A week or so ago, I wrote about the start of the year for the Glacier County Honey Company – Honeydew and I traveled to California to drop off the 2 ton truck and to check on the bees, which we had shipped down to California in October.  With us, we brought our last 32 hives of bees.

The weather near Babb, Montana, is something I obsess over (you can’t escape your raising) and there are few maxims.  In fact, I would say there are just three: always windy, sunny in February, and Utopia-esque in July.  But this past year, as June melted into July, the temperatures did not soar and the rain did not abate.  Generally, rain does not fall during the last two weeks of July, which is why Honeydew and I (or to be more accurate: my mom and I) didn’t even have a backup plan for our outdoor wedding ceremony.  It rained nearly every day, sometimes several times a day.

We worried about our honey crop.  Bees are like us, they stay home in their hive and clean when it rains.  They don’t go out and pollinate and visit nectar sources and make honey.  They vacuum.

Reports from all over the country told us that beekeepers everywhere were worried about their crops … the bees simply weren’t making honey, the rain was too frequent, the temperatures too cool.  We worried some more.  In an average year, our bees make about 100 pounds of honey per colony.  We have about 1,000 hives, so you can see that a good part of our livelihood depends wholly on whether our bees go out and make Glacier County Honey.  But what might not be so obvious is that the other part of our livelihood, almond pollination in California, is also impacted by the summer’s honey crop.

The healthier the hive, the more honey produced – honey production is perhaps the easiest the way for a beekeeper to judge what shape his bees are in.  After all, the bees make honey to feed themselves with, and they store up for winter.  A good beekeeper gives the bees just a little more room than they need to make honey so the bees will make extra – it is that extra honey that we pull off the hives and harvest for your enjoyment.  So, if a hive isn’t taking care of its present and future need for food, then you know there’s a problem.  When you’re a commercial beekeeper involved in the pollination of California almonds and there’s a problem with your hive during honey flow, you worry even more.

Especially with the recent fall in almond pollination prices, you can’t take less-than-stellar-bees down to California and expect any almond orchard owner to contract for your pollination services.  And nor should you.  Unethical beekeepers who charge almond growers full price for a less-than-full colony of bees, whether diseased or not, hurt everyone in the industry by their actions.  The grower begins to distrust the beekeeper when she doesn’t get the pollination she’s expecting to get – a colony with a 4 frame average simply can’t pollinate to the extent of an 8 frame average.  The numbers don’t add up.  So the grower doesn’t harvest as many almonds as she was expecting, and doesn’t make as much money, and her daughters are mad because she won’t buy them overpriced, skanky clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch.  So then she gets mad – because teenage girls make everyone mad.  I know.  I was an especially bad one.

At any rate, the grower figures, and who can blame her, that she won’t pay as much the next year for pollination since she’s clearly not getting the numbers of bees she’s paying for.  And all the ethical beekeepers who’ve spent the entire year obsessing over the health of their colonies, taking care of them by whatever means they deem appropriate (some commercial beekeepers feed their bees, some medicate their bees with various treatments, and some probably play Mozart for their bees in an effort to further their health – beekeepers are an odd bunch, and highly opinionated about Best Beekeeping Practices), all the while thinking of their frame averages and pollination prices, to say nothing of all the backbreaking work that goes into beekeeping, those beekeepers are hurt when the price falls because some other beekeeper, whether unethical, unlucky, or simply lazy, lied to the almond grower about the health of his hives.

Whew.  Stepping down from soapbox.

At any rate, the reason that those 32 hives wouldn’t fit on the last flat bed is because after the Summer of No Summer, we experienced crazy July-like temperatures in September!  It made for miserable bow hunting, but fabulous honey flow!  In fact, some of our colonies made most of their honey after we had quit extracting for the season.  And so, when the time came to round them up and ship them to California, they weighed a heckuva lot more than we were expecting. So much more that our darling truck driver couldn’t take them all, for fear of being grossly overweight on the scales.  So that is why Honeydew and I were hauling the last of our lovely ladies with us the first week of December.

When you haul bees long distances, you throw nets over their hives to encourage them to stay inside until they reach their final destination.  While Honeydew was netting them, I had an urge to stand in front of them and give them the fasten-your-seat-belts, in-the-event-of-an-emergency-the-closest-exit-may-be-behind-you spiel.  But it was dumping snow, so I stayed in the warm, cozy two ton and let him do the work without my instructions.

Bees are very fastidious critters, and they do not defoul their homes by urinating, defecating, or presumably, passing gas, indoors.  I think this last bee rule is one that certain male members of my own household should consider.  At any rate, by the time we arrived in California, 2 1/2 days after we left Montana, those bees were all doing the Pee Dance.  They wanted OUT of the hives and the nets and RIGHT NOW so they could engage in a Cleansing Flight.  Yes, that is an actual beekeeping term.  So when we arrived at the holding yard they would be placed in, I again elected to stay in the comfy truck and let Honeydew do the dirty work of un-netting them.  He did this without veil or bee suit.  Yes, I married a crazy person.

Here are some shots I took at the holding yard:

Honeydew moving the bees off the truck.

Scurrying out of a hive and checking out their temporary home in Northern California.

Strangely, though it was the first week of December, the manzanilla was in bloom.

Checking the hive numbers.

These gals look fat and happy.  Honeydew likes that in his women.

Isn’t the view from this holding yard gorgeous?

Here’s one more for you, just because I like this shot:

Right now, Honeydew is getting ready to move these bees out of their holding yards (we have several) and into the almond orchards … more on that later.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

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