September 29, 2012
Its been dry this summer, and with the heat most everything is tinder dry. The local volunteer fire department has been busy keeping grass fires at bay. This has gotten me real nervous because 15 out of my 32 bee yards sit in longish grass. Usually I keep my yards mowed with a good 15 feet around my whole yard to manage fall and spring wild fires. But its was a chore I had not gotten around to this year because of my overly busy schedule. Not much I can do about the yards now. The grass is all tramped down and mowing would not help at this point. Im taking a chance, hope I don’t pay for it!
This threat of fire has also gotten me nervous about my farm yard. I have a large lawn, and it has been well kept, but my honey house sits alongside an over grown bush. If a fire would ever catch in that bush, my honey house would burn. So these last few days I have been scrubbing out my yard and expanding my lawn to control this problem. Im going to start mowing everything in my yard from now on which will completely relieve any fire issues. It will look alot better also.
I have been given the okay to build a honey house. I have been gathering bids on the contract and construction will start asap to be ready for next years honey harvest. We are not building this structure ourselves because our farm work schedule is busy with other operational projects. So much going on right now. This project is going to be tendered out and ready to go by July 1st. I am very excited! Its going to be a simple two room 50 by 75 by 12 building with a nice polished cement floor and a good simple sump drain system. Im going to be viewing some honey house facilities in the near future to get ideas on machine set up. All this will happen this winter as things slow down.
My overall timeline on re establishing my extraction facility will be figured over two years. The short term plan (2013) is to keep the extraction facility in the old building and use the new facility only for a hot room and wintering shed. The following year (2014) I plan on moving everything into the new facility and turn the old facility into a box and barrel storage building. By spreading my transition over two years I allow myself some lee way if construction does not go as planned. I do not want to get caught without an extraction facility at next years harvest. Also a longer time line will allow me more time to invest into machinery upgrades to be implemented in the new extraction facility.
With this new building in place, I will be able to manage my honey operation more effectively. The honey house I currently work in is designed for a 500 hive operation max. I’m trying to put 900 hives through it! I just do not have the space or equipment I need to accomplish this 900 hives worth of work load. With the addition of space I open up the opportunity to bring in more help to manage the work load during the pulls. This facility will allow me to separate my work and provide the capacity needed to run two crews during the pull. One crew extracting everyday and one crew collecting honey everyday. By managing the pull with two crews Ill be able to cut the duration of the pull in half and I will be able to efficiently manage 900 hives plus in a normal work week schedule. Thus not wearing myself out while keeping my family happy.
Running two crews is a huge step for my operation. It means I will have to relinquish control over some of the daily operations. Handing over control is a big step for me because up until now I have been involved in managing absolutely everything within my crew as we worked thought the bee yards and while extracting honey in the honey house. I have always run my crews. This will be a very interesting year on the bee farm. If I can successfully manage crews of men to accomplish my work loads, I will have found my ticket to longevity in this business.
Posted by Ian Steppler at 03:08 PM | Permalink
September 15, 2012
First round of feeding is done. The hives are taking the feed very well and I plan on starting the second round on Wednesday. Its starting to feel like fall as the days cool and the nights hover around the low single digits. We have shifted into a more casual fall work pace as the grain and honey harvest is done. A lot of attention is being shifted towards the cattle now as we are bringing the animals in from pasture. Fall work has not started yet because the land is too dry to work. Everything has been harrowed and we are waiting for a good rain before we till any land. With the purchase of our zero till drill, we have the option to leave all the land without fall work as we have the option to direct seed in the spring. It has bought us some lee way. Perhaps it will also help with moisture conservation if our rain falls remain low. Who knows. One of the biggest challenges in farming is being able to adapt to changes. Most cases its the weather that dictates our work, and being able to modify our work to the changing weather patterns from year to year makes our job easier.
Posted by Ian Steppler at 09:18 AM | Permalink
September 08, 2012
The last of the honey was extracted on Thursday which brings an end to the honey production season. Today I finished emptying the honey sump auger and honey lines and capped my last barrel. I filled 197 barrels on 900 production hives which averaged to a bit over 140 lbs/hive. Not bad, but I will take it. Most all of the honey came during the June and July months, with only drags of alfalfa and buckwheat through August. Now my attention turns towards fall feeding and preparing the hives for winter.
I have sampled all my yards and sent the samples off to the U of M bee lab for analysis. I’m getting them to check my Varroa mite, tracheal mite, and nosema levels. As I was sampling my yards, I was making an in yard estimated V mite count of 2%-3%. It had gotten me puzzled because I was confident my spring treatments had worked very well. With my threshold for varroa mites at 4%, I was starting to think about a fall treatment to knock the counts down to around the 1% level. After all my samples were taken, I did a hard count found my average mite levels were more around the .5% to 1% levels. I’m still getting the lab to confirm this count but with it I have decided not to treat this fall.
While I was tossing around the idea to treat, I contacted a few beekeepers for some feed back on using some of the alternative treatments currently on the market. The feedback I got back was not what I expected with beekeepers giving me treatment results all over the map. Also with all of this, nobody would vouch for the effectiveness of these treatments. Hard to hang your hat on a treatment plan with so many different experiences and because of this I was again leaning towards using the chemical option. I think the main reason beekeepers found huge variance in the alternative mite treatments was because of the high temperatures fluctuations beekeepers were trying to treat in. I know these compounds are natural and generally accepted as “better for the bees” than chemical treatments but if the conditions are not exactly as they should, the treatment either does not work effectively or it blasts the hive to the point where it will damage brood and kill queens. It’s very hard to find consistent weather here in Manitoba and I look as some of these treatments as being a gamble. Anyway, by not having to treat I have put my self at ease with having not to make a treatment decision and also it has saved me a lot of work. All these decisions can be saved for next spring!
We are completely done harvest, finishing August 31. It is dad’s third time completing harvest before September and it is my second time. Like the honey harvest, the crop harvest was very good and disappointing all at the same time. We had a bumper wheat crop but fell short on the canola. It was just too hot during the canola filling stage which too the top off the yield. Prices are up dramatically with rumblings of the crop being short around the black sea. With a small crop in the US and a dusty South America it looks like there could be more upward potential in the market. Could be an interesting winter again. It has been dry here also though, with creaks and springs drying up. It has left us scrambling to make sure our watering holes in our pastures had not dried up. We have had to watch the pastures very closely having to haul water to some pastures and pulling the cattle off others. The grass has pretty much finished now and the big cattle move back home has started. During the next couple of week we will have everything back in the yard. Its early to start feeding but we have a big corn silage crop less than a week away which will ensure we have more than enough feed to keep them longer than usual. Also, we have cut all our sloughs to help bulk up the reserves.
Without the 3-4 inches of rains that fell here in July, our crop outcome would have looked completely different this fall. The rains gave us a honey crop, a wheat and canola crop, a silage and hay crop, and a long lived pasture crop.
Posted by Ian Steppler at 10:34 AM | Permalink