Picturing honey

It was about two months ago that I wrote about being cautiously optimistic about our bees. The colony seemed robust and contented, and there were signs of actual, genuine honey in the two supers we’d added to the two deeps.

I will emphasize that my optimism, as it always is with bees, was cautious. But still, it was optimism.

Two astute commenters, both of whom are obviously experienced with bees, warned me. “They are lulling you in to complacency,” MarthaEliza wrote, “waiting for that feeble flicker of hope to ignite into a blaze of confidence. That’s when it will all go sideways.”

Laura added, “This is the distraction while nature sends a plague of weasels to eat your chickens or a woodchuck to mow down your garden. There you are, enthralled by the beauty and industry of a thriving hive, meanwhile, nature is doing an end run on your kale.”

Let me take a moment to add an aside here. I will hold up the Starving commentariat against any in the blogosphere. You are funny and smart and interesting, and you also seem to have a great number of cold, hard facts at your fingertips. You know how to do things, and you never sneer at me when I don’t. Instead, you provide helpful suggestions and moral support. I thank all of you for your contribution.

But especially MarthaEliza and Laura, because they helped me keep my feet on the ground.

Are you two out there? I need your help again.

Kevin and I opened the hive yesterday, and we found that everything seemed still to be going smoothly. We didn’t open the deeps because we didn’t want to disturb the colony, so it’s possible that they’ve got a meth lab or something going in there and it will all end in tears, but the honey supers are slowly filling with actual, genuine honey.

They’re not jam-packed, and a couple of the frames on the outer edges aren’t even drawn out with comb yet, but many of the inner frames have large swaths of beautiful, capped honey.

I can’t help it. I’m picturing the glass jar with the spigot on the bottom, sitting on the shelf in my kitchen, ready to dispense OUR OWN HONEY into smoothies, or baked goods, or tea.

I know this is foolish. I know so many things can go wrong between now and a honey harvest. I know I shouldn’t have this picture in my mind because the likelihood that I will be disappointed is so very high. But it comes, unbidden.

Laura? MarthaEliza? Where are you when I need you?

17 people are having a conversation about “Picturing honey

  1. I added my last initial because it appears there is another Laura here, and I am too much of a rugged individualist to be mistaken for another person. Plus, I have a sharp tongue and a twisted sense of humor, so I prone to offending people, usually (but not always) without intending to.

    Tamar, I am afraid that you are mistaken in thinking that I know anything about bees. I would love to keep them, but the city I live in has other plans, so at this time it is not possible. I just speak from my experience with nature. While I am defeating the ravaging hordes of bugs in my garden, adolescent raccoons are breaking into my attic with plans to hold nightly practice sessions to be the next rock band. While I am beating back English ivy in my front yard, some weird and as yet unidentified fungus is killing off my plum tree in the back yard. It goes on and on. Every time I take a step forward, nature pulls the rug out from under my feet on the next step.

  2. Say your prayer thanks and hope. Dance that little jig in stocking feet and grin silly. Even when you get the disappointments, as you and know will come, it is important to embrace a few silly giggles of joy when things go well.

    I hope to give congratulations on honey, soon.

  3. There you go, Tamar, starting to get all honey-hopeful. My previous comment was based not on any apiaristic experience, but rather an unfortunate familiarity with the random cruelties of Nature. My attitude is one of proactive resignation*: work towards the desired end, but don’t expect too much; you won’t be overly disappointed if your efforts fail, but you will be very gratified if they succeed.

    *though I’m not a complete dunce, it took me years to realize this is a definition of “acceptance.”

  4. Okay, I will play.

    If this is a first year hive and you are just now getting to this point of them filling supers you may want to consider where your nectar flow is and whether or not you are the “harvest the honey and feed to keep them alive” sort or the “they make it so it is probably the thing they should be eating” sort.

    We have three hives now. Last fall we had three hives. Only one of the hives we have now is the same hive as last year, unless you consider that one of our hives is a swarm from our surviving hive from last year and we did a newspaper combine with our weak hive to our new nuc hive this spring so genetically speaking we are alllllll really good friends. (confused? I have read this paragraph and sometimes I understand it and sometimes I don’t. Hive A… still exists. Hive B… dead due to being in the shade this winter and not enough sunshine. Hive C…. still alive but not on their own. They were combined this spring with a new nuc because they did not have a queen and it was early enough in the spring that new queens were hard to come by. Now we have Hive A. Hive D is a nuc we got at a nuc making workshop we attended in May. It is a strong hive because it is a new nuc and we combined hive C with it. Hive E…. is a swarm we caught when hive A swarmed.)

    You will want your hive to weigh over 100 lbs going into winter. You will want to check with an experienced beek in your area to find out for sure, it may be 150 lbs.

    I am feeding my “oldest” hive (Hive A) and the swarm we got from my oldest hive (Hive E). My nuc (Hive D) that we did a newspaper combine with (Hive C) this spring is doing well for winter. This time of year I am still looking at ragweed and end of season dandelions. I am going to encourage my strong hive to produce, produce, produce and use the extra honey frames to support my two weaker hives (Hive A & E) if they don’t get enough stores put away.

    It is time to treat for Varroa and any other critters that infest your hives and that is going to cut down your honey production. You can’t pull honey after you start treating so decide if you are going to pull honey or not before you start treatment.

    You might be able to pull a couple of frames but I wouldn’t go too far. I would do a swap with the outside frames that are not being worked into a couple of more slots towards the center so they will work those frames and get busy building them and filling them with honey.

    If you have a good nectar flow and you aren’t done yet with pollen and nectar then I say pull a few frames for yourself. Let them start slowing down and they will fill the brood chambers before winter. You are pretty far north so consider where your nectar/pollen flow is.

    I have no idea if this helped or not, I hope it did. I am a hands off beek and I don’t feed if I don’t have to. I am not in it for the honey. I am in it for the bees, the honey is a bonus. If I get honey I celebrate. If I don’t get honey then I celebrate the fact that I am not spending a lot of time and money making sugar syrup. 🙂

  5. That was funny, you get honey (maybe 🙂 and think of smoothies, baked goods. I think it says a lot about me that when I think of honey my mind wanders to something totally different… (Something similar to what Kevin thinks when hunting if I recall correctly.)

  6. Bees in New England need 60-80 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. Each super has about 30-35 pounds of honey, I think. Anything in excess to that you can harvest. If you have a couple of full supers you can even take just a frame or two. The necter flow is over here except for fall asters. Keep us posted!

  7. Are these comments written in some kind of code ? Or is there an algebraic conundrum in there somewhere? Whatever the answer, I just love all this new language and communal problem-solving.

    Good Luck, Tamar. I hope you get loads of honey.

  8. Thanks both to all of you who offer moral support and all of you who offer bona fide beekeeping suggestions!

    Brenda, thanks for playing! We would like our bees to have honey for the winter, but one of the problems local people have seen is that a hive will starve because they won’t break cluster to go get the honey that isn’t right next to them. Feeding sometimes is more successful because it’s right above the bees. Also, this is our third season with nary a drop of honey, and no colony surviving through the winter. At this point, I would give my eyeteeth for a little jar of our very own honey. I know beekeeping decisions shouldn’t be driven by frustration, but it’s really hard to factor it out. The timing isn’t as big an issue because we don’t treat for varroa with anything but powdered sugar (although I’ve read mixed reports on its efficacy).

    I do believe next time we open the hive we will switch some from the outside to the inside, as you suggest. And we may take honey at that point. We’d like to only do one harvest, and it might make sense to wait until nectar flow is done (we still have a few plants to go out here).

    You’ve been very helpful, and I also just like reading about other people’s experiences. Please stay tuned! I very much value having people like you come and participate.

    Jessica — Thanks! That’s a lot of honey, to get a hive through. As I mentioned above, one of the problems here is having colonies starve even though there’s plenty of honey — they just don’t break cluster. So I’m not sure whether to try and leave them honey, or take the honey and feed them syrup, or some combination. But we’ve got to figure it out soon.

    Javier — You have a long, long memory. Maybe too long.

    • The experienced keepers in our bee club suggest feeding them sugar syrup starting in the spring until the necter run around Mother’s day and then from the end of the necter run onward. You can keep feeding them until cold weather. I would leave them the honey and take any excess beyond what they need to get through the winter. If they are producing well and you begin or continue feeding them you may be in good shape to harvest at least some. honey.
      Do treat for Varroa motes if you haven’t already. You may already know that you can sprinkle them with powdered sugar and the mites fall off. It really works and does not hurt anything, except the mites who can not climb back in. You would need a screened bottom for this to work, of course. You can do that as often as you like. Pulling out any drone cells before they mature also helps keep the population down. Feed the larvae to the chickens!

      • That’s about what we do with syrup. We start in the fall, then switch to fondant in the winter, back to syrup in the spring.

        As for the varroa, I read a paper recently that said the powdered sugar treatment isn’t very effective in many situations. It’s a good, thorough discussion, and worth reading, I think:
        We did it a couple of times in the spring, and got very few mites. I need to do a mite check again …

        I love the idea of feeding drone larvae to the chickens!

        • All I know about bees is the make honey and Sting. The Barnstable Be Keepers Assoc. run a work shop usually every winter some place in Barnstable, Maybe even in the MM library near you. Maybe no honey this year but you can always have striper and eggs…….

  9. If your mite counts are high, please consider treating for varroa with Api-Guard (Thymol) or MAQS (MiteAway Quick Strips, a formic acid product). Both are effective, safe when used per labeling, and they are very easy to use. The MAQS product can even be used when honey supers for human consumption are on the hives. Let the record show, I do not sell either product. I hae used only the Api-Guard and my knowledge of MAQS is by reference to some people whose opinions I trust. I really want to hear that you and Kevin are having problems storing pails of honey as you can’t sell it fast enough. You have to manage pests to do that. If left to their own instinctual devices, the bees will either die out (They have no instinctive response or defense to the pest.), or abscond (The most common method of defense I’ve seen in Apis sp.). Neither produces a big honey crop. Also, bees were built to eat honey they make from floral nectars, not sugar or corn syrup processed into a “honey-like” substance. Be certain you leave them enough honey. Last year my winter losses were under 5%. It was a mild winter here, but I am still really proud of that result. Keep us posted, please.

    • Greg — Thanks for the recommendation. My concern with the miticides is that we end up with miticide-resistant mites. I would prefer to keep the mites weak and try to strengthen the bees. Of course, this has to happen through selective breeding, and my understanding is that people who are doing that are having iffy results. Varroa is an intractable enemy, but I feel like trying to destroy them with chemicals will end up strengthening them. Mind you, I’m in favor of better living through chemistry, and have no objection to chemicals that are reasonably safe and effective. But I believe we’re already seeing Thymol-resistant varroa in places where Thymol has been in use. Do you worry about that?

      I’m awfully impressed with losses under 5%, so it’s clear you’re doing a lot right. I’m sure you’ve considered the resistance issue, and I’d like very much to hear what you think about it.

      Again, thanks for weighing in. I love to hear from experienced beekeepers.

      • I have heard anecdotal reports of thymol resistant varroa, but I just have not seen it here. I do watch for that, though. From what i have gathered, it is not an issue if the product is used per directions. Sadly, it seems a lot of beekeepers are averse to reading directions. How do you know bees are thymol resistant when you have Apiguard in place, with formic acid soaked panty liners, an oxalic acid vaporizer applied twice a week, CheckMite in the beetle traps, and last years Apistan strips all in the hive all season long? It is amazing to me anything survives in that toxin stew. Again, I am no expert. I just try to use a little common sense and a generous helping of hope. I leave the bees with honey to eat, I catch rainwater in a tub with floats for them to drink. I use only the weakest “ides” I can use to treat a problem that is above a tolerance threshhold. I am quite willing to live with a few mites, or a few beetles, so long as they don’t cause the bees a problem. When the bees have a problem, I have a problem. I tell folks to use their heads. Keep a notebook. Make certain you keep track of what is working, and flag what is not. Discontinue the not working and build on the things that work. Try to change only one thing at a time, that way you know if it is working well or doing nothing good. It’s all trial and error. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Just try one thing different at a time. I will let you now if I see any results from planting thyme around the hives. They are not getting treated with anything else during the trial, but it is too new to know anything yet. Keep trying yourselves. Bees are a lot easier than oysters.

  10. Hi Tamar,

    It’s my first post, and though I know nothing about keeping bees, a favorite blogger of mine, Anna Hess, has been learning beekeeping for a few years with variable results. But her blog posts are very educational and full of photos, including those about bees. You might enjoy her and her husband’s blog at waldeneffect.org. They’ve reviewed books on bees too.
    Good luck and positive thought your way and to the hives!

    • Thanks for the link. I like it. And thanks for the positive thoughts, too — those, we definitely need.

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