Thursday June 8th,
I spent the morning tidying the super storage building. The guys make quite a mess loading trucks. They take off broken frames and rejected boxes from the previous day's work and put them here and there. After a while, nothing is accessible. It took me until noon to get everything ready for tomorrow.
In preparation for loading tomorrow, I took a couple of truckloads of supers outside to have them in the loading area. Wouldn't you just know it would rain as soon as I finished. No great harm is done other than that the honey remaining on the supers will be washed off, and make the gravel sugary. If it ferments it may draw flies. The supers will also be damp when the go onto the hives, but the bees are strong now and can handle it.
The rain is very much needed. Our lawn was getting brown, and pastures are not growing. Rain also helps since we can use the bee confinement period to allow moving hives within yards and to nearby yards. We are confident that there will be no more flying today since this looks like a general rain that will suppress flying at least until tomorrow, and we shouldn't have much drift. A little drift within a yard is acceptable and can even be beneficial if managed right. What is not acceptable is losing bees in transit.
Our triploid carp (White Amur) arrived today. The eastern Irrigation District is promoting them as a solution to weeds in ponds. Our pond is really weedy, so I decided on five at $20 each. The delivery guy talked me into five more and also an air pump and air stone (which I was planning to buy soon anyhow) to prevent summer kill and winter kill, each of which we have experienced at some time or another over twenty plus years of having the pond.
This fish thing is getting pricey. So far I've spent over $1000 on fish this year -- and I'm not even a fisherman. Of course, some of this is an investment, meant to last over several years.
As the Big Move approaches, We're all getting excited. We prepare for and wait for this challenge all year now. At the same time that I know we are all excited, I feel very confident and strangely relaxed knowing that we are ready . We're really looking forward to doing a top notch professional job, and hoping to do it on our four-day-a-week schedule.
That would be something!
4:30 AM Speaking of changing gears, we will definitely be changing gears today. I don't know how much rain we got last night, but for around here, we got a lot.
I awoke at 4 to a sound could not identify, and realised that it was heavy rain on the roof.
I thought I'd better check the basement to be sure we did not have a flooding problem. Flash floods are not impossible here on the Prairies. Although we average a total of 12 inches of precipitation -- including snow -- per year on average, it is not entirely unheard of to get that much rain in an hour. I remember driving through Gleichen one day not too long ago and seeing bales of hay floating down the main street and a woman up to her waist in water taking her washing off the clothesline in her back yard.
All was well downstairs, but we may not be getting into many of our bee yards today. Our soil here has a lot of clay and it does not take much rain to make mud. Aside from the problem of getting stuck, into our yards driving during muddy conditions makes the trails rough and ugly for years afterwards.
Although we may fall a little behind in our supering, we can spend the day loading trucks and trailers with supers and maintaining equipment. This will save time later. Oil and filter changes and grease jobs need doing, and also there are many tiny cleanup and repair jobs.
Any thoughts of levelling Jonathan's yard prior to seeding will have to wait. We broke it up and tilled it last week. Since he has married and moved to Rhode island, we are caring for his place and the lawn was one of the tasks that was, so far, left undone.
11:05 PM: Things change fast. By the time work began, we could se that we had many yards that were still accessible since they have grassy trails and besides, the rain was soaking in fast. By 10, three trucks were on their way to super and move hives and another left not long thereafter.
We got about 1,200 supers onto hives today and now have 16 yards complete and ready to go to pollination or produce honey. There would be another 5 in that total, but -- in spite of Matt's having visited them yesterday to ensure all hives were in place, queenright and ready to super -- the supering crews today found a weak hive in each of three of these yards and had to remove them, leaving the yard one hive short of a full load.
This means we cannot yet mark the yards involved as complete. This a a real concern and I wonder how it could have happened, particularly in so many yards visited by such an experienced hand.
Some of these oddball weak hives had only three frames of bees according to reports. Apparently all the others were strong, measuring about nine or ten frames, so this is very odd. We will fix this up, of course, but it will waste time duplicating work that should have been done right the first time.
I'm noticing more attrition than the notes would have indicated, so I suspect that not all the weak hives were marked earlier. It's really hard to get people to make accurate observations.
The shrinkage is not out of line with past experience, but it is higher than the records indicated. I notice that the packages have been very trouble free, and of the four hundred, we have lost much less than 10% and the queens have been good.
Thinking about packages vs. splits: When one considers that the Australian packages cost $60 (CAD) each, and include a queen for which we would pay $14 if making a split plus the cost of any that do not take, and that there is virtually no loss or labour in managing the packages compared to splitting, packages seem very attractive.
Two pound packages will not produce as much honey as good early splits, but for pollination purposed they are ideal, being intrinsically quite uniform in size, genetics and other characteristics. Three pound packages are much more productive, but the extra cost is a burden. Maybe it is worth it though.
At any rate, we now have 1/3 of our active yards completely supered and culled and another 1/6 only requiring minor work. 1,200 supers a day supers 600 hives to 4 high which is the height we use for pollination. For honey, we will add a few more in early July.
After the rain, the gravel pads around our buildings were soft and I was able to level it nicely with the new leveller.
We activated the aeration system for the pond after supper. We have not buried the line, but thought that even a temporary set-up would help ensure good health. The trout are now very responsive to feeding and come as soon as we throw in some floating fish food.
We took the day off and went shopping in Calgary. We returned with some cupboards and a new kitchen table.
It is still early to expect much action in the top boxes, but knowing they are there stimulates the bees to expand. Although the bees may not be in the supers at all times, we have found that they come up and work when there is a warm day and a flow. They even draw foundation. Then, days later, they may have entirely withdrawn from the supers waiting for another flow.
An unobservant beekeeper might conclude that they had not needed the space if he had not looked in when they were up, or did not note the subtle signs of new work after they withdrew. But, if the additional space had not been there when needed, his bees might be making swarm preparations -- instead of continuing constructive work.
We are still on a carragana, honeysuckle, and willow flow. The apples and the dandelions are pretty well over. Alfalfa is still weeks away. I expect we will see a dearth for a week or two before long, but some years things keep going right through into July.
Behind the hives are honey drums waiting to be filled this summer. These drums were to be filled last year, but still sit there disappointed. In two months we'll have a good idea if they will sit another year or if we will need more.
We ship our honey to Alberta Honey Producers Co-operative in Spruce Grove, Alberta and these drums belong to them. When I was searching for the above AHPC URL, I learned something interesting: did you know that David Kilgour, MP, was a beekeeper? Um Hum.
Most of the trucks we bought two years ago are now equipped and running. There is one all ready and waiting only for its engine (not counting two gas units that we shortened and are waiting for decks) The new 7.3 diesel engine is sitting in the shop waiting for Matt to find two days to put it in.
Here is a shot of the line-up. There is one more truck in the line, and I am standing on its deck. It is the only one not facing the right way. Why? Dunno.
In this part of Alberta the climate is very variable. We may have almost no cold weather one year and bitter cold the next. The famous Chinook (snow-eater) winds can drive temperatures up to balmy temperatures within minutes in winter, then let them plunge again to minus forty in minutes.
You can see our home in the back. We live in a schoolhouse.
Today I added an entry door and a deck to he south wall of our residence, just to the left of the garden shown in yesterday's picture. We have been putting large windows (~5' x 7') into the south wall when I have time. The total now is two, with another four to go.
It just so happened I need a place to stand outside while working on the project, and we have an extra truck deck 8' x 18' which fills the bill. Our design, method of construction, and finish on the truck decks is such that with a little trim, the original purpose is not obvious. The steel headache rack is well finished and the deck surface is quality 2x6 tongue and groove spruce coated with linseed oil. I don't know how permanent this addition will be, but it was a fast way to get a nice looking deck added onto the house. So far, it is sitting on stacks of pallets, but if it stays, then I'll have to build a better support and add trim.
I didn't think of beekeeping even once all day. Tomorrow is Monday, and I guess I'll do a bit of work getting ready for the week, but I must say that these four day weeks -- and three day weekends -- are making me feel much more human.
Normal weekends are too short, especially for those of us who start at five or six and go until 7 or 8 -- or later -- at night on a working day. There are always tail-end jobs to do Saturday morning and prep work to do Sunday night, so two day weekends are not very restful in comparison.
I remember when we used to have problems taking even Sunday off. Then we said to ourselves that if we could do the job in six days, why not five? The difference was only organization and management. Now we are doing it all in four and it seems much easier. We get more noticeably more done per hour in the 10 hours we work per day than when we worked 8, and we all have a lot more free time. Hmmm. I wonder how three day weeks would work?
It seems unnatural at first to sit around and take time off when there is good bee weather on a scheduled day off, but if the necessary work is already on done on schedule, there is no point fussing. It is always possible to think of things one could do and how there is something that is not perfect, but relaxation and a personal life is vitally important too. It is easy to get unbalanced and become a 'workaholic' in this business.
We've learned to use any kind of weather to our purposes, and to get the job done rain or shine. Scheduling is important for that, and we have a task chart set up so everyone can se at a glance where we are and what needs doing, both now and in the near future.
I called Rob and he says we have a few more days than originally planned until The Move. That means we start hauling on the 22nd at the earliest, not the 20th. We had planned to take a practice run with a few hives, the forklift, and the holiday trailer that we use for a way station and bunkhouse this coming weekend, but since there is not chance of bloom and there is a still a chance of spray for cabbage pod weevil, we will hold off until at least the Thursday of next week.
This delay was not totally unexpected. We had set tentative moving dates knowing that it is easier to work with dates in mind and also that it is easier to delay a little than to suddenly have to go earlier than expected. The postponement gives us some more time to prepare and to do a little splitting, if desired, but it also creates some uncertainty as to when we get time off -- and when not. Since everyone is on call 24/7 until the end of the hauling, that should not cause hassles, however when people are as highly motivated as we are, the delay is psychologically difficult, and we need to have time for rest without wondering when we will be called in.
Another day of supering and collecting weak hives. It's now routine. the guys each have a truck and do about three yards, feeding and supering. Gareth did the package yards and they are a little behind the splits. There are about four problem hives per yard of forty. We equalize a bit, and if they are bad enough, mark them for replacement. Matt went to Delburne and moved hives around. there were a lot there that were not on pallets. It looks as if everyone had a good day.
We hired another driver this morning. That should take some of the pressure off our guys during the move. I did books and plans most of the day, and I picked up steel in Linden for Marcus this afternoon.
Adony arrived this evening and is going to measure his yard tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the foundation hives are doing compared to those on comb. When last checked, there was no significant difference.
We continue the supering and culling of yards. Steve managed to visit and complete seven yards. Gareth was off due to illness in the family. Matt adjusted yards by picking up weak colonies and replacing them, then doing some mechanical work this afternoon. I did some purchasing, troubleshooting and strategy analysis as well as design.
We were uncertain whether to bring some bees from distant yards home early and super them here or to work on them there. Some of the guys favoured bringing them home first to save the trips north with 1700 supers. After careful analysis, we realized that to move them twice would result in triple the work, even after the hauling of supers. That was not obvious until we did a study. An hour or two of thinking saved about 14 extra hours of hard work. It pays to think before acting.
We are still finding an average of four weak hives in each yard of forty package bees (10%). Some we are able to get up to snuff for pollination, some we are not. The package yards are definitely behind the wintered hives. Three pound packages would pay off in vigour, survival, and likely in production.
When comparing all the various ways of managing bees including packages and all the various kinds of splits with cells or mated queens, I am hard pressed to choose one with a clear advantage every time. All have attrition of at least 10% unless one is willing to fuss. When all things are considered, an 80% success rate is pretty typical. That brings us to the saying that 20% of your hives cause 80% of your work, and vice versa.
I have been writing on BEE-L a bit lately, and on sci.agriculture.beekeeping. Here are the BEE-L posts for June so far:
We are on schedule nicely, except that we have not yet made any splits for next year. That concerns me, since we had planned to make around four hundred. Being focused has paid off, though, since we are able to absorb problems like Gareth's absence.
When I see the splits from wintered colonies outperform the packages, it seems even more important. Since we are supering, the splitting seems less possible. We will nuc out the weak colonies in the nurse yard, but that will not make up enough for our needs. We will likely make some splits during the first honey pull.
We had a fish kill in our pond. We can see 25 trout floating and no sign of the carp. There is no response to feeding. As far as we can tell, the cause was aeration. we purchased a pump and airstone, and have had it running for over a week.
The instructions are to put the airstone on the bottom of the pond, which, in this case is about 18 feet down. We had just thrown it out on the end of its hose, since we could not find the paddle for our boat, ad it had run nicely for that time, churning the water nicely. Having decided that it was working okay, we decided to finish the installation and sink it to the bottom with a weight.. I sunk it and at the time noticed some H2S odour, but did not worry, thinking that we were doing what was recommended and also that this was the idea, to get the bad stuff to volatize out -- as well as to add oxygen. The technician had drawn me a diagram of the circulating action.
I phoned the local fish experts and they were quite surprised, and after a lot of humming and hawing, concluded that we must have stirred up trouble. Anyhow, we took the weight off and are now hoping that the carp and some of the trout are left.
Our son-in-law came by and stayed over on his way to sign his work contract in a school division north of here and to do an introductory day of work with the class he will have next year. Jean and Chris will be living in Red Deer, which is closer than Lethbridge.
Matt has gotten the time to install the airbags down to 40 minutes each. However he managed to whack himself in the lip and and went in for stitches. The doctor on call did not think he needed them. It was pretty obvious to everyone else that there will be a scar if he doesn't get stitches. He didn't. Oh, well, scars add character to one's face.
Ryan has been draggy for a day or two and phoned in sick today with stomach trouble. Told him to rest up and make up the time later. We still have about 16 yards to super and our target is the end of this week.
Gareth is still gone, but his wife is better.
We had a bison cross rib roast for supper. It was a bit more money than beef, but very good. It also seems to have very little fat. We enjoyed it, and had lots left over. It seems a better value in spite of the greater cost per pound, since there is not temptation to overeat as there is with beef, for some reason.
© 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)