Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How Sweet It Is!

Two postings have been in my head that never made it to cyberspace, and today deserves a posting, too, so I'm going to get all out of order and give you the latest news first.

A's Bees is proud to announce the first Worthington harvest. The meadow hives are now in their second season and I expected to be able to take a spring harvest. That usually happens in June, after the early nectar flows from honeysuckle (the damn stuff is good for something!) and the honey locust trees. Like everything else this spring, the honey came early.

When I was looking in my hives Wednesday of last week, Hive 4 had an entire super filled with capped honey. There was good progress in the other hives, too, so I asked to be put on the list to borrow the bee club's extractor. It became available to me late yesterday, so I prepared to make a Memorial Day morning harvest.

My dear husband helped me collect the pieces and parts I would need in the morning. He had an early bicycle ride planned so after cleaning the extractor, we began staging the garage/honey house and planning my strategy. Harvey strapped the extractor to the pillar in the garage that holds up the house. He used his compressor to blow out all the cottonwood fluff and maple tree helicopters that have been accumulating in the garage. He found a disposable drop cloth (very smart move, H.), dragged out a trash can and fashioned a work surface on top of it, readied the harvesting buckets with and without honey gates (taps), filled a bucket with water to deal with sticky hands, cleaned the electric hot knife (old, but new to me) and laid out the cappings scratcher. I decided to use a cardboard nuc box to carry frames from the hives to the garage.

Friend and fellow beekeeper, Susan, wanted to be here, not to help, but to watch. Uh huh, right. She arrived about 8:30AM and we headed to the meadow.  Last fall, after seeing my supers full of capped honey, I was disappointed on harvest day to find that the bees had eaten it all. When I opened Hive 4 and removed the Ross rounds (full of lazy bees who STILL had not built any comb) I pulled out the first frame of honey from the honey super. Not only did my bees eat their stored honey (again!), I discovered that the queen had been way up in that box (far from the bottom two boxes where she is supposed to stay) and laid eggs in the honey super. Four of the frames had large sections of capped brood. While this means more bees for the colony, it is not good for the harvest. I couldn't take those frames to be extracted.

Bees are protective of their honey and their brood.  When honey is harvested, the beekeeper needs to work fast, but calmly, to take frames, brushed and shaken free of bees, to a bee tight space. If they figure out they are being robbed, well, you know what happens to the beekeeper. This is where Susan was really helpful. As soon as I got the frame free of bees, she opened the lid to the nuc and closed it immediately after the frame was inside.  Honey frames in, bees out. The extractor takes 3 frames of honey at a time, so I took only 3 frames from the beeyard.

In the closed garage, I shed my jacket and hood and we got to work with the hot knife, cutting the cappings off the honeycomb.  Slicing off the cappings allows the honey to spin out of the frames when cranking the extractor.  Here I am, cranking. Please, no remarks about being cranky.

These are honey-laden cappings.  To the right is the tip of the electric knife.  The cappings, once drained and clean of stickiness, will go to daughter Ivy for Bzz Balm.

I took the empty, but still sticky frames back to the hive.  The bees will clean out all the remaining honey in the comb and move it down deeper in the hive to store for future meals. Since the bees in Hive 4 were so unhappy with the Ross rounds, I moved that equipment to Hive 1.  Swarm bees are supposed to be less picky so I'm going to give them a chance to make comb honey. I took two honey filled frames from Hive 2 and 1 more from Hive 4 for extraction. There was plenty more honey in Hive 2 but I wanted to leave it to feed the growing colony.

Honey flows out the extractor, passes through a double sieve and collects in the honey bucket. A full bucket holds 60 pounds of honey.

My collection bucket also has a honey gate which I open to fill the 1 pound jars. Here you see the first filled bottles.  When I finished extracting, the honey filled the collection bucket to the handle grip.

Here are 18 jars from my first harvest. The cappings gave me another 2 pounds of honey.  Leftover dribbles went into my honey dipping jar.  Altogether, I wrung out 20 pounds of honey from  6 medium frames, a fine yield.

The honey is very pale yellow and has a light, delicate flavor. Harvey did some googling and learned that very light colored honey is highly prized.  The picture below is of a bottle of my honeys.  The darker honey at the bottom was harvested from my Madison County hive last fall.  The jar is topped off with honey from today's harvest.  I call this my Humboldt Fog jar of honey.  That's cute, but it really shows how honey differs from season to season and by geography.  Honey characteristics are all about where the bees found the nectar.  If I had waited to harvest in late summer, this honey would have been mixed with honey the bees will make later in the season--darker in color and stronger in flavor.

A big concern of which my faithful readers are unaware is that Hives 2 and 3, my other two nuc hives, have been queenless. When I inspected the hives two weeks ago I found lots of bees, lots of honey but absolutely no brood in either hive. It looked like a ghost town on Gunsmoke. Something was very wrong and the queens were gone! It is possible that I crushed them the last time I inspected (not likely times 2) or that the hives had swarmed but none of the clues allowed me to know for sure. What I did know for sure is that Hive 3 had 8 queen cells and Hive 2 had 15. The workers knew that their queens were gone so they started feeding royal jelly to bee eggs to create new queens. Each colony nurtures its queen cells until a queen emerges. She kills the other developing queens (queens do NOT share the throne), takes a mating flight when multiple drones have to find her and mate, thereby making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the colony and she needs to return safely fertilized for life without getting eaten by a bird en route to her hive.  So many things can go awry! Today, I looked closely and, once again, I saw larvae. Hives 2 and 3 are back in business! The colonies are queenright. With the collective wisdom of the colony, they fixed their own problem.

Last Wednesday, when I was hoping to find brood in my struggling hives, I grabbed a hive body and planted my hand right on a bee.  I got a tiny sting through my right goatskin glove, in the fleshy part between the thumb and forefinger.  No big deal, except for the bee.  I always say I don't make the same mistake twice, but that afternoon I did.  A few minutes later I reached for another hive body and squished a bee under my gloved thumb.  I have no one but myself to blame for my stings. I was careless, twice.  No stingers, and preventative Benedryl was already in my system so I had a mild reaction of just a little swelling in the tip of my thumb.   I made it through the harvest with no mishaps.

2012  3
2011  13

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