Sep 25

Minimum Wage, Why make it so complex?

It has been a quite some time since I was directly affected by minimum wage. The last time I had a minimum wage job, or one based on minimum wage, was when I worked in the computer labs of the University of Toledo. It helped pay the room, board and tuition, but was far from enough to pay all of it. If I hadn’t saved nearly every penny from jobs I held since I was 14 years old mowing lawn and eventually working at a garden center, McDonalds then a local grocery store, I wouldn’t have been able to afford even the relatively cheap tuition at a state university. I don’t know how anyone could afford to pay even half what I did now that most things are more expensive and minimum wage isn’t much more than was in the early 90’s.

So there is no question that minimum wage is too little to make a living from in most areas of the country. And in some areas you would have a hard time finding a cardboard box to live in a minimum wages. And while everyone seems to aggree that it needs to be raised, no one can agree how, and business argue that they need employees at substandard wages (ensuring a high turnover rate and guarenteeing continuous training expenses and poor customer service). I can understand some worry about large jumps affecting their bottom line (increasing $5 to $7, a 40% increase), but does it really need to be so complex as a congressional action and large increases every 9 to 10 years. Don’t most non-minimum wage jobs get a raise every year, even if it’s only a cost of living increase?

Many contractors that work with the covernment (with the Ohio Department of Transportation for example) must pay prevaling rates. These prevailing rates are maintained by the state for dozens of different jobs, with varying rates by county that are updated frequently (montly I think). So why can’t minimum wage be maintained similarly? The mechanism is already in place. Just correct the minimum wage, adjust it regionally by state and county, then update it for the rate of inflation yearly thereafter (also kept the the US government montly) And the yearly increase may also need to reflect the cost of living in each county to keep pace with local development or deflation.

But that would be entirely too simple, and would probably be a permanent fix (something congress really hates). It would mean people would get a wage they could survive on where they lived, and possibly even live in the community they work in (impossible in many areas of the country). It doesn’t mean anyone is going to get rich (except perhaps the minimum wage poster venders who would now have an entire poster for minimum wages to cover all 88 counties of ohio), but it means people would earn enough to get by. It wouldn’t be enough to prosper, but just enough to put a roof over their head, put food on the table, clean clothes to wear and bus fare to get to work, just the bare minimum. Enough to make it worthwile getting up in the morning to go to work, the bare minimum. Isn’t that what minimum wage should be?

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Sep 20

What are queens thinking?

Sometimes I really wonder what queens are thinking.  I came home today to and looking out the window of my bedroom where my observation hive is mounted I saw what looked like a queen, motionless on the ground a foot away from the extrance tube.  Looking closer I saw the white dot on her back, it was the queen.  Why did she leave the hive alone?

The observation hive never did recover well from the county fair.  They now only have about 3 frames of brood and bees, far from enough to survive the winter.  I do have however another 5 frames of bees and brood set aside from combining 5 frame nucs which I plan on adding to the hive tomorrow, and apparently a new queen as well.

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Sep 20

Found a Queen!

In the worst possible place.

This past weekend was spent combining mating nucs back into full size hives and inspecting the rest of my hives. I actually took Friday off of work and spend 3 solid days doing nothing but combining and inspecting. If it weren’t for the heavy fog Friday and Saturday morning I could report I had all hives inspected. But as it was, I still have about 20 left to inspect and another 30 to double check to ensure they accepted their queen. But I’ve got plenty of queens available just incase as I banked all the extra queens I had from combining nucs.

This week has been cool and wet. Great weather really for staying inside and extracting. With luck I’ll be finished before the weekend. But last night I had a rather unexpected find. I found a queen. I’ve seen queens hide in hives just about everywhere they shouldn’t be. On the sides of the hive bodies, even under a Sundance pollen trap. But this poor queen was found in a honey super that was sitting in my garage for nearly 2 weeks. There is no telling what hive she came from. Hopefully she came from the one queenless hive I ran into during inspection and had already requeened. But there is still a fair chance she came from one of the hives yet to be inspected. And judging by the weather, it’s not likely I’ll have a good chance to inspect them all this weekend.

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Sep 13

Snakes on a Plane, Bees on a Bike….

The TV add for the movie really didn’t interest me at all. But I must say I was pretty much lost after hearing the title of the movie. I suppose some would find even the metion of a snake scary, but it really doesn’t intrigue me at all. Plus the title doesn’t seem to leave anything to the imagination. Anaconda was one of those one word titles that made you want to know more. You knew it was a snake, a big snake, but it could be in your house or eating your dog rather than in some plane you aren’t in.

However, it did give me a great idea for a series of kids books. Here are some of the titles in the series:

  • Bees on a Bike
  • Snakes on a Plane
  • Pigs on a Bus
  • Cows in a Truck
  • Bees on a Bike
  • Birds on a Boat
  • Cats in a Car

You are more than welcome to use them as it’s not really something I’m good at (writing kids books and drawing). I’d love to hear from anyone who gets it published though.

(Note: I suppose this isn’t entirely off topic, I did find an article about a swarm of bees on a bike. Nothing a beekeeper would get excited about though, it looks to be barely enough bees to populate a small nuc.)

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Sep 12

The Bees are Gone

Wrapping and sealing everything that had honey in it, including supers, uncapping tank and the extractor did keep the bees out. They didn’t loose interest right away, but after opening the garage door it didn’t take half the day before most of the workers quickly lost interest in the workshop. Of course now when I extract I’ll have to open up then reseal everything when I’m finished, so I isn’t really worth working for an hour or two in the evening after the sun goes down and the dark chases me out of the hives. So it will have to wait awhile until I get caught up on the real beekeeping.

Varroa Mite on Drone PupaeMost of this past weekend was spent inspecting hives at two of my apiaries and marking queens. Most hives looked very good and some had a surprising amount of brood for this time of year. It does make me worry if they’ll end up with enough stores for winter. Drones were plentiful in many hives from adult to pupae and a few drone larvae. There were signs of varroa infestation in some however with defored wings easy to spot in a couple, and varroa visible in drone brood. It looks like some treatment will be necessary in some. It did however give me an opportunity to get a decent photo of a varroa mite as I did remember the camera this time (that almost never happens).

The rain has put a stop to inspecting, but it should stop by Wednesday or Thursday.

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Sep 08

Bees Everywhere.

Robbing Bees #1It didn’t work. I had attempted to attract the bees away from the honey house by putting out wet supers nearby (within 100′). But they clearly were more interested in the honey house than ever. When I returned home on Thursday there were more bees in the building than ever. Most seemed to be getting in the corners of the garage door where a swarm like mass of them had formed, but this entrance was limited in size and others were getting in every crack they could find.

Fortunately I had covered every tank, bucket, the extractor and other equipment with towels which kept them out of the extracted honey. But they were getting into the stacks of honey supers waiting ot be extracted. Thousands of them were swarming around the window and the light in the room.

Bees swarming on a window.   Swarms of bees attracted by a light.

Near dusk I was able to evacuate most of them by opening the garage door, placing a bright light outside and alternately turning on and off the large florecent lights in the workshop.

After extracting was finished for the night every stack of supers was completely sealed with pallet wrap, and every piece of equipment (extractor, uncappping tank), etc.) with honey in it was sealed with pallet wrap and duct tape. I had hoped this would cut down on the smell of honey and put an end to the robbing. Or at worst case would keep them out of the honey itself.
By 7:30 Friday morning the bees had already started trying to get in the workshop. They were already trained to the source and no matter of sealing the honey would keep the out of the building. So I let them in. I opened the door so they could come and go as they pleased. I’m hoping that once they find there is nothing left (that they can get to), they’ll let me extract in peace. I hope I don’t find a mess when I get home from work.

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Sep 07

Let the Extracting Begin.

Extracting actually began several weeks ago. But between queen orders, the county fair, physically getting the honey off the hives and into the honey house for extraction and the labor day weekend I really haven’t had the time to extract much. I’m probably only a 3rd done and I should have been done by last weekend.

My honey house is actually my 3 car garage (a pole building). It is far from air tight but that hasn’t caused any problems in past years. However, this year the bees found their way in. Lots of them, everywhere. Probably several swarms worth were hanging from the lights, at the windows and just about everywhere else. Many more managed to get into the extractor (I think the cover was ajar) and got stuck in the honey that had to be cleaned out before we could extract any more. In the past I had always put out some extracted supers to attract their attention. This is not really a recommended practice as it does carry some risk of spreading American Foul Brood spores. So this year I didn’t put out wet supers as bait. Big Mistake. So I put out wet supers last evening and hopefully it will be enough to keep most of them away from the garage. Even so, all tanks and the extractor were closed and covered with sheets to keep the bees out of them. It won’t keep them out of the unextracted honey supers, but it should alleviate the biggest problem.

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Sep 07

Last Queens of the Season Shipped.

The last queens bees of the season shipped out yesterday. With luck USPS will deliver them on time this Friday.  It’s hard to belive the season is already over, but it’s now time to start combining nucs and get hives in shape for winter.

I want to thank all of our customers, especially the patients and understanding of those that waited for queens early in the season.  It seems everything that could go wrong this season did, begining with a late buildup of drones in spring that started things nearly 10 days behind schedule to a 3 week cold snap in May resulting in poorly mated or unmated queens (drone layers) that couldn’t be shipped.  Fortunately I did eventually get back on schedule, though at the expense of not doing any of my own requeening in May and June as I had planned.   USPS caused some headaches as well with more packages delayed than in the past.  I even had several Express mail packages (1-2 day) take 5 days or more to arrive at their destination just 2 states away.  I had more problem packages this year than in the last 3 combined.  I think others have seen the same problems as quite a few wanted UPS shipping, somthing I always offered, but never had to use until this year.  Hopefully USPS will shape up next year as UPS next day air is nice, but it is much more expensive than Priority or Express mail.

I am already begining to be contacted for 2007 queens but for now they are just put on a list to contact as I officially don’t begin to take orders until January 1st.   Looks like next year promises to be a busy season, if we can beat the weather.

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Aug 31

Queen Bees the Key to Longer Life?

Are queen honey bees really the key to longer life? At least one researcher thinks so according to this article ‘An age-old question: will wax slow wane?‘, but I doubt it. Unless I’ve failed to learn anything about bees since I started keeping and studying them some 6 years ago, Mr. David Vaux of La Trobe Univeristy seems not to know much about bees and their normal behavior and life span, some of which would draw a big question on the theories presented in the article. (Ignoring the more blatantly wrong facts such as queens can lay up to 200 eggs a day when the accepted estimate is up to 2000 to 3000 egg per day.)

David Vaux notes that most cells of the queen bee don’t actively divide, which is true of worker bees as well. But queens can live up to 6 years where workers live only about 6 weeks. He give no consideration of why bees die. Bees die (workers and queens) when they succumb to disease, are found to be no longer useful to the hive, are injured or simply wearing out (since their cells don’t divide and repair themselves as human cells do). Workers literally work themselves to death when their muscles and wings physically wear out. So in summer they live for some 6 weeks, but when they cannot fly in winter they can live for 6 months or more (until they start flying again). Queens typically live until they no longer lay a consistent pattern of eggs. When this happens the workers will replace the queen or the hive will die out. Since she rarely flies (normally only for mating and swarming), she doesn’t wear out her wings or muscles (and apparently egg laying is a much less strenuous activity than foraging) Her life span is basically determined by how many eggs she can lay and how long it takes for her to lay those eggs. In cooler climes with longer winters when the queen doesn’t lay eggs, a typical life span may be 2-3 years. But in warm climates or migratory beekeeping operations that follow the blooming flowers a queen may only last a year.

We know diet, stress and the environment can have a significant effect on the health and life span of many animals including insects (and humans). But this research seems to discount the facts that queen bees are feed different food starting when she hatches from an egg, and as an adult she is constantly cleaned, fed and tended to by many workers, and isn’t normally exposed to the sun or weather. Even the temperature and humidity of the hive she lives in is controlled by the workers. Even when mating she won’t fly until it’s 68 degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer than temperatures workers will fly in. She simply is not subject to the same stresses that workers are exposed to. Instead La Trobe seems to think the magic is in the semen that comes from the most fragile inhabitant of the beehive, the drone.

Thus David Vaux proposes inseminating queens with semen and saline and comparing the two groups. I can already tell you the results of this trial. The queens inseminated with semen will life longer, much longer. This is because queens inseminated with semen will be able to head a productive hive and will be well taken care of by the workers. The saline inseminated queen will only lay eggs that will yeild drones and the workers will attempt to replace her as soon as possible before the hive collapses. Without constant infusions of new brood from another hive the hive lead by a drone laying queen will fail. Even when if the queens are banked (stored in hive but not allowed to lay) the workers will favor the semen inseminated queen.

But should the research actually show there is some magic in drone semen that’s great news for me and the few others out there that have the equipment and training to collect it. At $5 per microliter (somewhere around $2.3 million per pound), it’s much more valuable than royal jelly and the demand is sure to drive the price up 🙂

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Aug 30

Honey Havest

We have official begun harvesting honey, nearly 2 weeks behind schedule. Normally I would take off the week of the County Fair to spend time pulling honey and extracting. But this year I simply did not have any time left to take off of my day job. Plus we spent more time at the fair than we normally do because we gave a live bee show as part of the Northwest Ohio Beekeepers Association. It was a good time and I’ll have to post pictures of it later, but it has put me considerably behind.

Our extracting setup is fairly simply. Harvesting HoneyA 20 frame stainless steel Cowen extractor, 8′ stainless uncapping tank, 100 gallon tank, and a 15 gallon bottling tank, all from Kelly’s. We use the bottleing tank most of the year for it’s intended purpose (bottleing honey), but when harvesting we use it to feed honey though a strainer in the 100 gallon tank. Last year we also added a vibrating knife (not pictured), also from Kelly’s, which helps speed things up and reduces the strain on my wrists as compared to the manual electric heated knife. It wasn’t cheap but was definately worth the expense. (The previous year I ended up wearing a wrist brace for 2 months after harvesting and I was seriously worried I might need carpel tunnel surgery).

With this setup we extracted over 6,000lbs in 2005. Some day we’ll add a sump and a pump to move the honey from the extractor to the top 15 gallon tank. But for now I use a step stool and 5 gallon bucket to carry the honey and pour it in the top tank. It’s really not that bad.

I noticed today that the goldenrod has just started blooming. I’m hoping the bees will bring in a good amount of necter to help build up for winter after the last 4 days of rain. By the end of this weekend I hope to pull all the honey off the hives and at least have it in the honey house, but I’m afraid it will take several weeks before I’m done extracting because I can only extract in the evenings and weekends this year and I have to get other beekeeping tasks done… more on that later.

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