We had a couple of days of rain and overcast skies, but today was a relief from the gloominess. Indeed, this was the day that the apple orchards started to open much more substantially. That means lots of yellow pollen will be coming in for the next couple of weeks, and the weather looks quite favorable too. Here is one of the good ladies at work in a sea of flowers:
With the dandelions and trees both stimulating brood production in several locations, I'm starting to see more frames of brood that are very impressive. We've never seen so much early brood--my splitting percentage is pretty fantastic so far, but I'm not going to announce a number until I'm further along. Lots of bees come out of frames like these:
The downside, of course, is that massive brood production also helps varroa mites reproduce. I'm pretty sure I need to do a spring treatment to keep my hives from crashing this year. I stimulated lots of brood production in the fall, and spring brood-rearing has only compounded the situation. I'm seeing mites in some colonies already, and the hive involved in the picture below has an extremely unnerving number of them in the drone brood. I believe I see traces of sixteen of the reddish-brown devils in this picture. The race continues.
I still have a couple of locations that have winter wraps and entrance blocks. It's only a problem for well-populated hives. I think this one might be a bit steamy (the temp peaked around 78F today):
That hive was the only one bearding up the entrance in a yard of twenty. At least they're not all overcrowded. I'm trying to get all of them unwrapped because it stimulates swarming when they can't keep the interior temperature low enough. The next several days are supposed to be in the 60s, so it's unlikely that I'd have a problem. Nonetheless, I'm being careful because it's just plain disappointing to have your best hives head for the trees.
Both tree pollen and dandelion pollen are coming in right now. Here's an entrance block that shows a colorful array of evidence from lots of workers trying to get through a tight space!
The day ended significantly cooler and rainy, which I suppose is good. The ground has been extremely dry, and I'm happy to see the moisture that will help give the flowers a boost.
I am still up to my old devices when April rolls around--the apple blossoms are swelling, and the bees need to be there when the flowers pop. I always go into Wilson's Orchard near Iowa City with the half-ton truck because there is a narrow bridge that doesn't seem like a good fit for the flatbed dually. Handling hives on the back of a flatbed is several times easier than scooting them around in a conventional pickup bed. Anyway, brave red truck was up to the task and delivered 29 singles today, and some more hives will be going in for the apple blossom bonanza very soon:
Last year's orchard venture looked quite similar, though the truck was a little less loaded down. Now we will hope for decent weather when the flowers actually open!
Sometimes it's interesting to see which sweeteners get left in our shelf space when someone decides to buy our honey instead of something they picked up elsewhere in the store. Several years ago we started to sell the unheated/unfiltered "raw" honey that has become more prized for its taste and unaltered quality. We didn't realize there was such a strong market for local raw honey, and it has grown steadily since we introduced it in our stores.
Someone at the Coralville Hy-Vee traded out a Brazilian variety for the local option that we provide (at much lower cost). I do have to admit that the lid on the imported jar is catchy--though the website address on the lid is apparently inactive:
It has been great to see the backing for raw honey grow. One of the major adjustments for buyers in the USA is their typical preference for honey that stays liquid. The usual commercial bottling route to keep honey liquid long-term is to use super filters with the honey warmed to high temperatures. This removes all the particulate matter and dissolves all mini-crystals common in honey--both of which catalyze quicker granulation, especially in cool temperatures. Those processes affect the taste and chemistry of the honey. In northern Europe, on the other hand, it is very common to have honey that is granulated rather than liquid, so there is an interesting cultural dynamic that influences the preferred form of honey. Other places just want the truly raw form of honey--still in the comb!
In any case, I just began to think about raw honey and international consumption preferences after spotting the Brazilian raw honey in our space. Here is an image with some of the common claims supporting raw honey versus highly-processed and artificial honeys:
This winter we had a pet hive sitting on the dock and buried in the snow. I think the signage to the left has a little extra meaning in this case ("Bee Keeper Parking Only: All Others Will Be Stung"):
This hive was a random bunch of bees collected from inside the building last fall. There are always several pounds of bees that accumulate during the extracting season. The fun part was that dad dropped in a queen cell from a honey box, and she actually emerged and mated. Even with a good queen on hand, these late season efforts at bonus hives don't often work--the bees are usually too old to endure winter, and there's normally not enough time to squeeze in a couple of brood cycles. Anyway, it was a success this time, and there were two boxes of bees inside when spring drew near and the snow was melting away.