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 email@example.com 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.
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.