Monday, September 5, 2011

The Mystery of the Vanishing Honey or Who Stole the Sweets?

Today was supposed to be honey harvest day. The last time I opened the hives (3 weeks ago), the frames were loaded with capped honey. I signed up to borrow the extractor from my bee club (COBA) and begged for help from someone to please be here when I attempted my first harvest. Master beekeeper Dana agreed to help me if I promised to help someone else in the future. That was an easy promise to make.

The plan was for Dana to come this morning at 10AM. Good news: the temperature was cool. Bad news: the sky was very gray and had low ceilings. I didn't think it would rain, but I knew that this is not the kind of weather we want when we open the hives. Bees get downright cranky with we open their hives on days that are cloudy, windy or rainy. They like sunshine.

I secured the extractor to the pole that holds up the house in the garage, prepared the smoker to fire it up, schlepped my tools out to the hives and staged the equipment just so. And Dana declared a delay due to the weather. We postponed and decided to make a decision at 12:30. By then, the ceilings had lifted. The sun was nowhere to be found but we decided to go for it. Dana arrived and I suited up.

Notice that Dana and I do not appear to be dressed for the same party. I was covered from head to toe (boots this time!) and Dana was wearing well-loved pants and a sweatshirt. No veil. No gloves. No jacket. In this picture, we are looking at a frame from Hive 3. We saw bees. We saw larvae. We saw capped larvae. We did not see capped honey.

Dana pulled out more frames. I bent over for a closer look. No capped honey.

We closed up the hive and moved on to Hive 1, my poster child.

About this time, Harvey, who had been playing the role of photographer, got stung on the back of the neck, so he retreated to the safety of the kitchen.

Dana and I looked in Hive 2, just because. I knew I would not be taking honey from this hive as those girls just weren't as far along. Three weeks ago, Hive 1, currently 5 boxes tall, had one super completely filled with capped honey. Today, plenty of bees and larvae, but empty comb where the honey had been.

I fed a pollen substitute patty to each colony to help them maintain their vigor. We removed one super from Hive 1, gathered our stuff and headed back to the garage, sans honey. Being a master beekeeper, Dana was not surprised that we had not found honey. Being a newbie, I was perplexed. I knew those hives were loaded with capped honey. I saw it myself and that's why I added the supers. Dana had asked me more than once how long it had been since I had examined the hives. He knew, based on the variety of bees (Italian), the very hot, dry weather and the fact that there isn't much nectar available in August, that my girls would have been dedicating themselves to raising brood which requires them to use lots of honey to feed themselves. Since there was no nectar to convert to honey, they ate what they had been storing for months.

What I should have done was to harvest honey when I saw that it was plentiful 3 weeks ago. Then I could have been feeding them sugar water like I did when the hives were first established in April and May. The bees would have used that "honey" for nourishment and the last flowers of the summer, Autumn Joy sedum and goldenrod, would have provided nectar for late honey.

This has been a tough year for the bees. Our May was drenched with rain which kept the bees from foraging and knocked the pollen out of the trees and blooming flowers. Our July and August were hot and dry and the plants did not have much nectar.

We have little expectation for honey yields from newly established hives. We hope for a vigorous, vibrant population of bees and if we get a little honey, sweet! I know my hive in Madison County had some honey harvested from it in June. I wonder if there will be a late summer harvest.

Today, I beat the reaper. Sting count remains at 11.

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