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!
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.
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.
We've had several heavy bouts of rain recently. The highest precipitation amounted to about three inches, and that was just the start. The bees had just been getting into high gear in terms of honey production, so that was a disappointing turn in the weather. White sweet clover is opening this week, so we are getting into the timeframe that is usually our best honey flow. Hopefully the weather is more kind during the next month.
In the meanwhile, I've turned my attention to getting the buildings at the new place more functional. The little one that will mostly be a storage space for bottled, creamed, and comb honeys is first on the agenda. It began with this lovely mix of leaky rolled asphalt and tar:
After several hours of effort from three people stripping off two layers of ugly, we got down to some decent wood:
In the end, Alex and I got up the steel replacement that had a heavy-duty trial run over the next 36 hours when it began to rain pretty seriously:
Now we just hope the bees can get out on the clovers and trefoil to bring in the next crop in sufficient quantity to fill up our building space. The bloom is nearing its peak, though we often don't get our best honey until it is slightly past its most visually impressive stage. As always, we will see how it goes.
I thought I'd share a few of the events that are keeping me occupied this year, along with the pictorial documentation that I'm fond of posting The story begins with a relocation that got underway in January. Yes, it was the bitterest winter in 30 years, and I spent weeks gradually moving the bee supplies to our new property and spending a lot of quality time with my chainsaw at the new place. Here is the new (1868) house just north of Mount Vernon on Hwy 1 (so please get directions if you're used to dropping in at the old Cedar Rapids location to pickup your queens and honey). It's an agriculturally-zoned property that will be very bee friendly for the future.
I've got a ton of work to do over the next year or two to get comfortably operational, but progress is definitely evident.
Of course I'm carrying on with the usual bee season too. We're already through spring feeding, splitting, and orchard pollination. I'm still doing pollination the old-fashioned way as I build up in eastern Iowa. That's by picking up the hives and setting them in the back of the truck. Here is one of the loads I hauled out of Wilson's Orchard near Iowa City about a week ago. They are incredibly heavy to lift when they come out of pollinating during good weather. Hopefully I'll mechanize at some point over here and save my back:
Right now we're on the tail end of black locust pollination and post-dandelion bloom. The temperatures are in the 80s and the brood nests are getting a good influx of nectar. I haven't checked some of my stronger hives for over a week, so I'm not sure exactly how much surplus honey is in at the moment. I did discover my first box of surplus 2014 honey down in the Solon area a couple of days ago while out supering. It's only 2/3s full but remains a very welcome sight:
We can zoom in more and enjoy the moment
I'm still going around and supering this year's splits as they gain strength. Dutch clover is opening already, so there is potential for June to be a honey month as well. The big flow is usually in July, but we can never be certain when/if it will hit. Hopefully we'll be in harvest mode before too many weeks pass.
Lastly, we also have a new potential beekeeper in the fold. Andrew joined the family just a couple of weeks ago, so here is the sweet little man in his handsome bee hat
In other words, it has been a rather extraordinarily busy first half of 2014. Apologies for having fewer blogs this year, but I am actually catching up somewhat. Teaching European history at Mount Mercy structures my life until the middle of May, so now I'm freer to pursue these other activities during the day. Nonetheless, I'm doing almost all of my correspondence with customers via email in the morning or late evening due to the very long list of things to do this year. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the most reliable/timely responses. I generally have one or two weeks of queen inventory posted on the Ebert Queens page, and I'll plan to continue shipping them through early August as usual.