Here in the Southwest, winter mostly comes at night due to our diurnal climate. It isn’t unusual to be wearing a t-shirt during the day and a coat and thermals when the sun goes down. We’ve had a couple of light freezes but the trees (well, the ones that didn’t expire from lack of rain) are still clasping their leaves. Some years it takes the new leaves of spring to push them off, thus bypassing the meaning of ‘fall’. We’re still having an Indian Summer.
One of my few winterizing tasks is to put an entrance reducer on my beehives. This effectively cuts the bees’ front door down to a couple of bee-widths, helping to keep out the draughts and ensuring mice will not be able to make themselves a cozy home when the bees are less active.
With the recent rains we are suddenly seeing the flowers of spring, summer, and fall blooming at once. This has confounded our honeybees, some of which recently decided to swarm. Farmer Rick, my husband, was on hand outside to hear the loud drone of ten thousand bees flying overhead. Having searched for several hours, sadly I could not locate them.
You see, bees typically swarm in the spring when foodstuff is plentiful. Swarming is a natural process by which a large hive divides itself. Swarming at the wrong time is another example of how climate change is affecting the bee populations–and ultimately our food supply, since bees provide much of pollination.
In ‘packing their bags’ for the journey, bees are only able to take a little honey in their stomachs, so to swarm this late they set themselves up to fatal exposure to the cold nights and starvation because they have left their pantry behind. Their best hope is for a beekeeper to capture them. There is a saying:
A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.
A swarm in November is, well, just crazy!—not only from the standpoint of the bees survival, but also in terms of cost to the beekeeper that captures them. Last November I captured my first swarm, mainly for the challenge but also because it was terrifying students by its proximity to the local school. Once I had them re-homed in a hive I had the expense of feeding them sugar syrup for five months to keep them alive. I’ve also had the expense (and extra work) of feeding all my hives sugar syrup through the year-long drought.
We’ve all been reading the news about the tainted honey from China being foisted on American markets from lack of oversight–and when you come right down to it–a lack of ethics, putting profit before people. But there are other unethical beekeeping practices of which you might not be aware.
There are beekeepers–those that put profit before bees—that would not have picked up a November swarm, and will even let their bees starve to death because it is cheaper to buy a new package of bees come spring than to outlay the expense of feeding through a drought. In areas not experiencing drought, there are those beekeepers who will rob all the honey rather than leave the obligatory 60 lbs per hive to see their bees safely through the winter. Instead they will feed them sugar syrup because ultimately sugar is 25 cents a pound and honey sells for $5 a pound, maybe more if you can tout it as local.
People have been calling wanting to buy my honey. The problem, of course, is there isn’t any–my bees have put up sugar syrup. Yet there are certainly beekeepers that will gladly extract the honey-flavored sugar syrup and sell it as honey or cut what they have with something from who knows where.
In 1900 more honey was exported from my area than any place on Earth. In fact, it was our local honey that won first place at the 1900 World Fair in Paris which gave the world the first talking picture, escalator, diesel engine, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. Today, there is little evidence of my area being the Honey Capitol of the World. I’ve noticed the one remaining commercial apiary has recently taken ‘locally produced’ off their label. I can only surmise what this means.
So when I do have honey to sell, it won’t be cheap (and I’ll still be selling it at a loss), but it will be SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local and ETHICAL)