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Thank the Lord for Good Weather

Last Summer, I set up one of my experimental apiaries down at Westover Plantation. I now actually have 7 daggone apiaries, if you include my home yard. Nobody needs this many apiaries, unless you’re trying to make money I suppose. In an ideal world, I would have all of my hives in one location, so that I could inspect/compare all of them with one trip. But, there are (at least) a couple of reasons to expand out beyond that initial apiary.

To begin with, if you want to try raising Nuc’s (especially those started after June 1), it is very hard to do so in a yard with established hives. The minute it gets dry (which seems to be in June these days, in my neck of the woods), the strong hives pretty much ravage the small Nuc’s. It’s really depressing to see, so I now allocate my home yard as my Nuc yard.

The second reason to try other locations is forage. During my first year, when both of my hives were in my backyard here in Varina, Virginia, my cousin started a couple of hives down in Charles City, Virginia, on land adjacent to my family’s farm. His hives really put away more honey then my two did. At first, I worried that I  had a bunch of lazy bees, but I decided it was more likely that his bees simply had better forage. Even though my cousin’s land was only about 30 miles away, it was receiving substantially more rain then Varina. This was likely to be the problem.

So, I decided to prop up several apiaries, with one, two or three hives, in both Henrico and Charles City, to test it out. My goal is to watch how these apiaries perform and eventually reduce my outyards down to 3 at the most. But, that’s what I’m saying now and I seem to change my mind more often then my wife when it comes to bees!

At any rate, all of this leads up to the main activity of this weekend. My bees down at Westover Plantation were backed up against a small patch of trees that held an old elm tree last year. After I put my bees there, the elm tree fell over (my bees collect honey AND clear land, apparently.) Without this elm tree, the little patch of trees has little value and the farmers wanted to clear it to expand their nearby field. To get it ready for planting, they would probably need to get this done by early March. That meant I needed to move my bees in the Winter!

I have moved bees before several times, but never in Winter. The one problem with monkeying with your bees in the Winter is that you can accidentally kill or damage the Queen. Since it is the Winter, your bees stand next to no chance of getting a new queen going (they might not even have eggs the right age.) But, I had to move these bees and could not wait until Spring. I decided to wait for a warm day and the good Lord gave me one (two) this weekend. I moved them both and even dropped a pollen patty on them to give them a little jump start (they both have a ton of honey, as my back will verify, but I really have no idea how much pollen has been stored.) As a bonus, the owners of Westover Plantation gave me a lot of their bee gear (they had tinkered with bees years ago), which amounted to 3 or 4 full hives with honey supers and frames! All in all, this trip was a big success.

Unfortunately, bad news awaited me back home in one of the double nucs. No activity was emerging from one side, so I cracked her open and found one side to be dead. I immediately did a postmortem and discovered that they had died of starvation. I could even see little crystals of sugar in some of the comb. Apparently, they tried to use the sugar that I put down for them, but probably needed moisture to break it down. The bottom line is that they did not store enough honey in their frames to make it. There are steps that I could have taken (probably, not for certain though) that would have helped them to survive, but that’s the point. I took on this challenge to learn and this experience will be used to form my final conclusions come late March or so. One thing about this Nuc is that it was the only one to hold a non-local queen (it was one of the pair that I purchased last Summer – one for the Apache hive and this one.) This may or may not have had a part in it (maybe the queen rearer medicates and feeds his bees year round, so they simply could not handle it in my yards), but I am actually not that upset about losing this queen. It does not have the value (to me) of my local queens.

For now, my primary plan is to look forward to February. According to the forecast, we have a few days ahead of us that might once again reach nice temperatures in the day. I might use these to get a little more active with my remaining Nuc’s. I will probably also begin a little light feeding (1:1 or .5:1 Sugar:Water mixes) at one or two apiaries, just to see what happens. Well, more on that later.

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