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Hives pollinating Bert's saskatoons

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Sunday 1 June 2003
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I got a call this morning, and was told that a prominent Northern Alberta beekeeper was stopped at the US border with about 8,000 queens.  According to the rumour, he lost the queens, and had to pay a big fee to get his truck back. 

Given the terrible shortage of queens in the West this year, this was bound to happen.  Beekeepers are simply unable to buy queens beyond the numbers rationed by Kona, and, with the very late, cold Spring, this has been an awful year to try to raise them.   Some are needed for replacement, some for nucs, some for two-queening, and -- depending on wintering success -- some are needed for splitting overly strong wintered colonies to prevent swarming.  The number needed is hard to predict in advance. 

Earlier this spring, efforts were underway to set up a protocol for queen importation from the mainland USA, and hopes were high for getting authorization to import this spring, but negotiations fell apart due to infighting and pettiness.  Everyone involved blames someone else for intransigence, but this failure demonstrates -- conclusively -- the total inadequacy of the political process in our industry in Canada, and the impotence of the CHC.   Even those responsible for the failure of the importation project are reportedly attempting to obtain queens where they can.  N'est-ce pas?

Some smug beekeepers or regions of this country have system or climate that allows them to get by without imported queens or even permits them to sell queens -- at least for the present -- and are permanently opposed the queen importation initiative. (Nonetheless we know that even some those people sometimes have a failure, and have had to rely on purchased queens once in a while, or on imported breeding stock).  Some get mired down in personal vendettas and oppose anything that would assist their imagined enemies.  Some simply have a conflict of interest and don't abstain.  Some are empire-defending bureaucrats. Others are just petty about procedural matters.  At any rate, the political process failed.  Through foresight, good luck, and good friends, I've had enough queens for myself and a few friends, but I am getting lots of desperate calls for queens, and I can't help.  Newcomers to the industry in particular are caught short.

Splitting should be almost finished for the year by now , if queens were in good supply, but apparently desperate beekeepers are reduced to smuggling queens -- at this late date -- because of a politically motivated lack of supply.  This situation is disgraceful. 

I worked on the books and tidying.

of the Day

Oxamite™ Varroa Strips

Today : A few showers early this morning then cloudy with sunny periods and 30 percent chance of showers. Wind northwest 30 km/h. High 20. UV index 2 or low. / Tonight : Cloudy periods. 30 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms this evening. Wind northwest 20 km/h becoming light. Low 7. / Normals for the period : Low 6. High 19.

Monday 2 June 2003
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Cleanup continues.  We are also working on a truck which will be picked up by a buyer tomorrow. 

We had heavy rain this morning, tapering off in the afternoon, but the wind picked up as the sun came out.  A strong northwest wind made this a great day to be at Eagle Lake, windsurfing, but El and I had other plans, and went to Red Deer in mid-afternoon. 

Splits needed to be checked today for queens , but the rain, wind and cool weather has put the job off until tomorrow.

Today : Cloudy with sunny periods. 30 percent chance of showers. Risk of a thunderstorm. Wind increasing to north 30 km/h. High 17. UV index 6 or moderate. / Tonight : Clearing. Wind northwest 20. Low 6. / Normals for the period : Low 6. High 19.

Tuesday 3 June 2003
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Tonight, the AHPC board is holding an information meeting, and I have not decided whether or not to go.  I am retiring, but still have a lot of money tied up in in equity there.  If I do not go, I wonder how well my interests will be protected.  I have strong concerns about the management of the enterprise, and its focus.

The meeting is being held, I assume, in hopes of encouraging members to ship more honey to the co-op.  Last year, in spite of efforts to set specific price targets, and although the prices promised were realistic at the time they were set, the targets quickly became out of date and fell far below the market.  As a result, management encountered strong doubt on the part of members who could see how much honey was being sold  into retail at very low prices.  Each time members walked into a store, they could see their honey on sale for less than the co-op was promising to pay. 

Retail prices for co-op honey on the store shelf stayed near -- or even below -- the price promised for bulk honey well into the Fall!   Many members held back and reduced shipments to try to get the best possible return, and also to prevent the co-op from using 'free' honey to compete unfairly with other packers who were paying market price.   It was very apparent to many that, in order to meet the targets, that the co-ops might very probably generate a loss in the current year, and somehow borrow against the next year.  That is a valid risk, but it seems questionable to put losses off to the future, especially when our honey co-ops have never made a profit.  How can the co-ops recover a loss, except to give lower returns sometime in the future?   We have just (almost) finished paying for the last screw-up.  Although a loss is not permissible in theory, the co-op has promised $2/lb, and will find it somewhere, or suffer further erosion of confidence.

A co-op, endowed with members' money, and a good lead in the market, should not only match the returns producers can get in the market, but should also pay a profit to the members.  In the past, though, as far as I know, the co-op has always -- at best -- matched the market, and often fallen short.  Although I am sure the private honey packing firms manage a return to shareholders of at least several percent on sales most years, the co-ops have never AFAIK, been able to do so.

The buyers of one of our trucks came by around noon and we got them on their way without much delay.  I then drove to Edmonton, attended the BeeMaid meeting, and got home around 1 AM. 

When I arrived at the meeting in Spruce Grove, I noticed that almost everyone there was either on the AHPC board, the Manitoba board, or on the Beemaid staff, but there were a few non-management members -- including myself -- there as well.  After a number of presentations, we eventually learned that Beemaid, by their current estimate, expects to miss the price target of $2.00 for AHPC members by at least four cents, but management projects that North American honey prices will continue steady around $US1.50 for the next crop, making the $2 target easier to reach or exceed in the coming year.

I'll have some more in-depth comments when I have time (soon, I hope).

Today : A mix of sun and cloud with a 30 percent chance of showers. Wind northwest 20 km/h. High 16. UV index 5 or moderate. / Tonight : Cloudy periods. 30 percent chance of showers. Wind northwest 20. Low 9.
// Normals for the period : Low 6. High 19.

Wednesday 4 June 2003
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It seems the Southeast Texas honey crop ( tallow ) was almost a complete bust. I hear reports of from starvation to maybe 50 pounds.

Now the big scramble is on for trucks to haul bees out of East Texas. Talked with a trucker that told me if you can find a bee net, & have a flat bed or drop deck trailer you can just about name your price for the trucking bill.

Seems the rain just quit about 3 weeks ago after having upwards of over 50 inches in the last year. I read a deal yesterday were as many of the row crop farmers corn & soybeans in South Texas are burnt off & were going to file for federal crop insurance. If it don't warm up here in the Midwest, & soon, I have no idea what to do. 10 days ago a person was afraid to feed to much for fear they plug the brood nest, & now it's a day-to-day deal. Not much fun feeding starving bees with honey supers on.

Honey prices seem to be $1.60 for white & $1.20 to tallow. One can only guess as to how many million pounds short this tallow crop will be. I have been told a good many bakers & what not depend on the tallow honey for their entire year's supply of baking honey.

We did the rear brakes on one truck today, and Paulo checked out the remaining supers.  Some have a bit of honey -- up to 5 lbs -- scattered in the frames and are ideal for thirds.  We want to make sure, though that there aren't slabs of hard granulation that the bees won't liquefy.

Joe came for supper, and Ford's kids came for a load of supers.

Today : Sunny with cloudy periods. Wind north 30 km/h. High 20. UV index 6 or moderate. / Tonight : A few clouds. Wind north 20 becoming light near midnight. Low 6. / Normals for the period : Low 6. High 20.

Thursday 5 June 2003
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We finished the brake job and loaded some supers for a customer.  That was pretty much it.

Joe attended a pollinator's meeting in Southern Alberta today.  Last night, he was quite concerned because the company had come up with some criteria for establishing hive sizes for bonuses and wanted everyone to sign onto these new specifications.  The intent was to reward beekeepers who provide hives that are larger than the average, but Joe and I could see that, if followed to the letter, the result would be that most hives currently supplied -- even those from the best beekeepers -- would fail to meet the basic minimum, and nobody would qualify for any bonus!

I've covered this topic before, since it has been a matter of great concern to me in the past, when I was signing pollination contracts.  A close examination of the topic easily illustrates how totally unaware many beekeepers are of exactly what is in their hives.  There are a lot of beekeepers out there that think they have 15 -- or more -- frames of brood in their hives when they have actually about five full frames of brood distributed over 15 frames!  This lack of precision  is not serious, and has no apparent effect on a beekeepers performance or production, but it can be a very, very serious matter when a seed growing company proposes writing numbers like that into a pollination contract, then hires inspectors to enforce the contract -- as, apparently, is the intent here. 

Check out the facts here: One   Two  Three.  I would love to have someone prove me wrong, and I have issued this challenge before.  So far, no one has, yet many continue to talk about frames OF brood and frames WITH brood as if they were the same thing.  Scary!

I heard later that Medhat had made a very sensible presentation on the topic at the meeting, and that the idea of 15 frames of brood was quickly forgotten.

Today : Cloudy this morning. Clearing in the afternoon. Wind increasing to north 30 gusting 50 km/h. High 21. UV index 6 or moderate. / Tonight : Cloudy periods. 30 percent chance of showers overnight. Wind diminishing to light. Low 5. / Normals for the period : Low 7. High 20

Friday 6 June 2003
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Today I asked the co-op to remove me from their membership list and to refund all my deposits with them, and my equity.  As readers may have gathered, I am not at all impressed with the ability or philosophy of the current board nor am I at all impressed by the focus of management.   I'll be writing about this in depth soon, here in this space, but I'll need time to do a good job. 

As you all know, I'm retired and changing direction, so I expect I'll be writing less about the day to day beekeeping, and more about the politics and management, as well as my travels.  I expect to be visiting quite a few beekeepers in the next year, and also to make it to EAS.  There is plenty of day to day material in the back pages of this diary, and things don't change a lot from year to year.

At any rate, today we got our motorhome ready and took it for a shakedown trip.  We drove to Red Deer, then Ponoka, where we stayed in Jean and Chris's back yard for the weekend.  The motorhome ran fine, except for some rumbling in the drivetrain which I suspect is due to bad motor mounts or a rough steady bearing.  We checked the fuel consumption and it came out at 7.9 MPG Imperial (or 5.6 MPG US).  That's not too wonderful, but this was measured on a tank of old gas, driving into a strong headwind.  It's also the first trip this unit has taken in a year or two or three...

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Wind increasing to north 30 gusting 50 km/h. High 17. UV index 6 or moderate. / Tonight : Clear. Wind diminishing to light. Low 6. / ormals for the period : Low 7. High 20.

Saturday 7 June 2003
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We stayed on Ponoka for the day, and I got a bit bored in the afternoon, so I wandered thru some second hand stores and Liquidation World.  I picked up some movies and various necessities for the motorhome, and generally had a wonderful time.  These small prairie towns are delightful places to spend a few days.  We've always dreamed of spending a summer driving across Canada, staying in each town along the way.  I don't know if we will ever do it the way we imagine, but maybe this summer, with no bees or staff to worry about, and someone to care for our house and yard, we can do something a bit like that.

Saturday : Sunny. High 25./ Tuesday : Showers. Low 7. High 15.
Sunday 8 June 2003
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We left Ponoka at around noon and spent the afternoon in Red Deer shopping, then arrived home at six.  The mileage on the return trip was better: 9.3 MPG.  If we get up to 10 MPG. I'll be happy.

Matt came by to do some welding and we crawled around under the motorhome to see if we could spot the problem.  We couldn't see anything obvious.

Sunday : Cloudy periods with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 10. High 22.

Monday 9 June 2003
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Medhat was reading my diary and amplified my previous comments.   I asked if I could quote him, and he did not say, "No".

"Hi Allen,

We missed you at the pollination meeting.

My understanding was that it was by invitation.  I wasn't invited or I'd have been there.  Maybe I assumed incorrectly, though, and it was an open meeting?  After all I am pollinating; I have 8 of my 47 hives on a saskatoon patch.

"I was looking at your diary and found this statement "I heard later that Medhat had made a presentation on the topic at the meeting, and that the idea of 15 frames of brood was quickly forgotten"  Is this statement the Scary part?

Hehehe.  Nope.  I hope it doesn't sound that way.  Did you follow the links to my previous ruminations on the topic?  I was glad to hear that you made some sense of the whole thing.  I read the draft contract and did not see the 60% part.  Maybe there are a number of drafts floating around...

Do you mind if I quote from your email in my diary?  What you say makes sense.  I've been trying to make exactly those same points since I first signed on pollination, and never managed to get the ideas thru.  They still confuse '15 frames with brood' with 15 frames of brood'.  As you know from your research, people are very poor at estimating brood area unless they use a grid or have used one in the past.

It was an interesting subject. Some beekeepers understood the statement in the draft contract as each frame contains 60% brood.  Looking at some of the literature "If  60% of the frame contain uncapped and capped brood, the frame would be considered frame of brood". Therefore, if the contract specifies 8-10 frames of bees, it would include 6-8 frames of brood. If any one will supply more frames of bees and brood, the beekeeper will be compensated by increasing the pollination fees by x%.

In my talk I put more emphasis on having a colony in building up mode, more than having 15 frames of bees and ready to swarm. Uncapping brood and egg laying queens will increase the pollen foragers and the need of bees for pollen. The contract concept is good to encourage beekeepers to place good hives and eliminate the ones who supply boxes. A consideration was given to beekeepers who run singles. They will be providing single-box hives that will be mostly brood and bees. This would be tough call if the number of frames of brood can't be more than 9.

These beekeepers with singles will do intense management to maintain their hives and the compensation for good hives can come from making more singles. I have seen this type of hives in my surveys in NJ and Ontario.

Since, we don't have in Alberta data to give us an idea about the average colony strength going to pollination or after pollination, I have suggested to collect data for the next few years to set up data base. These data could be used to set up the criteria for good pollination units that will be good for the growers and beekeeper.

Inputs are appreciated.

I wrote back:  "I read the draft contract and did not see the 60% part.  Maybe there are a number of drafts floating around..."

"Yes, there were another draft that had the 60% mentioned. I hope after the meeting, it will be changed. I considered the best part when we had 'hands on' in the field. The inspectors and beekeepers opened the hives. If the colonies were to be moved to day, what would be good, above average or under average? This was great to have the beekeepers and inspectors on the same page.

The company representatives, bee inspectors, and beekeepers were very understanding to the issues and cooperative.


Medhat Nasr, Ph. D.
Provincial Apiculturist
Pest Risk Management Unit
Crop Diversification Centre North

The problem I see is that experienced and technically competent people, who have hands-on experience, are talking to people who are inexperienced, subjective, and/or distant from the bees.  Unless the terminology is crystal clear, serious misunderstandings will inevitably arise at some point in the game.  In science, I think there is a saying that if you cannot measure or quantify something, you don't really understand it.  There are standard measurements in use by bee scientists -- square inches, and/or square decimeters -- and standard tools for estimating accurately -- wire or Plexiglas grids.  Why not use them, especially if a legal contract is being written up on which the beekeepers' credibility and livelihood will depend, and where serious dollars may ride on a few square inches?

I notice that, even when common words are used in legal contracts, they are often defined for purposes of the contract, and capitalized throughout.  "Frames of brood" is a vague phrase that is made to be misunderstood, and IMO, should never be used, except for casual purposes among friends, such as in splitting hives. 

If a US standard Langstroth frame containing brood on sixty percent of its comb area is, indeed, the standard, then should we not be saying, "Frames of brood averaging 60% of brood, or equivalent ". 

But, if few frames are actually 60%, then why not just say "160 square inches of brood" (same thing) or "1000 square centimeters of brood" (same thing), or "10 square decimeters of brood" (same thing), for each such frame being designated?

What could be simpler, and more difficult to misinterpret, accidentally or deliberately?  Frankly, I think there is no substitute for using square inches or square decimeters, and cannot imagine why anyone would use anything else, except due to custom, ignorance or a deliberate attempt to deceive.  When money rides on each frame counted, then "Frames of brood" is far too subjective.  I'm rounding a bit in the above numbers, but, then, saying 60% -- even from a grid measurement -- is not precise,  We could count cells, but...

Something else that can confuse is that different foundations have different sizes of cells, and also comb area.  A Pierco one-piece standard-sized frame potentially contains  20% more brood than a wooden frame with another brand of foundation, and, FWIW, there is about 5% more brood per square inch in a comb with 5.25mm cells (Pierco standard frames) than a foundation with 5.4mm cells.  That can be meaningful.  Oh, and hey! -- do we count drone brood?  Drones need feeding too.

Today : 60 percent chance of showers with a risk of afternoon thunderstorms. High 17. UV index 6 or moderate. / Tonight : Increasing cloudiness this evening then 60 percent chance of showers. Wind southeast 20 km/h. Low 8. / Normals for the period : Low 7. High 20.

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