Pulling frames of fresh capped honey from a few of our bee colonies yesterday never felt more rewarding. This year has been a challenge for our bees and our honey operation. The nectar flow never happened here this Spring. We lost colonies of bees and the ones that remained were in decline.
Usually Spring is a time of year when the bees are building up their stores of pollen and nectar; in response the queens pick up their laying of eggs and the colonies explode with young worker bees that are eager to bring in the Spring nectar. This year got off to a very bad start. Instead of harvesting honey we were having to supply feed and pollen patties to our bees to allow them to build back up after their decline. Instead of selling honey we invested thousands of dollars in purchasing 20 new colonies to get our colony numbers back up. These new colonies came in small 5 frame boxes (called nucleus colonies) that needed to be fed and built up until they could be transferred into full size 10 frame boxes. We kept most of these an hour away at our expansion beeyard in north Hernando County. All this to say, we put a lot of time and resources into our bees this year! Now that our colonies are finally building up and producing honey, it never tasted so sweet!
We have had a late Summer nectar flow kick in that has been a welcome surprise. I’ve been having a tough time keeping up with some of our strongest colonies, as it seems they are bringing in nectar as fast as I can stack honey supers on top of them! Some of those 5 frame nucleus colonies we bought back in May are now 4 boxes high, that’s 40 frames of bees and honey!
We recently went through our colonies and pulled 5 boxes of the first honey to be ripened to share with our customers who have waited so patiently. For now we have 1 and 2 lb. jars available. If all goes well we will have gallons available after the Fall honey comes in which is usually late Oct. One of our strongest colonies is also working on drawing out and filling a box of comb honey for those who enjoy biting into fresh honey comb in our jars of chunk honey. Things are finally looking up this season for Harris Honey and we invite you to celebrate our harvest with some fresh, local raw honey drizzled over a hot biscuit with butter.
Besides on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, I never gave much thought to flowers; that is until I started beekeeping. Now I find myself constantly noticing what flowers are blooming as I drive around town. I have come to learn what time of month each flower that provides a significant nectar flow in my neighborhood is supposed to bloom. I get excited when I see the jacaranda trees bloom in April, when the palm trees bloom in July and when the Brazilian pepper trees begin to bloom at the end of September. But from December through February there isn’t much to get excited about besides a few Spanish needles here and there.
During these winter months our bees go from thrive to survive mode. The queens slow down their laying and the populations shrink in the hive. It is during this time that bees are most susceptible to pests, disease and starvation. Most beekeepers are used to the fact that at least a percentage of hives will be lost during the Winter. We have been very fortunate so far this Winter. We have not lost a single hive and I was actually able to make an early split from a hive that is unusually strong coming out of the Winter.
Even though we are only half way through February, I am already starting to see the first blooms of Spring on trees around my neighborhood and the large honeysuckle vine at the end of my alley is erupting in orange flowers that are buzzing with our bees. The Queens seem to know Spring is coming early as they have picked up their egg laying. I am starting to see drones bees once again in the hives that can mate with the new queens of Spring. With the nectar flow of March and April just around the corner and the explosion in bee population that follows, I have been busy putting together new boxes and frames with the help of my son Judah who loves to pull the trigger as I hold the nail gun.
With just a few gallons of honey left from the Fall harvest I am anxious to bring in a good Spring harvest come May. But with more demand for our honey than we can supply I am faced with a catch 22. With beekeeping you either have to focus on bringing in lots of honey or expanding hives because you can’t do both at the same time. Big strong hives bring in a lot of surplus honey but when you are expanding hives you are splitting up those big strong hives to make more hives. One large hive will bring in more honey than 3-5 small hives so you are definitely sacrificing honey to split hives. But the earlier I do my splits the sooner they will get strong and become honey producing hives. Therefore my plan is to make as many splits as I can this Spring and build them up for the Summer and Fall nectar flows. That will mean a smaller honey harvest this Spring but a lot more honey this Summer and Fall.
Even so, we will still get a harvest this Spring and it can’t come soon enough for us! In our next post we’ll give an update on our Spring splits and explain the process in more detail.