Here at Harris Honey we are very excited about the coming of Spring! With the warmer weather we had last week I was able to inspect all of our hives and was encouraged to see that the queens have already begun picking up their laying of eggs and once again there are drone cells which means winter is coming to an end for the bees. It also means that soon there will be a sudden increase in bee population in our hives. We will need lots and lots of healthy bees to bring in enough nectar to produce a surplus of honey that we can harvest.
While we did lose about 8 colonies over the winter, it looks like we have enough healthy colonies to make some splits over the next couple of weeks to make up what was lost. We also rescued two colonies of feral bees last week which will help us as well. One was a pretty large colony of very gentle bees that had built an exposed hive under the awning of a house. I was able to catch and cage the queen and put her in a box. After I got the queen, I cut off each comb, brushed the bees into the box with the queen, and then attached the combs with rubber bands into wooden frames that go into the bee box. I brought the colony back to our yard and two days later noticed the bees dragging the rubber bands out of the hive entrance. When I looked inside I was encouraged to see that the bees had repaired any damages to the comb and had connected it to the frames. They were also beginning to fill in the voids. I think we are going to get a really productive colony of bees from that bee rescue.
The other one was a much smaller colony that had taken up residence in an owl box. The transfer into a 5 frame nuc box didn’t go as smoothly as the first bee rescue. The queen flew off before I could cage her, leading a swarm of worker bees with her. It took a while to get them back from 20′ up in a tree. But luckily I was able to find the queen, cage her, and put her in the nuc box with the comb and brood. I attached the nuc box in the tree where the owl box was and when I left the confused bees were going to it because of the caged queen inside. When the weather warms next week I will get it and bring it to a bee yard and hopefully they will have established themselves in their new box. If so that will be 2 out of 8 colonies of bees gained back from winter losses. We would like to have a total 40 strong colonies by April to bring in the Spring nectar flow.
Besides chasing bees we have been busy selling honey from our Fall harvest (It looks like we may have just enough in stock to get us through till May). We have been selling a lot of our chunk honey at the market. Chunk honey is a jar of liquid honey with chunks of honey comb inside. The honey comb seems to really stop people as they walk by our stand because it is not often people see honey in its natural state. There is no greater honey eating experience than biting into a piece of sweet gooey honey comb with all the little bits of pollen and propolis that give it such an amazing taste and aroma. It’s the closest experience you can get to opening the lid on a colony of bees without the risk of getting stung. This year we are going to try to produce more comb honey for market. Today I just got done ordering ultra thin wax foundation and putting together four new honey boxes that will be designated for making comb honey. Producing comb honey is much more work for the bees and the beekeeper than extracted liquid honey. Good comb honey can only be made with the strongest bee colonies during a really good nectar flow. They have to have enough nectar to draw out, fill and ripen a lot of honeycomb in a short amount of time so that the comb is soft and chewy. Over time the comb gets tough and travel stained which is fine for extracting honey out of but not for making good comb honey.
We have high hopes for this year and are very encouraged by all of the rainfall we have had so far. Last Spring was very dry and there was no nectar flow. We are thankful for all the rain and excited to see all the flowers that are blooming already. The wild plum tree in front of my parents’ house is blooming and buzzing with our bees, as well as the Spanish needle and wild mustard along Joe’s Creek. The bees use this first flow of nectar and pollen to build up their colony. When we see the purple Jacaranda trees in our neighborhood blooming in April we know that the real nectar flow is about to come in. That is when we begin stacking on honey boxes as fast as the bees can fill them up. By May the bees have ripened most of the nectar into honey and that is when we can begin harvesting our first honey of the year.
Until then we are enjoying eating our delicious Fall honey. We are very thankful we had such a great Fall harvest and are hopeful for a good Spring harvest as well.