Honey Northeast and South
by Andy Card
Thanks so much for inviting me to come share some beekeeping experiences with you. I’m going to talk a little bit about honey production and you do it in a couple of different places throughout the United States. How many of you consider yourselves to be from the Northeast? Some of this is going to speak directly to you guys. What we do in Louisiana relates to pretty much Southern migratory beekeeping. And in the course of my career, I’ve wintered bees, and I wintered bees for twenty years in Florida and then probably thirty now in Louisiana. We closed down the Florida operation in ‘98 and our manager retired down there. And we’ve also wintered some bees in Georgia and South Carolina as well. So, I’ve done a few slides that we’re gonna show you and one thing I noticed about John’s talk here just before mine was that I was amazed at how many similarities, without really knowing those guys well, how many similarities there are between his operation and the way we think about doing things and the way he has presented what he did. For example, we don’t assemble any equipment either, really. We buy everything assembled because we want our people working bees, very similar to John. A couple other similarities: we had a broken leg incident on the last load-out of California when one of our guys, who was adjusting the Bobcat on a semi trailer — the Bobcat was going on the semi trailer because it was the last load. He takes the bobcat home and he left it running, he couldn’t seem to get off of it and he cut his leg on the handle coming out, then he walked forward, fell forward. Most of these trailers nowadays don’t have a “headboard” so then he rolled over the headboard, he tried to save it, and stop it got knocked off the trailer, broke his leg. Not as bad as John’s! But he broke his leg. Another similarity as well. I have a picture on my cell phone that looks a lot like that trailer in that pile of dirt [laughs]. And it was again that last load out of Cape Cod. We have an in-house carrier that’s got 15-20 trucks and he works exclusively for us and I called him up after because we were exchanging cell phone pictures of this thing and the owner of the truck said, ‘well, it looks like Rocky missed a corner.’ Well, yeah by about 20 feet! [laughs] We had to hire a crane to pick that thing up and set it in its position. Anyway, let’s take a look at some of these slides here.
I have a little comment here. Merrimack Valley Apiary is the mother company of the two companies. We were in pollination — is anybody here consider themselves kind of a primary pollinator type person? Not too many. Anyway… Anyway… From 1958, when my mom and dad started the farm until about the turn of the century, we were pretty much a pollination company and we found that in the fifteen years since 2000, we’ve evolved in probably a situation where they’re really more behind production company and honey production dollars have exceeded pollination dollars (slightly). We do a lot of pollination, as you can see. We do a lot of pollination in California, probably half that number goes to California and the other half goes to the Northeast, where we do multiple pollination in crops like New Jersey blueberries, New York apples, Mass/New Hampshire apples, Maine blueberries, Mass cranberries, and then we take that same group back here to the Western New York farm and try to eek out some honey production as well. But, when we’re pollinators, and I see this today, and I saw it years ago with my friend Horrace Bell when I was in this position, when you’re pollinating and the only stalk you’ve got to draw from is your pollination stock, it’s a lot more difficult. You take what you’re doing when you start out in the spring, you go to your first pollination and you’re splitting your bees to get your numbers back, you’re taking splits of split floss into your first pollination, building a pollination, maybe by the time you get to the next one, you’ve got a full-blown hive. Just to give you an example, today, the way we were operating today, we bring these back from California, we’ll take 6,000 of them — 5,000 of them — to New Jersey. We don’t have to split them at all. We just take them straight in there. Trust me when there’s a difference between what we’re doing and the other guys that are doing what I had to do, which is struggle along, put their bees in, and so on. What this is saying is, basically being a honey production company, that means we keep 20,000 hives in Louisiana year-round basically. Some of them go to California, we have that stock to fall back on while we take the 6,000 around the Northeast pollination circuit, which is still to this day, kind of rough on that particular group.
Ok, now we’re going to talk a little bit about honey production. Many of you probably know who Jim Powers is or was. He was a great guy; a very successful beekeepers back in the day. This is very true, ok? In order to be really successful at honey production, the first thing you gotta do to be successful at honey production is find plants that are going to produce a surplus. It seems simple, but it’s not as simple as it looks because in Louisiana and especially New York State, you can do different spots and get zero or just not get any production. This is really true. This is south Louisiana. Typically, we run 96 hives to the yard. The average down there is not that high, probably about 80 pounds. This is shot in New York State. You can’t see it but those bees are sitting in a field of spotted knatweed. We’ll talk a little about spotted knatweed in a minute here.
Here are some honey producing plants. There are two kinds of things you have to do: this is the production side but you’ll also need to figure out the build up side — where are you going to put the bees to build up? You do it by testing. That’s how we figured it out. We went to our Eastern New York farm over near Hirkham, NY, no one ever told us anything about where to go, we just had to go and see what happened. We took two or three trail loads of bees out there. We made honey out of twenty-one yards. The other eighteen yards missed. Even if you don’t have semi loads of bees, you only have a few hives, it’s interesting because I’m reading a book by Roxy and Quimby, Burt’s Bees. Well, Burt had twenty-six hives when he met Roxanne. He had twenty-six hives in twenty-six locations in Northern Maine! It just goes to show you’ve got to experiment with this to figure it out. Now, these southern floral sources like orange blossoms from Florida and Georgia. These two are Louisiana honeys. For you folks who are from the Northeast, you are familiar with most of these or you should be. The white and yellow sweet clover for us in New York State is not a major producer, it’s volunteer, it helps out. But, there are a couple of major producers within New York State: spotted knatweed, Japanese knotweed, and of course golden rod. If you’re on the right soil, that’s how that works. Those are tree you need to find or look for them if they’re around. Of course, that’s the production side. You’ll also need to have the build up side figured out as well. You’ll need to know where your willow is, where your maple is. You know, dandelions are pretty easy in the northeast, that sort of thing. If you’re doing beekeeping, you’ve got to be in a place where you can pretty much depend on making a commercial amount of honey on that spot.
This is a tulip poplar blossom and usually these blossoms are so high up in the tree that you can’t see anything. Most of the tree hunting is not really consistent enough to be commercial, which is nice to have on the side, but we’re looking for things like spotted gnatweed. Spotted gnatweed is the enemy, which is considered highly invasive but it’s probably one of the better honey producing plants in North America. It runs all the way across through Michigan, Minnesota, in the Dakotas, and Montana in varying amounts, depending on the soil. Golden Rod is interesting; it’s pretty much east of the Mississippi, but it doesn’t produce a surplus in a lot of places even though it’s there, especially in New York State.
Soil ph is something that we look at. We try and figure out where we’re going to put these. These are some things that we looked at on proof. Merrimack Valley Adriat. We started in massachusetts, of all places, east of the appalachians and there was never enough production over there. That’s why we ended up as a pollination company; why mom and dad stayed out there and did pollination instead of honey production, probably because of the soil conditions. Not to say that you can’t make honey on the east coast, but it is more difficult than other places. The other side of the Appalachians, especially in New York State, Michigan, Minnesota, across there, things get a little bit easier to produce a commercial amount of honey.
Here’s a map of NY State. See this green right here? That’s the sweet soil; that’s high lime soil. If you were to place a map of the beeyards in NY State, it would pretty much be all of that green. We’re located on the golden rod side, not for summer honey production. Mainly, goldenrod. we’re there for the soil reason. we need it for the golden rod production.
Talking about stocking yards, if honey conditions are correct, a lot of the time it doesn’t really matter how much you put in a yard. We’ve had as many as 500 colonies during the golden rod flow, made a 55lbs average with them. That’s 37,000lbs of honey in one bee yard. The way we figure our bee yard out is if we’ve got a 24ft truck and we’ve got 144 hives on it, loaded, we cut that in half. We book 72 hives on a typical yard. It covers 2 yards; it’s the right number.[Was that acidic soil for golden rod?]
If it’s acidic, it’s just slightly acidic. It’s mostly neutral for that county. The heavier the soil, the better the yield on goldenrod.
What we’re looking for is the top of the broom nest just above the honey supers, the ideal condition is to have this broom nest right there. You want the broom all the way to that top bar so you can get it. Sometimes the queen will walk right up to those. These are both good examples of where you want to keep that broom nest oriented. There are three ways to treat these nests with respect, which is a good idea for anybody that’s wintering bees in the northeast. If you don’t migrate, a double broom nest is the way to go. A single broom nest is more of a southern thing.
This is a typical pollination palette here, bandits that can’t fall off the skin, so we can go fast. Here’s what we found out was happening: year after year, we were having trouble when the bees got heavy in New Jersey, settle in Maine and we got a lot of swarming. We finally figured out how to change the configuration this year to look like this because what was happening was the broom nest, because we don’t run discluders, were running up. RIght between these two mediums, we were giving the bees the perfect chance to build swarm cells. And when we did this, the broom nest stays right here and the honey goes up here much better; a lot less swarming, which is really a big deal.
This is a double broom nest configuration and what a single looks like. And we’ll talk a little bit about feeding here, as well. As a farm, we pay a lot of attention to this guy: the nozcema. I guess that’s where the biggest difference lies between us and the commercial guy. We check our nozcema levels all the time. One of the things we found out from doing this is that the bees that go to pollination, we found the nozcema spore counts skyrocket when they’ve been exposed to fungecides. Remember, we’ve got 20,000 hives in Louisiana, we can compare the numbers to bees that are experiencing this versus bees that are not experiencing this. We have our own lab on the farm, we do our own check of verroa and nozema because we can’t wait for Dennis within two weeks and we need to monitor our own stuff. We do fumigation and control. We feed fumigilin probably once or twice a year depending on the levels. The bees that go to the northeast, 8-10 million, will probably get two applications, whereas Louisiana will probably get one. This is all standard stuff.
The problem is as long as that deep is alive in the field, we’re not fumigating it so it’s a constant source of infection. We can only do it when they die. We do what we can with a false toxin, but if you don’t fumigate wet combs (wet supers), it’s the fastest way to kick off an infestation of nozema. The reason is that little bit of honey keeps all those spores soft, in other words if you don’t fumigate, those spores are soft and the infection spreads that much quicker. We finally figured out how to make that chamber work and we added soaked burlap on top of each palette — we would stack 16 supers on a little roll pallette. We soaked the burlap as hard as we could get them to soak and then we would roll them in there and then we would take the rest of the water and shut the plywood door. We’re lucky we didn’t kill ourselves. We just put this plywood door on there and preheated it for a little while and then put etholinoxide in there until the plywood started to bulge a little bit. It makes sense that a wet comb could do the same thing as these nozema scores which are what we’re finally getting.