.2 with a light breeze of 3.7 MPH from the north.  I'm up for an hour or so to wake up enough and clear my head to get back to sleep.  Congestion again.

These nights right around freezing are not too hard on the bees, but if the temperature drops lower and winds get stronger stress results and brood can be chilled.  It is now, at this time of year, that the bees get signals from nature to naturally expand their brood nests and they have large amounts of brood relative to population to feed and cover. 

Most of the bees doing this brood rearing are older bees which are reaching the end of the life or young bees raised by old bees in hives stressed by winter conditions and with under conditions of limited nutrition.  These bees are also doing all the other hive and foraging work, although we can see from the patty consumption that they are being replaced rapidly by young bees.   (Young bees eat pollen and patties; older bees mostly do not) In hives where this replacement is not happening or happening more slowly, that fact is obvious from the slow patty consumption.

Queens are being called upon to lay maximum numbers of eggs and right about now we begin to see which queens are poor or failing. Replacing them can be difficult and the best solution is often to combine weak hives with other hives that have good queens but small populations, and split in a few weeks.

In a week or two, the new generations of younger bees will have replaced most of these older bees, but these past several weeks and the next several are critical.

Although the conventional wisdom is that bees only heat the volume inside their cluster and do not attempt to heat the hive, that is only true as far as it goes.  How warm and tight the hive is will determine how much heat leaks out of the hive and how much of the heat that escapes the cluster remains to warm the air around the cluster.

In turn, the temperature of the air surrounding the cluster will determine how big that cluster will be, how active the bees are (and how much heat that activity adds to the cluster) and the size of the cluster will determine how much brood can be raised and protected. 

There is a feedback loop.  More heat, more activity, bigger cluster, more activity, more heat, bigger cluster...

A smaller, warmer, tighter hive will encourage larger, looser clusters, faster expansion and better colony nutrition and health.

The downside is that faster development means that the space will suddenly become too small in a generation or two and unless the beekeeper increases the space, swarms will happen in a a heartbeat.

Some beekeepers reduce the colonies to singles, transfer to nuc boxes, wrap and insulate their smaller colonies, and these methods do work.

My lazy solution to this is, however, to use standard-sized boxes, and

  • To use insulated boxes year-round
  • To make sure the hive lids are insulated and sealed.
  • To close all auger holes except one in weaker colonies
  • To keep unoccupied boxes under each colony
    • to act as an air baffle and
    • to raise the hives off the cold ground
    • to provide extra feed and storage space
    • to allow expansion room if needed.

This approach allows enough available room below that I do not have to monitor the hives daily for large brood hatches and sudden crowding, or for swarm preparations.  Swarm preparations or actual swarming can begin in a matter of mere days as a formerly small cluster turns into a huge population due to thousands of new bees emerging daily.  This typically happens three weeks after a warm spell.

The swarming impulse in bees is difficult to suppress once initiated.  It is a strong natural urge since this is how colonies reproduce when conditions are right, and the urge to reproduce is powerful in all species.

A beekeeper's challenge is to keep the colonies close to that ideal state of population and nutrition where swarming is likely without crossing the line.

The swarming urge is strongest as the days increase in  length and tapers off rapidly after midsummer's day.  Up until then, hives must be given ample room.  Several weeks after that date colonies can be crowded into less space without swarms issuing.  Naturally, there are exceptions.

*    *    *    *    *

A 1/16" crack under a lid, all around, adds up to the equivalent of a four square inch hole right at the top of the hive and allows any breeze to carry away colony heat. (1/16" X (2 X 18.5" + 2 X 14.5")). 

I use a plastic pillow under a lid that presses down the edges all around to seal the  top, and I don't worry about entrance reducers since the cluster is at least one box above the floor.  The empty space acts as insulation and an air baffle  Heat rises.

*   *    *    *    *

At 0408, I went back to bed and slept four more hours.  At 0938, the day has 7.9 degrees' C but the wind is up to  12  MPH.

I enjoyed my day outside so much yesterday that I plan to get out earlier today.

I don't know what to make of the forecast, though.  The emphasis is on the rain and snow expected later, and not the nice, sunny morning.  Lately, I have decided just to go ahead with my plans and see if the forecast pans out.

If we can believe the weather-guessers estimates, though, coming days with warm, sunny days and mild nights should be ideal for pollen foraging and brood rearing. 

The frogs in my pond are loud now, day and night.  It is hard to imagine how they can stand the temperatures, but they can.  I watched the muskrat eating last night and was fearful for a few moments that h this might be a young beaver, but was able to confirm his identity.

A beaver arriving in  a pond will cut down quite a few trees in one night without warning, and poplars are a favourite.  We have been growing our trees for decades and one night is all it would take to lose quite a few.

This is a similar problem to one we face in beekeeping and in life generally.  Everything can go perfectly well until one brief incident causes a drastic change of direction or ending. 

We can do everything right, but a flood, a bear, or mistakes in beekeeping judgment can set us back a long way.

Actions can be the cause, but sometimes inaction, like failing to feed or applying unapproved treatments can mean the end of a hive or serious weakness.

*   *    *    *    *

As I sit here at 0830, the sky is darkening.  The breeze is getting stronger, too, and switching direction.  Maybe those weather guys know something after all.

*   *    *    *    *

Gotta get moving...  I can either write about life, or live it, but not both at the same moment.

*   *    *    *    *

The wind came up, gusting to 20 MPH, before I really got outside, so I changed plans. I have to go to Red Deer tomorrow, so it occurs to me to pull the starter off the truck in case the replacement I have on hand is not correct and I need to pick up another.  This wind will be unpleasant for me, but would be a bit much for open hives and make working difficult as well.

I pulled off the starter and it is done digging.  It won't spin, so I am sourcing a replacement.  The brand new 6.9 replacement I have at hand won't fit.

I drove over to peek at the hives I fed yesterday, and see that they are taking down the feeders a bit.  I also see the populations are dwindling.  This always happens as the old bees feed brood, cap it and die of old age.  The brood is hatching and will soon replace them, plus more, but we are at the low point now.

The wind is dying now and the day is warm, so I'll get back to my bees.  Or maybe I'll have a nap.

Elijah is coming at 1620 to work on the garden.  So far, no rain and no snow.

I did go out and finish the Quonset yard, but had a setback.  The forklift transmission has been weak for a long time and today I used the machine to lift and push the truck when working on it.  Later, when I went to pick up a pallet to go to work, I found the forward gears are not working.

Yesterday, however, I had resurrected the old 4X4 I use as a yard truck. I had forgotten that it has a good battery and assumed I would have to find a battery for it, but discovered it was ready to go, so was using it a bit.  Today I really needed it.

I tend to forget how much I rely on that forklift to move things around.  A truck can move things, too, but there is far more lifting on and off. Instead of just placing things on pallets, items must be moved on, then off the truck, over and over.

Yesterday, I left a patty sitting on a hive overnight.  I see a bird found it and enjoyed a snack.

I have 26 live hives in the Quonset Yard.

After supper, I went out and put more patties on the last group, south of the hedge.  I really did not feel like it, but had to get it done.

There are 11 live hives South of the Hedge.

I see that the hives I doubled up last fall because I thought they were too weak to winter are already flying from three boxes and are strong enough to split.  I'll wait a few days, though. These hive will definitely benefit from reversing.

Total live hive count is 11 + 26 + 8 + 10 = 53

Without the oceans there would be no life on Earth.
Peter Benchley

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Tuesday April 29th 2014

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I'm off to Red Deer today to see an ENT about this congestion that awakens me at night.  I've also located a rebuilt starter for the truck in Red Deer.  I was quoted about half the best price I found elsewhere, so I hope it is the correct one.

The muskrat is not very concerned about me or Zippy.  He (she?) is hungry and eats the grass right near the house. Here is a 3 MB video.

I was at the ENT's office on time and he looked me over, and found no real cause for the congestion.  He did look around, too, sticking a thingy up my nose so far that he could see my tongue!

We discussed the idea of trying CPAP and so I went and rented a trial unit.  I'd done the sleep test previously, so I was just a matter of paying the rental and taking the unit home.  I'll try it tonight.

While in town, I picked up a starter for the truck and got an excellent price.  On the way home, I stopped in Trochu and bought some refrigerant for my van, seeing as the air conditioning gas has leaked down again over winter.  This seems to be an annual occurrence with several of my old vans.

I also bough a quarter mile of electric fencing wire to maker a high frequency ham antenna. This wire is not optimal, but it is strong and it is cheap.

Here is something interesting: I have been wanting to get a mobile antenna for my Yaesu FT-7800R VHF/UHF radio and figured that this trip to civilization offered the chance to find one.  There are always hams in cities who have ham stuff for sale, and that some mobile communications companies employ hams and even carry some ham gear.

I went to Glentel's old location and found they had sold out to a company across the street.  Arriving there, I held the door open for a man carrying a  radio, then went to the parts counter. I spent some time there -- long enough to satisfying myself that, like many parts men these days he knew nothing that was not on a screen or on a chart, and nothing about ham radio -- and was told that Paul is the guy to talk to. 

By the time I figured out who Paul was -- the guy I had helped in the door -- he was back out in his van.  I caught him before he left and he agreed to sell me the antenna I needed and I followed him home.

How about that for timing?

Once I arrived home, I installed the new starter and started the truck.  I must say this was the easiest starter I can remember installing.  The job was simple and I could reach the bolts!

While I worked under the truck, mosquitoes came to visit, a sure sign spring is finally here.

My mechanical work is not done, though.  Now, I have to change the transmission in the forklift, I suppose.  I have a spare, but as I recall, it may not fit quite right.  We'll see.

And, I should feed my bees.  I have fed about half of them syrup and the rest could use it.  I have the syrup and the feeders, although they do need scraping out.  Do I have the desire and the will power?  We'll see.

I did put some syrup into drums the other day, but some years bees will open-feed during spring and others not.  It is a crapshoot.  I think one reason is that some years all the bees are busy protecting brood and foraging for pollen and have enough sugar/honey to get by.  Other years there are sufficient population to forage for nectar or syrup, too..

I miss my forklift already.  Everything is more difficult without it.

It is almost 2000 hours and the day is still bright and warm.  These are the days that make up for the cold and dark of winter in Central Alberta.

In the evening, I played with my ham radio a bit and went to bed with the CPAP machine attached to my face.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,
however improbable, must be the truth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Wednesday April 30th 2014

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I sometimes forget to check the forum for a few days at a time, and sometimes there are posts waiting for approval.  New members need approval for the first post or two to help me to prevent Spam.

Today there are two new messages, one about reversing and another about CPAP.  Please join in.

My plan for the day is to see my local doctor and maybe I'll look at the forklift.  My choice is to work on the bees or on the forklift.  The bees need work now, and working on the forklift delays continuing on the bees, but I know the bee work will happen much more quickly if I can fix the forklift.

It is 1110 and I have done neither.  I went out and burned garbage and the  garden trash in the fire pit.

I went to town to see my doctor and did a few chores around town.  The lineup at the vehicle registry was long, so I skipped it.  My plates will expire at midnight, but I doubt anyone will notice and the line should be shorter after today.

When I moved to Swalwell 46 years ago, one well-respected Swalwell native never did register his car.  He had some old plates on it so as not to be conspicuous, but nobody cared.  Not only that, everyone parked facing whatever we they pleased on either side of the street and you could buy a house in town for $50 or a lot for $5.

One local fellow planted a fifty by fifty-foot plot of marijuana on his parents farm.  Word got to the police and all they did was make him tear it up. 

Things were different back then.

When I got home, I checked and the bees are working in  the feed drums.  

Good.  That saves me from having to haul the syrup to them, although I will still fill frame feeders in-hive if I have the time and ambition.

What is shown is a plastic drum which was 1/3 full of 2:1 syrup.  I sprinkled dead grass on to the surface to provide a float and perch for the feeding bees. 

The frame with honeycomb seen on the grass was placed there as an attractant, and I'll take it out now that the bees are feeding. 

Bees are drawn to honeycomb that has been used for brood.  Once they found the frame, they soon discovered the syrup I drizzled on it and the syrup that lies below.

The white specs are dried sugar that has been tracked up by the bees and has dried on the drum.

It's 1700 and I have yet to do more than look at the forklift.  I am going to have to drop the tranny and put in  the new one and maybe do some mods.  I do not look forward to lying on the ground with dirt falling in my face, but I will get around to it soon.  I've changed transmissions out in the cold at night in minus twenty temperatures.  This has to be easier than that.

I really, really didn't want to start on the forklift, and I remembered that the van air conditioning is  needing work, so did that job instead.  I had trouble getting one gauge set to connect to the Toyota and the other has a bad valve.  I wound up taking parts from each set to make one that works.

Then, I managed to add gas to the system, but could not get the pressure up to the calibration marks on the gauge, even though I did get the vents to blow cold.  (Ref) Then  I noticed my gauges are for 134, not 12a gas, and I am using 12a.  Seems to me they worked fine last year.  Can't recall, but at any rate, I have working A/C now.

We all want to believe in impossible things,
I suppose, to persuade ourselves that miracles can happen.
Paul Auster

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