-Posted by Isaac
If you say that farming is a gamble, nobody will argue.
But experience helps. And knowing something definitely helps.
A few months ago I had high hopes for this now barren patch of dirt. By July I thought we’d be looking at a lush field of hay. Forage grasses mixed with yellow and white sweet clover, alfalfa soon to be blooming… nope. I sort of struck out with the planting part. The bee work got the best of April and May, and I don’t know where June went. I think I’ll blame it on the rain. And now, finally planting, Brian commented that the clover won’t even bloom until next year. Doing some further research (calling the seed guy), I discover that he’s right! I’m an idiot. (Brian, thanks for putting it in a kind way.)
An idiot hay farmer.
Live and learn, I guess. We’ll probably be buying hay this winter. Ignorance has a price.
But let’s not dwell on ignorance alone. Let’s talk about some things we know. Some things are a sure bet.
For instance, a pretty face, a sweet product, a sunny day, a popular market… chances are, you’re going to sell something. When it comes to moving the honey, I’ll put my money on Jayne.
But what about the making of honey? Never a sure thing. Bee farming, like any farming, is gambling. After 15 years, I’m not quite as ignorant as I’ve demonstrated with the hay, but I’m still learning. And every year, almost every season, I’m still surprised by something.
We’ve learned that honey will vary season to season. In this area with our three distinct honey flows, we’ve made a business out of it— Spring, Summer and Fall Harvest.
But even the seasonal nectar flows can vary year to year.
On the left is the 2018 spring honey, on the right is the beautiful 2019 stuff that just came off the hives. Why would it be so different? A better locust flow? I don’t know…
And I’ll bet the summer honey will be a little different also. I’ll bet it’s light. Last year was light. The nectar came fast and furious. It was July 1st, 94 degrees and sunny, I shook a frame and was amazed at how much the bees were suddenly bringing in.
This year on July 1st, we had nothing. The bees were pecking around the honey house, hungry and robbing anything they could find. Zero nectar out there.
This week everything changed. Like a flip of the switch, suddenly we’re in a major honey flow. (That needs an exclamation— a major honey flow!!!!)
I shook a frame on July 10th, 90 degrees and sunny:
Like a gusher…
The bees were suddenly busy, completely ignoring the sweet smell around the honey house. In fact at lunch one day, I left a load of wet extracted spring supers on the truck for 20 minutes or so.
Came back to find zero interest! No robbing at all. That’s how good this flow is. The bees are super busy.
What could it be?
Well, I could venture a guess.
Why are we suddenly seeing summer nectar in mid July when last year it was two weeks earlier? Well, I’m sure weather is a big factor, but the biggest reason, I think, is that this year our nectar source wasn’t mature on July 1st.
That’s right. The soybeans! The planting was late and sporadic this year. We’re finally seeing the first of the soybean bloom, and many fields are later still. Some will be blooming into August.
Things are looking up. I’ve been adding supers all week.
Will the girls live up to my high hopes? It’s highly dependent on heat and sunshine, but I’ll let you know by August. The vast fields and soon-to-be millions of blooms will do their part.
Never heard of soybean honey? Well 15 years ago, I hadn’t either. Once again, live and learn. In fact (much to my delight), the idea of the soybeans being a summer nectar source is still a hot debate. I’ll scroll through informational sites about honey plants and there won’t be a single mention of the lowly soybean. Is it ignorance? Or does it just not fit the narrative? Maybe the people who write this stuff don’t make a living from selling honey…
I’ve even argued with beekeepers. They’ll say, what about the clover? The bees are all over it!
And it’s true. The bees will work clover hard when it’s hot and sunny.
I love to see it. I’ve even promoted it.
Makes me think of a dark night about ten years ago when a nefarious science teacher went out and seeded a fifty pound bag of the stuff on school grounds.
Now in my retirement, it’s fun to walk over and see a job well done.
But bees working clover doesn’t automatically equal honey. The bees have been on it since May, and all through June the supers remained dry. Suddenly, this week the nectar started flowing. Coincidentally the same week the soybeans started to bloom. Hmmm…
I’m not 100% sure, but it’s more than a strong hunch, and I’m thinking those vast fields with their multimillions of blooms probably hold some nectar. I’m putting my money on the soybeans.
No wait, I told you earlier, my money’s on Jayne.
And I think I’ll keep it there. Jayne takes away some of the risk. Soaps, salves, candles, lip balms… the selling, the marketing, the smooth running of a business. Bees and honey are for gamblers. I’m happy she tolerates it.