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Tuesday August 8th, 2000
We're back at work again today. Everyone is looking pretty enthused. We are running two crews to pull honey and to lift down the splits which are still on top of the hives that returned from Lomond. Steve and Ryan D are one crew and Gareth and Justin are the other. Matt and Dustin and a new hire, Todd, are working at home to get the deboxer mounted, the tanks set up, etc.
I'm running between the sites, supervising and changing the instructions as the situation merits, maintaining the master sheet of notes on the computer and doing all the other jobs that need doing around the place to keep supplies ordered, people paid and important events anticipated. Ellen is doing the 1001 little backup jobs that keep things running smoothly.
The extracting line is still not fully set up. There are some minor details to attend to, but it is all clean and pretty much ready to go. The guys have some distractions such as maintaining the trucks that we run to Lomond each day. I keep thinking we should be able to run almost any minute.
Our procedure today is to go out and check all the splits for queens and to pull honey in the yards. We have not yet decided how to deal with the splits. That depends on the success rate. We are also looking to see how well the estimates from our new weighing of hives in transit translates into boxes of honey. So far it does not seem to be perfect, and I don't know why.
Ryan and ken left at about six to get another two loads form Lomond. the pollination is all done and the bees can all come home. We are watching the alfalfa that is near our yards there and whisk the hives away as soon as the hay is cut. Another field was just cut.
This Ellen's birthday.
Last night around nine, I got my first call from Ryan. Apparently a back tire on the forklift had lost some air or salt solution. It was down about two inches: still useable, but promising to get worse.
We had, of course anticipated this and keep a spare in the area. Finding it took a few phone calls to Steve, who fortunately was at home, but it was soon found and the tire changed. Ryan is still recovering from surgery, so he could not do the job. Ken had to change it.
About 1:15 AM, I got another call from Ryan. Apparently one of the truck/trailer combinations was at a crazy angle in the ditch and Ken had used the clutch in a way that had liberated a huge cloud of smoke. Ryan was afraid the clutch was burned out and that the unit was in danger of falling on its side. He had done all he could.
I was still waking up, so told him to make sure everyone was clear of the truck, and to sit back, relax and wait for instructions. I was over two hours away and trying to work from his description.
The moon was getting close to full, so hopefully, they could see okay. The moon makes a huge difference when working at night moving bees. We carry flashlights in good working order, but nothing beats the full moon for making things easier, safer -- and beautiful .
I decided to call one of the farmers nearby. It was late, but I have always found them polite and co-operative, even when called from a deep sleep to help out in a pinch. Besides, I am not sure when some of them sleep. Lomond is irrigation country and they oftentimes move pipe at night or very early in the morning. When stuck in the middle of the night, I've considerately waited to call until 4 AM, only to find the man of the house has already left to move irrigation or go to town, and I had missed him.
My first try was unsuccessful. I got a recorded message that I would be called back I thought that to be odd at that time of night, but tried my next choice, Lomond Colony. I have not known them as long, but when Joe (whom I have never met) answered, he did not hesitate, but said he would get right out there and take a look. I told him that Ryan figured that he would need two tractors: one to pull the truck and the other to keep it right side up. Joe said he would take a look.
I called Ryan and said help was on the way. The other farmer's son then called -- it was getting to be near 2 AM -- and said that he had been on the internet and was calling me now that he was off. I asked him to drive over there and make sure that all was okay and to make sure nobody did anything rash. I had visions of a truck and trailer -- loaded fully with bees -- falling over because someone got in a hurry.
I called them a few times and followed the progress, each time emphasizing safety and patience. A little after two I got the report that all was well and that the clutch seemed okay. Joe drove it to the corner to confirm it would be okay. I thanked him and said I'd drop by with some honey and to thank him in person. Generally no one will take payment for helping out like this and may even be insulted to be asked.
Ryan and Ken were finally on the way home. They pulled into our yard only an hour or so before Matt and Dustin came to work. I learned later that they had had a flat on a trailer too and had to change it. I noticed the push bumper was bent a bit and on inspection saw that a weld had been pulled apart. It must have taken a lot of force to get them out. We looked carefully for other damage and found none, although Matt later reports the clutch may not be 100% any more.
What a night!
Work went on today as usual. Matt and Dustin unloaded the bees up north, since our home area is suddenly looking very dry. Ellen drove the second load up the 21 to meet them and swapped trucks when they met. this trick takes an hour of f the job. Nonetheless, they were not back until 2 or so. These distractions delay the extraction.
The other two crews continued to work on the splits and pulling honey. we really don't have much room left in the shop for honey, so this took a lower emphasis.
We are having interesting experiences with the splits we made in Lomond. So far, it appears that a little over 50% are working out as far as queens are concerned. We had hoped for better, but that is acceptable. It seems that many of the queens that emerged did not for whatever reason mate successfully.
We had to wait at least two weeks to get an idea of the success rate, and now we are 23 days from the insertion of the first queen cells. That should have allowed plenty of time for the queens to mate. In fact it should have permitted emergency queens to be on the job -- if any were coming. In most cases there were not. The original cells mostly hatched and that meant the end of any emergency cells.
Of the queens that hatched, however, many, for whatever reason, did not work out. Maybe it was the moving, or maybe it was the environment, or maybe it was the cells themselves, but in most cases, it appeared that the new queens never laid eggs. There were a few cases where the new queens did succeed and were drone layers. That, to me, indicated wing trouble. The balance seem to be laying noramlly.
Ironically, when there is the most to write about, I feel the least like writing. Time compresses as we rapidly approach the end of our season. I remember two years in a row when we had frost on the twentieth of August and one of those years, the frost was accompanied by snow. Other years, flow conditions have continued off and on into October. I am hoping for one of those long summers with continued warm weather.
At this point, our priorities are lifting down the splits, making sure the hives have space to store more honey, and extracting honey.
We are still not seeing any mites, but we need to start testing. I think powdered sugar will be our choice. Here is a description of the method from BEE-L. Item #32516 (8 Aug 2000 05:51) - Re: heat and humidity and varroa
We haven't used this method yet, but expect it will be very good. It can be done in the normal course of work in the yards without return visits or bulky equipment. It is still a bit early in the season to test seriously, since there is still a lot of brood in the hives and most mites will be in the brood, but spot checks will give us early warning if something is building up.
We plan to treat this fall with 5-30 ml applications of formic to get both the tracheal and varroa mites unless we see high levels of mites. Last year we used one Apistan® strip and three formic pads spaced about five days apart and saw no mites after. Apistan is expensive and awkward to apply compared to formic. It also has to be removed at some point.
Gareth and Justin and Steve and Ryan D are out daily now just lifting down the splits and checking them for queenright status. We either leave them as a double made up of a dud and a good split if the populations are small or as a double made up of a brood chamber from home and a good split. In either case, we add an excluder an a super. If we have a surplus of good queenless splits, we use an Hawaiian queen. We also leave some as singles with an excluder and a super if we run out of brood chambers.
There is still a good chance of honey going into the supers, either from a second crop or from the brood boxes; some of them are rather packed with honey.
I got a call from Steve that he was having trouble with robbing. He had loaded his truck the night before and got out earlier than usual. I guess the honey flow at some yards does not start early, so the bees were robbing. By the time he was half finished tipping boxes, he was noticing robbers and was getting stung. He was tipping the boxes, a method that can be used when there is a flow on, but which exposes lots of comb to the light for quicker abandonment by the bees, but can result in the supers being robbed out in minutes under some conditions when there is no flow and there is good flight weather.
I showed him how to stack the boxes on a lid to reduce the surface exposed to just the top of the top box and soon we had all under control. After a few minutes, we went through the boxes and found most of the bees were gone. Robbing stimulates the bees that are in the supers to leave much faster than they would normally, and can be used to one's advantage.
At that point, I decided he could stop pulling and just do the splits in order to reduce the time spent in each yard. I unloaded some supplies for them, then visited Gareth at Merash's. By then it was around noon and all signs of robbing had stopped. That was one reason we were able to stop the robbing in Steve's yard so easily: a flow had started, distracting the bees.
If we had been unable to stop the robbing, our only recourse would have been to remove all the lids in the yard and leave them for a while to settle down before putting the lids back on. Why this works, I don't know, but it does.
We are finding a mixed bag with the splits. (See July 17th to July 21st for previous discussion) In some yards, we have good success, in others, we have a lot of duds. The main reason, I should think, is the cells. Either the cells had problems originally, or the handling caused some. Personally, I think many of the cells were picked and handled too soon. Some were grafted from extremely young larvae and they were a day younger than we thought when we received them, and they were handled at a sensitive stage. We were unaware of their immature state and handled them as if they were ripe.
In addition to the early handling and vibration in transit, maintaining temperature in the coolers was a bit of a problem. If I do this again, I think I would be sure to have the splits made a day or two earlier and to install the cells all immediately.
Earlier splitting should ensure that the cells are better accepted and that we can concentrate all our efforts on installing the cells, rather than having over half our crew working on the splitting. I think we can dispose with the cell protectors, too and save time, if we are sure the splits are made far enough ahead enough that the cells will be accepted. Earlier splitting also will move the completion date up. we are now well into August and I would like to have the task done closer to the end of July.
One large problem was the size of the batches of cells we had to handle in a short time over great distance, and the fact that we had not done this job exactly this way before and had to develop procedures as we went. We also to confirm things like the number of original queens that we were getting in the top splits before we knew exactly what we were doing.
At this point, we see some yards that had 100% emergence with a low level of mated queens. I assume wing damage, however there are other factors, such as location and crop conditions and also the strain of the hives receiving the cells to consider. We have quite a variety of bees and not all requeen equally well.
We still have over one hundred of the Hawaiian queens on hand and are using them up slowly as we find queenless splits. We are maintaining them in the shipping boxes with regular changes of bees and constant feeding with fumigillan treated syrup. I have decided that banking would be better, and is possible at this time of year. In spring, it is difficult to bank large numbers because of the problem of having enough bees to keep the hive warm throughout, and the queens on the edges suffer. At this time of year, solitary queens in cages do quite nicely anywhere and are even ministered to by passing bees if they are left where bees can find them. Night temperatures are not sufficiently cool yet to damage them.
At any rate, one reason we are not using banks is the problem of the frames to hold the queens. We have such frames, but they are always lost when we need them. I have discovered, though, that we could just take the trays out of the shipping boxes and place them on the top bars of a hive and use a rim to raise the lid. Nonetheless, using the shipping boxes, we are seeing very little loss (~5% over three weeks) and the surviving queens look good.Ryan heads south again tonight, alone this time for another 160 hives. The alfalfa is cut near one of the yards and we might as well bring the bees home. I have thought, however that another year we would be wise to have a person down in the pollination area -- possibly a local -- scouting for irrigated alfalfa bloom at this time and moving the hives around to take advantage of it, rather than our moving the hives home where things are now getting very dry.
Although farmers usually cut alfalfa as soon as they see bloom, in some fields there are areas that are slower than others and some growers will let the alfalfa bloom a week or more before cutting to let it even out. It is a simple as asking to find out what will transpire, since they usually know when they will cut.
Some years, sprays chase us out of the Lomond region, but this year they have not been a problem at all. In 1998, I left hives there until October and they did well.
We ran our first few loads of honey through the system today. It is as late as we have ever started extracting and we are going to have to make good time with it. Prospects are good, though, since we found two men can run four loads an hour easily if nothing goes wrong. So far we have had two different chains come off. The links came undone.
Bill & Fen came over for supper tonight and we had turkey, corn on the cob and spinach soufflé. We watched the neighbours forage harvesting the field adjacent to our land until the weather turned quite stormy and they had to quit. We were then treated to an amazing display of thunder & lightning spanning up to 100 miles of sky. We turned out the lights and watched for an hour or more. during the evening El's roommate from university called and said they were in Red Deer. El had been expecting her to come for a visit on the way to see hers son and daughter- in-law in BC, but had not known when she would arrive. The plan is now for Saturday.
It rained all night, sometimes fairly heavily. By morning we had accumulated 3/4 of an inch. We had been talking about how dry it was, so this was just what the doctor ordered.
Ryan returned around 2 AM and left the truck waiting. Matt and Dustin unloaded it at Schlag's Hill and Rattais. They were gone until eleven. Weights were pretty good at 67 and 72 pounds net estimated from the truck weights. I think the later hives made some honey at Lomond, probably from the alfalfa.
Looking at the pond, I see we again have an algae bloom. It is preceded by a change in water colour. The water gets milky looking, then mats of algae appear on the surface. I don't see any dead fish, so I assume the carp are alive and well and that the trout are all dead from the last bloom.
Steve and Ryan D and Gareth and Justin again went out to lift down splits. I had decided to not pull honey so that we could cover more ground and also because the warehouse is full of honey awaiting extracting. Nonetheless, we did not get any more yards done than when we pulled honey too. I don't know why.
I'm becoming concerned that we will not get this job done in time to pull honey and get other things done that need doing. We will be losing staff soon as the kids go back to school.
We need to hire more people soon. I also will be concerned if the splits are not set up in their final configuration before long, since the moving loses some of the flying bees and it will take time for the slower hives to build up for winter. After the first of August, the clock is running down and we are taking chances. The weather could continue nice, or we could see the season come to an abrupt close.
The question whether to manage the bees in singles or in doubles is always a tough one. Singles produce more honey and use less equipment, but can have smaller populations and starve much more quickly. They require an excluder and super sooner and thus cannot be fed as long in the spring, and there is no room for patties, introducing queens, etc.
I have never had any luck wintering singles, except when they were set up as doubles for winter. Singles also come out of winter (outdoors, at least) weaker and yield fewer splits. Moreover the combs in a single must be higher quality and spaced better, since the queen cannot pick and choose where she is going to work. All surfaces of all the combs will contain brood at the peak of brood rearing.
In favour of singles: They make considerably more honey, since all honey goes into the super, and because the chances of the bees refusing to go through the excluder are much less (zero?). Less equipment is required and, when moving for pollination, one does not have to cart the food chamber around.
With doubles, the bees fill the second (food chamber) first, and that honey often stays with the colony all summer unless the queen moves up there. This store of honey diminishes the foraging instinct, which is triggered by empty comb near the brood. If the first flow is rapeseed, then the wintering stores will often be rapeseed honey, which has a bad reputation for winter feed. However, with singles, all the honey is extracted through the summer, and the beekeeper must provide sugar syrup was replacement without question or delay if there are no good fall flows.
We ended the day with a fairly destructive hail storm at around six o'clock. Over the fifteen minutes the hail went from pea size to moth ball size, and patches of ground were white with the ice. Apparently it was quite localized. The guys were working a few miles east and only got rain.
Normals for the period: Low 9. High 23.
The night was cool and we closed the windows. Overnight, we seem to have made a transition. The leaves on the ground from the hailstorm add to the impression. I awake in the night with premonitions of winter. It's now only four and one half months and a bit until Christmas and I can recall clearly how from September on one is never truly warm for months end.
Pretty well all bees are back from pollination now. There are a few left down there -- and a forklift . We'll get them in due time, but for now we need to concentrate on getting the splits dealt with and the honey off and extracted.Cheryl and her mom and aunt came for lunch, then they headed down to Drum with Ellen to sightsee. I came along later and we had a glass of wine and then supper with the ladies. They stayed at the Inn. We headed home for the night.
We went down to Drum and all went to the Royal Tyrell Museum. The day was quite warm and turned quite hot, sufficiently so that we drove with the sunroof open.
When we got there, we found the place was packed. I don't think I've ever seen it so crowded. We had to park in the far end of the overflow.
I got bored after a while -- we go here a lot. -- and went to Canadian Tire. When I came out it was raining.
We visited with them a bit in their hotel, and then drove home.
We got to extracting in earnest today. It would normally be a day off, but we are falling behind and decided to push a bit to get caught up. Extracting honey is one of the least fun jobs in beekeeping in my opinion, an opinion my wife shares most emphatically.
The day was marked with four honey spills. Setting up and working the bugs out, but the most annoying part is having to clean up honey that overflows.
We lit the furnace for the first time today since May. With the rainy weather lately, nights are a bit cooler and we need heat in the building to ensure that the honey stays warm.
Steve and Ryan D went to Calgary to pick up some pallets. With he number of splits we have yet to process, we need to have more stands. Used 40 X 48 pallets are only $4.50 and work well for the job. We prefer our 'Swan' pallets, but don't want to spend the $35 each that they cost until we see how the splits work out. Besides we have some old wraps that will fit the hives if they can be pushed together. By the time they sorted pallets and returned, they only had time to load two trucks for tomorrow before the end of the day.
So far we are only running about ten extractor loads a day. Hopefully we can triple that easily before long.
We decided to try the powdered sugar method of varroa testing today.
We used a quart wide mouth mason jar with 8 mesh hardware cloth cut to stay nicely in the lid and added about 1/4 to 1/3 of a jar of bees along with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar. After rolling around and shaking a bit, the jar was allowed to sit a minute or two, then the sugar was shaken onto a clean white piece of paper which he carefully examined for any mites. The bees were then added back to the colony to be cleaned up by their fellows. Gareth tested several colonies in four yards and found nothing at all.
I spent the day uncapping and running the whirl dry. Our outfit has quite a few old frames that are not in the best of shape. This fact is not obvious until you try to put them trough a Cowan extracting system. We had to cut out quite a few today. Some days are much better. It all depends if we hit a bunch of old supers.
We had some tank problems. Matt had installed our sump, a four-barrel capacity dairy batch pasteurizer without checking it over. The water jacket connections were damaged it turned out and we had to remove it. a call to the local welder convinced me it would be much easier to install a spare we have, so that was done.
I am trying to estimate our increase in hives to date from the summer splits. we have had better success in recent yards that brought up the average. The average and median success rates are both 61% with a high of 88% and a low of 42%. I suspect 61% will be close to the final figure.
At this rate, we can expect about 1,098 good splits and plan to wrap 3,500 after 10% attrition in both splits and parent hives by October. Projecting further, that means 2,650 survivors in May 2001 at 25% winter loss. We'll see. A lot depends on the weather from now until November, and the winter.
We had rain and wind again this evening.
Bert came over for a visit and for supper
We continued extracting and working through the yards today. We'll have to get to pulling honey again soon.
The main chain came apart on the uncapper late in the day, and it turned out that a crossbar was broken. I called Belts and Ralph was gone for a week, but fortunately Rick was able to get me a couple of bars. It makes me realize how dependant one is on the machine and its supplier once a commitment is made to an integrated extracting line.
We used to hand scratch. If we were still doing so, I think we would have a whole lot more honey than we do. So far -- I hate to admit this publicly -- we have a little over 20 drums extracted and quite a bit of honey in supers. That is pretty poor, and much of the reason has to do with the extracting line. We have simply been unable to make very good time with it and the quality of the uncapping is poorer than we get by hand. Moreover we are breaking a lot of combs.
The balance of the problem has been our sump system. Previously we used a 4 drum capacity batch pasteurizer as a primary sump. This year we tried extracting directly into a whirl dry (we have a two story extracting building) for a few days. We found that this worked, but not well enough for the capacity we hoped to put through and that too much wax was getting through.
As mentioned yesterday, we decided to use a spare dairy tank we had around and that turned out to be much simpler.
We left the reassembly of the uncapper for morning
Matt reassembled the uncapper this morning and he and I spent the day working on the extracting line. Ryan worked in the basement, tidying up and lidding drums, etc.
The rest of the gang -- including our extractor crew -- went out to the field to work. Steve took Dustin (Ryan D was ill). Gareth took Justin and Todd. Steve got five yards (285 Splits) done by 4 PM and came back to load his truck for tomorrow. Finally we are getting some production. Gareth got four yards (264 Splits) done by 7:30.
Sunrise: 6:28 AM Sunset: 8:50 PM
We are getting out earlier in the mornings and the days are getting shorter, so I had to warn the guys that they could encounter fighting when combining colonies early in the day if there is no flow and the bees are defensive.
We got a call from a job prospect first thing this morning and interviewed him around noon. We hired him and Barry starts work Monday morning. We also hired a woman last week, but she won't start until after the September long weekend.
Ellen went out in the afternoon to put up 'help wanted' posters in the nearby towns. We will be losing our students soon, and we always have a slack period at the end of August when we change crews.
She stopped at Billy's Coulee to see how Gareth was getting along and took a look at splits in some other yards to get an idea of how well the reports stack up against her experience. Her verdict was that the splits look good and should winter. Some are larger than others, but pretty well all are okay. Many are combinations of a split that took a queen and one that did not, so they are pretty large on the whole. There is considerable variation between yards, however.
Matt and I spent the day working on the extracting system without the distraction of having people using it. I had never really worked the system over from end to end, having mostly done patch jobs on it last year when something broke. We had planned to give it a complete overhaul in the winter, but you know how things go...
The unit has seen some pretty hard use. Pretty well everything from one end to the other was out of line or bent. I spent several hours with wrenches, bars, and a big hammer, getting everything lined up the way they are supposed to be. Hopefully things should go a lot faster now. We'll see if it ever gets as fast as doing the job by hand.
So far our sugar rolls are not turning up any varroa whatsoever.