Off to the Orchard!

by Jorge

I am still up to my old devices when April rolls around--the apple blossoms are swelling, and the bees need to be there when the flowers pop. I always go into Wilson's Orchard near Iowa City with the half-ton truck because there is a narrow bridge that doesn't seem like a good fit for the flatbed dually. Handling hives on the back of a flatbed is several times easier than scooting them around in a conventional pickup bed. Anyway, brave red truck was up to the task and delivered 29 singles today, and some more hives will be going in for the apple blossom bonanza very soon:

Last year's orchard venture looked quite similar, though the truck was a little less loaded down. Now we will hope for decent weather when the flowers actually open!

Raw Honey Reflection

by Jorge

Sometimes it's interesting to see which sweeteners get left in our shelf space when someone decides to buy our honey instead of something they picked up elsewhere in the store. Several years ago we started to sell the unheated/unfiltered "raw" honey that has become more prized for its taste and unaltered quality. We didn't realize there was such a strong market for local raw honey, and it has grown steadily since we introduced it in our stores.

Someone at the Coralville Hy-Vee traded out a Brazilian variety for the local option that we provide (at much lower cost). I do have to admit that the lid on the imported jar is catchy--though the website address on the lid is apparently inactive:

It has been great to see the backing for raw honey grow. One of the major adjustments for buyers in the USA is their typical preference for honey that stays liquid. The usual commercial bottling route to keep honey liquid long-term is to use super filters with the honey warmed to high temperatures. This removes all the particulate matter and dissolves all mini-crystals common in honey--both of which catalyze quicker granulation, especially in cool temperatures. Those processes affect the taste and chemistry of the honey. In northern Europe, on the other hand, it is very common to have honey that is granulated rather than liquid, so there is an interesting cultural dynamic that influences the preferred form of honey. Other places just want the truly raw form of honey--still in the comb!

In any case, I just began to think about raw honey and international consumption preferences after spotting the Brazilian raw honey in our space. Here is an image with some of the common claims supporting raw honey versus highly-processed and artificial honeys:

Sentinel Hive 2015

by Jorge

This winter we had a pet hive sitting on the dock and buried in the snow. I think the signage to the left has a little extra meaning in this case ("Bee Keeper Parking Only: All Others Will Be Stung"):

This hive was a random bunch of bees collected from inside the building last fall. There are always several pounds of bees that accumulate during the extracting season. The fun part was that dad dropped in a queen cell from a honey box, and she actually emerged and mated. Even with a good queen on hand, these late season efforts at bonus hives don't often work--the bees are usually too old to endure winter, and there's normally not enough time to squeeze in a couple of brood cycles. Anyway, it was a success this time, and there were two boxes of bees inside when spring drew near and the snow was melting away.

Gravity and Old Trees

by Jorge

There have been a few times over the years when trees have posed a threat to a hive or two. This tree wound up covering most of the yard:

It took quite a bit of chainsaw work to liberate the bees. The good news? None of the equipment actually got destroyed when it came down. There were branches everywhere and a lot of inconvenience, but at least the true damage was quite limited.

My heart fell a bit when I saw that one of the hives had been tipped backwards:

Luckily, even the tipped hive ended up surviving. It was a bit light, but its open-air experience didn't prove fatal. Since this happened sometime in late winter, I'm not sure how long it sat in such a vulnerable condition. The landowner had been in Florida for a couple of weeks, so no one had a close eye on the bees during that time. In any case, it was a relief to restore the hive to its bottom board and find them alive under the lid. Hopefully they will multiply to the extent that it will provide a split as well!

The Joy of Pollen 2015

by Jorge

Today was the happy day that arrives every spring when I get to see lots of pollen carriers coming into the hives for the first time. There has probably been quite a bit of action in the past few days, but I just got to see it underway this afternoon. And so, here is a gratuitous pollen moment that I must always share at least once a year!

There are a number of reasons why the earlier pollen sightings are important: 1) the weather is favorable enough for the pollen to appear and for bees to collect it; 2) warm weather and pollen gathering stimulate vital brood production; 3) new bees will bring higher vigor; 4) strong brood production promotes a successful hive splitting season for colony increases in April and May.

For all of these reasons, I am pleased. Tomorrow I will hope to visit more hives before a rather damp week descends upon us.

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