The Northeast and Mideast have had relatively mild winters with regular cleansing flights. In some cases this has probably saved a lot of colonies that might have perished due to lack of winter stores or heavy mite loads. We have been receiving widely varying reports on colony losses ranging from light to heavy. Some reporters said that those colonies that did not receive adequate late summer and fall flows were the first colonies to die, despite beekeepers’ desperate attempts at fall and winter feeding.
The Southeast and Southwest areas also report a rather mild winter. In fact, some beekeepers said that queens never stopped brood rearing. In some cases rains have kept moisture conditions adequate for plant growth, but in other instances drought conditions continue to be a problem.
The southern half of the East Central and West Central areas also report a mild winter, but that was not the case in parts of the upper Midwest where cold temperatures and heavy snows sometimes occurred. The Intermountain states also report a mixed bag of weather varying from mild and dry to very cold with abundant rain or snow. The West has been transformed from a very dry place to one that has had abundant rains in the lower elevations, as well as deep snowpacks in the mountains. Almond pollination has proceeded mostly on schedule, but beekeepers at times had a tough time placing colonies due to muddy conditions.
A nice warm spell in mid-February allowed colony cleansing flights over much of this area. It was a welcome respite for colonies after a period of below freezing weather and significant snow storms at times. Beekeepers are giving a mixed bag of reports on colony overwintering since many of them have been able to check colonies by now. The major determining factor seems to be winter stores or lack thereof. Some beekeepers reported scant or no late summer or fall flows and in these cases heavier winter losses are being reported, even though many beekeepers tried to make up the difference with feed.
The erratic winter weather varying from very cold to mild has also been cited by some beekeepers as being hard on colonies. On the other hand, other reporters have said that having regular bee cleansing flights have been a good thing. Beekeepers were in the process of ordering package bees, nucs and queens or had done so earlier in the year. On warmer days, bees were able to work maple, willow, skunk cabbage and other sources for pollen. Overwintered colonies are being fed both syrup and pollen supplements to encourage early brood rearing. The small inventories of honey remaining in the hands of beekeepers are still selling well, but most small producers are sold out until the new crop is harvested.
A number of area states reported a nice late winter warm-up that probably saved quite a few colonies teetering on the edge of starvation. The problem with low winter stores was especially acute in parts of Tennessee that suffered from drought last summer. Earlier in the winter quite a few beekeepers were worried about having enough stores to last colonies through until spring. However, maple, elm, willow, crocus, skunk cabbage, dandelion, henbit, witch hazel, and early wildflowers gave colonies a needed boost and spurred growing brood chambers. A few reporters were still worried about lack of ground moisture, but in some instances nice rains or snow had helped replenish this. By the time this report is disseminated, wild mustard, assorted wildflowers and fruit trees should be providing a nice assortment of pollen and early nectar. These will be followed by flows from tulip poplar, black locust, clover and sumac. Interest in hobby beekeeping remains quite high and area bee clubs expect a good turnout again for beginner courses. In some cases, attendees had pre-ordered their package bees or nucs. Package bee and queen demand are again expected to be quite strong.
Colonies were building up well with more abundant pollen and nectar plants. Flows started out with red maple followed by willow and other trees in bloom. Colonies are also working fruit bloom and numerous wildflowers coming back in bloom after a rather dry fall last season. Rains have been very beneficial, but some dry locations persist. Beekeepers had to feed bees quite a bit earlier in the year, but colonies seem to be building up well now. Some of our reporters felt that they would have an earlier and heavier swarming season due to the early warm weather this year. Package bee and queen companies have been very busy gearing up for a hectic shipping season.
In Florida, orange trees were blooming, but beekeepers were unsure of what kind of honey flow they would have from this once major honey source. Other Florida beekeepers were putting more faith in later gallberry and palmetto flows, as well as numerous wildflowers. Beekeepers in the Florida Panhandle were hoping for a good tupelo flow. A significant number of commercial migratory beekeepers will be returning from California pollination duties in mid to late March, depending on how much other pollination work they do after being released from the almond groves. Pollination work in the Southeast includes blueberries, other assorted berries and fruit bloom.
Honey prices at the wholesale level continue to be affected by cheaper imported honey, but small-lot wholesale prices, as well as retail honey prices and demand have held up well. A number of beekeepers were sold out of their 2016 crop and were starting to receive inquiries about pre-ordering for 2017 crop honey.
Some beekeepers were worried about early and heavy swarming due to the early warm weather in late winter. Beekeepers were feeding colonies where necessary with both syrup and pollen supplements. However, many early pollen and nectar sources were coming into bloom all at the same time. First came maple, elms and oak bloom, as well as brush and desert wildflowers. Beekeepers also mentioned fruit trees, as well as many ornamentals in bloom. No major flows had occurred yet, but if the season continues to be early, these main honey flows could come much earlier than normal also. Ground moisture appears to be adequate for the present, but some locations could fall back into…