Sunday, October 11, 2015

Honey Harvest

It was a day of new experiences for our little clan today. Our first big honey harvest... well, big for us, anyway.

We had previously pulled a lone frame from one of the supers, just to get a little honey.  But since the stars finally aligned for us, we decided to go up on the hill and harvest what we could. There were so many unknown variables that we had a very general plan. But I think things worked out pretty well.

First off, some history. We haven't opened the hive since late July. Most beekeepers would frown upon this, as when you read up on beekeeping, it seems imperative to get in there every week or so and see how the bees are doing. That's how I did it from when I added the bees until early July, when I realized that I had most likely killed my Queen by my frequent intrusions into their world.

In discussing it with my lovely, wise wife, she reminded me that bees have been doing their thing in the wild for millions of years without being checked on by their human overlords every week. She suggested that after we re-queened with a local queen, that perhaps we should keep our hands out of it and just let them be bees. I, being the control freak that I can be with hobbies, hesitantly agreed, keeping to myself my belief that the colony would fail within days.

Of course, she was right, and our bees just kept on keeping on for the rest of the summer. I did peek in on them in mid-July to see how things were going, and was so amazed by their progress that the only thing I needed to do was to put on another super for them to fill with honey. (supers are the shorter boxes that sit on top of the hive. A queen excluder is placed between the hive boxes and the supers to keep the queen from laying eggs in the supers)

Most of our local beekeepers harvested their honey at the end of August/ beginning of September, but for a multitude of reasons, we just weren't able to get it done then. Colder weather set in, and we had resigned ourselves to just leaving the hive alone for the year.

But - this weekend we had a warm snap, temperatures up to 80 degrees! So we decided to try and get a little honey! Other things we suddenly had to think about were whether or not to try and overwinter the colony. We couldn't make that decision without knowing how the colony was doing though.

So we decided to go with the flow a bit. We have two deep hive boxes and a super-turned-hive box at the bottom of the hive. Then the queen excluder, then two 10 frame supers on top of that. If the hive was healthy, we would expect to see a large number of bees all over the place when we opened the top super. As we removed boxes, we would be able to tell how the colony was based on the number of bees in each level.

Another factor of hive health is the nemesis of the beekeeper - the Varroa Mite. Those little buggers will destroy a hive. Signs of infestation include bees with little red mites riding on them, and bees with malformed wings from baby mites growing alongside the larval bees. Hive populations plummet when infested.

I had been a little concerned about Varroa, because we didn't do any treatments on our hive to combat the mites. Our local keepers use various chemicals to fight the mite, and will gladly tell you that they treat their hives without even checking to see what mite levels are because everyone just assumes that a hive will be infested. Since we used nothing, and as the weather cooled down I saw fewer and fewer bees around the hive, I was a little worried.

We decided that if the colony was failing, we'd just take all the honey from both supers. A dying colony doesn't need the stores of honey for overwintering after all. But if the bees seemed to be doing well, we'd take the honey from one super, and leave the rest for the colony for their winter stores.

So the kids and I got the smoker going, geared up in our bee suits, grabbed some tools and headed up on the hill.

I was so very pleasantly surprised to see many, many bees buzzing around the supers as we opened the first one up.
Lotsa bees = Lotsa Honey = Happy Beekeepers!
We had our system all ready to go. I pulled a frame, handed it to the Boyo, who held it while I brushed the bees off. Then he walked it away from the hive a bit where Sweet Pea was waiting by a big Rubbermaid tub. She opened the lid, the frame went in, and she closed it up again. It didn't take long to pull ten frames. We took some from each super, as some of the frames were in the midst of being refilled by the bees. I was able to get a good look, and a good listen, into the hive boxes and realized that the bees both looked and sounded great! the hive frames were covered, and the buzz from inside the hive was really, really loud! We had the numbers, which was a good sign. But how were they with Varroa?

Well, I snapped a few pictures to check them up close later, and guess what I found... or didn't find...
Look at all of that capped honey! Look how pretty these girls look! Look at all of those bees under the excluder! Healthy, Happy Hive!

Look at their little backs. No red dots hanging on there! And look at those wings! Beautiful and well developed! So - I'm not sure if we have a Varroa free hive, but we certainly have healthy and happy bees!

We took our tub of frames into the house and got ready for processing. We don't have a spinning extractor, so we are going to use the scrape and press method. This means simply scraping everything on the frames right into the mesh bag and then suspending it above the five gallon bucket and letting the sweet, sweet liquid gold drizzle down.
Gravity. Much honey. Lotsa wax.

We'll leave that to drain overnight, then give it a good squeeze to get every last drop we can in the morning. So far, it's looking like we've got about two to two and a half gallons in the bucket!

We'll put the wax/honey leftovers in a pot and heat it up. Then dump it into a pan. As it cools, the wax will separate from the honey (hopefully) and we'll be left with some pasteurized honey and a block of beeswax!

That will be for another post though. For today though, we had a fun, educational, and sweet time working with our bees!    

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