Page September 2010
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Elliotts' yard in fall. Alfalfa is blooming, but no flow.
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I'm out inspecting today. I'll see two beekeepers and head back home. This time of year I can't start too early most days. Nine or ten is early enough to be into the brood chambers.
In the first two yards, the bees look very good. Mite counts are up from spring, though. The most I saw were 8 in a 300 bee sample. That is about 3% and the beekeeper plans to treat.
The beekeeper's helper assisted me with the sampling and when the beekeeper mentioned that he reads this diary, she said to be sure to mention what an awesome help she was. She was.
In the next beekeeper's yards, we saw pretty much the same levels, but in the third one we visited, we disturbed a bear having lunch. It ran off, but then started back. We got into our trucks and waited. It left again, but we kept an eye out in case it decided to come back.
Of interest is the difference between damage to Pierco frames and wood frames. With Pierco, the bear just eats down to the midrib and quits. The frame can be returned to the bees and will be as good as new before long. With wooden frames and wax foundation, the destruction is total.
When I got home I noticed that the bees have taken about five inches from each of three drums. The weather is warm, but not warm enough for them to really get going. The hives have put on weight, though.
I didn't manage to line anyone up for inspections today. The mornings are so cold and uninspiring that nobody can imagine how much nicer the afternoons will be. I took the opportunity to work on my hives. I have to make sure that there is not much undrawn foundation or poor comb in the upper boxes.
I had loaded some hives with foundation and dry combs needing some bee attention expecting a better August, but now it is time to make sure they are good and that the bees are not preparing to winter on poor combs. I don't rearrange the other frames, but do pull any which look inappropriate and replace them with good feed in brood comb. The sooner I do this, the better the chance that the bees can settle in on them and adapt them to their needs before it gets too cold to do so.
So far, the hives in the home yard vary quite a bit, from one boxful of bees to a strong hive with brood in four EPS boxes. Of the first ten or so, only the one hive has dwindled. Out at Elliotts', the alfalfa is in full bloom (right), but apparently not yielding nectar. I took out a drum of feed which did not attract much interest, but did not open lids.. The hive scale put on two pounds and is now at 101.
We had a frost again last night. It remains to see how bad it was and if it killed anything. At any rate, the sun is up and the sky is clear, even if there is fog lying in the valley below us. It looks like a good bee day.
I'm not going to try to inspect today, though. It is Sunday and I may make some phone calls, but it is a day many beekeepers take off and, besides, I have some deskwork to do and also my own hives to get ready for winter.
Then there is the forklift transmission job to do. I have been putting that off and doing what needs doing before I start since I could get hung up halfway through if the new one from the wreckers (right) does not fit, or worse yet, it fails to work when I am done. One I start, the job should only take a few hours, but this machine is home-brew and I may wind up having to do some linkage design and repair if the new one does not bolt right up. I've also wondered if an oil change might not fix the one currently installed. I should drop the pan and look, but I am not as eager to get down on the ground and get dirty as I was when I was younger.
In case anyone wonders what my "CCD" hive looks like, it was in three boxes. The frames shown here are from the top two.
Above is the frame with the queens on it. There is a shot of each side and a close-up of the brood on one side. If you look closely, you can see several mites riding on bees. I suppose this is to be expected when the amount of brood and number of bees dwindles. I don't know what they would show in a shaker test, but there are hardly enough bees to do such a test or if it would be meaningful.
Above is the adjacent frame in the top (third) box.
Below are brood frames from the second box, which had almost no bees. The brood appeared to be healthy with few mites to be found inside. It should have hatched and resulted in a strong hive, but all the adult bees vanished. I don't know how quickly that happened.
12:15. I started the transmission job (It's an automotive automatic transmission. We put the engine and transmission from an 1973 Pontiac into the forklift). First I had to get the "new" transmission out of the shed, then run the forklift up on blocks and sort tools. I crawled under and inspected the job.
I could see right off that although the "new" transmission looked as if it would bolt right up and is the right length, I will have to re-engineer the rear mount if I am going to use it. That is not too hard, but what if this transmission is no good? After all, it is a used one from a wrecker.
I guess I'll look at an oil change for the current one. It works fine when it works, but has gotten reluctant to shift into gear sometimes, especially when it is cold. Sometimes it won't work at all.
3:35. I changed the oil. First I dropped the pan and looked in the bottom for chunks of metal or clutches. There was sludge, but very little in the way of filings, so I assumed that no major cataclysm had occurred in the transmission -- yet. I had avoided revving when it was not fully into gear and babied it so as not to burn the clutches.
The surface of the filter turned out to be very caked and clogged. I had been suspecting this was the case, so I scraped it, washed it and blew it off numerous times. Today being Sunday, the parts store is closed, so simply getting a new one was not an option.
I detached the tranny cooler and blew air through the hoses and tubes until no more oil came out. What came out was pretty black and grungy as was the oil in the pan. I think I must have blown out the torque converter too, since at first there was resistance as oil came out, but then the air blew through fairly freely, but felt like blowing into a tank since air came back when I quit blowing..
Next I put it all back together, (over)filled it with transmission fluid and put it in gear. Immediately it shifted into first, then reverse, ran through all the gears, and generally acted as good as new! How about that? At noon, the transmission had been so sluggish that I could barely drive it over to work on it and now it shifts perfectly.
We'll see if this good luck lasts. For now, I'm really tickled and a bit proud for taking a chance on a "dead" transmission. Sometimes faith is rewarded.
8:03. I bought Ellen a game camera some time back so she could figure out when the deer were eating the trees and garden. She had set it up, but never actually used it, so we took it out to see if we can get some skunk pictures. When we got to the yard, a young skunk was already eating the crawlers in front of hives. No wonder I never see many crawlers.
The skunk ambled off when it became aware of us and ran right into our dog which was coming the other way. It happened so fast that nothing came of it. Each turned and ran.
This is definitely not bee inspecting weather. I'm seeing a re-run of spring when I set aside three weeks for inspecting and then spent more time setting up and cancelling appointments than inspecting.
I turned on CBC Calgary this morning and heard Medhat being interviewed about the Bee Health Program and the new "pesticide" (Apivar). They repeated the topic periodically. Now (7:33 AM) I am hearing Terry Greidanus being interviewed, too.
Yes, that is a fox on top of the hive (left), and no, that is not a skunk (right).
I see I need to set the date. The time seems OK.
My friends tell me that there is a shortage of sucrose syrup and that deliveries arranged both through AHPC and Tony Lalonde are delayed ten days. We are all wondering if that is an accurate estimate or if there will be further delays.
Beekeepers like to feed early before the bees settled in. I have fed as late as mid-October with good results, but have always made earlier rounds and the mid-October round was just a top-up. It is important to have good stores in hives early on or the bees spend the fall trying to get up to weight and will wear themselves out looking or foraging far away.
Here is a trick: When open feeding, if the bees ignore a drum of syrup because the weather is cool in late season and the hives are not very light, but the bees are still flying, just take a bucketful of the syrup and a cup. With a helper (preferably for ease of application), lift each lid in the yard and pour a little syrup on each cluster. A half-cup is enough. The next day the drum will be empty. This might be a good time to add some Fumagillin to the syrup if the nosema counts are high and kill two birds with one stone.
My friends now report that they are receiving a load of sucrose from B.C. and a load of HFCS in the next few days and plan to mix them, then feed, so maybe there is not as big a shortage as it appeared at first.
I've been very tired all day and slept two hours after supper, and am off to bed early.
It is raining at 5 AM, and it looks as if the day is not going to be a good one for inspecting.
I guess the next thing I need to do while I am waiting around to get back to inspecting is to plan how to wrap my hives and where to winter them. The EPS (BeeMax and Swienty) hives don't need wrapping, but the wood ones do. I guess I need to count.
I can also transfer some of the hives in wood into extra EPS boxes, but my experience in transferring late in the season and that of others indicate this might result in poor wintering. I do have quite a few empty EPS boxes. I suppose I need to count my wraps, too. That will limit my options. I found quite a few wraps in storage that I had forgotten about.
As for where to winter, the bees don't seem to do well at Elliotts Home. They did well on my Railroad Yard, but it is quite exposed. The Quonset Home Yard has done very well and it is sheltered. I am thinking I should move some things and make more room there.
I ran down to Airdrie to see Mike and help him with his hives. Even though it seems commercial beekeepers are afraid to open hives, we worked the bees with no problem and any lost bees made their way home without any trouble. Since Mike had used a lot of foundation, we had a fair bit of brood chamber work to do to ensure the feed and good combs where the bees will winter. Mike uses the Bee Villa hives. They have very thick EPS walls. We drilled ventilation/flight holes in the top boxes in preparation for winter.
Mike has an electric smoker. I saw them at a convention and wondered if they are any good. There is a switch to ignite the fuel and one to activate the blower. Mike uses wood chips for fuel. How well doers it work? Well, for heavy-duty commercial work where a large volume of smoke may be required to fog a whole section of the apiary, this thing won't measure up, but for casual hobby work, it has the advantage that it won't puff hard enough to blow flames unless, perhaps, it is right empty. For those of us who can light a conventional smoker in 30 seconds or less, and light one properly so that it will never go out, this unit seems a bit clunky and toy-like since it has only one speed and seems to be slow generating smoke after sitting a few minutes.
I managed to get out and do one inspection today. The weather was not too bad and I could have done another, perhaps, but I was running out of time and there weren't others nearby. Beekeepers are not too eager to open hives in this kind of weather, but it seems the bees do not mind much.
Something that struck me was that in the yard I inspected, almost all the queens had shut down a week ago! There was very little young brood. In inspecting, we are looking for nurse bees to sample since varroa prefer them. Perhaps it is almost too late this year?
Mite levels have been moderate so far, with typical results running from zero to ten mites in 300 bees. That translates into 0 to 3% phoretic mite loads. Beekeepers are using Apivar and fumagillin in fall pretty well right across the board.
I had an appointment for this morning, but when I checked the weather, the temps were predicted to be 5 degrees. Moreover the beekeeper said we would not be able to get in due to mud.
We are running low on coal. We're down to the last few shovelfuls. I've been phoning around and it is hard to get any coal is dry right now. Also the truckers are hauling grain whenever it is dry enough.
We went to Three Hills for supper.
We had frost again last night. Whether it killed anything or not, we have yet to see. It was minus two at 7AM at the Three Hills airport.
Today looks to be a good day for inspecting, though, but only in the Three Hills area, according to the forecast. How cold is too cold for inspecting? Well, I have been using ten degrees C (50° F) for a cut-off.
Whether there is wind, rain or sun also influence the decision. A sunny day with no wind at ten degrees is a lot better than an overcast, rainy day at the same temperature.
The time of day and whether the bees are flying or not figures in also. If the ground is wet and cold, any falling bees are bound to die. If the bees are clustered tightly, inspecting is not a good idea because pulling frames will be difficult.
Whether the bees are flying or not is a good indicator as is whether the bees are defensive or not. If it is really too cool, then the bees may initially be docile and dopey, but become unmanageable. The purpose of an inspection is to ensure that the bees survive, not to kill them, so choosing good conditions is important.
I had to get some coal this morning, too, since we were right out and don't want to buy from the mine right now due to the wet weather. Wet coal either freezes in the bin or can heat up spontaneously causing risk of fire. I drove out to a neighbour's and we loaded up my pickup.
Yes, we had a killer frost, if ice in the bed of the pickup means anything, but it turned out to be a good bee day. The bees were in the drums and flying freely so I went through 14 of the 80 hives. The bees were in loose clusters and quite easy to work. I went without a veil and got a few nicks, but nothing bad. Of course the ones which paid me the most attention were the Australian package bees I had split into three. They are very yellow and quite populous. They were not too mean, but I know enough to smoke them before they get excited. They have a reputation which they well deserve.
The one hive which I called CCD had dwindled more and I saw only one queen now. A few bees were beginning to rob it, so I guess it is not CCD, not if all the symptoms have to be seen for a diagnosis. For a CCD diagnosis, demonstrated reluctance by opportunistic insects to inhabit or rob the hive is sine qua non.
The reason I did not post all the brood pictures the other day was that on closer examination, I thought I saw a lot of varroa poop in many cells and wanted to see the frames before posting, because that would be the proximate cause Apparently I was mistaken because there was little to be seen. I may get around to posting those pictures with the rest, above.
In the meantime, though, I'll report on today's work. I could have done a lot more, but I got the coal in the morning, then had to shovel it. Seeing as I am a little under the weather, I rested a bit, then washed the truck. A few other distractions came up, like a long conversation with a reporter who phoned up, but I got out there around 3:30 and worked until 6 when I figured it was time for supper. I could have worked another hour, perhaps, but at this time of year the bees suddenly get testy around seven-thirty and it is a wise beekeeper who has left the yard by then or has everything ready to close up in a few moments.
My task today was to pull out partially complete foundation if it was in the middle of the winter cluster area and replace it with good brood comb and to take off top boxes if they were unoccupied. There were a few of each. Bees need good, well-drawn comb, preferably a bit dark in colour and well provisioned with pollen and honey to winter well. Partially drawn combs and new, white comb are likely to result in failure.
Once I had done a few hives, I got the notion to fill the frame feeders I keep in each brood box, so I hauled out my old feeder system, attached it to the forklift with jumper cables and presto! it still worked. I filled the top two feeders in each hive as I went. Is this a good idea? It is if they take the feed. Sometimes they don't, and it is messy to handle the brood boxes later since the syrup spills and sometimes spoils. Maybe if I wrap early, they will be more inclined to take it down. As the brood hatches, there is empty comb to fill.
I have now done 14 hives and of that number, only four were EPS (BeeMax), but -- so far -- they seem to be heavier and more populous. Once again, though, I started at the Bad End of the yard and so my perspective may be skewed. Actually I did 15 hives, but one was the dud.
Oh, yes. I also put two Global Patties on each hive today. I am not trying to stimulate the hives, but rather ensure the young, emerging bees are well fed. I have both 15% pollen and 4% pollen patties. I think the lower pollen patties are likely to be less stimulating, but am using both. They should be used up, not stored.
I notice also that my queens are not shut down. There is young brood. My yard is a warm yard, though, compared to many I visit.
We had frost again last night. I imagine we'll have more in coming days. At any rate, this ends any chance of flows and means robbing will increase. Many consider robbing to be a threat, but to many of us here in Alberta at least, robbing is nature's way of dealing with weak hives which won't winter anyhow and ensuring that stronger hives put on weight. Hives which are already up to weight have less interest in robbing, and a robbing episode hardly ever gets out of control, even with open (drum) feeding. Perhaps the day length, temperatures and hive weights are why robbing is such a scourge in the south and in particular in the US. Up here, the days are short, and we keep our hives very much heavier. When I look into hives in the US, I very often think they are on the verge of starvation, by our standards at least. Other Northern beekeepers agree..
I'm thinking I may wrap really early this year if I notice that the insulated hives are doing better and because the populations of many wooden hives are on the low side of what I like to see. Smaller colonies benefit from wrapping much more than huge colonies and can come out of spring as big as the strongest fall hives if properly protected.
I am always saying the drawn comb is a beekeeper's most important asset at the same time as many are suggesting melting any comb over four years old. I don't know how they can do that. I can't draw 25% of my comb new every year. I bought 1,000 frames of foundation and at the current rate it is being drawn, it is going to last me a few years. I suppose I should have fed all summer. I can see that now. I did not even get patties on all summer because I ran out and Mike and I got our wires crossed when I was to get more. Next time.
I went out around 11 and worked on the bees. They were flying quite well and working on the drums of feed. I had an appointment for inspection at three and was hoping to get lots done before that. Around 2, the beekeeper called and cancelled: too cold. OK, fine with me, I can get more work done here. I'm up against a deadline. I smile, though, since I am working the brood chambers without a veil.
If you open enough hives, you'll see everything. The hive at right is fully occupying four boxes and has lots of young brood, yet they have just hatched a new queen or queens? This is the third week of September and we had a killer frost. Are they thinking of swarming?
I worked until 5 and counted up my results: 27 done (of about 80) and ready for winter. This after two days of work. At this rate, it will take me a week to finish, including what I have done so far. I don't have a week. (Well, maybe I do, if the weather continues bad. Seems I can work my bees when others are sitting at home).
What took all the time? Well, as well as doing 13 more hives, I wrapped all the hives I have done so far and fed them syrup and two patties. Again, on the additional ones I did today, I pulled all the partial comb out and put on two patties as well as feeding. How could that take so long? It seems to take about 15 minutes a hive, average, including breaks. There were more hives today needing extensive work than yesterday. At the end, I was working through the hives from Elliotts Home, where I already took a 50% loss. I found two more duds. One was completely dead and the other is only a single.
The feed pump worked perfectly, but I had to extend the hose by adding another section. It took a while to find the parts. Then I ran the battery on the forklift down with the pump to where the forklift would not quite start. No problem, since the truck and boosters were right there, but I guess the forklift is started and stopped so often and run continuously so little that the battery is never topped up. The battery is now on the charger overnight and should be fully charged tomorrow. Keeping batteries fully charged is critical to getting good life out of them. I usually put a charger for 24 hours twice a year on my machinery that does not take extended trips. Lately I have neglected that.
Tomorrow is predicted to be 9 degrees and rainy and tonight is expected to be 5 degrees. Today it did not get up to 5 degrees until noon! Perfect! With any luck, I'll get another 15 hives done tomorrow, hopefully more. I'm running low on syrup, though. I can get by without, the hives are quite heavy, but would rather feed. I'm quite tired and still coughing a bit and a little stiff, though, so we'll see how ambitious I am when the sun comes up.
The weather forecast does not look too promising, but there are bound to be some good opportunities to get work done between showers. I have some things to move around, too, so even when I can't open hives, I can get make some progress. If the forecast holds, later in the week, I can get back to inspecting.
I can remember Septembers like this. Sometimes we get warm, sunny, dry Septembers and sometimes September is cold and soggy. This kind of fall is hard on farmers. They have beautiful crops out in the field, but they won't ripen or dry and cannot be harvested. Meantime, frost lowers the quality. This was a great year for growing hay, but much of it got rained on and some of it has not even been picked up because it is ruined.
10:12 AM It is 4 degrees outside and there is very light rain. As for me, I slept ten hours and am still a bit tired. I got a few stings in the face and neck yesterday and although they hardly swell, they affect me a bit. Add to that the cold or whatever that has been bothering me a while, and I am wondering how much energy I have. I guess I'll go out and see.
It is a perfect day for moving bees. They are confined by weather and will be for a few days by the look of things, so I can pick them up and move them short distances without causing confusion.
I also have to make more room in the yard. Last winter I had 35 or so going into winter. This year it will be around 75. I have found the west end to be draughty and so plan to arrange for more room at the east end.
I may also use some of the stacks of pallets and supplies as fences against wind. I have some snow fence as well. I have also discovered that shipping pallets stood on end and held up with iron fence posts can make a good, cost effective windbreak.
10:25 AM Ooops! It is now pouring rain. So much for my plans.
Friends came over for supper and brought me some more syrup. It is a mix of HFCS and sucrose syrup.
We have been discussing varroa again on BEE-L. In considering the questions, I again visited the Apinovar site. I continue to consider Jean-Pierre's ideas to be some of the best and his site to be a 'must read'.
I'm looking at the weather today and think I may be able to get my work done today and tomorrow. After that, there are good opportunities to get the inspections done if the forecasts prove out.
For those who are still feeding, Sunday looks promising and feed should be on the hives or in the drums by then.
I have been open feeding this year and the rain is a problem. Water floats on top of syrup and hides the syrup from the bees. It also leeches the colour out of the grass and straw we use for floats and sinks the floats as well. When drum feeding is working right, the syrup stays clean and is taken down with few dead bees in the drums. When it does not, the syrup gets dirty and many bees are unable to return home due to being coated with syrup.
I went out at 11 and it was chilly. Behind the quonset in my bee yard, it was nicer. I moved some hives from the front yard to the winter yard., then I added thymol to the new feed and re-circulated it. I drained the grass floats off the drums through an excluder and used a sieve to remove the dead bees, then added more thymol and some syrup and new grass. I also got smart and moved the open drums under the quonset roof so the rain will not be falling into them diluting the syrup and sinking the floats, and drowning bees. Surface tension keeps bees on the surface of thick syrup, but thin syrup wets them and drowns them.
I notice the crack in the poly tank did not stay fixed. I had put tape on the inside, assuming that pressure from the syrup would press it tight and seal the crack, but there is some seepage. No big deal. I'll just lift that corner and block it up when not feeding. I'll have to figure out how to weld it.
I had filled frame feeders in the hives and was worried that the syrup might be ignored. I also wrapped to conserve warmth in hopes that this would help the bees get to the feeders. Today I checked and some had emptied the feeder and all except one had taken their feeder down at least an inch or three. They are nibbling on the patties, too. These patties are 4% pollen.
I hooked up the power feeder and topped up the ones which were down and noticed this syrup is thicker. The pump is slower and starts and stops then starts again due the pressure it takes to move the syrup. I have a lot of hose on the pump -- maybe 90 feet in two sections and may have to take out a length if the syrup get s thicker from the cold. I really prefer to feed warm syrup, but don't have a way to warm it.
I use Camlock fittings (right) on all the feeder and syrup handling hoses and that allows for quick, secure connecting and disconnecting. It is essential to plug the ends when the hoses are not in use or they fill with bees. The plugs work well. The cost of the various fittings and plugs adds up, but the convenience is worth the cost.
I am guessing that my friends did not dilute the HFCS, but just blended it with the sucrose syrup. I think they said it is 60/40. The lower moisture is a good thing for feeding, but any left in tanks may set up.
5 PM. I came in after working on the hives all afternoon. I now have 38 completely done. When I went out, there were 27 hives wrapped, fed and ready, so I managed to do just 11 in the five hours or so I spent today. I can't figure that out. I did take a break mid-afternoon, but I had expected to get more done.
The temperature never got above 5 degrees Celsius all day, but I had no problems working in the brood chambers, since I was out of the wind. The job consisted of pulling off boxes of foundation, removing undrawn comb and replacing it with good feed combs, filling feeders, putting on two pollen patties, pulling the wrap down over the wood hives and adding two extra pillows on top. Some needed entrance reducers, too.
I did spend some of that time adding thymol to the syrup, removing the old floats and straining the syrup, pumping syrup, fetching wraps and pillows, and opening and feeding the hives which had already been done, and eating lunch, but I just don't know where the time went.
4 AM. No sign of snow yet and it is still 3 degrees.
The weather looks promising for inspecting starting tomorrow. Today I have to line up some appointments, and hopefully get more of my own hives ready for winter.
I worked through the scale hives yesterday and found one was pretty well dead. I replaced it with a fairly good hive, also in EPS boxes. The more I work with these BeeMax boxes, the more I realize that they are really flimsy and do not hold a candle to the Swienty ones. I have been communicating with Swienty and if we decide to buy more EPS boxes, it will be from them. For now, I have far more than enough equipment.
I won't have to buy any frames or boxes for a while. As I work through the hives, I am accumulating quite a bit of surplus equipment. I have enough extra EPS boxes to transfer some hives, but wonder about moving the bees over this late in the season. Some reports and my own experience indicate that the bees need a few months to get used to them before wintering in them.
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