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Wednesday April 26th

5AM. Gotta run.  Special co-op meeting at 9 in Spruce Grove, and that is 3 hours away.

Well, actually it turned out to be 3 hours and 15 minutes,  I was a little late, but I didn't miss much.  Got some more yeast at the Co-op and a few supplies, then headed home.

I'm falling behind in my diary keeping.  I'll back up and fill in a bit later when I have time -- I hope.

Thursday April 27th

The guys finish unwrapping today and have fed every hive now, so I should be able to come up with a tally as soon as I process all the notes.  We have had warm weather for almost a week now, and it looks as if it will continue, so the hives should be brooding up well.  We are expecting wind.

I spent quite a bit of time writing down our production bonus plan so the guys can see that it pays to make some honey this year.  We only made 20 pounds last year, and although we did okay with the pollination payments and all, we need to make more to get ahead and pay off some debt.

From the pattern of overwinter losses, it's apparent that some factor is a work.  Some yards have almost no loss, while others have big losses.  I don't think it was mites, because we sampled and treated.  I blame it on the extended period that some hives spent sitting waiting for the crop to bloom again after the crop we were pollinating near Lomond was hailed.

Close-up of smoker boxLast year, we built some smoker boxes to help prevent loss of smokers, burning them them up while driving, accidental fires, and wastage of fuel.

They work quite well.  This one is made of sheet metal, but the one we made with 14 gauge steel has held up best.  It's heavy, but then, we usually keep it on the truck deck.

Friday April 28th

Our weather today has been warm, but very windy.  It would have been a perfect day to be at Eagle Lake windsurfing.  The strong southeast wind gives flat water conditions there. 

Ryan & Steve each took a truck and went feeding with a helper.  Steve took the generator and air compressor to use with the air stapler.  He is stapling 3/4" X 1" strips of wood around the inside of the telescoping lids to press the outer edges down on the super and to to allow the pillows to loft in the middle to accommodate the patties.   We have the strips on some lids but I think we need them on all.  On windy days, good seals on the hives pay off.

Dustin and Ryan the second are going back to school next week until summer, but we have another young fellow wanting to try out.  He is in home schooling and available pretty well all the time, so we'll have another helper available if he works out.  The two mentioned above are planning to come in every other Friday when they have the day off, and work full time as soon as school lets out for summer.

Clearing early this evening. Wind light southerly increasing to west 20 km/h. Low 2.
Mainly sunny. Wind increasing to west 30 in the afternoon. High 15.
Mainly sunny. Low minus 2. High 16.
Mainly cloudy. Low 3. High 19.

We start another three day weekend tonight.  It seems odd to be taking long weekends during the busy season, but actually I think we get more work done in these four 10 hour days a week than in five 8 hour days because the crew spends less time driving back and forth compared to the time at remote sites.  Morale is also better and we are well rested by Tuesday.  We won't be able to maintain this schedule right through the season, but for now it is working well.

We unveiled our new production bonus plan several days ago.  I managed to get it into writing and distributed it on paper with the paycheques yesterday.  We spent some time explaining it today. 

Basically it pays cash to each of our four full time permanent employees for each load of honey that leaves here in the fall before mid-October.  The payments are adjusted for the number of good hives we wrap for winter.  Payments are also dependant on hours worked April 1st to August 31st.  Money is dispersed Oct 1 and at the year end.  There are provisions for penalties -- or cancellation -- if any of our products are rejected by buyers for quality problems or if we do not meet our pollination commitments 100% in terms of quality or timeliness.  No problems are expected in these areas, but one has to spell things out up front.

Steve hit a fence this afternoon on a prairie trail coming out of a yard and had to spend some time finding and arranging repair with the farmer.  I guess he hit it a good whack, because he broke a post and also broke wires.  I asked how it happened and he said they were trying to get bees out of the truck cab.  Hmmm.  Not too good, if you ask me.

TrailersGareth finished decking one of the trailers today.   We have been wanting to try one of the new ones with rubber flex axles out for ride quality before the time for pollination gets too close.  We have sure done a nice job on it.  I think maybe we have done too nice a job and run the cost up.  It is a lot better made and finished that the ones on the lots.  All the lights are totally enclosed, and the deck is tight fitting tongue and groove.  

I bought an new lateral filing cabinet the other day on the way back from Edmonton.  At $430, it seems expensive, but compared to the cost of using an inferior cabinet and not being able to file conveniently and easily or being short of space, it is cheap.  I guess the cost per use will drop to pennies within a year.  Considering that a minute of time is worth exactly a dime for a minimum wage worker (like me?) that is nothing.  Payback should be rapid.

Our cats are finding mice just about every day now.  The grass is getting green.  May is almost here.  Last year I split a yard May 1st, then regretted doing so because the weather turned bad right after and we had some queen problems.  We're planning to start about May 10th this year but should finish by May 24th, using mated queens to ensure a whole brood cycle by June 20th when we start delivering to pollination and to ensure strong hives for honey production. 

As usual, I expect we will run past that deadline a bit, but if the splits are strong that should not be a problem.  Our hives are supposed to be rated as of July 1st when the crop is in full bloom and needs full strength hives, but I suspect they checked them as soon as they were delivered last year.  That is one reason I am reluctant to move in early.

I worked on the asset list for our insurers and bank and several other desk jobs.

Meijers came by for supper and brought us 30 good looking Hawaiian carniolan queens.  It's a bit early for splitting yet, but we need some for replacements in packages and also for any hives we find queenless.  I remember when no one around here had heard of carniolan queens and italians were the only way to go.  I remember ordering in carniolans and being considered odd.  Now no one can remember that carniolans weren't always in favour.  The ones from Gus seem to excel in wintering and spring build-up.

I keep thinking I really should write a bit about some of the research Adony brought me since it is so significant, but I'm getting tired.  Maybe tomorrow...

Saturday April 29th

Adony brought back, among others,  the following research papers:

  • Estimating Honey Bee Colony Strength by a Simple method: Measuring Cluster Size by Nasr, Thorp, Tyler, and Briggs

  • Comb Replacement and Nosema Disease by Fries

  • Effect of Brood Production and population size on honey production of honey bee colonies in Alberta, Canada by Szabo and Lefkovitch

Let's start with the last one:  

Without getting into all the details of this very important paper, which looks at a number of factors including the amount of brood one can expect to find in a beehive at various times during the season in the North, I'll quote the highlights:

...The average number of worker cells (of brood including eggs) on average was

  • 26,200  at 17-18 June, 

  • 36,200 (21d later) (July 8-9), and

  • 44900 (42d later) (July 29-30)...

...There were 397 worker cells per square decimeter...

... There were no significant differences in the number of worker brood cells when the ages of the queens, yards, or years were compared...

...The only significant difference in the colonies which depended on the age of the queens was the number of drone brood cells (drone population) 1,700 and 800 with 2 and 1 yr old colony queens respectively)...

... Honey production was significantly correlated with

  • the number of worker brood cells of the first measurement (r=+.065), and

  • with worker population, (r=+0.62),

  • with the number of drone brood cells, (r=+0.51) and r=+0.41) and

  • with the drone population=+0.38)

  • but not with the second measurement of the worker brood cells.

... The number of workers was determined 42d after the the first brood measurements were made when all the bees were shaken into a box and weighed .  Samples of 100 bees from each box were frozen, counted and weighed...

All this is pretty good stuff.

  • Assuming good solid brood patterns and accurate measurement, the queens laid on average

    • 26,200/21 = 1247 eggs/day before June 17th

    •  36200/21=1724 eggs/day from June 18th to July 8th

    • 44900/21=2138 eggs/day from July 9th to July 29th.

1247 eggs a day translates into 4 full frames of brood, 1724 translates into 5-1/2 frames full, and 2138 eggs a day makes for 6.9 frames full of brood.  This helps answer my questions about egg laying rates and the amount of brood possible in a hive for pollination purposes.

It's a lot of work to write about this.  I'm just a beekeeper and have my own work to do, but Adony is really into this work and doesn't tire of writing, thinking and working on these projects.  So far he has been working for free, just because he is so hot, but he is going to need support.  I've talked to friends and I think a bunch of us will be happy to commit $200/month each to help finance his work.  Those who can't come up with  the $200 can kick in what they can afford.   I think this will be a real hit with the larger and more progressive beekeepers.  Hopefully some matching funds will be available.

Although he has been offered a good government job in research, he loves working with beekeepers and is considering setting up a private beekeeper advisory service in Alberta which may, in addition to experiments done to order on the beekeeper's site and diagnostic services, include web pages with interpretation of existing research and also discussion in response to beekeeper requests.  Of course subscribers will get the inside track, but, in the spirit of science and good neighbourliness, all the information gleaned will be made available to everyone.  

More on this soon...

Sunday April 30th

I worked on yard notes and plans.  Matt came and borrowed the Swinger that has the bucket on it at present to move some dirt.  Ellen worked in the garden.  Flo R came over for lunch.

We are deciding how to proceed with splitting this year.  We don't want to overdo it, but also don't want a lot of swarming. usually we can split about 30% without affecting our honey crop adversely.

Whether to split early or later is always a question.  If early splits are made, then the queens get going early and the theory is that two queens are better than one.  That notwithstanding, we feel that at this time, the queens are not the limitation, rather the amount of nutrition, the number of nurse bees and the area that the bees can warm determine the number of bees raised. 

Jerry Bromenshenk of UMT has good comments on this subject in his BEE-L post Number 031092 entitled: To brood or not to brood. In the post he mentions that there is apparently a maximum ratio of adult bees to brood, so the number of available adults will limit the queen.  James Kilty recently wrote on sci.agriculture.beekeeping:

The life of bees depends on whether they have fed young. Once they have fed their full complement of around 140 feeds (enough for about 3 larvae) they go into another phase where they age in the way you expect (but 6 or even more weeks, apart from 6 months wintering, is normal except when they are very hard working in spring. (See Eva Crane's books)...

Considering that splits are more stressed than strong colonies and considering that two splits made from a colony may not raise more total brood -- until the weather settles and pollen comes in -- than the parent colony would, then we think that we might as well wait until the time is right.  If we do, then the hives are large and we can just split doubles into two and give a queen to the half that needs one -- without going through frame by frame.  That is a whole lot less work.  It is important to be sure to finish by the end of May, though, because otherwise the hives cannot build in time for the main flows or for pollination.

The rule of thumb is that a colony should be started at least 6 weeks before the flow in order to reach productive size. That allows two complete brood cycles.  Larger splits may require less time, smaller ones, more.

The number of adult bees in the package or split will have a huge impact on the end result, as will the amount and age of any brood in a split.  If we figure on two larvae raised per adult, then the bees in a 2 lb package could raise about 4 pounds of young bees before they peter out -- if they were all young bees.  Maybe 6 at the maximum. 

BUT, we must figure that the bees are -- on average -- 1/2 used up when they are introduced, (some are young and some are old) and we therefore calculate a resulting 2 or 3 pounds instead of the 4 to 6 from the original 2 pounds.

Thus we see that the original package barely replaces itself with a bit to spare on the first cycle.  In the case of a split, the brood added speeds progress because brood results in 100% young bees.

Packages do not start all their brood at once.  At first, the temperature is a limiting factor, but as the original brood reaches pupa stage, it gives off heat and the area in which brood can be raised can increase a bit.  Also, I assume that the bees can only produce bee milk at a certain rate, which is dependant on the nutrition available and their numbers, so the brood area expands over time.

A few days after the first young hatch, assuming some pollen is available, things go a bit faster.  Hopefully some of the original bees continue to forage and to contribute warmth, and the cluster and brood area expand

Wintering Results: I have the tallies on winter loss, now.  We have about 75% good colonies left from the total wintered, and the rest are dead or weak.  Losses are a bit worse than last year in spite of a really mild winter and a lot of extra work feeding protein last fall. 

I think the pollination really took it out of our bees last summer.  The ones that came back late went without a good flow and that bodes badly for bees.  Our neighbours were luckier and got a late flow.  We did not.  We saw this coming and did the best we could.

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allen dick 2000.  Permission granted to copy with attribution and in context .

"If I make a living off it, that's great--but I come from a culture where you're valued not so much by what you acquire but by what you give away," -- Larry Wall (the inventor of Perl)