A Beekeeper's Diary

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There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who
with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.
-- Pablo Picasso --

This photo was taken back on January 31, 2000, sunset in my Browns Summit, NC yard. The yard has changed a lot since then as now all the hives are in open areas, in rows, and not under trees due to management changes brought on by the small hive beetle and more light onto and into the hives except for late afternoon shade in the summer.

Keep up the DIARY, PLEASE!



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Monday 1 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.
Robert Benchley

It's a new month and I'm glad to be finished that huge final February page and making a fresh start on a blank page.  The last ten days were productive, but writing about Border Closure, Mad Cow, T4s, the Co-ops, February blahs, and all that can get a person down.

March promises to be busy, with a trip to Victoria next week, and a visit to the kids and grandkids in Rhode Island at the end of the following week, lasting to month end.   Before then, I'll have to get the books to the accountant, pay some taxes, collect a debt, deal further with the Co-op question, do all the regular chores, and plan for the the summer.  There are also some home improvement projects in the pipeline.  The cattle business will continue to take some of my time and attention, as will studying, as always, the economic situation in the world, and managing wisely.  I've promised to work with Medhat in  getting a nutrition study going, but he is going to be away speaking in New York State this week, and also, I've had a bit of a hard time getting motivated myself.

Frankly, it is a big job designing and executing the project, and I am not getting paid (not that I have ever been able to bring myself to work for money), nor do I stand to benefit, since I do not have more than a few hives.   My interests are straying away from bees and the bee industry as I have been increasingly decoupled from it.  Nevertheless, I figure I can at least help get the thing rolling in the right direction.

Ellen & I had a three year plan for the transition into retirement and we're done, right on schedule.  There are a few things left to do, and a few things left to sell, (warning, my sale page is a bit out of date) but, at this point, we do not have any staff, nor do we need any, and I can see the time approaching where I have fewer demands on my time.  We're not dead, though, and we are still farming.

Again, from a regular contributor in the mid-US...

Nothing inspires forgiveness quite like revenge.
Scott Adams

Checked most of the local hives near the city today & was very pleased. Some that had no winter protection at all had huge clusters. The ones with a winter cover looked just that much better. Sure we had a dead out & a dink but, all & all, they looked real fine for the date on the calendar & the weather we have had.

The ones that I over fed syrup to last fall are, by far, in the best shape.  Looks to be a wet week I may opt to put on some more candy boards with brood builder mixed in just to see what happens.

We used to do this years ago & had great results. It just may be time to try this again.

Tell us about 'brood builder', if you would...

I've been wondering if I am going to be comfortable with his cattle business.  I tend to have an empathetic nature, and I wonder how I am going to feel when the time comes to ship them.  I imagine that I'll manage, since I am also somewhat fatalistic.  Nonetheless, it makes me think.  But, then, what doesn't?

Jim and Pat weighed the cattle this morning.  We're all curious how they are coming along.  We learned that the heifers are gaining 1.9 lb/day and the steers are at 2.1.  That one month timespan (almost) includes the shipping date, the day we inoculated, and the time we were adjusting the rations upwards to more grain.   Now we just have to calculate how much feed we have used, and from that, we can get a cost per pound of of gain.  By supper time, they had not done that part.

I'm a bit impatient, waiting for those figures.  I'm a 'manage by numbers' kinda guy and get itchy if I can't count or calculate.  I know what I paid and what the market is for both feeders and for fat cattle.  When I know what the daily cost is, this is going to determine how long we keep them -- and if we make or lose on the process.  Every day is costing us (I'm just guessing, pending real numbers) anywhere from $1.20 to $2 per animal.  I'd like to know where in that range we are.  We are expecting gains more like 3 and 4 pounds as they grow and as the weather improves, and of course the feed consumption will climb.

I dropped in at Grant's mid-morning, and he came over for a look.  He thinks we could sell some of the heifers for breeding and get a premium, and also cut our investment down a bit.  Interesting idea.

of the Day

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. 30 percent chance of flurries. High zero. / Tonight : Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries. Low minus 6. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 1.

Tuesday 2 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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Everybody believes in something and everybody, by virtue of the fact that they believe in something, use that something to support their own existence.
Frank Zappa

The fog has lifted, but we have snow today.  The radio advises against driving, but I'll likely go to town to get the red car and to register the Achieva.

I phoned Jim this morning and he says that he did a rough calculation and gets 73c per pound of gain.  That is very good, considering that it is the first month in a new yard for the beasts.  This cost includes the silage, the grain and the concentrate, plus 40c per animal per day for the labour and equipment costs.  Thus, I can see that, if the price of fat cattle stays where it is now (it never does), and all else goes as it has so far, then we stand to make a few dollars.  Somehow, I like this better than the stock market.  I'm an entrepreneur.  When we retired, we hired an estate planner, and interestingly, she said that almost all her clients made their retirement by being entrepreneurs.  Very seldom does she get wage earners, or people who made it in the stock market.  Curious.

We went to town and got the car.  That old red 1986 Olds 88 is beat up and has 295,000 km on it. but it sure is nice to drive, compared to the Achieva, and has lots of room inside.  The interior is red, too.  Nowadays, all the interiors are dull and boring.  I like red.  The repairs came to about $850, by the time all was said and done, and the new tires were put on and balanced.  That is probably more than the old car with rust and a dent is worth, but I am loyal and stick with what works, even when it doesn't.  Anyhow, now it does.

of the Day

Today : Periods of snow. A further 2 to 5 cm. Wind becoming north 30 km/h near noon. Temperature falling to minus 12 this afternoon. / Tonight : Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries. Wind north 20 km/h becoming light this evening. Low minus 15. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 1.

Wednesday 3 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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I started this diary four years ago today.  A year later, in February, because the pollination was being cut back, we were faced with a decision and we decided to retire.  Three years later, we are pretty well retired.  I have a few axes left to grind, and have a few projects in the industry, then I am out of bees.

A Beekeeper's Diary
March 3rd to March 14th, 2000

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Friday March 3, 2000

I've intended to write a diary for some time, and now I've made a start. We'll see how long this inspiration lasts...

For now, I'll keep this diary going, but I'm afraid that, for those who are looking for day to day beekeeping stories and pictures, I'll have to rely on what my friends (you) send in.  There may be big gaps, too, when I am away.

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.
Carl Sagan  

I was going through my PDA, cleaning out old files and found these scraps of interest:

Ingmar Fries said, at Niagara, that the thymol taste threshold in honey is 2ppm (parts per million).  Dogs smell down to 500 ppt (parts per trillion) and bees down to 5 ppt!

Pat Heitkam: California beekeepers use BrewTek yeast.  Ranier yeast no good for bees

Steve Pernal: OTC half life in syrup is 7 days/ Tylosin half life is 168 days

Gus Rouse: Protein feed formula is 30gal 50/50 syrup and 3 bags yeast

I spent most of the day on the computer, studying and thinking about the cattle business.  I wonder if I wouldn't just be better off, forgetting about it and letting my yardman handle all the details, but, I'm afraid that simply is not my nature.  I like to worry about the details.  That's probably the secret of my success.

My wife says that cattle looks to be a lot simpler business than bees, and maybe that is true, but any business looks simple when you don't know anything about it.    I'm working to change that.  I can see there are many risks and pitfalls, but it does look much simpler, in that it takes place on one location, uses a few readily available inputs, and has a vastly smaller number of moving parts.  That's the killer in the bee business-- all those moving parts.

Those who have been involved in either opposing or defending the ongoing embargo of US bees by Canada should visit this page.  When I read the opinions there, I notice that they are seldom backed by fact, and are often based on protectionist sentiments, ignorance, poor economic reasoning and self-dealing.  Sound familiar? 

Having said that, though, there are some very intelligent and informed comments there too.  This one, in particular gave me food for thought, and provided information that many of us do not hear about.  In spite of all the information provided in that submission, however, I cannot see that the facts, taken as a whole, support the writer's conclusions regarding the border.  Although he outlines many serious concerns, he does not demonstrate, that I can see, at least, that Canada is statistically more likely to have BSE, or be the origin of new outbreaks, than the USA.  After all, the two countries' cattle industries have been totally integrated over the past decade and more, with constant two-way traffic.

Moreover, there is no evidence that there may not be multiple origins that have not yet been detected because of the extremely poor monitoring in the US.  From what I have heard, Canada has superior monitoring and has instituted traceability in beef cattle better and earlier than the US has.  If it had worked a bit better, it could have saved us all a lot of trouble, but it worked well enough that a second Canadian-origin cow was found in Washington state.  To my understanding, if it had been a US cow, they never would have been able to trace it.

I don't necessarily agree with everything I say.
Marshall McLuhan

Visiting the defra BSE: Statistics, table, we see that cattle as young as 20 months were infected during the period when animal parts were fed to cattle, and I assume that practice ceased in 1995 or 1996, since the minimum age of infected animals increased by about 12 months each year thereafter, with a few irregularities, likely due to farmers having used up some old feed and other such exceptions.  Thus, in spite of arguments to the contrary, citing the 20 month cases as reasons to reject young cattle in North America, I think that 30 months is very safe, now that the cause has been long removed, and that future cases should all be -- as the recent ones have -- occur only in older animals.  Time will tell.

Check this out: Moses Lake, Wash., Meat Business Claims Mad Cow Case Came from Healthy Animal  and this Japan Confirms 10th Mad Cow Case

Meijers came over at six.  We had roast beef for supper, and a good visit.

of the Day

Today : Becoming cloudy. 30 percent chance of flurries this afternoon. Fog patches this morning. High minus 2. / Tonight : Cloudy. 30 percent chance of flurries this evening. Clearing near midnight. Wind becoming west 20 km/h overnight. Low minus 6. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 1.

If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
Quentin Crisp

Thursday 4 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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I spent a day at the desk, again, with a trip to the accountant in the afternoon, then a large income tax payment at the bank.  I also opened a CAIS account at the bank.  The deadline is March 15th, unless it is extended, but the application looks simple, except that it does not mention beehives.  I'll have to phone the government office for advice.  The return will not be as easy, though, and the accountant will have to slave over a hot calculator to fill it in.

An email, Re: Nosema...

I guess you are tired of this subject. 

The president of our bee club asked just yesterday of you, "Does the man never sleep?"

I devoured your research project and when I got to the end I wondered where the rest of it is. I concluded from Eric's data chart that there was no significant difference feeding Fumagilin or not.  Anyway, the issue is currently being debated in Bee-L.  How long are we going to kick the can?  I have nosema from the appearance of some of my overwintering hives and thought it would be a good idea to medicate BeePro patties to combat the situation. Now I don't know.  What is your read on all this?  Are you doing any other experimental projects?


I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.
Margaret Thatcher

Well, sometimes I sleep, sometimes I don't.  I average about six hours, I think, but part of that comes after lunch, some days.

As for nosema, I found I have none to speak of, at least at any time we did the tests.  My management tends to minimize stress on the bees, compared to how many operate.

I doubt that adding fumigillan to pollen patties does much good.  I hear that people in NZ got some results using it in sugar dust, but personally, I tend to like the idea of drenching a cluster with a cup of treated thick (50/50 or thicker) syrup in fall (or spring).  The syrup is taken in by the bees and does not run off.  It also goes direct to the guts of the bees.  As for the drug concentration, some suggest a stronger mix than recommended for normal treated syrup, but I think that normal concentration should be fine.  Repeating a week later might be wise, but a single shot should help a lot, and this approach will not result in fumigillan in stored syrup.

As I seldom saw much nosema, I suggest, as with all diseases, that beekeepers actually do a test to see if they have the disease before treating.  Nosema is easy to see, and the test can be fun.  Often dysentery can occur without significant nosema.  Bad stores (acid inverted syrup or contaminated feed) can destroy the digestive tracts in bees.  If that happens, no amount of drug will help..

FWIW, I had five big jars of Fumidil ($500 worth) in my freezer for years.  I never needed it, since I do not like to treat for a disease I cannot detect.  Last night, I finally gave it away.  It was stalemated, but, stored in a freezer, it last forever.

of the Day

Today : Cloudy with sunny periods. 60 percent chance of flurries this afternoon. High minus 2. / Tonight : Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries this evening. Clearing overnight. Wind north 20 km/h becoming light this evening. Low minus 10. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 2.

Friday 5 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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I actually got a fair bit of bookkeeping done today, then drove down to Highway 21 Feeders to se my heifers there, and discuss the bill.  I was writing cheques and found terms on it that I don't understand.  I like to know what I am paying for.   There is no question that the bill is correct; I just like to know the details.  That's how I learn.  besides, I needed to get out of the house.

The cows look good.  They are a more varied group than the ones at home here, but all sound.  While there, I scooped a pail of feed from the bunk and, later, showed it to Grant and Jim. 

From Highway 21, I went to Carbon and hiked one of the valley trails.  At least I think I did.  Although there are beautiful hiking trails snaking through the willows along the creek, few people have used them since the last snow, so they are hard to follow.  I had to walk in deep snow or snowmobile tracks much of the way.  Fortunately, I had my feedlot boots (shit kickers) on and was ready for the job.  Stomping through untracked snow took me back to when I was a kid and we would hike miles across frozen lakes in Northern Ontario, exploring just for the fun of it.  I needed the exercise.  My weight has been creeping upwards, and I find that the less I exercise, the less I feel like exercising.  Time to break out of the rut.

I had a beer at the Carbon Valley Hotel, and then dropped in at Grant's.  He was out checking his cows.  They are calving and he keeps and eye on them day and night.  We discussed the price of  cattle, and remarked that the morale is improving now that the US is back to taking comments on resuming imports.  Reports are that the bull sale today went well.  We agreed that the grain level in the feed is much higher than at Jim's.  We have been increasing the grain ration there over time, since some of the cattle had not been on full feed, and we don't want bloat.

I stopped by Jim's and gave him the pail of feed to contemplate.  We're getting a decent gain at a decent cost at Jim's, but I'd like the cattle to finish in June or July.   Reports are that there is a shortage of cattle on feed right now, and I'd like to hit the window.  Maybe the border will open and maybe it will not.  At any rate, to me there appears to be an opportunity to break even, and maybe make a little, regardless, if we feed them up now.

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
Lucille Ball

Dear Allen,

I have read your "Feeding Syrup to Honey Bees " pages, and need to set up something similar here in Western Australia where once again, due to drought our bees are on hard times!

The problem I have is that the "experts " here say I need a pressure relief valve or bypass valve in the system.

I'm using a 2KVa diesel generator driven 240 volt 1/2 HP electric motor to drive a vane type honey pump. ('Cos that's what I have lying around here).

Since nobody here has fed bees this way before, I'd prefer to defer to your expertise and judgment than that of the well-meaning but inexperienced locals!

Pumptrol® switches here seem to be used extensively for air pressure systems but not much else.

Could you advise what pressure will be required to deliver 67% sucrose syrup through 20 metres of 1 inch hose to the standard unleaded gasoline trigger gun, at ambient temps of 20 to 40 degrees centigrade?

If you have the model number, Type or specs of the appropriate Pumptrol® switch that would be even better!!

Q. Does switching off the pump (automatically via Pumptrol® switch) obviate the need for a pressure relief valve?

Many thanks for your help.


Joel: That's the movies, Ed. Try reality.

Ed: No thanks.

From Northern Exposure

There are several ways to do the job.  We've used pressure tanks, such as a propane tank, and driven the syrup out with regulated air pressure, and we've used gear pumps driven by DC motors.  Other use a system such as you describe, with a motor or engine running constantly and driving a vane pump.  All work, and each has its advantages.

  • 500 or 1000 gallon propane tanks can be used to hold the syrup, and be pressured with compressed air from a tank or compressor.  We used such a system at one point, and some large beekeepers in the US use 1000 gallon propane tanks to dispense syrup.

  • No matter what propulsion system we use, we always use a high quality gasoline nozzle, complete with the swivels, but remove the auto-shutoff mechanism.  The nozzle is connected to a 1" gasoline hose by aluminum Camloc™ connectors, and the hose connects to the pump with a similar connector as well, and a quick shutoff valve is located there.  We always turn that valve off when not feeding, to relieve the pressure on the hose and prevent accidents.  Additional sections can be added or subtracted, since they have connectors as well.  Several hoses can be attached to one system at once for feeding large yards, if there is enough capacity.  If the syrup is thin enough due to warm temperatures, a 3/4" hose works just fine, even for runs of 50 feet or more.

  • We ultimately chose to build a system using a DC motor that starts and stops, depending on the pressure in the hose, for reasons of silence, compactness, convenience and efficiency.  In that plan, the pump only runs when the nozzle trigger is pulled, and stops when the trigger is released.

     A Pumptrol® was used to sense the pressure and activated a DC solenoid (Ford starter type) that controls the heavy current for the DC motor.  A 1/3 to 1 HP motor was used, and drives the pump by a chain, with sprocket reduction of about 6:1.  The motors we used were either starter motors or winch motors, but a nice 12 volt motor can be bought at an electric supply house.  The Pumptrol®  we use is one used for pumps in domestic water systems, but we have found that we have had to jigger the ones we've found to lower the pressure range to below 30 pounds per square inch.

A degenerate disease.
  • We have never used a pressure relief, since the control shut the pump off when 30 lbs -- or whatever pressure we set it at -- was reached, however, if you were to choose a continuously running system, a bypass is in order.  The bypass need not be a relief valve, but merely a shunt made of smaller pipe that allows the syrup to bypass when the hose nozzle is shut off.  Cleverly designed, the bypass can allow the pump to agitate the syrup and mix it on the way to the yard, but provide enough pressure to a hose, to dispense the syrup as well.  An adjustable valve can be used to set the amount of bypass, or a pressure relief valve can be used.

Remember, syrup hardens and gums things up.  Never count on anything electrical being 100% reliable when syrup is around.  Small passages in a Pumptrol® or the diaphragm can block up, especially if care is not made to keep it above the syrup level in the design.

Turn off the power when you are not intending to pump syrup, or expect to come out and find it all on the ground some day or be leaving a trail behind you as you drive down the road.

From Rich, another perspective...

You people make this syrup pumping game way too tough.

  • 3-1/2 HP Briggs engine Cost $200.
  • 3/4" bronze gear pump Cost $110.
  • 2 pulleys, coupling, shaft, v-belt, etc. $60.
  • Relief valve. $55.
  • 60 foot pressure hose with nozzle $95.
  • Misc. iron, bolts, etc. $25.
We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.
Jeff Marder

Total weight for this set up is about 50 to 55 pounds.  Length is 20 to 24" very easy to pick up & move from the truck to storage or what ever.  We use clear 3/4 EVA spray tubing for both suction & relief lines to & from poly supply tank on the trucks. 

As for our tank farm we use a 5 HP Briggs engine that drives a 1-1/2 honey pump ( Viking molasses pump ) with about a 6:1 reduction ratio. We run the engine at a fast idle with no problems. It takes less that 15 minutes to fill a 200 + gallon tank on the truck.  The plastic spray tubing is held in place with just hose clamps & this makes it a very simple & light weight unit to disconnect & remove from the truck. 500 gallon poly blem tanks are worth about $175. & 1500 gallon are worth $375. Not real tough to spend around $1000 bucks or so & have a real nice system that will hold half a tanker load of syrup.


oct13_004.jpg (72120 bytes)

Here's the cheap model Honda engine mounted on a blower.  It bolts up in place of a Briggs, runs on half the gas, makes half the noise, and costs the same.

This system is simple and cheap, and easy to build.  The major complaint is that B&S engines can be hard to start, and are noisy and smelly when running.  Using a Honda would be a huge improvement.  The racket is much less, and fuel economy is double, even using the cheap black Honda motors.

In our case, we preferred to have a system that runs only when the trigger is pulled and which can deliver a lot of syrup quickly.  When we were working hives in Spring, we would only need a shot of syrup every five minutes or so, and did not want the noise of a running engine.  Since we were feeding up to 4,500 hives, we spent some money for what we wanted, but for occasional use, and for those who don't mind the noise and smell of a gas engine, this is probably as cheap as you can get.

I'll give Rich the last word.

I can understand the noise & smell deal, but the new " emission " engines really have very little stink to them compared to the old ones from years back. Yes, the Honda engines are a little smoother but are not worth the darn for the near double the cost factor of the Briggs.  (Actually, the black Hondas are priced the same as B&S -- allen).  Most of the fuel tanks on these engine now a days will hold up to a gallon of gas. So they can run all day without a problem. The engine that is on the truck pump now is 8 years old & all that is ever done to it is change the spark plug in the spring & the oil & call it good for the year. If I recall correctly I did change the v-belt & love joy spider last year for the 1st time. We had an electric motor on the tank farm for a couple of years & found the gas engine deal to be less headache. Just my 2 cents worth, Allen.

By the way all of the gas engine we have usually start on the 1st or 2nd pull.


Good comments. 

(This note came later).

What kind of relief valve do you use?

And, how many hours do you figure your unit has run?

Tried to find the one that I use in the Granger web site but had no luck.

How many hours has this unit run?????  Countless, 10 years old at least.  New plug in the spring & check the air cleaner and let 'er rip. Change the oil at least in the spring & then in the fall.

I did find the cheaper Honda engine for $200. in the Northern catalog.  I will order one to give it a try.  Looks like I can save 8 to 10 pounds of weight also.

By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong.
Charles Wadsworth

Who & were in Iowa did you talk to that only had a 5% winter loss.  I would like to call him or E-Mail him.  Brian told me that some of the people who have ads for queens & brood in east Texas posted in the Bee Journal have refunded quite a bit of money to their customers as every thing is so far behind & there is no way they can fill all the orders for Queens & brood.

Maple buds are starting to really swell & it should be near 60 today here. We have had well over 2 1/2" of rain in the last 2 weeks & it really soaked in the ground.  Not much run off at all.

Got a new dog a few weeks back & can hardly wait to see if he likes to eat bees like the old one does!!!!!!!!!!!

Let me know Rich.

(I sent him the contact privately)  Still waiting for the details on the relief valve.  I think that was the original question, wasn't it?

(This note came later yet).

The valve is a Teel brand model #PO-72 or a# PO-73.   Pump is a Teel Model # P-775.  Seems bronze pumps are a better bet than the cast iron ones as I have seen corn syrup set in a cast pump over the winter & leave some nasty holes in the gear bores.


I hope we have answered everyone's questions.

of the Day

Fed Focus - Paul McCulley | March 2004

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming west 30 km/h gusting to 60 this morning. High 5. / Tonight : Clear. Wind west 30 km/h gusting to 60. Low minus 5. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 2

Saturday 6 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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The higher the buildings, the lower the morals.
Noel Coward

A beekeeper from the North and his wife came by this morning and bought 1,000 supers, plus he got an option to buy 500 more later, if the nucs he has been promised materialize.  I also discovered we have more supers than I had thought, and still have about 1,500 left to sell, plus about 200 good brood chambers.  We also have a lot of small stuff to sell, yet. 

Another beekeeper called, also, wanting to pick up excluders soon.  Spring is in the air, as the days grow longer and the snowbanks shrink.  Beekeepers are coming out of hibernation and looking for what they need for the coming season.

Honey Price: Although honey prices have been drifting lower, there is almost none changing hands AFAIK.  In most markets, prices drifting down on low volume almost always signal a rebound when volume picks up again.  After the considerable drop, however, I am not sure.  Prices are still good enough, however, that beekeepers can make very good money.  Some of our friends did their expansion financing a few years back, based on 80˘ honey, so, even with increased costs, I'd judge that there is still a lot of profit in the business.  If 80˘ covers their costs, then they must have had living costs in that amount, so the rest is gravy.  At $1.60, they are basically making a 100% profit above their costs, plus some.  Nobody is hoping for 80˘ honey again, but, at current prices, beekeepers are rolling in money and they are out to buy what they need.

To use an expression that Don Cherry used to like, it does not take a rocket surgeon to figure out that, if a beekeeper has 1,200 hives and makes 150 lbs, and was getting by okay at 80c, then his gross was $144,000.  Assuming he had at least $30,000 in there for living expenses, then at $1.60, that same beekeeper has that same $30,000 plus another $144,000 (at no extra expense) to live on.  He has 5.8 times more pocket change at $1.60 than at 80c!

Many, rather than saving or reinvesting on repairs and upgrades, are out spending that extra cash, and getting used to fancy living.  If we see a price downturn, many will suffer.

  Canola pollination prices in Southern Alberta are also very good these days, and those with a contract -- if they can get one -- are hedged against a honey price decline.  The problem that many do not see, however, is that pollination has its cycle, too, and I understand that the companies have been altering their contracts to lower or eliminate the payouts if they cut back and do not use the hives they have lined up.

The beekeepers who originally set up the pollination contracts were wise; they could see the risks and investment needed to pollinate.  They made certain that they had continuity, guaranteed by a three year term and minimum payments if all bees were not hired in any given year, or if the pollination project were to end.  Under pressure from the companies, current beekeepers have let that lapse and have agreed -- AFAIK -- to no contract, or reduced protection.  If honey and pollination crash at the same time, this will turn and bite them, and bite hard. 

I can easily see a situation developing similar to what is going on right now in cattle.  Suppliers with locked-in costs, debt and shallow pockets will find themselves at the mercies of large companies with many options and deep pockets.  Even if the large companies do not intentionally abuse their position, they will wind up crushing the beekeeper.

Historically, this phenomenon has happened repeatedly to small mills in the lumber business.  During good times, large companies encouraged their suppliers to expand and take on debt, buying, even contracting all they could get, but when the markets contracted, the small suppliers were at the mercy of their customers, and orders were cancelled, and contracts renegotiated under duress.  The large firms declined to buy the small suppliers' products, or bought only in limited quantity after using their own supplies, ensuring their own bottom line.  Under the pressure of debt and no income, the small firms folded and were bought by the large mills on their own terms, at distress prices, and the small companies were often even grateful. 

Although some large companies are opportunistic and deliberately pursue such an outcome, others are not even aware that they are doing so.  I doubt that the seed companies or their reps have anything but the best of intent, but I can clearly see that they are manipulating the beekeepers to give up their parachutes, and, although the firms are not intentionally threatening the beekeepers, many felt they had no choice and gave up their protection without complaint.

When, during the last downturn in the canola seed market, the company we were signed with decided to pressure beekeepers to alter their contracts -- to the beekeepers' detriment -- we saw the hand writing on the wall.  We examined our options and decided to sell our existing contract back to the company while it was still worth something.  We asked for the payout stipulated in our contract.  They granted it, and paid the amount stipulated.  We jumped and did well, but others, when canola pollination next cuts back, if there is no market for honey, may find they are outside the airplane with no parachute.

Canola pollination is like a drug, in that there is a difficult withdrawal period.  Beekeepers on canola pollination get used to a large advance payment every year, and full payment by year-end, but honey producers get payment up to a year after the crop year ends.  That means beekeepers switching from pollination to honey production can experience an 18 month period without income, and if the payout is no longer in the agreement, this could well bankrupt some of my friends if pollination dries up and honey is not selling at the time. 

When I came back to Dublin I was court-martialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.
Brendan Behan

Bees are in short supply in Canada.  Nobody trusts the Australian or New Zealand supply.  There is always the risk that shipments will be cut off due to airline problems, problems at the few outfits that provide the packages, or other problems, besides, few beekeepers are happy with the quality -- or exorbitant price -- from either country.   I have had at least twenty requests for the few live hives I have left, (they are sold) .

One of the reasons for poor quality in stock from the Southern hemisphere, I have always thought, is the use of dry ice on the pallet of bees when shipped by air.  Dry ice is carbon dioxide -- CO2, and  CO2 has permanent toxic effects on bees.  I have mentioned this high and low, and never gotten anywhere.  I mentioned it to Medhat, and I think he may actually do something about it.

CO2 is used routinely as an anesthetic in artificial insemination of queens, but very carefully, and with the knowledge that this will have lasting effects on the queen.   I am no expert on this, but perhaps the effect on queens is desirable, and is different from the effect on workers.  Used on workers, CO2 instantly ages them, and makes them skip some stages in their progression of activities, resulting in early foraging.  CO2 use may account for package hives that seem to be made up of old bees, and which lose all, or nearly all, their adult bees before the brood hatches, and also the pathetic brood rearing I have observed in these imports at times.  CO2 may also partially account for the bad smell and pathetic condition of the bees in packages I have seen when I picked them up at an airport.

From Iowa:

It's been raining here but I have checked most of my yards.  We took 400 colonies into winter.  Our death loss is going to be around 5%.  I haven't had survival this good since the mites arrived.

of the Day

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Clearing this afternoon. Wind west 30 km/h gusting to 50. High plus 4. / Tonight : Clear. Wind becoming southwest 20 km/h overnight. Low minus 5. / Normals for the period : Low minus 10. High plus 2.

Sunday 7 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Another 8 cms of new snow has fallen in the
last 24 hours adding to what people are calling
Canada's best snow! With over 30 cms in the last
three days conditions are the best they have been
all season. All 12 lifts are running and there are
107 runs open to ski and ride on.
The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.
Robert Frost

I'm missing out on some great snow at a great price.  Friday, I got an email that Sunshine was offering rooms with two days skiing for $99, but I could not get anyone to go with me.  Ellen is not interested and Jean and Chris have the baby.  Besides, Jean and Ellen & I are off to Victoria on Wednesday, so they think that is enough travel.  Now the reports are in.  there was 24 new on Saturday, and 8 new today.  That's 32 cms of whipped cream I missed.

El & I are off to Red Deer this morning, then on to Ponoka tonight for supper.

We spent the afternoon in Red Deer and then drove up to Ponoka.  Mckenzie has made amazing progress since her last visit, and is now crawling and standing.  She is also much more sociable.  We had supper and returned home by 9:30.

Hi Allen,

What's your guess as to white honey inventories in beekeeper's warehouses across the prairies?  I understand Argentina has had a poor white honey crop.  Since I wrote you last, the price has stayed at $1.60 but I've "heard" of higher prices offered.  I'm feeling that there ought to be a rally soon as packers scramble to get white honey which they need for blending.  I don't think there is a great deal to be had.  Those who I knew to have honey a month ago, have sold everything.  Maybe now that the packers have bought at a lower price they can afford to pay more to get what they require.  This season's honey prices will be a whole different ballgame.


I don't know.  I wonder what others may add here?  There is always the Mid-US Hotline, but it has been a lot less active since the price flattened out and fell a bit.  January 30 is the last HL report.  They say that the last known is SD white at $1.45.  Extra white amber at $1.40, etc... Worried about ultrafiltered.  I tried to leave a message, but the timer cut me off.

I hear the Canadian Co-ops have lowered their estimate for the 2003 crop to $1.75 from $2.00 and that Billy Bee was phoning around trying to buy at $1.55.   I also know of several loads of white that went recently at $1.65 with delayed payment.

Mostly, nothing much is moving.  Buyers and sellers are waiting to see what happens next.  Some buyers are sitting on some high priced honey and my guess is that the Co-ops are back to using their free honey to beat up the market and beggar their competition.  More on that later.

After a rest, I'm about ready to start on the Co-op mismanagement and injustice issues, again.  Stay tuned.

of the Day

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming west 40 km/h gusting to 60 this morning. High 9. UV index 3 or moderate. / Tonight : A few clouds. Wind west 20 km/h. Low 4. / Normals for the period : Low minus 9. High plus 2.

Monday 8 March 2004
I'm retired now, and days or weeks may pass between beekeeping articles  I recommend visiting pages from previous years.

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No problem is so formidable that you can't walk away from it.
Charles M. Schulz
Well, maybe I'm glad we did not go to Sunshine.  On the left is this morning's snowreport email.  I don't know if the failure was overnight, or happened during the skiing day yesterday, but I would not have wanted to be marooned on the gondola or a chair until the rescue team managed to get everyone off -- or stuck at the bottom of the hill, with all my baggage in the lodge at the top.
Snowreport: Monday, March 08, 2004


THE WEBSITE ( http://www.skibanff.com )

Today, we are expecting several beekeepers to come to buy various items.  Supers and excluders seem particularly popular.  Another 500 supers are bought and paid for as of this morning, as are many of the remaining excluders.  I think we now have about 1,000 supers left.  I'll know better when the ones we sold are moved out.

That suits me, since I'd love to get the yard cleaned up and I think I'll take down and sell the quonset as well.  We'll be going away for a few weeks, starting Wednesday, so people are anxious to come by while we are still around.  There'll be people around, but they don't know anything about what I have for sale and won't be able to sell anything.  The next opportunity for buyers will be in April.  The way things are going, I think everything will clear out fast.

I called the neighbour who has one of my trailers and he is unloading it.  Several beekeepers have expressed interest in them, and also my one remaining truck, so I'm getting everything ready.

Warning: I'm hearing that quite a few beekeepers are out putting on patties already.  If you know what you are doing and have done this before with good results, you can ignore the rest of this note.  This is for those who have not fed a lot of patties, or have never checked to see if they are doing any good.

In my opinion, right now -- March 8th --  is too early, except, perhaps in Southern Alberta, for pollen patties.  In my experience, pollen patties do no good at all until about three weeks -- one brood cycle -- before a reliable source of pollen is available in the field.  That date varies with region, and from year to year, but is after April 20th around here, so I recommend starting patties around the end of March in our area. 

Putting patties on earlier than three weeks before reliable natural pollen simply results in greater feed consumption, stress on colonies, and can even result in a premature buildup and collapse!

Once patties are placed on the hives, a beekeeper must return weekly, or as often as necessary  to replenish the patties, before the previous ones are completely consumed, or the result can be more harm than good!   Moreover, don't put on patties unless you have enough patties to keep feeding weekly until at least May 1st or unless your bees have many frames of natural pollen in them (We never see that here).  Additional warning: For those who use a higher pollen content than I recommend (4%), your patties will disappear faster, and you will have to go around more often to keep the bees from running out of pollen and tearing out brood.

In their eagerness to build up the colonies early, many beekeepers are going to damage their hives, unless they understand that

  1. Supplements are not a complete replacement for natural feed, and should be fed for one month max in absence of natural supplies, and

  2. Protein feeding must be continued without fail, once begun or brood may be torn out, and hives stressed enough to bring other problems.

  3. Protein feeding will stimulate brood rearing, and raising one frame of brood requires one frame of honey or syrup.  Once brood rearing starts up in earnest, syrup feeding may suddenly become necessary. 

    Unless you are set up to feed syrup in Spring, it pays to be careful how much brood you stimulate.  Although barrel feeding works well in Fall, it is very unreliable and very uneven in the spring.  It can plug some colonies while others starve.

Bees normally build up only as nature supplies food.  If you choose to stimulate your hives early with syrup and/or patties, you have taken on the job of keeping them supplied until nature takes over.  Their needs will be much higher than if they were never stimulated.  Failing to provide a steady supply of syrup (if needed) and patties can mean starvation, malnutrition, and spring dwindling.

Being in the army is like being in the Boy Scouts, except that the Boy Scouts have adult supervision.
Blake Clark

On the other hand, any time, starting now is a good time to put in a single strip of Apistan®, so that the 42 day treatment is done by May 1st, when splitting begins.  And, of course, there is room for divergence of opinion.  I called Barrie Termeer, this morning to see when he is starting, and Julie said he is headed out to put on patties (paddies as he calls them) today.  The reason I called him is that he is the first off the line, and the earliest one out every year.  Not this year, though; I know of others that are even earlier. He also puts on only one patty, as far as I know, so not everyone agrees with me.  Of course, I respect Barrie's judgment.  He is very successful, and besides, he is the one who started me towards the protein formula that we presently use.

Nonetheless, I have done experiments over the years, and am convinced that early feeding, in the absence of starvation, is just teasing in many cases, and often does more harm than good.  It is best -- IMO -- to wait until a few weeks before normal buildup, then make sure to feed continuously until reliable feed is naturally available.  That means continuing feeding right into May, when bad weather may keep the bees confined and when partial starvation can occur.

I met a beekeeper today who has only recently found that he has or is exposed to varroa.  I learned that he is using Checkmite+™ , even though he has no program of monitoring, or any reason to believe that he has resistant mites. 

I realize that some well-respected people recommend using coumaphos in rotation to avoid developing fluvalinate resistant varroa, but I personally believe that actually developing varroa resistant o to Apistan™ in Alberta conditions is negligible.  Our climate is too tough, and we do not use more than one treatment per year.   I believe that evidence -- and reason -- suggest that resistant varroa is almost always spread by bees in transit, and very seldom developed locally.  Beekeepers who use Apistan™  only as required, and also use formic annually to control tracheal mites -- a greater threat IMO -- have a negligible chance of developing resistance, and in a case like this where the beekeeper is so isolated that varroa only recently arrived, is pretty safe.

As far as I know, all resistance found in Alberta, has been imported through BC, where it arrived from the US.  Southern climates are where the resistance originates, due to the longer brood periods and more frequent treatment, and a climate that is more friendly towards the mites.  We are much more likely to get resistance from a warm climate, like New Zealand, or the US, if we were importing bulk bees, than generate it locally.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, treating without close and frequent monitoring is folly, as is using coumaphos when it is not proven to be necessary due to existing fluvalinate resistance, combined with an infestation beyond what can be controlled by other means. 

Coumaphos, by all descriptions, is a treatment of last resort, and should never be used, except in an emergency.  To do so is to condemn all your comb to being melted in a few years and to compromise your bees ability to raise supercedure queens.

Dratblastit! Feed barley prices are going up.

I loaded equipment for buyers in late morning morning, then I took the red car in this afternoon to have the wheels examined.  There is a vibration at 110 kph.  They worked for an hour and everyone, including the shop owner, took several test drives, but could not pin it down.  It was a slow afternoon in the shop and a nice, warm, sunny day.

Matt came over and we talked about how he will take care of the place while we are gone, and watched an ultralight video.

I'm wondering if I will have time to write about the Co-ops before I go away.  I really need to do something about the nutrition study, and that is higher priority.  Since beekeepers are already putting on patties, it may no longer be possible to do anything this spring.  One of the things that I think needs to be demonstrated is that putting patties on this early can, in many years, do more harm than good.   What is a good thing, IMO, is getting out early to check the bees, and if it takes patties as an excuse, well, okay.

As with my opinion on non-emergency coumaphos use, on this -- early patty feeding -- I find myself almost alone.  Maybe I am wrong?  I really doubt it.  Eventually, we will find out.  In the meantime, everyone is having fun, and little harm is being done.

This one looks just fine.  It's hard to tell from a picture, however, whether there is enough honey.

> The ones we had purchased are very, very short of feed.  I am picking up some feeders from the co-op and am going to have to get some syrup in ASAP.  What I was wondering , the patties from Global (your recipe) has quite a lot of sugar, will this help out a hive in the above situation?

Yes.  You are sorta screwed anyhow, if the bees are close to staving, and this will be a salvage operation, unless you are very lucky.  Bees that starve, even a little bit, usually mean a lot of work for disappointing returns.

If you are going to feed syrup, then go ahead and give them some patties, too.  If they have a shortage of honey, then likely they have consumed all their pollen, since the pollen is usually protected under honey until the honey is used. The way they do it is like a time-release capsule.  That's another reason that is is good to have a good honey reserve in wintering hives and never let them get close to starvation.

I was just recommending to avoid kick-starting happy, well-fed hives too early, but if your hives are going to have to be fed syrup, they might as well have patties, and the sugar in them will ensure they get some carbohydrate.  The patties will also tell you if any are queenless or in serious trouble, since they will not touch the patty.  Be sure to place the patty right over the centre of the cluster.

Just don't let them run out of feed.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.
Anthony Burgess

> Also , I understand and appreciate your concerns about stimulating too early, however, my thoughts (limited due to lack of years) was that I  wanted to stimulate, about 1 brood cycle, with the objective being more, new, workers to work the first flow.

Yup. One brood cycle before reliable new pollen is the rule I use.   If you go several cycles, and there is no real pollen in the frames, or it is poor, there is the risk that the bees will deplete the reserves in their own bodies to feed the brood and the result will be lots of malnourished bees.  We are better off with fewer, well-nourished bees, since bees that have always had good nourishment are smarter, more productive, raise more and healthier young, and live longer.

Here is some good entrance activity.  It is hard in this picture, even in the full size one (click) to see the BeePro™ loads.

> In this area, with the abundant Pollen, nectar available from the Alder, varieties of Willow and Poplars, I had always thought this to be a good goal to strive for. If I keep feed on, do not take the wraps off until early May, it should lead to stronger and healthier hive?

That has been my experience. That is also why we developed a system where we could keep the hives wrapped until late, but open them anytime, all year long.

> I had purchased a Kodak Easy Share camera and did take some photos of the Hives and some of Bees working dry BeePro , but have not yet been able to  transfer into my computer, when I do I will send a photo to you . It is interesting how they work the BeePro, pellets , about 2/3 Natural Pollen size, are on their legs, I'm sure this natural stimulation must be of some benefit to the colony.

I think so, too.  (The pictures here came in a later email).

of the Day

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Today : Sunny with cloudy periods. Wind west 30 km/h gusting to 50. High 17. UV index 3 or moderate. / Tonight : A few clouds. Wind west 30 km/h gusting to 50 diminishing to 20 this evening. Low 6. / Normals for the period : Low minus 9. High plus 2.

Tuesday 9 March 2004
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I caught up on my bills and deskwork in preparation for going away.  Jean and Mckenzie came down to stay the night.

Hey Allen!

Sorry I missed you, but now that we've started our paddy round, emails in the evening are the only reliable way to communicate.

Your thoughts and discussions are always interesting. Thanks for the kudos, and here's a few thoughts on our pollen paddy program at Honeybear.

It's correct that we only apply one paddy, about 1.25 to 1.5 pounds, using mostly soya flour, about 10% pollen (that's been creeping up each year), in addition to syrup and some fumagillin and oxytet. (Tylosin is waiting for complete results from Beaverlodge and an MRL.)

Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

When we first started paddies back in the 80's, one was enough to bring us to natural pollen flows that began always by my birthday, which happens to be April 9. In the 90's and this millennium, that hasn't happened often, as we experience cooler Aprils in north-central Alberta. However, the bees are always fine, partly because we also put out about 1/2 pound per hive soya and/or bee pro in powder form for foraging bees. In addition, perhaps our 'solar wrap' helps a bit, with warmer hives allowing the bees to access their own pollen from under the honey just as you described, as the pollen paddy disappears. Generally, our colonies are still quite heavy in April, given good fall 'buffet' feeding and conservation due to the wrap perhaps.

We do manage our indoor and outdoor singles differently, giving them their paddy first week of April, and also upping the pollen content to about 20%. These hives also receive some syrup, barrel feeding and sometimes a second paddy, for the stronger colonies. The singles' reserves of pollen are less than doubles, as the queen kept the brood chamber full of brood into September, beyond the timing of late pollen flows for the most part.

Anyway, good to be back in the hives, with excellent results for the first day, with 27 dead out of 548 opened.

Barrie T.

We started with more soy than we now use, but have increased the yeast content to 50% of the yeast/soy portion, even though yeast is almost double the cost, since the beekeepers in California and Hawaii use yeast and sugar only.   One of the things we have been planning to try to determine in the nutrition study is whether yeast or soy, or a combination are the best.

I'm also not certain that the oxytet or fumigillan accomplish much, if anything, in the paddy form, but Barrie  is convinced there is value in that approach, and he is a very successful beekeeper. 

There is room for difference of opinion in many beekeeping practices, and, until there is proof one way or the other, one person's idea is as good as another's -- as long as they are equally successful.   More complex approaches are worth examining for their value, however, since they may add unnecessary cost and effort.  Our success in beekeeping, in a poor crop area,  was based on simplifying every process to the most basic level possible, and reducing costs to a minimum.  That way we are were able to thrive, even on low honey prices and what most beekeepers would consider poor crops.  Our biggest crop was 180 pounds, and our average was somewhere a little over 100 pounds.  That number became hard to calculate, since we had a number of years on pollination, and that drops the yields as well.

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Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Wind west 20 km/h increasing to 40 gusting to 60 this morning then becoming north 60 gusting to 80 this afternoon. High 15. UV index 3 or moderate. / Tonight : Clearing this evening. Wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50 diminishing to 20 near midnight. Low minus 6. / Normals for the period : Low minus 9. High plus 2.

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