It's damp and cool and a little breezy, but everyone is primed and ready to go today. Two trucks are headed north to feed and check. They were gone by nine, with all in great spirits in spite of the rain.
Hopefully we can get into the yards we have so far been unable to reach, and we can finish the first round before we nearly complete the second. We actually began a third yesterday in a nearby yard.
Syrup on the truck is the limiting factor, so we are reducing the amount we put into the drums in each yard. We had been putting several inches into each in addition to filling the top frame feeder in each hive.
The guys got back and we have one more day's work left for one crew in the north. They did 308 for one crew and 148 for the other. That's a bit less than our best, but as in all things, the pace ebbs and flows. Besides, one crew is still getting used to the job.
On the right is a perfect illustration of why it pays to be constantly vigilant when believing the results of computer calculations. We use an MS Excel spreadsheet to tabulate our results and observations. We are forever tinkering with our tables, and it is easy to overwrite or miss a formula, or to miss including the bottom number in a column of sums.
In this case, a reader pointed out a fairly obvious error, which I corrected (Thanks). Something else that I had not mentioned -- since I never figured anyone would be reading this very closely -- is that several yards were not yet on the sheet. I have now added them. Our packages are not on this sheet either.
Speaking of package bees, I went to look at them and lifted a few lids. It was cold and they looked miserable compared to the overwintered hives -- they always do at this stage, so I closed them up and we'll look at them more closely when we have a warm day.
Today..Showers mixed with flurries ending this morning then
mainly cloudy. Wind increasing to north 30 km/h. High plus 5.
7:30 AM We had some rain overnight and that is most welcome. The overnight temperatures were slightly above freezing and are not forecasted to change much until Friday when the predict a cool night at minus five. Every day without a cold snap allows the bees to get some brood underway.
Once sealed, brood actually gives off some heat and help warm the cluster, so if we can get brood to that stage, the bees get a boost. Daytime temperatures are still slightly below normal. We'll continue with feeding today, hopefully with two crews on the road.
1 PM: I got the feeder fixed. It was simple once I figured out what was happening.
I spent eight hours on the thing by the time I finished, including my time yesterday. What happened was this: one end plate on the motor has a slight cutout to clear two field power posts inside the motor. The end plate can go on in either of two positions, 180 degrees apart, (but there is only one relief, and it is not all that noticeable). At either of these two positions, the thru bolts line up and the dowel finds a matching hole.
Because of an oil port hitting a mount, I chose one of the two positions-- but the other was the one with the desired clearance to the posts. The motor ran fine each time until I tightened up the thru bolts, and I tried a number of things before finally tracking down the problem. Once I rotated the plate 180 degrees, everything was AOK.
Then there were a few leaks to fix and odds and ends to finish. Finally Dennis and Kenton are getting out of here. They will go east five miles to do a nearby yard on their shake-out run, then do a few more before we call it a day. First we get good, then we get fast.
Looking at the notes, I see it is now almost two weeks since we started the last round and we had been hoping to get around in a week. I hope the bees are not too short on pollen. Some of the yards have not seen us for over three weeks because we could not get in and they had to be skipped, and some because of the breakdown. A few have not been visited at all yet.
Evening: Everyone got back in good time. I had gone to town to do a little business and was glad to see all is well. we now have two crews on the road and should be able top get around pretty quickly. I'm a bit concerned that some of the yards are getting the Apistan so late since we will miss the broodless period completely and also have to wait to take it out later. Making splits could require more Apistan and the associated expense.
Today..Mainly cloudy. 60 percent chance of showers. Wind
becoming north 20 km/h. High 10.
It's sunny today. I decided to check out the feeding systems in the afternoon. I got one 100% ready to go, but the other spun a motor bearing and I had quite a time getting it to work. Even with the new breakers in the circuit, the motor seemed to have some serious problems arising from being stalled. I couldn't determine if it was the motor or the solenoid and gave up around eight at night and decided to leave the problem for the morning.
Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming northwest 30
km/h. High plus 12.
We awoke, had breakfast at the hotel, and met up with Jean and Chris at Ponoka on the way to Edmonton and a day at The Mall. We thought we might stay the night at the Fantasyland Hotel at the mall and enjoy the huge wave pool in the World Waterpark, but the mall was very crowded and by five-thirty we decided that we had had enough and headed south. We thought of staying in Red Deer again, but elected to go home to our cats.
While at the Mall, I had a chance to watch the Fabulous Mindbender, the World's Largest indoor triple loop rollercoaster. Galaxyland's Mindbender rollercoaster is 14 stories tall and rated #1 in the world for G-Force. I was planning to ride it, but there was quite a lineup and I had to meet Ellen soon enough that I wasn't sure of getting on. They stop every two hours for a fifteen minute safety check, and that cut into my time available. I have to admit I was feeling a little bit of fear too, which is uncharacteristic of me. After reading the specs and the fact that it pulls 5.2 Gs, I remembered the strain on my back when riding the Big Dipper in San Diego. Of course the Mindbender's ride is silky smooth on a continuous pipe rail, unlike the Big Dipper, which is an old wooden device with uneven track and lurches around the circuit.
Saturday..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind north 20. High 7.
It is snowing outside and we're expecting several inches of it. Everyone has the day off and I'm thinking of going somewhere. Anywhere.
We got some calls and faxes that kept us busy until mid-afternoon and then wound up going to Red Deer for the night just to get away from work. We did a little shopping, then stayed at the Travelodge there.
Got an email this morning. I appreciate the info. Thought I'd reproduce it -- and my reply -- here.
I played around and played around and think I fixed the problem mentioned above. I seldom test the page at 640 x 480, since that is an old resolution, not much used anymore, but now think the page is fully scalable again. Nonetheless, I think it should look best at 800 x 600 fully maximized. Anything smaller is going to be a bit of work to read.
Today..Occasional snow. Further accumulation near 2 cm. Wind
southeast 20 km/h shifting to north 30 this morning. High plus 1.
The pond has finally thawed, but we're expecting snow tomorrow, so the weather still isn't improving. Nonetheless the bees seem to be coming along well enough.
Kenton started today and he and Tim and Paulo went feeding. Around three they had problems with the feeder and came back. I worked pretty well all day on the main feeder and it is repaired, loaded, filled, and ready to go -- but we are all taking the day off tomorrow, since the weather looks bad.
Today..Mainly sunny. Increasing cloudiness in the afternoon
with a 30 percent chance of showers or flurries. Wind southeast 20 km/h. High
It's minus 6.5 and sunny with no wind. Although the forecast is for below normal weather for the foreseeable future, at least the extreme cold seems to be over. Today we'll get out and get more patties on. I was talking to Paul H and he said the other day that some pussywillows are now in bloom. We don't have willow at every location, but that means at least some sites will be getting pollen.
After being outside for a while, I take back what I said about 'no wind'. There is a steady, nasty NW wind that makes working outside bitterly cold. We spent about an hour practicing putting on tire chains and found out that of the eight sets we have, none fit the trucks properly. Seems to me we have been using chains over the past few years, so I'm not sure what has happened. Maybe the properly-fitting chains are still hidden somewhere. We'll get the chains adjusted today so we have several good sets.
Some beekeepers use 4x4s for everything, but we run 2 wheel drive, except for one unit. 2WD has fewer routine problems, and lower initial cost. Once in a while we have traction problems, but a good set of chains can make a 2-wheel drive equal to a 4-wheel unit. Besides, 4X4s can create false confidence and get stuck too. When they do, it is not a pretty sight.
We deliberately thinned the syrup when we received it, but it was so cold this morning that the Briggs & Stratton engine on one syrup pump would not start. The syrup -- even thinned out -- was too thick. When this happens, we just release one of the cam-locs and shut off the infeed hose valve to allow the pump to draw a little air. The pump then cavitates until the engine starts and warms up under less load. When the engine is running well, we close off the air leak and open the valve wide and it pumps okay.
We have the electric pump with a Jabsco that we can use if the gas pump is balky, but the electric moves syrup at half the speed. We try to have a backup system for every essential process. That is why we are able to go feeding today. The original feeder system is still under repair. I'd better quit typing and get to work on it.
We still have not pulled any frames to look at brood and bees. It is too cold, and we know what we would see anyhow. Soon, though we will be receiving our queens for splits and will have to start the real beekeeping. Then we will be pulling lots of frames.
Paulo and Tim continued feeding bees and did about three hundred hives today in sheltered yards. Winter loss is around 14% now. The ones rated 'weak' now should survive, since they are about the same strength as packages. Dennis moved things around the yard and did tidy-up jobs. They needed doing badly. I should have completed working on the second feeder so that we can field two crews this week, but I was kept busy with other jobs. Ellen went to the city for the day.
We still have not visited all the hives, so the total count is not correct and we could have some surprises out there. We have started putting more than one patty on each hive since the patties are being eaten faster than we can get around to the hives.
Today..Mainly sunny. Increasing cloudiness in the afternoon
with a 30 percent chance of flurries. Wind becoming north 20 km/h. High plus
The weather outlook is simply awful. There is a heavy snowfall warning in parts of Alberta and several days around freezing with cold nights are predicted. The tanker arrived at eight, and the weather was bitterly cold, overcast and breezy. Nonetheless, Dennis is a cheerful guy and enjoyed the job of pumping out the tanker in spite of the biting wind. He and the driver kept one another entertained the whole time.
We had about 9" of water in each tank for several days, waiting for the truck to arrive. Fortunately it was not frozen. The syrup mixed well with the water and I estimate the final concentration to be somewhere around 58%, which should be good for spring feeding. The load amounted to 20,200 kg wet weight and filled three 1250 gallon tanks with the diluted 55 HFCS. A few inches had to go into the tank that already held 2/3rds of a tank of slightly diluted sucrose syrup left from last fall.
Tim started work today. What a day to start! He and Paulo worked on frames all morning to stay out of the weather. During that time, Dennis and I got the standby feeder system working and Paulo and Tim were able to test it out feeding the package bees in the home yard around noon. We gave the packages Fumigillan B in their syrup, because of the bad weather, and because we had some on hand. Paulo and Tim then loaded up with more syrup and went to Frere's where there is shelter from the north wind, and fed patties and syrup all afternoon. Apparently many of the hives had eaten all traces of the patties, including the paper, so we will now start putting at least two protein patties (one pound each) on such hives.
All told, they fed about 300 hives. We have put the extender patties on most hives now and also put in Apistan. That is the entire medication for the year if all goes well, except for the menthol which we will add shortly, as soon as the weather gets nicer.
We have been worried about our packages, too. Only one has died so far, and that is likely due to queenlessness, combined with being too cool to get to the feed. I actually have a good feeling, though.
I got a call this morning from a beekeeper in Saskatchewan who applied Blue Shop Towel Tracheal Control (1) (2) to his hives yesterday and noticed that the bees were being driven down from the brood by the fumes. His hives are still wrapped and the temperatures were about 12 degrees outdoors, if I recall what he said. He told me that he placed the towels in the centre of the hive and also used a half towel. Menthol can drive bees out, so it is good that he checked to see how things were going.
When we did our applications last year, we placed the towels at the back of the hive and also cut the rolls in thirds, not halves, since we had heard of some brood kill when researching the method. We did not notice any ill effects when we did it, but be aware: too much menthol on a hot day (or tightly closed hive) can drive bees right out of the hive and/or kill brood.
By the way, we did find a few tracheal mites in our samples when we did additional bees from the original samples. There were five mites in two bees out of the twenty, which is not good, but also not too bad.
Kenton called today and he is starting Thursday. That should complete our field crew for the time being. Dustin says he can come for a week each month and that will be a big help.
Dennis worked around the place today tidying up and doing chores. I pulled the pump apart, then went to town for parts.
I had a strange and annoying experience there. At the parts counter in Linden Agri-centre, I was buying about ten dollars worth of parts for the 1" gear pump and had the end casting there for reference. There was a bushing in a blind hole and I asked the partsman how to take it out. I had a good idea how I'd do it, but thought I'd ask. He showed it to a worker passing by, who took it into the back and returned seconds later with a bolt that was about the same size as the inner hole in the bushing.
"Oh", I said, "That's how you get it out?"
"We use a tap and then pull it with a bolt", he answered.
"Oh, okay", I said, "Are you going to take it out?"
"Unless you want to..."
"No, that's okay, I don't have a tap that size".
Seeing as he already had everything on hand and there was nothing to it, I figured he wouldn't charge, or just charge a nominal amount. After all, this is the country and people are usually neighbourly and helpful.
He left and returned in a minute or so with the bearing out of the casting and the partsman said to him, "How much".
"Ten dollars", was the reply.
Today..Mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of flurries. Wind
north 30 km/h gusting to 50 km/h. High zero.
We've now had a month of spring and the summer solstice is only two months away. In the next month we will be doing the bulk of our spring beekeeping. So far there is no sign of pollen coming in, but that will change any day, and since all the spring pollen sources have been held back, they could come on hard and fast. We need rain to trigger everything and get the crocuses and other early pollen sources blooming. So far we have been going around checking and medicating and feeding. These activities are important, but not as essential as the work that is beginning now. Once the pollen starts, we are working against time to get the hives built up and ready for the flow, which could be as little as eight weeks away.
From the Lethbridge weather reports, it sounds as if today will be a classic windsurfing day at Kehokipa. The guys have been forecasting it for the last five days or so. Highs of seventeen and steady winds over 60 km/hour (~35 MPH). I have work to do and a meeting with Crop Insurance this morning. I'm going to miss this chance to sail in fantastic conditions, but I guess there will be more opportunities. I must keep my eye on the ball. It's coming at me fast.
At this time of year, things begin to accelerate and time compresses. Those who are not ready will miss beekeeping opportunities and never know why. When the weather turns and spring starts, we start getting calls from beekeepers or wannabe beekeepers who would like to buy hives or get started in the business. This year, the trend is even stronger, since the price of honey is high. Many don't have their financing in place or any clear idea of what they are going to do. In my opinion, anyone who has not got his financing in place and things organized and planned by now, and is not working in the yards or shop daily does not understand beekeeping in Alberta, and is doomed to fail -- barring fantastic luck. There is a time for everything, and now is not the time to be distracted by what should have been done months ago. Nonetheless, things do come up, and we make a point of managing in a way that leaves us some slack to deal with such things and even to help others if the need arises. We try to have a bit of surplus time and staff available for contingencies. Even at that sometimes we have to run flat out.
That is not to say that small scale start-ups or small adjustments to an existing operation aren't reasonable and practical, but any sizeable beekeeping business should be concentrating on the day-to-day details by now. To be a successful beekeeper, it is necessary to prepare well before the game, and not once it has begun. It's the difference between showing up consistently five minutes late for work and being consistently five minutes early. It's the difference between always having money in the bank and being always in debt. Everything comes down to attitude and preparedness, and these two factors make the difference between success most of the time and failure most of the time.
Unless there is an unusually long season with a major flow in late August (one year in ten for us), success means hitting a small window of opportunity -- usually several weeks at most -- which can appear anytime in late June and/or July. By then hive populations must be at max, all honey supers on, road and field equipment sitting ready, and the facilities and personnel to extract must be fine-tuned and ready to run flat out for a few weeks. It is all over in a flash and many miss the target year after year. Most don't know what they missed because they are still busy getting ready.
As I said above, our meeting to set our selections for Crop Insurance coverage is today. An Alberta beekeeper must decide within a few days what level of coverage to purchase, or to opt out. The crop insurance people know that the season is already well underway. Some beekeepers don't.
After the meeting, I went to three towns looking for parts for the pump. Pedestal gear pumps seem to no longer be a standard hardware store item. I also looked around for a 12 volt motor since the winch motor in the unit may be fried. I couldn't find anything. I did get some circuit breakers (which I should have used in the first place). I got home around 5 and Meijers came for supper.
Today..Mainly sunny. Wind increasing to west 30 gusting to 50
km/h. High 15.
There is still ice on our pond, but we can see four of the expensive carp have died and are now floating. There was little runoff, the pond is low, and the water is getting pretty alkali. This might be a good year to pump it out and let it fill with fresh water.
I spent the morning getting the camper ready to go windsurfing, since the forecast is for 17 degrees and 40 to 70 kilometer winds over the next few days. It was one PM before I was ready and since it is a 2-1/2 hour drive each way -- and I must be here tomorrow -- I decided to put the trip off. At least I am ready to go now. The camper is all set up and the gear is somewhat sorted out -- for high winds, anyhow. Light winds will require a change of equipment. I've acquired so much windsurfing gear now that it is a huge undertaking to go anywhere since I gave away my motorhome some time back, and the camper has much less storage. Of course, I don't need to take all seven boards wherever I go, but I have to make decisions and sort out gear for the conditions. if I make a mistake, I may not have what I need to sail, since every board has different rigging.
The afternoon was spent tidying in the gym while watching a movie.
Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind northwest 20 km/h. High
Saturday April 20th, 2002
Not much happened today. I slept in. Matt came over to fix things. I answered some email, and El & I did some planning.
In the morning Ellen put out some BeePro for the bees to keep them from bothering people downtown in their quest for pollen and in the afternoon Shirley came by to visit. There was a breeze, but generally this was one of the nicer days we've had.
In the afternoon, a neighbour called about bees in the chop bin and I dropped over to commiserate a bit. People are pretty tolerant and just want to understand what is going on. Some are concerned that the bees are lost or planning to move in. A kilo of honey taken along as a gift is a good idea at a time like this. Matt finished wiring up the camper and a few other tasks and called it a day.
I'm starting to think about fly control. We're in an agricultural area, and I don't know if it is the feedlots and horses in the vicinity or just the nature of the locality, but we have hoards of stable flies by August and they make sitting outside miserable. Picnics can be awful with flies crawling on everything and everyone. I generally like insects and used to enjoy seeing the first fly of the season, but I no longer enjoy them at all.
As I understand it, flies usually stay within a fairly short distance of where they are hatched, so controlling them should be a simple matter of trapping out all the flies in the area around my house -- I think. A few years back, I bought some fly traps of the bottle variety, "The Fly Terminator", and they worked well, but they were expensive and needed frequent tending. They also did did not achieve as good a control as I would like. After a year, the plastic bottles were brittle and it looked as if another several hundred dollars would have to be spent. They also broke when winds blew them around the yard. I resisted the expense last year and flies were simply awful. Muscovy ducks are out of the question, since I don't want them all around the yard.
Today..Sunny. Wind light. High 15.