It’s been a rough spring for honey bees in western Washington. The weather has been downright crummy. There’s not a lot of opportunity for foraging, the nectar flows and pollen production are slow to non-existent. The blackberry blossoms are a full three weeks behind the usual, or so I hear. You know, some flowers will bloom even in crappy weather but if it doesn’t get warm enough, they don’t make high-quality pollen and the nectar never really gets going. I never notice the blackberry blossom season before I had bees. I never thought about whether the flowers were only blooming, or blooming + making good nectar and pollen.
Everyone’s bellyaching about this spring and its effects on the garden. It’s a great year for slugs – if you are a slug. Snails and aphids, too. Not such a good year for the rest of us. The National Climatic Data Center says this is the third wettest May in the last 116 years in Washington. It’s still below 50F most nights, well into June.
Despite that, our bees are building up their work force. There is great brood production happening, and the hive is good-natured and docile. Our queen seems to be a lady of solid ability and fortune character. There’s just nothing for them to eat. I am still feed them sugar water, which I justify because they are still building comb in new boxes. We’re up to two western hive bodies and they are working away filling up both with brood and food stores. At the Oly bee club meeting on Monday, I heard many sad stories about local beeks who have lost hives to starvation in the middle of June. “I can’t remember a spring ever being like this before,” said a long-time beekeeper who lost two hives to starvation in the last two weeks. As a novice, well, you just don’t read about these exceptional seasons in the beekeeping books.
If everything went perfectly this year, we had a small chance (very, very small chance) of getting some honey from our package bees this year. With this spring, it seems unlikely. As always, my greatest hope is that our colony will become well-established enough to make it through the winter and into next year. Ask me about our honey in August 2011, because I don’t think we have much to discuss before then.
If you want to watch a little video of our hive, I made one for you on a rare sunny afternoon. I know it’s about as interesting as watching paint dry, but it’s kind of zen to me.