-Posted by Isaac
This is kind of a filler blog post. We finally got our website fixed up for nuc sales, and I was searching for some cool bee pictures to load. In looking for pics that would fit on a nuc page, I stumbled across several shots from this year's trials and tribulations involving buckwheat honey. So we'll just talk about that.
As you know, honey can take many colors, flavors and forms.
With speciality honey, you can let the bees produce a varietal (tulip poplar, buckwheat), or you can add something to the honey itself (lavender, lemon verbena infused). It's something different. Something interesting. A value added product, and it may just be a hit!
Five or six years ago, we decided to take the leap into producing buckwheat honey. A few people had asked about it and we were sort of curious too. It would definitely be something different-- rich, black, robust honey with almost the consistency of molasses. Plus, maybe, just maybe, people would be willing to pay a little more..
In order to produce buckwheat honey, you need buckwheat and you need bees. Lots of each! We've tried several routes in bringing the two together. We've hauled forty hives to Amish country, three hours north. We've rented twenty acres from my grain farming brother. We've used set-aside land from my produce farming sister.
And the results have been pretty good. Meaning, we've been able to produce enough buckwheat honey to keep it in stock. And make a little money in the process. It's not cheap renting ground and equipment, buying seed, moving bees, etc...
This year with the buckwheat, things took a turn for the worst.
It all started ok. I had my little farmer along to help.
We originally thought we were going to rent three small fields right where we live. Totaling 20 acres. It was going to be a breeze. The equipment was all right down the road at my brother's, and we wouldn't have to move a single hive. I'd just sit back and let the honey roll in.
But that idea got nixed right before planting season. Family politics? I don't know?
Instead, my brother said we could rent a small wet field five miles away. More expensive rent, no less. Boooooo!
But we decided to give it a go anyway. I figured that if I planted by the end of April, we'd still get three blooms out the the deal and make enough honey. So on a bright sunny April 30th, Bridger and I went to work.
20 strong hives coming out of apple pollination were my intended buckwheat producers. Problem was, that field was so wet, I was forced to place the bees at the back of a guy's yard on the adjacent property. "Don't you worry." he assured me. "My grandpa had bees. I know all about them."
Well as it turned out, he may have been a bee lover, but his wife most certainly was not! After two stings and three phone calls, I was forced to consider alternatives. Besides, the neighbors were having a little trouble digesting the idea. ("I'm deathly allergic! DEATHLY!") So I moved the hives. Hey, I'm a nice guy.
It's no easy task to move 20 hives (Especially when you're not getting paid to do it.) We had to place those bees at a new location miles away, and bring in 20 more. It took most of the night. By this time it was mid-May and the field was dry enough to place hives out in the middle, far from annoying people.
And oh yeah, I dropped one of those pallets when the forklift hit an unseen hole in the dark. From about five feet in the air, four hives came crashing down. The result: a lot of mad bees and quite a few stings for poor Lafe and poor me. Around 1 am. Oh the fun!
Then on top of that, wouldn't you know it, we had a frost! May 20th. The latest frost ever. (In the farmers' memory.) It zapped our beautiful buckwheat!
So much for the first bloom. We had to start over.
Another round of driving all that equipment five miles, the disk, the seeder, the drag. And half way through this second time of tilling, the tractor blew up!
Well, maybe it wasn't a true blow up... but it was a fire. A hydraulic line had burst up under the hood and sprayed the hot manifold. The result was a fire big enough to burn up a lot of stuff pretty quickly. Although I was quick to react (once being a volunteer firefighter) the half can of Pepsi I threw on... just didn't do...
Maybe I should have peed on it.
Regardless, the result was two weeks of down time and more money out the door. By this point the project was feeling somewhat futile.
In the meantime, we planted and dragged the half of the field that did get tilled.
This led to an unintentional succession planting. I guess it worked out for the best. It made for an extended bloom.
By August, the bees were finally doing what was supposed to happen in May: making buckwheat honey.
Because we were busy pulling summer honey in August, collecting pollen in September, and pulling fall honey in October, I just let the buckwheat supers sit on the hives. This may or may not have been a good idea. The buckwheat bee yard was the last one I pulled. It turns out, they did end up packing those supers...
...but the honey wasn't quite as dark as buckwheat should be. The bees had mixed in quite a bit of fall goldenrod.
But after all the headaches and stings and expenses ($6000 to date), we're going to call it buckwheat. BY GOD, IT'S BUCKWHEAT!
Just over 700 pounds of the good stuff. Did it pay off? Will it break even? Well, you can do the math...