Another year of beekeeping is upon us! I've been idle on the blogging front for several months, but as usual, that means things have actually been very busy in the past few months.
The overall 2015 honey crop was pretty mediocre again--nominally better than 2014. Still, we got a crop and continue to service a growing list of grocery stores and bulk customers.
Happily, the bees look very good as we conclude a mild 2015-16 winter. The winter loss in my bees is 6% at the moment. There have not been a lot of years when we've had back-to-back single digit percentage losses. The weather looks very favorable for the next ten days, so things would have to get very ugly in March and early April to reverse the positive signs in hive strength.
In the meanwhile, I've been working on 4-way pallets for the 2016 hive expansion, and we've completed a pretty awesome refurbish job on an old Woodman/Dadant 50 frame extractor. It has an old Woodman reel, a stainless steel barrel that was pretty awful before a thorough wet sanding, and a Dadant speed control that is not in the picture. I'm looking forward to running it this summer! It's amazing what a lot of elbow grease, sandblasting, and a fresh powder coat can achieve! My dad is the mysterious man in the coveralls in the second picture. Several people put in some time to get this machine in good shape again. Despite all of that time, our expense was about 1/10th of the cost of a new extractor of similar size.
My concern about the cooler and wetter weather cycle came true. We have been lucky if the temperature has broken into the eighties, and several inches of rain fell over the past few weeks. It hasn't been disastrously rainy and cool, but things slowed up quite a bit in several locations. The moisture and mild temperatures have prolonged the clover bloom however, so there is still strong potential to get more good out of those flowers. Trefoil still looks promising too. Soybeans will start blooming in the next 1-2 weeks depending on when they were planted.
Thankfully, I do have a few locations that managed to gather significant honey during breaks in the rain. Here is a happy picture with Matt adding more supers at the location that we featured in the previous post. There are several hives at this spot with 2-4 boxes that are nicely filled. Most of them have one box of space. That will last them about a week at the current pace.
There are two locations on my circuit that really aren't doing anything. All of the other places have respectable action in at least some of the hives. I notice that this year's splits are really taking off. A good number of them are working 2-3 boxes but need more time to actually get them filled. Hopefully the next 2-4 weeks provide a decent crop that will provide relief and satisfaction for another year!
Lastly, in a wildlife point of interest, yesterday I spotted a doe with triplets while driving into a location near Swisher. That is a hard-working momma deer! This picture was the best my phone camera could manage (even with some editing):
Well, things have been looking pretty good in terms of honey prospects. The spring has been moist but not too wet, and the temperatures have been moderately warm. Those conditions have helped the clovers, especially the Dutch clover, develop into one of the best blooms in several years. Here is one of my bees working the clover a few days ago:
The good news is that there are a fair number of honey boxes that are full or partially full. That is especially the case in some of the parent colonies that overwintered. Most of the splits are just getting going. The great question is whether or not yesterday's six inches of rain will be a brief delay in the honey march, or if the weather shifts to a cooler and wetter pattern that is not helpful for getting a decent crop. As always, we will have to wait and see. In the meanwhile, I'll share a supering picture from one of the recent days that have been more encouraging. My assistant Matt is the one in the picture by the truck.
The bees are exceptionally strong this year. Almost all of them lived, and then the weather cooperated for early buildup. As I rush around to get more boxes on all of the hives, I'm finding that a few are heading for the trees.
Luckily, I was armed with a good number of nuc boxes yesterday. This swarm was a giant five pounder, so it is going to be quite cramped and require immediate transfer into a full box. I will wait about a week to let the queen get the hive established with new brood, and then they will move into their full-time home. It's still early enough that a swarm this size might produce some honey in July or with a fortuitous August flow. Here they are settled into their temporary housing:
Here are the words of a happy customer that got his shipment and delivery in the best possible manner:
"Just wanted say that the 2 queens arrived here Winona Texas yesterday. They arrived at post office over 20 miles away. The postal delivery driver had already left on her route. The Postmaster drove the bees over in her own car, 43 mile round trip. This meant they arrived a day early. Many thanks to you and USPS for fantastic service."
That is a story connected to the USPS' "Express" service. They generally do very well with that category of mail.
Then again, I very occasionally have someone open their package and find a dead queen. This buyer ordered four queens, but found that only three cages held a healthy marked queen. Here is the casualty:
While sad, this customer did exactly the right thing by emailing a picture of the dead queen immediately. I will replace her for free without question.