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Hives ready for winter

Wednesday October 10th 2012
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Today promises to be cool and windy, with a good chance of some snow. Such weather is typical for this time of year, but we will continue to have warm spells right up until Halloween and beyond.  The days are growing shorter quickly though. 

The ski hills will be opening a month from tomorrow, but even if there is snow, the base will be thin and rock skis are advised.  The short days in November, December and January and the still-building snow pack are OK for skiing, but the best conditions start in February up here in the north and continue until the hills close due to lack of skier interest, not lack of snow.

Bees will take feed from open feeders for several more weeks around here and I wait to feed the hives until now since they are already heavy -- I don't extract much.  The heaviest hives may not take much and will just fill in the empty spaces where the brood was, but the lighter ones will take more of the syrup and that will even out the average weight in the yards.  In spring, it is nice to know the hives are not anywhere near starving.  Wintering in three boxes helps ensure that there is lots of room for both bees and feed.

I'll have some mite boards to count this morning, and all indications are that the mite numbers have dropped off drastically.  It never pays to assume anything, though, so I'll count.

I also have the skunk traps to check.  I'm up to 11 caught now, and am still seeing signs of skunks bothering hives. (Right).

We have some interesting activity in the forum.

Building a Simple But Effective Hive Loader
Pollen Added Patties
No Treatment Beekeeping
Bee stings and arthritis

I counted the drops and it was easy.  The numbers are decreasing, even though the current counts are a sum of the natural drops and the kill from Apivar.  If not for Apivar, the counts would have gone up by a factor of 5 to 10 by now as the final brood round brood hatches out.

Hive
#
Aug 28 Aug 29 Aug 30 Aug 31 Sep
1
Ave Sep
2
Sep
3
Sep
4
Sep
19
Oct
10
1 113 107 28 72 70 78 60 64 168

144

14
2 4 6 2 7 25 9 15 17 463 321 54
3 174 106 60 122 78 108 72 98 152 72 56
4 31 29 8 21 32 24 34 56 415 48 6
5 22 21 10 10 8 14 16 9 31 72 12
6 21 39 15 22 41 28 40 57 112   26
7 76 103 86 92 75 86 79 180 386   135
8 155 102 86 186 181 142 360 813 428   37
9 90 71 32 45 67 61 294 489 157   12
10 41 54 29 81 110 63 81 87 62   22
Av 73 64 36 66 69 61 105 187 237 131 41
  = 2 Formic pads applied Sept 3
  = 2 Formic pads applied Sept 1
  = Oxalic Drizzle Sept 3
All test hives received 2 strips of Apivar and 2 more formic pads Sept 7th or 8th

Below is the natural mite drop results from the hives I monitored this past spring.  (This was a different group from the fall test group) I should have guessed that I'd have high mite loads from the numbers highlit in yellow.

In hindsight, an oxalic treatment or two at that time might have paid off in less panic this fall.  For some reason, drastic splitting and broodless periods don't seem to be doing much for me in terms of varroa control.  Could the EPS boxes and large broodnests be factor that explains the increased loads?

Of course, if I had just used a strip of Apivar or two in each cluster in March, I'd have almost no varroa this fall and have saved myself a lot of fooling around.

My fall mite loads this year, although high, should not have resulted in anything more than higher than normal losses if left untreated, but having had a serious loss with such loads in the recent past, I am not about to take chances.

Hive 
Number

March 29

April 13

April 20

28 days

Per day 15 days Per day 7 Days Per Day

1

0

0

Removed

Removed Removed Removed

2

13

0.5

12

0.8

0

0

3

8

0.3

4

0.3

1

0.1

4

82

2.9

77

5.1

20

2.9

5

18

0.6

26

1.7

0

0

6

2

0.1

1

0.1

2

0.3

Average 20.5 0.7 24 1.6 4.6 0.7

Make that 13 skunks as of today.

Meijers dropped by in the mid-morning.  We looked at the dimensions of the EPS box design and made some small adjustments in preparation for the next production run.

At this point, what do I expect my wintering loss to be?  Good question.  Just looking at the bees, I'd guess 15%, which is my long-term average.  I'll take a closer guess as the fall progresses.  If that guess is correct, I'll have 75 live hives in May.  That would be nice.  We'll see.  Last year, I lost 2 out of 26 or 8% as I recall.

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.
John F. Kennedy

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Thursday October 11th 2012
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Today Ellen and I go to Calgary for tests and a visit with the doctor.  The weather promises to be dull and cool, with snow -- probably not enough to affect driving, but enough to dirty the vehicle.

I went out as soon as it was light to look for tracks.  I see the deer are respecting the electric fence and although they are here at night, they are skirting the protected areas.  Win/win!

As for skunks, I am see a little tracking around the hives, but the snow is melting and it appears that the skunk(s) came out early in the night, before the last bit  of snow fell so reading the tracks is difficult.  I wonder if they will go into the dens for  the winter or keep harassing the bees.

I have been reading Functionality of Varroa-Resistant Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) when used in Migratory Beekeeping for Crop Pollination and came across this interesting statement:

The proportion of colonies infested by A. woodi increased during each year in all four bee types, but in CT bees the late summer treatment with amitraz against V. destructor also markedly reduced infestation with A. woodi.

I guess I forgot to mention that the doctor seems to think that Ellen is doing well and may well be around a few more years.  This last year has been tough, with no clear idea of what lies ahead.  Now, we can see some probability of normalcy for a while.

Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
Mark Twain

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Friday October 12th 2012
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This was a cool day and I spent the morning indoors. 

Meijers are planning a run of boxes again and there are a few minor improvements to make, so I worked on the drawings.  I also stated the diesel, since the temperature was right around freezing and I am always concerned whether a diesel will start in cold weather. 

It did start, but the battery voltage dropped to just over 8 volts while cranking.  Web discussions suggest that a cranking voltage of under 11 can be harmful to the starter and electronics and result in poor starting.  Lower voltages are a sign of a battery on its last legs.  Matt had changed batteries previously in January 2007, so I figured they are overdue for a change, especially since they had lost charge over two weeks of sitting.

After that, Ellen and I went to Three Hills to do a few errands.  While there, I bought two new batteries for the truck.  As luck would have it, they were on sale for $101 each!  That is still double what a gasser would cost.  Diesels are more expensive to maintain.  That's one reason I have not bought another diesel sooner.  This one seemed too good to turn down, though since Matt had maintained it well.  Batteries were an expected expense and their condition was disclosed to me at the time of purchase.  They worked fine in warm weather, but winter is coming.

On returning, I installed the batteries.  That always takes a while, since I like to clean the terminals and bolt threads well and make sure the connections are really clean and tight and well greased.  A lesser job might work fine most of the time, but when the temperature drops to minus forty, I need the best connections possible.  I forgot to check for current leaks, though, so I'll do that tomorrow.  I'll also have to find the block heater cord wherever it is hiding under the hood.

*   *   *   *   *

I woke up at midnight and was wide awake.  Looking for something to do that was not too heavy-duty until sleepiness returned, I increased the image sizes on the links from the 2002 Lusby visit second page. At the time I set the pages up, bandwidth was restricted for many users and small images made sense.  Now, with broadband everywhere, larger images provide more detail. 

FWIW, I don't agree with a lot of what Dee claims, so don't take my reports as being an endorsement of her theories.  Personally, I think they are bunk, but when reporting, I try to be objective and stick to the facts.  Even though I think she is being disingenuous about their success, I like Dee and certainly enjoyed our visits there.

Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people.
Kin Hubbard

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Saturday October 13th 2012
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I was full of beans this morning and checked the truck for current leaks as soon a  the sun came over the horizon.  I had to pull the terminals again, but that was easy since I had cleaned the bolts yesterday.  A current meter placed in the battery circuit showed a drain that fluctuated from 0 to 100 A.

That is  0.100 mA or 0.0001 amperes at max.  Given that the batteries hold about 200 ampere hours (or 200,000 mAH), that trickle should not matter.  At 0.0001 amperes draw, it would take 10,000 hours to consume one ampere hour.

The electronics and memories of vehicles with electronics always draw a tiny bit of power from the battery.  What I was looking for was a leaking diode in the alternator or any other major leak, one that would be ten, one hundred, or one thousand times as great.

When alternator diodes get leaky, and they often do, the drain can flatten a battery in hours, days, or weeks depending on how bad it is.  Leaky diodes always get worse over time so bad diodes should be detected and repaired before they do damage to the batteries, or leave us stranded.

Everything is normal and I can see that the old batteries were just self-discharging  quite quickly.  That happens when automotive batteries get old.  Even new batteries self-discharge a little and will go flat in a year or so unless charged.  The best maintenance for an automotive battery is to keep it charged.

I tried starting the truck and it fired right up.  I thought I noted a miss on one cylinder at first, so maybe one glow plug is bad.    The miss, however, could just be due to how the engine sat over night.  The idle evened right out after a few seconds, and there was lots of white smoke.  I had not seen smoke before from this truck, but dense white smoke is perfectly normal when diesels are started in cold weather.

I'm not eager to change glow plugs since it means taking a lot of parts off the top of the engine to reach them.  One bad plug hardly matters except in the coldest weather.  I understand they can be diagnosed by measuring resistance at the connector.

After finishing that job, I put the charger on the truck and see that the new batteries were not nearly fully charged as received.  They pinned the charger meter.  Even if they seem charged, new batteries always need a top-up charge after installation.

They took 12 amps for a half-hour, then backed slowly down to a few amps, so they were not too low on charge  I trickle charge for 24 hours should get them up to top charge.

At this time of year the washer fluid can freeze, so I pull the washer line apart where it goes to the hood or cowling and pump out all the summer fluid into a jug using the washer switch.  Then I fill with winter fluid.  The blue 35 degree stuff is really not good enough for winter, but if I have some, I use it up in fall.  The green stuff (minus 45) is much better and less likely to streak on a cold windshield.  That is all I buy for winter.  The manufacturers are always trying to fool us by cheapening down the fluid and it pays to read carefully.

I see this truck needs greasing and has quite a few fittings.  More work for me.

I went to start the truck again and discovered I had locked myself out with the keys in the ignition.  I was surprised the doors would lock with the keys in.  Good thing I had cut an extra key and had it handy.  I'll have to stash one somewhere outside the machine in case that happens again sometime.

I have left the skunks alone for a few days due to poor weather, but it is warmer today so I plan to set up traps again.  I still see some skunk scratching and don't want them tearing the EPS boxes apart.  So far they have not, but if one learns to do that, then there will be trouble.  I still don't know how many there are.  I have caught 13 so far and there are more, judging by the scratching.

The drop boards have been out of the test hives for a few days now, and as it is nice out today, I blew some off and will put the boards in for another count in a day or two.

I look under the lids from time to time and the bees look good.  I am seeing a few dead young bees on the doorsteps early in the morning and wonder what is happening there.  I also see chilled bees on the feed drum.  Hmmm.

The bees are on the feeders and I think there is a little robbing going on as the bees are crabby.  Not really bad robbing, but I got two stings while working on the traps near the hives without a veil.

I don't mind a little robbing since the bees figure out which hives are not viable and clean them out, saving me the trouble of deciding which to winter.  Generally about 5% get cleaned out in fall.

I realise, though that I broke my rule of one drum from each 20 hives and have less than half that surface area.  No wonder they are not happy.

Bees will use open feeders with little fuss if there is enough surface area.  If the supply is too limited in access, they will fight.

I see the hive scale has not changed since last reading.

Bees are out for practice flights this afternoon (left) after a day or two of being confined.

Next in the job list is to fix the skunk traps.  Four needed a good washing and one needed remanufacturing.  Another needed a wire fastener fixed.

I bought two Koender skunk traps.  I had bad luck with one and was going to return it, but the local animal control officer thought the design was good, so he bought one from me.  I rethought the return and kept the other.  It turned out to be badly made and I spent an hour this afternoon re-building it.  Then I set the four traps.  Hopefully this skunk problem will end soon.

 Never tell people how to do things.
Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
George Patton

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Sunday October 14th 2012
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Today the sunrise will be at 7:56 and sunset at 18:42. The days are getting really short and they will be much shorter by Christmas.  It'll be over an hour from now before there is enough light to do much outdoors.

Today, I plan to load up the trailer to get it ready to haul a load to the dump, and do some equipment stacking plus general tidying.  We also have to go to Three Hills for a birthday celebration this afternoon.

*   *   *   *   *

I checked the trap line and see I caught another skunk.  That makes fourteen skunks caught in the past few weeks.  There are more, too, judging by the scratching on the hives.  They are getting desperate and scratching harder.  Imagine if the fourteen were competing with the remaining group.

Somehow, the bait was stolen from two of the traps without tripping them.  How that can happen?  I don't know unless some smaller animal like a mouse is taking it.  The traps have a hair-trigger and I tuned them up yesterday to make sure they were tip-top.  It's a mystery.

I think I'll place the bait in a tin can so that it is not so easy to reach in and take it away.  I'm getting tired of this war.

The bees are taking down the syrup in the 2 drums but it is going more slowly than I would have expected.  I seem to recall yards taking a drum in a day, but these two drums, serving three yards of 89 hives total are only down 6 inches or so.  These hives are heavy already, so maybe they are not too eager to get more feed, and the weather has been cool and we did have some rain that would have made the syrup less attractive, but just the same...

*   *   *   *   *

I did get some of those things done, but had to work on the traps again, then get ready for Three Hills.  We met Jean and Kate and Eva at the hospital to wish Doreen a Happy 88th.  After that, I came home and slept two hours.  By then it was 7 PM.

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate,
and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.
Colin Powell

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Monday October 15th 2012
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Today looks like a nice day for outdoor work, with ensuing days looking to be cooler.  I'm hoping the bees clean up the feed drums promptly so that water does not accumulate on the surface of the syrup.  I do have some enclosed drum feeders, but decided to just use open drums this time. The less restriction for access, the better they take it and the less fighting occurs.

Actually, when I went and looked this morning, I see they took another four inches in the last hour yesterday, after I last looked.

Here's today's plan: Skunks, basement cleanup, yard cleanup, check drop boards, move Apivar, nap, prepare supper.  Kate and Eva are coming for supper.

*   *   *   *   *

Hive
Number
End
August
Natural
Drop
Latest
Drop
1 78 91
2 9 14
3 108 66
4 24 7
5 14 28
6 28 57
7 86 314
8 142 93
9 61 27
10 63 47

I caught two skunks last night, but one got away.  That is 16 total so far, including one I will have to catch again..

At right is the latest 24-hour count.  The number shown is the total count for the last two days, divided by 2.  The numbers continue to be high.  I like to think this is due to the Apivar working.  It has been in for five weeks now and I am surprised to see the counts are still so high. 

I plan to move any Apivar that is not right in the cluster, later today if I have time.  According to the label, that permits leaving it in longer.  Otherwise it should be removed after 42 days.

Fall treatment with strips is not nearly as effective or economical as early spring treatment.  In early spring, the brood is in a small area and the cluster is smaller than in fall.  One strip will often do the job in spring, although if the cluster is large two may be required.  In spring, the mites are weak and if they fall down and are still alive, they fall into a cold lower box or cold floor, not down into more bees where they can sometimes catch a ride as happens in fall.

Also, by spring most colonies that are going to die have done so, saving the cost of treating them.  So, if winter loss is 20%, then the number of strips required can be as low as 100% X 80% 2 strips = 40% as much expense.

Also, in spring the position of the brood is much more obvious and will be in the centre of the cluster.  In fall, it can be anywhere in the hive or sometimes, if queen has quit laying, there is none.

At left is a link to the full Canadian Apivar label (temporary registration).  It is always worth a read. 

Above is the previous label.  Here is the current one for the permanent registration.

An infra-red thermometer, as shown at right, will help decide if there is brood present and where it is located by the temperature reading.  The warmest spot will be where the brood is.  Brood is held at 95F (35C) in a healthy hive, but may not be near the top bars, so the reading there could be less. 

These thermometers are available at Home Depot and auto parts stores and are used for checking engine manifold temperatures, etc.  They are handy for cooking, too.  The last one I bought was about $30.

The scale has lost 6 lbs since last reading on the 13th.  That is 3/4 lb per hive weight loss per day.

*   *   *   *   *

I checked all the hives in the north yard, scraped the top bars, rearranged the pollen supplement and moved the Apivar around when it was not in the centre of the cluster, which it mostly was.  I figured moving the strips helped in every case, as in some hives, the bees had gummed them up requiring me to scrape them off.

Of the 19 hives, I saw three that seemed a bit small.  Several of the three had nice brood, but one did not.  It is too late to do much.  I marked them and we'll see how they winter. 3 19 X 100 = 16%.  That is my usual winter loss.

*   *   *   *   *

Then I checked the swarm hives and they all look good.  I don't know if I am doing the hives any good, but I am having fun.  For me, opening hives is like opening Christmas presents is for a child.

I set the skunk traps.  I hate that job, but I am really starting to wonder how many skunks there could possibly be eating at my beeyard cafeteria.

When I came in for dinner, the nearest drum was down below the 2/3rds mark.  The bees are beginning to get the hang of it. 

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and
underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.
Bill Gates

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Tuesday October 16th 2012
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This afternoon, I plan to drive to Airdrie to do a  few errands.

At right is a chart from the CAPA site regarding varroa thresholds on the Canadian prairies.  The 0.2% level shown in the chart corresponds to 1 mite in a 300-bee wash in 2 samples out of 3 measured in mid-April. The 3.5% level is 10 mites in every 300-bee sample.  The conclusion?  1 mite in the jar is not dangerous, subject to the caveat in the next paragraph.

One thing mentioned in the article is that any level of tracheal mite is likely to amplify the effects of varroa tremendously.  That fact is one reason for using a round or three of formic even when Apivar is being used.  The formic also kills varroa that the Apivar missed.  Amitraz does have some effect on tracheal, but at the low level in Apivar -- 3.33% -- that effect is not proven.

If Apivar missed mites, and it always does, there are two main reasons.
1.) the mite was lucky and just did not get exposed to enough Amitraz to kill it, or
2.) the mite has a level of tolerance to Amitraz.
3.) Both the above.

In the second and third cases, we really want to kill those varroa since they can be the foundation for building an Amitraz-tolerant varroa population.  If they survive and reproduce -- or worse, mate with other such Amitraz-tolerant mites -- then the entire varroa population could quickly become entirely unaffected by Apivar. 

For pesticide tolerance to evolve in a population, there are two main mechanisms: mutation and selection.  Mutation is much less probable in any given instance that the presence of a few mites with tolerance to the specific pesticide.  Applying the pesticide selects for those mites and soon they become the dominant genotype in the hive. 

The probability of an individual mite having resistance to several unrelated pesticides -- with differing modes of action on the mite --  is very low.  Moreover, it would be difficult for a mite to develop resistance to a corrosive product like formic acid.  Therefore wise beekeepers are careful to rotate mite treatments, using several in succession, and not rely on just one.  Relying on just one treatment and using it to drive varroa populations to very low levels selected the mite population strongly for tolerance to the treatment and resulted in the loss of efficacy for Apistan, and then coumaphos. 

We don't want to lose Apivar too quickly.  Hopefully we have learned from the past.  To prevent early loss of Apivar, a strong extension programme is required, as well as control of exposure to tolerant mites from elsewhere.  Since in many areas of the US, varroa are tolerant to both fluvalinate and Amitraz, importation of bees from there could result in loss of efficacy here.

Here is the current Apivar label for the permanent registration.  Worth reading!

I got another skunk.  A second one got out of the trap again.  I can't figure out how.  Must have had help.  That is 16 caught.

The hive scale gained 2 lbs since yesterday (four hives).  The drums are now below half-full.  I put out 1000 pounds of syrup for 89 hives. That works out to 11 lbs per hive.  At 100% efficiency and even distribution between all hives, the scale should put on 44 lbs from start to finish, minus the daily normal loss of 1/3/lb per hive or 3 lbs per day for the four.   Obviously, the math does not work out.

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself
or get all the credit for doing it.
Andrew Carnegie

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Wednesday October 17th 2012
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It's cool and breezy today.  I went to check the traps; I had only set two yesterday, but I found skunk number 17 this morning! That is amazing. When will this end?

The hive scale has lost 7 more pounds.

Here are two useful links.  PMRA Label search and Canadian Apistan label

The outdoors was unpleasant due to the cool wind and I spent a lot of time today arranging flights to visit Jonathan at US Thanksgiving and looking up parts, etc. 

I've decided that the glow plug relay on the F250 Super Duty is unreliable and probably the cause of occasional failures to start.  I watch the voltage when I turn the key, but with the new batteries, there is very little drop when they are active, so it is hard to detect the times they do not activate.  I'll replace the relay and that should cure the problem.  Apparently relay degradation is a common issue.

Meijers and Fen came by for supper.

The only secure knowledge is that I exist.
Rene Descartes

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Thursday October 18th 2012
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Today is calm, but cool, at minus 3 degrees.  I went out and checked the trap line.  I caught another skunk and if my count is correct, that makes 18, or one for every five hives.

I also checked the glow plug relay on the Super Duty Ford and sure enough it is not making contact much of the time.  I have to turn the key five or six times before I see by the needle dropping on the voltmeter that the plugs have activated.  Even then, there are 2.5 to 3 volts across the relay, indicating abnormal resistance.  I assume that the voltage drop should be close to zero volts, so I conclude that the contacts are burnt and a new relay is needed.

I have to go to Red Deer today for an appointment, so I have to decide if I want to just get the stock replacement for $71 in Red Deer and have it today, or order on eBay for $41.90 USD and wait.  Hard decision.

OK.  I bought on eBay from an outfit in Quebec.  Done.  Now I wait...

Last mite count was on the 15th.  Time to check again.

I counted the boards and here is the latest data (right - click to enlarge).

I don't know if I can make any sense of this.  The drops are still about what they were back at the end of August.  I suppose that is a victory of sorts, as the brood is hatching out and most of the mites are now phoretic, but I am looking for the day that the counts drop to near zero and I don't see the trend moving that way. 

What I do see from the few washes I have done is that the phoretic mite counts seem to be down, but the drops seem steady.  That would seem to indicate that the phoretic mites are being culled drastically, and the drops are coming from the mites hatching with brood.  I don't have enough data to be sure, though.  Five washes is not enough to say.

If this is true, though, at some point, there should be an end to mites in the brood and drop counts should fall off.

According to the label, the strips are due to come out on the 24th and this is the 18th.  Can we expect that much change in the next week?  I  moved the strips, though, and that, by the label, allows adding two more weeks to the treatment.  Doing that moves the removal date out to Nov 7.  Maybe the drops will fall to zero in three weeks from now?  I doubt that this could happen in one week, but in three weeks?  We'll see.

I drove to Red Deer for my appointment and arrived a half-hour late.  I'm not sure how I found myself running late.  I left in plenty of time, but stopped along the way.  Must be old-timer's?  Anyhow, I phoned ahead once I realised I would be late (the drive is an hour and a quarter) and all was well.  After, I went to Jean's for supper, then did a little shopping and returned home.

The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
 Henry Kissinger

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Friday October 19th 2012
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Today, I'll check the trap line and then move some more Apivar strips in more hives.  There is also cleanup to do, both indoors and outdoors.  If I can load a trailer for the dump, I'll take it there tomorrow.  It is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Well, I did not get any skunks last night and I see no signs of a skunk visit.  it was not very cold last night, so I would have expected a visitor.  Maybe this marks the end of the skunk problems?  I hope so.

The hive scale has not budged in the past two days.  I see there is still a third of a drum in each feeder and the straw that I use as a float was matted, so I changed the straw.

After that, I began loading trailers for the scrap yard and the dump.  The job is going to take a while.

After working all afternoon,. I have maybe a half-load ready.  Tomorrow does not look like a good day for outdoor work, but we'll see.  I might get one load to the dump tomorrow.

Reuse of Apistan - for FAQ and Hints for the Hive!

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere.
Frank A. Clark

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