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Beekeeping in the Spring of Coronavirus - 2020

One of the virus-related disruptions of 2020 is that I no longer sit at a coffee shop on Sunday mornings and write a blog every week or two. Apologies for the lengthy delay in writing an update since the California venture early in the year! The bees did quite well in the exceptionally warm and dry February bloom and returned to Iowa safely in late March. I was happy to see that northern California got rain in March instead of the normal wet month of February, so at least there was some natural precipitation rather than immediate drought after the bees flourished in the unseasonable heat.

Since the bees returned, the spring developed fairly slowly. Overall the weather has averaged a little cooler than normal, which consistently strung out every early bloom and limited bee activity to an acceptable but moderate level of daily foraging. The ground has been much drier over the past three months than usual, though the average precipitation may be close to normal because of a few heavy rains. Firm ground has been great for getting bees moved around, though bee moving is going to continue for roughly two more weeks. In the big picture, we've labored through sales of packages, nucs, and single-deep hives over the past five weeks. Splitting old hives to create new ones for our own operation took place during the same timeframe.

Packaging bees on a day that was just warm enough. Bees get everywhere during the shaking process.
Packages all stacked, spaced, and strapped under pallets for the trip home. And bees were still everywhere :)

We had a good experience shaking our own package bees for the first time. It was a tremendous relief to not worry about the stress of trucking them across the country. Most reports from beekeepers getting fresh packages have been very positive too! We had to replace some queens that didn't take, but that is pretty normal. Next year I will have a better idea about working more efficiently with the crew to achieve our daily package shaking goals. Weather is such a wild card. It needs to be roughly 50F or warmer to shake packages, and that sometimes doesn't occur for more than a few hours per day in April.

Our first virus-related worry was getting our bees out of California. As it turned out, our last load of bees was already on the interstate when California locked down. Fortunately bees weren't trapped in California after almonds anyway, but it was a time of uncertainty and thankfully ours were already on the road when that all unfolded. Another of our main concerns as the virus reshaped our lives was that people would not be permitted to pick up preorder bees, or that they would have such financial strain that they would need to cancel their orders en masse. Fortunately we escaped those possibilities. Restaurant honey orders are almost nonexistent as we begin the reopening process after several weeks of limited operations in that industry, but grocery store sales are well above average since so many people are buying off the shelf for most of their meals. I've enjoyed having Andrew home so much, and he has ridden along on several bee missions during the last several weeks. He shook packages, moved bees, and painted boxes among other beekeeping joys.

Right now we're moving into the season of surplus honey prospects. Black locust trees started to blossom three or four days ago, though it looks like those are opening more slowly than usual too. Miraculously we appear to have good heat and little rain in the forecast for the next week. . . . Maybe we will actually collect some locust honey??? That is an opportunity that the weather usually prohibits. Dutch clover, yellow sweet clover, and red clover are all showing their first blossoms. Billions more will open this week.

Since the flowers are here, we are putting a ton of energy into getting the last bees into honey production sites and supering. It will probably take 7-10 days to get those jobs finished, but at least the weather looks like it will cooperate. There's no honey crop if the boxes aren't on at the time of opportunity. I'm always a little behind where I really want to be, but our overall position looks decent at the moment. I supered around 100 hives yesterday on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and evening. Things went so well on my solo work that I wasn't even upset when I got stuck at dusk as I pulled out of my last location. (It helped that my rescuer with a tractor was only one mile away with a twenty foot chain!). Now we'll hope one of my upcoming posts is celebrating the first honey stored in surplus boxes!

Supering hives at one of our most picturesque spots. The hives sit on a hill in an oak grove that surrounds a farm pond.

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