Just as beekeepers over much of the nation settle down to the slower winter months, work has gone into high gear in California as thousands of colonies arrive in the state, adding to the thousands already there that will be used for almond pollination in February and March. Beekeepers will continue to feed these colonies until the pollination season starts. With an estimated 1 million acres of almonds needing pollination in the state and one to two colonies needed per acre, a large percentage of the commercial colonies in the United States will be devoted to this single task for part of February and March.
Southern and California bee and queen producers are now taking orders for spring delivery of bees. They expect another very busy season and are hoping that the weather will cooperate as the season progresses.
Early snowstorms and colder weather in other parts of the country put an end to most outside bee work in November. However, a number of beekeepers told us that they were gearing up for brisk holiday sales, while others told us that they had already sold most of their surplus honey. Retail sales have remained excellent over much of the country. Meanwhile, commercial honey producers are telling us that large-lot sales of bulk honey are facing stiff competition from increasing amounts of imported honey.
As winter weather set in beekeepers who were feeding colonies are switching from syrup feeders to sugar fondant blocks or purchased winter patties. Generally, less feeding has been necessary over much of this area since honey crops were so good, especially in New York and parts of Pennsylvania. The main complaints about winter stores shortages came from beekeepers who had to start a lot of new colonies to replace winter losses this spring. In some cases, these replacement colonies were not started as early as beekeepers had hoped, so bees did not have sufficient time to build up and store winter honey. A few of our reporters also indicated increased problems with small hive beetles, which had not been a serious problem before. Many beekeepers said they were still busy packing and selling this year’s better than normal honey crop, especially now that the holiday season has started. Sales are excellent at the retail and small-lot wholesale levels.
Beekeepers gave a mixed bag of reports on colony condition going into the winter season. Some locations had only fair to poor flows and in these locations beekeepers had been feeding heavier than normal, while in other cases colonies were going into winter with plenty of stores. Late flows were interrupted in some cases due to sporadic rainy weather. Demand and prices for locally produced honey remain excellent at both the retail and small-lot wholesale level. Very little of this area’s crop is sold in barrels or totes to larger packers where honey demand and prices have seen recent declines. Reporters felt that they would be practically sold out of 2015 crop honey by the end of the holiday season.
Despite continued reports of a slump is large-lot wholesale purchases and prices, demand for honey at the retail level remains excellent over most of the area. In fact, beekeepers were gearing up for anticipated increased sales during the holiday season. Many northern colonies are being wintered in these states in preparation for later pollination contracts, as well as building up colonies for nuc and package bee sales. Once colonies are built up, they will be moved back to northern states to catch the clover and alfalfa flows. Package bee and queen producers are building up their colonies with beekeeper-provided feed. Producers are hoping for a mild winter and early spring in order to fill their many orders in a timely manner. A number of shippers have already started advertising and some think that they will book up early. Beekeepers in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are hoping for better honey crops this season after many suffered with very poor honey crops last year due to the erratic weather.
Cold weather has returned, sometimes accompanied by rain or snow. Beekeepers are generally happy with how their colonies have gone into winter—clusters are big and stores seem to be sufficient. Some beekeepers continued to have serious problems with small hive beetles last summer. Mite treatments have been completed for the most part, even among migratory colonies brought down for the winter from northern states. These colonies will be given early feedings to spur quick brood buildup in January and February, so nucs or splits can be made. Many of these migratory colonies will be moved to California for almond pollination soon. Honey sales at the local retail level have been excellent. In fact, some beekeepers who had smaller crops this year sold out before the holiday season began in December.
Fall colony conditions were a mixed bag, according to reporters. A lot depended on whether or not beekeepers had a good honey season. In parts of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana reporters indicated good to excellent honey crops. On the other hand, honey crops in parts of Michigan and Ohio were very disappointing due to rainy, cool weather during the main spring and summer honey flows. Excellent fall flows helped in some cases, but many beekeepers needed to feed their bees, especially those colonies started from packages or nucs last spring. Demand for packages, nucs and queens is again expected to be very strong for the 2016 season. Migratory beekeepers have moved many of their colonies to California or southern states for the winter.
Both retail and wholesale markets have been mostly strong. Despite talk of reduced demand and prices for large lots of honey among some packers, most of the reporters we talked to had little trouble selling their honey. Retail sales have continued to be very good and have been further buoyed by holiday season.
Many commercial migratory beekeepers had already left for their winter quarters in southern states or California. Those beekeepers remaining gave mixed reports on …