Ok, what happened? For several years now I seemed to be clicking along just fine. Somehow managing all the chaos, while still being a successful sideline beekeeper. I had plateaued around 25-30 colonies of various sizes, honey production around 650 lbs, and I was happy with that. All while increasing my family from 1 kid to 4, the oldest is still only 5. Now to give credit where it is more than due, my wife did pretty much all of that.
Now, going into 2017 (yes, we're going back in time here) we were starting to build our new home out on the farm. And we couldn't be happier! But this is a huge undertaking. Yes, we tried to hire a contract builder. Too expensive, or else they just simply didn't return a phone call. We figured if we only did the GC work ourselves we'd save at least $50K compared to builder bids. Anything more we did ourselves was just gravy. In the end, we did save that $50K or so, and of course the place still isn't complete. But we are living there, and again, couldn't be happier, despite the subtle stress of the never ending "to-do" list.
Anyway, as part of the planning, I knew this would be a whole new level of time constraint, and dedication. I sold off the mothballed tilapia project we had, I butchered the last few chickens, and warned my boss I'd probably be more of a flake than usual when it came to ducking out of the office with short notice.
But what about the bees? Well, now was the real test. Just how independent can they be? I made the call that I was going to back-burner them as must as possible. I didn't renew any bee removal ads. I opted to teach less classes on account of likely poor weather anyway. I told myself "I'm not even going to plan to super hives, whatever happens happens."
So what happened? At first it seemed like success! I did take a few removal jobs, but only the most critical ones to satisfy some long standing clients. I did super my hives, but as a last ditch effort. I'm talking, one random day in May I had a few hours, so I checked hives, and in doing so, went into frantic mode when I saw the white wax of our honey flow. And a month or so later, I pulled the biggest harvest I'd ever had! Over 650 lbs of honey! And with what I felt was the least input ever. In the background, the house construction was well behind schedule, but still progressing. With my record harvest, I was almost bragging, telling folks I'd done the least and got the most. It's as if I couldn't fail....until August.
Those of you in the south know of the small hive beetle (SHB). I seemed to forget about it. It seems every summer in August, we get a spell of about 2 weeks of HOT, HUMID, RAINY weather. Temps around 100 deg each day, and a popup thunderstorm almost daily, just enough to keep the sauna effect in play. And the beetle population explodes! Hives that were doing "ok" finally can't sustain the fight, and succumb to the beetle pressure. As those hives abscond, and the beetle finish them off, the population of beetles increases even faster. It's kind of like the mythical Hydra sea monster. For every head you cut off, two grow back. For every hive that succumbed to beetles, it seemed two more followed. I started losing hives 3-4 per week! And the clock had started ticking on finishing the house on time. Or at least getting it finished enough that we could close out the construction loan and finish it on cash. That's where "done enough" becomes a very real term.
The catastrophic slide on bees did slow after August, but maybe it's because there just wasn't much left to lose. What about Hurricane Harvey? No problem. I relocated the one colony that was a flood risk, and good thing! Then I tarped them all when the C-130's rolled low dumping whatever it was they applied (ineffectively IMO) for mosquitoes. I want to say going into fall I was down to maybe 10 hives. Dropped a few more here and there. Oh, I know, when I moved the whole apiary to the farm from our suburban home, I lost several more. I think I was down to 5-6. Winter picked off a few more.
One note on the SHB, I lose colonies to them every year, but not this bad. Usually I catch it early. The beetles win the battle in the end, trashing a hive, but usually I managed to keep the bees before they abscond, and get them set up in a new hive.
December 26th I swallowed my pride, and dropped $2100 for 15 packages to arrive late March 2018.
Late January 2018 I checked what I had. I figured I had 4 that I was certain would pull through to spring. 2 weeks later, the two I felt best about both succumbed to SHB, which I've NEVER had happen in late winter. I can't explain it. Late February I pulled off one successful split. Made another split, in which the split survived, but the parent colony was left too small it seems, and ended up absconding (starved out I believe).
My packages did show up in late March 2018. All looking good. My support goes out to Mountain Sweet Honey Company for delivering quality bees, at an affordable price. Coupled with another split or two, and a successful removal, I'm sitting at about 20 hives again. But I had to pay to play, which really sucks. Let's just hope I can pull my rather large head out of rear end this year, and not repeat the negligence of 2017!