The Healthy Honeybee

Learning about Beekeeping

here we go again

.

harvesting honey

I’m harvesting honey today. The hard way. Like last time. That’s what happens when you  let the bees build their own foundation comb. Since the comb is built mostly perpendicular to the frames, I basically need to cut it out and mash it to get the honey out. Beeswax candles, anyone? I’m generating way more beeswax from this honey harvesting event than normal beekeepers would. Normal beekeepers, I’m told, use plastic or wax foundation in their honey supers so that the bees will build where they’re supposed to. Hm.

Well. I wanted to try a different technique that I heard about. I got mixed results. One of my honey supers has perfectly straight honeycomb built in the frames as it should be. The other, well, here’s a cross-section of one of the frames. Notice the honeycomb is completely perpendicular:

90 degree honey

This is why I’m mashing and straining and waiting and THEN filtering. Sigh.

.

what not to do

.

tea and honeycomb

I made myself a cup of garden tea this morning, and I thought it would be a great idea to throw in a bit of honeycomb, since I’ve got two honey supers sitting in my kitchen. I grabbed my trusty hive tool and sliced off a bit of comb to throw in, and mixed it all up.

Well.

Not the best idea.

I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you like flecks of wax in your tea. Oops. I ended up straining it a few times, and did drink it with tiny particles floating in it. Live and learn.

.

fire power

.

propane torch

After Thursday’s fiasco, I wanted to make sure I could light a good fire in my smoker no matter what. So – I borrowed a fire tool from my hubby. Propane torch, complete with sparker. No need for matches, even…. very nice piece of equipment. It did a great job of lighting my smoker – look at that smoke:

smoking smoker

These pictures are from yesterday, when I went to get the honey supers. I have two mostly-full supers now sitting in my kitchen waiting for me to harvest the honey from them. One will need to be harvested like the first time, and the other, I think I will actually be able to use a honey extractor for!! I’ll keep you posted.

.

escape with no re-entry

.

bee escapes

I went for a visit to the beeyard yesterday at sunset. It’s probably the most unromantic place you could think of, what with all the buzzing and stinging and such. The sunset was nice but not memorable. The bees, however, were cranky (in a memorable sort of way). Go figure – I’m there to separate them from the product of their summer labours, and they’re not happy about it.

I opened the first hive to find a layer of bees under the top cover, sitting poised with their stingers in the air – straight up – and already angry at the intrusion. AND – my smoker wasn’t working very well. AND – since I had my children in the van, I didn’t want to walk back to the van, open it up, and gather more fire and fuel for the smoker. I couldn’t risk bees entering the van and making the evening more memorable than it already was. So I struggled along with my smokeless smoker, making the bees more and more angry as I took off the honey supers to put the bee escape between the honey and the rest of the hive.

The bee escapes can be seen in the photo above. The holes in the middle with screen covering them are for ventilation, and the white bits are exits. The bees can get out of the honey supers but they can’t get back in. Here’s a photo of one of the exits taken apart:

bee escape apart

The bees crawl down through the hole, then past the metal strips to get out. They can’t get back in again due to the angle of the metal strips and the size of the opening. It works well; that’s what I used for my first honey harvest – the bee escape for that one was borrowed from Ken, my beekeeping mentor. The two in the photo above were made by me, and not nearly as nicely made as Ken’s. I had fun using the router though.

The next step is to wait a few days until the bees have cleared out. After that I will go back and take the honey supers off of the hives. From there, the honey is collected and filtered and jarred and sold!

.

don’t wash your hive tool

.

makeshift hive tool

This here is a scrap piece of metal I found in my ‘bee bag’ that holds my various beekeeping tools. It’s a good thing it was there, because I somehow ended up out at the hives today without my trusty hive tool.

hive tool

How did I end up out there without my hive tool, you ask? Well, the last time I used it was in my kitchen, to pry apart the frames of honey as I was harvesting it. It got so sticky that I decided to wash it when I did the dishes. Great idea in theory. Real life, however, dictates disaster with any deviation from the norm. Usually the hive tool is in my bee bag. Usually I don’t have to think about where I left it last – in this case on the kitchen counter – because it never leaves the bag unless I’m working with the hives. Usually does not mean always, as I found out today.

It’s a good thing that piece of metal was in my bag. As it was, the white piece of an old curtain rod was not strong enough to pry apart boxes, but I could take off the inner covers and check how the honey is progressing. It’s also a good thing that checking the honey was the only job I had planned for this trip.

Live and learn, as always.

.

first honey harvest

.

cutting off comb

Since I had a super full of crazy curvy comb – that can happen when you don’t use foundation – I couldn’t just pop my honey frames in an extractor and give them a spin. First, I had to cut the comb from the frames. I used the wires in the frames as a guide, so it all came out in strips.

comb in the pot

Then, I smashed it so the honey would be released from the cells,

smushed comb

and let it drip out the bottom into the pot below….

dripping honey

….overnight.

honey cocoon

Repeated the process, down to the very last crazy curvy comb.

crazy comb

Now I have roughly two pots of coarse-filter honey that still needs to be fine-filtered, and a pot of beeswax with some residual honey on it.

honey haul

Next steps are filtering the honey and putting it in jars (or something else, other than my 3 big pots!). And melting the beeswax to release more honey and maybe make some candles.

.

a cork for my smoke hole

.

smoker with grass

Here’s what my smoker looks like when I’m done with it.

I’m not too interested in being smoked out of my vehicle on the ride home, so I stop up the hole with some of the long grass in the field around the beehives. Today I went to take off a super full of honey, and then went to drop off the bee escape (see previous post) that Ken let me borrow. I’m sure he’ll be needing it soon, as he has about 21 hives and counting. (Don’t tell his wife.) Anyway, I guess most people use corks to plug up their smokers when they’re done. Makes sense – sounds efficient and quick. I kinda like this method, though – it’s pretty. In a grassy sort of way.

.

bee lifeguard

.

pool bee

I was filling my backyard pool today (thanks Bianca!) and decided to do a bit of skimming. I guess this gal was thirsty – or maybe got too hot? – she showed up on the skimmer. Then I started noticing that there was more than one bee in the pool…. hmmm….

The rain today should give them more options for places to get water, so they don’t have to drown in my pool.

Tomorrow I should be going to check on the honey situation – today was too risky in terms of when it might start raining, so I decided to put it off.

.

bee escape

.

super with bee escape

Here’s a honey super (the box on top), almost sealed up. It’s rigged so the bees can get out of it, but not into it. This is the box with the curvy comb that I want to take the honey out of:

curvy comb

Setting up the bee escape and waiting for a few days allows the beekeeper to come back and take the box of honey without having to shake out the bees and piss them off. Or use a bee brush on the frames, which I can’t do anyway since the comb is not actually in the individual frames. It’s kind of meandering through the honey super. So I need a bee escape. And I need to go check it soon, since it’s been on there for a bit.

Here’s a pic of the escape:

bee escape

The large holes have screens on them, in case you can’t see it. The white ovals with holes are where the bees can exit through to the bottom super and then are not able to get back up. Here’s why:

This is one of the plastic parts taken apart. Inside it has little metal bits that allow the bee to get out but then it can’t pry them apart from the other direction to get back into the honey super. Kind of like a lobster trap.

Anyway, hopefully you’ll be hearing more soon about getting the honey from the honey super!

.

a taste of honey

.

honey filter

I’ve filtered my first half-cup of honey through this old food mill that belonged to my Grandma – see the honeycomb in the cone – and now I just want to look at it! I’ve tasted it, but that’s all. It’s a very light yellow – here’s the comparison to Ken’s:

honey comparison

It tastes different too. It would be nice to know what flowers the nectar came from! This honey came from scrapings between my two brood boxes – I was in there anyway, looking at the brood frames, and this was just burr comb – honeycomb built between frames – and it needed to be scraped off. It was full of bees, too. I left it in the plastic margarine tub for a few days before I opened the tub to filter the honey!

So delicious.

And still too wonderful to eat.

Yet.

.