It’s that time of year again! The time when darkness peaks, and Christmas lights twinkle in rebellion. Old Man Winter has many in his grasp about now, but has yet to really make an appearance here in central Florida. It’s also the time of year when I can’t help but get giddy. While others are filled with the anticipation of presents under their glowing Christmas tree, I'm getting giddy about bees. As Christmas Eve closes in, I'm celebrating the year’s longest night by making gallons and gallons of sugar syrup while bubbling with the anticipation of cracking hives in the morning and getting the 2016 bee season underway.
As most people dash from store to store checking off Christmas lists, I too check off a prep list. The longest night of the year means it’s time to start checking down my “Beekeeping To-Do List”. Once the longest night lifts, I must be prepared to take full advantage of the blooming light. In the spirit of the season I add this summary of the 2015 Nature Coast Bee Company’s honey bee season here on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm to the record.
The 2015 beekeeping season was one marked by early rewards and summer challenges. The big breakthrough was proving to ourselves that newly mated, fully laying honey bee queens by early March are indeed possible within our system. Why is this a breakthrough? Well, in our cyclical system of beekeeping we don’t specifically treat for mites with either chemicals or organics and do not feed anything to our hives after Halloween--pure insanity to a lot of serious beekeepers. While others are feeding to keep their hives at full strength and capacity, anticipating early pollination demands, we aim for achieving an important brood break and completion of a full hive cycle.
This strategy puts our hive growing skills to the test. Timing and execution become critical. But, with careful planning the execution can be achieved and can comfortably get newly-emerged, virgin honey bee queens mated and laying solid patterns by March with strong nucleus colonies built by late March into early April. There’s a lot to be said for zigging while others scramble with zagging.
In all agricultural pursuits the summits of success quickly reveal the the valleys of failure ahead, and beekeeping is no exception. The summer months proved challenging to many hives. The quenching rainy season rolled in whittling hive collection days down to nothing. This past summer’s dog days period from July through September proved double jeopardy for us due to the daily wet weather which grounded the hives, and off-the-ball family emergency matters that stretched beekeeping time thin. “C’est la vie”.
The silver lining to all those clouds? That wet weather coupled with the resulting benign neglect from the non beekeeping matters added important selection pressure to our hives. The result was that we had several stand-outs. Under intense pressure diamonds form. We have more than a few diamond quality queens going into 2016. These queens will provide a fantastic genetic base for our future bee building.
So, those of you reading this before or after dashing from store to store in the last-minute throngs of the Christmas season, don’t despair. And if you're in a part of the country where Old Man Winter's chilling clutch has you stoking a December fire, warm yourself knowing daylight is blossoming and this Central Florida beekeeper is scrambling. The feed will get mixed and be flowing in the morning on those Nature Coast Bee Company hives. Before you know it the preparations for the first queens of 2016 will soon be in motion. My beekeeper's list is ready and I'm already checking it down because spring is coming.
Now, cross that "2015 Beekeeping Report" off the list--it's time to get sticky!
July, August, September Wrap-Up
Twinkling Christmas displays are all aglow and the feed rations for the farm critters were prepared last night, so it’s time to hammer out a Both Feet In blog update. As I write this latest Must Bee Kiddin’ farm update the outside temperature at 5:30 a.m. is pushing 80 degrees. I know, total antithesis to this article’s title, but the dog days of summer; July, August and September are history even though the mercury has yet to settle at consistently lower winter temperatures. Sure, Santa will soon be on his way, but surely he’s packing Bermuda shorts and a cold boat drink for this leg of his deliveries.
It’s been a spell since we’ve been able to come up for air and get a formal farm Wrap-Up posted to Both Feet In. Apologies to anyone following along from the start. In an attempt to keep the blog's chronology orderly, here’s the Wrap-Up for the July, August and September; the dog days of summer.
July was a milestone month at Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm. We celebrated our one year anniversary of land ownership and starting the work of creating the farm. Wow, unbelievable! It is true that time flies when you’re having fun. Yes, all the hard work and sweat is still the most rewarding work we’ve ever done. Every day when my feet hit the ground, rolling out of bed after a solid night’s sleep and that first ache hits, I remind myself of what Newton told us…a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Powering through the discomfort still comes easy and with a smile--suck it up, buttercup.
Just before July's heat and humidity turned ridiculous, we completed the farm's first full grazing tour with the goats. The goats are doing a great brush control job and the land becomes more and more manageable with each grazing rotation. This accomplishment also gives a better feel for our land's carry capacity and can now adjust our final stocking rates accordingly.
Early in the month we received the fantastic news that our county tax appraiser had granted us an agricultural exemption. This approval was critical to making our farm work financially. We submitted our agricultural application to the county in December, 2014 and by July, 2015 it was approved. Being recognized as a “bona fide” agricultural enterprise by the “man” helps in so many ways. We not only get a new tax designation for the property, but this also solidifies all the protections granted to us through Florida’s Right to Farm Act. Florida is a state dominated by folks retiring from heavily urbanized areas and the threat of neighbor complaints from crowing roosters or crying goat kids are alleviated with this protection.
In July Must Bee Kiddin' Farm launched its poultry division. We fired up the incubator we purchased in June and by July's end we had thirteen chick chirping away in a storage tote in the bathroom. Now, applying the law of probability to our hatching would mean we should have an even distribution of cocks to hens. Well, I guess it runs streaky then. The birds from that first hatch have grown out and we now find ourselves overrun with roosters. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
The victories of July melted away and our personal life’s fortunes took a turn. The facts of life hit hard in the final days of July and we spent all of August and September dealing with a full-force family emergency. The farm was left on autopilot with not much time for anything other than the daily chores available. Farm development ground to a halt. It was a stress test for both us and the farm. We pulled together as a family and with help from both immediate and extended family members we found our way through the crisis. The good news was that our family's crisis didn’t spiral into tragedy. It’s times like these that make you realized what the expression “at least I have my health” REALLY means.
As an aside, anyone thinking they will move to the country and start farming once they fully retire and are caught up in marking time until then...STOP. Quit fooling yourself. If you’re able-bodied and really want to get on the land, you need to find a way to make it happen sooner than later. The recliner and television are instruments of death from our contemporary life. Their seduction literally sucks you in, placating you with fantasies and dreams until you die. I look back at what we set out to do and have to say that starting Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm in our 40’s was almost too late. There's so much to do. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The lingering effects of the August scramble lasted throughout September. We powered through and slowly built momentum back on the farm. The final milling of timbers into lumber from felled trees on the farm was completed. That lumber was used to build chicken coops for our poultry enterprise. September also saw our second hatch completed. With the help of a farm neighbor (Thanks Ray ;) with more incubator capacity, we added more heritage poultry lines to the farm mix. The final push for launching the Must Bee Kiddin’ poultry division in the field was complete. By September's end we had two range coops up and running on an electrified paddock.
With working days on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm cut short due to familial obligations from the August fallout, progress on the farm has shifted to a lower gear. Deeper access into the farm property is the priority. The farm’s driveway started taking shape, but by the month’s end was still far from completion.
There you have it. With Christmas closing in hard we’ve finally updated the blog through September. Life’s ups and downs will pummel you from time to time and things such as blogging get lost in the scuffle. No worries. Tough people outlast tough times.
In 2014 a couple of 40-somethings decided to make a change. The purchase of 10 raw, pine scrub acres along Florida's Nature Coast started it all. This is that story!