Luke Bryan sings that “rain makes corn…” but we are happy that rain also makes honey. This time last year we were in a severe drought in both Georgia and South Carolina and our bees had few resources of their own to get them through the dearth. Right now, there are no signs of a dearth in our hives; we are seeing lots of nectar and a fair amount of honey in every hive.
The sourwood trees have just about finished blooming, and the sunflowers over at our neighbor’s are kicking into high gear with beautiful, dinner-plate sized blossoms. We have three hives pollinating his sunflower plot and they are clearly loving life. Sunflower honey is reputed to aid gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney health, although it has a downside of crystallizing faster than most other honeys. We are hoping to harvest sunflower honey in August, but we don’t know how much we’ll have this year as we only had new frames available to put in the hives and that is going to slow down honey production as the bees will first have to draw comb. We’ll be better prepared next year.
We inspected some of the hives with bees that tend to crawl on the ground and up our pants legs yesterday, and the blousing garters we bought appear to be doing their job of keeping the bees on the outside of the pants legs! Today was a much more enjoyable day as all three hives we inspected originate from the same queen and they are the kindest, gentlest bees we have. They also appear to be very good at keeping pests at bay, although two of the hives had spiders in the lid which added some humor to the voice recordings! The bees had killed one of the spiders, but it was still quite fresh and squished in the most disgusting way under hubby’s hive tool. I have overcome my dislike of bugs enough to squish most hive pests, but I’ve apparently got a long way to go before I squish spiders — or stop screeching when I see one!
These hives also oddly avoid the bottom brood boxes on their hives and will only lay eggs in there when they absolutely have no other room. We have often spotted swarm queen cells in an upper box of a hive that has plenty of room in the “basement.” One hive even preferred to use the entrance at the top of the hive until we put a screen inner cover on for additional ventilation and thereby forced them to exit through the “normal” opening.
Screen inner covers offer more ventilation for bees, which is especially important here in the south and when transporting bees. We’ve also observed wax moths and spiders on top of the screens, unable to enter the hive. Since we switched to using these in summer, we have not seen a single wax moth inside a hive. Our hives that always struggle with small hive beetles are also able to herd the beetles out of the hive proper and above the screen. We were horrified yesterday at the number of beetles in two of the hives, but almost all of them were above the screen. We added borax traps on top of the screens and we’re using beetle blasters inside each hive to help reduce the numbers. We’re getting closer to denuding the area around the hives in our problem area as we know sunlight deters the beetles — there’s just so much timber-cutting trash mixed in with the vegetation in that area so we can’t simply bush-hog.
All-in-all, we are very happy with the progress our hives are making. We no longer have any hives that are aggressive without provocation, although we have a couple that I would like to re-queen with stock from the “nice” hives. We are not having to supplemental feed bees this July and we have recovered all of our winter losses. We’ve gone a week with neither helicopters nor bee stings! Life is good on the farm!