Tag Archives: honey

Beehive reduction

It’s that time, time to reduce the size of the beehive stacks in preparation for winter, and steal their honey.

I hate it.

I don’t like taking their honey, and I don’t like the degree of disruption it causes, nor the death.  In the process of taking the hives all apart, robber bees come from the other hives and there are disputes and battles to the death.  Bees are very good at killing each other and the bee bodies pile up.  I don’t know how to mitigate this yet.

It has to be done, though.  The hives need to be in a compact space packed with full frames of honey for the winter.  It’s not heat efficient to be in a silo.

Pansy:Late afternoon, not finished sorting frames, and a bridge for the bees to get back to their door.They aren’t interested in going home though, they are in a frenzy of emergency cleanup operation, trying to save the honey that is suddenly outside their house.  It’s mayhem.

After taking the frames I’m keeping and sweeping them free of bees (time consuming, multi-stage process), they had three partials to clean up and move the honey back inside.  They will probably be at that most of today.

Pansy has the most vitality of the hives.  Despite swarming twice (and I lost one), she has been reproducing like crazy and building fast.  Marigold and Sunflower, this year’s swarm/split hives, all done.  They adjusted well, minimal death.  Marigold is maybe a little frustrated, bearding on the front like they don’t have enough space (they do), and they aren’t letting go of that completely empty frame yet, even at night.

Three down, one to go:I saved the doozy for last.

Today I get into the skyscraper.  This is Violet, my oldest hive, who has never swarmed (I split her to Sunflower this year).  Pansy is swarmy, Violet refuses, no matter how big she gets.   She’s also a bit crankier than the other three hives, less patience.  I expect she’ll winter in three supers, but I guess I’ll find out today.

The weather is perfect this week, warm enough at night for bees caught outside on salvage missions to survive.  The long term forecast says this is my last chance.  Now the bees will be contracting, working closer to home on final stockpiling, and producing their last brood for their winter population.  I hope there’s a warm spell in October too, but you never know anymore.

The bees are working like they’ve had coffee

After the frost we’ve had a warm spell, and the bees are going so hard.  It’s their last charge to get their stores in.  I feel bad now taking their honey, but they have more than enough, at least the big hives Pansy and Violet do.The other pollinators in the giant wasp nest have made their home bigger than ever.  I’m terrified of them, although they’ve only stung me once, for banging on the wall, and I am looking forward to a long wasp-free future. 

Bee day

I was reducing the hives to get ready for winter (taking supers off for their more efficient winter acccomodation, which usually means taking honey off too.  However, Sunflower is the hive that split, and they did not have as much honey as I hoped.  I’m not entirely sure they have enough for themselves for the winter, and I debated bringing them down to one super, but I left them in two.

Pansy, the new hive, had the tidiest little house.  Just perfectly arranged, no burr comb.  Quite a bit of brood.  They’ve been systematically at work since being installed.

Nobody was excited about being sugared, and Sunflower had had it with me by the time I was almost done.  Thump thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthump  on my head.  I killed only one bee that I know of (right at the beginning of opening Pansy- I feel so bad whenever I kill a bee that was just busy going about her business).  I got a few stings.  They always sting the top of my thumbs (better than my fingertips), so now my hands look like they have a toothache.  The one on the left hand started to run around her stinger, so I thought she was going to spin out, but then she chose to pull out her stinger. I wonder why they make that suicide call.  If it has to do with the skin they’re stuck in that they think they can’t detach from it (maybe my thumbs are tough),  or what.  I’m pretty good with the stings so that I don’t flinch and flick them off, but I do keep working.

It’s a bit late for this step, but I was sick and it’s been raining, and there’s a week of nice warm weather ahead (and a long warm fall, supposedly).  What is late is their bee syrup (it was raining!), and while I was cooking it, bees were coming in the house.  Let’s have it.  It’s about time.

I fancied that the corks were disappearingSomething’s eating them!  They’re definitely disappearing.  What is gnawing on them?  Chipmunks, I presume.  Rotten thieves.

 

Bee skyscraper

The old bees (on their third summer) are not dividing.  I added a fifth super in July.  It’s not like five full size supers is unheard of, but it’s tall!  I thought they were going to split this year, and I’ve had inviting accommodations all set up, should they feel like swarming.  They didn’t.

Now they likely aren’t going to, since it’s too late to set up housekeeping and build up honey stores before the winter.  So that’s a huge hive.  I guess that means they’re happy. They may winter in three supers this year.  Next year, they’ll surely split.

It’s tall!  I can’t see into the lounge to check on their syrup, I can’t lift the lid, and I can’t see in if I do, without a ladder.  And working off a ladder is terribly hard.  I had my first taste of it installing the fifth super, and wow, I kind of wish I’d opted for mixing small and full supers.  Moving heavy weight very slowly and smoothly to not crush bees, in a bee suit, is quite a workout – I was dripping, and shaking.

 

Newbees

Three weeks ago I got a second hive of bees.  Yes, late in the year, but they were from my bee guru, and he was confident I could take them through the winter by putting the syrup to them hard. 

I brought them home in the night, seatbelted in on the front seat.  They were very quiet.  I set them in place on the pre-established base of the hive, with the lid right on top of the nuc box.

First thing in the morning, there was a bee walking about, investigating.  Later in the day, there were many bees flying around, mostly backwards, getting their bearings (they leave the hive backwards and hover around a bit, getting a visual impression of the hive’s location, before they leave to work), and some already hard at it, carting in pollen.

I transferred them to the super, but because these nuc boxes have slots in the bottom to prevent frames from clanking around, I couldn’t knock the loose bees out into the hive.  I had to leave it leaned up against.

The bees inside were all confused, and slowly moved up the box as a group.  Where’d everybody go?  Gravity just changed direction too.

Since these bees were unexpected and I didn’t have time to make a batch of bee syrup the first day, I opened a jar of wax and honey from last year and set it in the lounge.  Just to get them through that night.

The few jars of wax I have are quite solid, with a bit of honey precipitated out on the bottom.  I pushed my finger down the side of the wax chunk so they could get at some of the honey, but it wasn’t soft enough to ooze out.

Next day when I went in to give them syrup- WHOA!  They cleaned out that jar of wax.  In 24 hrs.

In fact, they made quite a mess.  Wax flakes everywhere.  I took the dry jar out and gave them syrup.

Inside the bee lounge (eke)

Inside the first beehive, the art studio is still going strong.

They continue to sculpt the chunks of burr comb and wax that I drop in there to their liking, but don’t do anything with it. Just art.

OPENING THE HIVE

May 13

I got my first chance to get into the hive.  We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super.  They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.

 

 

Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.

 

Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit.  They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t.  My bees are so laid-back).

The hive´s doing very well.  Saw the queen – she´s so huge.  Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division.  They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old.  I´m leaving that alone.  Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.

It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.

I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.

Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames.  A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied. 

Putting it back together now.  

The bee lounge cleaned off, with their ongoing art installation, now with new burr comb t play with.

Three stories tall now.  No stings, no crushed bees.  A good hive opening.  I didn´t even get thumped on the head.

Cleaner Bees

I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.

Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well.  Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.

The frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

Honey part two

The Eastern Seaboard of North America is getting snowed on tonight.  Mostly it’s a question of how much snow are we getting? In our particular spot the forecast is “not as much as some”.   It started about five hours ago here, and a thick blanket has already settled on the world.   Outside the light flakes are floating straight down and piling up with determination, and are predicted to keep at it for another 12 hours.  So on this snowy night, let’s visit some stored sunshine from earlier this year:

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After the honey extraction comes filtration.  Have to get out all the bee wings, wax caps and bits of leaves.

See my super high-tech filtration system.

Wow, it takes a long time!  The honey has to be warm enough to flow, but not too warm, then it’s not raw any more.

The wax is something else.  It acts like glue gumming up everything, especially your filter fabric, but if you can leave it set long enough, it almost hardens into a block sitting on top of the liquid honey that settles out from it.  I have about a one pound chunk of wax, sticky with honey and kind of dirty, from my first year’s honey operation.

My fancy setup worked, but it was pretty clearly less than ideal! Embroidery hoop, sewing pins, nylon mesh, and rigid styrofoam blocks.

Next time (there’s always a mythical next time when everything will be better), I’m going to have all the honey out of the extractor in one large vessel, and filter/fill it into gift/sale ready jars in one step.

Aha!  I just figured it out! A bucket with a tap at the bottom.  The wax will float to the top.  Decant the honey from the bottom, and there will be little wax to deal with;  the minor other detritus will filter out easily.

 

Honey!

I harvested (stole) honey from my bees this year.  How exciting!

They filled four supers this year, I took two, and they’ll winter in two.  This is my first “harvesting”, as I took no honey last year.  It was a revelation, also known as a comedy of ignorance.

First I had to get the supers off the hive.  I had no idea how to do this, so I made the best of it, and it worked.  Well, I think the right thing to do is put a one way valve thingy between the supers to move all the bees into the lower levels.  I took them off in the afternoon, first lifting several frames out of each box (they are SO heavy.  I should have gone with  short boxes) until I could lift each box down. I also shuffled frames around, to make sure they had only frames fat with honey in their wintering boxes.

Then in the interest of putting the bees back into the hive, I took each of the frames I was going to keep for honey, held it over the open hive, and gently brushed the bees off with the bee brush.

Ooooo, they HATE the bee brush.  They go mad trying to sting it, burrowing into the bristles with rage.  This method put many of the bees back into the hive, but it was obvious I was never going to get all of them back.

Also this took a long time.  The hive was open for a goodly length of time, and it’s all very disruptive.  My bees are so nice.  They hardly sting me, and they’re staying very organized, only storing honey and not brooding in the upper storeys.  But still, they were losing their patience, especially with that @#$% bee brush!

So I left the boxes, and frames I was taking, outside until dark.  Just sitting there next to the hive.   It worked like magic!  Almost all the bees returned to the hive at dark, leaving the frames of honey behind.  At dark I went to get them, putting the frames into a big Rubbermaid one at a time.  Each bee I found that had got caught out too late I put back into the hive doorstep.  Bee casualties of the day: 2 (one sting).  Not bad.  This actually worked so well I’ll probably do it like this again.

Then I took the honey over to my neighbour’s extractor, another thing I’d never seen.  It holds four frames at a time and centrifuges the honey out, which drips down the walls of the cylindrical chamber, to run out a tap at the bottom.  Wow.

First you must artfully slice off the wax caps with a hot knife (“What’s that?” I said – luckily, he had one), then drop each frame into the frame-holding basket in the extractor.

It’s time-consuming!  Slicing off the wax, corralling the stray drips and mess (all contained in the same Rubbermaids, which will be returned to the bees to clean up – zero waste), and finessing the extractor.  The extractor is revved up slowly, then you flip the frames and run it again to get the honey off the other side of each frame.  It’s amazing.  The frames come out feather-light, all the comb intact.

When they were all done we cracked the tap and started filling jars.  I knew out of two supers I had a few serious bricks of honey, but I also had a half-dozen totally empty frames (from the sides of the supers), and several partials.  I wasn’t expecting much from my two not-full supers.  I was hoping to get 6 half-pints to give away for Xmas.

WELL!  The honey started flowing, and kept flowing.  I filled all the jars I had, and then he had to round some up.  An astounding (to me) amount of honey.  The only thing I expected to need, that I brought, was a spatula.

Also, I was under the impression that when you open the tap, store-ready honey comes flowing out.  Nope.  There are hundreds of wax caps and chips, some debris, and the odd dead bee that gets centrifuged out of the frames.  Filtering is a second process (that I haven’t done yet).  The right thing to do is to decant the honey into a big vessel or bucket, and then strain it later into giveaway ready jars.

After a rest, all the wax floats to the top of the honey so I’ll probably skim it off and then strain.

Naturally, I completely forgot to take any pictures until nearly the last jar was full, and then found I had only my phone, with a fogged up camera.  Yay!