An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
There was ice on the ground—definitely not beekeeping weather—but some were out there feeding bees. Most of mine still have lots of honey, thanks to my inactivity due to a large kidney stone.
Some hives are very strong with three to four part-frames of brood, while hives that were treated late have miserable little clusters that will need boosting if they do survive.
I have been out in the rain making preparations to move an apiary I have used for 30 years to make way for a mountain bike track. That’s how things go when beekeeping on someone else’s land— nothing is permanent.
Conference in Ashburton was a bit of a blur as I was involved in other things and didn’t get time to talk to a lot of beekeepers. However, I was fortunate to tag along with the Essential Skills Workshop for young beekeepers on Monday, 17 June. I observed as participants learned some of the things that go wrong with small motors. They also received welding tips, a few safety essentials when working alone and instruction about how to preserve their fingers working a saw bench. The money side of things was covered by the local ANZ rural managers, who handed out their business start-up guide. We also had tips on safety from the local fire chief.
The local Honda agent gave freely of his years of knowledge and experience. Kill switches are a trap for young players. You must make sure it is turned on and the wires are connected. Next, check the oil level. Modern motors won’t allow the engine to start if the oil level is low. Change the oil once a year and fill up to the input hole if it doesn’t have a dip stick.
Small motors are hard to start after a period without use: it takes about 16 pulls to get the motor firing. It’s likely to be that the fuel in the carburettor bowl has gone stale and won’t burn. It takes that many pulls to change the fuel in the carburettor.
Non-starting can also be caused by condensation pooling in the bottom of the carburettor. Remove the plug and drain the carburettor. The trick is to turn off the fuel and allow the carburettor to drain, stopping the motor.
Another trick he gave the group was to add a little methylated spirits to the mix as this will dissolve any water build-up in the carburettor bowl or at the bottom of the fuel tank. Some fuel mixes can go off in as little as a month, depending upon the size of the container and amount of fuel stored in it. Petrol that has gone off has a vinegary smell. If you have only a small amount of fuel left after completing a job, put it in the car’s fuel tank rather than let it go off.
If you are working away from base, he suggested carrying a spark plug spanner, a 10-mm spanner to remove the pull start housing and a spare start cord and handgrip, just in case you break the cord. That way, you can remove the hand start housing and wrap the spare cord on the shaft. You need to check the direction of the motor rotation as they won’t start in reverse.
The Honda agent recommended buying quality motors rather than cheap Chinese copies, as quite often they don’t last.
This section of the day was just as interesting. The minimum output for a MIG (metal inert gas) welder for most farm jobs should be in the 180-amp range. Start on a higher setting and work down if you are not sure what setting to use.
A good weld has a bright crisp appearance with good flow. When considering purchasing, get the shortest possible gun lead as the wire has to be pushed through the centre. Copper tips are also important. Change them frequently as they provide the electrical circuit at tip. A worn tip will not make good contact with the wire and therefore will produce a poor weld.
lways protect your eyes with a mask. Even bystanders shouldn’t be looking at the spark as it can burn their eyes. We also received tips on using arc welding and how to do a vertical weld, but it is easier to weld horizontally.
Participants were asked to consider these questions:
1. Does anybody know where you are?
2. Did you write out an intention list?
3. What should your other half do if you arenot home on time?
Make regular contact at the same time each day with your base. FarmSafe and other organisations put out intention pads. Leave one on the gate when you go into a property and remove it when you go out.
The presenter recommended personal locator beacons for remote working; however, these have drawbacks in that the satellite has to be overhead in narrow valleys, so actual transmission to the satellite may be delayed.
Carry a well-stocked first aid kit in each vehicle with a first aid instruction book. Take a course and know how to perform CPR. Anaphylaxis is always a possibility for both new and experienced staff, so be prepared.
Carry an EpiPen® or a syringe and two ampoules and know when, where and how to use it. Put them in something like a Berocca tablet tin to to protect them and disguise the contents from children as adrenalin is dangerous in the wrong hands. Store away from heat. Under the seat is likely to be the coolest place in most vehicles.
Take note of near-misses and change the way you do things. Carry enough gear to get yourself out of trouble and don’t hurry or take risks. Be aware of overhead power lines when using lifters.
The ANZ representatives told us what they looked for in a business proposal. It doesn’t have to be long, but should be well thought- out and presented on paper. Financial planning can be a headache for some but it helps to clarify things when everything is put down on paper.
Set out your financial position. A lot of businesses start at the bottom with limited finance. Sometimes it’s your ability that makes the difference. Get help from another beekeeper when preparing your business plan. They have been through it before so can help you to skirt some of the pitfalls.
As beekeepers we generally think we can do well at beekeeping but in making a case to a bank, use the average honey production figures for your region. If you think you can accomplish the project within your estimated timeframe, double it to allow for contingencies such as a poor season. We do suffer from drought from time to time.
Budgets are a must. They are a living document, so update them each month. This enables you to see where the business is going, allowing you to cut spending if something unplanned happens. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on feed. You are running livestock and they need to be well fed to make a crop. This is a major budget item that can’t be neglected.
Do your own GST rather than push it all to an accountant. There are easy-to- use accounting programs that do the calculations for you, provided they have been set up correctly.
Make as much of your own gear as possible from cheap, seasoned timber. Replacements are tax deductible but try and get at least 10–15 years out of your own gear.
(Similar information was provided in the 1980s with a “starting commercial beekeeping” course run by our MAF apicultural officers. Students today at Telford are given a good grounding as well.)
I use job sheets in my planning. It breaks everything down and allows me to itemise everything so I know what the job will actually cost and what timeframe I set myself to get the work done.
Do all of your planning and prep work in the winter rather than have a holiday. When spring work starts, it doesn’t finish until there’s snow on the ground. You don’t have time to make up gear as you go.
When starting out, prepare a one-year, three- year, five-year and a 10-year plan and review these each year as well. These keep you going in your desired direction and you can judge how you are doing in achieving your stated goals or setting new ones.
Business planning summary:
Strategies Timing Resources
• Other (including money) Critical success factors Measurement
List of work
The last session of the day was at the local college in the woodwork shop. Participants were given a good grounding in saw bench safety. We were shown a few innovations the instructor had designed for the router, draw saw and bench. He had three settings
for putting a filler board on the fence to stop kickback, which I thought was a good idea (refer to last month’s column).
All in all, it was a very good day with young beekeepers learning or renewing skills and friendships.
Prepare for new season’s work: queen-raising equipment (some in the warmer areas are starting this month), feeding equipment, grass-spraying gear, etc.
If queen rearing, stimulate drone production hives by feeding syrup and pollen supplement. Embed foundation into extracting frames (for the hobbyist beekeeper, this task is best left until just before the frames are put on).
Do a quick hive check for weight by hefting hives. You can open a hive for a few minutes to check it if it’s not too cold; i.e., not cold on your arms with your sleeves rolled up.
For those with mesh bottom boards, check the dirt on the slide as this will tell you what’s going on in the hive, how big the brood nest is, whether a mouse has been into the hive and—most importantly—