This time of year, I start thinking honey. Many beekeepers don’t think about asking for honey until much later in the year, like September or even October. But, in the last 25 or so years, since the Varroa mite showed up in the US, beekeepers need to think about other things going on in the hive, and make time to address them before winter. Not to mention, as a holistic beekeeper, taking my portion of the honey in early August increases the bees ability to build up their necessary winter stores without having to give them supplemental sugar. So, my goal is usually to ask for my “cut” of the honey in early August.
Overall, I felt like there was a lot of success in the sanctuary this year. I would have liked to had stronger overwinter numbers, but I was still above the national average. Last year, the bees went into winter with less food stores than I would have liked, due to the dry fall. But, all in all, went into winter really healthy with good strong queens and populations. I implemented a new winter feeding program that took some troubleshooting, so there was a bit of learning curve on my side. I think this year, I will have a stronger grasp on this feeding protocol and have even better over wintering results. With luck, the bees will have an abundant fall and not really need any supplemental feed, which is always my goal.
I brought out 6 new packaged hives to the sanctuary this year, both to help recoup some of the winter losses and grow a bit. I also had some really great strong hives that came through winter with nice high populations, so they got split into multiple hives (simulating a swarm, which is the honeybees natural way of procreating). Throughout the summer I was able to maintain 18 hives with growing populations and healthy queens. Not all of these hives will produce excess honey this year, but will hopefully overwinter and be set up to pay a little “rent” next year. Although, my management style is not one that drives strong honey production anyway. The main goal of the bee sanctuary is to have thriving, happy, hives – honey is really an added bonus when gifted with it.
I also maintained about 4 nucs (nucleus hives), that insured that if one of the large hives lost a queen, I would have the option of bringing one in right away if I thought it best. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, depending on what roll the hive has that year. They are also a good tool for me to build strong genetics in the sanctuary by starting nucs from strong hives that have a positive traits.
I learn so much every year, and then what I thought I learned, gets retaught in new ways with more information. I do know that no two hives are alike and what works with one might not work with another. Being in relationship and taking time to observe and respond is very important. My hives have been my greatest teachers.
On a larger scale, the bees continue to struggle with loss of habitat. Valuable tree lines continue to be removed and diversity becomes less and less with the mono cultures that modern agriculture prefers. Fewer and fewer yards sport yellow dandelion flowers and delicate white clovers. This farm’s little patch of heaven is not enough and the bees are crying for change. Pesticides continue to be of concern, especially in the United States. New disease and increased parasites and pests are concerns that need to be addressed in the hives on a larger scale, but that takes funding that the beekeeping industry struggles to raise. The honeybee population is still at risk unless bigger change can happen.
I sell most of my honey each year at the South Shore Farmers Market in Bay View Milwaukee. After extracting, I will also make purchases available from our online farm store as well.