It’s difficult to be at market and have to tell customers that I’m not going to have any honey this year, but that’s the state of things at the Runamuk Apiary. Two years in a row and no honey to sell.
The reason for this honey-shortage is largely related to the fact that we’re still building up the Runamuk Apiary and it just takes time. After losing all of my hives during the brutal 2014-2015 winter I had to start over last spring with 5 new colonies. 4 of them came through the winter looking great, but only one of those has been making any amount of honey.
This year with the drought Maine has been experiencing, the flowers are just not producing much in the way of nectar. Everything is dry as a bone and though the bees are actively searching, they are not bringing in what they need to be able to produce a honey crop. Not only does this affect honey production, but it also makes for slow building colonies.
Paul (my partner) and I brought 10 nucleus colonies to Runamuk this spring, and we were also able to make 3 of our own using swarm cells we found in our existing 4 hives. There was also a swarm we managed to catch and hive. But all those new hives need to build combs and fill them with bees and honey and pollen, and in order to do that the bees need plenty of nectar available. As a result of the drought the hives have been slow to build up and we’re feeding them a lot of sugar-syrup to stimulate production.
We’ve been right on top of it all though. Every week we go out to check that the production hives have enough space and that the new hives are building up the way they should. We used our screened bottom boards to gauge the level of mites in the hives, and though the numbers were not terrible we decided a half-strength treatment now was warranted to ensure as many hives as possible will come through the upcoming winter. Later in the fall we will do a final knock-down of mites with the oxalic acid.
Timing of mite-treatments is crucially important in the fight against varroa; in order to ensure a healthy population of bees that can withstand the long cold winter months, beekeepers need to treat early enough in the fall that the bees will be able to raise another round of bees before the temperatures drop and brood production ceases for the season. That time is now.
I took all of 8 frames of capped honey off the 1 hive that was making excess honey. That translates into maybe 20-25 pounds of honey if I were to extract it. However we’re going to divide those frames up between some of the slower-building hives and accept the fact that we’re just not going to have honey for sale this year.
It takes time and patience to build an apiary and Paul and I are focused first on building strong, healthy colonies─and lots of them. Honey will be a by-product of apiary production; I’m confident we will have some to sell eventually, but we’re not willing to sacrifice the health of our bees to make it happen. For now I will have to send those customers elsewhere─I do however have plenty of eggs and beeswax soap available at market. 😉