Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honey Harvest

The honey has been harvested! This truly was an exciting experience for us. We were trying to not let our hopes get up, but our bees outdid themselves. "Beekeeping For Dummies" said not to expect a honey harvest the first year because you start with such a small population of bees and no preexisting comb- the bees are starting with absolutely nothing. When you think of all that our bees have accomplished in just a few months it is remarkable.

The harvest actually took place a while ago and I have just been to busy to get this blog updated since then. About the middle of September I finally got around to pulling the supers from on top of the deep hive bodies. The question is "How do you get the supers off without getting all the bees inside of them?" We decided to go with a product called Bee Quick applied to a fume board. The principle is that you spray the Bee Quick, an almond oil containing solution, onto the felt covered surface of a fume board. The bees apparently can't stand the smell of almond oil so when you remove the top cover from the hive, place the fume board on the top super with the felt/Bee Quick side down, the bees move down into the next super. In my inexperience I figured that I didn't need to buy a fume board- I could just glue felt to one side of a piece of plywood and use that for a fume board. I soon learned that this didn't work very well. You see, fume boards are made of metal and need to heat up in the sun before applying the bee quick so the bee quick can actually vaporize in the hive and push the bees down. My homemade fume board only pushed about half of the bees out of the supers.

Here are is the ineffective fumeboard on top of one of the hives.

Here are the four supers laid out on the basketball court waiting to be taken inside. They can't be seen in this photo but there were still a lot of bees on the frames. As evening approached and temperatures started to cool a little bit I pulled out each frame one at a time, carried it over to the hives, and shook the bees off in front of the hives. I then had to rush it in the house before any bees landed back on it. With ten frames in each super, this was a long process. We ended up with several bees inside the house as well. I am thinking of getting a bee escape to use next year. A bee escape is a board you put in between the boxes. They are easy for the bees to move down but difficult for the bees to find the entrance to move back up. It takes longer to clear a super of bees but I hear that they are pretty effective.

Once the supers were down in the basement tucked away in the store room, I put the top feeders loaded up with sugar syrup back on the hives so the bees could store up enough food to get them through the winter. I added a little fumigillin to the sugar syrup to prophylactically treat for bacterial infections that can sometimes afflict bees.

We ordered a three frame tangential extractor from Mann Lake which arrived about a week after the supers were removed from the hives. Extractors remove honey from the frames by spinning the frames inside the barrel shaped body of the extractor. Tangential extractors have the plane of the frames running tangentially to the extractor (makes sense) and must be turned around after the first side is extracted. Radial extractors have the plane of the frames running radially like spokes in the extractor and will extract both sides of the frames at the same time. Our tangential model was a little cheaper than the radial models.

We decided at the last minute to extract on a Saturday evening and at about 7:00 set up the extractor in the kitchen. The following pictures give an idea of how things went.
Here I am uncapping a frame of honey. As the honey in the hives is "ripened" the bees cover it up with a layer of wax caps. Those caps have to be removed before the honey can be extracted. You can buy heated or unheated uncapping knives for this job. Unheated knives still have to be heated in warm water or it tends to tear up the comb. We tried using a bread knife heated in warm water- but that didn't work so well so we borrowed an uncapping knife from a friend. The process went much more smoothly after that.

As you remove the caps from the frames you remove a significant amount of honey with them. We attached a queen excluder to the top of a plastic bin to allow the honey to drain off the caps.

Here is the whole set up. The uncapped frames go in the extractor and I crank on the yellow handle on top of the lid. The honey spins out of the comb, runs down the sides of the extractor, and out the honey gate at the bottom.

The honey runs out the honey gate and through a couple of filters to remove the bits of wax and bee parts. It is collected in a bucket with another honey gate at the bottom. The filters have to be cleaned periodically during this process or they clog up and everything slows way down. After about 6 hours of uncapping, extracting, and filtering we ended up with 75 pounds or about 7 gallons of honey.

The final product! The bottling process went pretty quickly. Just hold a jar under the honey gate and fill'er up! We bottled in quart, pint, and 1/2 pint jars. The word got around at the hospital where I work and we sold out in about a week- except for a couple of pints we kept for ourselves and a few gifts for neighbors and family members. Can't wait for next year when the bees have some preexisting comb to work on and are starting with a larger population.
Stay tuned- the year is not over and there is more to learn and do!

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