Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Robbery, Carnage, Mayhem



Before I get to the carnage and mayhem, I will write about the sweet harvest.  This happens to be the linear order of what occurred.  I intended to leave Hive 1 alone on this harvest day because of the piggyback arrangement with the weak hive.  I knew Hive 4 had a full honey super when Susan opened it a week earlier so that was the place to start.  Last year, a full super in this same hive location (different bees) turned into a disappointment when I opened the hive for harvest only to find that the bees had eaten all their honey. True, it was theirs, but I was astounded to discover that they didn't leave even one sticky drop for me.

Earlier in the week I saw that some of the frames had capped brood, but when I examined the frames, there was only wall to wall capped honey.  The bees had emerged, a good thing because I don't want brood in the honey.  I don't know what the queen was thinking, going way up in the top super to lay eggs.  She is supposed to stay in the bottom two boxes.  Apparently, she didn't get that memo. I took nine frames of honey from this hive and headed to the garage where Harvey had set up the extractor. The bees were so very calm in spite of the fact that I was robbing their honey.

Harvey went next door so the neighbors could watch the harvest.  Jenn came over with her two oldest, ages six and eight or so.  They have eaten this honey but wouldn't dip their fingers into the comb to taste. All kids know that food comes from the grocery store, not from neighbors' garages. They did both enjoy taking turns cranking the extractor and they got a crash course from me in bee fundamentals. Always a teacher.  Harvey was a big help and wielded the hot knife, slicing the caps off the comb. The whole harvest runs better with help than when I did it alone.

I replaced the empty frames in the hive and opened Hive 2.  There were four frames with capped honey. One frame only had capped honey on one side but the cells on the other side were empty and dry, so I included it in the harvest.  Many other frames had honey, some capped, some not.  It is easy to see the glistening honey in the uncapped cells, and tempting to take it, but the moisture content of the uncapped honey is too high and if it is harvested, it will mold. There is a fancy gizmo that can measure the moisture content so the beekeeper knows if she should take the honey, but an even easier way to tell is to trust the bees.  They take nectar from the flowers, pass it to other bees who add magic enzymes and ultimately it is stored in cells.  The bees fan the honey with their wings which evaporates the moisture.  When the honey is ready, they secrete wax and cap the cells.

All in all, we harvested 30 pounds of beautiful, sweet honey.  It is darker than the spring honey but lighter than last year's fall honey. The later in the season, the darker, and stronger tasting the honey. This weekend, when I reorganize Hive 3, I will harvest Hive 1 and check Hive 2 again.  I am hoping that the girls will have capped more of the honey that wasn't quite ready last week. It's a shame that all the hives couldn't be harvested at once because the work is messy and the cleanup is, too. Since Harvey did the bottle filling, this harvest was far less messy than when I did it myself in June. He has a steady hand for filling and wasted very little.

About the robbery, carnage and mayhem...

video

When the cappings are trimmed off the frames, honey oozes out of the cells and drops into a container that catches both.  This is a slushy, sticky mess of wax bits and honey and we pushed the cappings to one side of the bin and tilted it to let the honey pool.  After straining, we filled a one-pound bottle with this honey but there was plenty more trapped in the bits.  When we were finished filling the main harvest, we put these still wet cappings into the strainer and let them drain. There are solar devices that melt the wax and separate the honey but I don't have one of those. I decided to spread the cappings out on foil and let the bees come and get it. I put the foil on the new stone counter on our deck. They would take the honey just like they collect nectar from flowers and return it to the hive. I tried this last spring but the bees never really showed an interest in it.  That was then. After this very hot, dry summer, the bees were hungry for the easy food. Within 10 minutes, the deck was zooming with bees. They were all over the cappings, all over the deck, banging into the windows and door.  We're talking THOUSANDS of bees.  It wasn't safe to go out the back door. This was what is called robbing and it was mighty to behold. There were bees locked in mortal combat. There were maimed bodies on the deck, dead and dying.  Also at the feast were bumblebees and two kinds of wasps. Hours later, as dusk approached, it had calmed from frenzy to merely cranky and I went out to take pictures. The video is a Sunday school picnic compared to the earlier scene.  Also in the video is the bin that held the cappings. I knew if I put it out for the girls to clean up there would not be a bit of stickiness left.  They did a great job.





The next day I swept up at least 100 dead bees.   Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea.

A big bowl full of only slightly tacky cappings.  Pure beeswax.

STING COUNT:
2012  4
2011  13





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