The steady rains we received this year were long awaited. But surprisingly, in the end, we received the same amount of total rainfall this year as in 2015. This difference was that it was delivered in a constant, even fashion that allowed the soils to become sufficiently saturated for prime spring growth. El Niño seemed to fizzle out by spring, but the wildflowers were abundant.
Our vineyards also exhibited phenomenal growth this past spring, and the few spring showers encouraged the shoots to reach for the top wires of the trellis. Overall mildew pressure has been very low so far, but much to our surprise, the soils dried down quickly. We believe this is due to the increased canopy and overall leaf mass of the vineyard canopy, because the vines’ demand for water increased significantly this summer. It seems fairly straightforward that a bigger, more vigorous vine will need more water to sustain its growth. However, by looking at the native landscapes surrounding us on the hillsides it’s clear that the drought is not yet over.
Our Estate Honey
The wetter spring and amazing wildflower proliferation really benefitted the honeybees. This year a bountiful honey harvest looks very promising. We captured a few new swarms, and added seven more colonies to bring our apiary from 8 colonies up to 15. The hive boxes are located at several different locations in the Valley to take advantage of the different types of forage available. While the newest colonies will not produce a surplus of honey this year, the older ones certainly should.
The problem with the honeybees these days is complicated and not well understood. What scientists know is that a good mixture and diversity of flower species for the bees to feed on is very important for healthy growth—and this year was exceptional! What is especially troubling us behind the scenes is an external parasitic mite called Varroa destructor. This type of mite is very much like the fleas and ticks that ride on our dogs and cats like vampires. It attaches to the body of the bee and weakens the bee by sucking the anthropod version of “blood.” The damage caused by Varroa can be severe enough to cause entire colonies of bees to collapse, and has wreaked havoc in the beekeeping world over the last
We’re monitoring the struggle closely and are hoping to find and select bees from our local area that are surviving year after year despite the Varroa pressure. Some genetic lines of the honeybees are beginning to adapt defensive qualities that limit the impact of these mites. Our hopes are that they will continue to evolve in this manner. For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed in hopes of having some Estate Honey to share!