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Sunday September 20th, 2009
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Chart ot daily weight gainsWe had rain overnight.  On the skylights at 2 AM, it sounded quite heavy, but a glance at the rain gauge this morning shows less than a mm.  Here's hoping we get an inch. (Apologies to the grain farmers who are harvesting).

A chart of the average gains per hive of four hives on a scaleToday is the first that the hives have lost weight.  The day was cooler and very windy.  The bees are not at the entrances as they have been in former days.  We can expect some fairly rapid weight losses over the next month, especially if we have a frost.  The further evaporation of the nectar, the emergence of brood, and the loss of older bees which leave and never return, together with the normal hive activity, will drop the weight by 20 lbs or more by the end of October, I'm guessing.  After that the losses go down to a few pounds per week at most.

I should have been windsurfing I realized half way through the day as the wind picked up, but it seems I have no time.

I spent the day planning my week. This time I am prepared and have only two empty slots.

Monday September 21st, 2009
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We had frost last night.  We'll know later if it was a killer.  I noticed a little frost on two windshields, but one had only a little.  The other was completely iced.

I'm back at work today, but don't have to start until late in the morning.

Here is a description off the programme I am working on right now, and more similar info.

I registered for the hotel the Alberta Beekeepers convention today and am now looking at reserving for the

North American Beekeeping Conference 2010-01-12 to 2010-01-16 North American Beekeeping Conference Joint meeting of Canadian Honey Council, American Beekeeping Federation Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, American Association of Professional Apiculturists and Apiary Inspectors of America. West Jet offers 10% discount off regular fares for travel during the convention period. Quote promo code QC#6028 when booking. Date: Tuesday, Jan. 12 Saturday, Jan. 16 Location: Wyndham Orlando Resort 8001 International Drive Orlando, Florida 32819 . Phone 877-999-3223 or 407-351-2420 Room rate $119 US- quote North American Beekeeping Conference when booking.

The above info is courtesy the Canadian Honey Council site.  Their link to the event site is bad, and the ABF does not have much info, but I will reserve now, assuming I can cancel later.  Otherwise, I tend to miss the deadlines.

I called and reserved and can cancel any time up to Jan 9 4 PM.  That is three days ahead and should be just fine.

Since I spend only a few hours in the room, mostly sleeping, and always get a room with two beds, I am looking for any of my friends who want to share a room to minimize expense.  I'm also wondering about renting a car and doing some sight-seeing before or after the Florida event.  I am  considering the AHPA meeting, too, but attending that one will depend on whether there are any good airfare deals offered.  I've been noticing that the prices seem to be going up.

The scale hives broke even over 24 hours, so maybe the frost the night before last was not a killer.  We're in for a warm week, so maybe we'll see more gains. 


Tuesday September 22nd, 2009
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The first Day of Fall

I'm on the road again, with the week pretty well booked up and it looks as if I'll have some work next week, too.  In my travels, I'm seeing areas where the frost has killed off the flow, and others where the flow continues.

I'm seeing pollen in the hives, but only two colours.  Most is yellow, and some is orange.

I visited two beekeepers today, both excellent operators and got home in decent time for a change.  I'm realising that I can work as I have for a week or two, but that keeping up that pace is not reasonable.  I'm neglecting some other chores, so I will make one visit tomorrow, then two the next day.  Friday will be a big day, with lots of driving, then a possible Saturday morning inspection job, too.

Retirement has spoiled me I had forgotten how short a weekend can be.

I returned home to find the alfalfa next to my hives has been cut.  Strangely, or maybe not, the hives put on 2-1/2 pounds each today.  I've heard this before from old beekeepers -- alfalfa yields best the day after it is cut.

Nonetheless, I still see bloom around here.  There is clover blooming here and there in the ditches and patches of alfalfa in the fields.  Some fields are done and others are still going. Somehow we have been spared the frost that has wilted flowers all along my travels today.  This unusual.  We are often among the first to get hit.

People wonder what this inspection is about.  Basically, it is a voluntary programme that has caught on.  There is a fee to sign up, and then samples are taken spring and fall for nosema and varroa.  We get preliminary  varroa results right in the yard with a one-minute shake , and the samples go to Edmonton for further analysis

Click on thumbnails to enlarge

On the left (picture 1), After checking the frame for a queen, a bee sample (picture 2) is collected from the frame by brushing the jar, half-full of alcohol slowly down the frame, rubbing against the bees lightly so they fall into the jar.  An amount estimated to be 300 bees is collected.  The jar is then shaken for one minute using the shaker (picture 3) and examined for mites (picture 4).  Generally, we figure see 90% of what is there, since some mites get caught in the bee bodies.  We often re-shake and examine a he jar several times and take the highest number.

In these jars, the requisite number is approximated by an inch of bees in the bottom of a dry jar.  Since the bees float somewhat, measurement is actually a bit of a guess.  The number is not critical.  If there are 200 instead, the result will be 66% of actual.  If 400 are used, then the result will be 133% of actual. Since we are not doing scientific work here and treatment decisions will be made on the basis of averages over an entire yard and consideration of the highest count seen, the results are plenty accurate.  Besides, the samples go to the lab for confirmation.  In practice, I have seldom seen a case where a difference of one or two -- or even three mites in a jar would change the practical meaning of the result  Generally, there are either very few with many jars at zero, or quite a few in each sample, and seldom anything in between.

Interpretation is an art, since the meaning depends on the season, amount of brood, and previous or ongoing treatment, but basically, a 1% reading (3 mites in the jar) or less is considered good.  Anything above that needs expert interpretation.  Levels over 3% become increasingly risky -- exponentially.

Apivar, since it is new to Alberta, appears to quickly reduce varroa levels to a vanishingly low level, and everyone in Southern Alberta is now using it.  So far we are not seeing any resistance, but resistance is inevitable, so we are watching.  The risk is that someone has been using the active ingredient in some home-made formula (illegally) and developed a varroa resistant to Apivar already, unbeknown to the rest of us.  Varroa mites travel, and any such resistance  will show up in these tests in some neighbours bees as slow or low response to Apivar.  Hopefully we will not see that and we will get three years or more out of this new treatment, but we will have to watch.

I am seeing the value of teamwork and increasingly understand the importance of everyone staying on side.  Fortunately, we seem to have the support of our industry and find that few choose to be left out.

To be continued...

Wednesday September 23rd, 2009
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We're having record temperatures, and they appear likely to continue.  Risk of further frost increases, though.

I have the morning free and plan to catch up on some little jobs.  In the afternoon, I'm off to do some more sampling.

The bees are still gaining, and we still have some bloom.  I drove through Delburne today and noticed there is still bloom there, too.

I went out after supper and watched the entrances.  Seems all the hives are active, although there are three at Elliotts' I wonder about about.

Thursday September 24th, 2009
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The weather continues warm, but frost looks likely Sunday or Monday night.

I decided that it would be a good idea to try drop boards (left) before doing an alcohol wash, so I cleaned off four for a start.

Alcohol was is the 'gold standard', but natural drop can work quite well.  One has to do some math and also realise that changing season can result in extraordinary drops due to the tearing out of drone brood and other activities.

I'm off to do more sampling today.  I jammed four boards under hives before I left.  I had to tilt  the hives back with a crowbar and jam the boards in.  If I plan to continue using this method, I must get more clearance under the bottom brood chamber with shims or something.

Friday September 25th, 2009
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I was intending to take the day off, since it turns out my schedule is clear, so I dropped down to Global Patties for a visit.  Afterwards, I decided I was already part way to an outfit that I had had to leave partially complete previously due to the sun setting and decided to get that out of the way.

It involved more driving than sampling time, but I could not figure out how to work this job into my Monday loop to visit the few remaining clients, so I did it just to tidy up.

I tend to be a bit o a fanatic when it comes to planning and economizing on travel, (or using up scraps in a construction job) but have to accept that sometimes, there are scraps at the end of any job.  At some point, thinking simply cannot make any improvements in efficiency, and the job must be done.

The scale hives each made a fraction of a pound gain today.


Saturday September 26th, 2009
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The drop boards will have been in for 48 hours as of this morning.  That is sufficient for a reading, but another day will make it easier.  We'll see what I decide.

I have an extractor now.  I borrowed it yesterday.

I think I will inspect my weak hives for problems today.  I have been assuming that they are just slow coming on after the splitting, but should verify that.  I also think I may give them some pollen patty.  In my inspecting, I have become aware that there are only two types of pollen coming in -- yellow and orange -- and that is almost certain to indicate an unbalanced diet.

I opened the first hive.  It is a corner hive, and only three boxes high.  The brood looks good and they are working well.  Population is adequate.  Bees look good.

A Mite Drop Board Removed from the HiveI checked the drop board under it and and found 40 mites.  I then did a wash and found 15 mites.  I then did a quick spreadsheet assuming a 100-day mite lifespan.  Wow!  Amazingly close correlation.  Usually, I am told, the relationship can be more random.

A Close-up of the debris on the board.  Click for a enlarged view. I can see that I have at least one hive that is showing higher levels than desirable.  Considering it is the first hive of 34 and chosen at random, the likelihood that I hit on the worst one is not great, so I must assume there are worse ones.  The fact that the next samples were better is somewhat reassuring, but the fact remains that I had only a 3% chance of hitting the worst right off.

The two other drop boards gave 12 and 18, or using the calculator, 1.5% and 2.2%.  I guess that the levels indicated so far are pretty good considering that I only drizzled oxalic last fall and did nothing this spring, however I did split a lot and splitting reduces mite loads.  Looks at first glance as if natural drop at this time of year can give good results.

I had never gotten around to verifying my estimate of the number of bees in a sample.  I just scoop up what looks like the right amount and use that.  Today I counted the bees into piles of 50 and can see that I am coming quite close, at 275 or so.  That is close enough for such a rough test.

The hardest part of the sampling job is watching for queens.  That is one reason I prefer to have the beekeeper along and doing the beekeeping while I sample.  Not only does the job go twice as quickly and the beekeeper learn more, but I am spared worrying about someone else's queens (There's one of mine on a frame I was about to sample at left).

Seems I've been so busy checking everyone else's hives that I had neglected mine.  I would have anyhow, since I wait until a killer frost before pulling them down to two boxes.  I'm glad to see that I am not seeing damaging levels of mites, although I, like everyone, would rather see zero.

My main nearby nectar source, the adjacent alfalfa field, is now baled up and I am told the bales are worth $7 each.  I remember when I paid 50 cents.  Of course, that was 40 years ago, when we had goats. There is still lots of forage for the bees around, just not 25 feet away.

The forecast continues fine, but cooler, with some rain possible Wednesday.  I have two more days sampling, then I expect to be done.

Another gain today.  Just 0.8 lbs per hive, but a gain nonetheless. It is obvious, though, that the trend is down. After all, three months from today is Boxing Day.

Sunday September 27th, 2009
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OK.  Here it comes.  A killer frost is scheduled for Thursday.  I'll be able to take of some boxes in the morning after without any hassle -- if I get out early.  On cool mornings, the bees are down and the supers are free of bees.

I'm working Monday and Tuesday, and probably driving to Edmonton Wednesday.  The I should be done.  My mother comes to visit in a week or so, and I want to do a few projects before then.



There is a very good reason to check for mites




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


Sun, 27 Sep 2009 09:12:44 -0600

>> There is a very good reason to check for mites...people lack intellectual >> curiosity, which I am sure you don't.

> well, i'm curious about a lot of things, but i have limited time and > resources, as we all do. for the same reason beekeepers don't routinely > test for the presence of "stress diseases" that are present in many (if > not most) colonies, dwv for example, i'm not really concerned about > whether there are mites in the hive, i'm concerned about survival...

PMFJI, but this topic is of real interest to me. I'll explain. I find myself in the middle.

Having retired, my need to keep bees alive became less urgent and I became fairly lax in my management, if you could call not looking at them more than casually for a year or more, management. That year did prove something, namely that all the work I had been doing as a commercial beekeeper had not been unnecessary, since the majority died. I also discovered that the bees I am keeping do not seem susceptible to AFB, since with the neglect and the background level of spores, I should have had a wreck, and I saw no AFB. Hmmm.

After a few years of retirement and ignoring my bees, I decided I need to clean up all the odds and ends that are left over and do something with the equipment on hand. I have enough to run 100 or more hives, so I started splitting. Three became 10, 9 became 34. Now I am thinking more in terms of a business again.

I really do not like drugs and pesticides -- I started out in the early seventies thinking organic was the ideal -- but have always regarded them as a necessary evil and always used them in accordance with IPM principles. OTC was an exception. In fact, I eventually wrote a beekeeping (Green Certificate) course that included a section on IPM. (Interesting how writing a course deepens one's understanding).

IPM gets a bad rap from many who don't understand it. IPM is very commonsense and emphasizes knowing the enemy and avoiding extreme positions or extreme measures. Measurement and calculation are involved, as is tolerance.

As a result, even as a commercial, I used minimal amounts and the least nasty chemical that would achieve the required level of control, and in the minimum amounts that would do so. (I never used coumaphos and hope I never will).

IPM requires a method of monitoring, and I always preferred the least destructive method. For varroa, natural mite drop worked fine for me. In fact it still seems to do the job. I have been doing some 'experiments' and the details are illustrated in my diary for any who suffer from insomnia and need an instant cure. http://www.honeybeeworld.com/diary

As you said, different goals require differing approaches, and for those looking for high survival rates and not minding using control measures -- management and chemical -- to ensure that result, monitoring is important, as is knowing thresholds for economic damage to yards.

Those like yourself who do not care about high survival levels can actually assist in reducing chemical inputs used by others by observing your hives and reporting how high mite levels can go without apparent damage. I daily meet beekeepers who want to see zero levels in their hives and are willing to take measures to see that result. Is that really necessary or even desirable? I think we all know it isn't.

Is there an equilibrium level at which point, some bees seem to gain control and prevent further increase, or even reverse the growth? There seems to be some evidence for this. Without observing hives which are untreated, no one will know.

That brings me to the present. For years, I said that commercial beekeepers need a service that monitors for mites and disease and perhaps even applies the treatments, because that aspect of the business often gets relegated to something that gets done after everything else, and requires a level of expertise beyond what is sometimes available from the labourers in many outfits.

It seems that pest management demands time in the periods when management and labour available are stretched to the limit and working overtime already, like right now.

In addition to focussing on this one important aspect and taking a load off, such a service would have an overview of all the outfits in the area and know if specific problems were local to the outfit, or general. With such an overview, thresholds can more easily be established, since in a large group, the effects of variations in methods can be assessed.

FWIW, we ran a small lab that checked for tracheal and nosema a few years back as a sideline, but never pursued the project very far.

Guess what? Alberta Beekeepers and Alberta Ag set up such a service. The service does not do treatment, but for a fee, beekeepers have an inspector visit and take bee samples for varroa and nosema, with preliminary results given for varroa on the spot. They also get a second opinion on problem yards.

Over the years, I have worked as a bee inspector on many diverse projects: disease, wintering, chalkbrood survey, etc... I haven't inspected for years, but when a current inspector took some time off, I was asked to fill in, and jumped at the opportunity. As a result over past weeks, I have been looking inside an awful lot of hives scattered all over Southern Alberta, speaking with the owners (who usually accompany me and pull the frames) and making recommendations in accordance with the criteria set by our Provincial Apiarist.

Naturally, I suddenly find myself thinking about my own hives in that context, and becoming curious, so I decided to sample my own hives the way I had been sampling the commercial outfits.

What am I finding? I am finding levels high enough that I would be recommending treatment if speaking to a commercial operator. However, I might add, that I have not found levels as high as the worst I have seen in occasional yards of hives that have been treated in the last year. This is not my livelihood, so I tend to be more lax than I could recommend to someone who makes a living from the bees. I drizzled oxalic last fall, once. I may do it again, after all, I want my hives alive. Would I use Apivar, as we recommend to the commercial operators? I really have not decided. What do others think? I am reluctant.

> ... i'm having a hard time imagining any method who's predictions will > correlate near 100% with the bond method. ... i can't imagine a method > that can predict survival accurately.

It is true the correlation is not 100%, or even perhaps knowable, but there are things that are known. For instance, a colony which goes above a 6% mite count is very likely to have problems surviving. In Alberta, it has been determined that yards showing levels over 3% are likely to present management problems.

100% correlation is a lot to ask for in a non-destructive indicator. The Bond method is quite destructive, counting mites is not -- not necessarily, at least, although the gold standard, the alcohol wash, is to some extent. But at least it does not kill the entire colony.

As you say, if you don't plan to act and only are looking for survival, then knowing the levels is not useful. I am not sure what the point is then, however, since most people keep bees for some useful purpose, yourself and myself, excepted.

In my case, however, I have now decided that I do want to put the bees to some use and propagate them, if only to fill up my equipment. As a result, I will be acquiring queens and cells from outside sources and be depending on others who have been breeding stock with survivor and hygienic qualities. Letting my bees die, therefore would serve no purpose.

To ramble on, I'll mention that in my travels, I am finding that progress is being made in terms of eliminating susceptible stocks, even though some commercial beekeepers are buying stock from everywhere they can. I visited several large beekeepers who have stopped all AFB treatments for several years and only find a few colonies (1/10 of 1% or less AFB annually). These beekeepers are more discriminating in where they obtain their stock than some, though.


Hello Allen, ...I am a 2nd year hobbyist beekeeper who would like to expand to sideliner as time progresses. I have 13 established colonies and about 15 5-10 frame nucleus hives I intend to overwinter. I have been following your diary for several months now, trying to learn from your mistakes and successes. You influenced me to start feeding protein patties. Currently I make my own out of cat food (34% protein, 16% fat) ran through a grist mill, and I add HFCS to make the patty. I also mix a little dry sugar, Honey Bee Healthy, a probiotic capsule, and a spoonful of inositol in each 5 pound batch I make in my mixer. A week or so ago, you mentioned thinking about putting another round of patties on your hives, and then opting not to add any more, because they would be rearing brood all the way until the end of October if you did, and you didn't want them covering that much brood if a cold snap hit. In today's diary post, you mention putting more patties on the hives because they are only bringing in 2 types of pollen. How late in the fall can you get away with feeding patties? Here, a killing frost tends to hit somewhere between mid and late October. Do you use the date of the last killing frost as a guide to decide how late to add patties? I was planning on adding another patty to my hives, since I am a few weeks behind you. I had planned on just putting a small patty, perhaps only a pound or so, to be sure it wouldn't take them a long time to eat it all. If you still feel it is ok to feed patties this late, I may add a bigger patty - 2 pounds or so. It takes my strong hives about 2 weeks to consume a pound and a half patty. I understand that when you were feeding as a commercial guy, you did it when you had the opportunity, whereas a hobbyist can add patties at the more ideal times. So what are your general rules of thumb for how late to do fall feeding of protein patties?

Well, these are most interesting questions.

For one thing, I would never have thought to feed cat food to my bees!  I'm not saying that cat food is harmful, but I have no evidence that it might be beneficial.  I suppose you will find out one way or the other.

Personally, I am very careful what I feed to my bees, and, for that matter, I am not sure that all cat food is good for cats.  I happen to like my cat and am aware that some cat foods, especially the cheaper ones, can cause kidney and urinary problems.  Anyhow bees are not cats...

That being said, and speaking only of patties which are proven in tests to be beneficial to bees, I have fed in the fall and noticed no difference one way or another.  In fact, I left patties on all winter, and the bees withdrew down to the bottom, then ate them when they came back up late in winter.  I could not see any benefit or any harm.

My main concern about fall feeding is that an extra brood rearing means another cycle of varroa raising with no real benefit to the bees.  In this case, I figured that the bees are raising brood anyhow, due to a late fall, and since the pollens I am seeing is limited in variety, that maybe some patties would help.

So, you can see that I have no real problem with feeding late into the fall.  It is just that I figure the feed may be wasted and raise extra varroa. 

I would, though, be very reluctant to feed confined bees cat food, especially with such elevated fat levels and unknown carbohydrate and other minority constituents. Last time I looked, the first listed ingredient in most cat foods is corn.

So, keep in touch and let me know how the cat food diet works out for your bees.  Who knows?  It could catch on.

Well, I see my hives gained 1/4 pound each today.  Looks as if it is pretty well all over.  I have my bee blowers back and an extractor.  All I need is to figure out where to set up and how much to extract, if any.  My plan has been to use the honey for brood chambers next year, but I may have too much.

I was playing with Ubuntu today and found my installation on one of my machines did not have enough disk space to update itself.  I ran a disk re-sizer and moved the main partition.  Grub could not find it then, and so the restore function started up.  WTH, I thought and reinstalled Windows XP pro, saving my files.  Afterwards, I realised I could simply have found the Windows boot and restored it.  Oh, well, that installation was getting pretty flakey.

Monday September 28th, 2009
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I was on the road at daybreak and covered a lot of ground, driving almost to Saskatchewan, then back to Lethbridge.  The day was extremely windy, making the job difficult and covering everything with dust, but with the help of the beekeeper, I got it done, just as the day ended.

The scale hives appear to have lost two pounds each today.


Tuesday September 29th, 2009
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This is the last day of sampling, hopefully, and just in time.  I got my entire list done, plus several last-minute participants, except for the six yards which are planned for today.  The weather is promising to become cooler, and soon opening brood chambers and examining brood combs will be out of the question until it warms up again and the winds diminish.

I finished up and got home by 5.  I decided that the scale is acting up and took the pallet off and set it on the ground.  I started on the repair, but suppertime came up and I left the rest of the job for another day.  I have to replace some wood

Bert dropped over for supper.  Ruth came by, too.

Wednesday September 30th, 2009
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I went to town for an eye appointment and got the van washed and the oil changed.  I'm planning to order eyeglasses from www.greateyeglasses.com or one of the other online suppliers.  I must say the local  optometrist really does not like to lose business.  Although they did give me my prescription, reluctantly, they wanted to charge me $50 to measure the PD, which I can easily do myself.  This sort of pettiness, makes me want to take my business elsewhere.

They charge very high prices.  A basic pair of progressives with coatings would cost me a minimum of $365 and they tried to talk me up to $800 or so.  Also, I apparently now I cannot get glass lenses anymore, except in a very limited selection.  I like glass because I leave my glasses in the car and the plastic lenses craze in the heat.  I may have to go to Mexico.

I decided the scale was not working right and pulled the pallet off, then spent a few hours rebuilding the wooden parts of the scale.  I got the job done and put the hives back on just as darkness fell.  I seem to have misplaced a weight, though, so could not take a reading.  Seems this might be a critical time to track weights, with the frost causing big changes in the hive activity -- drones expelled, brood hatching, honey being moved down, etc. -- but I guess I'll miss a day or two.

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