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Thursday September 10th, 2009
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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to work, I go.  Weather looks great.  Frost risk tomorrow night, though. 

The hive scale put on another 7 lbs, so the flow continues.


Today was my first day on the job.  Seems like it is mostly driving, at this point anyhow.  It is pretty much what I expected. 

My assignment is to collect samples of bees for nosema and varroa with the assistance of the beekeeper client.  We take two samples from each of six hives in four yards.  We ask the beekeeper to take us to the yards where problems are expected, not yards which are known to be OK, since the goal is to try to prevent loss and to determine the basis of any problems.

Each varroa sample is taken from the brood area, shaken on the spot with the participation of the beekeeper, the results noted on the jar and on the report sheet, and then labelled. The labelled samples are then taken along to be further analysed at the lab.

A separate nosema sample of 100 bees is taken from the lid or outer combs at the same time, labelled and taken for lab analysis.  We also keep on the lookout for brood diseases, and alert the beekeeper if we see problems.

This way, the beekeeper gets to do some standardized sampling and can be sure everyone is using the same methods, so results can be compared, and we get an idea of problem areas, the extent of diseases and pests in each region in order to know if the recommended treatments are working, or if other measures may need to be developed or registered, if the thresholds are on target, and generally monitor threats to the livelihood of Alberta beekeepers.

Friday September 11th, 2009
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Today was the biggest gain yet, bringing the total per hive to 58 lbs in a little over two weeks.

I've been on the road the past two days.  When I was by Meijers they encouraged me to take a few pictures of some of the things they are doing to use on this page, so I did.

Meijers have some interesting ideas that seem to be working well for them.  For one thing, they are using quite a few Saskatraz bees and raising their own cells from that stock as well.  My take is that the resulting bees seem to be pretty good.  From my limited observations, they seem to be disease resistant and not particularly susceptible to varroa, but I found them a bit hotter in temperament than the average commercial stock.  I heard they produced very well this year.

These (left) are the popular styrofoam nucs that Taggarts developed and which are used extensively in North America.  One problem with them is that they have limited capacity and they can plug up quickly on any sudden flow, causing problems for the beekeeper and possible losses later.  Wintering in them in the North can be tricky.

Here, seconds are made from the same boxes, with the bottoms cut off. Before a flow, three such units are placed side-by-side, with two excluders and two supers are placed on top.  They can then make honey without plugging and continue to brood up in a vertical brood chamber, which apparently, queens prefer over horizontal expansion.

Normal wooden supers are used.

Note the 2" ri added to the bottom  of ech box    The lids are made to fit the larger outside measurements of the plastic boxes.  A pillow is under each lid.

Can you spot the queen?Meijers have about 1200 styrofoam hives at present.  They run them as singles, and have added a 2" rim, made from cutting up a similar super, to the bottom of each. 

This extra depth is to improve wintering and to allow extra clustering space.  The bees do build comb below the standard frames because of this, and most of it is drone comb, but this is considered a good thing, since bees need some drone comb.

I haven't painted my styro boxes or glued them, but Meijers have done both.  I'd say it makes for a better looking hive, and probably extends the life, not that lifespan is problem with these boxes.

Meijers run these units successfully as singles year-round and, of course, no wrapping is necessary.

Saturday September 12th, 2009
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Jean & Chris came down for the day and we had a turkey dinner.  Ruth came too, but the rest of the 'usual suspects' could not be rounded up.  They were were otherwise occupied.  Our beekeeper friends are still extracting.  No end is in sight.

Chris & I walked over an weighed the hives.   It has been windy all day, with strong gusts from the southeast, however the bees managed to get honey anyhow.  I see I did not overestimate the need for supers two weeks back (see right).

Our bees are not hanging out like some I have seen lately, but I think the populations will be large enough to overwinter well. Some, like the ones at left are clustered at the entrance, waiting to go foraging, and they are still occupying four boxes or more.

The shot at the right shows the top of one of these hives, and without checking too carefully, it looks as if it is pretty full -- plugged maybe -- in spite of the extra boxes I put on a few weeks ago.  I will have to take a closer look tomorrow.  Plugging too early can be a bad thing, since plugging can reduce the raising of winter bees by reducing the brood rearing area available to the queens.

I was planning to feed more patties, but I am realizing that if I do, they will last two weeks and that will be end of September.  If the patties are simulative, and the patties I have are 15% pollen so I think they are, then the resulting brood won't hatch for another three weeks after that.  The upshot is that I have reconsidered and think I will hold back until late March since I want the bees to start settling down.  I don't think they'll need any syrup.

I may have a few that turn out to be poor, though and expect to find several that either dwindle to nothing in the next few weeks or have to be combined down with others.  I'll have to check for mites and wrap, though.  If I find enough mites to justify it, I'll drizzle oxalic acid in syrup again.

Sunday September 13th, 2009
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The fields are still in bloom around here.  The scale hives put on three pounds in the time it took me to do some work on the scale in late afternoon.

The day's total was 20 lbs, even in spite of the wind.  The bees look pretty good.  There are two at home that are not quite as strong as the rest, but they may catch up.  We'll see.  The hives at Elliotts' are not as good and there are maybe three there that are weaker.  There is a skunk causing problems there, too.  I was thinking of pulling some honey or supering more, but it was hot, and I was tired.

I spent my day organising the work for  the coming week and spent a bit of time out tightening up some screws on the scale and looking at the hives.

The chart at left is from Environment Canada and shows the heating degree days for this month.  For comparison, the same chart for August is at right. Click to enlarge.

After writing the above and looking again at the daily gains, and the picture (yesterday) of the top of a super, and the weather forecast, I got worried and went out and supered the hives.  Seems odd to be supering when everyone else is stripping their hives, but what I see is what I see.

I may be taking these boxes off empty in a week or three, but at least they will be freshened up a bit, and the bees won't be too crowded in  the meantime.  A  look at the weather for the coming week shows that more five-pound days are not out of the question.

I recall, many years, leaving thirds in until October and often finding them filled nicely.  The trick is not to put so many on that the bees cannot heat the space on cool nights.  I used excluders in the past, but these years, since I have no plans to extract unless I have to, I am not worried about keeping the queen and brood down.  I assume it has been forced down by now, though.

Having lifted some lids, I think now that I underestimated the hives at Elliotts'.  Most are pretty good and several needed a box.  There are two that are still in two boxes and I fear for them in winter, but they have queens and are building up.

All in all, I put on another 10 boxes or so onto the 34 hives.  A few are now in six, many in five, and some in four or three, with the two previously mentioned, in two.

Monday September 14th, 2009
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I was up early, and on the road by seven.  Before I left, I checked the scale and noticed it seems to have lost four pounds overnight.  That makes sense, since the bees drive off water from collected nectar overnight.  I also noticed that the bees had been cleaning out the supers added last night late.  The entrances showed debris from their work.  I can see it because I was early, but they will get rid of that as soon as it warms up enough to work outside.

The change in weight, though might have been a function, of my adding a new weight and tightening up some bolts yesterday, although I doubt it.  The scale does not seem as hair-trigger as it should be, but for our purposes, it is OK.  At some point, though, I should take the pallet off and do some repairs.

I drove south and met several beekeepers.  I'm finding some are hard to reach and pretty busy when I do manage, due to the continuing honey flow, the moving and fall work, and others are quite relaxed and able to meet me on a moment's notice, so I have to plan further ahead.

I'm also finding that some outfits have mite levels that are vanishingly low -- yards with zero mites on six samples of 300 bees -- and others are well over the threshold.  From the limited sampling I have done so far, beekeepers' reports of previous wintering success -- or lack of success -- correlates surprisingly well to the levels I see at present.

In recent years, Apistan and Checkmite+ have been tending to have less and less success in controlling mites, and although formic -- both in the commercial one-shot pad and the small home-made pads (more) -- has been able to reduce levels and achieve some control, the introduction of Apivar has made a big impact on mite populations.  I expect, however, that the re-emergence off an effective strip will result in reduced formic use and losses due to tracheal mites for those using susceptible stock.  Beekeepers should consider whether their stock is tracheal resistant or not.  Some bees are strongly resistant to tracheal, AFB, and even varroa.  Many are not.

Although driving mite levels to zero is a good thing for wintering success and general bee health in the short run, in the long run, I expect that it will lead to early resistance due to killing off all but the tiny minority of mites which can withstand the chemical.

I am also hearing mention of European Foulbrood (EFB), although I did not see any.  EFB is usually a springtime disease, and has not  been a big problem in Alberta in my lifetime.  Many beekeepers have never seen it, since most commercial beekeepers have been routinely using Oxytet in spring to prevent AFB.  Now that many are reducing the use of Oxytet, apparently EFB is showing up

The hives continue to gain.


Tuesday September 15th, 2009
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Good morning.  The forecast remains favourable.

The hot weather continues and my scale hives at home continue to gain.


Wednesday September 16th, 2009
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I slept nine hours.  I guess the long hours of driving and working in the sun caught up with me.  Last night I had lots of paperwork to do, but just could not keep my eyes open at 8:30 and I hit the sack.  It feels good to catch up on some sleep, since I only got 5 hours the previous night.

Down here in Southern Alberta, I am seeing quite a variation in forage.  It was a dry summer, and only a few areas got a good soaking mid-summer from one strong weather system that went through.  The rest of the South did without.  In Swalwell, we were lucky and we got two inches from it.  Some got three or more.  Many got none.

Beekeepers are stripping their hives down to doubles here in the south as quickly as they can, and the broods vary in weight from heavy to light, depending on the region.  Many are feeding, but pollen and nectar are coming in at many locations.  Almost universally, beekeepers are concerned about nosema and eager to get fumagillin into the hives ASAP and are in a rush to get the supers off to do so.

Meantime, back in my hobby outfit in Swalwell, my yard looks like this (right).

I'm conflicted. Personally, I leave a third on until the first or second week of October, and usually it is full.  These are some of the best beekeepers in the entire world and they are pulling to the broods. I don't get it.  Actually, people tell me I never did.  Of course, I always used excluders.

Mite treatments are on their minds though.  Although I saw few instances where mite treatments need to be rushed, I did see one where quick action is indicated, and, given the size of the operation, the savings here alone justify the cost of this inspection and extension program.

Spring treatments worked well, and those who used Apivar often have zero mite counts, but that is not always the case, so checking to verify proves to be a wise precaution.

 Many will find this interesting: Alberta 2009 Survey of Honey Bee Colony Winterkill and Management Practices


And my home hives just keep gaining -- 75 pounds in a little over three weeks and the trend is up!  Honey is $1.75 a pound.

People who speculate on the stock market -- the momo guys -- would look at this chart and be certain that we will be rich by Christmas.  On the other hand, we beekeepers know that one of these days, Jack Frost will bring an sudden end to this trend and send our bees into a 6-month recession and not all will prosper.

Thursday September 17th, 2009
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I have two more operations to visit today and then am headed home for the night.  The samples will be on their way to Edmonton for nosema analysis late Friday afternoon.

I got the sampling done and was home for the night.  Most days are twelve hours or more.  Even with careful route planning, there is a lot of planning, driving -- to the beekeeper, then between yards -- and preparation.  The actual sampling takes about two to three hours for each operation.

Friday September 18th, 2009
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We visited two more beekeepers today and the samples are off to the lab.  I got home at 7:30.

So far, of the eleven outfits I have sampled, we have identified three outfits which would have had problems this winter without immediate intervention using Apivar.  Each had some hives over 10% infested.  For the rest of the operators, the visit is a chance to be reassured that they are controlling the mites.  The results of the nosema tests will come come soon and that is another natter entirely.

When using formic pads -- the Dri-loc 50's (see here and here) -- Medhat is now recommending using two pads for each double-brood chamber hive.  They are to be placed on the top bars of the seconds, side-by-side, one third of the way forward from the back, with the holes in the pads up, not down.  If there is a pillow or cloth immediately above, sticks placed nearby may be needed to lift the covering enough for the fumes to circulate.

I spoke with a beekeeper who had used this and had dropped measured varroa levels from 13% to 3% on a hive he tried it on, using only one such application. 

That is impressive!  Of course it is one report on one hive, but we sampled that same hive and it is presently at 5%, so this IMO confirms his observations.

Additionally, this formic application should actually kill varroa inside sealed brood cells for lasting benefit.  I wonder, though, what this concentration does to the brood.  When  I ask this question, I am told that it kills some, but, compared to losing a hive, losing a bit of brood is acceptable.  I have to agree.

Formic is no substitute for Apivar for most beekeepers, for this year at least, though.  Formic  makes a good topical treatment and also suppresses tracheal mite, but does not match Apivar for its ability to slay varroa.  There is some talk that Apivar's active ingredient works against tracheal too.  I'm not too sure about the facts.

 From what I have seen, southern Alberta beekeepers have a real mixture of bee stock, often within a single operation.  This stems from  the need to acquire bees on short notice, a desire to compare stocks.  As a result, there is no assurance that any outfit can rely on genetics to control AFB and brood diseases or either mite.

There are exceptions, though, and some progressive beekeepers are employing stock that is bred to need minimum chemical assistance while yielding good crops and showing excellent wintering, too.

The scale hives continue to gain. 

I suppose I'll have to sample my own bees, soon.  That should be interesting.  I have used no treatments this year, however I have split drastically, and splitting is a good varroa control, due to the queenless periods involved and the smaller clusters.  Varroa thrive in large clusters raising lots of brood, and do much less well in small broodless clusters.

Saturday September 19th, 2009
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The Ins and Outs of Diversity




Informed Discussion of Beekeeping Issues and Bee Biology <BEE-L@COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM>


Sat, 19 Sep 2009 08:26:31 -0600

> Nature, which, in these discussions, always seems to be the way we should > go, does breed for specific traits so bees or any species can handle local > conditions.

That is true and unless man interferes, either a species adapts or disappears in any specific locale.

> You might say that nature tends to make less diversity in a local area > than man. Just look at the distribution of different types of animals and > insects in specific climate zones.

In the past weeks, I have visited and looked at bees in a dozen large outfits scattered around my region. Each and every one has a mixture of bee breeds, some of which are strikingly different.

Bees in a single operation (and sometimes a single yard) often run the gamut from bees which have a reputation for being able to resist AFB and brood diseases, both types of mites and harsh winters, to strains which have a reputation for catching every passing pest and disease and eating up their winter stores early -- but also making large populations and crops and looking pretty.

In addition, I am told, the mix of strains often changes annually, depending on which queens are available when, the price, and the latest fad.

In commercial beekeeping, there is a lot of monkey see, monkey do.

> Diversity is here because of not in spite of beekeepers.

And that like many things we observe has its good side and its bad side.

Diversity, like Mom's Apple Pie is Good, we are told. Lack of diversity, we are reminded often, is Evil.

However, diversity in extremes guarantees the maintenance of susceptibility to common diseases and pests in the population and *necessitates* the use of chemicals (also Evil) in any commercially viable farming environment.

For those of us who suspect and suggest that breeding and genetic selection is the only way off the chemical treadmill, it becomes obvious that this approach can only work several ways:

1.) legislation and enforcement against maintaining susceptible strains,

2.) missionary work creating consumer demand for resistance/tolerance on a continuing and persistent basis, or

3.) the incorporation over time of the desirable traits into all stock being distributed through cooperation and education of breeders and the consequent raising the background level of resistance/tolerance in all populations (thus lowering the frequency and degree of susceptibility in the general bee population)

Number one is not going to work. I hope I do not have to explain why. We have seen the results of unpopular legislation and enforcement in the past.

Number two is slow, but over time will result in number three.

Number three -- accompanied by number two -- is the most promising route, and also a method most likely to preserve the essential diversity necessary to be able to respond to future challenges.

I think that this has been recognized by the most forward-thinking of our bee researchers and they are taking the battle to the enemy -- the queen producers in an attempt to skew the populations towards lower chemical dependence while maintaining the wide range of choice that beekeepers demand.

I see the weather is cooling a bit, but continuing fair.

I've been thinking, too.  How am I going to check the varroa in my hives without removing supers?  I wonder.  I really do not wish to disturb the bees right now.  My intention is to take the extra boxes away from the top and the bottom once the weather cools, leaving them in the two or three boxes that the bees are actually occupying.  I don't intend to crack them apart either, since I think the disturbance and crushing of bees involved in separating boxes tends to exacerbate any nosema present.

In the past, I have relied on natural mite drop and it has worked well for me.  I'm not sure, though if I can get the boards under my hives since they are too heavy to tilt back.  Bees are clustered at the entrance, too.  We'll see.

I could collect bees from wherever I can get them, but I don't know the correlation between mites on entrance bees and brood chamber bees, and the thresholds I hear are based on brood chamber bees.

Will I check for nosema?  Maybe.  I have a microscope here, but no slides. I have a haemocytometer, but don't really want to use it.  I'd rather go with Randy's Protocol for rapid preparation of nosema spore samples

I have an issue with the methods currently recommended for analysing nosema infections.  Recommendations typically are to take samples of 30 to 50 bees in order to be sure to get some bees with nosema and a good idea of the average of the infection in the hive.

I contend that this will give and idea of some average, bit not the real severity of infection.  Since nosema shows up in older bees who are about to die anyhow, and may not even be from the colony being analysed due to drifting and robbing, the real question is how many of the younger bees are infected and what the potential for  their becoming infected might be. 

In nosema apis, the belief is that the disease is spread by shared water sources and by young bees cleaning infected comb.  With nosema ceranae, the mechanism of spread is not known.  Apparently few spores are found on the combs.

Let's think this through.  Assume that it is not unusual for a colony to have many young bees with few -- if any -- of the young bees infected and clean brood combs.  As well as all the healthy bees, there are a few -- maybe 1% or 2% of the population -- older field bees which have developed nosema and have 50,000,000 spores each.  We are told to collect 30 to 50 bees from the outer combs, lid, or entrance and make a slide from the abdomens.

We have already skewed the sample to collect older bees, so if we get a slide that shows 1,000,000 spores, what does that really tell us? 

IMO, it could show that the hive

  1. has 99% healthy bees and one bee with 50,000,000 spores
    or it could show that

  2. all the bees sampled have 1,000,000 spores each.

  3. something in between

To me each interpretation indicates a very different situation, and requires a very different response, if any, so I find this method of analysing the sampling to be only useful to show that nosema is present.  Of course, nosema is almost always present, so it proves nothing.

A more useful test would be to use the same sample and do three slides of ten or twenty bees each and compare those slides.  That would give a much better picture of the distribution within the hive, rather than merely showing that if you sample enough old bees, as we do at present, that you will find nosema.

Sampling of this sort is meaningful where a pest is more evenly distributed through the population as in the case of varroa, but falls down badly where the distribution is far less even, IMO.

Of course, if the current methodology correlates well with observations of actual hive mortality, then perhaps it is adequate.  I question that, though.

Looking up at the hivesWhat bees do with old bee bread.  I had put a brood chamber on as a super a week ago, and it seems the pollen was too stale for the bees' tastes.After lunch, I went out to the bee yard to contemplate my way forward.

Last night on returning e at 7:30. I had moved the scale slider up 2 lbs from  the 5 PM reading.  I noticed a t 1 PM today that the hives are still at that weight, showing that my gain happens late in the day.  I imagine there is some gain in the AM, though, since the weight drops overnight due to evaporation.

 I watched the bees awhile, and fell asleep in the yard.  I've been running hard all week and am a bit weary.

Here is my  problem:

These last weeks, I have been rushing around the Province sampling and diagnosing other people's bees.  Everyone I visited was a commercial beekeeper with anywhere from 250 to 12,000 hives under management.  They have a schedule to keep and removing honey is a priority.  Due to their management style and locations, they have early treatment for varroa and nosema at the top of their minds.

Personally, I have 34 hives, and although I have done the commercial shtick and appreciate it -- I may even get back in -- right now I am a hobbyist and my attitude is entirely different.  I am reluctant to pull my supers before the end of the flow and reluctant to disturb the brood frames this late in the season. 

It also happens that I like bees and hate to douse them in alcohol to sample for varroa and nosema.  It seems like the lesser of two evils in the case of my friends' operations, where it is well proven that many, many good colonies will die if the sampling is not done quickly and efficiently, and appropriate treatments made accordingly.  This method is the only one we can think of that will get the job done properly in the timeframe we have to work in.

Even as a commercial beekeeper, I have been reluctant to disturb brood chambers other than early in the season, for necessary inspection and for splitting.  My approach has tended away from medicating for everything to obtaining bees which can take care of diseases and mites.  This is easier on a hobby level than on a commercial level, but some commercials are doing it, too.  Some claim that hardy bees like the USDA Russian bees don't make a big a crop.  Even if that is true, and I get reports that they actually do better, the savings in treatments, worries, and losses should compensate.

It seems to me there must be a better way to assay for varroa than alcohol wash, even if it is the 'gold standard", particularly where there is less time pressure.  Natural mite drop is one.  It worked for me even  when I was commercial.  We put the boards in one week and picked them up whenever we got back, then divided by the number of days between visits.  Occasionally, the boards were forgotten, but mostly it was a very quick method.  Our examination if the boards was limited to a glance and the results tabulated mentally as "Nothing", "Just a few", "Bears Watching", and "Oh, S*it!".  We never did see the fourth mentioned, since  we treated annually and were running bees back when Apistan worked well.

So, today I examined the entrances to see if I have enough clearance (pictures above). It looks marginal, but with a wedge or lever to tip the hives back a bit, it should be possible.  Natural mite drop means two trips -- one to install, and one to remove -- so is impractical for the type of survey I am working on, but for me it is the best, if I can get the boards in and out with all that weight on top.  When I was doing drop in my commercial outfit, I had the hives three-high at most when testing.  These are as much as six-high and weighing over 300 lbs.  (I discuss natural mite drop and the math behind it elsewhere in this site).






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