2021: A Weird Beekeeping Season

Am I the only one in Newfoundland who thinks this has been an unusual and even slightly weird summer for beekeeping? Here are the hive inspections that got me thinking about this.

I have heard more weird stories about queens this year than ever before. Queen-grafting with not exactly stellar success rates. Virgin queens that mate and then are immediately superseded. Queens that emerge from their cells and are balled to death before they can mate. Queenright colonies that suddenly become queenless without superseding. The only success I had in the queen department was with a walkaway split I created in late June. The queen mated well in July and was off to the races by August, fully accepted by her new colony. Everything else has been a gong show, and apparently I’m not the only one.

This kind of queen weirdness is usually the fault of the beekeeper because there’s nothing more finicky in beekeeping than creating or introducing new queens. It often requiring extreme attention to detail that not all of us during the heat and sweaty business our beekeeping are able to sustain. Regardless of our attention spans, the failure rate seems to have increased greatly this summer for many people.

Then we had unusually dry, hot weather in the spring and for most of the summer (so far). The brood production in all of my colonies, even my Flatrock bees that usually seem hampered by the poor climate, was off the charts in the early spring. I had to keep a close eye on all my hives because the swarming risk was high for weeks on end.

This resulted in a massive early honey harvest in one location where I keep my bees. But my bees in the other two locations, even the area outside of Flatrock (shown in the video included in this post), haven’t produced much honey yet. They’re on their way, but it seems the population exploded and then the honey production plateaued. The bees are just sort of sitting there doing nothing.

Sunny skies but no rain a-coming.

In the past two weeks, it seems there’s been a slight nectar dearth as well. I had a hard time keeping up with the expanding hives earlier in the summer, adding new boxes every week or so. But now I’ve had to remove boxes because the bees aren’t touching them. For the longest time, my boxes were getting heavier every time I lifted them. Now they’re getting lighter as if they were gorging on honey and about to swarm, but there are no swarm signs. That seems like a dearth to me.

I get the feeling that the massive honey harvest I got from my one beeyard (one beehive really) might be as good as it gets for me this year. It’s weird.

The strange thing about the nectar dearth — and I’ve seen this before — is the abundance of pollen the bees are bringing in. The bees can’t just turn off their hoarding instincts when the nectar dries up, so they seem to switch to pollen instead. I found frame after frame in some of my boxes that are heavy with pollen and bee bread. At first they feel like heavy honey frames, and then I look at them and they’re packed with glistening pollen — more pollen than the bees will need for a long time.

The last time this happened, four or five summers ago, the population in my most of my colonies exploded in August — which is a weird time for colonies to explode. That was the year I heard people reporting swarming happening into the fall. So maybe I should anticipate an explosion of foraging and honey production soon. I’m guessing here.

In any case, I’ve never bothered harvesting pollen from my hives before, but I think I might invest in a few high quality pollen traps for next year (not the plastics ones) so that if I don’t get any honey because of this whacked out weather that’s left most of my hives full of pollen instead of honey, well, at least I might have a chance of selling pollen to offset the costs of this absurd hobby of mine.

That’s my big thought of the day.

2 thoughts on “2021: A Weird Beekeeping Season

  1. I agree: a very weird queen year. Every colony, except for 1, superceeded in May & June. That’s 29 of 30 colonies!! I have no idea why this happened this year as I’ve never had that problem before. Thankfully, got 21 of the 29 queenright & will probably combine the remaining hives. With global warming increasing in intensity, I dread what’s in store for the future.

    • Talking to other local beekeepers who have more experience with this queen business than me, I asked them what I might be doing wrong, but I’ve essentially followed methods that work most of the time. They’re just not working this year.

      I’ve heard stories from people finding good queens that are suddenly being balled to death. None of my introduced queen cells are working out well. Is there something in the wind that’s made queens, new and old, suddenly seem unacceptable to all the workers?

      This season began with promise, with brood populations booming and then early honey harvest in some locations, but it’s all gone cracked in the past couple of weeks. We’ve had heat waves before, but we usually get rain — I mean, this is Newfoundland; by definition, it’s wet — but not much rain so far. It’s almost too much sunshine, which is a weird thing to say about Newfoundland.

      Nature is out of whack.

      The goldenrod in my area doesn’t usually hit its peak until near the end of August, sometimes the middle of August. I think I’m beginning to smell goldenrod around my hives. So maybe things are beginning to reset and return to normal. I wouldn’t mind that.

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