Monthly Archives: February 2009

February 2009

February 28, 2009

Wintering shed

I have been watching a particular hive in my wintering shed.  It was a large hive, two boxes full of bees, looking great at the beginning of winter, but it always seemed active every time I walked by it.  These bees have always gathered on the hive front, and a few bees drift into the darkness whenever I watch it.  Seems odd, but it was the same observation I had made from watching hives wintered outdoors.  There always seemed to be a hive or two within the yard that would always seem to be active, even during the coldest of days.  I could never make any sense of it, usually assuming the hive was good and strong to find the hive completely dead in the spring.

I looked into this particular indoor hive entrance yesterday, to find only a handful cluster of bees left in this hive.  And yet, they congregate on the fount side of hive.  Why this hive has abandoned its nest I don’t know.  I am going to take a sample of the remaining bees in this hive and get them tested.  My Nosema overall count was very low, and same with the mite infections.  But that’s not to say this hive isn’t infected.  The only way to rule out Nosema and tracheal mites is to test them, and go from there.

March is the time of year when I really start seeing stress on the wintered hives.  Our winters seem to be a month too long, and I start seeing the signs of stressed hives.  The strong and healthy are obvious, they don’t seem to move, or spot, or anything.  They just sit and wait.  But the stressed hives start to walk, and poop.  A sign of dysentery, but more so a sign of a pest pressured hive needing relief.

I don’t usually enjoy the month of March.  Not until I get them out and have them fly in a week of good weather.

If you’re following me so far, you will realize the need to have good weather for the bees to be set out in.  Good flight weather, warm, calm, and many subsequent foraging days to gather nectar and pollen.  Without a good month right after winter can lead to disaster, or at very least a delayed honey crop.  Those weak stressed hives can and do rebuild themselves into very productive hives, but only if they experience a good spring.  In cool wet spring, we lose all of those hives, and our losses mount.

The real trick is to manage your hives with little to no stresses going into winter.  Not an easy task when our industry is facing seven or eight diseases and pests all at the same time.  Disease management is becoming a very large focus in our operation management routine.

Posted by Ian Steppler at 11:21 AM | Permalink

February 26, 2009

Bee Truck

I use a Ford F350 super duty 4×4 6 liter diesel truck to do my bee yard work.  It pulls like a sonabitch.  Last season while moving one of my yards to the buckwheat fields, I slipped my trailer off the approach and crushed the box, to the state of uselessness.

So, I decided the best thing to do, other than fixing the box was to find a flat deck to replace the box.  A flat deck would enable us to stack boxes and handle pallets more efficiently.

So last week, I found a good old simple deck, off an old 83 ford dually, perfect fit for the truck.  Bought it for $500.  What I didn’t realize when I bought it was it was equipped with a 25000 lbs. fold away fifth wheel.  They alone are priced at well over $500.

Got my handy mechanic to install the deck and Bingo, perfect set up.

Next thing I am going to do is install duels and tool boxes on each underside.


Posted by Ian Steppler at 05:55 PM | Permalink

February 08, 2009

Our Honey Harvest

The honey harvest is probably the most intense workload of the beekeeping year.  Boxes are heavy, it’s usually hot, and we are working like there is no tomorrow.  One the honey is cured by the bees, the harvest begins.  Full boxes are taken from the bee yards and replaced with empties to be refilled.  Usually we can complete a full round in about a week and a half, but if weather doesn’t cooperate or the honey is drier than usual, it can take up to two weeks.  It’s important to get the rounds done in a quick manner, the faster you can turn over the boxes, the more honey can potentially be collected.  The bees will fill a box of honey in about a week’s time, so when the flow is on and honey is coming in and the boxes are full, a two week turnover cost us a box of honey as compared to a week turnover.  A well planned harvest pays in dividends.

We palletize everything.  Supers of honey are placed and secured to our honey pallets, and the skid steer loads onto our 30 foot trailer, and then unloads them into the honey house.  There we move the pallets with an electric forklift in and out of the hot room storage.

We extract our honey with a Stainless Steel 60 frame Cowen extractor.  It will extract 300 boxes on an average 8 hour three man work day.  Sometimes 300 boxes yield 12000-15000 lbs. of honey.  At the front of the machine we have a Bachalo super lift, which air lifts out all 9 frames in the honey box and loads them into the automatic Cowen uncapper.  One the frames are loaded into the uncapper, the machine does all the rest of the work.  The wax cappings are removed and the honey is spun out.  The empty frames are then taken from the back of the machine, boxed and palletized once again to be handled back to the honey yards or into storage.  Not a lot of physical strength is needed to run this machine, but like all machines, they need to be run by a competent operator.

The key to running a quick efficient honey pull is hot room space, and about 1/3 extra turnover box capacity.  If you can pull 5-6 yards to fill up your hot room storage, it allows you the leeway to run multiple extraction days if the weather turns foul.  And when the weather then improves again, your focus can redirect to turning over the boxes.

Sometimes a week can mean an extra 30-40 lbs. of honey, all depending on when the heat wave finishes the canola flow.

Posted by Ian Steppler at 01:14 PM | Permalink


Last fall I treated my hives with the latest hive treatment, Apivar.  Our government had approved an emergency registration of this product.  It’s an impregnated strip, two per hive, placed between the most center frames in the hive.  I received the treatment late September, and removed the strips in three weeks. Usually I like to have my treatments done a couple weeks before hand, but circumstances dictated different this year.
My hives were holding a 2% average mite load, some yards less, some yards up to 10%.  A fall mite load threshold is around 5%.  The treatment worked real well seeing mite drop within hours of the treatment.  I am happy with the way the hives went into winter, so, I am expecting the hives to winter well.  The only problem I had was the hives had trouble taking syrup due to the poor fall conditions.  I fear some hives went in light.  I tested my hives for mites and nosema, and the results came back negative.

I manage my hives in doubles year round.  Most beekeepers who winter inside, manage their hives in singles, but I seem to manage my operation better doubles.  I feel it allows the hives more space and allows them to keep more food stores at all times.  It buys me time, something that is important to my operation because I can be pulled in many directions with the work load of the farm.  The only problem is that it is more difficult to handle and store a double as compared to a single.  It cuts my winter shed capacity, to only 700-800 hives max.

Posted by Ian Steppler at 12:37 AM | Permalink

February 04, 2009

New House

For anyone that is interested, Sandy and I are building a new house.  We are building it ourselves, with our brother (the journeyman carpenter) help.  The house is completely framed and we are waiting for the electrician and plumber to finish their work.  My brother is building the kitchen cupboards and bathroom vanities right now.

I will have a gallery set up here with updated pictures of our progress.  Enjoy!

Posted by Ian Steppler at 06:17 PM | Permalink

Wintering Shed

Checked on the wintering shed today, everything is running fine.  The bees inside are a bit restless, but for the most part, quiet.  The amount of dead bees on the floor is increasing; soon I will have to sweep them up. I haven’t swept since beginning of December and the smell of dead bees is starting to become apparent.  I popped open two tops, out of curiosity, and was pleasantly surprised to see a healthy amount of bees in the top box.  The cluster was about the size of a basketball.  They lay quiet even with my disturbance.  It is best if I just leave them alone, but looking into see a nice wintering colony calms my nerves a bit.

Next week I am going to have to get busy and fix the ventilation fan that failed and sweep the floor.  The work should take most of one day.



Posted by Ian Steppler at 06:06 PM | Permalink

February 01, 2009

Wintering Shed

We had a mild spell come through yesterday, temperature rising to a solid 3 degrees.  But with that warmth, came the wind, gusting up to 100 km/hr.  Reminded me how much I dislike the wind.

Went over to check on the status of my wintering shed and found that the main ventilation fan had failed.  The motor mounting must have shifted, and two of the fan blades smashed off.  The temperature in the shed was rising, but without harm, my secondary ventilation fan maintained the temperature.  Now, with the primary fan down, I have re-programmed the secondary fan to act as the primary.  With the failure happening on a Saturday, parts would not be available until Monday at the earliest.  It’s a good thing I had planned my shed with a two fan system.  It has bought me time, and ensured the temperature in the shed would have been regulated regardless.