Let me start by saying- Condolences to all of you who have had, and in some cases are still having, a brutal Winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest, 2015 was the Winter that never was. It feels like Spring & has for awhile now. Though the calendar, and experience, says not quite yet. Restraint. There is a palpable stirring of life on the farm. Sweet scents in the air, a pop of color here and there. An awakening. Come take a walk-about the farm with me… Eye candy for you beleaguered sufferers of Winter.
We have a very small apiary on our farm & are relatively new to the art of beekeeping. Admittedly we are totally smitten with honey bees & their world. Recently there has been quite the buzz (sorry) about a new beehive called the ‘Flow Hive’. It is an invention being launched by 2 beekeepers from Australia. It seems the hive does the honey harvest for you, with photos showing sparkling clean honey running directly out of the hives into mason jars for the honey lover to consume.
I have heard many excited comments & gotten multiple questions about this ingenious new bee hive invention. What do I think? I must admit that this whole ‘Flow Hive’ thing makes me a bit cranky. It does have great marketing, eye-catching photos & seems to appeal to many folks. But I’m not convinced of the concept.
We humans have a propensity for things that are, or seem to be, easy. The Flip-A-Switch and Ta-Dah syndrome! Minimal input, maximum gain. This makes me cringe on so many levels.
First- It is called beekeeping, not honey extracting. What about the bees? I didn’t find any mention of caring for the bees, only excitement about crystal clear honey flowing from a hive into open mason jars outside the hive. Hmm- not a good practice, ask any beekeeper.
Second- Like so many other animal products for human use or consumption, the emphasis is on the product not on the care of the animal. Which is just wrong. This exploitive attitude is what has brought us CAFO’s for beef, pork & fryers; gestation crates for sows & battery cages for egg layers. Minimal input for maximum gain & the animals are the ones to pay the price in these systems.
Collecting sparkling clear honey directly from a beehive for your morning toast sounds too good to be true, and probably is. Does it work? -insert shoulder shrug-. Most of the comments I have heard or read have had nothing at all to do with the bees themselves. Only about honey, which by the way, they do not make for us, they make it to feed their colony. Well this hive sell? Probably. Is it a great idea? The jury is still out on that. Is it the next great beehive invention? Probably not.
If you want honey without the ‘bother’ of the bees, go to a farmers market or buy directly from a local beekeeper. Let the beekeepers, who enjoy working with bees, who understand bees, who care about bees, produce the honey for you. If you are interested in starting a hive/hives of your own. Read, study, educate yourself about honey bees. Join a bee club, take a class, find a mentor to help get you started in the art of beekeeping. There is so much more to honeybees than just their honey.
Everyone has a right to their opinion, this is simply mine.
It has been a very mild winter in our corner of the Pacific Northwest this year. No snow. Rain & wind events, fog that sometimes lingered for the entire day, and glorious revitalizing sun. Always enough variation to keep it interesting. Even in the starkness of a winter landscape there is beauty to be found. This is where we live and what we have been up to this winter of 2015. Enjoy the meanderings…
It is early January 2015 and Violet hive has died. It was not a surprise, expected really, as this hive, though strong and active all season, was discombobulated from the beginning. These two hives where like the tortoise and the hare. Yellow was sure and steady, nose to the grind stone and efficient. Violet did everything BIG! Lots of activity, lots of attitude (and stings), lots of brood, lots of drones, lots of pollen stores lots of mites and a flair for the artistic.
Violet may have been robbed, though I never witnessed it or saw any indications of a war having been fought. Going into summer we thought they had lots of honey stored. Maybe even enough to harvest a little. They had turned their top honey super into an artistic canvas of convuluted tunnels of cross comb. This super was VERY heavy. We had left it thinking we would be harvesting that box and leaving all of the rest of their stores for their winter larder. When harvest day came at the end of August there were lots of bees, a shiny fat mahogany colored queen, comb built out on all the frames, lots of pollen but only a minor amount of capped honey and multiple empty frames. Their larder was nearly bare. We did not harvest. The colony was still very busy so we left them to their work.
In early September we consolidated each hive, removing any empty frames and putting both hives into a winter configuration. Yellow hive looked really good, Violet was in trouble. We treated the colonies for Varroa mites with HopGuard II. There was a seasonal nectar dirth so we put feeder jars with 2:1 sugar syrup in the tops of both hives before replacing the roofs. The mites were dropping, the mite board was checked daily. Violet had many times more mites than Yellow. Yellow was eagerly taking the sugar syrup, Violet was only sipping. In October at the last hive check Yellow was packed with capped honey. Violet hadn’t really stored much more. It was time to take off the feeders before frost.
Not wanting to repeat last years hive dieing of starvation in February, we built several candy boards for our hives as an insurance policy in case their winter stores were running low. Emergency food to get them to the first nectar flow in Spring. Shortly after Christmas we slid a candy board onto each hive just above the top super. Both hives were alive at that time. Warm days saw activity at both entrances. But in early January Violet showed no activity, a knock on the boxes produced no roar of bees. Violet had succumbed.
Tearing Violet down, doing an autopsy, we found a hive that smelled good, a baseball sized cluster of dead bees in the top super with their heads buried in honey cells. The two hive bodies had nearly empty combs. There was a fair amount of pollen and small amounts of capped honey in the corners of frames. The screened bottom board was deep in dead bees. There was very little mold in the hive. The new hive stands Bob had built had definitely allowed for much better air circulation than the cinder blocks we had used for stands previously. There was no sign of disease. It appears that the colony died of starvation and cold. To small to keep warm and unable to move to more honey stores just inches away.
The cross combed honey super turned out to have quite a lot of honey left in it. As I was cleaning and preparing the hive for the next inhabitants, cutting the cross combs from the top super frames, capped honey appeared between the folds of comb. Violet has left us with a bowl filled with exquisitely beautiful swirls of honey comb dripping with nectar of the gods. Food for the remaining Yellow hive to get them to Spring. Violet also left a hive filled with frames of comb, a gift to a new package of bees to help them get started come April. As always with honey bees, I am left in awe.
-Thank You Violet for all your wonderful gifts.-
As an addendum- Yellow hive is doing well. Warm sunny afternoons are showing lots of activity, cleaning, flying and pollen gathering.
July is a voraciously busy month on the farm. It is a month where you are straddling multiple seasons- in the throes of Summer, prepping for Fall and planning for Winter. The days are getting shorter, the angle of the sun is changing, the harvest is reaching its peak and the farmer always seems to be in perpetual motion. One foot in front of the other, one chore after another, moving forward, feeling behind.
Our July has been exceptionally busy here at FullCircle Farm- gardening, weeding, watering, harvesting, cultivating, seeding, transplanting, thinning, trellising, mowing, composting, feeding, haying, watering, rotating, hoop coop moving, slaughtering, processing, breeding, brooding, hive inspecting, supering, canning, freezing, drying, pickling, jam making, equipment repairing, equipment building, tree cutting, limb chipping, wood stacking, sales & marketing, helping, laughing, loving, eating and sleeping well.
Even as overflowing as this July has been it has purpose and reason. It feels right, It feels good. It is where I belong.
A Beautiful but Busy July