Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wasp Wars

This morning I walked past the hives and saw a bunch of activity in front of Virginia. There were several wasps trying to gain access to the hive. Every time one would try to get through the entrance the bees would gang up on it and drive it out. I saw one bee take on a wasp all by itself- the two wrestled for a couple of seconds on the front porch and then took flight while still locked together. They flew a couple of feet and fell to the ground. The bee then flew back to the entrance, turned to face the outside, and filled in the gap in the line of guard bees across the front. I am so proud of those girls!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Unscrupulous Beekeepers?

Do you believe that such a thing exists? I suppose no industry is perfect.

The following article describes dishonest honey producing practices. The offenders should definitely be punished. My fear, though, is that some, as good intentioned as they may be, will get their way and the FDA will establish nation-wide honey standards. Sounds great- right? But the federal government will have no authority to do this and may (some would say "probably") end up requiring that honey producers prove that their honey is not adulterated. This would put the burden on the rest of the honest beekeepers who just want to be left alone to do what they have always done.

Remember what Thomas Jefferson said: "It is the natural order of things for government to grow and liberty to yield."

Government will always, in the name of improving our lives and keeping us secure, usurp our liberty UNLESS the people actively prevent that from happening.

I read another quote, also by Jefferson, I believe, that says "A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have."

I'm not saying nothing should or could be done- but let's be careful what we ask for.

Anyway, here is the article:

RALEIGH, N.C. – You might call them the Honey Police — beekeepers and honey producers ready to comb through North Carolina to nab unscrupulous sellers of sweet-but-bogus "funny honey."

North Carolina is the latest state to create a standard that defines "pure honey" in a bid to curb the sale of products that have that label but are mostly corn syrup or other additives. Officials hope to enforce that standard with help from the 12,000 or so Tar Heel beekeepers.

"The beekeepers tend to watch what's being sold, they watch the roadside stands and the farmer's markets," said John Ambrose, an entomologist and bee expert at North Carolina State University who sits on the newly created Honey Standards Board.

Florida was the first state to adopt such standards in 2009. It's since been followed by California, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Similar efforts have been proposed in at least 12 other states, including North and South Dakota, the nation's largest producers of honey, together accounting for roughly one-third of U.S. output.

Beekeepers and honey packers around the country are fuming about products masquerading as real honey, and they hope the state-by-state strategy will secure their ultimate goal: a national rule banning the sale of any product as pure honey if it contains additives.

Americans consume about 350 million pounds of honey per year, but just 150 million pounds are made domestically, creating a booming market for importers and ample temptation to cut pure honey with additives such as corn syrup that are far less expensive to produce.

This month, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago announced the indictments of 11 German and Chinese executives and six companies on charges that they avoided nearly $80 million in honey tariffs and sold honey tainted with banned antibiotics.

The scale of the problem nationwide is hard to gauge. It's largely a concern for the big producers who make most of America's honey, said Bob Bauer, vice president of the National Honey Packers and Dealers Association.

"The honey industry is looking to be proactive and take whatever steps are necessary not only to keep it from becoming a widespread problem, but to get rid of it entirely," he said.

The most passionate supporters of the laws tend to be beekeepers and other small producers outraged at what they see as the corruption of their craft.

"They're trading on the good name of honey to sell their product," Kenosha, Wis., beekeeper Tim Fulton said of phony honey peddlers.

Ambrose said the North Carolina board — formed by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the state Beekeepers Association — won't be a "honey patrol."

The board will instead respond to complaints about improperly marketed honey, which under state law is now defined as what honeybees produce: no more, no less. Once a complaint has been received, a state-approved lab will test the product. If it's not pure honey, the state can order it to be removed from sale and impose fines for subsequent violations.

"You can go to roadside stands throughout the western part of the state and they'll try to sell you Karo syrup and swear it's sourwood honey," said Charles Heatherly, a North Carolina beekeeper.

SourwoodHeatherly calls it "the Cadillac of North Carolina honey" — is mostly found in the state's mountainous west. It can cost up to $10 a pound, making it an attractive target for adulteration.

It was a similar impersonation of local honey that provoked Nancy Gentry, a beekeeper who owns Cross Creek Honey in Interlachen, Fla., to launch a bid to get a honey standard not just in her home state, but around the country.

"People were taking raw honey, adding high fructose corn syrup and marketing it as grade A USDA No. 1 honey, but there is no such thing," said Dick Gentry, Nancy's husband and a retired trial lawyer who helped steer the campaign in Florida.

But the real sting in the Florida provision, and in standards adopted in California, Wisconsin and North Carolina, is that it makes it easier to file lawsuits against purveyors of bogus honey.

Agencies have been reluctant to create standards for honey ever since a Michigan jury in 1995 found in favor of a honey processing firm that had been accused of cutting the product with an additive. The jurors said there weren't enough regulations governing honey to make the charge stick and that the government failed to identify the additive.

Under the new laws, it isn't necessary to know out what's being added to honey. Any additive, from cane sugar to corn syrup, deprives it of the label "pure honey."

That could prompt retailers or beekeepers to file more lawsuits.

"For us, it is through the civil courts, then, that we take back the product," Nancy Gentry told an industry group in Fresno, Calif., according to a transcript of her speech. "We crush unscrupulous packers and throw out honey pretenders."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has worked to block the sale of honey contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals, and it's reviewing a petition seeking a national honey standard, spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said.

In the meantime, North Carolina beekeepers promise to keep on the lookout to ensure every jar of honey holds what the label says.

"Some of the people who think they've been buying sourwood all these years have actually been buying corn syrup, and they have no idea what they're missing," Ambrose said.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cleaning Up The Supers

Last weekend I posted about this years honey harvest. Today I will just comment on how we cleaned up the supers.

After extracting the honey the supers were still "wet". That is to say that the comb on the frames was still covered in honey- not enough to extract, but there was still enough to make everything sticky if it were left that way through the winter. Since bees love honey it made sense to let the bees clean it up.

A couple of days after extracting I took the supers out and put them back on the hives. This time, though, I left the inner cover between the brood nest and the supers. I guess the inner cover creates a barrier between the colony and the supers so the bees don't think of the supers as actually part of the hive and don't start storing honey up there again. I did leave the queen excluders in place- I didn't want to leave any chance that the queens would move up into the supers again. Anyway, the workers were able to move up and down through the hole in the middle of the inner cover.

After 4 days I took the supers back off. I found that the bees had cleaned up all the honey and repaired the comb that had been damaged during uncapping and extracting. I also found that the supers were full of bees. I didn't want to go through each frame and brush off all the bees again. So I laid the supers on the ground about 5 feet from the hives and let them sit overnight. The next day all the bees had moved back into the hives, and I took the supers back in the house. All in all it was a very easy process.

Now I still had a sticky extractor and some sticky buckets left in the house. I took them out and laid them on their sides next to the hives. It didn't take long for the bees to be all over them licking up the honey. After a day or two all the equipment was cleaned up and ready to be stored for the winter.

I can't wait for next year to do it all over again!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Honey Harvest 2010

Extracting honey is such an exciting time. Everything we do all year is in preparation for this one day. Here is how it all went:

The first step was to pull the supers off the hives. Last year I rigged up a fume board with some plywood and a piece of felt, sprayed on some "Bee-Quick", and tried to drive the bees out of the supers. I failed miserably. With the bees remaining in the supers I set them on the basketball court in the backyard and waited for evening. I figured that when the evening cooled off and the sun went down the bees would leave the supers and go home. That didn't work either. So I spent a couple of hours in the dark taking each frame individually over to the hives, brushing the bees off and then taking the frame inside the house. This year I tried a different approach.

On September 3rd I took out a large plastic tub which had been covered with a sheet out to the hives. I removed each frame from the super one at a time, brushed the bees off, put the frame in the tub, and replaced the sheet. When all the frames were removed from one super I brushed the remaining bees out and took the super over to the back door where I covered it with another sheet. I dragged the tub of frames over to the house, put the now beeless frames back in the super and replaced the sheet. I did this for 3 of Virginia's supers that evening. I repeated the process for 3 of Georgia's supers the next morning. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really wasn't too bad. If a had more hives I would probably figure out a different method. I did have four supers on each hive, but the most recent addition to each hive was far from ready. I decided to leave them where they were and let the bees fill them up with honey this fall- a little extra insurance for their winter stores.

After running errands etc. on the morning of September 4th we got everything ready to go at about 3:oo pm. Here is a photo of the set up. We later moved the whole thing to the other end of the kitchen where it was a little warmer. The honey wasn't flowing very well sitting right next to the air conditioner.

At 3:00 on the 4th we got busy uncapping, spinning, and filtering. I figured it would take several hours to get it all done. We were up pretty late that night. Extracting 60 frames in a 3 frame tangential extractor took longer than I had anticipated. Next year's extraction day might turn into a 2 day event. Or maybe I just need to get a bigger extractor.

I will say this- The heated uncapping knife made all the difference in the world. It was so much faster and easier than last year when we used an unheated knife which had to be warmed up in hot water before uncapping each frame.

The homemade uncapping tank worked but could have been better. The following improvements will be made next year: a larger tub will be used (60 frames make a large pile of caps. It needed a larger surface area.), the cross beam will be moved to one end to provide a larger area for the caps to fall off the knife, the wire mesh will be redesigned to be lifted straight up out of the tub, and a honey gate will be installed. Or I could just take Chris' suggestion and order an uncapping tank from a beekeeping supplier.

Here are a few photos of the process. In this first photo I am uncapping a frame of honey. Here is a pile of caps in the uncapping tank. I'd say about half a gollon of honey dripped out of the caps and into the tank. We let it drip overnight and into the next afternoon.

These next two photos show a frame in the extractor (you are looking at the unextracted side) and an empty frame upon coming out of the extractor.

This next series shows the unfiltered honey pouring out of the extracor, the unfiltered honey in the bucket, and the filter it went through to clean it up.
We misjudged the number of 5 gallon buckets we would need. Since filtering is such a slow process we had to extract the honey into one bucket and slowly filter it into another. By the end we were catching honey in various pots and pans. In the end we had almost 15 gallons of honey- not bad! We finished filtering the next day. Here is a photo of the final product.
We have been selling it in pint and 1/2 pint jars and advertising just by word of mouth. It is mostly gone now- I plan on taking it to a farmers' market this week. We'll see if I can sell the rest of it there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Honey Harvest- Final Numbers

Final numbers for honey harvest 2010 (drum roll, please)...... 170 pounds and just under 15 gallons! Not bad. Add in the 2.5 gallons we extracted earlier in the summer and we got about 16 gallons for the year.

I just finished filtering the last of it this morning. I have to thanks Chris for letting me take over her kitchen for the last 2 1/2 days. Now it is time to clean up, process wax, and bottle the honey.

I will post again later with more details and some photos.

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