I have now experienced the rewards of beekeeping. This past week was the gathering of the honey. Big thanks to Emily Lindell (Nerdzilla) and Barb Magnuson for making this job so easy. It’s great to have fellow beekeepers who can show you the ropes.
Some call it “robbing” and I guess that technically is what I’ve done. But I like to think that I offered the bees something in return… that there was somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. I did protect their home from bears and other larger intruders with an electric fence. I provided them with frames of comb giving them a jump start on their honeymaking operation – other bees must first create their comb and then fill it with honey. I switched the hives thinking the strong colony would give the weak colony a boost in population. And while my efforts were futile with the weak hive of the two I purchased, I did provide extra brood frames (from the strong hive) to help increase their bee population. It was definitely a sad day when I realized that the weak hive was just fading away and there was nothing more I could do to help. But I still had one good hive!
Harvest day began awful cold and cloudy… I figured I would call my bee guy to ask about gathering any of the honey in the hive bodies. He wasn’t home so I’d have to figure it out on my own. I thought I’d call back later with more questions.
I went out about 9:45 and asked the sun to come out. By 10:30, she was shining! At 11, I texted Nerd (my beekeeper friend who was helping me gather honey) that we had full sun. She arrived a short while later and we began our work.
Our first task was setting the fume board which has a stench that pushes the bees downward from the supers. Barb Magnuson, Nerd’s Beekeeping Mentor, had loaned us the fume boards and they worked like a charm. We were soon able to pull the top super from the hive and see if it was bee-free. Pretty good but a dozen or so bees made our decision to pull each frame separately. We pulled each frame from the super to a nearby empty super box that we had prepped so we could cover it once we pulled the frames. Once we pulled all the frames, we could then carry the super to the truck where we would again have it covered to prevent the bees from finding it. The first super was pulled with no “Oh, Shit” moments – in bee world, this means no one was stung. We got it to the truck and covered it with towels to keep curious bees from finding it.
We pulled the second super and found it to be almost empty. Hmmm. A month ago, this hive was FULL of necter. Now the super I added is showing almost no activity. This was discouraging. 😦
What we soon realized was that the wasps were robbing honey faster than we could and the hive did not appear to have a new queen in place. We determined this hive was not going to survive the winter. It was tough for me as I had so hoped to over-winter my bees. Earlier in the summer, I thought this colony would be strong enough. I had already let go the other colony which had pretty much collapsed. But, before this day of harvest, I was still hopeful for this colony.
I had worried a couple months back when it appeared they were losing their queen, I hoped they could recover. The bees had produced several queen cells ~ so it seemed they knew they needed a new queen. However, a fellow beekeeper visited about six weeks ago and, thinking a queen cell was a “bad” thing and not being aware that the colony might be in need of a queen, he unfortunately grabbed the about-to-produce-a-queen cell and squeezed it. Inside was a nearly fully developed queen bee. I was pretty devastated, especially as we continued to look through the hive and soon realized it didn’t appear to have a queen in sight. Perhaps we should have not acted in haste. Maybe we should have left the bees their new queen. They say that one of the worst things for bees are… beekeepers. Some friends swear by just leaving them to their business and simply adding supers, not “managing” at all. I’m thinking this is perhaps the best program for beekeeping. Next year, I will likely do less checking.
So, with hopes dashed, I continued through the harvest trying to keep my chin up. I was somewhat consoled by both Nerd and Barb commenting that getting a new queen that late in the year likely would not have allowed this hive to survive. Perhaps there is nothing I could have done to help this colony make it to winter. And I guess the up side is that I will not have to babysit and feed this colony through the cold months. And I will have all winter to fix up the equipment and prepare for a new season.
If you want to see a video… click here –> honey harvest. I hope to have a link there to the extraction process as well soon. Video editing takes SO LONG!!
Once we had all my harvestable frames, we headed to Nerd’s to pick up her six supers and then to Barb’s for extraction. What a thrill to see Barb’s operation! An amazing set-up for extracting honey and preventing bee infiltration. Nerd and Barb entertained Dan and me with stories of the innovations over the years and previous years antics, none of which we had today.
It seems each year there is a new idea like taping the windows over with plastic which this year meant we had ZERO need for the vacuum to suck up infiltrating bees. Previous improvements include a kick-stand on the bottom uncapping bucket to allow for drainage and the use of gated buckets, which really help with filtering and bottling. And there is a new toy, I mean TOOL, each year as well. This year it was a hook scale so we could weigh our honey buckets. My favorite tool was the refractometer which measures the moisture in the honey. More on that later.
We pulled in our supers and hive bodies on trolleys (another innovation from a previous year’s work) and Nerd’s were rolled in first. She was insisting that we do my honey first, in case Dan and I got bored and wanted to leave before her honey was processed. But I’m glad we did her honey first. It was a joy to see her harvest – her best yet it turns out – which was made up of mostly perfectly capped, beautiful honey. It was a dream to uncap with the hot knife. It flowed and filled buckets quickly. And it was about 15.6 on the refractometer.
The refractometer is a tool that measures moisture content. Barb loaded a bit of honey in the test area and then we all took a look through the eyepiece. There is a scale inside that shows the reading and anything below 17 is good, meaning the honey will not ferment. Nerd had a few necter frames which we bucketed separately but even that was beautiful stuff. It tested about 20.2 which means she will need to use it quickly – or evaporate it down to the proper level.
We celebrated Nerd’s amazing harvest – 194# – her best ever!! She said her best year to date was 130#. Well done, especially since she didn’t think she would have any honey at the end of June. Then we moved on to my hive body frames first.
I was horrified at the difference. Nerd assured me that the hive bodies are always ugly because of all the bee traffic on them. They are the “living room” of the hive. So I mostly scrubbed through the capped honey on the hive body frames as they were not really knifeable. The comb was old, dark, uneven. The wax was heavy and thick. There was one frame that was in such bad shape it was literally just nails for the ears. That frame is now trashed – sitting outside the hive for bees to clean. I will burn it later. At least we didn’t have to deal with brood as we left all those frames in the two hive bodies back at the Harn.
Nerd and Barb were really encouraging as I worked my way through the ugly hive comb. They spun it in double batches – for large frames, you load the frames (Top to the Left) and spin, then flip them and spin again. This removes the honey from each side separately. The smaller super frames go in sideways and thus get spun for both sides at the same time. The bucket indeed was filling and, even though it looked pretty dark, the honey was light coming from the extractor. And it tasted nice. I was surprised at how much honey we ended up having. We extracted 31# from the hive body frames! And it tested at 17 so it should be good to go.
I was able to complete opening of all my super frames before the hive body frames were spun. These knifed better and some required no uncapping at all. The wax was newer in these and cleaner as well. We ended up cleaning the whole system between my hive body frames and the super frames, which I believe was a good idea. In the end we got another 30#, though this high moisture content nectar (20.2) will have to be evaporated to become honey.
In the end, I am so glad to have had this experience. The pulling of the honey frames – OK, Robbing! – was much easier than I expected. Extracting honey was a lot more constant work than I thought – especially since Nerd and I had both Dan and Barb helping. There was not nearly enough time for snacking! 🙂 But we did get some bites in which Nerd says was good as we’d basically worked through two meals, lunch and dinner. On the other hand, it was a lot less sticky than I expected. I think this is due in large part to Barb’s well-designed extraction lab.
After all was done, we took Nerd and her stuff home and headed back to the Harn with our bittersweet results. We still have to filter and evaporate the honey. And while we will have no bees to winter over to spring, we did get some honey. Most importantly, we gained a lot of experience.
Here’s a link for the Honey Extraction video: https://youtu.be/ampvs8BuLA8