On December 22, we headed out towards Calgary and spent five days in Airdrie with my in-laws over Christmas. Two days on the road to get there was very trying with five kids, but the trip was worth it as our time spent was fantastic. The weather was great as Calgary caught a mountain Chinook raising temps to plus temperatures our entire stay. We toured around the area taking in some of the finer features of the area and I can see why people choose to live in this part of the country. We left Manitoba in bitter -34 degrees C weather and we were welcomed back to Manitoba with -34 degrees C weather… Ohhh, back to the farm and back to reality. One of my first jobs back home was spent thawing a frozen stock waterer… I’m glad to be home!
I bought a SS bulk milk tank from a fellow cattle producer and was able to back haul it yesterday, while delivering cattle up into the interlake. After we got back we took advantage of the darkness and unloaded the tank into the honey house, through the wintering room into the extraction room. It was -25 degrees C as we opened up the overhead doors into the wintering room, the room temperature dropped to -15 degrees C . As of this morning the temp has risen back to 4 degrees C. Because of the sudden temperature drop in the shed, some of my hives showed signs of excess condensation as moisture has drained out the hive fronts. I add this observation to the rest as I determine my winter shed RH targets.
Today I spent some time in the winter shed sweeping bees between the rows and wheel barreling the dead bees outside into the bush. The amount of dead on the floor has started to accumulate and I like to sweep the bees regularly to keep the shed smelling fresh. I love the space I now have in between the rows. Four foot isles are more than wide enough to maneuver a wheel barrel to collect dead bees.
While in Winnipeg today I slipped over to an antique dealer on Balmoral St. to buy this Buckwheat honey tin packed by the MCHP under the Prairie Queen brand. Now that I’m a “honey tin collector” I could not resist adding this tin to my collection! I pulled out four tins of interest which included this one, he wanted $75, I gave him $15. LOL
I bought a humidifier which will dump 4 gallons of water into the air over a 24 hour period. I set it for 50%, will see how the condensation looks after a week at that RH level.
Mix mix mix mix, with our silage based ration we are able to prepare a feed ration which targets our exact cattle dietary needs while also providing them with micro nutrients on a daily basis. Most importantly of which is Vitamin A, Calcium and Selenium. In the past we would supplement these minerals either with Vitamin A injections or self feeding mineral tubs. These vitamins and minerals are very expensive and self feeders only provided access which was very wasteful. Also our energy levels are targeted so as we mix the silage we can either bulk up the feed and slow down the digestion with straw or add grain and protein to target and maintain animal growth. The savings on feed cost and the increased cattle performance has absolutely amazed us. We actually sold off our extra hay this year and cashed in on some high hay prices! For anyone considering moving towards a corn based ration all I have to say is, how much hay did you put up dry and without dust this year?
This move towards targeting nutrition in our cattle herd has gotten me thinking a lot about increasing and
improving the nutrition in my honey bee hives. With our bounty of crops to forage on for most of the season, not much attention is put towards this issue. But as more and more wild forage is being lost and by the intensive management of mono culture crops I fear the hives are going through periods of malnutrition in critical periods through the year. And the quality of the bee forage off these crops are tainted with fungicide which creates problems as the bees try to store and consume it as bee feed.
I have been talking a lot about this issue but I don,t seem to be able to implement anything yet because of small operational obstacles which continually throw a wrench into my supplemental feeding plan. Doing nothing and allowing nature to take its course is much easier as we can not force bees to do ANYTHING, as we can with cattle for example. This winter I’m going to be hashing out some ideas, some practical, some obvious, some impractical but by spring I hope to have something figured out so that I have some kind of a nutritional map to follow which will allow me to supplement the hives dietary needs when or if they need it.
I have been obsessing over the 30% RH in my shed lately as I am concerned it is too low, causing the hives unneeded stress in the wintering shed. My fear is that the bees will dry out the honey stores in the hive, which will make the honey inaccessible to consume later.
In previous years I have tried to increase the RH levels in my shed by dumping pails of water onto the floor but I found it promoted a perfect environment for mold growth under the pallets creating a terribly dusty working environment to work in. I also had no way of properly assessing the proper RH level in the shed and inadvertently promoted mold growth inside the hive destroying a lot of brood comb. To provide hydration to the hives without increasing the air RH, I set up little watering stations in the entrances of the hives. This probably worked, but it consumed a tremendous amount of time, which I don’t have. I have been searching for that perfect RH shed level where as I promote just enough condensation within the hive to allow the bees access to water, but not so much to promote mold growth inside the hives and on the floor under the pallets.
A beekeeper emailed me this morning with a trick they use to determine if the sheds RH level is adequate. They look for the amount of condensation forming on the inside walls of the hive by observing the level of in hive condensation on the feed plug. Neat trick, and by the number of caps I pulled today, half were were moist and half were dry. This is telling me I probably should be adding water to the shed air.
Another beekeeper emailed me today with another trick to determine if the hives are thirsty. He will toss a clump of snow onto a random number of hives entrances and watch to see if they will consume the snow melt. If the hives attack the snow and drink it down, they are dry! So I tried this trick with a hand full of my hives and my girls moved towards the snow melt and drank lapped it up.
So there I go, I have a method of properly assessing the level of hive hydration in my shed with a couple of quick tests. My shed currently sits at 30% RH, so Im going to try to bring it up to 40% and maybe 50% and watch my condensation levels inside the hives. I think for the short term Im going to dump water on the floor in an area of the shed where there is no stacks of hives just to flash hydration levels up in the shed. And to maintain the levels, Im going to set up a humidifier.
Lots to think about…
Today my oldest daughter and I were browsing through the Morden Antique store in search for a unique gift for Sandy and in the far back corner of this store I found these honey tins. Two of the tins I found were labeled Mullin Apiaries from Myrtle, Man. The Mullin’s were a beekeeping family who kept bees in this area for over 100 years. They used to keep bees on my grandfathers farm land, but retired and sold just as I started growing my honey business. The other interesting tin I found was Clover Crest Honey, packed by Manitoba Co-operative Honey Producers ltd. Clover Crest Honey was one of Manitoba’s co-operative’s old packing label before they merged with Alberta and Saskatewan Cooperative Honey producers to sell under the BeeMaid brand. The neat thing about this tin is the Manitoba crest predominately showing the origin of its honey and company. I imagine these tins are 50-60 years old.
So with this find, I have started my honey tin collection which I am going to display in my honey house coffee room. Imagine buying honey in these tins! Talk about old school!
I bought a humidity and temperature gauge to double check my thermostat module and found there to be a discrepancy between the two. I have my shed set at 5 degrees C, my temperature gauge tells me its sitting at 8.5. One of the readings is wrong, going to have to bring in an “old school” thermometer to get an actual reading, they never lie. My humidity level in the shed has been steadily decreasing as this cold weather persists. I’m not sure exactly what to do about it as I’m sure the hives are large enough to be creating condensation within the hive bodies to satisfy their needs. I have been finding a lot of anecdotal advice on what the optimum RH level is in an indoor wintering environment, but I’m not finding a lot of supporting evidence that indicates any detrimental effects of low RH. One on line beekeeper suggested RH within the cluster will be satisfactory either way because of the water derived from the consumption of the honey itself. I believe he is right, but is it enough to satisfy the bees hydration needs while sitting for prolonged periods in very low RH conditions? I would like to know what RH levels I need to target through out the winter.
So far this winter my bee drop has been practically negligible, but with a shed full of many large hives I’m sure I’ll be counting the barrels in February as usual.
On Tuesday I slipped over to a beekeeper’s house in Austin, MB and sat down with a few producers for a face to face meeting with our BeeMaid director Bill Bygarski and BeeMaid’s CEO, Guy Chartier. The meeting we had with Bill and Guy was very productive and I’m glad I attended. Guy’s grass roots strategy in gathering feedback from the membership is a very smart one as he leads this cooperative through a very competitive market place. It is imperative that Guy keeps BeeMaid and his membership on the same path.
Moving grain through this cold, cold weather has been a challenge. Everything takes so much longer to get started and moving in the cold. At least the snow has not been much of an issue so far as we have been able to easily access our grain from our surrounding yards. We try to get these yards cleaned up first so that we don’t have to dig through huge banks of snow to access the grain later into winter.
Successful showing at the No Boarders Select Female Charolais sale in Virden today. Great lively crowd and bids coming from all corners of the barn. Our ten bred heifers averaged $4860 with the our high seller for $6600 to Sparrows Farms from Saskatoon. Thanks to everyone that came out to the sale today and thanks to everyone who supported our farms breeding program.
With this continual cold weather and with my ventilation fans running at idle I cant help but think about CO2 levels in my wintering shed. I have not yet installed an air quality monitoring and alarm system, next on my list, but in the mean time Im going to purchase a CO2 sensor so I can at least monitor the levels in the shed.
I contacted a beekeeping friend tonight and bugged him a bit about his air quality monitoring system. He is very aware about his CO2 levels and is managing it accordingly. He gave me a neat little test trick to try in the shed, burn a match or candle and if the flame burns blue, the shed has air quality problems. Im not sure if he mentioned that trick just to give me something to test so that I would stop obsessing over my air quality but what can I say, its basic science, gota love it. I also used the candle to test the air circulation throughout the shed. I should see a slight flicker of the candle light with the air movement throughout the room. Stagnate air layers and can cause CO2 and CO pockets becoming toxic to the bees. According to my candle test, I have air movement everywhere in the shed.
The amount of energy these bees give off constantly amazes me. Last night our cold snap continued with temperatures dipping below -30degreesC and with the wind howling -40degreeC windchill. Terrible cold, but the temperature in the winter shed remained unchanged at +5degreesC. Quite amazing that 900 boxes of bees can maintain that temperature in such a large room. Even though this cold weather I continue to manage my air quality with constant air exchange. Because of the extreme difference in temperature I try to regulate the air exchange at bare minimums. Not only am I trying to conserve heat but humidity levels also. About as much air as a large table fan running on low is what Im pulling through the shed continuously.
This picture may be boring to any beekeeper but to a beekeeper/cattle producer, an open waterer after a frost driving -30degreeC night provides a sense of relief that anyone who had to thaw one of these out in a -40degreeC windchill morning would understand.
That picture of that waterer I was so relieved about, upon my second round of checking, it turns out that the heating element inside burnt out and melted a hole in the bottom of the bowel… Water everywhere until I turned off the valve to which everything froze solid… Two hours later and a patch job we thawed everything out and got water back in for the cattle.