Monday, August 18, 2014

Iowa Honey

A PRS and ElectroNet guarding a group of hives from pests. 

 This morning I sweetened my coffee with a spoonful of honey. The result was simply sweet and delicious. 

Honey has been on my mind since last week, after I visited with Tim Wilbanks of the Kalona Honey Company. Tim is a transplant from his home state of Georgia, where he grew up on his family's apiary. He helps out with the family apiary by hauling bees between Iowa and Georgia making deliveries of packages. Bee packages are small 3-pound boxes of bees including a queen bee—a starter kit for beehives.

While I had Tim's attention, I asked him a few questions on beekeeping and honey. 

Q. Trucking bees from Georgia to Iowa—are there acclimation issues?
A. Not really. When it's warm enough for bees in Iowa to start moving around, it's been that warm in Georgia for months. Keep in mind, if you are shipping bees to Iowa (or anywhere for that matter), shipping dates depend on the weather in Georgia. If it's warm and sunny in Iowa, but rainy and miserable in Georgia, the bee harvest might not occur and package deliveries will be delayed. 

Also, when delivering bees, the truck needs to keep moving. Bees need air and ventilation. So when delivering bees, stop for deliveries and refueling, nothing else. 

A major difference between Iowa and Georgia is the winters. Iowa winters are harsh. The 2013-2014 winter was especially harsh, and death loss hovered around 60-65%. That is 60-65% of the whole hives, not the population within the hives. Other areas fared worse (up to 80%), but the official reports have yet to come out. 
A small hive set up at the Kalona Honey Company. Notice all the dandelions? Dandelions are some of the earliest blooming flowers in spring, and their pollen serves to give bees the jump start they need for the honey-making season ahead.

Georgia on the other hand, has mild winters in comparison. A typical winter might result in 5% loss, and that's usually from predators (skunks and bears). 

To help bees through the winter, either feed them more or leave more honey for them to consume. Their feed is a sugar syrup. Some folks use high fructose corn syrup. 

Q: Cost of equipment?
A: Around $350-$400 for the hive and bees. 

Q: Recommendations for getting started?

A: Talk to your local extension agency and beekeepers in the area to find classes and seminars on beekeeping. There are a lot of good books out there as well. 

If you want to keep bees in town, check your local ordinances to make sure it's legal. Talk with your surrounding neighbors so they are aware of your hives. 

Keep in mind that there are time demands. April through May involve checking the hives to make sure the populations are healthy. In June and July, check them once every week or two. 

Harvest is in July and August—and it's time-consuming. Some maintenance is needed going into fall. After October the bees are on their own. 

Joe (left) interviewing Tim (right).

Q: What predators are a concern?
A: Bears and skunks. In the South and areas with bears* you'll see electric fences around the hives. Skunks** are bee predators too. During the winter, skunks will scratch at the side of the hive until groggy bees walk out, then they just pick them up and eat them. 

Sometimes the two-legged kind will relocate the hives. 

Q: What are some disease concerns?
A: Varroa mites. They're an external blood-sucking mite, like ticks for bees, feeding on larvae and adults. 

Also foulbrood disease, American and European. Best to isolate a hive if this occurs. 

Q: Recommended feed sources?
A:  Sweet clover and alfalfa. Some soybeans also make really good honey. And basswood and black locust trees. All have a distinct color, clarity and flavor. 

Dandelions have lots of pollen (protein), good for baby bees. It primes the pump and builds up the hive. 

By Joe Putnam, Premier Research Writer
* For areas with bears, Premier recommends ElectroNet®
** For protection from skunks, Premier recommends VersaNet®

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Marking Crayon Test

We've been thinking about breeding season since lambing season. In fact, during lambing season we were thinking about breeding season. We marked twin and triplet born ewe lambs (they're ear notched when we ear tag) and marked (with SI-RO-MARK or Sprayline) which ram lambs to keep intact.

Our breeding seasons have been a little different this year. We bred a small experimental group of ewes earlier this summer. They're due in a few weeks. Our main breeding season is just around the corner.

We're planning to breed 475 ewes this season. Rams went in May 1st with a select group of hair cross ewes. The remaining ewes will be bred in groups with plans to have breeding finished by Mid October (we're shooting to have our last lambing day on March 15th. To keep track of who has been bred and who hasn't we're using marking harnesses and raddle marker. Not exactly sure which as the farm guys haven't put the rams in with the ewes.

On a side note, we been testing the visibility of our crayons over a 24 day period. Why 24 days? We took a ewe's estrus cycle (17 days) and added in 1 week (7 days).

Day 1 of the crayon test. Colors are rich and vibrant. 
Yellow and blue were the least readable a week after marking (by hand, not by a ram). Test was at Premier in SE Iowa in July. Purple, green, red and orange were the most readable colors. 
Purple and red were the most readable. Green, blue and orange less so. Yellow the least (but still readable).

Purple and red were the most readable. Green, blue and orange less so. Yellow the least. 
Crayons were applied on an 85°+ day. Hot crayons (except for purple) were applied to the ewes by hand. A mild purple crayon was used (temp. range 65°-85°). Why a mild purple? The original purple crayon was very dark (almost black). We received a sample (note: one) of a new mild purple to see if we wanted to switch. As you can see the purple is bright (not black) and applied easily (as cold/warm crayons will do on a hot day).