The Art of BEEing: Giving up on any honey again this year

As a reminder, I live in a dry desert where there is a flush of wildflowers after years of reasonable winter and spring rains and then everything dries up for months (as compared to places like Tucson which are technically deserts but get enough periodic rains to generally support some form of flowering plant through much of the year).  My bees have a tough existence trying to find enough forage to sustain a colony.  Looking back at what I have learned over the past couple of years, I probably shouldn’t have gotten into beekeeping at my present location….  yet it has been an amazing way to learn about bees and that act of working with them is enjoyable in and of itself, so I’m glad I did.

Last year I fed heavily through the spring and summer, even leaving a blank honey super on during feeding in hopes of the bees drawing cells on the foundations and then hoping that they would consume the feed solution through the winter and enter the brief flush of spring blooms with a super ready for honey.  The bees did their part – going into the winter the hive was full of food and the honey super was fully drawn, and they went through one of the colder winters in this area with no need for supplemental feeding as evidenced by the sugar board I put in being removed with no signs of any bee having bothered to touch it.  An early spring check showed that they had done a pretty good job of clearing out the honey super and the colony was in good shape, so I took a light management approach and more or less left them to it with occasional lid lifts to check on progress.

We had a relatively lackluster wildflower bloom this spring, but I could see that the bees were hard at work with it and the honey super was gradually filling back up.  I allowed myself to start to consider that I might actually have a chance at a honey harvest, and so while I went ahead and added the top feeder as the wildflowers started to go away I opted not to fill it.

Although the natural wildflowers go away, there are enough irrigated gardens in the area that my bees do tend to have some level of “semi-natural” forage available to them through the year, but not nearly enough to survive on.  A few weeks ago I peered in and noticed that the increase in cell filling on the honey super was slowing down, and so today I decided I’d go ahead and install a bee escape in preparation for pulling the super and harvesting what was there before starting to feed in anticipation of the winter.

There was nothing to harvest.  The super was empty, just a block of clean, empty cells with a handfull of bees patrolling the emptiness. A quick glance in the deep and medium boxes below confirmed that the colony was doing fine, just starting to run through their honey reserves.  So no honey harvest this year (again) and I went ahead and filled the feeder.   This year my thinking is that I’ll manage the feeding to try and get the  top super about half full going into the winter which should be just enough to see them through and have it empty prior to the main wildflower bloom, and then I’ll pull the honey super at the end of the wildflower bloom and take whatever they may have generated.

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