A Beekeeper's Diary

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The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
-- Oscar Wilde --

Looking under a double hive to see how it is coming along

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Saturday 1 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.-- Nora Ephron

This morning, Ellen hangs her show in Drumheller.

I'm about finished working on this computer, but have started to notice fan noise.  I had always noticed that the fan ran intermittently, but am now finding that the sound is becoming distracting.  Perhaps there is a way to shut it up without burning things up.  So far, I have not found a way to do so.  Now I'm thinking that I need to find a way to transfer all the changes I've made on this machine to an other without going through all the downloads, etc.  Somehow, I doubt that will be easy.

One thing I've discovered since I started using the LCD screen is how much my other monitor flickers.  I had grown used to it, but when I go back to it now, after using the laptop, I see the difference.  At first, I found the display on this machine to be a bit jagged.  Now this looks normal to me and I find the display on the desktops to be very fuzzy.

Anyhow, it's a nice, sunny morning, and I'm going out to work on the bees.

I drove out to Elliotts' yard and put an Apistan® in each hive.  I really should have tested for varroa, but I haven't gotten around it.  There are only four hives here in a yard that used to have 40.

While there, I tipped the hives back, and, as you can see, they look pretty good.  Some people only look into the top, and I did that while slipping in the Apistan, but I learn a lot more looking under the bottom.  I see if there are enough bees to reach down to the bottom board, and I also see what is on the bottom board.  That tells a tale, too.  Chalkbrood mummies, mouse droppings, excessive garbage and other discoveries can help make decisions.

If there are many bees on the bottom of the frames and the bottom board, that is a sign that the hive is running out of room fast, and that more space will be required very soon.  That is the case with these hives, including the ones that Leroy had thought too weak to take with him.  I have not done a thing to them, except look in, until I added the Apistan today.

I' m going to have to split, super, or sell them soon.

I maybe should mention that I am seeing more small bees in the hives again this year.  I recall that when we first started feeding supplement, that Jon, my son, said that he did notice much difference at this time of year, other than that the bees looked bigger and that he did not see the dwarfs we usually se in the spring.  This year, I did not give supplement, and again I see smaller bees.  I can't help but think that the supplement makes a difference that adds up over time.

I also took a drive by the foam hives and there is a shot on the right.  We did lose one, and that is consistent with the other hives, on a percentage basis.  I'll have a better report on the survivors, soon.

I cooked a roast in the afternoon, and we took it, and the rest of supper to Meijers.  Jake and his wife were there too, and we all had a great time.  Oene and I drove out to look at their Russian and Buckfast bees bees in their yard, and managed to get well stung, just before supper.  Oene and Ellen went exploring in the basement of the old house on their property and found some bottles, and some pickles, too.  More later, about the bees. 

Allen's Links of the Day

JumboJoke: Humor the Way You Like It

I guess I should say that, at this point,  I am liking this computer better, since I discovered the reason for the noisy fan was that I had it on a picnic table and the noise carried through the slats.  Sitting on a tablecloth, it is much quieter. Out of curiosity, I did a Brute Benchmark test on the new machine, and also on my desktop.  The laptop blew away the desktop machine in every regard, except video, which was much weaker.  The poorer video should not matter to me, since I do not play games, unless the slower performance affects playback of videos.  So far, I have not noticed any problems. 

There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad
Salvador Dali

At this point, I am thinking that I'll get rid of the desktop unit and use this one for everything.  I like the display better, since there is no flicker, and, for that matter, I can add a second monitor if I wish.  It is reasonably quiet and very portable, so I can move around the house with it, and also go outdoors.

Today : Sunny. High 22. UV index 6 or high. / Tonight : A few clouds. Wind south 20 km/h becoming light this evening. Low 9. / Normals for the period : Low 1. High 14.

Sunday 2 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man. -- Bertrand Russell

Last night, Oene and I went out to look at their Russian and Buckfast bees.  The ones we observed were from stock obtained from Ontario, and that is a story.  I guess they ordered queens of both types from two of Ontario's most respected breeders.  Of course, the queens were only available in June and July -- rather late for any commercial purpose, but okay for a development project.  Apparently one supplier delivered with no problems, (F. Petit), but the other insisted on payment up front, then never did deliver all the bees that were ordered and already paid for.  Moreover, there was no apology, and no refund, until my friends followed up and insisted on a refund. Even then, there was no apology.

I think this episode illustrates clearly what the problem is.  Some Ontario beekeepers insist that Western beekeepers should buy Canadian queens, but when they try -- even paying in full in advance -- the queen breeders simply cannot supply, even a month or more later than we really need them, and in quantities far less than required to supply even a portion of the demand.   I'm afraid that some of these guys don't even know where Canada is.  Sure, they may have flown out to Kelowna or some such place in a few hours, but they obviously have never driven it.  If they had, they would know how incredibly far we are from them.  I have driven it, and fairly often.  My family is in Ontario, and we have a cottage in Central Ontario.  I can testify that there are many, many desolate miles of country that is very hostile to honey bees between here and there.

Oene opening a hive

Typical of their Russians

Typical of their Buckfasts

Allen's Links of the Day

What’s Buzzing with Africanized Honey Bees?

HTML (not as good quality) 

Need this?  

Anyhow, the Russians (second picture) had small clusters and were not friendly.  We left them quickly, picking bees from our hair, and tried the Buckfasts.  Those were much stronger (third picture) and just as hostile.  We left them and went to supper.  They were all taking syrup from the drums, and we attributed their temper to the robbing.

Today : Sunny with cloudy periods. Wind west 20 km/h increasing to 40 gusting to 60 near noon. High 22. UV index 6 or high. / Tonight : Clear. Wind west 40 km/h gusting to 60 diminishing to 20 this evening. Low 7. / Normals for the period : Low 1. High 15.

Monday 3 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

What some people mistake for the high cost of living is really the cost of high living. -- Doug Larson

The weather is nice again these days, and we are seeing dandelions at last.  Ellen is out gardening when she is not painting, and I decided to do some clean-up this afternoon as well, and to check the package bees.  We had a pile of pallets and brush outside the house that we intended to use for a bonfire, but had not gotten around to burning, and I decided to burn them before they kill too much of the lawn.  Our lawn is a country lawn, and not too carefully cultivated, but I figured it would be nice to get rid of the junk.

Sasser Worm Hits Numerous PCs Worldwide

Make sure you have visited Windows Update and Office Update in the last few days and done all the critical updates.  See also my security page.

After that, I looked through the package bees.  I hadn't been in too big a hurry to do so, since I had glanced in here and there, and seen that they were doing well, but I figured it is now time to check them all.  It has been three weeks.  Brood should be hatching any day, now.

I worked through the first 16 and found all were doing fine and was starting to think that I was wasting my time, but the 17th and 18th were in need of work.  They had been shaken from the same four-pound package, and there had been something wrong with it, I guess, because both halves were queeenless.  A quick glance told me that they were both beyond requeening -- even if I had queens, which I do not.  One had laying workers or a dud queen, I gathered because there were a few eggs in drone cells.  I saw no eggs in the other, not that I spent long looking.  I just took the lids off and lifted the adjacent two good colonies on top of each and left them. 

10% losses in packages are normal, and over a large number, I have found that the rule holds well.  The odds are tough for a beginner buying a few packages, because he will either get all good ones, in which case he will begin to think that is normal and that he is a genius, or he may get a run of bad ones, since they are often shaken from one hive or several nearby, and think that bees are hopeless, or the seller somehow saw him coming.

A typical patch of brood.
The queen is on this
frame, too.

Solid pollen.  Where
 that come from?

Singles in the foreground.
 the doubled-up hives
 in the back

The hives, other than the two duds, all had good patches of sealed brood.  The smallest had two good frames with brood, and the strongest, four.  Some of the hives were getting heavy and getting near being a bit crowded, so I am considering setting seconds under them to allow uninterrupted expansion.  It is still a bit early, but even one day of being crowded can set them back for the year.

The frame in the second photo is packed with pollen and was found  in the centre of the brood nest.  Another pollen frame faced it.  I wondered if I had put them there when making up the hive.  Possibly, but it looks fresh.  Speaking of pollen, there is lots coming in now, but I gather they were short at first, due to the many small bees I see.

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. 30 percent chance of showers this afternoon with the risk of a thunderstorm. High 17. UV index 6 or high. / Tonight : Cloudy periods. 30 percent chance of showers this evening with the risk of a thunderstorm. Low 5. / Normals for the period : Low 1. High 15.

Tuesday 4 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter. William Ralph Inge

Well, I have been claiming that we have never lost a hive to varroa, but I think that I can now say that I am wrong about that.  I can now say that I have lost one.

Long time readers will recall references to my toolbox hive.  It was a swarm that I picked up, toolbox and all and kept, untreated and unmanaged for several years.  Here are some links to past references: March 2001  Sept 2002  March 2003  April 2003  June 2003  July 2003  Sept  2003

We were away for much of the summer last year, and when we returned, the hive was dead.  I gave it a cursory glance, but did not do a post mortem.  Today, I was cleaning up the yard and I took a good look.  What I found was, at first, mystifying.  The hive was robbed out last year, and the comb has the look of AFB.  There are dead pupae and a dark stain on the comb, but no smell, and no scale, and there were no bees in the box, either.  The hive shows obvious PMS. After several years of no treatment, the varroa took it down.  I had seen one varroa on a bee shortly after I first brought them home, but never saw any more, in spite of looking, however, I never did open the box to inspect for varroa in the brood, since comb hung from the lid.

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming west 20 km/h near noon. High 20. UV index 6 or high. / Tonight : Cloudy. 60 percent chance of rain showers changing to flurries overnight. Wind west 20 km/h becoming north 20 overnight. Low minus 2. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 15.

Wednesday 5 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

We hate some persons because we do not know them; and we will not know them because we hate them.
Charles Caleb Colton

There is snow on the ground this morning, and more coming.

This morning, an NFU press release landed in my inbox.  It appears to be another contribution to the FUD campaign being pursued by a small, but determined rearguard group of beekeepers who have no scruples about 1.) stimulating public fear about our industry and 2.) promulgating the false impression that our industry is thriving behind the trade ban.

Maybe things aren't too bad for Canadian beekeepers at present, due the the protectionist measures that have temporarily driven up US (and thus Canadian) honey prices, but there is going to be major pain in Canada, when the restraints on US honey imports eventually wear off -- unless we can get our costs down and get more reliable supplies of bee stock. 

We've documented the inability of the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand bee supply chains to come anywhere near supplying the needs of our whole industry, let alone fuel growth.  We've also proven that the border closure has resulted in a much smaller and less profitable Canadian bee industry from what could have been.  Even those who oppose the border opening (ever, under any circumstances) admit that the closure has put people out of business.  I have often heard it said, somewhat smugly that the 'bad' beekeepers have been put out of business, and that only 'good' beekeepers can make money now.  Hmmmm.

Checking the NFU's other pronouncements, basically, their position is that smaller is better, and old ideas are better than new ideas, protectionism and small markets are better than trade and large markets.  Besides, what does the NFU know about bees and beekeeping?  Not much, I gather, many of  the statements made in their release are lies.  See here

At any rate, there was an interview on CBC at noon With Jean Luc Paradis, asking him about the release, and, I think that he did a very nice and balanced job.  It's nice to see that the professional beekeepers of the west are taking the high road, being professional and level in their comments, and not getting down and mud-wrestling with these guys -- or even giving credence to the lies in a forum where the time is limited.  Nonetheless, for those who cannot tell truth from fiction, I'll leap into the breech.

Today : Periods of snow. Wind north 30 km/h becoming east 20 near noon. High 1. / Tonight : Snow. Amount 5 cm. Low minus 4. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 15.

Thursday 6 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it. Art Buchwald

The snow is melting.  I've been spending too much time indoors.  There is a foot of fresh snow in the mountains, but it is Spring here on the prairie.  I've got to get outside.  I spent five days breaking in this computer, and now it is ready to go: fully equipped with all my toys.  My desktop machine is now a relic.

I got a call this afternoon that surprised me.  A very good, very well known and respected beekeeper says he is fed up with trying to get help, and will sell 1,000 hives.  He doesn't want his name published, but I said I'd pass the word on.  Contact me if you are interested.  I'll get you in touch.

I also agreed with another outfit to go and try to figure out what is wrong with their bees.  They are doing OK, but have some mysterious symptoms.

In Praise of Virus Writers

Nobody says anything good about the scum who infect our computers with annoying software snippets, make us worry and spend money and effort on defensive software, and cause our machines to do things we don't like.  Let me be the first.

Don't get me wrong.  I do not like viruses or the trouble I have to take daily to fend them off, but consider this:  Most of the viruses and worms we have encountered thus far have not been designed do much serious damage.  Most of them have been simply a mischievous nuisance, but the potential for real harm is apparent.  The good thing is that these invaders have served as a strong warning of the vulnerabilities in our networks, and in the software on which we depend., and these annoyances have prodded us, our software suppliers, and our information technology managers -- slowly and grudgingly -- to lock up and protect our valuables which were previously lying, exposed to the world on the Internet.

Let's face it, we live in a big, hostile world, and there are people who would really like to do damage to us and our way of life.  Today our way of life is strongly bound up in the exchange of information over networks, and the biggest network of all, the Internet. If the development of software had continued to progress the way it was going a decade ago, before everything was networked, and before the network had reached its present size, reach, and speed, and without the kind of virus and worm episodes we have seen, can you imagine how vulnerable we would be?  We are vulnerable enough, as it is, but without the warnings and the minor problems we have experienced, the world's networks would be wide open and totally vulnerable to any scrip kiddy's -- or terrorist's -- whim.

It has taken actual repeated attacks on networks to jolt the administrators into wakefulness and vigilance.  Without a real challenges to force change, inertia rules.  Remember the Y2K scare?  It was real, and every programmer was aware of the problem for decades before 2000, but nobody did anything about it until the last moment.  Then, with only months remaining, the planet made a major effort and huge expenditure of money, then hoped for the best.  Y2K could have caused airplanes to crash, and huge sums of money to be lost.  We knew the exact date and time of that potential disruption, but of coming attacks and potential network breakdowns, we know only that they are possible, and inevitable, and we know that the consequences could be catastrophic.

Anything that inspires our programmers, network administrators, and home users to make their equipment more robust and proof against attacks cannot be anything but good in the long run.  We may not like these nuisances, but anything that does not kill us makes us stronger, and the viruses and worms we have seen thus far have done us a favour by forcing us to be aware, and teaching us to protect ourselves.  Let's hope we are ready for a real attack, by real enemies, with real damage in mind.  Such an attack will come someday, and it will come without warning.

Check out my computer security tips.


Here's the kind of letter I really, really appreciate after having to go thru the difficult task of telling some well-meaning people that they are really, really wrong. 

Hi Allen,

...In regard to the NFU letter, it just popped into my mailbox tonight (I get news alerts automatically). But I was appalled and embarrassed and a little bit angry.  Realizing I hadn't been to your site, I went and saw you did a fine job in analyzing their position. My only concern is that their arguments although spurious, will still carry some weight.

It seems a common problem in Canada. They portray the healthcare system in the US to be of poor quality and most people turned away from treatment (this is simply not the case where I live, and that's all I have experience with). The fact that such portrayals aren't accurate doesn't seem to stop their effectiveness.

It reminds me of the slogan of Canada Post some years back, "The greatest postal system in the world." yet, when stacked against other systems -- price and performance just don't back up such a claim.

Maybe it's not a Canada thing. Perhaps it's universal that nationalism and protectionism tends to breed arguments that are much more propaganda that factual. Certainly, Americans have a very unique view of themselves in the global plan. Maybe I'm just more sensitive about it because I'm a dual citizen and spent the first 35 years of my life in Canada.

Keep up the good work. I can only hope and pray that your efforts and responses reach the right ears.

Thanks for this.  You said it well.  I love Canada and I love the US.  My family straddles the border.  We live in both countries, and some are citizens of both.

Today : Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries early this morning then clearing. Wind becoming south 20 km/h this morning. High 13. UV index 7 or high. / Tonight : Cloudy periods. Wind south 20 km/h becoming light this evening. Low zero. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 15.

Friday 7 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -- Alvin Toffler

This morning, I shoveled the ashes, loaded the drum loader into the trunk of my old red car, and by 3, I was on the road to Vancouver. I made good time, and, as I write this, I am in a Super 8 Motel in Sicamous.  As it happens, I am right next door to the place we rented a houseboat last Fall.  This was where I ended up as it was getting dark.

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. High 16. UV index 8 or very high. / Tonight : Clearing. Low 5. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 15.

Saturday 8 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

If there were no God, there would be no atheists. -- G. K. Chesterton

For those who expressed interest in the hives for sale that I mentioned the other day, my wife phoned to say that the beekeeper in question had called and has changed  his mind.  Apparently, he has decided that he needs those hives and has managed to find the help he needs.  For anyone who really wants some bees, I'd probably sell 25 or so.

Shortage of help is a huge problem.  Beekeepers are in  a bind.  Canadians don't want to work the hours that beekeepers do, get stung,  or be isolated out in the country.  Foreign workers want to come and do the job, but the red tape is impossible.  Some beekeepers who relied on getting workers from the Philippines, have found that visas are very difficult to get, and that time seems to mean nothing to bureaucrats in Canada or in the the countries that could supply.  I'm told that Canadian bureaucrats also trump up some amazing excuses for turning down some Filipinos.

Ellen also said that my mother called to say she has gone to the cottage, since my brother Ron is down that way.  He has business in Ontario and is in Central Ontario a lot.  The thing is that I am on my way -- among other things -- to see him in Vancouver.   Of course, I have other matters to attend to in B.C., but one of my main goals was to see him about some business. I guess I should have phoned.  Oh, well, I'm sure we'll meet up.

Today, I see another Ron, Ron Lin who bought my forklift and trailer.   He was the lucky winner.  It is amazing how long a list of willing buyers I has who were prepared to pay cash for that Swinger.  I think that there were at least five definite, and I had quit writing down names.  Goes to show that if anyone could make a diesel Swinger for $22,500 (CAD), the world would beat a path to his door.  Meijers bought a machine that they hope will be comparable in the US, but we are all waiting to see.   So far, nobody is convinced. See Thursday 8 April 2004, but it is a nice machine.  We'll see.

I got to Ron's around 3 and we worked until 8:30, moving drums around, putting on the arms and bucket, and reviewing various things about it.  We then had supper up town and I drove to my brother's for the night.

Today : A mix of sun and cloud. 60 percent chance of showers late this afternoon with the risk of a thunderstorm. Wind becoming west 20 km/h this afternoon. High 18. UV index 6 or high. / Tonight : Cloudy with 60 percent chance of rain showers this evening. Periods of snow beginning overnight. Risk of a thunderstorm this evening. Wind northwest 20 km/h becoming northeast 20 near midnight. Low minus 2. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 16.

Sunday 9 May 2004
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Today's events in 2003  2002  2001  2000

We're all in this alone. -- Lily Tomlin

In the morning, I turned on my laptop and it immediately found their network, and moments later, I was signed on and connected at high speed.  The high speed is fantastic, and lets this machine operate right up to its potential.

The picture at left was in my inbox this AM.  Chris reports snow in Ponoka.  Conversations with Ellen, later, confirmed snow continuing through the day in Swalwell, as well.


One thing not so good about the possibly soon opened border is that we have been forced to breed bees more adapted to the north (via survivor genetics) I would guess half is management, half genetics.  These will be diluted by "southern" genetics.

For example: I am still wrapped (and re-wrapped).  When sorting thru (Apr18 & 20) to give a royal "wing-do" I saw that they generally started laying ~March 21-23 -- The strongest maybe a few days earlier.

All the books say they start earlier, maybe in more southern locations this is true.

A few dandelions yesterday, further south in Ontario a few days earlier, (as I drove north from Tillsonburg to 401) the dandelions disappeared at 401 & Woodstock (on May6).   I am 30 mi N of Oshawa, E of Port Perry

I've contemplated the import question, and the worries of stock dilution  for years, and am not as convinced as I once was about that being a problem. 

For one thing, we have been merrily importing bees from Australia and New Zealand and distributing them everywhere for over a decade now, and Hawaiian bees as well.  The climate of those regions is no more like ours than California's is, and yet, good progress is being made on stock improvement here in Canada.

There are many reasons that dilution does not happen as expected, and when it does, it may be fortuitous.  If I understood a presentation by a French researcher at the CHC Kelowna meeting, there is not as much intermixture of genes between bees in adjoining apiaries as we would expect, particularly if they are not closely related in the first place.  The reasons for that are complex, and have to do with what hives have how many drones, and when; which hives are able to raise queens early; where the breeders are located; how they select; when they breed, etc.   Moreover, credible people have reported -- anecdotally -- that different strains of bees, when mixed appear to re-separate in response stimuli and pressures from the specific microclimates around the area in which they are located.  Think oil and water or sand and gravel.

I cannot figure out why the arguments used against U.S. sources are immediately forgotten when Australia and New Zealand are mentioned.  Australia and New Zealand -- both those countries -- have some of the very pests that are used as excuses to exclude US bees, and also they both have proven repeatedly to often provide inferior stock.  If we should fear dilution, then we should fear those two sources.   Hawaiian breeders, at least, attempt to get and maintain stock that has performed well in northern regions, and Hawaii is apparently free of pests.

That is not to say that all stock from Aus is bad -- I've had some excellent stock from there -- but just that there have been repeated problems with imports from Aus.  The Australian stock, although good in some ways, including wintering (in my experience), is consistently terrible when it comes to chalkbrood, and, since it is never challenged with AFB, and shows no signs of hygienic characteristics, may well be contributing to our AFB problems!  Some bees I had from New Zealand were the worst wintering bees I have ever had and the meanest bees I've ever owned.

In short, increased imports can offer us a wider range of good material to select from, and need not necessarily dilute our breeding efforts.  This is particularly true of the continental US, where they have reasons to breed strains of bees that withstand cold weather and have made strides in breeding bees tolerant to mites.

Allen's Link 

of the Day:


Today : Periods of snow. Amount 2 to 5 cm. Wind north 30 km/h. High 1. UV index 3 or moderate. / Tonight : Periods of snow ending overnight then cloudy. Amount 2 cm. Low minus 3. / Normals for the period : Low 2. High 16.

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