Honey Harvest! September 17, 2011

Wow…. I knew it would be exhausting, but that was truly exhausting. As in whoa…. Worth it, but whoa. Next year we’ll be much better prepared.

Bee Journal

  • Smoke–cedar chips, cedar wood, weeds, pine needles
  • Sunny, cool (about 70), and clear
  • No wind, but pretty humid. We got over an inch of rain the previous day, and everything was still quite humid. Most of the bees were still home, which made for a very, uh, busy experience.
  • We went all the way to the bottom of the brood boxes. I found few eggs, solid brood patterns, larva, and NO drones. Not a one, which is good.
  • The bees were VERY angry at some points during the inspection/harvest. Probably the angriest I’ve seen. They were quite calm during the harvest, but the inspection disrupted them a bit much I think.
  • I used a fume pad from Brushy Mountain. I like it (smells like cherries to me), but it takes quite a while before I see any results. In fact, Hive 1 we ended up brushing off the bees by hand. Hive 2 we gave it about 10 minutes to work, and most of the bees left the honey supers. Not my favorite, but I still like this method more than I like traps, gates, or other things. I just need to be more patient. Getting two boards so that I can work both hives simultaneously would probably help.

Whew… On to the fun stuff. First, thanks to Anthony for being my outdoor photographer. You have the distinction of being the first non-Dave to be stung at my hives. Congratulations? Also thanks to Casey for your help. I think I’ve put the first hooks into yet another person. Here’s hoping the negatives of yesterday don’t make him too worried about considering this in the future.

There’s Casey and me in all our finery. We ended up trading off gloves throughout during some of the particularly hot moments. I also got THREE–count ’em–THREE bees up my pant legs. No stings, but that is a distinctly awkward feeling.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a smashing good picture of Carniolan Honey Bees. This is also a good show of how much better a camera Anthony has than I do. My camera is nine years old, was incredible in its day, but showing its age.

A lot of the frames in the honey supers looked like this. Drawn wax, very little capped honey. It’s obvious that the bees are making good progress, but they just didn’t get as far along as I had hoped. I ended up only taking ten medium frames instead of the expected twenty to thirty.

Here’s a question for my fellow beekeepers: What do you do with a frame like this? It’s not really harvestable, but at the same time, I wanted to pull the honey supers. I ended up pulling ten frames of honey and another ten frames that hadn’t been drawn to end up with a total of twenty frames (two medium supers) pulled between the two hives. I consolidated the remaining twenty medium frames that had either some honey or drawn comb into two medium supers. I then put one medium super back on each hive, leaving each hive with two deeps and a medium. I plan on leaving them that way through the winter, but I’m not sure if that is the best choice or not. I’m worried that the bees will spend energy (and food) making more wax for the medium supers that aren’t fully developed. At the same time, I just don’t know what to do with a frame that has some honey stored in it.

I thought about setting the partially filled supers to one side in an attempt to encourage the bees to pull the honey from them (robbing basically) and put it in the main hive, but I did that to clean my extracted frames yesterday, and the free-for-all in my backyard between bees, bumble bees, and wasps was legendary.

Advice please.

This was more typical of the frames we harvested. As you can see, the fume pad didn’t really push all the bees off, although this was a much better frame. Casey was my brush man for the harvest.

This and the following picture are two of my favorites for this round. Courtney said they looked like they were playing football. πŸ™‚

I just love the warm glow and softness of this picture. It makes the hive seem warm, comfortable, and happy…

… which is in stark contrast to what was really going on. πŸ™‚ It’s my fault, and I recognize that, but I’m also fairly certain that I’ve never seen them that defensive.

I love it when I can get them onto my finger like this. I’ve found that if I can get someone to this point, their entire view of bees changes. They change from being dangerous things to magical creatures.

Now wouldn’t that make a fun puzzle? Check out the coloring! This shot is the top of the bottom brood box. When we opened it up, bees just swarmed up from the frames onto the top. It was a truly amazing site to see. Needless to say, I’ve got two VERY strong hives right now. Here’s hoping they do well during the winter so that I can do splits in the spring.

And this is how one gets a hernia. This is me lifting that top brood box. I’m still surprised sometimes at just how heavy those things can get. Putting this box back was sad. I simply cannot set them down carefully enough at that angle to avoid at least some crushing. I know I crushed at least a dozen bees, if not many more. Sad.

This is also the moment at which Anthony “took one for the team.” Happily, he had almost no reaction. Good for him.

Warming the frames in a warm oven to help with extraction. Later that night, I set the oven on fire…. Not kidding. There was some burned cheese that we had forgotten about, and we cranked the oven up really high that night to try to warm the kitchen a bit to help with straining the cappings. The result? Fire. Very smokey, lots of fire alarms, and plenty of laughter between us and our guests.

One of the extracted frames. I’m sure I could have gotten more honey off this, but I was getting very tired very fast at this point. Sadly, shortly after this was taken, I gave up on the extractor and crushed the remaining eight frames.

Like I told Courtney later on, I learned two things from extracting yesterday:

  1. I have never been so sticky in my life. There was that point where we all just gave up trying to contain the stickiness. We’re still finding plenty of sticky spots.
  2. Extractors come with motors. I will be buying one of those.

And there’s the honey flowing out of the extractor.

We set the cappings and crushed frames to drip most of the evening, but finally pretty much gave up around 11:00 last night. We could/should have gone all night, and we would have had a larger harvest if we had, but we were both so tired, and couldn’t quite think of how to set our drip up to protect from flies and other bugs. We gave up. We’re wimps right now. πŸ™‚

And that’s it for pictures.

In the end, we got 24 half pint jars of sweet, light honey. The flavor is very mild and sweet. Smooth almost, fairly close to clover honey, but more floral. Compared to our harvest of three, four weeks ago, this is infinitely better. The first harvest was slap-you-in-the-face strong. This is gentle. I could drink this straight…. And to tell the truth, I’m sure I ate at least a full cup or two yesterday. It was irresistible.

Yesterday, like I said, I put out the empty frames for the bees to clean. This afternoon, I had to restrict people from coming in our backyard for the feeding frenzy. I know the bees are calm, but it did not look it, and I worried that people would be nervous around that much activity. I spent a good hour today and yesterday out there with a fly swatter, however, swatting wasp after wasp after wasp. I hate those things.

My favorite moment was when I set the rinsed cappings on the porch to dry. We got home from church to find a good bit of activity on our front porch. Of course we had people coming over to the house, so I spent a good twenty minutes trying to move the bees off the porch. I moved the cappings immediately, but there was still a fairly solid number of bees coming back for seconds that just hovered around the front porch searching for the cappings. Courtney showed a new-found bravery and walked through the air traffic even. I was proud of her.

So lessons:

  • Yep, we’re buying an electric extractor. I’m glad I followed advice to borrow one before dumping money on one. I would not have been happy with a manual one.
  • I need a better system of pulling frames off the hives. Any ideas?
  • I’ve very much loved having friends help me all summer long.
  • I’m looking forward to the down time over the winter, but I’m also very nervous for my hives. I left plenty of honey on the hive, but I’m afraid I’m going to worry until March/April. That’s just the way it goes.
  • Last but not least, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder at this whole experience. I’ve made a lot of friends doing this, but I think more than that, I’ve been impressed by the spiritual side of it all. It’s amazing to watch these creatures work in such perfect order doing things that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Every time I explain about bees, there is always that moment when the person just sits back and says something like, “That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.” And that about sums it up.
    Someone asked me today if it was all worth it. Yep. It was. There were those moments where I wondered what I was doing, but I’m quite pleased overall. I’m glad I rushed into this year. I’m especially glad that some random guy at my first bee meeting told me to do it. I haven’t seen him since to thank him, but I’m glad he did. I’m glad Aleisha was right there from the beginning. I’m glad for my “cross-the-pond” beekeeping friend who offers a new and very pleasing perspective on her own experiences. It’s been amazing.
    I’m glad for the ride.

Until next inspection….

P.s. I will get a shot of the final products sitting in the sun when I can. I meant to this morning with the sun shining, but didn’t. Soon enough.

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7 Responses to Honey Harvest! September 17, 2011

  1. Lora says:

    Very cool. It sounds like quite an experience. Maybe Joe and I will be around to see it one day! Congrats on accomplishing one of your goals.

  2. Sarah L. says:

    I’m still trying to get to the point that I don’t feel panic when I see a picture of the bees. πŸ˜€ That’s so awesome you harvested the honey! Matt wants to know if you’re going to sell any at a farmers market or something. πŸ™‚

  3. daveloveless says:

    Lora–If you guys are here in the summer, I’ll definitely abuse you and make you join me at the hives. πŸ™‚

    Sarah–It’s a goal. Probably not the farmers market because of the competition, though. There’s quite a few beekeepers that come, and the fee structure at our farmers market is pretty lame.

    There is a bakery right down the street that I think would allow me to sell out of their store front. That’s the goal.

  4. here is some advice; ask others if they think a electric extractors are worth it, most say no. there might not be an “easier” or “less messy” or “less tiring” way of doing honey at your level. A two frame extractor is slow, but it is still faster/more effecient than crush and strain. You could rent a 4 or 8 frame extractor from UCBA. try those before you buy.

    Plainly, It is just a lot of work. that is why i charge A LOT for my honey–if i sell it–i don’t usually sell it because i would rather give it away as a love gift.

    I don’t have any advice on getting bees off the frames immediately. I have always taken my supers off, put them 30 ft. or more away from the hive, let the bees fly back at dusk, then pick my supers up at about 10 pm. if i have taken a nap then i harvest all night, if not i harvest the next morning.

    sounds like you had a great first experience and the pictures are great!

  5. Emily Heath says:

    If you have some super frames left over which you don’t want to extract, you can put an empty brood box over your full brood boxes and then a super box on top of that with the left over super frames in and the roof on top. The gap created by the empty brood box makes the bees think of the super frames as not part of the hive, so they go up and rob it, storing the honey down in the brood box. You can then take the super off for the winter if you want to.

    The bearded local beekeepers I know advise using that method to let the bees clean up extracted frames too, because, as you found, leaving frames out in your garden for cleaning up encourages a robbing frenzy and could spread disease if there’s other hives in the area.

    Congratulations on your honey, it looks and sounds amazing! Love the bee on your finger too.

  6. daveloveless says:

    Thanks both Emily and Aleisha.

    First… I didn’t realize how much an electric extractor costs. Wow!!! I’ll try renting one from the local association next year I think.

    Emily–I had just read that on a forum somewhere. That’s a great idea, and I’ll give it a whirl. I have two boxes I can use as a spacer, and I’ll do that this weekend or next. Thanks for the tip.

    The feeding frenzy has been just shy of ridiculous, and I _hate_ that even a drop of that hard work goes to wasps. We have a large number of wasps in our area, and I keep my eyes open for the hive. If I ever find it, I’m going to ask permission to kill it. For some reason, I doubt the homeowners will tell me no. πŸ™‚

  7. Emily Heath says:

    Yeah, the bees deserve every yummy drop!

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