Winter finally came to Southern Cal in the form of a week of below-freezing temps at night and then a week of good, soaking rains. Naturally, most of the time the bees all stayed home in their cluster (they need to keep the core of the cluster, where the brood is, at 95 degrees at all times, so they "shiver" in a big mound of 60,000 bees or so to make that happen). I was anxious to see how they'd fared.
Today the sun came out and the temps got into the mid-60's, and the good news is that all hives were active. Aside from foraging flights they also take "cleansing flights"--- they don't poop in their hive, so they have to hold it 'til they get a chance to fly. So even the non-foragers take a loop or two around the outside of the hive, just to relieve themselves.
I took the opportunity to retrieve the second packet of Apiguard I'd put in the one Varroa-infested hive. They didn't do a very good job of emptying the this packet, so I have no idea how effective the treatment actually was. I replaced the frames I'd removed to make space for the packet; next week I'll slip a sticky board under them and get a mite count.
This is the exact time of year I lost a hive to mites in 2008, so I'm being extra careful. I want to keep all the hives strong, because with these rains we should have a good eucalyptus bloom this winter (great honey!) and a very robust sage bloom in the spring, along with other chaparral bee-favorites like holly-leaf cherry. Last year the holly-leaf cherry never bloomed; it was just too damn dry.
Within the next month or so I'm going to try to find a neighboring ranch that will allow me to place 4 hives or so on their property. With eight hives on my ranch I think I'm overwhelming the area; I need to spread out a bit. My goal for 2010 is to get 12 hives producing 20-30 lbs of honey each, which would give me 40-60 8oz jars per hive; a reasonable number to sell at the local small farmer's market.