Rain and Bees, not a good mix:
2011 has not been a good year for honey in the northwest corner of Washington State. 10 months of rain does not make for a good harvest. The rains affected the honey harvest of nearly every beekeeper in the northern Puget Sound area (northwest Washington state). At Brookfield Farm in Maple Falls, pulling honey this year was a vastly different experience from any in my decade or more of beekeeping.
Brookfield Farm Bee Yard Locations:
I have three new bee yards in Whatcom County. They are in wonderful farms about ten to fifteen miles down river from my bee yards in the foothills of Mt. Baker. That may not sound far, but around here climate, weather, and plants can change drastically in that distance. These new yards are on the flatland farms. My up-river hives are nestled in gardens and fields between northfork of the Nooksack River and mountains, or perched on low ridges.
The mountain hives normally produce a very light honey: fireweed, snowberry, thistles from the late season, with an undertone of Big Leaf and Vine Maples from the spring. Mid-season adds a plethora of flowers from self-heal to thimbleberry. This year these hives produced enough honey to feed themselves and put a small portion away for winter.
My more westerly bee yards produced a dark, robust honey. It’s the color of espresso. The taste is a heady, heavy berry flavor, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry, with hints of the arugula, brassicas, and other northern crops. These yards produced enough for winter stores plus extra for their sister bees up-river and a bit for extraction.
Why some hives produced a surplus while others needed honey:
Location, location, location – it affects beekeeping as well as real estate. The closer and more constant the pollen and nectar, the faster the bees could collect their harvest and bring it to the hives.
At the slightest hint of clear weather, sun or a light drizzle, my bees would head for the flowers, then dive back into the hive. The problem was that often one or two days of lighter weather (I won’t say sun), were followed by a week or two of downpour. The bees could not get out again during that time. So they ate the food that they had collected. Logical, of course, but that meant they often had no stores laid by. One friend lost hives to starvation in the middle of an agricultural area this summer. The bees just simply could not get out to get the food just beyond their hives.
When the weather did clear, my bees down in the farmlands had a far easier time of locating and harvesting their food than those in the mountains. At the farms the bees could “walk to work”. The food is directly before them, or in a near-by field with few obstacles to slow their flight.
In the mountains, after a week or so trapped in the hive by rains, the bees would need to find the new locations flowers, then spread the news in the hive, and get the foragers out there. All before it would rain again. The rains would often stay for a week or more, by which time new flowers would need to be located. A lot of time searching, and often for flowers beaten down by the rains. Nectar and pollen were in short supply.
The result was that by fall, many of the up-river hives needed frames of honey, which were provided by excess honey from the hives in farm bee yards.
It has been an “interesting” year at Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey. “Interesting” as in the curse “May you live in interesting times.”
Next week: Pulling what excess honey there was and balancing the hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA.