Sunday, January 15, 2017

Looking Ahead to 2017

Our hives in the new apiary, covered with snow but sitting
in the sunshine. 
It was a very busy fall for us. Our first priority for the fall was to move the bees to the new apiary. It has lots of room for growth, and we can park a trailer in there as well, which is the long term plan – then we can keep some bees on the trailer, and move them from orchard to orchard, getting that wonderful fruit pollen. It makes amazing honey. For the move, the hives were loaded up on the back of the truck, the tables were hauled over (we don’t like to have the hives directly on the ground because then they are just too inviting to bugs and critters who might have a hankering for some bees – yes, we mean skunks. They don’t care about the honey but they sure do love bees… and not in the good way.)

Taking the honey from the FlowHive
We also extracted our honey… lots of honey. When all was said and done, we ended up with about 1100 pounds of honey. If that sounds like a lot, you want to try to store it all in your kitchen pantry! Like all things, there was still some learning this year in the extraction department. We harvested our FlowHive for the first time, with mixed results – it was a very messy process! We also harvested 32 pucks of honey in the comb, and were very happy with that. With a little bit of that extracted honey, we did all our preserves and especially our jellies, using less than a cup of honey per batch instead of the many cups of sugar normally used, and it turned out wonderfully.

Moving the hives to the new apiary.
So, what about 2017? The hives are topped with snow, the bees are inside making sure the hive stays at the right temperature, and we are pondering the next honey season. As always, it seems, there are hive boxes and honey supers to be made. That is a never-ending task, it seems, as we grow. Since we hadn’t anticipated the growth we had last year, we used up every available box and frame, so there is work to be done there. We need to make our ‘shopping list’ of necessities – like queen excluders, calculating as best we can how many hives we will aim for next year. It’s hard to anticipate because so much depends on the winter. This winter has been very cold, unusually cold, with a lot of wind, so we could find that the hives are not as strong in the spring as we hoped. We also had a long fall, so they could have depleted a lot of their stores before the cold weather came. We also are over-wintering with single hives, instead of doubles, so there will be less stores for them to rely on inside.

Our honey in the comb, ready for sale. 
Without knowing what we have when we start the year, we almost require a couple of contingency plans. If the bees do well, and they are up and running strong early in the spring, we will have to decide if the focus will be on creating more hives, or creating honey, and if we go with creating honey, do we do more liquid honey or honey in the comb? We can also focus a bit more on gathering propolis and pollen instead of just honey, or we can decide to create hives to sell for other beekeepers, spreading diversity and helping new beekeepers get established. Regardless of what route we take, we know we have to re-queen the hives which raises the question of ‘growing’ our own queens or purchasing queens. We learned from last year that to purchase queen cells are much cheaper, but much more of a gamble. The growing of queen cells is an involved and intricate art, requiring a careful hand at the start when the harvest the day-old larvae, and absolute vigilance in monitoring and timing their growth to be able to move them appropriately at the right time. Being off even one day has dire consequences, so we need to be sure of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it. The learning curve on this task is, honestly, a bit intimidating, but the benefits, especially for our own hives, would be substantial.

University of Purdue -- growing queen cells. 
We have to look beyond these issues though, and consider what we do with what our bees produce. Selling hive nucs and queens are one way to make this gig pay, but are those enough or do they deplete our own ability to produce honey? We have been selling our honey, by the jar, by the puck and by the bucket, but is there more we can be doing? We have gathered a lot of beeswax over the last few years, so perhaps it’s time to find a use for that, something that will help to make this more than just an interesting hobby.

When you have angry bees because you have
just taken away all their honey, you have
to get creative when working outside.
Greg is geared up to do some welding,
while wearing a bee suit! 
So while we sit and ponder, and dream of sunshine and flowers for our bees, we will have more than enough to keep us busy (besides just making new hive boxes). We will pull out the aprons and the pots, and do some experimenting with the many wonderful by-products of bees, integrating the wax and hopefully the pollen and propolis, so more people can reap the benefits. At this point, at least for a few more weeks, the evenings will be spent reading and researching. The days inside the house will be spent testing and sampling. We’ll try to share some of the results as we go. It could be an interesting (and messy) journey. 

1 comment:

  1. As much as I loathe being in close proximity to bees, you've made me aware of the importance of their existence. The honey your bees produce is some of the finest I've ever tasted.