California Round 1 — January 2022

We returned to California several days ago to start preparing the bees for 2022 almond pollination. Last year we drove a pickup with our syrup pump and other supplies to help with the first round of preparation, but fortunately we had quite a bit of those materials staged beforehand this year. We flew out on a Tuesday, got organized the same afternoon, and began to work through the bees on Wednesday. Our team made extra good time since they were staged efficiently and no rain days interfered with our progress. The image above is probably my favorite picture of the hives on this visit. A mountain backdrop is just not a usual feature of our beekeeping photography back in Iowa! Rocky mountains are chilly deserts for bees, but they are quite pretty backdrops.

There is always a dose of anxiety connected to this first trip to see the bees in California. Even though it has only been a month since many of them left Iowa, it is still enough time for the weak to die. As always we wish more lived with high populations, but the large majority were good enough to make pollination grade after doing some combinations. That means we should have enough bees going into almonds to have a decent amount of strong hives to set up the year, repopulate the deadouts, and have better hope for a respectable honey year. A lot needs to go right over the next several weeks, but we are off to a good enough start for 2022.

Today we went through some of the strong hives that we gave stimulative feed a week ago, and we noticed they’ve already eaten one or two pollen patties. That will really help brood rearing take off. We also gave all the hives some sucrose to get them excited about making more bees that will be mature in time for almond pollination. The influx of nutrition stimulates the colony to raise bees, and we’ve even seen a bit of light yellow natural pollen coming in on the warmer days. The ten day forecast has temperatures in the 60s with mustard coming into bloom, so buildup prospects look quite good. Tomorrow is our last day of work before returning to Iowa, and we are going to put out some more patties for the hives that already consumed their first round of groceries.

Here is Alex with some hives we inspected to start off our California bee tour.

Some beekeepers don’t like to take the lids off their hives when working for almond pollination. The frame count is estimated by splitting the brood bodies apart and counting while looking up the top box and down at the lower box, so removing the lid isn’t technically necessary for big beekeepers seeking efficiency and limiting labor costs. Taking the lids on and off takes several seconds per hive (which matters when you have hundreds or thousands of hives to handle), and breaking the propolis loose means that the lids might soon blow off or get jostled free when moved on the forklifts. In our case, we still like to take off the lids to quickly assess which hives might be dead or weak, and then we proceed to the normal caretaking and supplemental feeding. We also usually have feeders in the top and bottom boxes, so having the lid off is important to access the top feeder. Slipping one or two extra patties on top of strong hives helps them build up too. We use screws to resecure the lids and avoid the problems associated with depending solely on propolis to glue them in place after inspection.

Pulling the lids off this pallet offered a reassuring view. Clearly they were strong enough for pollination without combination. We still count the frames of bees with the brood bodies split apart, but seeing plenty of bees at the top of the hive is always comforting.

We used to attend the American Honey Producers Association’s conference in early January before visiting the bees, but they moved their conference to December when we were still preparing bees to travel west. As a result, we got to visit the bees earlier in January and have another week to let them buildup before bloom. The warm forecast is making that change in timeline look quite favorable. We hope that populations are boosted up substantially when our February visit rolls around! Sometime around Valentine’s Day is often the time to watch for significant bloom, so we are approximately one month away from showtime.

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