Labor day is past.The yellow buses are rolling again, kicking up the dust from the farm roads. Bone Lake Meadows apiary is winding up the honey harvest for the 2013 season. I have posted a few photos of an harvest outing from last week. After a slow start to the season, I am very happy and proud of these Russian hives fortitude and tenacity in the face of all that mother nature had to offer and throw at the bees since the start of the year. Now, winter is coming….
Something in the Air April 2, 2012
The calendar says its beginning of April but nature here in Minnesota is showing us it is more like the end of the month. The sudden warm spell a few weeks ago set into motion a chain of events that is hard to slow down now. The bees have been taking advantage of this warmer than usual spring to build up their winter survival colonies rapidly. Beekeepers are grinning with joy and are probably in a minority when they hear the daily weather reports talk of a high pollen count for that day. A high pollen count means sustainable life for the bee colony and that there is ample foraging food for the bees to collect and bring back to the colony. Fresh pollen from the plants and trees set into motion the regeneration of the natural life cycle of the hive. If there is food outside, their will be new brood being raised inside by the queen with support from her workers. This part of Minnesota has about sixteen weeks of natural production of flora. For hives to survive , they must build up in colony strength and be ready to make the most of that window of opportunity to gather enough resources to survive another cold harsh winter.
In the meantime, apologies to all those people suffering from spring time allergies but we beekeepers have not been getting a lot of good news lately in the press, with colonies dying off and such. Try not to deny us a few moments of glee when we hear pollen alerts are being issued for a particular spring day. To us that is life springing forward.
Route 66 Arizona March 12, 2012
The first week of March, I swarmed down to Oracle, Arizona (an hour north of Tucson), for an organic beekeepers convention. It was fun and interesting to meet and compare notes from treatment free beekeepers from all over America, Canada, England, Mexico and New Zealand. The most interesting part of the three-day conference was not so much the formal presenters (okay , they were good too) but the water cooler chats that sprang up during breaks and hanging out by the fire at night. It was then that I had time to compare notes on how the heck you can keep bees in 120 degree F. weather in the deserts of Mexico. Or can bees really survive along the coastline in British Columbia where they get close to 150 inches of rain in a year? Of course, everyone would ask how do Minnesota bees make it when temperatures get down to -40 F and snow is piled up to the second floor windows of your house. Like the people who live in all these climates, the bees adapt or die.
It was a time to share and compare with people that have been treatment free a lot longer than the three years we have. Though the conference numbered under a hundred people, there was a lot of support and solidarity to avoid going back to the dark side of chemicals and corn syrup beekeeping.
An interesting fact was announced on the last day. Everyone in attendance was asked to report their annual hive loss and the conference would then come up with an average loss for the group. The group as a whole had just under a 10 percent loss ratio out of over 1,500 clean hives. That is dramatically lower than the 31 percent loss that was reported a month earlier at the American Honey Convention held in Las Vegas where the big commercial beekeepers and pollinators congregated. Numbers don’t lie. We have to risk failure to achieve success!!!
Wow, leave the state of Minnesota for a few days and come back and find spring waiting for you on the back steps. Saw the first robin of the year yesterday – a full week ahead of last years first sighting. Canadian Geese are back a full ten days earlier than last year returning from their Gulf of Mexico states. Temperatures were setting records all weekend up here in the northern plains.
I had a chance to peek under the hoods of most of the hives. Out of the eighteen hives I inspected in five different locations, only one did not make it. That particular hive had superseded its queen in early fall and it appeared it did not have ample time to build up its colony strength so I was not shocked to see the hive lifeless this spring.
The rest of the hives were flying around and all seemed to have capped honey stores in reserve to hold them over until the buds break and pollen forms in another week or so. Lone wolf hive was in good shape with bees on five of nine frames in the top box and a small area of capped over brood to keep population stable until natural food sources explode in the wilderness.
The majority of these hives are coming out of their first winter being totally chemical treatment free and sugar syrup supplement free. There are a few of these hives coming out of their second winter with two year old queens that look just as strong and healthy. The future looks bright so far in this little parcel of earth. Bees being bees at the 49 degree latitude with an all natural attitude.
spring is a coming March 1, 2012
“The more you investigate these creatures and the manner in which they live, the more you will come to the conclusion that there is great wisdom in how they work and what they accomplish.”
Last Thursday the first cycle of brood hatched here at the Biodynamic Agriculture College. It was a beautiful sunny day and all of us students were sitting barefoot in the gardens soaking up the sun’s energy. It was the first taste of spring as we all felt that connection with the sun. Bees are definite creatures of the sun and are far more tuned into it than us humans. I can imagine they were waiting for it more than I..
Since ancient times here in Western Europe on February 2nd people have been celebrating Candlemas (or Feast of Lights before Christianity). It marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox and is considered the beginning of spring by many. It is a time when the earth starts awakening and farmers prepare for the coming season. The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life which were made at the winter solstice are becoming evident. The bees, too, sensed this awakening because it was the day the queen laid her first eggs of the year. Exactly 21 days (time of a worker bee to develop) after Candlemas new bees emerged from the hive. Each day more and more pollen is coming in.. oh the things to come.
February Housecleaning February 15, 2012
After a dose of true winter coldness and boldness a few weeks ago, we have once again settled back into the tropics here at the intersection of 47 degrees north and 96 degrees west. This week marked the return of the true ten hours of daylight for our area. What normally happens now in winter in the hive is for the queen to begin laying some brood for the spring buildup which will start to replace the dead worker bees that have moved on to greener pastures. Some of the bee experts at the University of Minnesota are thinking because the winter has been so mild, that many hives are going to brood up fast, pedal to the metal quickly, instead of the normal slow transition into spring. If this is the case, hives may be in jeopardy of eating themselves out of house and home before the real spring arrives.
The photo taken today on the right shows one of our single nuc boxes which has a new fall 2011 queen. From the image you can see that major housecleaning and cell scrubbing is going on inside the hive as debris gets pushed to the curbside. This is an indication that this queen means business about raising a colony and they may need some additional nourishment.
What most beekeepers would do in a situation like this would be to put on a pollen supplement patty. Most of the patties sold to beekeepers are a recipe of corn syrup, white granulated table sugar, flour and odd pollen collected from who knows where.
We do not buy the over the counter pollen patties anymore. Last fall, we made a point to collect and preserve our own local strain of pollen and put honey aside for the spring to make our own version of a high protein meal deal for the bees. It will not be too fancy, just a wholesome mix of local pollen and crystallized honey blended together and served a la carte on the hives top bar. We’re keeping it fresh and local for our bees. Not all of the hives will be served, it’s only the ones that are showing us this cleaning frenzy at their lower entrance that will get the caloric bump in grub. Right now it appears that our wintered over nucs of young queens are the only ones chompin’ at the bit with a major dose of cabin fever.
The other hives are all still alive and appeared clustered somewhere in the center of their palaces, continuing their long winter naps in a winter that never was.
Russians Don’t Care January 19, 2012
The first below weather of the winter finally came to town here in Minnesota. The temperature dropped below zero last night for the first time this year. The temperature this morning in the “Lone Wolf” hive was 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degree Celsius) in their third box with the outside temperature at a minus 15 below zero Fahrenheit (-26 degree Celsius). These bees, like the majority of our hives are clustered tightly in their second box out of sight, hopefully with an ample supply of honey and pollen. I mention pollen because of our unusually mild winter, the chances are very good that the queens in many of our hives have been laying some early brood that will consume some of their spring pollen supplies.
And then there are our first year Russian bees. The high temperature never got above zero degrees Fahrenheit today. Toward sundown, I detoured to one of our apiary yards that only has our Russian hives in it. I have read some articles that speak of how resourceful and resilient Russians bees are. But I had a hard time believing my eyes when at -5 degree Fahrenheit (-20.5 C) with a strong wind blowing off the frozen tundra, these incredible little bees were hanging out around their top entrance soaking in some of the weak January sunlight. I noticed they would rotate in and out of the top entrance at a slow leisurely pace. Not a care in the world, still checking things out, looking for spring. This cold wave is supposed to last for a week or so before it breaks. We will then have to do an inventory to see how all our hives made out during this current cold snap. Not worried about the Russian bees. They are going to be alright. Russians don’t care about freezing in their tracks. They had winter figured out long before we did.
The Year in the Review January 3, 2012
Happy New Years to all you Beeks out there.
2012 came bbbbursting in with a blast of white out weather to blow away the last remnants of 2011.Last year saw us rear our own queens for the first time with giddy success. Though early season honey production was down substantially, a fall explosion of goldenrod and asters supplied the bees with copious opportunities to fill their boxes and erased the nervous feeling of not having the bees make it through the winter on their own. With the pop of a cork and the drop of the ball, January 1st found all of our hives and nucleus colonies still alive.
2012 looks to provide us with more opportunities for letting bees be bees and hopefully expanding on our early successes of queen rearing. We have been approached by three more CSA farms in the St Croix River Valley that would like to have us place our bees on their organic fields. So great to have these options to chose from, seeing as how difficult it is becoming to find suitable land that bees can survive on.
Until the sun returns, pick up a bee book and kick back with a hot cup of coffee (with honey of course ). If I may offer a book suggestion, THE BEEKEEPER’S LAMENT, by Hannah Nordhaus, offers the reader a close up look at the plight and perils of migratory beekeeping in America. I found it sad and tragic. Enough said.
Early March will find us attending the North American Organic Beekeeper conference in Tucson, Arizona. Should be interesting. Many of the treatment free beekeepers that were in the movie Queen of the Sun, will be presenting, like Roy Arbon from New Zealand.
Until then, need to shake off lazy bastard tendencies and address that piles of lumber laying on the garage floor waiting for someone to pick up a hammer and saw and build those two dozen new deep boxes before spring settles in. Crank up the Neil Young and lets get busy in 2012.
“The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.”