We had a good honeyflow in July with weather that helped the clover produce a lot of nectar. Unfortunately, that has now come to an end and we are entering the annual dearth of nectar, which typically occurs between mid-July to mid-August. This is a period where relatively few plants are producing much nectar.
There are some plants that are exceptions to this, such as sweet clover which you typically see on roadsides. It grows about 6 feet tall, with spikes of white florets. It breaks my heart every summer when the town mows it down from the roadside, just as they are starting to really produce lots of nectar. I planted some sweet clover this spring but it will be next year before it flowers.
This year I also planted some buckwheat. It’s a quick-growing plant that produces lots of nectar. Buckwheat honey is dark and very strong tasting. The bees love buckwheat but it has a funny habit of switching off its nectar production early in the afternoon. This means that the bees are happy and energetically collecting nectar all morning. Then the buckwheat switches off the nectar and suddenly the bees are left frustrated.
A tip for anyone keeping bees around a field of buckwheat: Try to work with your bees late in the morning because once the buckwheat switches off in the afternoon they get very grumpy indeed!
Last week I harvested my first honey of the season. I removed four supers that yielded 110 pounds. A super is what we call the box of honeycombs, the bee’s equivalent to one story in a multi-story house.
Honey harvested in July is typically clover honey, mild-tasting and very light in color. It’s very slow to crystallize, in contrast to honey harvested in the fall, which is predominantly from goldenrod and asters, which crystallizes very quickly.
Crystallization is a natural event of raw honey — honey which has not been heated up to 150 degrees. I love crystallized honey spread on bread. For those who prefer their honey in liquid form, you can gently heat crystallized honey to melt the crystals. Either stand the bottle in warm water or put it in the microwave for very short blasts, about 15 seconds at a time, shaking the bottle between each heating. Be careful not to melt plastic bottles!
Mid-summer often has me busy relocating honeybee colonies that have become established in house walls or soffits. This involves removing the bees and all the combs they have built. I have made a customized vacuum that sucks bees into a modified beehive.
The process of removal involves first exposing the colony by cutting open the cavity. The bees on the comb’s surface are vacuumed out. Then I cut the first comb out and attach it to a wooden frame with rubber bands. More bees are vacuumed out and the next comb is cut out. The process is repeated, depending on how big the colony is. There can be as many as 20-30 combs to remove in a large hive.
Once the bees and combs are removed, they are transported to one of my bee yards where the bees repair the combs and attach them to the wooden frames. They require a lot of feeding for the rest of the year to give them a good chance of surviving the winter. In most cases, the relocated hive settles down well into their new home.
In August I will be reworking my new lesson plans for my Beekeeping for Beginners and Intermediate Beekeeping adult education classes that will start the week of Sept. 8 in Bangor, Newport and Bucksport.
I will also be giving classes in Bangor, Hampden and Mount Desert Island the week of Oct. 20. These classes are designed to be a general introduction to beekeeping. Students learn about the bee lifecycle, the equipment used to keep and manage them, what it costs to get started, where to get bees and equipment, etc. Places can be booked with those adult education organizations by phone now, or online beginning mid-August.
Peter Cowin, aka The Bee Whisperer, is president of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association. His activities include honey production, pollination services, beekeeping lessons, sales of bees and bee equipment, and the removal of feral beehives from homes and other structures. Check out “The Bee Whisperer” on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-299-6948.