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A spring storm April 25-28, 2003

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Thursday 1 May 2003
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Today is May 1st.  Midsummer's Day is seven weeks away, and the beginning of extracting is now only 8-12 weeks distant.  In 16 weeks -- four months -- most beekeepers in Alberta will be pulling off their supers and feeding for winter.  In five months, many will be wrapped and done for the season.  The window of opportunity for making producing splits is from May 10th to 24th, and that is coming up fast.  Some years, a super of honey can be had from dandelion and willow in late May and early June -- if the hives are strong and the supers are on. The season is starting, and although we have snow on the ground, there have been years when the hottest day of the year has been in May.

I thought I'd share this note to a buyer who has been picking up bees here, since I think it is good advice for anyone who is wondering what happens in spring.

Here's the background:  He says he has no previous bee experience.  He purchased the bees in March, as-is where-is, on location, but has not, as of today, AFAIK, visited all the yards.  We recommended he come down and work the bees on their locations -- we'd show him the ropes -- and then he'd haul them home as time permits.  He decided he wants to just haul them all home without doing any work on them here.

Out of courtesy, and concern for the bees, we offered to feed, medicate and put Apistan in his hives (at his expense), and have done so, some time back.  For his convenience, seeing as we could see he would not be able to manage it, we have brought his hives in from the yards to a central spot for pickup, again at his expense.  He came last night and picked up another load. 

...I notice that you took some pallets of bees and left others in the designated loading area, where you were asked to start at the north end and work south.  Since you were short one hive on one of the previous loads, there was a single hive there for you, in addition to the normal pallets of four. Perhaps you selected pallets to fit your load, since some lids are higher than others, but, at any rate, please remember that these are all your hives, and that we brought them in for your from your yards for you.

At the time you purchased them, in mid-March, all these hives exceeded our stated standards for sale.  If you now see some that have dwindled, that is normal, but they are still yours.  Although we recommended checking queens and equalizing some time back and offered to show you how, they have not been worked since the time of sale, other than to be fed and medicated at your request, and at your expense, so some dwindling is to be expected, particularly when they have been brought into a loading yard. 

No matter how well a move is done, some drifting of bees is inevitable, and bees will tend to move into hives with more attractive positions in the yard or more attractive queens, leaving some with fewer bees.  Unless you are careful, you will likely see further drifting when you unload, resulting in a few hives being crowded and a few being almost without bees.

It is normal for a percentage of hives to have queen failure in spring and thus it is normal practice for beekeepers to visit hives, starting in early April, to check and replace queens, look for disease and mites, equalize feed and brood, and to combine any that are hopeless for splitting later.  Generally, over a year, 30% of hives will become queenless or fail for some other reason, so over the six-week period since you purchased, roughly 6/52 x 30% or 3.5% of the hives can be expected to have begun to need attention.  Add to that the 5% or so that were strong, but still in need of attention at the time of purchase, and you will find that you may lose close to 10% in the next month, if you do not work on them very soon.

I hope you can take time to do the necessary spring work to check and equalize all your hives in the next short while, to ensure that you get maximum results.  Otherwise, the strongest will swarm soon, while others decline.  Although there is enough room in all the hives now, in a week or two when brood hatches, some may be crowded and need splitting or even to have supers added.

Please ask if you have any doubts about what needs doing.

Dennis was here and gone at dawn to pick up several yards of bees, to bring them in for pickup by their new owners.

Dale got back to backfilling the trenches, since all is done except the last fifteen feet.  He had to re-dig the section closest to the house, where the sides had collapsed because of the the rain and snow so that we can lay the last few feet of pipe.  Dennis helped him after he got back, and Paulo got supers out of the shed for buyers.

In the evening, three trucks arrived here for loading.  First, Colin came with a five-ton truck.  Loaded double height, the truck can carry 112 hives.  We sat around and waited until the bees stopped flying, then loaded his 100, some supers, and some sacks.  When he headed home, it was still daylight.  Another buyer arrived while we were waiting, and, immediately after, loaded 104 onto a trailer pulled by a 4X4 .  By the time they finished loading, it was dark.  Then Klarence's dad and mom showed up.  Kor was getting 30 hives on individual floors, and we loaded them by hand.  I hadn't done that for a while. 

The thing about hand-loading is that you feel the weight in each hive, and notice if bees are crowded and pouring out the entrance.  Surprisingly, we got stung very little, even though the bees had been flying from top and bottom entrances only an hour before.  The temperature had dropped quite drastically at sundown.   I noted that the hives in this group were not as heavy as the hives I had weighed earlier, so it is clear that some will need feed in the next week or two, unless a flow materializes soon.  At this time of year, bees go through a lot of feed as they raise large amounts of brood and fly around looking for pollen and nectar.

We finished up just before midnight and called it a day.  All told, we loaded 234 hives tonight, and have only 31 left here, including the styro hives, and 40 at Elliotts'.  We'll need 104 for tonight and 97 the next, so Dennis will be loading early again tomorrow.  There is one yard in the Elnora area to go, and several distant yards around here.  My notes indicate 411 hives, total, left -- and predict having 200 when the dust settles, unless we decide to sell those last few as well.

of the Day

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Today :   Mainly sunny. 30 percent chance of afternoon showers. Wind light. High 15. / Tonight :   Partly cloudy. 30 percent chance of evening showers. Wind light. Low plus 2./ Normals for the period :   Low 1.

Friday 2 May 2003
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At 5:45, I heard the crackle of a cold, well-tuned, diesel starting up and looked out to see Dennis loading the forklift onto the trailer, in preparation for a trip to pick up hives.  By six, it is daylight, and a great time to move bees.  It's cool enough that they do not fly, but the beekeeper can see well.  It's also a beautiful time of day to be out driving around the country.

Dennis brought in several loads, then went home early.  Paulo sorted supers, then helped Dale get the last few feet of sewer and water line.  By late afternoon, the pipes were under the footings and into the basement.  Dale backfilled and by evening, most of the trench was filled -- more or less -- level. 

Meijers came for supper and brought their Hino truck to show me.  It's for sale ($18,000) and looks like an ideal unit for a medium-sized operation.  It has a beautiful custom built beekeepers deck, and can carry 96 hives, plus pull a forklift to boot.  I had considered it for mounting a Billet Loader, but I think I'll keep a forklift for a while, and am not sure I want to invest $20,000 in a loader, plus $18,000 in another truck, when I already have 5 good trucks.  Gotta sell some before I buy more.  Besides, what do I need a truck for anyways.  I'm retiring! 

Interested?  Call Joe or Oene at 403-364-2179 or Jake at 403-364-2275.

One of our customers brought back our yellow forklift and trailer.  I have it sold, but hate to let it go.  Each unit has personality and this one has been great.  With the 15" tires, it has good road speed, and that is handy running around the yard.

Today :   Sunny with afternoon cloudy periods. Wind becoming southwest 20 km/h near noon. High 15. UV index 4 or moderate. / Tonight :   Cloudy periods. 30 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms. Wind southwest 20 km/h. Low minus 1. / Normals for the period :   Low 1. High 15.

Saturday 3 May 2003
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Today is cool, and the promised rain and snow did not come, so I went to Willows and brought back 60 hives, leaving 24 there.  Dennis had been telling me that access to Willows looked impossible, but I had no problems at all, even towing the forklift in and out.

We now have just 121 more hives to bring in and load for our customer, then we are done, unless we decide to sell the last 200.  I can't decide.  Dennis seems interested and we have some supers with granulation I'd like to get liquefied, but I HATE extracting.  All the rest is fun, but the harvest is something I do not enjoy.

Ellen and Ruth went to the Saskatoon Farm at Dewinton, leaving me at home alone.  That's fine.  I was going to go to take a look at a motorhome, and got a call from Austin, my old buddy from the Computer Shop days in the early eighties.  He and a friend are coming by for a visit.

Today :   Flurries. Wind north 20 km/h. High zero. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight :   Snow heavy at times. Accumulation 5 cm. Wind light. Low minus 1. / Normals for the period :   Low 1. High 15.

High 14.

Sunday 4 May 2003
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Snow on the ground again, and rain/snow all day.  2-3" predicted, but it is melting as it hits, so far.  Our last customer picking up bees will be taking 41 more hives, Monday, then we will be down to 200 +/- a few.  I guess we'll have to decide whether to stay in or sell all.

From the US...

It's a chilly windy day here and we have had about one and one-half inches of rain. We really needed the rain but I need a couple of good days to get caught up on my work.

We spent a wet morning installing nucs brought up from Mississippi. They were so full that we had to get them into bigger boxes right away. A few were starting to build queen cells. I threw a tire chain on the way out of the yard and it lodged between the duals. Much fun.

I digress. I am suffering from a lack of knowledge. I bought a microscope to check for tracheal mites. It gives a great view but I don't know what I'm looking at. I sliced off the front of the thorax right behind the front legs. I expected to be able to see the tracheae but I can't. I tried looking at the piece I cut off in case I took too much, but couldn't see anything there either. Can you give me any instruction on this.

I looked around for an illustrated 'how-to' on the 'net and could not find anything.

Your microscope should be a dissecting scope and have somewhere from 20 to 50X magnification. A ring illuminator or other good light source is important.

The process, in short, is to store the bees in 50/50 isopropyl or grain alcohol overnight, then pull off the head and first pair of legs. At the top of the thorax, there is a dark  'collar' which looks like a miniature old-fashioned horse collar. With fine tweezers, you pull off these collar pieces and the thorax tubes are revealed sitting on the white mass of the innards.

Tease out the tubes and look for dark spots. They indicate old damage. Mites and eggs can be seen through the tubes if you have good light.

Here are some pictures: One  Two  Three


I have the book "Mites of the Honeybee". It gives a good "how to". The  pictures of the dissected bees are pretty blurry, though. From your description, my guess is that I am slicing off too much. I've been cutting of the front of the thorax with a razor blade. I have my bees stored in alcohol. I'll try pulling off the collar with tweezers and see what I can see

If the alcohol is too strong, the bees will be too crisp.  If the alcohol is too watery, then they will be too mushy. Fifty percent alcohol overnight before dissection is what I recall works best. For longer term storage, use 70% or stronger, but add water the night before working on them.

Here are some more references: Manual of standards Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines 2000 is a bit over the top, but the part "A. DIAGNOSTIC TECHNIQUES" is good, but quit at "b)   Grinding (3)"  Also forget about Oudemann solution, 70% alcohol is just fine for most of us. 

Also, regardless of the claims of statisticians, examining 20 bees each from a number of 300 bee samples -- taken from several yards -- will usually show up a serious infestation clearly enough for commercial beekeeping purposes.  Any "positives" in a 20 bee sample means blanket treatment of the entire operation is probably going to be needed.  The more positives, the sooner treatment may be necessary.  The more mites per trachea, the heavier the mite load, and (probably) the more longstanding the infection.

If zero mite levels are being seen in such samples, further testing may be required, but if 3 or more bees are infested in several 20 bee samples and especially if there are multiple mites in multiple trachea, a smart Northern commercial beekeeper will apply a treatment to all hives.  Why?  In the north, there are only two short chances per year to treat.  Treatment is cheap and relatively harmless, but not 100% reliable.  Sometimes treatment fails, for whatever reason.  Moreover, a reliable test to see if the treatment worked cannot be done for -- depending on time of year and how long the bees live -- at least six weeks because the dead mites (killed by treatment) inside the bees, and the scarred trachea, will confuse the results.  Therefore, in the case of tracheal mites, smart beekeepers will treat in the next window of opportunity to ensure that they do not enter winter with a heavy mite load.

Here's a picture of blackened trachea, a sign of longstanding infestation.

More Tracheal mite (TM) info      ...And more.      ...And a schematic of the process...

BTW, Don't bother slicing or looking any further than the first set of trachea.  They are the main ones and will show what we need to know.

Today :   Snow. Amounts 5 to 10 cm. Morning fog patches. Temperature steady near zero. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight :   Periods of snow. Storm total 10 to 15 cm. Low minus 3. / Normals for the period :   Low 2. High 15.

Monday 5 May 2003
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It's snowing again and we have an inch or two on the ground now.  I cancelled Paulo and Dennis for the day.

Dennis showed up anyhow.  I had called him at 7 and left a message on a machine.   He said he had left before I had called and taken an hour getting here in the snow.  At any rate, he turned out to be handy.  The plumber came by and specified more digging and cement breaking, so Dennis took care of that, along with some other jobs.

I spent the day doing an endless string of paper and phone tasks.  The entire day was cold and snowy.   Good thing the bees are wrapped.

Today :   Periods of snow this morning. Amounts near 2 cm. Cloudy with a 60 percent chance of flurries this afternoon. Wind north 20 km/h this afternoon. High plus 1. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight :   Flurries. Wind north 20 km/h becoming light this evening. Low minus 2. / Normals for the period :   Low 2. High 15.

Tuesday 6 May 2003
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I finally set up a page of Joe's pictures of Meijers installing package bees indoors into Styrofoam nucs.  The shots cover the process from start to finish.

The plumber called last night and said he would be here at seven this morning, so I told Dennis to come in.  He had left a mess last night and I wanted him to clean up and to assist.   The plumber drove 75 miles from Calgary, in a minivan, and was only a little late.  Dennis had our 4X4 and only 10 miles to drive, and arrived an hour and a half late.

For the last three weeks or more, a lady has been wanting to buy the last 200 hives.  She has called again and again, and I have been holding the last hives back to keep Dennis busy over the summer.  While I was waiting this morning, she called again, and I told her she could have whatever she wants.  She chose 100, so that leaves exactly 117, if my counts are correct.  I figured out our winter loss today, and it came to exactly 11.5%.  That's not the best we've done, but it comes very close.

The plumber needed some parts, so I went to town in the 4X4.  The roads were awful, and I found myself needing the chains.  When I looked in the box, they were put away all caked with mud, and unhooked.  I managed to put them on, but was equally unimpressed to find there was no shovel.  I had already found that the truck had no phone or recovery strap and had remedied that.  Who wants to drive around in a blizzard in a 4X4 without emergency supplies?  Not me.

We got the sewer hooked up and all the water connections made, but when we went to turn on the curb stop, we could not find it.  We even measured to where it is supposed to be, but could not find it in the sea of mud and snow.  We are thinking that Patrick must have run over it with his loader and driven it into the ground.  My boots got stuck so badly that I almost lost them getting back onto the road.  We decided that we were not going to get anywhere without witching or using a metal detector, especially in the mud and wind, so we called it a day.  Thus, tonight, we finally have municipal sewer, but are still running off the cistern.

I'm trying to send a forklift and trailer to the buyer in B.C., who needs it ASAP, but cannot find a trucker who is running in this storm.

Today :   Snow. Amounts 2 to 5 cm. Wind north 20 km/h. High zero. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight :   Snow. Amounts 2 to 5 cm. Wind north 20 km/h. Low minus 2. / Normals for the period :   Low 2. High 15.

Wednesday 7 May 2003
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The guys were off today.  I didn't have enough work for them, seeing as the weather is still bad and the yard drifted in.

Today we turned on the water.  The municipal water guy was going by to take a water sample, and used his metal detector to locate the stop.  It was down about a foot  in muck, but we got it turned on.  Although we are glad not to have to haul water, the pressure is disappointing.  We'll need a booster pump if we want to have a decent shower.

of the Day

Today .. Periods of snow. 2 to 5 cm. Wind northwest 30 km/h. High plus 1. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight .. Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries. Wind northwest 20. Low minus 1./ Normals for the period .. Low 2. High 15.

Thursday 8 May 2003
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The grass is showing through again, but there are still drifts in the yard and we're still shut down due to the snow, the mud and the cold. 

We have the supers to sort through yet, but I doubt we can do much until Saturday at the earliest.  Actually, the job of sorting out the heavy supers -- some have granulation -- could be done easily by hand, inside the Quonset, but Paulo insists he needs to use a forklift and it is too muddy to use one.  I'm tired of arguing. 

We bought our first forklift 8 years ago, and had as many as five when we were moving bees to pollination and back.  Before that -- for 22 years -- everything was done by hand.  We had a hive loader, and used it for some tasks, but never used it as much as the forklifts are used.

With some forethought and planning -- most jobs were no harder before forklifts.  Forklifts do have their advantages, especially when loading trucks, but, once they are available, the mentality changes.  I think I mentioned before, that -- unless apprehended -- some guys would always start their day by starting up a forklift and riding it around, even if a little thought would demonstrate that FL would not actually be needed all day for what was planned.

Forklifts can become an addiction.  They can actually slow work down because some workers depend on them to do even the most minor tasks, and waste time finding a forklift, walking to find a forklift, or waiting for someone else to finish with a forklift.  Standing watching a forklift work, and making unnecessary (and distracting) guiding gestures to the driver, is a favourite pastime for some of our guys.

There are a few jobs that are vastly speeded -- even made possible -- by using a forklift, such as moving bees, loading trucks with heavy items and items on pallets.  Pallets of supers, drums of honey and hives on pallets are best handled with a forklift, but other jobs are often better done by hand.

I got busy again on BEE-L today.  Here are some of my comments...

> So then I went to the "move the hive" strategy that others have suggested. I'd lean towards a catcher nuc for the field bees and then search through the depopulated hive to depose the queen.

Another problem with the 'move the hive' strategy is that no one suggesting it ever seems to stipulate, "on a day when the bees are flying freely".

Anyone who moves a hive on a day after a cool spell, a period with no flow, or a rainy spell, hoping to lose a lot of the bees, will be surprised to see that, oftentimes, many or most of the bees stay right with the hive. Under such conditions, any that come out due to the bumping will often follow the hive as you move it!

If you want to lose a large number of bees, it is important to move the hive late in a day when there is a good flow on and the bees are flying without orienting as they leave. Otherwise, only very limited success will be achieved.

It is also important to place a substitute hive that looks somewhat the same right on the exact spot where the original sat, or those sneaky bees will very often sniff out their old home -- assuming it is not too far away and that there are not many other hives around to fool them -- and return home, defeating the beekeeper once again.


And another post...

Although crystallized honey is usually not an ideal winter feed, in my experience, bees often do winter well on solid stores. There are a number of factors that will determine how well they do.

The first, as always, is how good the colony is in the first place, and how well-established they are in their home. The temperature range inside the hive during wintering can play a role too. Warmth makes honey softer, but too much continued warmth can increase consumption and result in dysentery or starvation, or both over the course of a winter.

Then there is the question of the nature of the granulation. Soft granulation is usually not a problem, but we have encountered honey that could hardly be scraped with a hive tool, and, although I am not certain, I suspect that this is very difficult for bees to use, particularly during prolonged cold spells. The kind of honey that forms chunks of sugar along with a watery syrup in the same cells, must also be hard to utilize, and -- as mentioned -- there is always the risk of fermentation in such honey.

As for moisture, I think that there must be as much water in hard granulation as in soft, but, in any case, water is needed to thin any honey that is consumed. Usually wintering bees have sufficient water from their metabolism, and nearby condensation, but in very cold, dry conditions, they could be in serious trouble on slabs of hard honey. The amount of solid matter and unusual sugars that can be in some honies can compound the problem.

All this adds up to justification for recommending quality sugar syrup for winter stores when the alternative is a honey of unknown wintering quality or granulated stores. The easier we make things for the bees, the better chance they have of making it.

Nonetheless, good honey -- if it is good honey -- is still a great winter feed.


And another...

> As far as winter feed, the best to worse are sucrose (cane sugar dissolved in warm, not boiling, water), HFCS and honey.

I think that this is a generalization. While often true, I think it is hard to beat good clover (or other white) honey laid into place early by a strong, healthy colony of bees.

Sugar is definitely okay, but if the honey is removed late and replaced by sugar, that disruption can lead to "mysterious" colony death later. IMO, late season manipulation of the brood chamber is a very frequent cause of 'unexplainable' colony death in winter.

As for HFCS, caged bee studies by Rob Currie have shown that type 55 gives a slightly shorter bee life than sugar. Type 42 is not recommended for wintering AFAIK.

We don't ever touch the honey in our broods, and winter on mostly honey, supplemented by as much sugar syrup as the bees will take. We had 11.5% winter loss last winter, while others lost up to 90%.

Our losses were 100% due to queen failures. We do not do any fall checks, so probably 5% of the hives were not OK going in. Moreover, in any 6 month period, some queens are likely to fail, so I cannot blame feed for *any* loss in our 2,300 hives.

Our honey is often granulated, and is often -- like last fall -- canola honey mixed with alfalfa honey. The variety of canola/rape and the flow conditions under which it is gathered determine whether it is 'soft set' or like concrete.

Properly managed, bees can often do very nicely on hard stores. Usually, IMO, it is the beekeeper who killed the bees when they die overwinter, not the stores, etc...


And another...

> What in your opinion is causing a loss of 90%?

Lack of understanding, mistakes and bad beekeeping, most of the time.

Bad luck, illness on the part of the beekeeper, inaccessible locations, unusual viruses, spraying, a disastrous honey season leading up to the winter, bad feed, malnutrition, badly applied or badly timed treatments or manipulations, and all the rest of the excuses, the rest of the time.

Sorry. I calls 'em the way I sees 'em. And don't think that I never had high losses in my 30+ years. I can be as wrong as anybody. Sometimes wronger.


>> We had 11.5% winter loss last winter, while others lost up to 90%.

> You did not report such a good success in he past... in your diary or
> elsewhere...as far as I recall. What have you done diffently? Do you mind sharing some?

Well, loss has varied over the years. I think the best we had was about 9% loss. Then we went pollinating, and that is very hard on bees, and the queens. Even then, though, we still stayed under 20%, as I recall. Maybe those who have been mining my diary can remind me.

Also, our estimates vary over time, until I reach a final number. Last year, quite a few colonies fooled me. We wrote them off as weak and included them in losses early on, but they recovered by the time we finished our spring work.

Carniolan type colonies mixed in with Italian type can be interesting to manage. In the end they all do about the same for us, but they sure can look different at some times of year and the feed needs vary.


Thinking back, we did have greater than normal loss a few years back when we did July splits using cells.  That is documented in this diary a while back.

of the Day

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Today :   A few showers or morning flurries. Wind north 20 km/h. High 5. UV index 1 or low. / Tonight :   Cloudy. Wind north 20 becoming light this evening. Low zero. / Normals for the period :   Low 2. High 16.

Friday 9 May 2003
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Dennis and Paulo came to work today.  The weather is still cool, and rainy, but Paulo was working inside, and Dennis doesn't seem to mind rain.  Paulo continued to sort supers and Dennis did odd jobs, cleaned out trucks, and they both unloaded drums when they arrived mid-morning.  Ellen and I went to Calgary on business and returned in the evening.   Meijers had gone to Edmonton to pick up queens today, and brought ours back too, so we met at the Coffee Break restaurant in Three Hills at around seven.  We got only 100, but they are for the people who are buying bees from us, and several Hutterite colonies who are friends and always order queens together with us.

Today :   A few flurries this morning otherwise cloudy with sunny periods. Wind north 20 km/h. High 7. UV index 3 or low. / Tonight :   Cloudy. Wind north 20 becoming light this evening. Low minus 1. / Normals for the period :   Low 2. High 16.

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