Honey -- the Dreamgredient!

by Jorge

Today I'll highlight a couple of the venues that use Ebert Honey in food products. I tend to have honey in rather powerful doses--those which involve pouring/spreading it onto something where it is easy to see and taste. Other folks have explored ways of making deliciousness that doesn't rely on my simple manner of concocting a sweet treat. In their honor, here are some of the tasty results that have come from the minds of others and involve a touch of Pure Iowa Honey!

Running under the motto of "Crazy Good Beer," Madhouse Brewing has been busy making fine brews from their homebase in Newton for the past couple of years. One of their recipes resulted in the Honey Pilsner, and it incorporates nectar from Ebert bees:

I'm not sure how well granola might go with the pils, but a very tasty granola laced with Iowa honey and a sprinkling of almonds comes from Big Sky Bread Company in Urbandale. Look for it in area grocery stores. I bought a pound of it today when I spotted it in a Cedar Rapids Hy-Vee.

And for dessert, anyone wandering through Pella is likely to make a stop at Jaarsma Bakery when an ordinary sweet just isn't enough. This is a place that has people queuing up into the street when there are events like Tulip Time underway. They also incorporate Ebert Honey into their baked goods. Everything is recommended as delicious!

2012 Honey Harvest

by Jorge

Those who predicted a drought for 2012 were certainly on the mark. The beans and corn are close to being truly scorched, and most of the grass in the area is parched into remission already. I've been fortunate with the strong bloom in white sweet clover and trefoil that had just enough moisture to provide quite a lot of nectar in my area. The biggest honey flow came after a two-inch rain followed by +90F temperatures.

I've just returned from a faculty development seminar on "Ruin and Revival" in post WWII Germany and Poland, so this required leaving the bees for about two weeks. I try not to be gone for more than ten days in the summertime, but I managed to arrange the hives well enough to have a bit more extended absence. It's true that some hives could have used an additional box of space, but it was pretty satisfying to come home and fill up the truck with honey boxes. Here are 140 boxes that are quite heavy:

The limit for our flatbed is about 130-150 boxes--otherwise the bed gets too close to the tires to feel very safe going over bumps in the road or railroad tracks. On the back of the truck you can see the fume boards that we use to push the bees down from the honey supers, and on the right (just behind the cab) you can barely see the blower machine that we use to evacuate the remainder of the bees that didn't choose to run away from the fumes. The fume boards have worked great in the hot sunny weather.

My yields have varied somewhat. A few yards have averaged 150 lbs, and then I've got a couple of smaller yards that are late splits and produced half that amount of honey. This was a year when the big honey came before some splits were at full force. Other splits that did not have any queen issues were able to produce as much as the doubles.

Still, it's good to get some kind of crop off all the hives in any year, so I don't have anything to complain about. My understanding is that a lot of Iowa has not had the kind of honey production that has occurred around the Cedar Rapids area. There is still some time, and I can see some honey coming in--but it has definitely slowed down from what happened during the past month. We will see if it will keep coming during the next two or three weeks. Then it will be mite-treatment season once again......

As for the traveling, I don't have much to share that is remotely related to bees or agriculture. So, I shall randomly choose a wall theme. Here is the pleasant experience of Krakow's medieval wall--now providing a comfortable shadow for your outdoor dining experience:

And here is part of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, showing a much more hopeful depiction than once existed in that place:

Honey Flow Underway

by Jorge

Good news, there is a very strong honey flow in progress here around Cedar Rapids. The overwintered colonies have put up anywhere from 1-3 supers of honey and they're drawing some foundation as well. Some of the splits I'm running as singles have a box of honey too, but the ones that I gave a second deep box of foundation for their brood chamber are just finishing drawing it out. So we need another few weeks of honey coming in to make sure that we actually get a decent crop from all the hives. Things are very promising however. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the +95F area. Perfect for bees as long as there isn't a massive thunderstorm that cuts off the flow (though the row crops desperately need a few inches of precipitation). Yellow sweet clover is just finishing up, but the trefoil and white sweet clover are in full bloom right now. A big crop is much more likely if we have honey come in during both June and July--so having something put up in June is extremely encouraging.

I first got a hint that things were very good when I returned from the Agricultural History Society's conference in Manhattan (Kansas) and checked in at Bass Farms. Several hives had two boxes stored. I moved another ten hives to that location two nights ago, so now there are 24 hives lining the ridge across from Palisades State Park. I'll have to remember to take a picture and share it the next time I go.

For now, there will be a few more hives working to produce the honey on the shelves out at Bass Farms. Their irrigation system also has their produce looking great in an extremely dry year.

Queen Introduction Test

by Jorge

I've spent the past couple of weeks going around and checking queen acceptance in my splits and verifying that the parent colonies still have a queen before giving them honey supers. Sometimes there has not been quite enough time since a queen's emergence from her cell to really expect to see eggs. But I usually don't want to come back for another two or three weeks, so it's important to make a judgement call on whether or not I need to requeen or wait a little longer for brood to appear. When I came across this image that Alex sent me this spring, it prompted me to share one of the tests we use to determine whether or not we put another queen in a hive that we're not 100% sure is actually queenless:

There is a wooden queen cage under that pile of bees. Do you think they like her? Indeed.

Sometimes it looks like there is no queen in a split that rejected the caged queen that we tried to introduce....but did they raise one from a cell? or supersede? And sometimes you visit a recently-swarmed colony that might still have a virgin running around.... The $25 question (or $45 question if you paid express shipping)? Do I try to requeen with another mated queen?

In order to help answer the question, it can be helpful to lay a caged queen on the top bars of the hive and see how the bees react. If the workers run toward the cage and start feeding the caged queen, your chances of acceptance are very good. If they are attracted in smaller numbers and aggressively chomp on the cage or try to sting through it, then the odds of acceptance are very poor. This isn't a foolproof method of guaranteeing the presence/absence of a mated queen or virgin in the hive, but it has certainly saved some queens from an inglorious demise over the years. It only takes about thirty seconds to go through this test most of the time.

2012 Splits and Queens

by Jorge

For folks looking for 2012 queens, I have a good number of Carniolans and Italians available. My Iowa-raised queens won't be mature until June/July/August, but I have these others that I use for splitting season for $24 each (plus shipping if they are not picked up at my place.) See our queen page for contact info. The page hasn't has been updated for 2012, you can contact me to make an order.

It has been a remarkable spring so far. The bees have been brooding up since February, and our only stretch of typical spring occurred over about three weeks of April. March was warm and dry, April cooled down and gave us some rain, and now mid-May is looking rather like July. We've had a few days in the upper 80s and the grass is drying out fast. Farmers planting soybeans have a cloud of dust trailing their field machinery.

All of this is to say that the bees are happy. There was a bit of a hungry spell after the dandelions finished their early bloom, but now the clovers are opening and the parent colonies are starting to move into the honey boxes. I don't have boxes full of honey yet in most locations, but I need to check what's going on at Bass Farms. There is a state park across the road from that location, and they gathered about sixty pounds per colony before any of my other hives were really going last year.

But before the honey boxes could go out, we had a lot of bees to split into new hives. Here are a few images that show some of the process that Alex has been engaged in on the Lynnville side of the operation:

First, we go out with some empty deep boxes that we'll split into. Our usual system is to shake the bees off three frames of brood, and then place those frames in a box on the parent hive over an excluder. Then the bees come onto the brood but the queen stays behind (without having to search for the queen). You can see the excluders at the right of the truck in the picture below.

Then we load up the splits. Here are 24 of them sitting on stackable moving boards. There are notches in the front of the boards to keep the splits ventilated during transportation. Each row of splits is sitting on its own board that is a single row and three-wide (it looks like each board covers 12 splits in the picture, but that's not actually the case):

Here's another picture to make the arrangement clearer:

And here is what some of those single-box splits look like after arrival at their permanent location and placed on 4-way pallets. It's an easy way to handle small hives in the springtime without hauling around the forklift.

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