The Third Wettest May-Bees

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.



Filed under bees, spring, urban farming

6 responses to “The Third Wettest May-Bees

  1. caitlin

    um, i liked the video. i also liked how a corner of your hair makes an appearance at the end. I am sorry of all y’all in western wa and or…. except that its otherwise so freaking awesome there. I think everyone I talked to in Portland was beginning to lose their minds over the rain.

    • jess s

      It is freaking awesome, but this spring is, well, not optimal for the things I want to be doing. You know, you brace yourself for the winter rains from Sept/Oct to March/April, and that seems normal and okay… but by May or June, you just really hope for warm nights and two days of sun in a row.

      However, it is good if you want to grow bok choy, kale, lettuce, and other cold season crops. Not so great for berries-bearing and fruiting edibles. :(

  2. Emma

    eff you weather. You have two more years to prove yourself, otherwise I am moving somewhere that has summer. poor bees.

    • jess s

      This climate acts like a deliberate asshole. I hope we are rewarded with a deliciously wonderful summer, but I am pessimistic.

      The bees struggle enough. They don’t need this crap.

  3. Just thought I’d say hello. Your bees look good, in spite of the wet.

    • jess s

      Thanks for saying hello! Can I ask you something related to that picture? Maybe you know. Why are they build burr comb to raise brood on out of the bottom of the hive? You can kind of see in that photo, but I realized last night that they have built so far down/out that the bees crawling on top of the brood in the burr comb are actually sticking out of the hive at night. The upper box is not that crowded yet. I would scrape it off to clean it up, but I want the brood to hatch out and they have their own instincts I cannot understand.

      I’m just glad they aren’t starving, really.

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