There's no such thing as an "off season" for a beekeeper
Happy Holidays from The Honey Hustle! We are sure many of you are recovering from a busy, albeit unusual, holiday season. Although many of us were not with our loved ones this year it didn't mean we were any less busy, or stressed.
As I write this I can hear Lucy,our (almost) 9 year old Saint Bernard, snoring from the dog's room. She's not the only one who is staying in today, at 49 degrees the bees are staying in their hives conserving energy and staying warm. The only one who has ventured out into the cold today is Bruce, and that's because there is no such thing as time off for a beekeeper.
Most people assume that bees hibernate in cold weather, but that's not accurate. Honey bees are actually active in cold weather, although they spend less time outside. On days that are sunny and in the mid-50's they will go out to search for food sources. Scout bees will leave the hive to search for pollen, nectar, or some form of sugar, and if successful will return to the hive to report back. The way they communicate this information is referred to as the "waggle dance". Once the "waggle dance" has communicated the necessary information field bees will leave the hive to forage. We haven't had a nectar flow here in our area since June so Bruce will feed the bees sugar water to insure they don't starve out. Bees also need to forage to stay healthy so giving them a food source placed a short distance from the hives helps to achieve this. Dandelions are already blooming and the "girls" are bringing in their bright yellow pollen but dandelions don't product much nectar. Henbit is another "weed" that grows in the winter here. I used to pull it because I thought it made our front yard look unkempt, that is until Bruce told me it's a good source of winter pollen for the bees. Now I encourage that herb(yes, it's an edible herb) to grow and look forward to seeing the bees in their small purple flowers.
So, what about the beekeeper? I did say that he doesn't get a break, right? On warm days he is suited up and assessing the activity level of each hive. If a hive seems to be too quiet on a warm day then he will open it up to see if there is an issue. Unfortunately it's not unusual to lose hives, and we've already lost a couple this winter.
Last Christmas Bruce received a table saw from Santa. Buying hive boxes is very expensive so last winter he started making his own. When the pandemic hit and shipping issues started to crop up he was very glad to have his own source of boxes waiting in the garage. A week or so ago he started cutting wood and stapling together boxes in anticipation of the spring buildup. The boxes he made previously were painted and then decorated with his (ahem) "artwork". I originally thought he was bored with painting everything white and laughed at him. Turns out the joke was on me because bees can distinguish patterns and those palm trees, flowers, lines and circles actually keep bees from entering the wrong hives!! Last week I went out to find Bruce scorching the wood with a propane torch. Charring the soft wood seals it and helps to protect it from rot while raising the grain of the hard wood gives the bees a pattern they can identify. A coat of poly and they are ready for use.
Checking the hives, building boxes....what else is there to do? Well those boxes will need to be filled with frames. Each box in our hives has 10 frames and each of them needs to be assembled, nailed together, and a sheet of beeswax or plastic foundation inserted into the frame. The bees will build their comb on these sheets of wax or plastic. Why is plastic used? The wax foundation has a tendency to blow out during the extraction process, which costs time as well as a loss of resources. That's one of the reasons that up through now we have not offered honeycomb. The good news is that we have the supplies to offer honeycomb starting in the spring of 2021, bees willing!!
What else is Bruce doing? Albert Einstein said, "Once you stop learning, you start dying." Boy, if this isn't true for a beekeeper and his hives! Bruce spends hours weekly reading and watching videos to educate himself on news, techniques, and issues that other beekeepers in North America and Europe are experiencing. In two weeks we will be attending a bee conference in TN learning from some of the commercial beekeepers Bruce follows. Yes, I said "WE"! I am going along and hoping to learn and be able to speak with a greater understanding in future blogs! I might even invest in my own bee suit and start helping out in the bee yard!
It's all a lot to do in what is really a very short amount of time. Winter tends to be a pretty short season where we are located. By early March the queens are starting to ramp things up and are laying eggs non-stop! Hives will start swarming as the hive fills up. Feeding the bees sugar water isn't just about preventing starvation and keep the hives healthy. The sugar water helps to give them a jump start on egg production! I just wish sugar hadn't gotten so darn expensive!!
What am I doing, besides trying to amuse and educate you with this blog? I'm also working on education. How can I make our products better? What new honey and beeswax products might our customers like? What about new labels, booth design, etc? How can I promote and support and incorporate products from businesses owned by military and first responder spouses?
To add another dimension to the chaos.....we will need to start working on the Hiawassee bee yard around the end of February. Hiawassee is a month or so behind Bonaire but another bear fence will need to be purchased and more bases constructed before we move additional hives up there in the spring. More planning, more wood, more propane for the torch!!!
So, that "long winter's nap" that Clement Moore mentioned in "Twas the Night Before Christmas"....yeah, not for beekeepers!!! Enjoy your honey, there's a lot of work (and much love) that goes into it, even in the winter!
Wishing you all the best for 2021!!!
The Hendrix Family