For a beekeeper from Oregon like Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey, moving the bees to California in January for almond pollination gives his hives something of a bonus spring season to build up colony size before coming home to Oregon spring in March.
Shortly before their trip north, Henry goes through all his hives and splits many of them into two or more colonies. When they get home, he’ll continue to work through his bees, splitting them if necessary and beginning to raise queens and drones. This boost in hive numbers allows him to counter-moderate winter losses without being financially and emotionally devastated.
What Happens When the Bees Are Back Home in Oregon
When Henry’s bees arrive back in Oregon after their California trip, they’re distributed among several different apiary locations as soon as possible. Some are moved into fields in the Willamette Valley to pollinate crops like blueberries, meadowfoam, turnips, and raspberries (with clary sage, pumpkins, coriander, and cane berries later). Other hives are placed on Oregon Coast Range sites. Though his apiaries are spread apart far and wide, Henry works to open and examine each hive on a 14-day rotation.
Splitting colonies, as well as equalizing — transferring bees and frames of brood from larger colonies to weaker ones — are a beekeeper's best strategies for preventing swarming, or the process by which a new honeybee colony is formed when the queen and half the worker bees depart the hive and move on to another location. In some ways, splitting colonies replicates instinctual swarming behavior, so the bees are usually content to stay in the hive, and the beekeeper retains all the bees.
Gearing up for the Honey Flow
Through the spring, the queen in each hive lays eggs almost constantly, and the worker bees tend to the brood as well as bring in nectar and pollen from the field. The burgeoning hive needs more room to expand, so Henry regularly rotates frames and adds extra boxes to the top of the hive stack when necessary to prevent crowding and accommodate the extra brood and incoming food stores.
Bees that spend a month or two in California can be large enough to produce surplus honey on early spring nectar flows, like bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), chittum (Frangula purshiana), and poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), if the weather conditions are just right. Henry walks a fine line when trying to encourage bees to produce spring honey because the hives that are strong enough to collect and cure a lot of nectar are nearly strong enough to swarm. Spring honeys, however, are highly prized for their high pollen contents, which is purported to build immunity in humans to local allergens.
This week we're bringing you an inside look at the story of Henry Storch, a migratory beekeeper in Oregon, as written by his wife, Camille. Stay tuned for more about migratory beekeeping coming up all this week!