Queen cells from Saskatchewan sent by bus in Styrofoam
Today we went to Red Deer to pick up queens at the bus. It's a seventy mile drive, and today is supposed to be a day off, but we did not want the queens to have to ride to Calgary and back out to Three Hills. Maybe we should have let them ride, but we are always concerned about long bus trips and the changeover between bus lines. Anyhow, we took the opportunity to do a little shopping and dropped by Richard and Connie's for supper on the way home.
I mentioned the queen battery boxes in which we receive queens from Kona Queen in Hawaii several days back. Since then, I've made a few observations of interest. In the past we have just used the banks as best we could, but, in the new spirit of careful observation that comes from this writing and from Adony's assistance, I am recording what happens as objectively as I can.
By the time I checked the box for feed and water Saturday morning, we lost five queens in the box Gareth was using Friday. There were only about 30 left and they had fresh attendant bees and feed Thursday. I have some ideas on this and will eventually get to them below. But first:
I hope no one gets the wrong idea and thinks I am complaining here, I am not. Kona is our supplier of choice for queens and we are extremely happy with the service and quality we get from them and from Derrick at Alberta Honey. There are just some things we don't understand and maybe by writing about it, people will Contact me about how we can improve our methods and our understanding.
As Gus mentions in his (above) linked page, the shipping boxes are intended for shipping, not storage, and that if queens must be stored, bank hives should be used. He does not say how long the bees can remain in the shipping boxes -- just not to store queens in them.
One of the problems is that the boxes are not date stamped -- I think they should be -- so we currently have no idea of how long the bees have been in a particular box when we receive it. If we knew that, we could act accordingly.
A 'Use or Bank Before' date would be very useful in indicating that special measures should be taken if the box is older than X days. That way there would be no doubt. Instructions for recommended methods of making banks and maintaining them would be useful along with the warning sticker about rapid release in strong hives that is on the boxes currently. I have also learned a bit recently about maintaining the storage boxes short term. More below.
I imagine that making up a shipment takes time, and that some boxes must necessarily be older than others. Maybe I'm wrong, but if this is true, that information might be what is needed to improve success.
In one recent shipment of three boxes, we found that two had lots of candy left -- and one had none. So, we conclude that the one box may have been made up days before the others. Maybe not. Who knows? There is no other way of telling without opening it and examining the candy -- and guessing.
I realise that no one wants to see that his box of queens is a week old (or maybe more) when he finally gets it by bus -- especially if the one beside it is only two days old -- but if that is true, it is true, and not knowing does not help. We need to know. That way, the oldest box would get used first.
The above caveat about storing queens notwithstanding, many (most?) beekeepers use the shipping boxes for short-term storage, to avoid the extra expense, risk, and work of making up banks and to facilitate carrying the queens to the field. If the box is fresh and handled well, there is likely no better way.
Maintaining queen banks requires setting up and constantly working on special non-productive colonies, each of which can only hold so many queens, is subject to weather effects and can result in queens dying and/or losing parts.
When needed, the queens must be removed from the banks and a suitable storage method must be found to carry them to the yards where they are to be installed.
Many beekeepers would rather devote that time and effort to getting splits made and getting the queens into their ultimate home.
How long, exactly, is it reasonable to keep queens in shipping boxes? Regardless of whether the splits are ready to receive new queens on arrival, in any large operation, there are bound to be delays in installing them, due to weather, the awkward (for us) timing of the once-a-week queen shipments, and the simple fact that only so much work can be done in a day.
Kona ships once a week to Alberta. As it happens, by the time we get them, it is Friday night or Saturday, and our staff is off on a weekend. Due to our long days and 40 hour week, no one is scheduled to work until Tuesday. We actually need our fresh queens to arrive on a Monday.
We have to order in multiples of one hundred, and in the current time window for splitting -- May 10th to 25th, we need 500 or so. Therefore, when we get them on Saturday, they have to wait a minimum another two days until they are installed. The last few, as in the case above mentioned, may be held into the next week.
Now that I think of it, these last 30 or so queens are likely from the oldest shipping box. There was no 'made up' date was not on it and we just assumed they were all the same age. It just happens -- now that I think -- that that was the one box in the shipment that needed new bees and feed shortly after arrival. Drat!
Maintaining the shipping box short term: We routinely check the candy and water the bees. We keep them in the dark at seventy F degrees or so. We change the bees for well fed new young bees if we see any dead attendants, and we use the shipping boxes to carry the queens to the field.
This is where we ran into some problems this week. we used most of the queens out of a shipping box, and did not lose too many attendants, but found that we lost five queens overnight.
On examination, we discovered that when we receive a full box of queens, most of the volume is occupied by queen boxes, and the bees cover all the queens. However, as the queens are used, the empty volume increases, and even at room temperature, in the dark, the attendants tend to form a round cluster on the lid -- something that they could not do when the box was full.
Thus, they cover and visit the queens that fall into that cluster, but leave any queens outside this cluster by themselves. The fact that the lid bows up a bit if there is any moisture creates a bit of a dome that further isolates the bees from the queens.
When using queens, the tendency is to remove entire rows, because the cages hold each other up in the rows, and partial rows tend to fall over. If this happens, the fallen cages have their screens hidden behind the sides of the trough they sit in. (maybe there is room for a design improvement here).
At any rate, when there are only 26 or so queens left, the line of queens is not a normal shape for the bees to cover, and they abandon the end ones since there is so much volume available for them to cluster in.
In the picture (right), many of the bees are on the lid (not shown). It is obvious, though, that either Gareth lost quite a few bees while removing the queens in the yards, that we did not have as many as we should in the box in the first place, or that we need to add more bees to cover the remaining queens as the box empties.
You can see that the end queens on the right are being somewhat ignored. What you cannot see is that there was a small cluster hanging from the lid at the left end. There were enough bees. They were just not covering all the queens.
It seems to me that there were more bees in this box when I looked Friday morning, but then again, the large empty space left by removing queens allows the bees to cluster, making the box look much less crowded.
There are a number of other possible solutions to this problem, such as adding material to fill the empty space, or using a smaller box as the number of queens diminishes. Of course, the best is to use all the queens up before the end of the day, but we're only human.
I'll likely write more on this later, and maybe get some comments. I notice that quite a few people are reading these pages. Hopefully someone can help me understand more. If so, I'll pass it on.
The best laid plans...
El & I spent the afternoon hauling Jonathan's cars to our place and locking up his house. He's married a girl from Rhode Island and is going to live there, so I think his plans for the little house in Swalwell are cancelled.
FWIW, I think he made a good choice, but there are a few loose ends to take care of. Swalwell has been a sleepy little hamlet for the 30 some odd years we've been here, but lately the boom in Calgary, seventy road miles distant, has reached us. People commute daily, and property values are soaring.
People who buy at the top of a market aren't too fond of charming cottages and old cars -- if they happen to be next door.
Today is the first really good bee day in quite a while. temperatures reached 26 degrees C. Tonight promises to be warm. That means our weaker hives get a chance to make brood and keep it. The dandelions have been a little slow starting, but I was delighted today to see that the caragannas are also in bloom, and the crabs are even beginning.
A month from now, we will be moving bees into the canola. Acreage has been reduced, due to the GMO scare, but we will still be delivering about 90% of last year's numbers.
There is quite a bit of discussion on BEE-L about GMOs. Some of it is informed, but a lot is bunk and emotional uninformed opinion. The listing of links below is not selected for quality, but is provided to give some idea of the range of ideas. I'm afraid ignorance, fear, and herd instinct is driving this issue.
" Never underestimate the power of ignorance".
We had a warm night last night and left all the windows open. That is a really good sign. When we get warm nights, even small colonies can brood up and expand. Once established, brood generates warmth and adds to the heat given off by the adults, allowing for larger clusters.
One of the nice things about writing this diary is the nice emails I get and the solutions that are offered. A neighbour wrote, after reading of my problems:
Thanks for the tip. I immediately did the same, and here is what it looks like. I wonder if we should consider separate water and syrup jars? I wonder if we should add Fumidil? seems to me that I've heard some things about fumigillan affecting young queens and ovariole development, but I think that was just in mating nucs. I wonder if my friend changes the bees or just uses the ones that came with the box. I wonder why one of our boxes appeared so much older than the others?
I did notice that three of the shipping boxes were stacked and taped together (with some strips of wood to separate them a little) to make a single package for bus shipment. I also noticed that the combined unit gave off a lot of heat. I wonder, -- if the one box was not older -- if it was the one on top. I doubt that is the explanation, but who can say.
We had another warm night, and that is good.
There are now only 16 scheduled working days until we start moving to pollination. If all goes well, we won't have to work overtime, but we have adequate capacity to almost double our efforts if the need arises. There are a lot of little things to get ready.
As it worked out, I did not get away this weekend at all. The motorhome steering has been a bit scary lately, and I looked at it and decided that the problem is the steering box. We got another one some time back, but I don't know where it is. Maybe we can get it fixed this week. We'll see. It is not at the top of the list.
Among other things, I spent the weekend planning the coming month. We have 148 splits waiting for queens and about 135 queens on hand, not considering that we may have some loss in the boxes. Terry's idea for feeding the shipping boxes is working very well, and the bees are taking a fair bit of syrup -- 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the small mason jars I used. I hope they are not going to build comb. The bees seem to be happier and distributed better over all the queens in the smaller and older box. When I glanced in, they all looked okay. We'll count this morning. We have 25 queen cells coming Friday, and, hopefully, another 200 queens at the end of the week as well.
The priority today is to get the queens into hives. The splits that are waiting are now a minimum of 3 days queenless, so they should be fairly easy to do. We need to make another 200 or so splits, and we have at least that many hives that are already completely occupying two brood chambers. The question is how soon to start, since the queens will not be here until Saturday.
We may decide to make excluder splits from here on in, since we will want to take the splits away to other yards now that there is a flow on and the weather is warm. We don't want messy yards when it is time to move. we want 40 to 55 hives per yard, so that the truck and trailer will be filled up and a few will be left to use as catch hives or to be taken on the forklift truck to the next yard to ensure a full load.
9:30 PM I just got back from Red Deer where I went to get some more cell phones. We've had them for many years now, but are depending on them more and more to provide consulting for our crews where and when they need it. As the price drops and coverage improves, they become more and more indispensable.
Steve and Ryan moved out a few more hives from wintering yards this morning, then did some excluder splits. This seems the best plan, since we are now running low on dead-outs and plan to run the late splits as singles. We need to save as many brood chambers as we can for the small splits we will make later for increase.
Excluder splits allow us to separate the hive in two now, then we can quickly identify the queenless half and take it away when we have the queens next Tuesday . By judiciously removing them in mid-day, using tarps for shading while in transit, we can control the number of old bees and make introductions easier on the queens. There is a whole article on this at http://www.honeybeeworld.com//spring/splits.htm. Ooops. actually, I thought I did, and I have written of this somewhere, but it does not seem to be there. I guess I'll have to search my site.
Speaking of searches, I get a weekly report of the keys people use to search here. it is fascinating, because many words are misspelled, or special cases of a root word, like 'brooding', rather than 'brood'. The search also has some idiosyncrasies, and I will have to give it some thought, as I will the format of these pages if they continue to grow. I may have to go to a database. That would allow better access of parts or all.
Fifteen more working days until The Big Move. Today, for some reason, I don't feel much like writing, but here goes. Sorry, no pictures today.
The morning started off with a call from Marcus at 7:30 during our pre-meeting meeting. We went out and worked on the design of some of the last details for the tie-downs on the trucks, then we had our daily staff meeting at 8 to get input and to assign jobs. Then DaVon came by for coffee and we worked on more truck designs. Things are getting close to finished.
A bit more paperwork, phoning, etc, and I had to go for a doctor's appointment. Then a little shopping, then home. A bit more shuffling paper, and then the day was gone. El & I watched Notting Hill and now, here I am at the keyboard. The movie was fun. Somewhat predictable and posed, but nice. I usually refuse to watch anything except light and happy movies, and seek out comedians masquerading as actors and the odd 'chick flick' like this one. (FWIW, though, I consider Arnold to be comedian).
After working a lot of the weekend on planning and getting notes in order, things are going really smoothly. Steve phoned in sick -- he had returned early at four yesterday -- but the other guys were really on fire and made up for his absence.
Matt and Gareth decided to get the rest of the queens into hives and check the ones that are already installed, as well as clean up some yards and move some hives. In fact, they just came in a few moments ago while I was writing this (9:45 PM) and wondering where they were. Ryan made 50 splits single-handedly.
Matt reported that a week after the installation of the last batch of queens, the odd one is not laying. We don't know if it failed or is just not yet geared up. That's what I like about cells. You do not pay $14.00 each for them and make special preparations, just to find they let you down. trying to insert a second queen after the first fails is a questionable practice. I'd appreciate any comments on this, but I usually recombine the hive or give it eggs and young brood when I first find it to be a dud.
Actually, our practice is to add eggs and brood when hives first appear to have failed to accept the new queen. That way, we are not committed to going back and the hive will likely make a queen if we forget it. We can't be driving to a yard to play with one or two hives.
For some reason, Steve seems to have health problems after weekends, especially those with big parties. I've seen this before, and it usually does not end well. I hope for better in this case.
We had a hot day, but with a fair bit of wind. the bees are on the dandelions and if we get more of this decent weather a lot could happen. The probs are not too exciting, and we are looking at possible frost, but compared to last year things are pretty okay.
I'm already thinking of the weekend, and this time I'm going somewhere for sure. I have a chance to go to BC for 4 nights, but there are a few little jobs I still have to do. The guys don't need me. They know their jobs and are well motivated to do them. they have all the stuff they need, and more. Ellen can handle anything that comes up. Whenever I do take a few days and get away, my perspective is better, and I am more effective when I get back, so I should go.
I really should.
© 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)