2015 Survivor Bees!

by Jorge

The new beekeeping year is springing into action! After the interminable 2013-14 winter, mother nature was much kinder going into 2015. There were a couple of weeks of serious weather from time to time, but nothing like the scourges of last winter. There were flying days every month of the winter, and we had a stretch of beautiful March weather that let the bees get out with regularity for several days. Some folks in the area reported seeing some significant pollen, but I have not witnessed much action outside the hive beyond simple flight so far.

Altogether, only 7% of my hives died this winter. That is the best survival I've ever gotten to report. The warm weather has a fair amount of brood started in the strong hives--and most of the hives are indeed strong. Here's a video from one of the locations where none of them died. It's in the Solon area.

I'm really hoping April queens arrive in good time. With hives this populous, I need to be splitting by mid-April or be prepared to see a lot of bees hanging in the trees by May. Then again, I'd just resort to raising cells if mated queens aren't available. There are always options I guess. Good luck as the new season unfolds!

October Bees 2014

by Jorge

I have photos and a few videos from the end of summer that I planned to post here in various blogs, but I guess I'll have to play catch-up as the year concludes. I've been rather buried in the university life, bee duties, and family excitement. The overall honey season turned out to be rather mediocre, though not a disaster. It was just too cool and wet during the prime honey-making weeks that followed my previous post.

I'm already through mite treatments for 2014, but this fall has been even worse than fall 2013 in terms of honey collection for overwintering. Thank goodness I'm setup with dual division board feeders in just about all of my colonies this year. That was a lesson well-learned after seeing some starvation during the last winter. A good number of hives will have consumed and stored 80 lbs of feed before they're set to go for this winter. I'm getting close to optimistic going into the next winter. Supposedly the arctic vortex will remain at bay, and my bees are starting to look really good.

Here is a video from this afternoon that shows good populations in some of my dark Carniolan hives, and there are a few yellow Italian colonies at this location too:

If the bees look half this good in March, I will feel good about spring 2015.

Honey Boxes Filling 2014

by Jorge

It's raining again this morning. Fortunately, the drops from the sky have fallen with less frequency over the last 10 days, and the result has been several yards putting together a respectable amount of honey. My best hive right now has 200 lbs on it, though the generally good performers have 2-3 full boxes on them (approx 80-120 lbs).

There's always a thrill that comes along with a good number of honey boxes frosted with fresh wax. This one is at the stage where the combs are pulled all the way out, filled with nectar, and just waiting to be capped:

Here are a couple side-by-side near the small town of Ely that are at the same production point--three boxes each:

I'd say about 1/3 of the hives are still getting their act together, and that's especially true among the later splits and other hives that needed two or three queening attempts to get them on track. So, there's not a truly good average per hive yet, but at least I know that we have some barrels of honey waiting for the extractor.

The plus side of the precip and mild temperatures is that the bloom has matured slowly and there is plenty of moisture for nectar production. Really the next concern is whether or not the moisture content of the extracted honey will be too high. If it gets into the upper 18% area we have to worry about fermentation. The bees seem to be capping the crop pretty readily, so I have some reasonable hope that the moisture situation won't be ridiculous.

The next week is supposed to be dry with similar temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. While that's not the amount of heat I usually look for, something is clearly going right for the bees lately. If this morning's rain didn't shut off the honey flow, I should be in a much better crop situation several days from now. Fingers crossed!

Bee Update July 6, 2014

by Jorge

It dried up enough for me to go around and check some bees today. It looks like they're in pretty good shape considering we've had about twelve inches of rain in the past 10 days or so. There are some small storms moving through Iowa tonight that produced a dozen tornadoes, but fortunately I got missed by the bad weather this time.

Today I found a few hives working in their third honey box, but there are also still a good number that aren't seriously in their first box. We really need a few good weeks of mostly sunny weather. We were briefly teased with forecasts in the upper 80s, but the new version has mostly 70s and very low 80s in it. Hope remains. Clover is still in good bloom, and soybeans are just starting to really open up.

I also stopped in and saw the swarm from the last post:

It had been several days, so I went on a queen hunt. You'll get to see her drop an egg in a cell during this clip. Her attendants are very attentive also. I marked her with a green dot after the video ended, so she'll be even easier to spot if we check in on her again. Though I don't have many Italian hives, you'll get to see a rather yellow specimen in this case.

June Swarm 2014

by Jorge

Yesterday I came across my first swarm of the year. I haven't had any trouble with swarming so far this year, but I had a single outgrow it's confines. This swarm is only 3 feet off the ground, and precisely the height that makes it super easy to catch them. I unfortunately only had 6 5/8" honey boxes with me, but I still hived it. I'll probably catch the queen and put her down in a deep when I check on them in a few days. I'm glad I found them yesterday afternoon because it rained 3 more inches overnight. Here is the swarm before I shook it into the box.

At the end of the video above, I ponder whether or not the bees will stay in the box or return to the branch with queen pheremone clinging to it. I solved that question by twisting off the little branch and putting it in the entrance of the box. Sometimes the really obvious answer totally escapes me, but this time I was just slow. I'll try to remember to give an update on its status in the future. If there is an August flow, we might get a little honey off of it.

In the meanwhile, there is a massive storm moving in this afternoon. We just had three more inches last night, and State Highway 1 washed out just north of my house. An SUV crashed into the hole and is several feet below (the former) ground level. Supposedly it will be drying out after this round of precipitation. We certainly hope that will be the case.

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