Monday, February 27, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Maizy has her tortilla Mardi Gras mask and she's ready to party.
It's a warm week on the bee farm as these February days dwindle away. The girls are out flying, having a good time wasting energy, not finding a darn thing to eat. The temp. reached 55 yesterday and I think they called for near sixty today. This makes for a delightful time if you're a bee-- checking out your new warm world, stretching the wings, sniffing around... but if you're a beekeeper, you're not crazy about it. This was the thought that crept in during my early morning zone-out today.
I like to spend a few minutes 'fire staring' on winter mornings before the wild ruckus begins. When all is quiet and dark, the kids are still sleeping, and there's nothing but the warm, crackling fire for entertainment. Thinking, you ask? ... poetic and philosophic? No, not hardly. Just staring mainly. But I did have one bee thought this morning, and that was this: we could really be screwed. It's too warm! The bees are flying daily and building up a nice brood nest I'm sure. If you live in Georgia, this is a good thing. But not here. Mason and I took the truck to find a load of wood the other day, and we worked in t-shirts. In February!
The reason this may turn out to be a bad thing is that we're looking at March right around the corner... the real killing time for bees. As you beekeepers know, a few days of cold while the bees are trying to raise and keep brood warm can spell disaster. The bees seem to put more importance on keeping the brood (baby bees) warm then feeding themselves. Many hives die of starvation this time of year. Not from lack of available food, but rather a lack of mobility in the hive. They'll sit on the brood and starve with honey stores just two inches away.
I try to remedy this problem by feeding periodically throughout the winter. Although we leave a full super of honey to the bees in the fall, by now they have eaten their way upward to where most hives have a sizable cluster on top. A big food patty on top where the girls can get to it sometimes does just the trick. This winter I tried feeding Dadant sugar patties in January. Most of the hives ate them right up, even with frames of honey right beside the cluster. I came back the first week of this month and plopped down a big cake of my own concoction-- a blend of granulated sugar, powdered protein, and our own honey and pollen.
This is a fairly weak hive pictured, but I like this photo because it gives you a chance to see which patty the bees like better. Proud to say Honeyrun Farm came out the winner. I think it must be the honey blended in there. In most of the hives, the stronger ones, the Dadant patties are all gone.
I'll go back for another round of feeding and checking in March. Hopefully everyone will still be hanging in there. We're sitting at about a 15% winter loss at the moment (Not too bad!), but it all could change with a big blustery cold.
Lent is upon us. "What are you giving up?" Jayne asks.
I told her I would try to give up womanizing, but that would be really hard. I think maybe, for forty days, I'll try to give up worrying about the bees. You can do everything right in this business, have a healthy thriving hive one day, and dead bees the next. Feeding helps, but the weather this time of year is the real factor.
I grew up feeding about 100 head of cattle with my Dad every morning. Then in high school I worked at a jersey dairy, and that was even worse-- blended and rationed feed for every cow twice a day. Bees are so much easier-- a couple feedings a winter and you're done! Of course, cows don't suddenly drop dead either. Lent is tough.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Commercial beekeeping is pretty industrialized. Wayne's operation worked with hives on pallets, big trucks, trailers, forklifts, warehouses, $100,000 extracting facilities, semi trucks to transport bees, enormous holding yards to dock bees, thousands of gallons of HFCS to feed bees, high dollar pollination contracts to make the bees pay, and a witches' brew of chemicals (legal and otherwise) to keep bees alive. My eyes were opened to so many things, good, bad and ugly. August through October was an adventure in Montana beekeeping. November was an adventure in honey extracting. In December and January the adventure was on the road-- transporting 3500 hives from the beautiful high desert valley around Bishop, CA. to the warm avocado laden hillsides of Ventura in southern California.
Hold on, little darlings... here comes the food!
I'll spare you the details of actually moving, feeding, medicating and killing hives. Maybe we'll chew on that in another blog post. I'd like to instead share some personal memories of a pollination peon during the great almond pollination; the highlights and lowlights of California '06. You'll surely come to see as I did: commercial beekeeping is not at all romantic or wholesome, especially the pollination part... long nighttime hours, big dusty trucks, and fleabag motels... Here are some snippets of memory in no particular order:
*The continuous blurry stream of truck stop food and truck stop talk, truck stop restrooms and showers, and the good reading on the stalls.
*Wayne's favorite breakfast: Carl's Jr.
His favorite dinner: any "good" salad with a few shreds of lettuce and about a pound of Thousand Island dressing.
*Pulling into the fleabag motels at three in the morning.... they were usually next to the roaring super highway, and the check-in guy, always foreign and oh so welcoming!
*Dropping a pallet of bees (literally, from about six feet up) already lost, one o'clock in the morning in some godforsaken avocado patch.
*Getting lost nightly, even in the high desert (moving bees is all in the dark).
*Driving a loaded bee truck through Los Angeles at two in the morning.
*Becoming well acquainted with Monster, Red Bull, Rock Star, Full Throttle... gag.
*The southern California super highway, Rte 99. One wet night we slowly passed by a wreck... cruiser lights and blood on the road. Wayne's comment: "Ouch... rough night for you!" ...as he downshifted and turned up the radio.
*From an overpass, looking at miles of almond trees, all snow-white in bloom.
*Walking through the almond trees one sunny morning. The bees were out and active. Wayne watched awhile and said, "Well, now I don't feel like a total failure."
*Looking at the vast blue Pacific from a hillside near Ventura. (Wayne! We never did get to go swimming!)
*Multiple trips up to Fresno (even worse then Bakersfield, if that's possible) to fill a thousand gallon tank with HFCS. Dadant provided the goods.
*Wayne getting into a shoving match with one particular fleabag motel owner. The guy woke us up twice, demanding more money. Wayne was never at a loss for racial slurs.
*Taking a run in Fresno and literally being forced to jump over the homeless guys who were sprawled across the sidewalk that morning. Like me, they enjoyed that warm winter weather in the California sun.
*Another run, this time in Bakersfield at six in the morning after Wayne and the boys had retired to the motel. I was shirtless with long hair and a big beard (a Montana Jesus), and I came running toward this scarred up hooded guy gripping a four foot steel pipe. He gave me a wide-eyed glare... but didn't take a swing. Perhaps he was as frightened as I!
*Working through the day, the night, and into the next morning on a 20-hour Salton Sea run. We had moved bees out of the almonds and driven down to place them on the citrus in the far, far south. Wayne wanted to be the only beekeeper in the country making honey in March. I fell asleep watching the Mexicans throw fishing lines in a grapefruit irrigation pond. They wound their line around beer cans as makeshift reels.
*The stark contrast between day and night in the almonds. By day, everything was calm and peaceful-- beautiful white blooms bathing in the California sun. The hum of working bees filling the air.... By night, it was trucks, noise, floodlights, ropes, smoke, yelling and work and work and work...
*Picking a strawberry, an avocado, an orange, lemon, grapefruit and pomegranate all within the span of a few hours. Eating them all.
*The "bathroom trolley" (a wagon with a port-o-john) that served the 20 or so Mexican workers I watched one morning picking strawberries. The field was around 90 acres in size; the berries were ripe. The workers (men, women and children) were all hunched over. I leaned against a shade tree at the side of the field. Then I went behind it and took a pee.
*Midnight runs to the Seven-Eleven. Pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Only the best for the Wayne Morris crew!
*Wayne dropped me off at an L.A. airport one sunny April morning. I was heading back to Montana and from there, home to Ohio in May. I remember saying something like, "Thanks for everything, Wayne. I'll see you next year for the almonds."
Bee help for pollination is hard to find because of the obvious nature of the work, and I knew Wayne wanted me back the following year. It turns out, those were the last few words I ever spoke to Wayne Morris. He met his untimely death the following Fall swimming in the Sea of Cortez. I didn't find out until the winter. The guy I talked to said that he was pulled out in the rip current and drowned. The business was sold the spring of '07.
I'm left with the memories of not quite a year in commercial bees. Again, thanks for everything, Wayne.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
We had our first market day of 2012 last Saturday at Worthington. It went extremely well. Jayne and I are overwhelmed at the support and encouragement coming from you honey lovers. It was fun to see the locavore market crowd and once again get to talk honey, bees, soap and babies. It is sincerely flattering that some of you hold out for Honeyrun Farm honey and seem to put our products on a pedestal. For our part, we'll continue to strive to put out the very best in local raw food. Thank you so much!
As some of you know, I'm no longer teaching. 2012 will mark the first year that Jayne and I have gone "all in" with this business. We realize we've taken somewhat of a risk, but the present tidal wave of support for local farmers in central Ohio has enabled us to take a leap of faith and devote 100% of our energy to Honeyrun Farm. Well... maybe I should clarify. At the end of most days, it feels like 95% of the energy goes into child rearing, as those of you with kids well know.
Jayne will continue to lift the heaviest burden in 2012, chasing three young kids around while marketing soap, honey, pollen, candles, herbs, gift boxes, ect...
Here she is, packing boxes for Etsy customers while Bridger naps, strapped to mommy's chest. We're lucky he's such a calm, content baby.
For my part, I'll continue doing my hobbies, but this year be calling it my "work." -- producing honey and pollen, building things, and providing pollination to local orchards. As in 2011, I'll help my brother and cousins when things get busy on their 2700 acre grain farm.So what are we doing at present you may wonder... Mainly dreaming of Spring, but yes, the days can be busy for beekeepers even in the winter. I'm using every spare moment in January and February for building hive parts. We hope to be up to 300 hives by the end of this year, and this means a lot of frames, boxes, bottom boards, lids, ect...
In April we'll need plenty of healthy hives for pollination of apple orchards, so that entails feeding and checking hives in February and March. I'll be mixing hundreds of pounds of sugar and protein feed patties for the bees this week. Yum yum...Check back in next week, hopefully we'll stick to our blog this year and keep you up to date with what is going on around the farm. We appreciate your support and interest!