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 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.