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The Dakota Gunness with an eight and four-foot conveyor extension added

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Friday September 20th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Today was another windy day.  Paulo said his ears hurt from the wind yesterday and we arranged for everyone to stay around home tidying and sorting brood chambers.  The crew ran short of brood chambers yesterday and not converted five of the singles they encountered to doubles.  That spells trouble, since we do not plan another beekeeping trip to those distant yards.  We only plan to weigh, feed, and wrap now in those yards, and that does not require a beekeeper, just labour.  We'll now have to send a beekeeper there. 

If they had only phoned to report the problem, I'd have just said to make a few emergency BCs by going through a few supers to find suitable boxes and comb, and we'd have not had this exception to remember, and deal with later.  Commercial beekeeping is all about eliminating exceptions, managing hives a whole yard at a time, and making sure that there are as few processes as possible underway at any one time.

Around ten, the phone rang and my friend Bruce, from Salt Spring said he was in Vulcan and headed our way on his bike.  I had one job to get out of the way before he arrived and I could take the rest of the day to visit.  I called Vern at Kirks Sheet Metal, and although he was very busy, he agreed to bend the trays for the Dakota. 

The previous owner of the uncapper had trays, but they were very crudely made and floppy.  Moreover there was really no good and manageable way to suspend them and take them out for cleaning.  I took them up to Kirks and Vern and I worked together to put a crease in the bottom, to fold the edges for strength and to reduce the sharp edges that could easily cut hands.  Although we have never worked together before, Vern and I moved quickly and intuitively in co-ordination, turning, marking and bending the long, unwieldy pieces .  It was almost like ballet.  When we were done, the trays were perfect -- I think.  Now, it is just a matter of suspending them in a way that we can direct the cappings where we want them.  Capping are the biggest problem in any extraction system. No matter what uncapper is used, there there is no neat, clean way to handle cappings, except maybe for a press.  I don't know.

Bruce arrived and we decided to go to the Red Deer River badlands near Drumheller.  We wandered up and down the hills and valleys of the badlands all afternoon, looking for interesting rocks.  We came back around seven and had a supper of buffalo steaks (donated earlier by Meijers).

The guys worked around home all day.  I had told them they could leave whenever they liked, since they had worked hard all week and the wind was strong enough to make working outside a bit miserable.  Nonetheless, they stayed and finished up what they wanted to get done, working in the shelter of the quonset and in the North End extracting room when they did not have to be outside.  They got lots done, but there is still lots of tidying to do around the place.

Today..Mainly cloudy. 30 percent chance of showers. Wind increasing to northwest 30 km/h. High 10.
Tonight..Partly cloudy. 30 percent chance of evening showers. Wind northwest 30 km/h diminishing. Low plus 2.
Normals for the period..Low 3. High 16.

Saturday September 21st, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

bruce_011.jpg (55164 bytes)
bruce_014.jpg (46614 bytes)

I'm late with a magazine article, so I'm finishing that off, then El & I are off to Drumheller to the Royal Tyrell Museum for the afternoon and to meet up with Bruce there for supper.  Bruce went exploring on his bike this morning and plans to spend the day at the oyster beds.

Well, actually we drove right by the museum.  I mentioned to El where Bruce was going to wander and that it was only five miles north of the museum and she wanted to go to take a look.  We got there and she decided to descend into the valley.  I was dressed for the museum with tan slacks, a suede jacket and sandals -- hardly clothing for climbing steep hills and mud faces and walking over rocks and cactus, but we wound up staying there until five.  Then we went to Fred & Barney's for supper.

We watched 'Evolution' when we got home.  Dennis had rented it and thought I'd like it.  I did enjoy it, but it was an unlikely pastiche of sci-fi films and also -- maybe it's my age -- but it seems to me that people are getting cruder all the time.

Greg Brown sent these links. 

www.gobeekeeping.com  -- site is owned by Stahlman Apiaries in Ohio, geared towards the hobby beekeeper, offers an on-line beekeeping course, links to suppliers, and general beekeeping, also to purchase their buckeye-belle (Italian), and Buckeye Reb (Carnolian) queens.

www.tupelohoney.org -- The Tupelo beekeepers Association, Located in Panama City, Florida. This is the only area that Tupelo Honey is produced, gives facts, and info on the Tupelo Honey.

www.beekeeping.com -- Worldwide information link on Beekeeping offered in English/french/German languages, based in France, has classified ads/help wanted ads, and links to suppliers around the world. A lot of databases, and scientific articles pertaining to Bees.

www.beesource.com -- website contains forums, information on how to build beekeeping equipment from scratch, articles on various methods of mite/disease control. Links to suppliers, books etc.. My introduction to Dee Lusby's work

http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/courses/beeclasses ,  Susan Cobey's website, gives an account of the NWC project, queen breeding course, and AI courses offered by Ohio St. 

Here is another link, www.pollinator.com  -- A good site for those interested in pollination, mostly with honey bees however some information on Mason's bee, and other solitary bees. A lot of great links from there also.

And Paul sent these

Some more links for your collection:

Thanks, folks.  BTW if you are sending me a list of links, and  if you have time, please include a brief description and why you particularly like each link, I'll include the information.  If you like, I'll even include your name (but only if  you say you want to be named  -  I don't identify contributors unless they say in their email that it is OK).

Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind increasing to north 30 km/h. High 11.
Tonight..Partly cloudy. Wind north 20 km/h. Low plus 2.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Sunday September 22nd, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

El, Bruce and I drove to Ponoka, picked up Jean, and spent the day at the Reynolds Alberta Museum and Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.  We dropped jean off, returned home and had supper, and that was the day.

Today..Mainly cloudy. Wind increasing to north 40 gusting 60 km/h. High 9.
Tonight..Partly cloudy with 30 percent chance of showers. Wind north 20. Low plus 1 with risk of frost.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Monday September 23rd, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

It was a cool day, but Paulo, Dave and Klarence went north.  They did Hustons and Butler E.  The boxes were very heavy.  Klarence has a seven o'clock class, so he returns first.  On the way, he had a flat at trochu.  He called right at 5, and I was able to get the tire shop to stay open and wait for him.  He got back a bit late, but AOK.  It was pouring rain by then, so we left his truck to unload in the morning.  Paulo and Dave got back a bit later and left their truck too.

We've had flats like this at just about the same place on the highway each year.  The trucks are fully loaded at 120 supers.  If they weigh 80lbs each, and some do, then that maxes out the back axle.  If the tires are at all marginal, they blow.  We'll weigh tomorrow and have a seminar on loading trucks.

Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind shifting to north 20 km/h. High 15.
Tonight..Partly cloudy with 30 percent chance of showers. Wind north 20. Low 3.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Tuesday September 24th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

We're 33% done the last pull, and we are now at 71 pounds per hive.  It now looks as if we'll make 100!  It's a good thing we put the supers back out late, even when everything looked hopeless, because a heavy crop came in at the last minute.  We actually could have put on more supers than we did, since very few are coming home empty.  I always see hive pulled down to three high and even two high (just the two broods) by September first and often wonder how much crop those beekeepers miss.  They'll never know, and I guess, neither will I.

We weighed the truck this morning and, sure enough the back axle was 300 kg overweight at 5.3 tonnes and the front 300 kg under at 2.4.  The truck weighed 4.35, sop the boxes are just under 80lbs each on average.  The broods are being reported as heavy, so we may not have to feed much this fall.  As much as I like getting a crop, I hate to have the supers that heavy.  We try to pull them around fifty or sixty. 

When the boxes are right full, the heavy lifting puts a strain on the crew, and we have to be careful not to overwork our men.  Standards are very heavy when they are full. If they average around 80 pounds, then some must be close to 100 pounds. When they are crammed that full, it also means that we may have lost some crop when the bees ran out of room.  We like to think that we matched the supers top the crop perfectly, but we also know that when there is not even one empty comb in a hive, that we may have run a little short of space.  On the other hand, if there are too many supers and the weather turns cool, the bees will not occupy them and crop is lost, so I think we probably hit the happy medium.

Marty called this morning to say he had a carpentry job come up and was finished here.  He was very good and very smart, but we were seeing that the work -- or something -- was wearing on him yesterday even though he was on extracting and yard work, which is lighter duty than field work.  El thinks his personal life was the problem and that we did not get the whole story.  I tend to agree.

Today Paulo and Dave unloaded the trucks and weighed them, and are doing jobs around the yard.  It is eleven now, and the sun just came out.  they plan to go do AD&D today.  There are 86 supers there, so it should be an easy day unless they also go to Zieglers, where there are 56 more.  Tomorrow, Klarence will be here, so they plan to have everything ready so they can pull out at 8:15 to go north and get a few yards cleaned up there.

El & I went to Calgary late in the day to get some parts and the trip gives us a chance to sit and talk uninterrupted.  We're trying to decide how to handle the increase in honey prices and how to sell our honey.   Our co-op is promising $2.00CAD ($1.00 CAD = $0.63US) paid over a year, while the packer down the road is offering $2.25 with 50% now and 50% in 30 days.  I hear that another prairie buyer has been offering $2.50 paid in 90 days, but he is not returning my calls, so I am starting to wonder. I called another prairie buyer and he said that US buying is slowing down while the buyers digest what they have bought thus far.  He is at $2.15CAD paid in 10 days.

The guys did go to AD&D and reported that the boxes there are not as heavy as some, but that the yard was good.

Today..Mainly cloudy. 30 percent chance of showers. Wind light. High 9.
Tonight..Clearing this evening. Wind light. Low plus 1.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Wednesday September 25th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Three more months until Christmas

This looks like a good day to get more of the supers into the honey house.  We're expecting to have three men and two trucks in the field and to go north.

Dave and Klarence were both late.  Klarence had locked himself out of his home, and Dave had slept in.  All was well, though and the guys went north by 9:30. Jessica called in with a swollen hand and is taking the day off.

I spent quite a bit of time researching honey marketing options.  Dennis put his back out around noon and had to go to the chiropractor, but returned and was able to work in the afternoon.  One of the blowers -- a Dadant with a B&S engine -- packed it in and the guys in the field finished the day using the Stihl blower.  I changed the engine at the end of the day.

Paulo reported that Generts E had very little honey on this pull.  It had been poor last time too.  I don't know why.  It is in a good spot; there seem to be lots of crops around.  The bees were okay and he could not see any mites.

Meijers came for supper.



of the Day:

  • Vaporisation of oxalic acid in a field trial with 1'509 colonies
  • Oxalic Acid Vaporizer
  • VARROX Verdampfer

    I did some research:

    • Univar sells tech grade oxalic acid in 25kg quantities. It is a stock item and costs $4.18/kg (CAD) for tech grade, which has a stated minimum purity of 99.6%
    • Chemfax has 1kg, 5kg, and 22.7 pails for $16.50, $62.10, $165.40. Again, it is tech grade. Lab grade and reagent grade are also available, but at much higher cost.
    • If the web site (above) is right and one treatment takes is 2.8g, then 25kg would treat (25,000 / 2.8 = ) 8,929 colonies once for a total material cost of $104.50 CAD or $66 US (plus labour). The material cost amounts to about a cent per colony per treatment.

    That's cheap!

Today..Becoming mainly sunny this morning. Wind west 20 km/h. High 12.
Tonight..Clear. Increasing cloud overnight. Wind light. Low 3.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 15.

Thursday September 26th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Ellen got the payroll figured out.  I fixed the furnace fan limit switch and did all the usual things around the place.

Paulo and Dave straightened out their trucks and then went to The entice south yards and pulled off supers. It was a cool day and spat rain a little for a short while.  Jessica was not in today, so just Ritchie and Diane were here.  Barb was supposed to start, but here daughter got pink eye.   We haven't installed the Dakota because it will take a half-day minimum to re-arrange the shop and the extracting is moving along at a rate that nearly matched the field crew.

One thing that any owner of any but the smallest commercial beekeeping operation had to realize sooner or later is that the owner cannot do everything and that good staff is necessary.  There are many ways of hiring and managing staff, and some result in lower staff turnover than others.  High turnover means constantly training new people, so anything that results in keeping the best ones is a good investment.  We are having quite a bit of trouble with turnover in the extracting room, and that is one of the reasons we have been planning to put in the Dakota.  Every year the field crew hits a day or two when they bring in too many bees on the boxes and the extracting people get stung on the hands too much.  Invariably someone quits. That is not a good situation.  We need more hot room capacity so the supers sit a little longer for the bees to come off.

Today..Mainly cloudy with 30 percent chance of showers. Wind becoming north 20 km/h. High 11.
Tonight..Mainly cloudy with showers this evening and flurries overnight. Wind north 20. Low minus 1.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 15.

Friday September 27th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Did I mention that we had a heavy frost the other night?  There was snow last night and today is predicted to reach only seven Celsius.(46 F).  It's dark when we wake up now.  The seasons are changing quickly.

Dave was late again: slept in.  No problem.  We have snow on the ground and are working around home.  Paulo is feeling a bit under the weather, so I doubt we'll send the crew out to do heavy work.  There is lots to do here and if Paulo wants, he can go home anytime.  Dennis called in saying his back is still bad, so El & I did the drum filling and I got a chance to organize and clean up downstairs a bit. 

We're getting some high-moisture honey the last few days, possibly from leaving the loads outside the other night, or maybe just due to the damp weather.  We had ten drums that were over 17.5%.  One drum was over 20%.  Such honey can ferment quite quickly and be ruined, so I arranged to sell them immediately and delivered them to the buyer late today.  He wasted no time getting them into a blend; I watched him dump several into the bulk tank as soon as they came off the scale. 

Packers don't mind high moisture honey if it is freshly extracted and not fermented, since they blend it with drier honey.  Most honey delivered by beekeepers tests at around 16% moisture, which is far drier than the product that goes onto store shelves.  The law permits 18.6% in pasteurized honey (17.8% in unpasteurized packs) and I'll bet you'll never find a jar on the shelf that is much below that level, since a percent or two less moisture means a percent or two lower profits for the packer.  Packing honey is a very competitive, low margin business.  With current bulk honey prices, it is also extremely risky.

In that regard, beekeepers are worried whether their customers will survive current high prices.  If prices nosedive after sale, some buyers might have no choice but to try to renege on payment or renegotiate the price of honey already delivered by the beekeeper.  That is scary

I got some junk mail the other day from EDC.  I usually ignore their material, but this time, I decided to call the 800 number and discovered that it is possible to insure receivables -- money owed to the seller -- on sales of honey both inside and outside Canada.  The ante is high, $250 (all prices here in CAD)  to register and $60 to credit check each buyer, plus 0.81% of all receivables as premium, but that ensures that the seller (me) can get paid 90% of the amount owed within 30 days of the due date.  That means $2,000 paid on a $100,000 load of honey will ensure that $90,000 is received.  Of course the balance may still be received later, but this much is very certain.  Disputes can affect the collection, say in the case of product defects, but bogus disputes are usually quite obvious and won't have any effect on a claim payout.

In the past, with a load of honey worth only $40,000 or so, the upfront cost of receivables insurance was daunting, but at current prices, it amounts to only 2% and permits selling to unknown buyers that otherwise might be worrisome.

The young guys want to work tomorrow, and from the Monday forecast, that looks like a good idea, so they got trucks ready.

Paulo worked through brood chambers and tidied the yard all day.  I passed him at five-thirty when I was driving south, so I guess he made it through the day in spite of feeling a bit 'off'.

Today..Snow tapering off this morning. Clearing this afternoon. Wind northeast 20 km/h becoming south this afternoon. High 7.
Tonight..Clear. Wind south 20. Low plus 1. Risk of frost.
Normals for the period..Low 1. High 15.

Saturday September 28th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Dave and Klarence and I went out at eleven and did three yards.  They were fairly light, but we did get some honey.  We pulled off about 180 boxes, all told and I left at three to do some business, while the guys carried on.  They were all done by five-thirty.  It was a lovely day and we used butyric.  The bees were robbing heavily on the truck as we worked, but not cross at all.

We arrived at the first yards of the day, JNorth and EBNorth, only to find they are done.  We figured out what happened.  Paulo had been puzzled the other day when the counts did not correspond to the notes for either of the two yards he did.  He had done JNorth and EBNorth instead of JSouth and EBSouth.  He must have had that flu.  I know he was not at his best Friday.  It makes people confused at moments, while they are normal the rest of the time, and also affects some people more than others.  We crossed the bridge to the other yards and, sure enough, that is what happened.

We keep careful track of everything in our yards so that we can detect any theft or problems of that sort, while also finding the information essential for planning each day ahead. It also helps know where we are and if we are on schedule.  For example, after entering the data into the spreadsheet, I see that at the end of the day, we have 2121 supers left in the field.

Today..Sunny this morning. Increasing cloud this afternoon. Wind increasing to west 30 km/h. High 17.
Tonight..Mainly cloudy. Wind southwest 20. Low 7.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Sunday September 29th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

A reader asks:

A. What has been your worst average ?

30 pounds, but we split heavily that year and went for increase, not honey.  Of course we had double the hives, so we actually had sixty pounds on the base count.

B. What has been your best average ?

180 pounds.  Once in about thirty years.  Some guys in Alberta average that over the long term.

C. What is your yearly target per hive ?

Whatever we can get without overspending. 100 pounds is good. 120 is better.  The target moves with the price of honey and the price of sugar, etc.  We try to optimize profit, not maximize yield.

When you produced Ross rounds sections did you use Italian, or Carnolian bees? I started off with Cobana's then as Ross rounds became more prevalent I bought more Ross equipment, in the 70's I used to sell my sections for $2.00 per section (without cover/labels), and I also produced square sections and sold them for $2.50 (again sans covers/labels) I used Italian/Starline queens, because I was told that Carnolians, didn't produce "white cappings". I am curious on whether or not I was getting real information, or was just being fed a line?

Don't really know. We used any bees we happened to have and all the comb looked about the same to me. Of course there was some variation, but I attributed it to season, floral source, etc. We have fast flows here, and what we see may not apply in the southern US.

Another question, do you lease your bee yards, or do you just get permission to place your colonies in their locations?

We just ask once and then keep the bees there until asked to leave. We offer a 33 lb pail of honey annually, and many take us up on it. Other people just don't care. I maybe shouldn't admit this, but I have a few sites where I haven't seen the owner for 20 years. I don't even know who owns the land for sure.  People are (usually) good to us.  We travel about 50 miles from home.  In a 50 mile circle there are 31,400 quarter sections of land.  If each farmer owns 8, then there are around 4,000 potential farmers to talk to.  Of course there are acreage owners too, so there are lots of places to go if one location or district does not work out.

As I read it, I can see that management of people is your most tasking/time consuming task, it seems to be your greatest problem annually,

It is my major task, because it is what I do besides all the little things that no one else can or will do.  I think I heard that in the military it takes one man to manage 8.  That's the way it is here; keeping eight people working and paid keeps me busy pretty well full time.  Management is challenging, but also rewarding.

I can understand your desire to retire from the commercial aspect of the business.

Actually it is my wife who has always put pressure on me to get out of the bees, without offering any real alternative. I like what I am doing, although there are times that are less fun than others. 

I think we should probably cut back by another 500 hives or so -- to 2,000 -- but I have two good men who want to stay in the business, and another who wants in, so I'm hoping that I can transfer things over to them over time.

Taking over an ongoing operation with financing and management supplied by the current owner for a period of time is by far the easiest and least risky way to get into business.  I figure it takes, on average, five years working in a commercial outfit to become a real beekeeper. 

Although new people in the business can do well, they are very much at risk of making major errors in strategy, tactics, timing or execution that cost them a lot -- or break them.  The experience we have accumulated over the years often serves to protect from pitfalls and time-wasters that are not obvious to newcomers to the trade.  Young guys can enjoy the long hours out in the field doing heavy work that don't appeal as much to me any more, and I can provide the guidance to ensure that the effort is profitable and not wasted.  We can also finance an orderly takeover to the point where the buyer(s) -- by labour and profit sharing -- have built enough equity that a bank will finance them to buy us out.  That is a good deal for everyone.

Money is not made by sweat -- although sweat is necessary -- money is made by brains.

Write me

Today..Mainly cloudy. A few showers developing this morning. Wind increasing to north 30 km/h. Temperature falling to 8 this afternoon.
Tonight..Mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of evening showers and flurries overnight. Wind north 30 diminishing. Low 2.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Monday September 30th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Today was cool and rainy.   Paulo was not feeling 100%, so the field crew stayed home and did jobs around the yard.  Paulo went through the remaining brood chambers here in the yard and left early.  The extracting crew caught up to the field crew and went home early.



of the Day:


Today..Snow mixed at times with rain. Total accumulation near 5 cm. Wind increasing to north 30 km/h. High plus 2. 
Tonight..Cloudy with 30 percent chance of flurries. Wind north 30 diminishing. Low minus 1. 
Normals for the period..Low 1. High 16.

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