Saturday, August 30, 2014


Well, it’s finally that time of the year, a first for us, hopefully of many. It’s apparent that our bees didn’t read The Introduction to Bee Keeping book where it said that they should not produce any surplus honey in their first year. We’re sort of happy they didn’t.

We started the morning by pulling the honey supers off the hives. Last week we had condensed them down, taking the empty frames out of the lower supers and replacing them with ones already filled with honey from the ones near the top. We also pulled 10 frames that were totally filled and capped. Well done, little bees. The bees cap the honey when the moisture content is below 18%, which is when the honey is about perfect, and will naturally store with nothing else done to it. They know what they’re doing.

Once the rest of the honey supers were pulled, and the bees (angry bees, they were) were evicted from the frames, we started treating them to get them ready for winter. Varroa mites are one of the new major problems for bees, and they must be treated before they tuck away for winter. These parasites feed on the bees and on the brood, weakening and eventually killing the bees and the hives, especially over the winter. We wanted the honey out of there first, even though the treatment for the bees is not supposed to harm it. It’s a natural, organic treatment that is heated and the vapors are let off in the hives. This will have to be done two more times before they bees are ready for winter.

We then started the fun of extracting honey. With so few hives, we were able to borrow an extractor. I’m not too sure we would want to use this hand-crank one if we had twenty hives to pull honey from, but today it worked well. Thanks, Smiley.

We put the frames where they would warm up. This is a much easier process with them in an area that is above 80F. We then took the caps off, trying a couple different methods. For us, using a warm sharp knife worked best. This exposes the honey in the comb. We then put two frames into the extractor, and start them spinning. It takes 150 turns to pull the honey off each side of the frame using centripetal force. We then turn the frames inside the extractor and do it again. At 300 turns per two frames, ten frames per super honey box, and six honey supers full, we did a LOT of cranking today.

The honey comes out the chute near the bottom of the extractor, to be gathered in a filter bag that pulls out the little pieces of comb that might still be there. It drips into food-grade 5 gallon buckets that are 
sealed up until we are ready to take care of the honey in them. We let it clarify for a day or two then we put it into sterilized jars. We will have a LOT of jars of honey by the end of this week.  

This is what it was all about… well, sort of. The honey tastes wonderful. It won’t be processed or pasteurized, so it will retain all its wonderful healthy and healing properties. Of course, there is an absolute need to test the honey as it comes out of the extractor (and we certainly ended up with sticky enough hands), and it was wonderful. 

We learn more every day, and now we know that when we build our ‘honey shack’ – something on the Technicolor wish list – it will have a sink and running water in it. We may try next year to catch some of the pollen for a while, and we will add some more hives next year. For this one, we need to finish up treating them, and bedding them down after the first frost. Stay tuned, then cross your fingers that they have a good winter. We’ll blog later about how we prepare them for the almost 6 months of inactivity that they will endure, and why it’s such a nerve-wracking time for a beekeeper. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gimme A High Five!!

Wow, we have a lot of catching up to do! It’s been hot and while a number of beekeepers are saying their hives are slowing down and they are supplementing food, we are still doing okay. There are a lot of alfalfa fields around us in bloom now, and apparently bees like sunflowers, and we have a LOT of them. The other thing we have, though, is a bear nosing around, so we’re getting ready to deal with that. For now, we have a radio (talk radio station) playing all night to keep him hopefully away. There are a lot of berries and a ton of fruit on the trees so hopefully he likes that better. It would certainly be easier for him to eat.

Last week we found that Gang Green had only one frame empty, and they were laying lots of babies, so we added a second box to their hive this week. We removed a lot of burr comb at the top and swapped a couple of frames from the bottom to the new top box to encourage them to move up. We shimmed the lid to give them a bit more air movement in the heat, and we will now see how they do. Considering how late the hive was started, we aren’t going to complain.

Pistachio had already made use of their second box, and had only the outside frames left to use. We swapped them to the middle, and this week we added their honey super box. In the intense heat we’ve been having, this is our only hive to beard – they collect in a huge pile stuck to the front of the hive... hanging there like a beard. We’ll try to get pics this week of it.

The Dregs... the poor poor dregs. Last week there was one frame with brood that we moved to the top box, and there was no other activity there. The bottom box had two frames of capped brood. Today we found queen cells on one frame in the bottom box. We also found one frame with a lot – A LOT – of drone cells. Obviously they need a new queen, so there has been no new brood, and there are a lot of empty frames. We changed to a smaller entrance way with them.

The Moody Blues have been busy bees. Last week they had filled all but one frame in their top box, not with brood but with honey. This week, because they were still at it, and because they had a ton of burr comb on top of the hive, we added a honey super for them.

The White Outs last week had seven frames of honey in their honey super, although nothing was capped. Today, like the Moody Blues, they had a lot of burr comb, and they had the honey super just about full, so we added another honey super for them. When we added it, we put it under the first honey super, so they will be more inclined to go to it now.

Team Tangerine – well, everyone has that one that they worry about, and I guess that’s Team Tangerine for us. We had added a honey super already, but last week there was nothing in it. They had four frames of capped larvae in the second box though, so we were hopeful. Today we took a lot of burr comb from the top of the second box. We swapped out a drone frame for a regular frame. They had some capped and uncapped brood, so we moved the outer frames that hadn’t been used yet into the middle. If this hive survives the winter, we will probably be looking for a new Queen for it come spring.

To end on a high note – really high.... high five, in fact – we added a third (yes, THIRD) Honey super to the Mellow Yellows. They are quite mellow, and gentle, for bees, but man, do they work! Last week the top honey super had 5 full frames of honey. The second honey super was full – it weighs over 30 pounds! – and we swapped the two supers around. Today, they had lots of burr comb that absolutely dripped with honey because they only had three frames left unused. Gotta love those Mellow Yellows!