It has been a disastrous year in WNC for bees and their beekeepers. Red maple trees usually begin to blossom in late February. Grey pollen from these maples is collected by bees that carry it back into their hives. Pollen collection in early spring signals the queen to begin laying eggs— she needs to ramp up production to increase bees for the first honey flow. Unfortunately, not only did we have an extremely cold and prolonged winter, but March was punctuated with a three-week cold snap that lasted into April. This killed the maple blooms and delayed the wildflower nectar flow.
By May our hive girls were beginning to starve. We began supplemental feeding which temporarily alleviated their distress. But, the queens stopped egg laying - several times during the season. These challenges were exacerbated by a major spring flooding event. We received 24 inches of rain in one six-day episode. Not only does rain prevent the bees from exiting the hives, but the violent storms wash out the nectar and pollen from the blooms. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for a tree to produce blossoms. If nothing is coming to pollinate it, the tree will cease bloom production until the following year. A tulip poplar tree can produce up to a tablespoon of nectar in a 24 hour period. This flow is crucial for spring bees, but all the poplars in the Pisgah shut down bloom production within a week. The bees were flying miles for what little nectar they could find and eating bloom to mouth what little they collected. Lastly, our sourwood trees which begin to bloom in late June followed suit with no appreciable honey flow.
We were able to collect several 30 lbs. honey supers from some of our stronger hives, however, we made the decision to share the surplus with the hives that had minimal stores. Thus, we did not harvest any honey for 2018. This is reflected in the lack of inventory in our online store. We will be completely out of honey within a few weeks and will not have any available again until late June of next year. We apologize for this, but I made the decision to let the girls keep their hard-earned honey for the winter. There are some beekeepers who harvested all the honey from their hives and will let the bees starve to death during the winter. Their plan is to replenish stock in early 2019 with nucs and packages from Georgia and Florida. This is not only shortsighted, but unethical and profoundly wrong. Caveat emptor: much of the honey I have seen coming from the area is of poor quality. It is uncured with unacceptably high moisture content as the bees could not gather enough nectar to fill and seal the honey cells before extraction.
It's been a tough year for us, but long ago we invested and prepared for the unforeseen. Our future is secure, but there are others who are less fortunate. We've had two 100-year year floods in less than five years. Biblical rains turned floodplains of rich cropland into lakes. Bart Renner, Director of the Transylvania County Agricultural Extension Center said it's been the worst year for farmers in decades. Rachel Kinard, owner of Just Ripe Farm agreed with his assessment. She had most of her root crops rot in the spring flooding. What fall vegetables remained after Hurricane Florence were covered in contaminated water containing bacteria such as E. coli. She ended our conversation with something echoed by farmers and beekeepers throughout the ages: "I'm trying to optimistic, but it's painful to see all my efforts die."
We at Killer Bees Honey are grateful to our queen bees and their daughters for all the work they have done to keep their colonies queen-right, alive and working. They have shown tremendous patience with me in very troubling times. I owe them a safe journey into the fall and coming winter. 2019 will be a better year for us all.
(The photo at the top of the post depicts thousands of dormant forager bees unable to find resources to collect this spring.)