The Goldenrod is Starting to Bloom in the Beeyard

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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When those golden heads start to open up, it is a sign for me to make one last harvesting visit to the hive. If there’s any “available-for-people” honey left, now is the time I take it. There are three reasons for this rationale: (1) I don’t want any goldenrod honey in the honey I sell. Some people actually do like it, but when it’s in the hive, it stinks to high heaven and I’ve never been able to get it past my nose! (2) It (and aster honey as well) crystallizes at record-breaking speed. Although I don’t mind crystallized honey (it spreads like peanut butter!), lots of people don’t like it and I don’t want to sell them honey that won’t make them completely happy (3) The girls love goldenrod and its highly nutritious, so I let them collect all they can to overwinter on!

Beekeeping in Fall

So with any luck, I’ll do one more honey harvest and then switch over to my fall/winter inspections. In the fall the queen slows her egg laying and the bee population declines to ensure that the foodstuffs will be sufficient to make it through the winter.  The fewer the bees, however, the harder it is for the girls to defend against interlopers.  So fall is the time for pretty frequent checks for varroa, food store progression, etc. It is also the time robbers such as yellow jackets, hornets and wasps make their move on unsuspecting, weaker hives.

The saying goes, “Take your losses in the fall,” and I totally agree. It’s better to take two weak hives and combine them than to try and carry them through the winter struggling.  There’s more chance a combined hive will make it to next spring when they will again build up and you can split them back out into two hives!

Summer Problems in the Beeyard

It’s been a tough summer. Way too much rain! And when you live in the Original Down East of North Carolina where you’re only three feet above sea level to begin with, it means a lot of soggy days wearing fisherman’s boots, not being able to cut the grass, and even though your veggies are in raised beds, pretty crummy yields. The beans, radishes, lettuce, peppers and potatoes put on a pretty good harvest but my cabbage plants, squash and tomatoes were a disaster!  I’m hoping the monsoon-type rain will stop soon. I still haven’t put in my winter garden and pretty soon it’ll be too late.

To add insult to injury, Hurricane Arthur hit us as a category two and for the first time in my life in NC it wasn’t the surge that got us (very little water with Arthur), it was the winds! Four days of cleaning up branches and limbs — and my greenhouse was flattened!  What a heartbreak! And now they’re forecasting a killer winter! Up go the hoop houses!

I see from my last blog post that I left you hanging regarding the two splits that weren’t making queens.  Well, I finally decided to get a couple of queens from Ricky Coor of Spring Bank Apiary (the best queens in NC in my humble opinion).  Due to the popularity of his queens, however, I had to wait until May 27! I was worried about laying workers, but Ricky gave me a trick: Give a queenless hive a frame of open brood (at this point in time they had only capped brood)! It worked and I installed the new queens on May 28. Both hives accepted the queens without hesitation, and when I checked on June 1, both queens had been released from their cages.

Unfortunately, for a reason I cannot fathom, one of the splits lost even the new queen, and they had dwindled to point where I knew they would not rebound—barely a handful. So I just dumped the remainder in front of one of the other hives and took their hive away. A paper combine is not necessary when there is such a small number of bees. They will go to another hive and their demeanor will let the hive know they are not robbers and they will be allowed to join the colony.

Managing Bee Swarms

On June 8, I checked the two swarms I had gotten from Edgewater Gardens. One was fine; the other had lost its queen and had dwindled. I was totally discouraged so I just did a paper combine with one of the established hives.

It makes me nervous that I can’t get an answer as to the queen failures I’ve been experiencing over the past two years.  I also find it interesting to note that the two hives that were originally established thirteen years ago (!) continue to thrive. I assume the genetic diversity that has gone through those hives has built up the bees’ immune systems and that they are better able to deal with the new problems confronting the honey bee. Neither of those two hives has ever been given a queen “from the outside.” I always let my girls requeen themselves if I possibly can.

On July 25, when I went out to open the chickens, I noticed a very small swarm in the vitex! A very easy swarm to catch: I merely snipped off the branch and shook them into a nuc, gave them a frame of honey, a frame of pollen, and a frame of brood. That was it!  They were happy as could be. And I did all of this in my nightgown!  But once I got back inside I thought, “That was a very small swarm of bees. Darn! It’s got to be an afterswarm and I missed the original, much bigger swarm.” I decided right there I’d better check the other hives to see if there were any signs of swarming. I got dressed and went behind the garden shed to grab some hay for the smoker when lo and behold! The Seeley swarm trap that I had moved under the shelter out of harm’s way of Hurricane Arthur was buzzing with a very large swarm! I dumped them in a hive and they’re now happily humming in the beeyard!  Since then the hive in the nuc has grown and is now living in a deep.  I expect to add a super for the goldenrod collection. So once again, all is well at the Bees a Charm Apiary.  I haven’t had a big honey harvest this year, but the honey I did get is beautiful and delicious.  Hopefully, I’ll get some more in my next and final harvest.

Annual Honey Tasting

Crystal Coast Beekeepers had their annual honey tasting the second Monday of September.  It’s always so interesting and astounding to see all the different honeys that are produced here in our little county.  No two honeys are alike!  We always have a wonderful time at the honey tasting.

We were pleased to do a presentation to gardeners at Carolina Home and Garden, with information on gardening for the honey bee, handouts, and an observation hive.  We’ll be doing the Day for Kids in Emerald Isle again this year and will be handing out honey sticks!  Don’t know what the kids like better: the observation hive or the honey sticks!

I also had the pleasure of attending Joel Salatin’s last field day at Polyface Farms. We can all learn a lot from Mr. Salatin and his son’s beehives are wonderful. He even has a bee gum that he’s fit with a Langstroth honey super! I think it’s so great that the bees give him honey in a Langstroth yet they’re still able to live in a tree! Marvelous!

That’s it for now. Hope you are enjoying my bee adventures. Please contact me with any questions/concerns/comments you have. Would love to hear from you!