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Silver Willow is an important spring nectar and pollen source

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Thursday June 1st, 2000

Today: Sunny. High 17.

June.  At last -- and so soon.

I feel more ready for summer that any year I can remember recently.  We are still closely scheduled, but unless we have unexpected problems, we are right on time for everything.  The bees look amazingly good, considering we have been running a long way below normal temperatures.  I guess it goes to show that the day length is a very large factor.  Some of our days and nights have been colder that some of  those in the winter, but things keep growing, and the bees keep building up.

We do need some good hot weather and warm nights.  It is amazing how the weather varies from year to year and place to place.  In 1998, the whole spring with the exception of a few days had above average temperatures.

I am amused to hear commentators in the East using their weather this year as proof of  'Global Warming'.  I know it has been getting warmer for quite a while, since there were glaciers here 10,000 years ago, so the phenomenon is not recent, but if they were out here they would not have much proof.   I remember when the same 'experts' were predicting a new ice age only a few decades ago.

We spent the day on maintenance and loading supers for next week.  Marcus narrowed the carriage and built a backstop for the green forklift.  Matt changed the rear seals on on one of the trucks and did other repairs.

Ryan went to Adony's yard and supered the hives there.  Although he did not remove any frames, but just looked down from the top, his report is that

"The hives with previously drawn comb seem stronger.  The regular dark combs seemed strongest, followed by the previously drawn white comb.  The bees in these hives were spread out for the most part, while the foundation hives ranged from 2 to 5 frames on average".

That is right in line with what the old timers have always said about needing dark comb if you want a crop.  Appearances can be deceptive, especially when we consider how many bees can hide between two sheets of foundation,  and it will be interesting to see what objective measurements and statistical analysis conclude when Adony returns to measure again around the 13th.  We haven't seen him in quite a while.  I gather he has been busy in the Okanagan and getting set to go to Beaverlodge.

At this point, we have 10 more working days until the first truck rolls out to Lomond, so we have to make each day count.  In the past we have accepted defects in vehicles, but we are slowly racheting ourselves up, and now will not anymore drive any vehicle with even a minor safety defect.  We are also raising the standards of performance, and that can be a bit difficult.  Old habits die hard.

In the past, we have allowed a fair bit of latitude in how closely orders are followed, and this slackness has cost us all money, additional work and time.  This year we are keeping a close eye on what is going on and are able to get things done with a lot less undirected driving around.

It's a wrestling match.  If it pays off and we have a good year, the crew will be surprised by better than expected bonuses.  However, there are moments when I think they are all going to quit first.  Several of the guys have caught on that things are much better when they are managed according to an overall plan rather than on an ad hoc basis, though and I think I can see light at the end of this tunnel.

Weekend is coming, and I am not even going to pretend I am going anywhere.  I have work to do here, and maybe, just maybe, we'll go somewhere for a day.  That's it.  I did try to find some good fares to several places El or I want to go, but Air Canada has cut their specials down to nil for Calgary or Edmonton these days.

They said they would not raise prices and cut service, but any fool can see that they have and will continue to do so.  Monopolies act just like monopolies every time.  There are charters, but when I have staff only four days a week, I want to be here.  The charters fly only a few odd flights and the ones I want leave mid-day on Friday.

Tomorrow we have to check the cells again. Maybe the second batch is going to be better.  We have been planning to make some small splits for increase, but I can see the clock is running out.

I made up a poster to hire more help today.  We need some drivers to haul bees.  I think we could use another helper or two as well.

Tonight: Frost warning issued: Mainly clear.
Low near zero with frost in a few localities.


Friday June 2nd, 2000

Friday: Increasing cloud with a 30 percent chance of showers. Wind increasing to southeast 20 km/h. High 14.

This was one of those days.  We now start shifting gears from working the bees to getting ready to move.  All hives have on be on pallets and queenright and supered four high (from the ground).

That's how we like to move them.  That way, when we put them down at pollination, we don't have to fool around supering.  Usually four boxes provide enough space that we do not have to remove honey in these distant yards -- we can just bring them back the same height. We have 9 more scheduled days until the move starts and at that time we don't want to be fooling around supering, picking hives off the ground, filling empty spaces on pallets, etc.

Changeovers are confusing, and to make things more difficult, I was a little under the weather today.  At any rate, we started the supering and at the same time did a little feeding of light colonies and finished putting queens into the splits.

The queen cells we had purchased turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, and even after the two attempts, we had to use over ten queens in the twenty-five splits.  The cells simply got chilled in transit IMO, and even if some managed to emerge, I wonder how good the queens will be.

When the day was over, we got maybe 500 supers on and a few yards fed. We also put in about 40 queens -- all this with four men in three crews.  I suppose this is not all that bad, but  had hoped for about twice the number of supers, seeing as the yards in question are close to home.  We have about 6,500 to go on in the next 8 working days, and that is not all we have to do.  At this rate it will take 13 days and we do not have that time.  We'll have to double the rate.

The largest hassle was the granulated comb we had left over from last year. We scattered it though about 720 supers at a rate of 3 per box.  These boxes had to go on above a brood chamber and not as a fourth.  This added wrinkle seemed to throw everyone for a loop and slow down the otherwise simple task of supering.

Some protein patties also proved a problem where they had been put too close to the front or back of the hive, and they had to be scraped off and moved to centre so the excluders fit properly. When we were putting the patties on, I did caution about that, but I guess the warning was not always heeded.

I managed to get the rest of the tarps ordered.  we have a limited time to get the last few trucks and trailers outfitted now.

The nights are getting warmer now again, and that is good, seeing as we are starting supering.  Some hot weather would do a lot of good.

Tonight: Cloudy. Occasional showers or thundershowers.
Wind east 20 km/h. Low 5.


Saturday June 3rd, 2000

Today: 60 percent chance of morning showers then a mix of sun and cloud. Wind increasing to north 20 km/h this morning. High 17.

Matt was here promptly at 8 and we changed the steering box on the motorhome and checked the tires.  After all that, I'm not sure it steers any better. I don't know exactly what causes the wandering.  Maybe age.

I then spent the day moving tanks around in preparation for the next half load of syrup coming Tuesday, and to clean up some of the junk that was accumulating near our residence.

Tonight is Cruise Night in Three Hills, a neighbouring town 10 mile north, and I am going up for the evening.  Ellen is just enjoying gardening all day.

I cancelled the rest of the cells we ordered.  It just was not working out.  I think the cells were picked a day earlier than they should have been, and our emergence rate was abysmal.  With the driving and checking, then needing to introduce queens anyhow, they were a real problem.

I'm wondering now if we have time to make some splits for increase.  The hives are about one or two frames short of the size required for pollination, and will make it up to size by the time they are delivered, but I ma  not sure they have much to spare.

Since we have to put supers on now, I don't know when we will get a chance to make splits until after pollination.

Tonight: Mainly clear. Low 4.


Sunday June 4th, 2000

Today: Mainly sunny. High 24.

I don't feel much like writing this morning -- writer's block, I suppose --  but thought that I should put something here.  Then I thought of Gus's reply to my comments some time back.  They were addressed personally, but I can't see why I should not share them, since they are of general interest and I am sure he would want them communicated. The comments were interspersed with my article of May 20th, 2000 but I won't repeat the whole thing here.

They are built to ship and feed bees for 5 days.  These boxes are only used for domestic and Canadian shipments.  All other international shipments are shipped with attendant bees.  Because of the quick delivery to Canada and the customers preference, I use battery boxes. This means that when you receive the queens they should be put into a bank hive within hours.  These are valuable boxes as you know.  If the customer wants to keep them in the battery box for a week, please do so at your own risk

We always pack queens just before shipping.  Most customers receive bees in the mail so the ship date could be seen.  In the exceptional case of Alberta's large orders, they are usually packed on Tuesday before the Wednesday shipment, and received in less than 30 hours by the co-op.  The trans-shipment of these bees should be carefully considered. The cold bottom storage compartments of a bus on wet, cold roads does not seem to be a suitable method to me.

All battery boxes are packed and weighed exactly the same to the ounce. On individual orders, they are usually all packed within hours of each other, if not minutes. It seems that some of the shipments that go to Alberta and get put on an unheated greyhound bus do consume large amounts of candy.  I can only assume that this is because they get colder than they should. Once again, the value of these boxes and the methods of shipment should be considered seriously.

Derrick and I have tried to arrange this from the beginning, but with customs clearance, Saturday shipments, Sunday arrivals, etc., one way or the other we have to deal with the weekend.  I understand that this year Canadian airlines has been delivering the queens a bit later to Derrick, so he is not able to get them onto the bus that evening.  I can see many problems here if  pack the queens on Tuesday and you don't use them for a week!!  I would put them immediately into a bank on the Friday or Saturday you receive them.  You could sleep so much better!

Many people do this.  Temperature and feed and moisture are critical. You must realise that when queens die in the process, with all the different beekeepers doing "what we always do", it is difficult for me to replace  losses.  I always want my customers to get their monies worth, but I am not an insurance co. I have great difficulty making claims with the airlines on live product.

This would not happen if they were in a queen bank.  With brood for warmth and many more young bees to care for the queens.  These banks can be made up in a single and transported yard to yard.  They can be fed, boosted, and made into a split when the queens are used up. They can control their own temperature and they are not confined.  This makes the bees much calmer.

We drop six racks (150 queens) into a single box with two frames of brood between the three (frames) of cages and two honeys on the sides with a feeder.

There are not enough bees to care for the queens.  You can also damage the queens by adding too many bees and overheating them.  Once again, the bank hive solves these problems, reduces risk, and protects your investment in a much better way.  I repeat, you can transport these banks, and if needed, simply net them between yards.

All your comments are appreciated.  The more feedback the better from our customers.

I hope this has clarified the shipping process. The queen is the soul of the hive, and definitely needs to be treated like a queen from beginning to end.



As I have said before, I have been very happy with Gus' bees and used them for years. What he says makes sense, but I do have some comments to add, particularly in regard to queen banks on frosty nights in May in Alberta.

I'll do that later.

Tonight: Mainly clear. Low 7.


Monday June 5th, 2000

Today: Sunny with increasing afternoon cloudiness. Wind southeasterly 30 km/h after midday. High 25.

Monday is a day off for our crew, but I still keep on going at the deskwork.  The end is in sight, sorta.  I'm hoping that if things go well, I'll get away for at least four days this weekend.  If I stay home, I just wind up working -- on something.

Today, it was consulting with Marcus and preparing the driving maps for our deliveries to Lomond.  I generally spend quite a bit of time on the maps and written instructions in detail to ensure that trucks and trailers do not have to turn around in muddy fields.  This prevents getting stuck and the consequent loss of time, bees and tempers, and breakage of axles, burning of clutches, possible injury, etc. etc.

When we pull into the area, the drivers know exactly where each truck is going to unload, and the road it takes to be sure to be facing the right way.  This is essential to be able to drive long loads  into narrow field approaches without fooling around.  We know where the forklift is and arrange to pick it up along the way, or have it delivered to the first site -- in advance.

We make sure that the pull into the first site for each load is easy, That way, there is no strain on the truck pulling the loaded trailer.  Once the trailer is unloaded (it takes about six minutes start to finish for two men), the truck is much more manoeuvrable and can be unloaded at the same location if required, or go on to another site is requested.

Because the crops are seeded in sequence, over several weeks, they come into bloom over several weeks, and  we have several weeks to deliver the bees.  And, since the crops build up to full bloom, sometimes we need to deliver a few hives to each field to ensure there are some bees, but do not wish to move in the whole quota due to lack of bloom.

Marcus completed the prototype for the tarp top we have been dreaming about for a year now, and although we can immediately see how we will want to alter it tomorrow, it looks like a good simple set-up that will work well and not waste any time.

Fish.jpg (63824 bytes)100 rainbow trout were delivered to our pond a few days back.  At first they did not respond to fish food, but now when we throw a bit in, they come for it.  It's hard to get a good picture.  The water is quite blue, and that is due to Aquashade, an EPA approved water colorant that shades plants and algae to discourage growth while giving a beautiful blue colour.  The water was tea coloured before we added it and the pH is 9, about the limit for trout.

Tonight:  Mainly cloudy with showers or evening thundershowers. Strong gusty winds are possible with these thundershowers. Wind southeast 30 km/h shifting to west 20 overnight. Low 7.


Tuesday June 6th, 2000

Today: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind increasing to west 30 km/h. High 24.

We got off to a good start this morning. Ryan and Steve went out supering and feeding, each with a truck and a series of yards to do. Steve got away reasonably early and headed north to the Elnora area.  Ryan had a truck to unload from a previous day and was until noon getting ready.

Matt finished the brake work on D4.  After a lot of tidy-up and miscellaneous tasks, Gareth went help Marcus for the day cutting steel and grinding.

yan SuperingI had the usual series of interruptions and problems to solve all morning and into the afternoon, then managed to get away around four to get some tires on a truck and to go to the wreckers for parts.

I stopped to see how Ryan was getting along since he was at a yard along the way.  The streamer in the picture is pallet wrap, which we sometime use to keep the supers on the pallet.

The bees are really looking good in that yard.  We are supering them to four high.  They don't need all that space, but the cold weather has passed and we are more worried about the bees being too crowded than too cool.

Besides, we move in a few weeks and if all the supers are on now, they get glued up and don't rattle as much or shift in transit, and we have one less thing to think about.  We'd have to haul the supers to Lomond separately if we do not put them on now, and it is easy to super when the hives are nearby and we have to visit them anyways.

We feed light yards while supering.  I hesitate to say this, because some people are going to get the wrong idea.  Most beekeepers who do feed when supering would not admit to it for fear of being misunderstood by those who do not understand the art, but I learned the trick from a very good beekeeper 20 years ago, and, since I am committed to being candid on the topic will discuss this taboo topic.

 Here are some things one must do or not do in order to ensure that syrup does not get into the supers.  That would be a very serious mistake.

  • Use excluders.
  • Only feed hives that have plenty of room left in the brood chambers
  • Don't feed hives that are strong enough to find a flow that will drive them into storing in the supers
  • Use measured, small amounts of feed per hive.
  • If you can't meet these conditions, don't feed.

We use frame feeders to measure the amount each hive gets.  Adhering to the  above conditions ensures that syrup goes into the brood chambers, not the supers. It is always a concern that what is in the brood chamber might wind up in the supers, even if it is originally in storage below.  The likelihood of this is negligible as long as the quantity of feed is restricted and there is room in the brood area.  Bees always store close to the brood first, and only fill supers with surplus.

Unless excluders are used, there is really no distinction between the brood are and the storage area.  That is one reason that many beekeeepers find they can manage better without excluders, but has its own serious disadvantages. We use excluders and reserve everything below the excluder for the bees.  We do not extract brood chambers -- ever.  Another wise old beekeeper, now passed on, taught me that.  It makes it really simple to know what is theirs and what is ours.

When using excluders, bees normally only store freely in supers once the brood chambers are essentially full.  This is particularly true when supers out of the warehouse are put on above an excluder.  Bees are generally a bit reluctant to store in equipment that has not been in recent contact with bees.  Moreover, as many beekeepers will attest, it is not always easy to get bees to store through an excluder.  This knowledge, used judiciously, helps get them up by helping fill the brood chamber.

There is always some transfer from brood chamber to super, even with excluders, but the certainty of bees taking honey down from the supers to the brood nest after even a few days with no new income is much greater than the possibility of feed being stored in the supers -- as long as the bees are not overfed.

In fact, it is at this time of year  that we put the granulated combs from the previous year on the hives in the super directly above the super.  At this time, they go up in the day to work in the supers, but withdraw at night.  When they withdraw, they take as much honey as they can with them.

Bees are reluctant to store or produce wax in areas which they have to abandon periodically.  I learned this making comb honey.  One of the basic principles that I have observed over the years and have seldom, if ever, seen in books is this:  bees store best in areas of a hive that they can occupy 24 hours a day on a continuing basis without having to withdraw due to cold.  When they have other options, they remove honey from areas they are unable to control, either due to cold, wind, robbers, or light.

Once a good, heavy honey flow starts, all that changes, and all incoming nectar beyond immediate colony needs goes to the super area.  As I understand it, that nectar is stored in the brood area temporarily at times, but in open cells and apparently not mixed with feed which was previously condensed and put into  storage nearby.

If you want bees to do a good job, you must adjust the hive volume so that the bees are at optimum density throughout the hive.  This density varies with the season; after the swarming period is over you can crowd them more than earlier.

As wax and honey are produced, these products take up more space than empty combs or foundation and the space for bees naturally diminishes in the hive without removing boxes.  Moreover the thermal mass increases and moderates temperature swings.

After extracting, especially if foundation replaces some of the comb, less replacement boxes are usually required to keep the bees happy.  We put all our boxes on in June and early July and then reduce the height of the hives on each successive honey pulling visit.

Silver WillowAfter the tire shop and the wreckers, I decided to drive down into the badlands and sit by the Red Deer River.  It was 6:30 by then, but we have light until well after 9.  In fact, it is 10:22 as I write this and still not quite dark.

When I got there, I was thinking of a swim, and waded a bit, but wasn't in the mood, so I talked to a fisherman and watched his 6 year old daughter beating up a clam she found in the river for no reason I could fathom. She hit it doggedly with sticks for at least ten minutes, then threw it at a rock.  When I left, she was still beating on it.

The trees and bushes in the valley are blooming profusely and the smell of silver willow is strong.   This spot happens to be right where the Superman movie was filmed years ago.  I'd like to have some bees in this area, but it only yields for a week or two, then there is nothing, and it is a quite a drive from home.  Besides, valleys tend to be cold much of the time.

One year in the seventies, when I had very strong hives I bought from the East, I got full supers of honey on this willow flow (at another location).  I had a crew working for me assembling frames and they were just not putting out.  I wanted to show them graphically and diplomatically that the number of supers they had done was drop in the bucket, so I took them all out and we put them on the strongest hives.  When they saw how many hives there were and how much taller they needed to be they realised that we would need many more really soon, and understood why I expected more output.

Tonight: Increasing clouds this evening. Wind diminishing to light westerly. Low 8.


Wednesday June 7, 2000
 7 Days and counting...

Today: A mix of sun and cloud. 40 percent afternoon thundershowers. Wind shifting to southeast 20. High 22.

I knew this was going to happen.  I am not as interested in writing now that things are getting exciting, so we'll see how long I can run on self-discipline.  I find that if I just start writing, then I get interested and the thing takes on a life of its own.  That is what happened yesterday.  I thought I would not write much, but then did  a long piece.  It is the sitting down to do it that is hard.

Ernest Hemmingway, it is said, kept office hours and had a policy of writing something no matter what, just to get going.  He also left each day knowing what he would begin with the next day.  Of course, I am no Hemmingway, although I suspect I can be just as tedious a writer.

We are now 7 working days from the Big Move -- including today, assuming we start delivering on the 20th.  We'll be fine-tuning the delivery dates any day now.

Today was the day everything started to mesh again and everyone seems to be on track.  The guys put on almost 1,000 supers today.  There are about 4,500 to go and 5 days to do it after today, so we're on track.

Changing gears always seems to be a bit uncomfortable.  It always takes a few days for everyone to get into the groove and remember -- or learn -- what has to be done.  Beekeeping  is a very complex and technical job, believe it or not, and the focus constantly changes from day to day.

Our objectives now are to finish everything that has to be done in the yards on this trip.  That means making sure all hives are in good shape, on pallets, and in even multiples of forty in remote yards.  All hives must have enough feed to last until the bloom on pollination, and a reserve.

The few remaining and widely scattered queenless colonies must be given eggs and young brood, plus maybe some emerging brood, and have a few words of prayer said over them.  They are on their own from here on out.  There is absolutely no way we can come back to baby them.

Queen acceptance has been a bit disappointing.  It always is in anything except package bees.  I think we had over 80% success.  The balance did not show eggs on the first check, but it is always hard to guess how long the queen has been out of her cage unless we actually hand released her on a previous visit.  Maybe she is there and has not had a chance to lay yet.  We just don't know, so we add eggs and young larvae to ensure that the hive will not die, since if they do not have  a queen, they are by now hopelessly queenless.   We will never know for sure whether the queen eventually go into the act -- or not.

That is one problem with the way we split.  Our splits are hopelessly queenless unless they have a cell or two started.  That is less likely with the excluder splits than the side-by-side ones or progressive splits, and that is why I like to use cells rather than mated queens.  However, in life everything is compromise.

Whether we use good cells or laying queens, the acceptance rate is often about he same, and the time until the queen is laying is often similar, and cells are cheaper and easier to use in some ways.  Last year was an exception, and some of the queens from cells took three or even four weeks to get going due to lack of good mating weather.

Of course, because of that experience, we went back to mated queens.  This year, mating would not have been a problem if we had had a good source of reliable cells, since we did have sufficient good weather.

Mated queens and cells each have their own unique problems. Mated queens have the release time lag and high cost, limited availability at critical times, and uncertainty.  Cells have critical handling needs, a short shelf life, and the consequent scheduling problems, and the worry about mating weather.

In the afternoon, I had Marcus build me a land leveller to mount on a forklift so I could level some of our gravelled areas where we have new gravel or ruts.  It took him an hour to make it  out of some extra truck frame, and it works beautifully.  Maybe I'll show a picture here later...

So, I guess this writing effort turned out okay after all -- once I got going.

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