Andrew has asked to help deliver honey to stores for a number of months. Since it's generally not in the cards for him to "help" when I have several stops on the agenda, he has not received his wish--at least until today!
There was only one stop on the list for this balmy Saturday morning, so we went tandem to take care of Natural Grocers in Cedar Rapids before visiting the grandparents.
Here he is with the bill ready for presentation, and he took the opportunity to grab a quick ride upon the old delivery cart as well!
I think I started doing a few deliveries when I was sixteen years old (the whole drivers license thing), so I think Andrew has me beat by a few years
With any luck the bees survived in decent shape and we will have a new crop to deliver in several months!!!
Here is a picture from one of the good survivors near Swisher. A good share of our bees look quite strong, but we're hearing a lot of horror stories from other Midwestern beekeepers despite a mild winter. It looks like we'll have somewhat worse overwintering than I've seen in the last couple of winters, but it doesn't look terrible in our case. I hope they continue to build strength! There are a good number that look like this as of this point in February--we are enjoying three consecutive days of +60F for them to stretch their wings! That is record-setting weather in Iowa. I even saw pollen coming into several hives today. Unreal!
The package bees that we distribute from California in April are almost sold out, so please call the Lynnville location soon if you are eager to get on the list. We will also sell some nucs in May, but nuc availaiblity will depend on survival rates and strength, which we are in the process of gauging in the next couple of weeks.
This past fall of 2016 I had a University of Iowa student working part-time with the bees two or three afternoons per week. She had the interesting double major of sculpture and environmental studies. It turned out that her beekeeping foray helped combine her academic interests and inspired a senior honors thesis in art/studio, which she titled "Dear Bees, I love you." The project turned into an interesting blend of carpentry and photography, and the studio exhibit included background sounds that she recorded of bees going about their hive business. Overall I thought it was an astute sensory approach in terms of creative process and public presentation. I unfortunately did not take a photo of the actual exhibit night since I was herding my son and his trail of hors d'oeuvres, but here are a couple of publicly posted images.
Here is the picture that provided the main graphic for the exhibit opening:
And here are a few of the photos depicting notes to the bees, which she placed in some fall hives for their insect contributions (i.e. chewing, wax construction, and propolis deposits.) They were displayed on a nicely aged log at the exhibit and presented photographically on the wall. This note endeavor probably worked much better in fall than it would have in spring or summer--earlier in the year they probably would have chewed the notes into tiny bits and kicked them out of the hive. Seasonal art I guess! My favorite is "Thank you for all of the butt-shaking dances!"
I think it must have gone well--I overheard another student tell her that it was the classiest exhibit he'd ever seen. Having a toddler running around the premises no doubt put it over the top!
Link here for the text description of the honors thesis.
A little while ago one of the area Hy-Vees started to put up these attractive "buy local" biographies for a number of their producers--this one was in Iowa City where we have honey in all of their stores:
They have also started posting "dietician's choice" signs that often promote local products as well. This is all further evidence about the return to more local options rather than depending on mass distributors to fill the shelves. It's a much different (and I hope healthier and happier) market than when we started selling direct to stores in the 1990s!
These types of signs have also reminded me of the measuring stick conundrum. For example, the sign from Hy-Vee states that the honey is sourced from Lynnville, 79 miles away. That is specifically our bottling location, whereas the bees and their honey production are situated elsewhere. About two hundred of my hives are distributed in locations within 15 minutes of this particular store, but that's rather difficult to communicate to the customer A lot of honey buyers in recent years have been encouraged to buy honey within 15 miles of their home in order to get the benefits of the most local floral exposures. It would be difficult to quantify the exact distance of our honey from the buyer in a realistic way since we have about 60 hive locations. Still, I'm obviously thankful for the time and interest that goes into this sort of marketing!
I'm going through my photo files from 2016, and I see that there are some fun ones that deserve a place in cyberspace.
First, I had the intriguing experience of spotting one of my bees making friends with the happy bee box that serves USPS at my place:
My son Andrew donned a bee costume for two of his first three Halloween experiences. This year he turned into a worker of a bee during the Halloween barn bash. Way to break bee-based gender roles! No one loves muck rakes and their ability to make piles more than this guy!
Of course he earned a refueling break:
He has already started asking for a different type of bee suit. I haven't invested in a proper set of beekeeping overalls with veil for him, but that doesn't stop him from checking the bees from time to time. He sometimes gets to look in live hives with daddy, but here I had him practicing with an empty nuc:
It's never too soon to get comfortable with a hive tool!
I once again got buried in the fall and early winter, so the 2016 harvest achievement is going up on the blog in Jan. 2017. The university life, honey harvest, and winter preparations always make for a life fully lived! Now in post-holiday mode, I see that I did not follow through on showing the extracting room at an operational point. Here are a couple of photos I took once there was honey in the system.
Behold the old-time Woodman extractors refurbished and newly baptized by honey!
We've always done the pit and pump method of draining our extractors into a sump and up into a clarifier, so we did the same thing at my place. The pump on the floor is an ancient Woodman sliding vane pump:
It all came together decently for this harvest. I had a few bugs to learn about and the box handling wasn't silky smooth, but I like the setup overall. The uncapper still needs some adjustment, and the cappings melter will take more time to learn to operate very efficiently. I was impressed with how little heat was needed to melt the cappings on the top of the melter and allow the honey to flow into the sump unharmed. Most melters are known for darkening the honey to at least some degree and degrading the flavor to some extent. A person needs several hundred hives at a minimum for this melter from Kelley to be worth the investment--it takes more honey to fill the cappings tank to its operating level than most hobby beekeepers will produce in a year.
Regardless of the learning curve with a new system, I was extremely happy to extract at the Mount Vernon property. The traveling hurdle of harvest season has now been removed from one of the busiest times of year! May everything work even better--and for the sake of a larger yield--in 2017!