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Friday August 18th, 2000
We have been calculating and can see we will likely have close to 4,000 hives going into winter. Perhaps the number may be as low as 3,500 if the fall is poor and we choose to combine some of the weaker ones or we discover queen failures. One thing is certain: we'll will need more brood chambers and wraps if we intend to winter them all outside. I don't think I want to set up indoor wintering. There is quite a bit of of cost in indoor wintering, and someone must watch the bees all winter in case the temperature and ventilation controls go awry. I understand the success rate is not much different from outdoors, although there can be savings in feed.
At this time of year, climate becomes a subject of concern. We want to know the range of temperatures and conditions that we can expect over the next 30 days. Environment Canada maintains a website that provides this info for our area. From the data, we can see that in September the extreme coldest temperature on record is -13.3 C and the maximum has been +35 C.
That's quite a range. I've seen two years in a row years when we had snow on August 20th and years when our first frost came in October. I 'm hoping for one of those gentle years. A large factor in wintering success is how long the bees are confined. A long, open fall reduces this inactive time and, combined with an early spring, improves wintering success.
We sent everyone to the field today, and Matt and I decided to run a few loads to see how the line is working. In two hours, we ran three loads, producing almost three drums of honey, and had ten minutes left at the end. This was in spite of the fact that I had never run the loading system before and jammed things up several times. I can see that we should be able to run at least two loads an hour -- and more likely three -- in a sustained run with three people.
I can also see we will have to pull out some of our poorer frames and melt them. It's probably a good idea anyhow. We have frames with frame savers on them, frames that are bowed out to one side, and ones with the tabs in poor condition. The odd frame has nails for a tab or a top bar that has pulled loose at one end, leaving the frame partially dropped and off-rectangular. All of these are likely to give trouble in the uncapper or the conveyor, or the extractor. When we uncapped by scratching by hand or with the Dakota Gunness, we had no problem with these frames, but with the Cowan system, we get several jams or breakages per load.
I ordered syrup for delivery September 10th. Last year there were delays due to all the beekeepers wanting loads at once.
We finished taking down the splits in all except three yards. Still no sign of varroa. Next week, we will have to pull and extract honey with all our full concentration.
In the evening, we went to the Carbon bar with Bill & Fen for a beer and some chips and ribs.
Low 8. High 22.
El & I slept in then went to Keho Lake in the motorhome. We arrived just as the wind was dying and people were returning to shore or sailing with 5 metre sails. I decided it was not worth rigging and we sat in Tom's motorhome and watched video and chatted until bedtime.
Low 8. High 22.
The wind blew all night, but calmed down about the time we got up. Everyone else had left during the night, so we had the place to ourselves. We lounged around until 3 or so, then headed home.
Is it still Monday? I guess it is.
We just got back from Red Deer where we went to have supper with Jean and Chris and his parents and brother who are down from Yellowknife for a visit.
Today we hired another new person. He has quite a few skills, so I hope he works out. The last few have not lasted. We're advertising and will interview another applicant tomorrow morning. We always have staff shortage problems at this time of year.
Todd missed work today because he got stung in the eye Friday and his face is still swollen enough that he can't see properly out of either eye. He seems happy enough and I hope he gets over it soon. I can remember that happening to me in early days before I developed immunity. I still do swell a little when stung near the eye, but not nearly as much.
Matt, Dustin, & I ran the line again today. We thought we would really kick ass, but the chains came off twice and we wound up taking 2-1/2 hours for three loads. Almost an hour of that was in repairing the chains. This has simply got to improve.
We're having troubles too, with one of our staff not phoning in from the field with problems. Our crews, each consisting of two people, are currently under orders to phone every two hours to report what they are observing and any problems. Yesterday he did not do the varroa checks in several yards and also did not count supers and brood chambers as required to plan for the next round. Today he did not quite finish one yard because he ran out of supplies when there were three splits left to do.
He thought we would get them on the next round. That is so very wrong. All he had to do was pick up the phone and we would have told him to bring them home to be dealt with. We can't be going back and doing a previous job on a future round. In that direction lies total chaos.
We lost about forty queens in our carry boxes. In one case, the cause was careless handling: too few bees and queen cages turned to face one another or fallen over, denying bees access. In both cases the queens have been held a long time and the party in charge of maintaining feed on the boxes at night fell down on the job Friday.
We bought too many queens, plain and simple, but we had to make a decision when we bought them, and did not know at that time how many we would need or how soon. We considered the risk of not having enough more costly than the possibility of losing some in storage, so I don't feel too bad -- and consider the loss an insurance premium paid.
My digital camera remains at the repair depot awaiting an appraisal of the cost of repairing it after it was run over, so still we have no pictures.
Jean called. Chris' folks are in town for the next day or so. Ellen & I are running up to Red Deer to have supper with them at a Chinese buffet.
I woke up groggy, having been awake in the middle of the night for several hours. I love Chinese food, but it often keeps me awake. As I get older, I have to avoid some spices, and I think MSG has a bad effect on me too. Perhaps it was Ryan returning with the bees around 2:30 that woke me, but I was unable to get back to sleep until around four and the only way I could find that worked was to drink a good shot of mead. Sometimes when I have problems sleeping I am wide awake and enjoy writing, but last night I was really tired and wanted to sleep. I just could not.
The job candidate we were to interview this morning simply did not show up.
Ralph, the new guy, came to work, arriving early and looking good. He and Justin were given the job of setting out drums for the syrup coming tomorrow (I rescheduled the first load)
The reason I rescheduled the load -- besides the problem with supply at the critical time -- is that we figure putting it into tanks, then pumping it onto trucks and trucking it to the yards, then running it into drums is slower than just filling drums and fork-lifting them here and at the yards. We'll see. This approach means taking a forklift on a trailer to every yard until this load is distributed. We normally just take one of our heavy-duty one-tons with an eighteen foot deck as shown at left.
I discovered this morning that there was more to the incomplete yard story yesterday than was first revealed to me. There were also four splits left there before in singles and the worker did not have a second box for them, so he figured we had no choice but go back. Perhaps so, but a quick phone call would have given him our consent and understanding or offered an alternate solution. I doubt we will return for several weeks.
We were among the first beekeepers to adopt cell phones and now we have five. At first we thought of them as an emergency measure, but now consider them to be a routine necessity. I am able to coach several teams of workers in remote areas as they encounter problems and to co-ordinate activities on a real-time basis. We get much more accurate compliance with instructions and improved effectiveness.
I've had hundreds of people work for me over the past quarter century and never heard of anything like the following:
Todd, it turns out, has had a strange reaction to a bee sting he received right in the corner of his eye as he was leaving work last Friday. On the weekend, he called say that he had swelled up enough that he was unable to see straight enough to come to work Monday. Today his mother phoned to say she had to take him to the hospital this morning when she saw him after he got up.
According to her description, his face is about twice its normal size and he has started to swell in the arm and on foot. I think they will be consulting a specialist. I've never heard of a systemic reaction that had such a delayed onset.
Meijers are coming for supper tonight and I am looking forward to comparing notes with them. they are good beekeepers and always have good ideas they are willing to share.
Everyone went north again today to pull honey and tidy up the yards there. We are now reducing the hives to three high and placing boxes under the singles. We will be short of brood chambers to make the singles into doubles and are using supers for bottom wintering chambers in some yards. We were thinking of placing foundation in the bottom box and feeding heavily, but decided this is the tried and true way. We may try doing some with foundation as an experiment.
Justin and Ralph loaded a truck for the dump, unloaded several other trucks that had odds and ends on them from previous jobs, and brought in drums. I decided to run the line by myself and got off to a good start, only to have a loading chain come apart. I fixed that, and then the other two finished their jobs and came to help. I think we ran about five loads in four hours.
I'll write more about these automated extracting lines someday, but for now, I'll just say that to this point, using either the Dakota Gunness or hand scratching was much faster and reliable. If we had been hand scratching this season, we would be destroying much fewer combs and we would be caught right up, rather than creeping along. Basically, the system I have requires a very savvy person or two and $25,000 in investment to do the work several average people could do with a few thousand dollars worth of equipment.
One thing the system does is to even out the comb surfaces and remove wax from the sides and tops of the top bars. Years of hand scratching and using a Dakota Gunness have left quite a build-up on some.
We've had some really good students this summer. Justin has been a great help. He's a farm boy and has great instincts and a great attitude. He has been working in the field, but lately mentioned that his wrists hurt from lifting supers. We have reviewed how he does it and cannot see why he should have this problem when others do not, but concluded that everyone is built differently. What some do easily can be a problem for others, and we have moved him off the heavy lifting. He has a slight build and is still growing, so I want to be sure he does not do damage to himself and are giving him alternate work There is lots of that and he is smart enough not to need constant coaching.
This is Dustin's second year with us. He is a big guy and quiet. He is a town boy, but has amazing instincts and attitude for our complex and varied work. It's hard to remember that he is only 17 (I think), because he also works like a man ten years older.
Ryan D. has been good too. We don't normally hire kids under 17, but he is a cousin of Steve's and we hired him at only 14. He has done a man's work much of the time and I am hoping to have him back for a few summers in the future.
Todd is still pretty new to us, and I don't know him well, but his great attitude is apparent from the start. He has been learning fast, but is off with a sting problem. I hope he is able to return to work.
This was Ryan R's last day at work. he has been with us for two years now and is off to become -- eventually -- a lawyer.
We skimmed the tank into the whirl dry first thing this morning and can see that the volume of wax is at the limit of what the unit can handle. This was Ralph's first attempt, so maybe he will skim less honey in the future and we won't have a problem, but we expect to increase our throughput, and may have more wax in the future. This could be a problem if we have to run two loads, since we cannot run the extractor until the tank is skimmed.
We have to skim the tank before we pump into drums, since the wax has had a chance to rise up and the layer is undisturbed after sitting for the night .
We run all our honey and cappings directly into the 300 US gallon milk tank. It has water circulation through what were the refrigeration coils. The water in the coils runs at about 110 degrees F (43 C) maximum. The honey usually is about 95 degrees F (35C) after sitting. Our cappings are from a chain uncapper and are pretty well pulverized and thus can be spun effectively.
Once the tank is skimmed, we simply run a pump that fills drums directly from the tank. It takes about 5 minutes per drum, and a float switch stops the pump at the correct level. This takes place while other work is going on and only requires a moment's attention when each drum is full. There is very little wax, maybe a quarter of an inch on top, at most, when lidding, but that is not a problem for our co-op where we send the honey.
When we exceed the capacity of the 300 gallon tank during an extracting day, we pump the excess honey immediately into a much larger milk tank as a reservoir to settle overnight and the process is much the same the next morning.
We are finding the occasional dead hive in some yards. This is normal at this time of year for us, and we expect to eliminate about ten percent of the total by wrapping time. Maybe it will be less this year, since we have been working on the brood chambers all summer, but if so, I'll be surprised.
The mortality is from queenlessness or drone layers. We do not examine the brood chambers much after splitting. Once is all, usually. We have found that the ones that don't take or make queens are a waste of time and playing with them is an uneconomical distraction.
We seldom see any other cause -- such as AFB. Varroa mites are a wild card because they are new to us, but so far we have no indication they are causing any summer or fall loss. We suspect that tracheal mites do cost us hives in winter and last year we treated with three rounds of 30ml 65% formic pads as shown at left.
We are now placing another brood chamber under singles in anticipation of dearth and wintering. As previously mentioned, we use brood chambers in some yards and supers in others, since we will not have enough brood chambers to do them all.
We are finding some really heavy boxes of honey as we extract. Most are about 50 to 60 pounds, but some may be 100. They are a pleasure to extract, since we get lots of honey for less work.
It's official. Todd has an allergy and won't be back. It is a very unusual reaction. The doctors are puzzled and keeping him close to a hospital. I gather may not be not strictly related to the sting alone. It's sad, because he was really enjoying the work and doing a good job.