The blog and I took the winter off from posting. And it was a long, long winter. Supposedly it has been about 30 years since we had such cold. Beekeepers around Iowa mostly had a hard time with wintering. I'm installing some packages and performing the usual splitting to get back to strength, while Alex and Phil did better making it through the winter and just need to split. Splitting conditions aren't the best today--there is fierce wind today with 50 mph gusts and storms to the west, but it's still better than the wickedly cold experience of our 2013-14 winter.
The bees needed some relief too. Beekeepers will appreciate the 'cleansing flight' evidence from earlier in the year. These are images from a Feb. 20 inspection.
Some bees didn't make it to their cleansing flight and dysentery broke out instead. That is an unpleasant mess to stumble upon, and it also usually seals a dismal fate for the bees if it happens much before spring.
Now we're in happier times. Dandelions are about to bloom (a few already opened). Up to now, most of the early nourishment has come from tree pollen. One yard I visited had a bunch of blue pollen carriers this year! Fun fun.
In the next week I'll start checking queens in splits I made several days ago, and seeing if any of the other hives are ready for their first split. It's such a relief to see the bees getting stronger again instead of waning through winter. I hope things are looking up for everyone else too.
Lastly, today I updated the queen website to show availability for May: Ebert Queens webpage. We have four days of rain supposedly on the way, but hopefully you have sunnier days ahead.
It's once again a promising start to winter. The hives continue to look exceptionally populous going into the depths of the cold season. I don't really know why the populations look so strong. The fall flow was quite weak, so there was relatively little stimulus for brood-rearing as we entered the colder months. My feeding regimen wasn't steady enough to trigger brood-rearing in the usual way either, but we certainly have a lot of bees in most locations. Some of the hives are so packed that I'm a little nervous about just how quickly they will consume their winter stores (despite a lot of feeding to see them through!). I will definitely be out to check them whenever warm days arise and my university schedule permits. Here is one of the extremely strong hives that I wanted to feed again before the real cold strikes:
It was almost 50F today, with sunshine. Those are near the minimum conditions for healthy flight, so I've happily uploaded a video that shows them in action this afternoon These are examples of hives with colony quilt stapled on them rather than the carton that is shown in the previous post.
The bees are all wrapped up and ready for the winter chill. We got through mite control in decent shape, and the populations of the hives are mostly very good. Hopefully I will have more March/April images of hives brimming with bees in an overwintering success story, but we have many days of wondering and waiting ahead.
Here is one that is snugly contained in its plastic corrugated carton with a migratory lid on top. While I still staple colony quilt on most the hives in eastern Iowa, the Lynnville operation has shifted mostly to cartons. They are wonderfully convenient to put on and pull off.
The main point of interest going through this fall involved the level of feeding that was necessary. Very little honey came in as a fall flow stored in the brood chambers. I had to supplement some of them with two gallons to keep them alive earlier in the fall, and then continue with a few more gallons of surplus to get them up to weight for winter. If other hives in Iowa were as light as mine going through fall, I'm afraid there will be a lot of beekeepers with starved bees in the January-March stretch of time. Hopefully I'm not right, but it has been a concern on my mind for several weeks as our own preparations continued. This is probably the most feeding I've ever needed to perform in order to feel secure about winter food supplies.
The beekeeping life continues on the usual schedule. We are busy clearing the honey boxes off of the hives, keeping the extractors spinning, and doing our best to lower the mite loads. The hive populations generally look quite good, but there are some hives that clearly need food in the near future. Some of the singles really didn't store anything significant in their brood chambers, and right now the first significant rain in two and a half months is falling. It will be at least another day before the bees are able to attempt much foraging.
The fall bloom is decent. After a period of near dearth, it seems the bees are getting some honey off the goldenrod in some areas. Here is the field of yellow that is adjacent to one of my locations:
A few asters are getting attention as well:
Despite some honey coming into the hives, the flow isn't strong enough to dissuade the bees from shifting into robbing mode whenever the truck is parked next to them while we are harvesting. The scene has been manageable, but it's certainly not as peaceful as when there are more foraging opportunities available in the field.
Extracting continues over in Lynnville. The honey has arrived in a staggered manner. First we got a nice flow that filled a lot of boxes in eastern Iowa, and now there have been a couple of good weeks in central Iowa. While it would be nice to have strong flows in both locations for the entire summer, it has relieved some of the pressure that we might have felt on the processing end of things.
Most of the white clovers are spent, and there isn't much trefoil aside from areas where it got mowed and then came back into flower. Red clover is still blooming decently, but the bees haven't gotten on it like last year when he had a drought and higher temperatures. Some soybeans are still in bloom after delayed planting, but a lot of them are pretty tall at this point.
Some of our honey is for sale in the Agricultural Building at the famed Iowa State Fair. Just go up to the second floor of the agriculture building and visit the Iowa Honey Producers' Stand (and enjoy some honey lemonade at the same time).
The fair is also a good place to buy honeycomb. A few of our combs are at the honey booth this year, including some of these darker wildflower sections that came in recently:
These sections are markedly darker than the ones that appear a couple of posts earlier. It's interesting that the year when we've gotten a disproportionate number of extremely light combs is also the year when we've gotten some of the darkest sections in our memory. We see something new every year!