Bees in the Clover, Soybeans, and a New Pony!

by Jorge

The clovers are somewhat past their peak, but there is still a good amount of them in bloom. Yellow is truly gone, but there is about a week left for the white sweet clover. The Dutch clover bloom may have lasted the longest I've ever seen. It is also past its peak, but a respectable amount is still flowering--especially in towns where it is cut back on lawns and just regrows with the rains.

Red clover usually isn't a good honey plant, but honeybees will go for it in drought years or on poor soil--essentially conditions that stunt the flowers. One of my locations has about fifteen acres that came in with dense red clover this year. The bees were flying low from the hive entrances and diving right into it. Here's one of the ladies at work:

The first-planted soybeans came into bloom about ten days ago, and it looks like we have the right combination of moisture and heat to get something significant. We'll see how the weather goes, but the soybeans have helped stimulate quite a bit of foundation drawing in the past several days.

Andrew, on the other hand, was getting a lesson today from Grandpa Phil on how the honey flows into the bottling tanks (you can only see his blonde head over the shoulder)! We will hope that many barrels get to follow this path as the harvest gets underway.

Andrew may not remember his lesson perfectly because he also has a new pony drawing some of his attention. Little lady "Rowdy" just arrived today:

Sweet Sweet Honeycomb is Back!

by Jorge

The first cut comb of the new harvest season is another one of those endlessly celebratory events of the beekeeping year. It seems to keep building demand during the last several years, though a lot of folks still wonder what to do with it. I enjoy hearing stories about first experiences with honeycomb, especially when it came out of a tree or a frameless hive that a grandparent kept on the farm.

I just cut up the first boxes from the Eastern Iowa bees yesterday afternoon. We were blessed with respectable flows during black locust and basswood, so the first boxes are extremely light colored honey. The photos show the progression through capped comb box, drainage rack, and labeled container.

We have great comb prospects but need a little more good fortune to get them all finished and harvested. Comb production can be very finicky, but it's beautiful when all goes well. There have not been many hives that swarmed rather than accept the wax foundation this year, which is a big helper. (Though I did find one that flew the coop rather than build wax yesterday. At least they filled a conventional honey super before hitting the comb foundation and leaving.)

I will go out to look for more this afternoon! The supply rarely lasts past February.

Liquid honey extracting is probably about ten days away. Right now I'm tinkering with the equipment and cleaning up the line.

Time To Build On (Almost No) Budget!!!

by Jorge

One of my hobbies is checking out the clearance rack for construction materials at the local Menards stores. About a week ago I found a good one! Someone evidently did not claim or returned a bundle of 10' thick decking. It's great to have trucks and trailers to take advantage of pallet price opportunities. There were a handful of warped boards from sitting out in the rain, but I'm cutting them down to about 3' anyway for hive pallets. Win at approx 50% cost!!! (You can see the new honey delivery van in the background too!)

The other recent project was putting some scrap steel on pallets to create some cheap rain-proof lids. We especially use them for covering honey boxes after harvest until it is cool enough to put them indoors (to avoid wax moth infestation). I'm not at that point yet, so I included a pic of one of the new pallet lids keeping my nuc boxes free of rain. The steel is leftover from a little roofing project and finishing off the new extracting space over the past couple of years. I even had plenty of leftover screws to do the job! El cheapo prevails. It's also nice just to get the steel off the ground. Beekeepers do not lack for loose parts to manage.

Also a parting note: these little Malco nippers are incredibly handy for cutting thin metals. The corrugated parts are a bit tricky to navigate, but the flats are extremely fast. I tend to hold it upside down on the drill for better control. I bought them a few years ago to help put on a simple steel roof without sole dependency on tin snips, but I've valued having this gadget around for odd jobs like this too.

Flowers Flowers Everywhere (and a Tractor)!

by Jorge

We are once again in (or very near) what I consider "peak bloom" for the summer. The Dutch clover is strong on its second lease on life after recent rains, the yellow sweet clover is not yet burned up, and the white sweet clover is opening. Trefoil started to open about a week ago, and basswood opened in the past few days.

The bad news is that my worries regarding cooler temps and rain proved correct. People are in general very happy about temperatures in the 70s, but I am rather disappointed as temperatures slide into the 50s overnight. The bees just aren't too thrilled. At least it has not been constant rain with even lower temperatures. The mid 80s will supposedly return in a few days. All in all it's pretty normal for our main flow to come in July rather than the bouquet of late June, but our best years generally involve a warmer June leg to the crop as well.

Around home I have some of the floral diversity as well. My basswood (linden) tree has plenty of blossoms awaiting six legged visitors (a bumblebee photo bombed this one):

And here are some of my lily offerings to the wild bees. These are one of the perennial flowers I love despite their nominal value to my preferred species of honeybee:

And it seems the garden may grow sometime soon! Andrew wisely donned a John Deere shirt on a day when we ultimately decided to drop by the local dealership on a Sunday afternoon. As usual, he is ready to work with anything that takes attachments!

Beautiful Queens and How They Can Change

by Jorge

One aspect of strong floral and temperature stimulation for the hives this year is the affect it has on the queens. Until I started raising queens, I did not fully appreciate the abdominal size fluctuation that is quite common in the lives of queen bees. When they first emerge, they're usually pretty decent looking but shrink down to go on their mating flights. Then their abdomens swell as their reproductive tissues activate.

Prior to swarming, the established queen often shrinks down prior to departure. This enables her to fly a meaningful distance. During her normal egg-laying season, she weighs too much to do much more than control her descent to the ground if she falls off a frame. After settling in at the new hive location, she goes back on an egg-laying diet that causes her abdomen to enlarge again. They can also shrink down substantially in the late fall/winter as they cease serious egg-laying. I remember the first time I went through a fall yard where brood-rearing had ceased and the queens had slimmed down...I first thought there had been a mass queen failure and the yard was lost. Then I spotted a little queen and realized everything was just symptomatic of poor forage and an absence of brood rearing due to the season and environment.

Caged queens also shrink down pretty substantially--that's why they're usually able to fly away if you pop open a cork instead of using a safer candy release.

This year, however, a great number of queens in the production hives are gorgeously nourished and bordering on gargantuan. Here is a lady that appears to be 50-75% Carniolan who was busily laying many eggs in the combs of a flourishing hive:

In the following pic her attendants are attentively grooming her. She almost appears to be doing double-duty by checking out a cell with her head while poised to deposit an egg as well :)

Time will tell whether or not the beloved queens continue to maximize their potential. There are hives that contain a respectable surplus already, but most of them are on the brink of making a real crop. A bunch of supers have a few center combs that are whitened with fresh wax and holding a little honey. It will only take a couple of quality weeks to make a lot of headway. We got some rain recently that reinvigorated the Dutch clover and made soybeans much happier. I'm somewhat nervous about a cool-down of several degrees and a few approaching dates with a possibility of substantial rain. Such is life when beekeeping in the Midwest!

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