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A good looking yard of bees

Friday June 1st, 2001, 2000

Another morning of moving bees. I was out by 7:30 today and took 28 from The Carragannas and 21 from Deer Run to the home yard for loading tonight. It was 8 degrees C to start and sunny, but it seems these mornings that after a few minutes of sun there is an hour or so of cloud and breeze. That is good for my purposes.

I was finished by ten and did a few chores, then got myself packed for my flight at 2:30. It's a business trip this time. I'm off to Regina fro the weekend and plan to take in the auction at Rocanville on Saturday. It seems like a good chance to get away and enjoy a relaxing weekend and also to see beekeepers I know. I'm also interested in what the equipment for sale looks like and what the prices are because we are selling hives and equipment. I've been approached to have an auction and have considered the idea, but consider it risky.

I've been to auctions where everything sells for a higher price than the normal market price and I've also seen auctions where things go very cheap. I went to one where, for six thousand dollars, I bought several semi-trailer loads of hives and three 72 frame Kelley extractors. The effect of such disappointing auctions is to set doubts about the value of bee equipment in the minds of beekeepers, and although no one else will sell at the low prices set in the auction, people are reluctant to buy until they see someone else pay a higher price. This auction is also a chance to see the auctioneer perform and to meet the auctioneer in case we get to the point of wanting to sell that way rather than by direct sales as we are now. At any rate, if we were going to have an auction, we would use Fraser Auction.  They are the specialists and know beekeeping and beekeepers.

We are also looking at having to extract a honey crop very soon. We currently have a Cowan system, but have never been able to achieve with it what we did by hand. I know: most other beekeepers can do much better with a line like this, but somehow, it just does not work well for us. I have in mind to buy some extractors if the price is right.

I caught my plane in Calgary and arrived in Regina around four. I got my car, which to my surprise turned out to be a bright red Focus wagon. I had expected a subcompact. I shopped a bit on the way out of town, then drove to Moosomin and found a cheap motel for the night -- one with a computer jack.

Today: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind increasing to southeast 30 gusting to 50 km/h. High 27.
Tonight: Mainly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms. Wind southeast 30 shifting to northwest 30 overnight. Low 9.
Sunday: Occasional showers. Low 6. High 15.
Monday: Mainly cloudy. 60 percent chance of showers. Low 6. High 17.
Tuesday: A mix of sun and cloud. Low 7. High 22.
Normals for the period: Low 6. High 19.

Saturday June 2nd, 2001, 2000

I was up early and had breakfast, then headed up highway 8 to the farm where the auction was to take place. The bill indicated that the hives were available for viewing at nine. 

The farm site where the auction was to take place was in a beautiful location. The yard was well treed and the house was charming. The honey house was well set up and the small stuff was on racks out front. 

After wandering around a bit, I loaded my wagon with fellow beekeepers and we went out to look at hives. They were in about average condition but had not been worked much this spring and were uneven in strength. A third were strong enough that there were at least some bees on the bottom of frames in the lower box and a few covered the floor. Another third were not yet wall to wall in the top box. The rest were in between. There were empty spots on the pallets where the dead-outs and the weak ones had been removed. We decided that they were not too bad and should go for $150 -- minimum.

At eleven the auction started and the small stuff took up all the time, non-stop, between then and two o'clock -- when the live hives were to be sold.    

At two, the hives were offered for sale.  The first few went for $150, in slow bidding, then things went downhill.  No one was bidding , and in the end, Herb Isaac took over the balance to run on the sites, since he is a local. Then the supers were offered and they also went cheap after very reluctant and sporadic bidding. At times there was no bidding at all, and the auctioneer had to stop the auction for a few minutes to give everyone a break  The boxes were not new by any means, but the frames were mostly good and very good.  Some of it was new Plasticell in quality new frames When we consider the cost of an undrawn new super to be around $35 CAD assembled, painted and nailed, a new drawn super should be worth more, and any sound older super should be worth at least $25.  (All in Canadian funds).

I don't really know what happened, but it was a nightmare for the seller. He lost the better part of $100,000 (calculated from current market value) in a matter of hours, and there was nothing he could do about it.  The bidders didn't look particularly happy either.  By not bidding, they were watching the value of their own equipment drop.  Many were simply unprepared.  Maybe Saturday is a poor time for such an auction, since banks were closed.  I know a number of us called our partners when we saw how things were going, but we had no time to act.  I doubt anyone anticipated how cheap things would be, so we had not thought at all about spending twenty or fifty thousand dollars.  We were caught totally by surprise.  If I had more time to think, I know I would have snapped up a couple of thousand boxes and perhaps have even bought the hives.

What I saw here  is the reason I have been reluctant to put our operation up to auction.  Although an auction has the advantage of clearing everything off the place in one day - and that is worth a lot - that one advantage can cost a lot.  I can see an auction as being particularly useful in the case where a person is ill, has died, has a need to get things cleared up quickly, or gone broke, but otherwise it seems to me that an auction is risky.  My wife won't even consider one.

In this case, I can see -- in hindsight -- that although the hives were worth much more than the price that was paid, they were spread out in small yards on non-standard pallets that were rotting into the ground. Many pallets had only two or three hives. Finding and picking them up would be a chore at this busy time of year. Moreover the owner was planning to leave on an extended vacation right after the sale. Add to that the fact that varroa mites had been discovered in one of the yards and the tracheal levels varied from zero to over 10% according to John Gruzka . 

In Saskatchewan, mites are a problem since movement is restricted and there are areas that are supposedly entirely mite-free. Whether that restrictive policy has worked in the favour of Saskatchewan beekeepers is questionable, since most of what was sold went to Alberta and Manitoba buyers who seemed more confident and also seemed have more money  -- in spite of or maybe because of their liberal policies on movement of bees.

Whatever the reasons, after the bees were sold, I found the auction depressing.  I bought 3 extractors, but realised that I should have picked up a few thousand supers, since we are a bit short and the price was right even though the boxes weren't too good.  But -- I'm supposed to be selling, not buying!  After the sale I had a pleasant supper with Herb in Moosomin.  but felt awful and was depressed for the whole evening and all the next day. 

  • I felt very sorry for Bill, who had been a big loser in a sale at his home where his friends had been the bidders. He had trusted the auctioneer and the bidders to give him fair market price for his assets.  They had not, for whatever reason.
  • I felt sorry for the auctioneer who stood all morning and half the afternoon selling junk at a fair price, then -- at times -- could not even get a bid for the big stuff.
  • I felt sorry for the beekeepers who came to buy and lost faith in themselves and the value and future of their business to the extent of not being able to bid on obvious bargains.
  • I felt sorry for myself for not bidding on the supers. I could have used them, but am in the process of selling, not buying. I'm stuck in that mindset-- to my own detriment.

I am sure this auction was a fluke and imagine that everyone will show up at the next one prepared to buy. The next is at Fisherbranch Manitoba for Aguire Honey Farms. I wonder if I will go. A trip like this is costly and time consuming, not to mention depressing. I did get the items I wanted and at a fair price, but thankfully they are fairly small and easy to ship. Now there is the cost and hassle of getting them home, but fortunately Herb will help me with all that.

On the way to supper, I locked my keys in the car.  Thank heavens for CAA.  A perfect ending for a perfect day.  

Seeing as I was depressed, and because I was already there, in the restaurant having supper, I had decided to stay at the best hotel motel in town.  What the heck, I blew the ten (Canadian) dollars I could have saved driving across town (two blocks).

Saturday: Mainly cloudy. 40 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms. Wind northwest 20. High 15.

Sunday June 3rd, 2001, 2000

When I awoke in the morning, for some reason, I turned on the TV.  Groundhog Day was playing on the movie channel.  Ducks on Wascana CreekI love that movie, and it seemed somehow perfect for my mood.  I passed the Rotary Park.  Honeysuckles are in bloommorning watching it and, after it finished at noon, I headed back to Regina, a three hour drive.

I arrived mid-afternoon, and decided to look at PDAs a bit more at Staples -- it's always fun to talk to the kids working there and to discover their secret lives which often involve computers --  then went to the parks along Wascana Creek for a stroll and some meditation.  I'm leaving out the neurotic part where I spent an hour or more driving around trying to figure out how to save a few $$ by taking an ultra-cheap accommodation and by returning the car early.  Reason prevailed.

The ducks have hatched their young and the ducklings can be seen with their parents paddling in the creek.  While they went about their ducky business, I sat on the bank and wrote a reply to a post on sci.agriculture.beekeeping on my laptop.  A storm moved in from the east and I finally made a retreat.

At dusk, I got a cheap -- but very nice -- motel for the night and went to sleep early. 

Tonight: Rain. Wind northeast 30 km/h. Low 8.

Monday June 4th, 2001, 2000

I was up at six and caught my plane at 8:45.  

When I got to Calgary, I shopped a bit at Costco, then went home.  By now I have decided that I must have a touch of the flu.  The guys have been taking turns being ill, and I guess it is my turn.  I think that may account somewhat for my general lack of enthusiasm the last two days.

Today: Rain. Wind becoming east 30 gusting to 50 km/h. High 11.
Tonight: Rain. Further rainfall amounts 15 to 20 mm. Wind southeast 30. Low 8.

Tuesday June 5th, 2001, 2000

I checked the 24 splits we made Thursday and they were all fine. I had been worried since we had moved them a way in the heat of the day and I was afraid we might have lost too many bees. We had made sure that we included mature brood so that the emerging bees would bulk up the nuc and that there would then be empty cells in the centre for the new queen to fill with eggs, and I think that helped.

Here's how we load our trucks.  Note the use of load corners on top and centring of leftover boxes on the side to allow use of only one strap per pallet.  The stairs rest on the tie-down bar.It has been raining most of the day and the guys are working through the supers making sure that there is not too much granulation or foundation in any one super.  We accumulated a fair bit of granulation over the past summer due to problems getting the honey extracted fast enough.  Additionally, the honey from pollination seems to granulate faster than the honey to which we were previously accustomed.  We place anywhere from one to three frames of granulation or partial granulation per super, interspacing them with normal empty frames or a sheet of foundation.  A sheet of foundation placed between two sheets of granulation seems to be well accepted and drawn most of the time if the hive is strong enough, even in eight-frame spaced boxes.  Our procedure usually results in the granulation being liquefied and we seldom see it come back into the honey house in solid state.

I think I have a low grade flu.  Jeff is off today and had some subtle and mysterious symptoms.  The doctor said that this is going around. Steve has just recovered and came back to work today after almost a week off.

We have a new attitude around here.  This year we decided that we had enough of hiring people with a labour mentality and the consequent malingering, cheating, lying and destruction of motivation.  We've advertised with an emphasis on the career aspect of beekeeping and refused to hire anyone who does not have a strongly positive attitude towards this pursuit.  We've also made a point of reducing -- as much as possible -- contact between known past troublemakers and new staff.  The results are amazing. One of the perks we are offering is to try to place anyone promising in Australia or NZ for the winter.  So if anyone is interested...

Today: Occasional drizzle or showers. Wind east 30 km/h. High 13.
Tonight: Cloudy with 70 percent chance of showers. Wind east 30 diminishing. Low 8.
Normals for the period: Low 6. High 20.

Wednesday June 6th, 2001, 2000

Ellen had an eye appointment this morning at ten, so we went to town and took care of that and got some supplies while we were there.  The guys continued to go through the supers to make sure they are ready to put on the hives.

Today: Cloudy with 40 percent chance of showers. Light wind. High 15.
Tonight: 40 percent chance of evening showers then partly cloudy. Light wind. Low 6.

Thursday June 7th, 2001, 2000

I left at noon and ran up to Spruce Grove to get some new supers. It seems odd, but we are having to buy some more boxes since we have thousands of frames assembled with and without foundation and this seems to be the way to get it into use.  We offered it for sale, and had a commitment for quite a bit of it, but the buyer reneged on the deal and I figure if we are going to run bees, we might as well get the foundation drawn.

I had a pretty full load when I left Spruce grove at 5:30, but on the way home, I dropped over to to Spruceview to pay for and to pick up the extractors I had previously spoken for and to look at the other things that were offered for sale by the same seller. As it turned out, I had room for only one of the extractors and loaded it up.  

I am considering re-powering the Kelleys I have bought. The original Kelley drive is a leftover from the days of overhead power take-off shafts and flat belt drives.  It has been adapted to FHP electric motors and V-belts, but does not make the best use of their capabilities.  We developed a much better drive system in 1998 and and I installed it on the Kelleys I had at that time before before I sold them.  The buyers report being very happy, so if I have time before extracting starts, I may install the new system on these three and build a few extra drives for others who have requested them.

I got home at midnight.

Today: Mainly sunny. Wind west 20 km/h. High 20.
Tonight: Mainly clear. Wind west 20. Low 5.
Normals for the period: Low 7. High 20.

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