Monthly Archives: May 2013

Our fields have turned to lakes

We woke up this morning with 110 mm (4 1/2″) in the rain gauge and heavy rain fall is predicted for the rest of the day. Our fields have turned to lakes and crop damage is inevitable.  Add this rain onto the 165 mm (6 1/2″) we had received over the May long weekend, … too much rain.  We had

Our neighbours equipment

Our neighbours equipment

finally gotten back onto the land on Tuesday and by the time we got rained out late Wednesday night we had covered another 700 plus acres, which brings us to 2/3 of the crop sowed.  It has been busy here over the last week, running two seeding crews, sorting and hauling cattle to pasture and the continued hive split.  We are desperate for sun and favorable work conditions as we need to get our spring work done.  The optimum seeding window has now passed and we are now faced with a late crop and the possibility of having to re seed.  The farm now shifts towards a defensive operating strategy as we are forced to react to the conditions that fell upon us.  The bees will be flat this year, the crop is under water, now its the cattle that is left to toe the boat.

beespollenBee work has been progressing very slowly.  It has been frustrating preparing the day around the forecast to find a completely different day ahead.  Shifting between jobs is important so that priority work gets full attention but I have to be careful because switching work focus sometimes leads to getting nothing done.  The bees are bringing loads of pollen into the hives and the queens are keen on keeping every available cell filled with eggs.

Olivarez queens ready to head up their hives

Olivarez queens ready to head up their hives

I have adopted an aggressive queen replacement strategy this year replacing anything that is old and lacks in laying vigour.  Queen replacement is very risky business but a youthful stock has proven to be one of the key factors in colony survival, especially this year.  If properly managed I should have very few three old queens heading up my hives.


Our Deerwood Soil and Water head water damn working at its best.  The earthen spill way has been used for the second time since it has been built !

Our Deerwood Soil and Water run off retention dam working at its best. The Deerwood area has built a series of dams slowing the run off down the escarpment which helps manage water volume during snow melt and heavy rain fall events. These dams have dramatically decreased road washouts and un necessary field flooding over the flats below the escarpment. This dam is working at full capacity, the fullest I have ever seen it after a rain fall even!

Transferring Nucs

The weather has slipped into another cool wet system which has pretty much brought all my beework to a standstill.  The forecast does not look good for next week and I am freaking as the work load stacks. My continued queen orders arrive next week and it does not look like I will have much time to prepare for their arrival.  All I can do is chip away at my work as the weather allows me to.  Some of the hives are getting rather large and I am worried I might not get to them before the dandelion starts blooming.  Almost June and still no sight of dandelion.  Though today I noticed the Marigolds were out so spring is progressing, so so slowly….

Transferring nucs into singles.

Transferring nucs into singles, this being one of my nucs headed up with a Saskatraz queen.

In between the cool rain showers today I found a few hours which allowed me to start transferring my nucs into single boxes.  The work went rather slowly because the weather had the bees in a foul mood but with my smoker, my gloves and my persistence I was able to transfer 110 nucs.  This job can not be delayed any further as the nucs are averaging three frames of sealed brood and they will be busting at the seams in a matter of days.  I am very impressed with the way the nucs look as they had come a long way in these last few weeks.  Not all nucs look this good though, I left 5-10% in their nuc boxes as they were still struggling along.  I am moving them to my salvage yard which will buy them more time to perform.

Pallet U clip holds the hives on the pallet without needing to strap

Pallet U clip holds the hives on the pallet without needing to strap


Migratory tops with feeder hole

Migratory tops with feeder hole

My pallets and tops are back from being dipped and are ready to be put into use.  Why I leave everything to the last minute, I do not know, but I guess it keeps me running!  Every year I bring in a bunch of new equipment to try to keep the operation looking fresh.  A few years ago I started dipping my new equipment and since then I have not picked up the paint brush.  I get my local box and frame builder Lewis and Sons from Austin Manitoba to custom dip my equipment.  They make it so convenient and  affordable that I do not think twice about it.

Package bee yard work

One of the package bee yards,

One of the package bee yards, we are making a quick queen cage cork check to make sure the queen has been released. Out of 208 packages hived, one cork was missed and four holes were propolised over !!! 

Package bees averaging 4-5 frames of bees,
Package bees averaging 4-5 frames of bees, some queens already laying eggs


6 plus inches later . . . .

A tree row of 70 year old Manitoba Maples in my yard blown over in the wind storm

A tree row of 70 year old Manitoba Maples in my yard blown over in the wind storm

Our farm received over 150 mm of rain through out that last weather system…. The land seemed to take the first 100 mm of rain but the next 50mm filled the ditches.  Surprisingly only one of our fields lay water and by the way things are drying up we might be on the land before too long.    With the rain we also got the wind, a terrible wind which ended many trees around here.  We are desperate for favourable weather now as we need to get our spring work done.

The packages arrived late Sunday night and I decided to hive them through out Mondays day of rain.  Working bees in the rain seemed absurd but surprisingly the work went very well.  I have found out that hiving packages in the rain is probably the best way to hive bees because there was absolutely no drift and we were able to work during daylight hours instead of through the night as I had originally planned.  The packages looked to be in good shape.

100_2458The first of the queen orders came today as we began our split round.  The bees look in decent shape considering the year.  Id say they look like end of April or beginning of May bees.  The work is going well but very slow as I work through a very un uniform group of hives.  Everything from huge double boxers to smaller four framers.  This spring definitely favoured the strong hives this year.  We worked through 75 hives today but hope work quickens up because our target is 100 hives per day.

May 17 2013

100_2448The seeding crew put in some long hours over the last three days and to date we have sowed 1000 acres of wheat.  Today we got stopped by drizzle which was a relief to the guys as it is exhausting not only running the long hours but being pushed at the same time to keep the tires rolling.  The land is in perfect shape which helped motivate the drive to put the seed in the ground. Its always a treat to sew the crop in perfect soil conditions!  The forecast is still up in the air, we don’t know exactly how much precipitation is coming but the threat of 80-90 mm still remains.  A nice 25 mm rain is in order not only for the crop but for the grass.  Our silage pile  ran out a few weeks ago and we are holding the cattle on our dry hay reserve.  A rain delay over the weekend is in order!100_2447


100_2440Monday starts my split round as the first of the 600 queens are scheduled to arrive.  My strong hives are still in singles and they have started to make cups as they are bursting with bees.  I usually have them in doubles by now but…. you know,… whats the point this close to splitting.

I am adopting a different beekeeping strategy this spring, as this year has me sitting on my head!  I’m going through and combing everything down to three frames of brood, build two brood splits and requeening anything that hiccups.  I am going to try to fill all my empty boxes, and I have a lot of them, especially as I am switching my entire operation to singles this year and those double dead outs have a lot of boxes sitting in the shed.  I will see how much brood I actually have when I get into them, but my objective is to fill my boxes, so I will adjust my criteria as I go.

I have been very aggressive with my comb culling strategy tossing anything that is old or slightly disfigured.  This is a good year to purge the operation of old comb, I’m still finding wire frames!  My focus is getting my operation back into familiar uniform shape, and I plan on having my bees in tip top shape for winter.  ALL producers face this same issue this year, and right now is where the rubber hits the road.  Run larger and fewer hives and bring in the lucrative honey crop, or rebuild colony numbers, fill the boxes and sacrifice the honey crop in preparation for next year.  Looks like the crops are going to be nicely staggered this summer, so who knows, everything might work out.  The worst thing I can do right now is dwell on the unfortunate spring that fell upon us.  The thing I like about the split round is its a time where all the colonies are worked through and brought together in common strength erasing all reminders of the losses beforehand.

I have gotten the latest word on the package bee arrival and they are scheduled for pick up Sunday evening.  I’m planning on heading into the city that evening and bring them straight back to my holding yard to hive them that night.  It seems like an absurd work plan but I must get these packages settled so that I can forget about them and focus on my split round.

100_2414I think I must be seeing a hatch this last week because for the first time yesterday and today I felt like I was just about to get way behind with my work.   It seemed like I gained a frame or two of bees over night.  My nucs need to be transferred and all my hives need to be worked asap!   Hope the weather stays on my side.


The land is ready

Hives expanding their brood nests nicely

Hives expanding their brood nests nicely

Twenty nine degrees C today working off of an 8 degree night.  The forecast is showing night time lows to be in the 8-12 degree C range with heat during the days.  Exactly what the doctor ordered.  We have started another round today. We are working through the yard shifting some strength around to the smaller colonies and preparing for the split round that starts with the arrival of queens next Monday.  It was a good day for the bees and it was nice to see them finally expand their brood nest to occupy the entire box.  These forecasted warm nights will help support the proper brood nest that had been lacking lately.  Pollen was coming into the hive in loads, with Poplar still going strong and now all the low land Willows have started blooming.  How these bees can maneuver with such heavy loads, I don’t know.

100_2441The land is ready, the equipment is ready and we have turned the first wheel.  Nothing is more motivating than rain in the forecast, so with the land in perfect shape, and nothing done yet we are running the machinery 24 hours till we get stopped by weather.  Our window has been narrowed down to three weeks this year, and the next two is where it counts.  We have a good feeling about the crop this year, even with it going in late.

This was emailed to me from our Provincial Apiarist;

Attached is the weekly crop report.  Note that corn seeding is starting in some areas, so watch your yards that are next to fields that are being planted into corn.  If you notice any increase in bee mortality around the colonies after corn seeding , please give David 204-945-3861 or myself 204-945-4825 a call.  Given that there are few flowering plants in the fields at this time the bees are likely spending more time in the trees than in the fields, but dust may still be a concern. 

The damn concern is from the new corn vacuum planters.  Instead of using a mechanical disc to pick the seed, the machines use air pressure to pick the corn seed.  By far a superiour machine over the old mechanical style, but it is providing problems with honey bee hives.  The seed is treated with a systemic pesticide called Neonicotinoids which are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine.  A far better insect control option than that of crop dusters, but the problem arises within the action of the machine.  The planters pick the seeds with air suction, and then exhausts the air down onto the ground.  The air is contaminated with the pesticide particles picked up from the seed, mixes with the dust as it is exhausted from the machine leaving a cloud of toxic dust in its wake.  Our farm has just updated our planter, guess to what. . . .

So with this information in hand I have decided to try to minimize my exposure to this potential problem by leaving my hives in the holding yards at least until the corn has been planted.  I do not know if this is an actual threat to my hives, but until they can study this issue in detail, I will lean on the side of caution and stay out of sight.

Does this sound familiar?

Does this sound familiar?  Here is a post from a beekeeper in the UK pulled off of Bee-L , one of the beekeeping discussion groups I visit;

Here it was the combination. As far as the bees were concerned we had a
year of winter; the weather fell apart last May and we have had very little
good weather this spring.
Queens failed to mate properly (if at all) last May and June, those that did
mate failed to build decent colonies in the 'summer', the autumn then
prevented them producing a good flush of young bees for the winter, and
pollen was in very short supply throughout.

So small colonies with inadequate pollen, old bees and perhaps a dodgy queen
went into winter. Perhaps those with properly mated queens would have built
well if we had not had such a poor spring - very cold and wet - but the
current situation is grim and certainly the worst in living memory.
Losses of 75% or more are not uncommon. It will take a long time to recover
as there are so few decent colonies that can be split at the moment - many
are really just nucs.

Oil seed rape is just coming into flower, but yesterday's max was 15C with a
low of 5C last night. Today there is a cold wind blowing and we are asking
ourselves whether last weekend's 'heat-wave' was our summer again. Another
year like the last one will finish many beekeepers.


The fill came in on Monday

Honey house base ready for construction,

Honey house base ready for construction,

The fill came in on Monday and we spent the day building the base, 16-20″ of it.  We are big believers of building on a proper footing, as the building is only as good as the ground its built on.  The job got tiring as every couple of inches got the **** packed out of it.  Construction is scheduled to start immediately.

Beautiful day of beekeeping today!  Finally I am starting to make some headway.  Pretty much caught up with my work, if that is ever possible, and now preparing the equipment to be used over the next few weeks.  I have decided to buy in some package bees to fill some of the empty equipment I have sitting in the shed.  I was pretty

Two boxes of bees!

Two boxes of bees!

close on my estimated total losses as I had 25% winter losses with an additional 15% loss through out the last few weeks.  My hives are coming along very well right now, but not well enough to make up 40% of my losses, so I have ordered 200 packages to take the pressure off the operation.  I worked the nucs today and believe they have bounced off their low point.  Those night time lows were very hard on them and many did not survive.  I think I have pulled out the last of the nuc losses which will tally just shy of 30%.  This was very frustrating but as the rest of the operation, the remaining nucs look promising.

Red spot light on the loader arm illuminates 4' of working space

Red spot light on the loader arm illuminates 4′ of working space

The packages come sometime next week and the forecast is to be hot.  Not the best weather to hive packages, so I have decided to hive them late in the evening into the night.  The Ezyloader has a red spot light on the end of the arm which allows night time moving of hives.  This will also provide the perfect lighting for hiving packages at night.  By hiving the packages at night, drifting should be minimized.

Re arranging our yard, with a track hoe !

Re arranging our yard, with a track hoe !

We received a few days of warmth

Box of bees,

Box of bees,

We received a few days of warmth and the country side woke up.  Ontario Maple, Poplar, Siberian Elm pretty much all came out into bloom all at once and attracted the complete attention of my hives.  They are getting the good stuff now, and boy could I see the direct result of it in the nest.  I’m going to start to see a change in my hives over the next week as the hives make the corner and start spring time brooding.

This resolution came from the MBA meeting held on May 3rd;

BE IT RESOLVED That the MBA pursue immediately the end of the prohibition of importation of package bees from the USA contingent on approval of Resolution 2 & 3 of Special General Meeting of 3 May 2013.

BE IT RESOLVED that MBA establish a set of minimum risk protocols in concert with CFIA and MAFRI to enable importation of Package Bees from the Continental USA.

I did not make it to this meeting because work held me down on the farm but I have talked to a few producers about the meeting.  75% of the membership voted in favour of this resolution but only after they passed a resolution which keep bees on comb from crossing the boarder;

BE IT RESOLVED that MBA uphold its current position of prohibiting importation of bees on comb.

I believe this is a move in the right direction.  I am not naive enough to believe we are going to go back to the days of package beekeeping,but I feel this move strengthens our industry.  There is a fear that the beekeepers who lobbied hard for packages will continue their lobby efforts for a complete opening of the boarder to which they have pollination opportunities in mind.  I am not in

This is how the hives will come, by the semi load, buying the rights to the land, and we will have absolutely no control on what happens

This is how the hives will come, by the semi load, buying the rights to the land, and we will have absolutely no control on what happens

favour of allowing bees on comb to cross the boarder as that would dramatically change the face of the industry as we know it.  My advice for anyone wanting access to the California Almond groves is to get dual citizenship and move to the US.  Canada has one advantage to which we all depend to provide our lively hoods, and that is exclusive access to abundant foraging territory.  As soon as that goes, so does our lively hoods.