And a bit of a harvest!
And before you die of shock, yes, I finally got out to take some pictures and Courtney took several others, but only after I got propolis on her camera. Sigh… I did try my darndest.
It was actually a very busy bee day, which I feel good about. Beekeeping has become such a recharging experience for me, especially when I can go with friends. Today, a long-time friend, Lee, joined Mackay and I at the hives. Lee and I have worked together on numerous projects before, especially teaching a financial literacy class. Someday, we hope to go into business together, although we’re still trying to figure out the hows of it all. It’d be fun.
On to the inspection…
Most of the pictures come from Hive 1. I had it in my mind to take a lot of pictures of Hive 1 and then put the camera away. Such is life.
Mackay and Lee sporting their gear and getting ready to go into 1. You can see how well the two old hives (2 and 4) are doing compared to 1, 3, and 5.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you don’t super fast enough. Hive 5 did the same thing. When we were in there two weeks ago, these hives still had plenty of room. Obviously they found a happy source of nectar and had nowhere to put it all, hence the build up on the inner cover.
View down into Hive 1 while smoking.
Any thoughts on smoking? I prefer a single puff. Mackay is heavier. I personally do NOT buy into the idea that it makes the bees think there is a fire and that they get ready to abandon the hive by gorging. That just doesn’t make sense to me. However, I do buy into the line of thought that it masks pheromones. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter except to say that it works.
For the record, I use the cedar chips that we throw down in the bee yard to help absorb heat.
Hive 1 was full, thick, and very calm. A perfect start to beekeeping for Lee, which is why disaster happened at…
Because Hive 1 went well, Hive 5, our next target was bound to be not so well. For Lee that is. Yes, Lee became only the third person to be stung at my hives. Congratulations! I think it was on the very first frame we had him lift as well. This was, of course, immediately after both Mackay and I reassured him that Hive 5 was the gentlest of the hives. Such lies we tell.
My preferred position: Supervising!
Mackay mentioned today that this is a great hobby for him because it’s FREE! Right…. Free for him I guess. Fortunately I’m more than happy to share, especially the work load. Today was almost 100 degrees (if it wasn’t over).
If my blog had a sound track, the Jaws theme would be appropriate about now. This is only moments before Lee joined the STING club. I also renewed my membership today with a very shallow sting on my right pointer finger. The stinger was not embedded, which makes me wonder if I moved that fast OR if it were a wasp. There were plenty of wasps out today, so it wouldn’t surprise me. For me this might be the most mild reaction yet, which I’m thrilled for. I have to assume the ten stings from April is doing me good now. Lee didn’t seem to have much of a reaction.
Hive 5 had heavy build up on the inner cover like Hive 1. Everything else seemed well. We didn’t spot a single queen today, but we saw plenty of eggs in each hive. Like 1, we added the first honey super to hive 5.
Hive 2 has been our best hive by far. It is already fully supered, and I predicted that we would potentially harvest off this hive last time. That proved pre-mature (kind of). I think this hive is in that valley that comes from making their own queen. Plenty of bees, but very little progress on the honey. If I’m thinking back, this is just about the right time for the new queen’s brood to start foraging heavily. We split the hive around the 20th of April (I don’t remember the exact date off the top of my head), so 16 days for the new queen, 7 days or so to get mated, 21 days for the first workers to hatch, and then another two or three weeks for those to grow, mature, and start foraging. By my count, that puts us pretty close to the end of June for those first bees to really come into their own.
This is a frame out of Hive 2 showing a near perfect crescent. You could put that in a text book! Honey across the top and sides, a narrow ribbon of pollen, and then brood cells (most uncapped at this point). It really is gorgeous, so zoom in. Great shot, Courtney, by the way.
This hive is renowned or their hygienics, so I’m not worried about the brood pattern. That’s pretty typical for this hive and Hive 4 (the mom of Hive 2).
Now for the harvesting bit…. While pulling a frame out of Hive 2, the frame came apart. That is my single biggest complaint about wooden frames. Instead of trying to repair the frame, I decided to pull it because it was full of honey on one side and nothing on the other. Here’s a photo of the nothing side:
If you look at that bottom left corner, you can see where the frame came apart. While this side has some bees, the other side was loaded, and it was just too difficult to try and repair the frame. Plus, I don’t really have the tools for it. This is why I made the decision to go to solid plastic frames. I’m still not sure what I think about it, but the bees take to those as readily as the wood. My biggest complaint of the plastic is that the edges where they touch the other frames are hollow. Each time I pull a plastic frame, I find a bee or two that crawled in there and died when I put the frames back together and trapped it in the open space. I hate that.
Here’s the other side of that frame loaded with honey. The bottom I originally thought was brood given the number of bees on it, but they were just adding to the honey stores. Oh happy day!
Hive 3 is probably our third strongest hive, but only slightly more than 1 and 5. I didn’t do so well taking pictures here, or rather Courtney didn’t, because Carolyn was starting to be a stinker, as evidenced here:
She’s a very chubby 4-month old. Still bald as an ice cube, but cute.
Hive 3 was pretty normal. We found a frame with eggs on the first pick, so we closed it back up almost immediately. It was getting really hot by then. Oh, my only real complaint on Hive 3 is that this hive is still laying eggs in the honey super. I’m going to have to have a talk with this queen. We also supered hive 3 up to a full two honey supers. Interestingly enough, we forgot to super this hive until we were all done, so I supered it sans any gear at all! Pretty fun to tell the truth, but only because the bees were pretty calm today.
Ah Hive 4, my original queen. Do you other beekeepers get that way about your long-lived queens? I just love Hive 4, and I feel a special affinity for this hive. Go figure.
Here’s a frame from Hive 4 that I pulled. You can see that awful brood pattern if you zoom in. But I’ll take that brood pattern to get those results. This hive is just shy of ridiculous in their production and health.
This hive is fully supered, has caught up to Hive 2 after the split, and probably even surpassed Hive 2. I do think I’ll get a double-harvest off this hive, though we’ll wait and see.
Our valiant heroes chatting it up afterwards, with me inspecting my sting.
I’m still not sure what beekeeping has in store for me long-term (downsizing, growing bigger, staying the same, switching to Top Bar Hives…), but I do love doing it. I just find it enjoyable.
Especially when you get to…
I know it’s technically not the best way to harvest, but I’m a crush and strain man myself. Yes, you can preserve the wax for next season if you spin it, but I like to harvest the wax as well, which I’ll show in a minute. Plus, I like the non-labor intensive nature of crush and strain. Another reason I like it is because I’m less convinced that preserving the wax actually helps the bees. Sure the bees have to consume some honey to produce the wax, but I’m just not sure it’s all that beneficial to the overall production. Certainly it helps, and I won’t argue that, but I don’t know that it helps enough to worry about it. I’m more convinced that population is the key to a healthy hive, and rolling the wax over yearly would certainly keep less of the junk you don’t want from building up in the wax. That makes sense to me.
But as the old adage goes… Ask five beekeepers a question, and you’ll get six answers.
And there’s the good stuff…
After about six hours of straining, which coincidentally matches exactly how long I’m willing to wait before giving up, I got four 1/2 pint jars of honey. This is very strong honey, like that first bite from last year, and I’m pretty sure it is dandelion honey. Tasty, but nothing you would ever consider using in any quantity more than just a slight drop.
For his heroism and bravery, Lee will find himself the proud owner of one of those jars. Mackay will get another for himself, and I’ll put the other two downstairs in my storage. It’s honestly too strong to consider selling. I just don’t know that people would like it that much. Maybe I’ll mix those two jars in with the fall harvest to see if that doesn’t lighten the flavor. We’ll see.
After collecting wax for nigh on 18 months now, I finally got around to processing it. This is the wet filtering for now. Later I’ll do the “dry” filtering.
Here’s the process I followed:
- Pan of water about a quarter full of acidified water. We used two teaspoons of Lemon Juice for that. Why acid? No clue. That’s what the instructions said.
- Break the wax up into small chunks (the instructions said grape sized was about right).
- Throw the wax in the water and heat SLOWLY until just shy of boiling. Light, small bubbles is all you would ever want. Oh, and stir it frequently and do NOT boil for more than a few minutes and NEVER boil it vigorously. Wax is extremely flammable, and you should NEVER leave the stove unattended.
- Let it cool over however long it takes.
The end result is a layer of water on the bottom with all the soluble things from the wax, a sludge layer in the middle full of the non-soluble things that separated from the wax, and a top layer that should be pretty much beeswax ready for the dry filter.
For dry filtering, you heat the wax (and only the wax) slowly. Most sites I’ve seen recommend a double-boiler to avoid direct contact with a heat source. Sounds wise to me. After the wax is welted, pour it through a filter into whatever mold you are planning on using. That’s it. I will probably make my first attempt by pouring it through a few layers of cheese cloth.
Here are my wax chunks floating in the water. Most of this wax comes from cappings and bridge comb I’ve harvested. Some of it comes from some old candles and the drippings. That wax isn’t very clean because of the candles, but that’s why I’m filtering it, right? Plus, this is all just a grand experiment right now. There was quite a bit of honey in this comb (relatively speaking), so our whole house smelled like heaven all afternoon long. I took about an hour to get it up to just shy of boiling.
Mostly melted at this stage, but not quite liquid either. Love the color.
And that’s fully melted and just after I removed it from the heat. There were all these solids throughout the wax, which I simply don’t know what they are. I did my best to pull impurities as I stirred, but I’m definitely going to dry filter. Any ideas on what those solids could be?
And that’s it. I’ve been doing something bee related all day now, I’m tired, it’s boiling hot outside, multiple forest fires are burning in the valley, and life is good. When the wax is hard and filtered, I’m looking forward to expanded on the magic that are bees by doing lip balm, soaps, salves, and so forth. I could really get into this.
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