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Sunday December 24th, 2000

Adony did a survey of Alberta beekeepers asking what they consider the biggest problem they faced.  I believe he said that the price of honey was the highest ranked problem.

Considering we spend most of our effort preparing bees for winter,  re-establishing lost hives after winter and building hives back up after winter, I wonder if this is true.  Of course a honey price increase would help, but if we did not have the huge expenses associated with wintering, we would be away ahead and much more competitive.

I spent the day playing around trying to get the TurboLinux to work. Maybe a notebook was not the best choice of computers to install it on.  The install did not recognise the S3 Video and its 8 megs of RAM.  Then after I decided to forget the GUI, I found the Linux wouldn't boot.  Oh well.

Jean & Chris came around noon and we had lunch and a walk followed by traditional Christmas dinner with turkey, etc. one day early since we are a off to Fortress or Nakiska for a day of skiing and snowboarding tomorrow.

Today: Mainly sunny. High minus 9.
Tonight: Partly cloudy. Wind increasing to south 20 km/h. Low minus 15.

Normals for the period: Low minus 16. High minus 3.

Monday December 25th, 2000

Christmas Day.  We're off to do a bit of snowboarding.

We got to Beisker, about twenty miles down the road, and stopped for fuel.  We noticed some smell and smoke and discovered that the engine had burped out a bit of oil and that the automatic choke was stuck on.  I concluded that the oil was diluted and that maybe there had been a bit of an explosion in the crankcase, driving out some oil.  The dipstick was out a bit too.  The others lost confidence and thought we should return home, not wanting to risk a Mount Allanbreakdown in the mountains a hundred and fifty miles away.  I drove them home and went on my own.  No problems.

It was a perfect day with no line-ups at Nakiska.  I made 6 runs off the Silver Chair, which was about right for the first day out and was home by six PM.

Today: A mix of sun and cloud. High minus 1.
Tonight: Partly cloudy. Low minus 6.

Tuesday December 26th, 2000

Boxing Day.  The temp was +1.1 C at 9 AM and was 5.5 by noon.  Snow is melting.

I've been getting email:

> I HAD PLANNED TO ASK AS TO WHAT YOU DEEM
> A NORMAL WINTER LOSS & THEN I READ YOUR
> DIARY FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS...

We lose hives all year long -- a few dwindle and drift out, leaving empty hives -- unless we are working through them constantly.  I estimate we lose 10% from the end of splitting in late May and early June until we wrap in late October and November. That is 2% per month over a 5 month span, and that is summer. The root cause is invariably queen loss or failure.

In the next five months, we lose that normal ten percent (2% per month) plus another ten or fifteen percent are weakened beyond usefulness or die, depending on the year. That latter number is the real winter loss IMO.  Some years that number can be much higher

There are several ways to deal with this attrition that amounts to 10+10+15=35% over the year. 

One is to split the remaining hives in the spring to make up the numbers.  Many years this results in all the hives being weaker than ideal and can mean missing the honey flow if it comes early.  Other years when he flow is late, nothing is lost.

A less than obvious point here is that if you lose a third of your bees you need to successfully split half the remainder to get back to where you started.  If you lose half, then you must split the entire remainder in half just  to get even.  If you lost that many, then conditions are such that the remainder may not be all that splittable.

Another is to get nucs or packages. This means spending some money and there is always risk, since the quality will vary a lot from year to year.  In the case of nucs, there is a also real danger of spreading disease, including the new antibiotic resistant AFB strains.  The advantage is that you do not weaken your good producing hives.

Another angle is to make up extra hives the year before when things are good.  The splitting is usually done on the leading edge of swarming season in mid to late June around here.  At that time, weather is good, the hives have brood to spare and cells are easy and cheap to raise. 

Such splits are usually made up with only a frame or two of brood and a cell or queen, and removing a frame or two has little effect on the parent colony.  Such splits usually don't make any honey, but require little, if any, attention.  Some don't work out, but they are just combined with others when time permits.  Most achieve wintering strength by fall and subsequently winter well.  By spring they are indistinguishable from the other colonies.

We have tried all these methods, but this year decided to rely more fully on the third approach.  The downside is the extra labour of splitting at a busy time of year, and the extra floors, lids, brood boxes and stands that are needed (as well as wraps), the upside is that spring work is a breeze and can start a month later. 

This splitting method also results in examining brood combs and can give early warning of disease and queen problems compared with our normal method of simply separating the two brood boxes and re-queening one half.

Ralph was sanding the truck and also was doing an oil change on the car at a shop he borrowed 10 miles away.  We set that up to avoid rearranging our own shop (Three hours work) and to keep, me from being disturbed constantly.  It sounded like a good deal at the start, but when he found he had the wrong oil filter, I wound up driving there and back.  All the spare parts are here.  We need a shop nearby.  So much for my vacation.  I can also se that I will need to supervise a bit more closely.  Drat!!

Efficiency is so important -- and so few people understand efficiency.  If we waste much effort running around we simply cannot make it as beekeepers.  Everything has to be planned, and in place, and on time -- or all profits and leisure are lost.

Today: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind west 30 km/h gusting 50. Temperature steady near plus 7.
Tonight: Mainly cloudy. 30 percent chance of light snow. Wind becoming light northwest. Low minus 8.

Normals for the period: Low minus 16. High minus 3.

Wednesday December 27th, 2000

Out my window this morningIt was still +1 Celsius when I woke up and snowing fairly heavily.  I decided to go for a bike ride.  Being inside gets to me after a while and I think that if I get moving and do something strenuous first thing I have a more productive day.

I wore my Snowmobile helmet and visor and things were quite pleasant -- although I was damp from the wet snow when I got back .  Wet snow is good news, since it will stay where it falls and we can snowmobile across the fields soon and not have to stick to where the wind has drifted it.

I finally got the TurboLinux set up -- on a desktop machine.  (I don't quit easily). It looks pretty good, too, but there were a few things that I should have done during install that will have to be corrected when I have time to play with it.  Seems they expect you to print out the entire 250 page manual PDF file prior to installing.  I thought I would save the cost and wing it...  If time is worth anything, I didn't save much.

A GUI seems strange with a *nix to me, but I was able to drill down through pretty quickly and find a prompt. First impressions are that there is no good reason to use M$ Windows® other than the amount of software available, and maybe that is not even a good reason, since TurboLinux seems to come with a decent suite of software including and office suite that can read MS Office docs. (Apparently, I have not tried it yet).

What has this got to do with bees?  Not much.  Ralph's wife phoned at about ten to say he is sick and it sounds as if he will be for a few days. I was expecting to hear from him at eight and have been hanging around to keep him busy.  Oh, well.  El and the kids went to Red Deer yesterday and stayed at their place overnight, so I am here alone.  I enjoy that.

I have some more to do on the imidacloprid tar-baby and then the real project I need to get to work on: a job qualification matrix for beekeeping help. 

I have noticed that my beekeeping friends who hire Mexican help are getting robbed -- not by their foreign helpers, but by the inter-government system that sets up the labour  imports.  The workers themselves are, without exception,  honest people with a good work ethic and an eagerness to put in whatever hours are necessary to get the job done.  The problem is with the system.

I have, myself, considered hiring Mexican help, but if I paid as much as my friends did this past year for unskilled Mexican help, I would lose all my Canadians, plain and simple.  A number of beekeepers are in a bind, since they have grown to depend on the imported seasonal help because their bee operations are located far from population centres and because the job market in Canada is currently tight. 

Last year the government agency in charge raised the base wage quite a bit since they were under the (mis)understanding that the imported labourers were all skilled.  Many were not at all skilled, but the beekeepers had accepted that fact and lived with it in the past. They need unskilled help too, and simply paid the best workers sizable bonuses to reward ability and keep things fair. After all, there is competition between the Canadian employers to get the best Mexican workers.  Both the Canadians and the Mexicans are in frequent contact with their counterparts by telephone during he operating season, so there is not much opportunity for unfair exploitation.

The beekeepers hadn't been complaining about the system as it was, since the base price was a reasonable price to pay for labour generally, but when the agency raised the base pay level to what a skilled Canadian would get, then suddenly there was a big problem.

The whole misunderstanding revolves around lack of a standard way of appraising beekeeping help and assigning a pay scale -- even for Canadian employees.

Without such a measure, a person in Mexico who has ten primitive hives at home, no beekeeping education, no valid driver's licence, and no understanding or literacy in English can pass himself off as an experienced beekeeper and demand the same pay as a Canadian who has high school matriculation, has worked in bees for several years, can fill in reports and write notes explaining what has been done, and perhaps even has a heavy duty trucker's licence.

Once that new employee enters Canada, the beekeeper has only a few days to decide if the person is qualified as claimed.  Often there is a language barrier, and no opportunity to work on the bees together, perhaps due to weather. After those few days, there is cost penalty for sending a worker back.

This particular situation highlights a problem that I encounter frequently myself.  How do I explain to my Canadian employees how they can improve themselves and earn more money?  How do I explain why one person gets one wage and another less?

I plan to create a listing of desirable abilities, accomplishments, and behaviours and link them to remuneration.  I'll need some help, but it should not be that hard...

(Several hours later...)  Okay, here is what I have so far.  It's a work in progress.  I hope to eventually have a worksheet into which I can enter some rating numbers and come out with the correct pay rate for a given employee.  Hopefully he  or she could do the same and get a similar answer.  Any answer below the minimum wage would mean a farewell was in order.

I plan to share the resulting employee appraisal grid with my fellow beekeepers and with HRDC.   How about sending me suggestionsfor additional skills and characteristics?  Format?  Presentation?...??

Today: Cloudy with occasional snow mixed at times with rain this morning. Risk of freezing rain this morning. Wind becoming northwest 30 km/h this afternoon. High plus 1 this morning then slowly falling.
Tonight: Mainly cloudy. 40 percent chance of light snow. Wind becoming light northwest. Low minus 10.

Normals for the period: Low minus 16. High minus 4.

Thursday December 28th, 2000

Can't decide whether to go to the mountains or work.  It's minus 9 this AM.  Anything down to minus 15 is okay for skiing.  Checking out Nakiska, I see:

Today's Snowfall - Base Area: Past 24 Hours: 13 cm in 24-hours, 9 cm of which fell in two hours yesterday afternoon

Hmmm. 

(Much later...)  Well, I went to Nakiska and made a few runs.  the place was a zoo.  Christmas day it was quiet, but today it was packed and there were 10 to 15 minute line-ups at the base area chairs.  The Gold (expert area) had no line-ups, so i spend some time up there.  The problem is that with the short days, the sun leaves that slope (north east face) early in the day and it is gloomy and cold there.  In a month or two things will be better.  By the end of the day, it was getting icy too, since the intermediates go up there and then scrape the snow off skidding down.

In the lodge there was a coin-op internet booth ($1 for 10 minutes) and I thought I would take a peek at -- what else? -- this page.  The machine was running Netscape at a 800 x 600 and the page looked very good, except that when I tried navigating from my home page, part of the referring page was shown to the right of the new page and I realised that their browser was defective -- it could not open a new page.  This is a fairly major flaw.  I have received the same complaint from at least one reader of this page.  If you have this or any browser problem, I recommend visiting Fred Langa's BrowserTune 2000 and also considering downloading an upgrade to what you currently have.

On the way home I went to Calgary to hang out in the malls a bit and while at Marlbourough, I discovered something quite fascinating relating to my current employee evaluation  project.  An HRDC kiosk that was set up to assist with job searches and I tried searching under 'beekeeper'.  There was no such designation and the machine referred me to general farm labour.   No wonder we have problems finding new help and maintaining a pool of skilled workers. No one realises that this is as much a trade as 'mechanic'.

Today: Mainly sunny. High minus 2.
Tonight: Mainly clear. Increasing cloudiness overnight. Low minus 13.

Normals for the period: Low minus 16. High minus 4.

Friday December 29th, 2000

Although, after a good fall, we ran as much as 10 to 20 Celsius degrees below normal temperatures for much of the past several weeks, it appears we are now back to slightly above normal temperatures for a week or so.  That should be good for the bees.  Today is another dull day and minus seven C at  10 AM.  We slept in and -- for the first time since I can't remember when -- had no calls or demands on us.

I'm looking at what needs to be done and what I feel like doing.  We had planned to go south for a month or so, but I have people who need to work.  If I can get that set up then I suppose we may go, but for now, it looks as if we'll be busy for a while.  I think I'll just fly down top the ABF meeting and come back.  Maybe we'll get away in Feb.

So far I have no feedback from readers on the job description project.

We went to town for lunch and then out to Purves-Smiths for supper. It was very foggy when we left, but cleared up.  Since before Christmas,  we have had heavy hoar frost all over southern Alberta.  Driving to the Kananaskis for snowboarding the past two times has been like driving through fairyland.

Today: Mainly cloudy. High minus 4.
Tonight: Periods of snow developing. Low minus 12.

Saturday December 30th, 2000

It's sunny today, but was still around minus eight in the morning.  Tomorrow is going to be plus two with one of thise famous Chinook winds, gusting up to 50 KPH.  By Wednesday they are talking about plus twelve Celsius as a high. That means we'll lose our snow, I'm afraid.

Today, we are getting ready for a indoor/outdoor games party tomorrow.  That means checking out the skating rink on the pond and tidying the house some more.  We're cooking a turkey for snacks and planning lunch and a fun afternoon.

So far only one comment about the employee evaluation sheet.  I see that these pages are getting lots of interest though -- hundreds of hits since yesterday.

Today: Mainly sunny. High minus 2.
Tonight: Mainly clear. Wind increasing to west 20 km/h. Low minus 7.

Sunday December 31st, 2000

Skijore.jpg (25962 bytes)Today we had our traditional New Years Eve day party .  Robinsons, Orams, Landymores, and the Purves-Smiths all came and we played a little hockey on the rink, did puzzles and some ski joring behind the snowmobile and ate turkey and ham.  The weather was perfect, hovering above freezing.  That is cooler than the last few years, but just about perfect.

Everyone including the kids left by evening and we went to bed early. 

Here comes the real new millennium.

Today: Sunny. Wind southwest 20 km/h this afternoon. High plus 3.
Tonight: Becoming cloudy in the evening then clearing overnight. Wind increasing to west 30. Low minus 5.

 

Normals for the period: Low minus 16. High minus 4.

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