June is a transition month for U.S. beekeeping, as the honey flow season gradually moves from the southern states to the northern states. Many southern beekeepers are preparing to remove supers or have already done so. They are also starting to extract their new crop honey with hopes of an eager buyer’s market. And, indeed, the market is beginning to trend up. For details, please read Ron Phipps’ excellent International Honey Market update article in this issue.
The spring season in the South presented some very good build-up weather, but moisture shortages in Florida hurt flows, while in other parts of the South too much rainy weather prevented normal bee foraging on spring plants and trees that were in bloom. Meanwhile, West Coast beekeepers were experiencing something that they have not seen in a number of years—too much rain! The combination of frequent rain showers and deep snow cover in the Sierras has turned drought-stricken land into one of floral abundance. This has been illustrated in numerous photos showing before and after photos of deserts and foothills as they transitioned into a honey bee paradise.
The northern states experienced a fairly mild winter with the exception of the Northeast and parts of the upper Midwest where snowy, cold weather hung on much longer. The milder winter translated to fewer winter losses for the most part. However, there were still pockets of beekeepers who said their fall and winter losses together were higher than normal. Colonies were building up nicely this spring and with any luck, beekeepers should be able to harvest some excellent honey crops this season.
Coming into the honey flow season, many colonies were still building up due to low overwintering bee populations and beekeepers having to make divisions to rebuild their colony losses. Moisture conditions continue to be good for the most part. Beekeepers are hoping for good spring flows from fruit trees, berries, wildflowers, black locust, sumac, tulip poplar and early clover. Commercial pollinators are wrapping up their busy season pollinating many orchards and various types of berries. Several more crops will need pollination later this spring, however. Warmer temperatures have brought on swarming conditions in some strong overwintered colonies. Later spring and early summer flows will include clover, buckwheat and basswood. Most beekeepers had sold out of their surplus honey and are anxious to restock their inventories. Demand for locally produced honey remains excellent in the Northeastern states.
Earlier in the spring late cold snaps set back colony development. However, April and May were big buildup months with heavy swarming being reported by some beekeepers. Fruit trees, dandelions, red buds, blackberries and numerous wildflowers such as henbit, dead nettle and wild mustard were in bloom. Colonies were also beginning to work black locust, tulip poplar, sumac and early clover. Some locations are still on the dry side and could use more rain to keep plants blooming. As in the Northeast, most beekeepers are completely sold out of honey and are anxious to provide new crop varieties for their customers. Interest in beekeeper short courses remains very strong. Pollination prices paid this season are in the $40 to $50 range for apples, $105 per colony for watermelons and $110 for cucumbers.
Main honey flows were getting underway after a few cold snaps earlier in the spring delayed colony build up. In Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi colonies were making honey from numerous wildflowers, privet hedge, clover and blooming fruit trees, as well as tulip poplar. In Florida the orange and titi flows were short and very spotty, according to most of our reporters. Soil moisture is quite short in the state. These flows have been followed by fair flows from gallberry, palmetto, tupelo and numerous wildflowers. Many of these main flows are no longer producing huge amounts of honey, so the honey market is changing in the Florida. Traditional large surpluses of honey are being replaced by a specialty honey market that is relying on smaller quantities sold both to the smaller wholesalers and directly to the consumer. Honey demand remains good at both the wholesale and retail levels.
More and more beekeepers are also doing paid pollination work. Prices seem to be varying from $60 to $90 for row crops and blueberries. Package bee and queen producers have also been quite busy shipping numerous orders around the country. Demand for both bees and queens has been very heavy again this season, according to reporters.
Good moisture conditions have brought abundant wildflower and brush flows to this area. At times beekeepers experienced delays due to stormy weather, but have generally been happy with the season thus far. As this was written, reporters mentioned flows from privet hedge, sage, tulip poplar, clover, alfalfa, bluebonnets, and many other sources. Beekeepers who move their bees to the Gulf Coast for the tallow flow are hoping for good flows from this source. Chinese tallow can sometimes provide a couple supers of honey if the bloom is heavy and bees have good foraging weather. Unfortunately, some beekeepers have reported that frequent rains had prevented colonies from taking full advantage of the tallow flow
In Oklahoma, several beekeepers reported fair to good flows from canola earlier in the season, but said that windy weather had at times prevented normal bee foraging. Beekeepers were done making divisions, nucs and packages, but some were still raising queens for customers. Demand for bees was quite good again this spring. Commercial beekeepers providing pollination services were also done with fruit tree contracts, but still has some obligations for row-crop pollination in various states. Colony numbers in this area are expected to remain the same or expand slightly. Interest in hobby beekeeping continues to be excellent, judging by attendance at statewide beekeeping short courses.
Most stocks of last year’s honey have been sold by now and packers are starting to make inquiries on new crop honey. Retail honey demand remains very good, especially for locally produced varietal honeys.
Colonies generally came through winter in better shape this year. Then, the early spring gave bees another boost since they were able to break cluster and forage earlier than normal. A few northern reporters actually had higher winter losses, but where beekeepers were able to feed colonies, they report better winter colony