The honey bee calendar: seasonal honey.

The bees’ calendar and the beekeeper’s calendar are not the same as the one in Outlook or Google that displays all the holidays for you and the “year” by which we proceed through our daily routines. They are more responsive to temperatures, and hours of daylight–what’s really going on in nature.  They are awaiting the spring nectar flow to increase the population of the hive and to store honey.  Or the fall nectar flow to store food for the winter months.

In summer when we are enjoying a surfeit of fruits and vegetables (because of the bees’ pollen and nectar gathering in the spring) we have to realize that about that time there is a declining flow of nectar–fewer things are blooming. Life can be hard for bees in July. A nectar dearth means less food for them, so depending on forage region, we may be feeding bees while enjoying plenty of fruits and vegetables.  The bees will be waiting for the fall nectar flow–in my forage region (Appalachian-Ozark Upland) that’s primarily asters and goldenrod.

This seasonal variation is one of the delights of honey and beekeeping. The photograph at the top of the page shows the difference between spring/summer honey (left) and autumn honey (right). It’s seasonal flavor when honey is not blended. In this forage region, as an urban beekeeper, I have “wildflower” honey since my bees don’t have access to a large monofloral flow. I can’t produce varietal honey such as sourwood or alfalfa honey, or even clover honey, but I do have seasonal honey.


Hive report: Oops!

‘Tis the season to feed the bees–at least until the goldenrod and asters start blooming. quad feeder with jars in placeI’ve been hearing comments from other beekeepers about starving bees. After inspecting the hives last time I decided it was time to start feeding the ladies until the dearth ends–and keeping the feeders filled until the autumn flow begins.

I put 1:1 sugar syrup feeders on both hives. After my sticky mishap when I was starting my first colony, I’ve found that my preferred feeding method is quart Ball/Mason jars with lids that have a number of small holes punched in them. They sit in a frame on top of the  inner cover of the hive, covered with an empty “super”. The great thing about this method of feeding is that the bees cannot get into the upper chamber so the  beekeeper can check food and replace as needed without using smoke or putting on protective gear.

This system works so nicely–quart jars are easier to handle than gallon buckets, and it’s really easy to raise the telescoping top and see how much the ladies have imbibed–IF the  beekeeper has done what the  beekeeper should do. If not, well disaster awaits.

When I went back to check the feeders on hive Rosemarinus I got a real surprise–I had noted in last hive report that because of the weather and the dearth the ladies were a bit testier than usual, but I wasn’t expecting to encounter bees in the chamber with the feeders so no suit or smoke needed. WRONG! Surprise!

When I approached the hive I heard more buzzing (not humming) from the super just below the feeders. Had I been really paying attention that should have warned me that something was amok. But no, I just blithely popped the cover off the feeding box–and then ran like–well, like I had a lot of bees chasing me! The feeder area was full of bees and they didn’t like my intrusion at all.

After making my escape into the house and taking Benadryl to counteract the stings that I had gotten, catching the bees that had ridden into the house on me and putting them back outside, I lit my smoker, suited up, and went back to the hive to find out why I got that nasty surprise.

I think most beekeeping problems are, like most computer problems, human error. This one certainly was. This  beekeeper had made two errors. First, because the ladies were so irritable when  I placed the feeder I did it quickly. My quickness resulted in that feeder frame not sitting flush on the inner cover, so bees that would normally only have access to the underside of the frame could bet into the box around the feeders. But those should have been MY bees and since they really couldn’t get syrup from there, should really have been a big deal.

But my other BIG  beekeeper boo-boo was that I forgot to close the external entrance to where the quart jars lived (that was fixed, too).  Neither the canted frame nor the external upper entrance would (by themselves) have been such a nasty surprise. By my doing both at the same time, I managed to create a nasty situation for both the ladies of the hive and for myself–robbing. (This was not robbing that would have been prevented by the screens.)

The bees in that were in with the quart jars were able to bet under the feeder frame and get to the syrup–as were my bees coming up out of the lower part of the hive. Fortunately, Rosmarinus is a good strong colony and was able to defend the honey super–that’s why I was hearing the major buzzing from the box just below the feeder, but because of needing to defend the hive, they were very testy! (Can’t say that I blame them at all.) I think most of the attacking bees came from the robbers that I disturbed.

After I set the feeder frame properly (with the help of some smoke) that batch of bees dispersed–and not in the direction of my hive (making me even more sure that I had some robbing going on). My ladies were still royally PO’d though.


Refilling the feeders today went well–without smoking or bee suit. Despite heat, humidity, and dearth both hives were nice and calm–no bees where there should not have been bees. The  beekeeper has learned a lesson from this–keep my brain in gear, go slowly, pay attention to what sounds I hear from the hive, and check that I have done what I think I’ve done!