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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
Your microscope should be a dissecting scope and have somewhere from 20
to 50X magnification. A ring illuminator or other good light source is
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
> 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
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
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...
> 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
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
Normals for the period : Low 2. High 16.
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.