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Unloading the hives

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Friday May 20th 2011

Click to visit May past: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

The Statue of Liberty -- a gift from FranceTwo years ago yesterday, I was sailing past the statue of Liberty on the way back to Canada form Sint Maartin via Bermuda on a 45-foor Jeanneau sailboat.

This morning, in Swalwell, I took the Toyota for a spin and the noise was gone.  I had topped up the tranny yesterday, and maybe that did the trick.  I added some conditioner this morning anyhow, then worried because the level was higher than recommended.  Apparently these newer tyrannies are quite fussy about their fluid levels. I had Ellen get some thin tubing in Drum later when she went for a haircut and I siphoned out the excess.  In doing so, I notice that the colour is quite dark.  Time for a change.  It seems that one cannot tell from the dipstick.  The oil on the dipstick looks just fine.  Since we are approaching 300,000 km, and maybe it has never been changed, perhaps it is time.  I'll have to get a filter and gasket.  I have the oil.

The screened bottom with varroa tray underSliding tray under a screened floor.I placed a screened bottom under a hive this morning and checked it after about eight hours.  I don't see any varroa on the oiled cardboard sheet, but I do see several wings, a leg, and some pollen, plus the usual wax debris from emerging brood. A picture of the cardboard is at left below.

The legs and especially the wings make me wonder.  Where did they come from?  Did I pinch a bee or two when moving frames and are the others removing them piece by piece?

The drop board after 8 hours.  No varroa yet.I'd like to have screens under all my hives, the way that Jean-Pierre Chapleau recommends, and be able to check and dose the hives with formic acid on the sliding drawer at any time without any fuss or bother.  Having an easy way to see the varroa and to treat without lifting boxes would have possibly have saved my hives last fall.

Below are some shots of frames from one of the hives.  the bees have really packed in the pollen, there are a few drone cells in each hive, and we can see that the brood has been hatching well.  There are new young larvae in some of the frames. As always, click on the thumbnails to see larger images.

A frame of brood and bees     A frame of fresh pollen

All these pictures are shot with my cell phone

Smoker box for bee smokersAt  right is a picture of one of my smoker boxes.  It is rain and fire proof, and contains two smokers, fuel, paper in a sealed can and lighters, plus several hive tools.

I managed to place the air diffuser in the pond and add the shade colour to the water.  The pump was balky and needed adjusting and the colour has not spread out as expected.  Turning the water over caused quite a stink, though.  That is the idea.  The rising bubbles move the colder, stale water to the surface where it is exposed to oxygen and that aids in purifying it.  In the process, the anaerobic bacteria on the bottom are replaced by aerobic bacteria which produce sweeter and cleaner water.

After supper, I went out and looked again at the drop board.  Still, there are no varroa there.  I don't know what Bob used for varroa control, I'll have to look, but it seems to have worked.  I did see four red ants on the drop board surface, though, and Juanse said on BEE-L that ants have been known to take the varroa away, so that could be happening here.  I noticed the bees were unfriendly today and being molested by ants can cause that sort of behaviour.  I may have to do something about the ants.

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Saturday May 21st 2011
One month until the summer solstice

Click to visit May past: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

Jean and Chris will be here later today.  They are testing out their tent trailer.

I have already received orders for some EPS boxes.  So far, we have not come up with a marketing plan, but will get moving on that and also figure out what the supply will be.  It takes time to make them and there is just one mold.

I suppose we need a name for them.  Any suggestions?  Meijer Box? Write me.

Looking out over the pond, showing the aerator bubbles and colourThe pond water near shoreI checked the pond this morning and the aerator is doing a fine job.  The air nearby stinks from the gasses being carried up by the air bubble columns.  The dye has dispersed and has rendered the water more opaque.  I'm disappointed in the colour, though.  Instead of a beautiful sky blue, so far the water is a muddy and unnatural-looking blue-green.

The water actually looks better in the photos than in real life.  Ellen says she figures the brown tint is from the mud being stirred up and circulated.  I hope so.   That is grass around the edge.  The pond came up high enough that it submerged some turf at the periphery.  You can see freshwater shrimp and water bugs around the edge, too.  The pond is teeming with life.

*   *   *   *   *

I have been taking most of my pictures using my LG Optimus One phone and my Galaxy Tab, but still have my Fuji FinePix XP-15.  I decided today to take a few shots with each for comparison. They are presented below with no editing other than that my editor reduced the file size for web presentation and all were adjusted to 1000 px width..  All three were shot from the same position.  Click on thumbnails for a larger image.  Each opens in a new tab so that you can compare.  I find all are adequate for illustration purposes, but that the phone came in last.

Shot with my LG Optimus One Shot with my Galaxy Tab Shot with the Fuji FinePix XP-15
Shot with my
LG Optimus One
Shot with my
Galaxy Tab
Shot with my
Fuji FinePix XP-15

With the close-ups of the drop board, I found I had to hold the cameras at different distances.  Interestingly, the FinePix had the most linear distortion.  Still, there are no mites, but I did see ants again and maybe they are carrying them off.

See all the pictures on one page here

*   *   *   *   *

Jean phoned and their daughter has a cold, so they won't be here today.  Maybe tomorrow.

I looked out over the pond and sure enough, there is a visible brown spot where the water boils up from the aerator.  Further away, a bluer colour is becoming evident. Before I started aerating, the water was fairly clear, but yellow.  Now it looks like murky dishwater and the whole pond smells like a swamp.

The idea behind adding the pond dye is to filter out the colours which encourage weed and algae growth while leaving the water attractive-looking.  Having clear water is nice, but encourages weed and algae growth which results in periodic oxygen depletion , making fish farming impossible.

I am told that the air column moves 4500 gallons per minute and can turn over the entire pond five times in one day.  It is not the air in the bubbles which adds the oxygen so much as the circulation which causes stale water from the bottom to the surface where it contacts the air.   Hopefully the murkiness and smell will end eventually as the goo gets oxidized and the water purifies from exposure to oxygen. I expect that this should take less than a week.

We can't get fish this year I am told.  Everyone is sold right out.  Even a few would be fun, though.

*   *   *   *   *

I looked at the activity around the pond edge and noticed the freshwater shrimp, which had been active yesterday were looking fewer and sluggish.  I have not heard any frogs lately, come to think of it, so I turned off the air for the rest of the day.  I think that the toxic bottom water is harming the pond denizens and will let things settle a bit.  I did read that in some cases, where there are fish that can be harmed, that one should just run the pump for a few minutes the first day, double that the second and so forth.  Maybe that applies here.  Anyhow, it has run for twelve hours straight and I'll give it a twelve-hour rest now.  I notice that the pump does not self-start well.  Could be the starter winding switch, so I may have to pull it apart and clean the contacts.

*   *   *   *   *

I'm making honey garlic chicken wings this afternoon.  We found a good deal on some frozen wings and decided to make our own.  They are half the price and much fresher. They turned out OK, but I think Ellen's were better.

*   *   *   *   *

I changed my mind about he pond.  I think the damage is done and so I might as well continue, so I started the pump again.  It did not hesitate this time.  maybe it was just sitting too long since I last used it and needed to run a bit.  It is a Gast oil-less diaphragm pump.

Ellen in the garden with Zippy(left) and Amos (right)

I then set out to find some ant poison, but got distracted and wound up tidying the yard, mowing grass, straightening the propane tank which was looking as if it might fall over, and taking down one of our bulk fuel tanks.  It turned out to have 100 gallons of diesel in it.  I doubt that anyone would want to burn it for motor fuel, so I imagine I'll inject it into the coal stoker and burn it.  I understand that old diesel can be polished up by fine filtering.  Boaters do it all the time.  100 gallons is worth about $500 these days.  I wonder...

Red ants in the grassI still need to find the ant poison.  I thought for a while that maybe I had set one hive right on an ant hill, but I moved it and watched the ants for a while and could not figure out where they were going.  I'm going to have to just kill them before they kill my bees.  Last time I looked, there were at least ten on the drop board.  I had oiled it, but it had only killed one ant.  The others were running around unaffected by the oil.

I saw a bumblebee today.  It was in a willow.  Honeybees were busy there, too.

Orams' Tent trailer - all the comforts of homeJean and family arrived at 5:30, set up their tent trailer.  We had supper and visited, then called it an early day.  Before I went to bed, I wandered by the beehives and hear a familiar hum.  Seems a flow is on.


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Sunday May 22nd 2011

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Showers are predicted for today (30% chance today and 60% chance tonight) with cool weather following later in the week.  It should be good weather for bees nonetheless with the nights staying well above freezing.

Air bubbles boil up from the bottom to circulate the stale pond water from the bottomI checked the pond and it is still cloudy. I had not aerated it for five years or more and I guess that there is a lot of bad water and black goo in the bottom.  There are some water bugs on the surface, but the circulation seems to have killed off the freshwater shrimp.  I don't see any along the edge.  The murkiness of the water makes it hard to see, though.   I'm told the frogs were loud last night, though, by those who slept near the pond.

The pond smells like a sewer now and the water has the sewer-like bluish murkiness.   I had no idea that it would get this bad better getting better. Standing several hundred feet downwind, the scent is unmistakable.  I'm guessing now that it will take a week to get right. We'll see.

I checked the hardness today and was surprised to see that it has more than doubled from 90 to 204 since I starred aeration.  That is interesting.  What is suggests to me is the the fresh runoff water layered over the old water in the pond and that I am now stirring it up.  The other possibility is that material in the sediment on the the bottom has come back into solution.  The pH was exactly seven when I started.  I don't know what it is now.  I guess I need to get a pH test kit.

*   *   *   *   *

According to www.gasBuddy.com, gas prices are still in the $1.20 range in Airdrie, ranging from $1.17 to $1.22.  That is US$4.75 per US gallon, BTW.

*   *   *   *   *

It rained fairly steadily most of the day and the grass is growing faster than we can cut it.   The bees are gathering pollen from trees and dandelions when the rain stops for a while.

*   *   *   *   *

Jean and family left in late afternoon, having successfully tested out their tent trailer.

*   *   *   *   *

I checked the drop board again this afternoon and found ten or more red ants on the paper and as many or more under it.  Enough is enough.  Not only are they harassing the hives, but I assume that they are carrying off  the varroa I want to count.

I went to the shed and found some ant poison.  What I found was of a type no longer sold due to the harm it was doing to birds -- diazinon -- but it works and I have it and I will be careful how I use it.   As much as I hate to kill off any ant colony, I can't think what else to do.  There are workarounds, but I don't have the time or ambition to set the hives on stilts right now.  Call me lazy, I guess.

Ants are quite useful and also very interesting and may well have as much right as I have to that piece of pasture,  but it is only human to kill them anyways when they annoy or get in our way.  Even the most pacifist vegan animal rights people live on land from which insects and animals were dispossessed and travel on roads which usurp animal habitat.  Their food is raised on ground from which competing critters are excluded or on which they are destroyed.  I wonder how many other critters wonder about this as they go about their daily business displacing other critters.

I was in California last August at Jonathan's place in Laguna Beach.  He lives on the ground floor and his flat was besieged by tiny brown ants.  It was impossible to keep them out of the kitchen.  We tried various things, but the only respite was when the authority laid down a poison outside. 

Our trees are leafing out todayOn a previous visit, a rat had wondered in and stayed a few days before we noticed and I let it out.  This is no slum.  It is one of the nicest communities in the area.  It's a jungle out there!  We compete constantly for our food, our space and our comfort, not only with other people, but insects, plants and animals.

The trees partly leafed out today.

Three Mitegone pads attached to an outer frameThis evening, I decided to finish watching Bill Ruzicka's DVD.  I watched quite a bit of this epic presentation a few weeks ago, but it is long and I'm not much of a movie watcher. I have a short attention span and am as likely to walk away halfway through as I am to watch a film to the end.

Added to that, this movie is not exactly a gripper. It it is, however, IMO, a must to watch for many who are contemplating using formic in any form. I received it by mail, but wonder if he has uploaded it or will upload it to YouTube, where everyone can watch on demand. Many of us hate to see DVDs because newer computers often do not have a drive to accept them. That medium is obsolete.

The film covers Bill's operation, then formic acid from A to Z. In watching, I was reminded of the various formic dispensers I bought and examined over the years and which we discussed on BEE-L as he showed the various European inventions.

I'm inclined to think I might give Bill's method a try. We'll see. I have not reached the end of the film yet. It looks as if I have at least a half-hour to go. Also, the window for spring treatment he recommends has passed. Maybe here in Alberta it is later. Don't know.

Dropbox - Free file sync and off-site backupI use the Dropbox free storage and synchronization service many times a day and have for years now, without a hitch. 

My Dropbox folder is a normal documents folder I create once on each computer that I own and use for important files I need to access everywhere.  Any time I am connected to the Internet, Dropbox automatically and silently syncs my important files between all my various computers.  Any file I create or change on any of my four active computers appears also on my other computers -- and my phone as well as my Galaxy Tab -- assuming I do put that particular file into my Dropbox folder.  Since I have limited bandwidth and limited Dropbox storage, I don't do that with all my files, but I do that with all the files I use often and my photos.

Putting files into Dropbox also provides me with a free automatic, secure off-site backup.  In addition, I can access my files from any computer if I know my username and password.

I started with 2 GB free storage, but recommended Dropbox to a few people and received additional free storage from Dropbox for doing so.  I'm have3GB at present and have used 2.72 GB, so I am now reaching my free limit. and it occurs to me to recommend it here to get some more.  I could pay the $9.99 per month for paid service, but that gives me 50 GB and that is far more than I could ever use since my ISP charges  me $5 per GB  beyond my basic quota of bandwidth.  A few more free GB would keep me happy for quite a while.  My present allotment has been fine for the last several years.

Synching files between machines on a local wired or wi-fi network does not use much bandwidth, though, since Dropbox used the local network for most of the transfer, but each file added uses the Internet for upload once.  Changes to files are accomplished by a 'patch' method and only the changes are transferred in updating large files.

You might find Dropbox essential, too, if you have not already discovered it.   Check Dropbox out and sign up if you like by clicking here.  Try it out with a few files to see what you think.  If you do sign up, at no risk or obligation, you get a free 2GB account to experiment with and when you use any of the links here, I should automatically get another free 1/4 GB added to my quota, regardless whether you decide to keep using Dropbox. 

I'm sure you will find Dropbox indispensible, though, and everybody wins.

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Monday May 23rd 2011

Click to visit May past: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

Today Rain. Amount 10 to 15 mm. High 16. Tonight Showers. Low 8.

Being a long weekend, of course it is raining steadily.  I think Jean and family made a good decision.  They would be snug in their tent trailer, but it is damp and dark out.  They'll be happier at home.

My bees will be spending time indoors today, hopefully turning the nectar and pollen they gathered into brood.  I hope I dealt with the ants.  I'll check today and I also should give each hive a frame feeder with thick syrup.

Another indispensible synching programme I use is Evernote.  Evernote is free for most sorts of use, but I bit the bullet and pay about $40/yr for the premium service since it adds a few features that make it more useful on my Galaxy Tab and my Android phone.   Just as with Dropbox, I have this software on all my devices.  (One premium fee covers them all and there is no need to pay unless the added features are required.).

Evernote does not give me anything for plugging it here, but I figure people might like to know about it.

Both the above apps have a sharing feature which allows the owner to share selected items with people by giving them URLs, while preserving the privacy of the rest of the folder contents.  Here's and example using Evernote and an example using using Dropbox.  The Evernote link is to a screen clip of my Internet data usage.  I take a snapshot periodically using Evernote.   Evernote does easy screen clips and web page saves.

Oh, yes.  Both keep old copies of files and they can be restored later if accidentally deleted or overwritten (Previous copies is a premium feature for Evernote).

While I'm on the subject of free software, here is another "must have' programme. 

"Everything" is a lightning-fast local search that works on Windows computers with NTFS drives.  This programme will find files that other searches cannot find, and do it in an instant.  It piggybacks on a native windows NTFS feature.   And it is completely free! More details...

Some of the Usual Suspects appeared for supper.  We had a good visit and that was the end of rainy, rainy day.

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Tuesday May 24th 2011

Click to visit May past: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

Today Cloudy with 40 percent chance of rain or drizzle. High 12. UV index 3 or moderate. Tonight Cloudy. Low 6.

Wednesday Cloudy. 60 percent chance of showers in the afternoon and evening. Wind becoming southeast 20 km/h in the afternoon. High 15.

Thursday Showers. Low 8. High 14.

The grass is growing and is too wet to cut.  By the time we can cut it, it will be too long to cut without leaving clumps of cuttings everywhere.  Will we get some bee weather off and on during this rainy spell?  I hope so, but will have to make sure they have enough feed today.

Around noon, I went out and went through five of the ten hives.  They look good. The bees in all hives are well spread out and there are lots of drones and some drone brood.  One hive has cups along a bottom bar.  All have bees in the bottom box, out to the walls, I can see from looking down.

The brood is not in a tight area, but spread over six to eight frames in the top box, some of which are now quite free of brood and filled with pollen and nectar.  There are not a lot of eggs in the centre where young bees have recently emerged.  Being wrapped, the hives are very warm, but there is not so much feed that queens would be driven down by lack of space. There are many empty cells up top available for brood.  I had expected to see more young brood and it is obvious these queens can lay up lots of brood by the large area of sealed brood, but queens often cut back in rainy weather.  I did not remove the wraps to see if the queen is down below in some hives and I did not spot any in the top.  Could be they are down below.  I wonder.  They tend to run from smoke.

All hives so far look to be good for at least a week, I'd say, without needing more feed.  There is a ring of open honey around the brood and a bit of capped honey in the corners and outside frames.

We had noticed that one hive showed some mummies on the entrance when we were loading, and it does have a touch of chalkbrood in the sealed brood, but nothing severe. 

I notice these bees are yellower than the ones I have become accustomed to.  They are reasonably gentle and I worked them with a whiff of smoke and no veil.  I got one little sting.

Randy's Kitchen Sink Formula gone hard on top barsSome hives still have pollen supplement on them and it seems the bees are unable to eat it, as it has hardened to where they cannot chip it loose.  The middle is still a bit soft, so I left it on.  I'm told that Bob sourced all the components for Randy's Kitchen Sink recipe and this is it. I don't know how well the bees do on it, but I do see that if it hardens, they cannot use it.  I never had that problem with my own formulation, the one that Global continues to use.

The fondant also has dried to the point where the bees cannot do much with it.  I see the paper at the entrances and some of the crumbs as well.  It seems that in dry regions like ours, fondant needs to be fed in plastic bags with slits.  That might work for this particular pollen supplement, too.

Looking down on one of my hives.  Randy's Kitchen Sink and fondant has gone hard.Looking at the amount of burr comb and considering that these are nucs dropped into a standard box a while back, I have to wonder where all the bees went.  They must have been crowded at some point in time to make the burr comb I see.   Of course, when there is an intense flow -- as there must have been to get burr comb on the outside combs and above the frames like this --  a small hive looks much bigger than in a dearth like we get during a rain.  I'll go out and look through the rest in a while.

*    *    *   *    *

I went out again and looked through the final five and found one which is getting very short of stores. That could be another reason some queens are not laying flat-out.  Conservative queens cut back as feed gets low.  This one was laying liberally, and that could be why they are short on feed compared to the others.  I'm going to have to feed.

No varroa on this drop board -- yetI also checked the drop board and saw no ants.  I don't know if the rain is keeping them in or if the ant poison did the job.  I didn't see any ants under lids and above inner covers or pillows like the other day.  Click the green paper at right to see some of the debris on the drop board.  I see no varroa at all!

Below are some shots of the best hives.  I unwrapped several to look in the bottom boxes.   There is no brood in any bottom box that I could see.

A nice frame of brood   Looking into one of the better hives   A nice frame of brood

Speaking of unwrapping, bottom boxes, feeding, etc.  I have a problem: I bought ten hives in standard wood boxes.  They are low on feed and are wrapped against the cold weather.  I have plenty of good frames full of feed in EPS boxes that are not in use.  Those boxes, however, were occupied by colonies which died last fall and winter.  Some have a bit of capped brood but no dead bees.  Some have a small dead cluster.

*    *   *   *   *   *

At some point, I am going to have to use my existing equipment for splitting, supering and -- eventually -- wintering.  I do not have enough newly purchased equipment for more than a month or two, so at some point, I will have to use my deadouts.  We had been hoping to put them through some sort of fumigation, but it is turning out that ozone may be hard on paint and on EPS, not to mention Pierco frames, so that project may not go ahead.  I don't have another plan.  It seems that I will not be fumigating this year.

So, I decided to go through the dead hives and set aside the frames on which the brood and clusters died, for the time being, and make up clean brood chambers from the rest of the frames, just to see what I have.  My intention at this point is to transfer the live hives to EPS and feed with full frames of honey, plus some syrup.   This idea is based on the assumption, reinforced by discussions with some researchers and others that viruses do not last long outside their hosts and that nosema spores are quite fragile as well.

Inasmuch as I don't really know what killed my bees, but suspect whatever it was, it was enabled by varroa and perhaps tracheal mites, I am gambling that by being more diligent in watching for mites, treating with formic, and watching for nosema, that I may be able to get away with using the equipment as-is.  If not, I may just demonstrate that  whatever it is that killed my bees last year, is persistent in dead-out combs.

When I think about the logistics, I know have 100 BeeMax boxes, plus all my wood ones.  (I'll have to dig out the exact numbers, but I do know that I have 100 new BeeMax, plus some older ones and that is all I need to know for this year).  Anyhow, going with just that figure and dividing by the ten hives I have, that gives 10 EPS boxes per hive.  I plan to split each hive into three or four and have promised to sell a hive, so if I figure on 9x3, I get 27 hives in fall.  I figure to split twice, but some splits fail, so I'll wind up with 3x, rather than 4x.  That gives roughly 4 EPS boxes per hive for winter, if it all works out this time.

*    *   *   *   *   *

So, my next plan of action is to empty 20 EPS boxes of combs and set up 10 more with good, clean brood combs (with no dead brood).

Then I'll set the boxes with feed on floors behind the current live hives.

I'll then put an empty EPS box on top of each and transfer frames from the lower box of the hive in front into the empty.

Last, I'll add another empty EPS box, transfer the remaining combs from the top box of the hive into it, and put on the lid.

The result will be that the colonies will now be in EPS instead of wood, and sitting in three boxes instead of two, just behind where they were.

The lowest box will hold combs full of honey and pollen which the bees will naturally want to move up through the hive.  This upward movement of feed is stimulating and guarantees plenty of food for a while, plus it provides room for expansion until I split.

Further, at that time, the comb in that box will have been occupied for a while, rather than sitting in storage.  Splits always do better on comb that has been occupied by bees recently than comb from storage.  Adding a box under the hive also gets the cluster further off the ground, which is good.

*    *   *   *   *   *

This year I have more free time in the spring than some years.  I have not been inspecting, am not going cruising in the San Juans and don't have to rush down to open the cottage. I plan on heading east in a week or two for a while, but other than that, I have no plans. I'll have to be around from time to time over the summer to split and care for the bees.

I got tired of the brown pond and added some Aquashade this evening.  It seemed to help, but I'm not sure.  The aerator has been active since the 20th, now, so this is Day 5 of pond aeration..

Numbering days is confusing, since people may choose different days for Day 1.  This is especially apparent when discussing queen emergence.  I say that there is no Day 0, so the Day when the activity starts is Day 1, but others count the first day after as Day 1.

Which is correct?

I see the ducks are back, so maybe the water is getting cleaner.  They were gone for a few days, but I am not sure that aerating the pond drove them off.  They were nesting and quacking loudly for a while a week or two back, then the noise stopped.  Maybe something got their nest.  We threw Amos out of the house and barred him from entry for marking things a little over a week ago and maybe he is haunting more actively, or maybe the foxes got the nest.   Dunno.

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Wednesday May 25th 2011
Seven more months until Christmas

Click to visit May past: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

Today Showers. High 12. Tonight A few showers ending near midnight then cloudy with 40 percent chance of showers. Low 8.

Thursday Showers. Amount 5 mm. Wind becoming east 20 km/h early in the evening. High 16.

Friday Periods of rain. Low 7. High 16.

Saturday Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 6. High 16.

Sunday A mix of sun and cloud with 30 percent chance of showers. Low plus 5. High 16.

This is Day 6 of pond aeration and Day 8 for the bees since arrival.May 25 2009: Cruising up the Seneca River on the  New York State Canal System

On May 25 2009, I was cruising up the Seneca River on the New York State Canal System on Compass Rose X (right)

The bees should be settled by now and the pond is clearing slowly.  As I mentioned, the ducks are back, but I don't know if the aeration drove them off.

The best we can say about this weather is that the nights are not too cold.  The days, unfortunately are not very warm, but the hives are wrapped and heat is being conserved, so the clusters should be able to cover most of the hive interiors. 

Young bees are hatching and that increases the colony bee mass, since older bees are not flying, getting worn out and dying.  Those two factors add up to pent-up foraging and brood-rearing power in the colonies that will be released when the weather is right.

My main concern is to feed ASAP, and I have some boxes ready.  If we get a break in the steady rain today, I'll get out and get them under the hives.  I may even put on my rain clothes.

*   *   *   *   *

Two hives done, seven to go...A simple hive standI went out around noon when the rain let up and and transferred the two east-end hives.  They both proved to have brood well down into the second box, plus plenty of bees.  They can very well use the third box, and the feed, even though they will not occupy the bottom box right away.

I dug out some old hives stands (left) I had picked up in buying some hives a while back.  They are simple and keep the hives level and off the ground.  In recent years, I have used four-way pallets, but am finding them less than handy for hobby use..

It pays to give boxes earlier than it appears necessary in the spring, since the colony will seemingly double in size overnight of there is strong flow.  Additionally, a frame of sealed brood will produce enough bees to cover several frames on emergence if the weather is warm.  They need a place to stand or the colony will start dreaming of moving to a new home somewhere in a tree or in the siding of someone's house.

Placing boxes below the hive in unsettled weather guarantees that the space is there, but that the bees can still conserve heat above. If there is honey on hand and the colony is light, a solid box of honey will provide feed for them.  They will get down and bring up what they need on warm days.  As they transport the feed up and place it above their brood, that forces the queen down and produces brood in the lower boxes.  

When there is brood in all stages in two or three boxes, splitting becomes simple.  The beekeeper can simply confirm that fact, then separate the boxes into new hives on new floor, or even on the same stand using plastic sheets or inner covers between, and add a queen or cell to the queenless portions.  Of course, if there are no auger holes for entrances, an entrance must be provided for each separate cluster after spearing them.

A variation on this is to simply let the queenless sections raise their own queens.  This a bad idea if there is no flow and the hives are weak or the weather bad, but works about as well as anything if done around the same time that the bees would pick for swarming.  That is late May, June and most of July here in Alberta.

  • Left to themselves, most such splits will have a laying queen in about three weeks.  (See here). Remember that the bees will choose a one or two-day-old larva after they discover they are queenless. That can take a day, so take 3 or 4 days off the 16 days required for development, then allow a week to ten days for mating, or more if the weather is poor.

  • Using ripe queen cells (about to hatch), can take about twelve days of the process, providing a laying queen in a week or ten days, or more if the weather is poor.

  • Introducing a mated queen or be difficult if the weather is poor, and can take almost that long, so the advantage is not very great in terms of time.  The main advantage of mated queens s that they are produced from selected stock.  The main disadvantage is that they are costly, sometimes not available,  and they may also be rejected by the bees or superseded within a short time after being accepted. (Table courtesy Wikipedia).

  • I see I went through all this last year in Early May 2010.

The hives could even have a fourth box added under for that matter, I suppose, but I plan to do some splitting soon and that could be cumbersome.  If I don't split, these hives will swarm.  Guaranteed.

In fact, I have a split promised for tomorrow.  It is a bit earlier than I find convenient, since I have no queens here and will have to give one of these up, but there seems to be some pressure to get them delivered, and a promise is a promise.  When the weather is bad, deadlines are hard to meet and can result in compromises.

Beekeepers expect queens delivered on-time regardless of whether the producer has good weather or bad and regardless of what else intervenes.  If they pressure suppliers, they often get results that do not please them.  Patience pays off and is appreciated by those trying to produce.  It also pays for buyers to have a Plan B.

Agriculture is weather-dependant.  Farmers know that and they also know that no matter how promising things may look, that until the crop is in the bin, they have nothing.  They could lose it to wind, rot, disease or even fire at the last minute.  Queen breeders can do everything right, then get bad mating weather and have to discard a batch -- or ship them poorly-mated anyhow, if people insist.  City folks expect things to run like trains and transit and store openings and closings.  Nature does not work that way.

Broken EPS BoxTransferring in the mist on wet ground is not ideal, but I got the job done without doing much damage.  I don't see a better chance coming soon, and I don't want them to get anywhere near starvation.

Detail of the broken surface of the EPS box showing the high densityIn maneuvering around, I managed to break the new EPS sample box by catching it under the forklift.  It stood up quite well and I am thinking it will glue back together nicely.  I doubt that a wood box would have stood up any better.  It is obvious, too, by looking at the broken section how dense this is compared to the BeeMax boxes.

*   *   *   *   *

As I drive by the downwind end of the pond, I notice  that there is still a slight swamp smell, but nothing like when I first began aerating.  The aeration is working, and it seems that the advice that aeration takes a week or more to get the water cleaned up was correct.

*   *   *   *   *

Randy's Kitchen Sink on the hive floor I mentioned that Bob made up 'Randy's Kitchen Sink' pollen supplement formula and fed it to the bees I bought from him, and that I had found what was left of it was so hardened on the top bars that the bees could not do anything with it.  Today I stripped the hives down to the floors and found that there is quite a bit of what looks like the supplement on some floors (right).  I had also noticed some dusty-looking debris outside along with shredded paper -- from the fondant, I assume.

I've been tired the past few days, but managed to finish the job of moving the hives into EPS boxes and adding feed.  It was a fairly big job and went well until my smoker quit. I didn't realize it at first, since ash came out and looked like smoke.  It did not calm the bees, though, and my wrists got a good stinging.

On damp days, the fuel in a burning smoker gets damp and either the smoker has to be packed loosely so it burns freely, or must be used steadily, or it will go out.  Mine had been packed loosely and burned nicely down to an ash while I was busy elsewhere.

Four hives, now transferred into EPS boxes, with a box of feed underneath.  I see one box is missing an auger hole.

I'm exhausted tonight, but enjoying the damp weather and the view out over the pond.  Two Canada geese stopped by for a while and a drake is cruising the pond.  They don't seem to know what to think of the vigorous boiling up of air from the bottom.  The surface colour is getting bluer.

*   *   *   *   *

We live near the Edmonton/Calgary CN Rail line.  If the number and length of trains is any indication of anything, the economy in this region has been pretty hot.  Whereas we had three trains a day at one time, it seems that there is a train every hour or two all night lately. My wife commented that the trains she has watched must be two or three miles long.

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Thursday May 26th 2011
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Today Cloudy. 40 percent chance of showers early this morning. Rain beginning this morning. Wind east 20 km/h gusting to 40. High 14.  Tonight Rain. Amount 10 to 15 mm. Wind east 20 km/h gusting to 40 becoming light near midnight. Low 8. My hives, viewed from the north

Friday Rain ending near noon then cloudy with 30 percent chance of showers. Wind east 20 km/h becoming light in the afternoon. High 13.

Saturday A mix of sun and cloud. Low plus 4. High 19.

Sunday Sunny. Low plus 4. High 18.

I was up early, considering I am feeling a bit under the weather and helped the buyer load up the split and some boxes.  A while later, I drove top town to do some banking and shopping, then returned home.  I was amused that at the local bank, I was asked for ID.  That was a first.  I've lived here for 43 years.

I'm like a new beekeeper hobbyist and can't keep from looking at the hives.  I don't want to open them today; I disturbed them enough yesterday., but I wandered out to look at them and take a few pictures.

The bees have tired of the rain and are flying anyhow.  They don't seem to be bring anything in, though. I pulled the drop board to take a glance.  Still no sign of any varroa  (right).  Amazing!

I notice that one hive is occupying the bottom box and that there is a lot of the kitchen sink supplement being still hauled out the door of that hive.  I don't imagine that there are a lot of bees down there, but they are at the entrances.

I plugged some of the auger holes and not others.  Why?  No particular reason.  I'll have to get some system going.

I decided to read back over some of Early May 2010 and I see I am far behind where I was last year.  Right now, I am just at the point where I think that splitting might be possible in the coming week.

I note that on the 31st of May last year, I wrote:

I've been away since the 17th and last worked the bees on the 15th. At that time, I wrote: "If I had queens or cells, I could split more now, but it would be stretching things. In two weeks, the weather will be more settled and maybe I can get another 40 splits...", so I expected to find the hives exploding and healthy.

Instead, I found four hives dead or dwindled and several with virgins. Quite a few were light and one or two appeared to have starved. These duds were mostly laggard hives which I had been babying, which goes to show that getting rid of the weak ones and not wasting effort on them makes sense, but some decent splits were lighter than I like and many queens in good hives had shut down for the past week or more. This behaviour has been typical of the Kona black queens for as long as I have used them and that is decades. I also spotted more varroa mites in several hives than I like to see. (emphasis added)

Hmmm.  That last little detail seems to somehow have slipped my mind, since I left for eh east shortly after, and that forgetfulness cost me dearly later, when I lost the entire yard of bees in fall and winter.

Seems I split too early for some of the hives and did not provide enough feed for others.  Some of the queens also did not -- for whatever reason -- take.  That is the problem with buying mated queens at $20 a pop.

These laggard hives I babied were also one I suspected of being the source of whatever virus may have swept through the yard, abetted by varroa and perhaps tracheal mites.  In hindsight, I should have used formic.

Five hives, however, were strong enough to split again! Of those five, three were in (BeeMax) boxes, and all the hives in (BeeMax) and Swienty boxes looked good. In a spring like this, the styrofoam makes a difference. I have not seen this obvious a difference in previous years, before I drilled the auger holes. (Last summer, I drilled a 1" hole in every Styrofoam box and I left them open all winter, even on hives with four boxes). In the past, these hives lagged the wooden hives initially in spring, but caught up later. With auger holes, though, they are far ahead of most of the wooden hives all spring and yield twice as many splits.

After that, I ordered 100 BeeMax boxes on the strength of that observation.  Now, a year later, I have found them them too weak and a problem to keep in one piece.   Now, a year later, Meijers have ordered a mold and had some far better boxes made for roughly the same money.  They did have to invest $15,000 in the mold, though.  Now, a year later, I have already broken the first one!  It took a forklift over it to do the job, though, and it looks to be repairable.

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 Friday May 27th 2011
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Today Rain. Risk of a thunderstorm this afternoon. Amount 5 mm. Wind east 20 km/h. High 12.   Tonight Showers ending this evening then cloudy periods. Risk of a thunderstorm early this evening. Low plus 5.

Saturday Sunny with cloudy periods. Wind becoming north 20 km/h early in the evening. High 17.

Sunday Sunny. Low plus 3. High 19.

If we have a bit of luck, and the forecast is correct, tomorrow will be sunny.  The bees are ready to get out and visit the dandelions which are blooming everywhere.  The willows are leafing out, and fruit bloom should be on within a week or two at the most.

I have a meeting in Calgary tonight, but this morning, the radio is reporting street flooding in the city.  Every year, the underpasses fill with water and somebody drives into one and drowns the vehicle.  No such reports this year -- yet.

On this day in 2009, we were tied up in North Tonawanda on Compass Rose X after raising the mast, and about to head up the Niagara River to lake Erie.

Now, I have to decide how to spend the next week until I leave for Ontario.  I have some cleanup to do and I have to decide how to split the hives.  I should be able to split them all before I leave to increase numbers and to prevent swarming.   also want to make sure I do not produce any honey.  My boxes and frames are already quite full of feed.

I have number of options, as discussed above: mated queens, cells, and walk-away.

Of the three, walk-away is the simplest and has served me the best over time in terms of ease and reliability versus time and money spent.  It  may not provide the best use of the season and resources, but it is easy and fast and seldom fails.

I have always had variable luck with mated queens.  When it works right, it is excellent, but oftentimes in spring I have had queens rejected or superseded immediately or slow laying.  The cost is $20 per queen and maybe $40 per successful queen.  On the other hand, walk-away queens are free.

The middle course is to raise some queen cells to insert into the splits.  That takes 12 days to do right.  I don't have 12 days at this point.  The weather has run me out of time.

I wonder if my friends have 18 extra cells?  Then I could do walk-ways with backup cells in each half.  That gives the old queen a supercedure cell the bees can accept or not according to their needs and an early-hatching queen in the queenless portion which will likely be backed up by some cells the bees build themselves, if I do this right and wait a day after the splitting before inserting the cells.

In this case, all I have to do is go through the hives quickly today or tomorrow and make sure that the brood and feed is distributed evenly in the top and second boxes and between hives, and prepare another bottom box for the splits, since I would like to leave all the hives in doubles, as I always do -- new box on the bottom.

I could actually do a walk-away split today if they are ready, since they will not drift, having been confined now for three days.

The only problem is that I am planning to go to Calgary today.  Hmmmm.

I also wonder if they are all up to strength.  I like to have bees covering the bottom bars of at least six frames in the second box from the top before splitting, observed at noon on a 20 degree day.  I suppose that is easy enough to check, with some allowances made for the cool weather.

I can get all, the queens I want I am told, so I have to decide.  I may take a chance and take what is offered.  The bees I have are quite yellow and have the large, spread out Italian brood nest, very different from the dark bees I had collected previously.   I like Italians, personally since they tend to look better in spring, but they will run themselves out of feed in a heartbeat.

In late afternoon, I drove to Calgary for the FACS meeting and listened to three ladies all over 65, who sailed their 36 foot Beneteau around Vancouver Island and are now planning a trip up to Haida Gwaii. It was worth the drive.  I bought a few groceries and some EPS glue along the way and returned around 11.

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 Saturday May 28th 2011

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Today A mix of sun and cloud. Clearing near noon. Wind becoming north 20 km/h gusting to 40 near noon. High 17. UV index 6 or high.

Tonight Clear. Wind north 20 km/h gusting to 40 becoming light this evening. Low plus 1 with risk of frost.

Some might wonder why I am so interested in the weather right now, and not so much at other times, and why, since it looks sunny today, why I bother including the text of the forecast.

The answer is simple:  Weather is everything for bees in spring.  It determines what they can and cannot do, and if the bees will thrive and be able to forage, or starve and be slow and sickly.  There are two things of interest in the text today: strong wind from the north and possible frost tonight.  Either one can reduce foraging and also challenge the bees to maintain brood temperature throughout the brood area. 

Wind , if allowed to cause draughts in the hives, can cause bees to reduce their cluster diameter and potentially strand outlying brood, then make them think twice about expanding back out to the outer combs for a while.  I want to mitigate both of these threats by making sure the hives are sealed against cold draughts.

This year, my yard is well-sheltered from the east and north, but open to the north and northwest, so a strong north wind is of interest.  I did put plugs in the north-facing auger holes yesterday, but otherwise, the winds would be blowing right through.  I have holes front and back in every brood box, and am wise to plug one or the other, front or back, and be consistent for all boxes in a stack.Two hives done, seven to go...

If all the holes are in one face of the hive and the other three faces are airtight, wind cannot blow through regardless of area. Wind can create pressure inside, and air movement right at the hole, but not exit the back.  On the other hand, if there are holes in the other faces, including cracks between the floor, the boxes and the lid, wind can just blow in and right through.  Depending on temperature and colony size and state, the bees may or may not be driven back and be unable to control that breeze -- or locate where it does not matter.

That is one reason even thin winter wraps are so effective. If properly designed and installed on the hive, they prevent uncontrolled airflow through hives.  (Some airflow is essential to controlling moisture, and limiting ice formation inside the hive -- and especially above the cluster.)

The above is also a reason I have always wondered about four-pack wraps as they are used here in Alberta, since they allow air to blow in one side of the pack and out the other if top entrances are used. I have wondered if a vertical sheet of plastic between the two front and two back hives would reduce that wind penetration effect on cold windy days and preserve the cluster heat better.

People not to think of one-off events, like a hive being packed full of drifting snow by wind.  The conditions for that to happen are rare, but this can happen.  It only has to happen once during a winter for clusters to be killed. Even if they are not killed, they will definitely be damp when the snow melts.  I suspect this happens more often than many realize.

Any such event only has to happen once to kill otherwise perfectly prepared colonies and leave beekeepers puzzled.

Medhat was saying that there was a problem this year with the type of wrap that many beekeepers have been using with pipe entrances on top.  That method has been successful over many years, but may be vulnerable under certain conditions which only occur occasionally.

I also am using the wooden inner covers that came with the hives.  Rigid wood covers leave small cracks where they sit on the hive until the bees seal them, and I have been working the hives recently.  These cracks extend around the hive and if we take a 1/16" (tiny) crack and multiply that by its total length (16 +20 + 16 +20 = 64" approx), we see an opening area of 64/16 = 4 square inches!  That compares in some ways to a 2"x2" leak, and that leak extends all around the top of the hive, letting the wind in -- and the warm air out!.  These inner covers also have a vent that may be counter-productive at this point where maintaining heat and humidity is essential.

At any rate, I am wondering if I need to use pillows instead, since they seal better and leave less open space above the frames.  Each method has its good points, and I have to confess liking these centre-vented inner covers, but I wonder about them in a windy. cool spring.  I want as much heat in the hive as I can conserve, and I want it down in the brood, not leaking out above the frames.

EPS boxes tend to seal well where meet one another and against wood surfaces, since they are very slightly soft and, unlike wood, usually do not leave open cracks.  EPS boxes also precision-molded and, unless wrecked by careless hive tool use or other damage, fit against one another perfectly.  I'll be looking for cracks this morning.

Applying Weldbond to the breaksClamps are awkward and slow, and leave marks on the boxesRepairing EPS bee boxes: I decided to try gluing the broken EPS box, so I got out the glue.  I have some PL300, which is what was recommended by the plastic manufacturer, but chose to use Weldbond

I think Weldbond should work fine.  Weldbond is water based and easy to clean up.  It is also white in colour.  I'm afraid the job I did was a bit messy since I wanted to be sure I used enough, and as result had some squeeze out when I clamped the box.  I have used Weldbond once before on BeeMax boxes and the repair has lasted.  In fact, I have no idea where those boxes are or which ones they are.

The glue I purchased specially to assemble the BeeMax boxes last summer did not hold well at all, and they are popping open if I pry on them at all.

A corner screwed straight and tightThe countersunk head of a toenailed screw closing a jointI started off by using clamps, but discovered they leave marks and aligning the pieces can be difficult.  Another aspect of that is that once one box is done, nothing more can be done until it dries and the clamps are freed-up.  That limits box-fixing session where a number of boxes can be fixed at once.  Alignment can also be difficult and cumbersome with clamps and only two hands.

Well, I bought ten hives to replace the ones I lost. After a week, I noticed they needed feed badly and decided also that I need to get my my existing equipment into service.

I went through my deadouts and selected boxes that were full of feed and did not have any abandoned brood or dead bees and placed one under each hive. I transferred the frames from each hive into empty but used EPS boxes, I transferred the frames in the same order and orientation that I found them and reassembled the hives so that the colony was the same as before, except in different boxes (EPS with auger holes in place of wood with no holes) and above a full box of feed which they did not have before..

That was two days ago and done quickly and carefully on a rainy day between showers and with very few bees dropped or crushed. We have had cool, rainy weather until today, and the bees have been confined since the transfer.

Today I went out to examine the hives and immediately noticed small groups of sluggish young bees in front of each hive and crawlers, also apparently young, in the grass crawling away from the hives.

This was quite a surprise. I had said on examining the hives, that my losses looked just as if the bees had been poisoned. This makes me wonder. I don't know how it could have happened.

The other explanation is a virus, but I would be surprised if one could come on so fast. My mite drops on one of these hives has so far shown zero! mites over almost a week. The hives have a full box of brood and a partial second box of brood and bees.

I'm wondering what to do next.

Click here for more pictures

Joe had suggested using screws and I have an assortment of drywall screws, so I tried them.  I found that they drive into this dense EPS as well as into wood and that I can angle (toenail) them to get a better-aligned and tighter joint.  I drove them in easily and quickly with a cordless drill.

The finished surface after scraping off the excess glueA joint held by glue and drywall screws.Screws clamp tighter and straighter than clamps.  Cheapskates can recover the screws after the glue sets.

Here are some shots of the finished surfaces after I scraped off the excess glue with a hive tool. Click the thumbnails for an enlarged view.

After I fixed the box, I went out to work on the hives and saw something that caused me to immediately post to BEE-L for comment: See the sidebar at right.

Here are the drills I use for auger holes.  The yellow things are the plugs.  There are several sizes or burr shown, but only the 1" burr makes a hole that the yellow plugs fit.  A wood block held behind the hole while drilling helps make a cleaner hole.

When I was in town yesterday, I bought a decoy to replace the dye bottle that I was using as a buoy for retrieving the bubbler. 

I figure a duck is more amusing. It also has a keel and an attachment at the front, so if there is a breeze, it will always face the  wind.  That is a useful indicator. when we are planning the day.  I could have bought a goose decoy, but we really do not want Canada Geese in the yard since they make such a mess.  Besides goose decoys cost more money.

I went out and things in the bee yard looked much better.  Instead of more weak and crawling bees, I saw fewer The wave had passed.  I also saw a lot of ants in the grass.  The question of whether my ant poison has somehow affected the bees crossed my mind, but was soon dismissed.  I am very careful when using it to make sure the bees will not contact it or event he fumes if any.

Having decided that the problem -- if any -- was not a s severe as I had feared, I went through all the hives and reversed the top boxes to make sure they are ready for splitting soon.  I took some samples for Medhat to check as well, but things looked pretty normal.  I think I'll proceed as planned.

At right is the line-up as it looks now.  Two bricks on edge indicate "Ready to Split -- Two boxes full of brood", One brick up means one box is ready, but the second is still only partial. No bricks on edge means only one box with brood so far.  Five hives can be split right now and four need to wait. I wonder when to do the splits and how to place them.

I would like to place each split on top of a box of feed.  That makes splitting on top of the parent hive a bit awkward.  That suggests spitting beside the parent hive on a new floor, so I have to see if there is room on the stand, or place some of the splits on the ground.

There is no rush to split.  The hives will just get stronger and make better splits when I am ready. The ideal point is about the time that the queen becomes the limiting factor in expanding.  That may be the case in some of them about now, but for others it is still a ways off.

One thing for sure, I am not going to split late in the afternoon, after reversing, and on the day before the first frost in a while, with the wind blowing from the north.

I see, too that the forecast has changed, and not for the better.  There is a lot of smoke from forest fires and the forecast is now cloudier and cooler for tomorrow and tomorrow night than the previous forecast..

I'll let them settle for a day or two and gather nectar and pollen and arrange their stores, then split when the days and nights look to be ideal. Of course, they are not all that sensitive, and I could split right now and get away with it, but why make things harder for them than need be?

In the picture above you can see the repaired box in service, even before the glue is dry.  That is another advantage of using drywall screws.  I found a box on one hive with no frame rests and took it out of service for now.  I wonder how I missed that the other day when working on the hives.

The new boxes are exactly the same size as the BeeMax and Swienty, but they lack the top and bottom bevels of the BeeMax.  That makes for a larger contact surface between boxes, but potentially a little more difficulty in guiding the hive tool to the crack when separating boxes.  We'll see.

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 Sunday May 29th 2011

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Dandelions have been out for a while now and the apples are just beginning.  Lilacs are in bud and the caraganas should be open in the next few days.  The bees are still visiting the drip from the syrup tank, so there is no strong flow yet.  The days have still been little on the cool side for a really good flow.  Pollen is coming in, though.

I spent the morning outside, building more stands, tidying and planning the splits.  I'm watching the hives and not seeing a repeat of yesterdays. crawlers.  Joe says I'm too much a hobbyist now and spend too much time looking at too few hives.  That could be the problem.

I'm thinking I'll go ahead and split the strong ones now.  I may pick up a few queens in a day or two and add them to the queenless splits, or let the hives raise their own.  I'm undecided.

In three days, it is obvious which ones are queenless from lack of newly hatched larvae, although for the few I have to examine -- four in this pass, I can go through looking for queens any time.

Another option is to equalize a bit as I go by pulling a frame or two from the strongest ones to boost the weaker ones -- and split them all.  That would get the job over and done with, but I had planned to avoid pulling frames.

Ellen is not feeling well today.  She has had the flu for a few days now.  I've been feeling weak and disorganized, too.  That is one reason I have spent so much time on the diary this week.   I don't seem to have the concentration or interest to do some of the other desk jobs I have waiting or the energy to work steadily outside.  Unlike computer work, getting anything done in the yard takes physical energy, effort and a lot of travelling back and forth.

I decided to put weights on the air line to the aerator on the pond bottom.  I had noticed that the decoy was more nose-down than it should be and found that it had rotated enough that the cord had kinked, so I put a swivel on the line and that fixed things.  This Day 10 of aeration and the pond is clearing a bit.  I see a bit of underwater life again, but the water still stinks a little.

*    *    *    *    *   *

I went out and took a look and decided to split everything.  It didn't feel as if there is a frost coming tonight.  I figure that I'll equalize as required, but it is time to get the job done before I go east next week, or whenever.  The weather guessers have been changing their forecasts a lot lately. 

Ooops!  I just checked and guess what?

I'll plug the extra entrances for the night and see if I can find some entrance reducers, or use tape.

The splitting went well, and all have a heavy box under and one of the two brood boxes on top.  I decided on the method where the split sits right beside the parent colony and is made to look indistinguishable from it. so that the flying bees split equally between them.  This can be done at any time, even in the midst of a strong flow.

I found that the hives were too close together for that to be done according to Hoyle, and I had to stretch the row to the west to make room.  Of course, the flying bees tended to return to the east end, although they did spread out somewhat, and I had to use a few tricks to get the flights in front of each hive roughly equal after I was finished.

First, I parked my van in front of the hives receiving the most bees.  Later, I moved the van, and leaned up some floors to deflect the attention away from the endmost hives until they settled down.

It works!  I've done this often in the past to equalize flights.  The pictures below illustrate this process.  (I had not put the outer lids on at this point)


I pulled the new Meijer EPS box out of the line-up since the colour does not yet match and my technique depends on equal drifting up and down the line, encouraged by all the hives looking the same to the bees..  It was as solid as new, even after being broken into three pieces. 

Weldbond seems to have done the trick.  PL300 works, too, but is much thicker and is mineral-based, making removal of excess and clean-up more difficult and messier. 

When that was done, I spent a few hours mowing grass.  The riding mower makes the job easy and relaxing.

After supper, in expectation of a cool night and in recognition that some clusters might be small -- it is hard to tell when they are warm and spread out -- I plugged the bottom auger holes and checked that all the back holes are plugged.  I also screwed entrance blocks on the hives, leaving an inch or less at either side of the bottom entrance.  Maybe that is overkill, but at this time of year, maintaining hive warmth is critical for4 build-up.  It can't hurt.

I now have 18 hives (9 with queens).  It is amazing how increasing hive numbers increases the work.  It happens fast when splitting into two.

Two or three hives is easy.  Ten is a bit of weekend work.  Twenty?...  Last year I expanded to 100 at one point.  The bee work was getting to be quite a load, but I was rehabilitating some old equipment from years ago, and incorporating new equipment and that increased the load a lot.  In some ways, 3,500 or 4,500 was easier.  Everything was streamlined and mechanized -- and I had help to do much of the work.

My plan?  To split again when they are strong enough in early July.  I don't want to produce honey, so I'll split.  Splitting means potentially 30 hives or so in July, depending on how these ones do.

Hopefully they will not be too much work.  I did a lot of work last year and therefore have plenty of brood boxes ready.

I hope to have the hives or many of them on screened floors which are designed for varroa monitoring and also for bottom formic treatment.  I wonder, too, about playing with Mitegone.

I intend to do at least one formic treatment and probably three, since that is what is recommended for tracheal and it drops varroa back a long way at the same time.  With screened floors, I can monitor the mite drop.  Whatever Bob Hack did with these hives for varroa seems to have worked, so I'll have to take a glance at his site to see what he did.

As for wrapping, they are already wrapped.  I could winter them exactly the way they are right now, except that I prefer triples for winter so there is no worrying about feed.

If I feed, I don't think I'll open feed again in drums, but I might.  If I have a disease problem, that spreads it.  I noticed in the past few years, all the Southern Alberta beekeepers are using hivetop feeders, but the Central guys are sticking with drums.

I'm not seeing any more crawlers, so that must have been a once-only phenomenon.  I hope.

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Monday May 30th 2011

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It seems we did not have frost last night.  It was already plus four when I got up at 6 and the low was 1.6, according to Environment Canada.

I see that life is returning to the pond.  There are a few bugs under the surface, but still no freshwater shrimp that I can see.  Yesterday, when retrieving the aerator, I noticed a leech attached to the air line, so they are doing fine (Ugh).  I need to get some trout.  They would make short work of the leeches.

I have done about all the worrying and meddling that I can do with the bees, except to equalize and add queens to those needing them.  I may add a third box, but that will take care of them until July. I still have a lot of cleanup to do, and had better get at it.  I plan to head east in a week.  I confess that I am in no rush since everything is so good here right now.  This the time of year that this part of Alberta always looks good.  Later, we may have drought, but right now things are lush.

A quick peek this morning before the sun heats the hives up, though, should help me figure which ones are weak and which are strong. I wonder if I have a carpenters' crayon.  I'll probably just use brick position codes on the lids as usual.  It's easy and obvious, and uses what is already there, even if it lacks the subtlety of crayon. 

Also on tap for today are two oil changes: one for the forklift which has not had a change for years.  Its on propane and the oil stays clean, but is looking a bit milky, and the other is the Toyota transmission. The Toyota was a bit noisy the other day and a check of the oil showed it is getting a bit dirty. 

Changing automatic transmission oil does more than just put in clean oil to replace dirty oil.  New oil has additives that keep the seals supple, and that is critical for proper shifting, cool operation, good clutch engagement, and long life. The additives get depleted over time and old oil can look good, but no longer have adequate levels of these components remaining. Toyotas are less fussy about their transmission oil than Dodges, but clean, fresh oil is important just the same.

I went out at 8 AM, lifted lids and took a snapshot of each.  It is clear that the bees spent a warm night.  Even the smallest split was not clustered. Maybe I was being silly, taking the precautions I did, but better safe than sorry.  I've had splits chilled before.

A pillow and rimAt right is a picture showing how a rim can work with a pillow to provide good seal at the edges and yet allow the pillow to loft in the middle to allow for fondant, patties, etc.  The telescoping lids goes on top of this. 

For that matter, normal telescoping lids perch on top of the EPS hives nicely and hold down the edges of the pillows without a rim.  The problem is that the lids will tilt if nudged since they are a fussy fit.  A strip of 1/4 material, nailed around the outside and telescoping down another 1/2" or more can keep them on the hive, and the lids can then be used for wood or EPS interchangeably.

Below are two fairly typical hives after the lids were off a few seconds.  There was one with only four frames covered, but somehow my camera screwed up the shot (third below).  I have no idea why, but a series of shots showing the last six splits was blurry.

A typical split.  Note the uneaten pollen substittute (IT is not from Global).    An average split    Something went wrong

I'd like to have shots on file for a record, so I'll have to go and do some of them again.  The second time will not show the same info, though, since now the hives have been disturbed.

This is a good example of why I have trouble believing many published reports.  When recording simple data, things like this happen. How id it managed?  It seems that I seldom read in the report that an important to set of readings was lost or botched, or that important hives died or were knocked over or lost a lid for a while or???  I know that whenever I do a test of any sort, there is some kind of screw-up that could impact conclusions.

So, it looks as if I have one that needs help.  There are a few others that could stand equalizing, but they look as if they would be fine, regardless.  Id want to be sure not to have any excessively strong hives, though or they will swarm -- or make honey.

The bee hives after I had checked for strengthBrick signals can be seen on the hives at left.  Beekeepers make the codes up as they go and codes vary from season to season, according to what info is important at the moment..

Here, the brick across and on edge means that the hive has an original queen (brick on edge), which I spotted while splitting and is strong (brick crossways). bricks running forward and back indicate that these splits are weaker than average. Those splits were made for the weakest of the original hive.  The standing brick indicates the one split in the yard that is too small. Standing bricks are a short-tern signal, though, since they can be blown over in a strong wind.

By glancing at the signals when returning to work the hives, I can estimate where I will find extra brood and where it need to go.  Also when I get the queens, I know which of the two halves of some splits have the original queen and can save some time.

These hives face south, the entrances are in shade early in the early morning since the sun rises in the north here at this time of year.

I thought about things and decided to locate the queens and equalize the hives, so out I went and I worked right down the line.  Finding queens was not too hard and I found all except one.  I did not waste time looking, since she could be dead or down below, and I was not about to go through the heavy bottom boxes.  I can go back later and either find her or confirm she is gone.

With the two splits form the same hive opened in pairs, side by side, equalizing and queen locating is much easier than if the pairs are located at a distance from one another.  The comparison of sound and appearance provides clues and the job goes quickly.  I use only enough smoke to keep from getting too badly stung on the bare wrists.

The18  bee hives after I had equalized and checked for queensKnowing there was one very weak hive down the line, I borrowed brood and bees form the strongest and built up the weak one as I went.  I had three hives open at once while doing that: the two splits in a pair and the hive being boosted.

There are still several hives that are weaker than the rest and will be boosted later, perhaps.  They are strong enough to leave as-is, though.

In the 11 AM shot, directly above, the sun has come around and the brick signals have also changed to reflect the current knowledge after the last manipulations.  Click images to enlarge. 

I am done for now -- until I get some queens.  If I get some queens.  Otherwise, most of these hives will all be queenright in 3 weeks without any further intervention on my part. 

I may also decide to put on a super before I go, though, especially if we get some heat and a strong flow.  I plan to return to split at the end of the month, but don't want to be forced to do so.  If I do add supers, it will be above newspaper since some hives are considerably larger than others and may need them.  Others will not.

How to Repair a BeeMax box: Next, I noticed a BeeMax box that has been blowing around the yard and decided to do a make-over.  First I washed the parts, then I assembled it using WeldBond and drywall screws, which are available in lengths up to 3-1/2 inches and are cheaper than deck screws (which work just as well). 

The job was dead simple. This is a eight-year old BeeMax box that was never glued, but just pushed together and used, unpainted. I coated both sides of broken surfaces with WeldBond and screwed the boxes together, bit by bit. 

It is obvious how weak the BeeMax design is by the small area of the actual break.  Most of the corner has no fastening and is just an unfastened butt joint.  Only the two little tongues hold the corner together.  That amounts to less than 40% of the actual joint.  The rest of the joint is not fastened in any way. 

There is no real way to properly glue BeeMax corners, either, since surfaces brush against one another as the pieces are assembled, shearing off any glue one might attempt to apply. 

When I drove in the first screw, I noticed right off that the BeeMax box is softer than the Meijer Tufbox that I repaired the other day.  With similar torque, the screw countersunk itself much deeper than on the other box, but it held just fine.

I proceeded until finished the box, scraped off the excess glue, and now have a box that can  go into service again immediately.  I also had a box kicking around which had never been glued, so knocked it apart and glued it as best I could.  I seems to me that the repaired boxes are stronger than the intact boxes, since the repaired ones have much more glued surface at the corners, and the corners are the weak point -- a very weak point..

Detail of completely
fractured corner
An unbroken box being
taken apart for gluing
A repaired corner

At right is a stack of repaired boxes.  The top two, I did today with WeldBond and screws and are ready to go.  The bottom one I did with PL300 and clamps.  That was a slow awkward job and the box was not dry enough to use for a day.  Meantime, the clamps were tied up and no more boxes could be repaired.

My conclusion -- so far  -- is that assembly and repair is best done with WeldBond and screws,  The screws can even be recovered and used again if desired.

An additional conclusion is that buying BeeMax boxes is a mistake if the Meijer Tufbox is available to you.  There is a huge difference in quality, convenience, and also cost after assembly if time and material is considered.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Meijers were working in Trochu area and dropped by for supper.  They had some California Carniolan queens, so after supper, I went out and put them on the hives.  I placed one queen in her box with attendants on the top bars of each hive which had proven queenless earlier.  The one pair of splits where I had not found the queen proved easier this time and I found her after pulling three frames.

There are many ways to introduce queens and this is one that is easy, but not as reliable as some, especially with strong splits and not much flow on.  Leaving attendants in the cage is a no-no for many, as well, but I was not about to take the time to remove them tonight. 

Anyhow, I did leave the cages on the top bars long enough to see that the bees were not attacking the cage immediately, and figure I'll go back tomorrow and see if they have eaten much candy from the plugs and if they are exhibiting any hostility.  I did punch a hole in the candy since I don't want the queens out too soon.

The main advantage of using mated queens is the speed with which they get laying.  If they are not released and laying quickly, then using cells, or even walk-away queens become more attractive alternatives.

I'm hoping we have a flow tomorrow.  A flow make the bees happy and solves many problems.  I found myself wishing I had some ammonium nitrate.  A spoonful in the smoker generates laughing gas and a few puffs put the bees to sleep.  Apparently when they wake up, they have amnesia and hives can be moved without drifting back and queens can just be dropped in.  I have never tried it myself.

I repaired another BeeMax box, before calling it a day.  I got the forklift oil changed (It was dirty), but still have the Toyota to do.

I'll drop the pan, change the filter, replace the gasket, then put the pan back on.  Then I'll fill the pan with new oil and detach the transmission cooler lines.  I'll attach a clear line to the outflow and run the engine until a litre comes out.  Then I'll add a litre of new oil into the filler and repeat until the oil in the clear tube turns new-looking.  That way, I get a complete change of oil, not just the oil in the pan.  It takes two people to do this.  One to start and stop the engine and one to watch the outflow and to fill the tranny.

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Monday May 30th 2011

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It's 6 degrees C this morning at 6AM and the frost warning is lifted. If we can believe the weather-guessers, it is clear sailing for the coming week.

I found out last winter in Galveston that Mann Lake's standard one-piece frames are made with a 4.9 cell size. I also found out that I had already bought some, assuming that, since they are an obvious Pierco knock-off, they would be the same as Pierco, which was 5.25 last time I measured.

I was a bit shocked that a major supplier to all manner of beekeepers, including commercial honey producers would decide to make a main product 4.9mm without offering an alternative and without warning buyers.

I have not heard of any of our bee scientists advising using such small cells, but I have heard many expressing doubt about the practice. In fact we were advised to discard old combs due to the reduced cell size with cocoon accumulation over time. That reason has faded to the background now that removing chemical contamination by removing combs has become more pressing.

With a normal EHB size around 5.2mm (+/-1mm) foundation, ten frames in a single are more than enough room for even the best queen.

I personally have find that some foundations to have cells that are larger than I like for brood simply because the brood nest has to be larger than one box to accommodate the number of cells of brood that a good queen will lay. A small change in cell diameter has a large effect on the number of cells on a frame.

It is apparent now that foundation buying has gotten to be a bit of a minefield, and nothing can be taken for granted. I am imagining that some commercial beekeepers using the new Mann Lake frames for honey supers are wondering why extraction takes longer and the honey does not come out as well.

What its the effect of mixing in one brood box, combs on 4.9mm foundation with combs on 5.4mm foundation? Does it matter?

Does anyone know?

Why not?

> > I found out last winter in Galveston that Mann Lake's standard one-piece  frames are made with a 4.9 cell size.

Good points, but one tiny detail. If you check the archives you'll see that
we have already been through this, and the cell size was actually 5.0,
unless they've changed the molds since then.

Randy Oliver
Grass Valley, CA

An Interesting discussion of "Styrofoam" EPS and XPS boxes is ongoing in the Honey Bee World Forum

Today, the Toyota, and cleanup.

*    *    *    *   *   *

First thing, I went out to see how the queens are doing.  I don't create a disturbance, I just peel back the pillow and lift the cage, then brush lightly with a finger to see if any of the hive bees are doubled up and gripping the wire.  None of the bees seemed too passionate about getting at the queen in the two I checked.  There were lots of bees peeking through the screen, but none were going crazy.  that is good.

The bees I was looking at seem short (in length).  Make me wonder.  Usually in my experience that means nutritional shortage while they were being raised.

*    *    *    *   *   *

Get 4.9 if you are not paying attention: Yesterday I was tidying and restacking some foundation frames and remembered something from Galveston. I have been told that the Mann Lake standard-depth one-piece frames are a knock-off of the Pierco, so I assumed that the cell size would be 5.25mm, like Pierco. 

Permadent and a lot of American foundation has traditionally been around 5.3mm in the past few decades, but there are exceptions, as I noted last year when inspecting.  See Saturday May 15th 2010

When in Galveston, I was at the Mann Lake booth and was examining the Mann Lake standard one-piece frames and asked the guy at the booth what size the cells are.  After asking around he replied, "4.9mm".  I was surprised and then did not think any more about it.

Calipers on a Mann Lake one-piece standard depth frameCalipers on a Permadent? foundation sheetLast year, I bought some frames with foundation from another beekeeper.  Half was (I think, Permadent) and the other half, Mann Lake one piece molded frames with foundation.  Both were waxed.

I decided to put calipers on a few sheets to see what I found.  Sure enough, It appears that I had bought 4.9 mm foundation without being aware of it.

There are some things to be said in favour of 4.9, but mostly, IMO, it was a response to the Africanization of bees in Arizona and the popularization of the idea has been pretty much like Aesop's Fox and Bear tale except that, amazingly, no amount of reason has managed to stall this fad.   It has been promulgated through misreading of history, misrepresentation of facts, and unjustified extrapolation of known facts. 

Is 4.9 mm harmful?  I don't know, but now I have a pile of 4.9 foundation.  Some of it was drawn last year, but I will have to observe more closely now.  Granted, 5.35 is larger than natural from my observations, but this is smaller. 

Is 4.9 mm beneficial?  Again. I don't know.  Some claim that it reduces varroa, but no reliable, controlled study has ever proven that -- and some have proven the opposite.  Greater brood density can mean better heat conservation and might help in spring build-up and wintering.  An experiment we did seemed to show that 5.25 cells were better in spring than larger ones, but there must be a downside limit to what is beneficial.

Larger allows for easier extracting due to less capillary action holding in the honey and more mass in each cell.  Larger cells also allow a larva to grow to its natural size, but does not seem to make them grow larger than normal.  After all, scientists can raise bees in the lab  without any cell at all and such bees are not immense.

Randy informed me that this is old news and that the size is actually 5.0.  I took out a better set of calipers and confirmed that the measure is actually 5.0mm.  Still... Do I want cells that small?  I guess I have some now.

Put the same precision instrument on the Permadent (I think it is Permadent) and the cells are 5.40 mm.  That is a Big Difference. 

On the 17" x 8" surface of one side of a standard comb, there are about 136 square inches.  From this page, for Permadent with 5.4 mm cells, we can see that this amounts to 136 x 25.55 = 3475 cells.  With the Mann Lake 5.0 mm foundation, we get 4053 cells.  This means that there are almost 600 more cells on the same area with the smaller size (5.0 mm) cell. That is 17% more cells per side, per frame, and per brood box.  With ten frames in a box, that is like getting another frame and a half of brood cells and makes running singles more feasible in some situations.

That applies for comparing just foundation, with the same  working surface inside the frame for each.   In fact, however, plastic one-piece frames have 8-9/16" depth of foundation, not 8", due to smaller top and bottom bars, giving 162 square inches and 4844 cells. That amounts to 40% more brood cells per single brood chamber!  For brood-rearing purposes, that could make a single, in some ways, comparable to single plus a half-size box.

One of the problems with running singles is that a good queen can fill most of the comb with brood*, leaving little space for feed.  Thus, they can starve very quickly.  With the brood being more compact, there is room for feed in a single and the risk of starvation is reduced.

* 3,000 eggs a day and 21 days for worker development gives 63,000 cells occupied with brood.  In a addition, there should be another 3,000 cells open for feed and eggs at any given time, so that gives 66,000 cells required.

With Permadent at 2 sides x 3475 cells per frame, that means 9 complete frames are being used by brood, leaving almost no space for feed.   With the Mann Lake 5.0 mm, the same amount of brood takes up a little under 7 frames, leaving 3 frames for other purposes.

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