Thursday, September 20, 2012

Honey Harvest Day!

Today my bee mentor Tom came over and we harvested the honey. I am sure I could have done this myself, but I knew I had a problem with one of my Warrre hives and wanted his expertise to help me figure out how to deal with it.  Plus, I always learn so much working bees with Tom.
While we were firing up the smoker and donning our suits, we noticed a huge toad hopping across the patio.  (This is my best toad impression.)
We tackled the Langstroth hive first.  I  am pretty sure this hive swarmed early in the summer, although I didn't see it happen. But the population looked robust and the supers were full of capped honey.
The new trick I learned this time was  to use a leaf blower to blow the bees out of the frames.  tom had also constructed a turntable on an old  hive box,so it was easy to set the super on  the turntable (I refuse to call it a lazy Susan) and swivel it around while blowing bees off toward the hive.  Once the bees were blown out, I quickly carried the  supers into the summer kitchen so the bees wouldn't come back to them. We took two nice supers off this hive.I should have added more early in the summer; I would have had more honey and the bees would have had more room and might not have swarmed.
Next we dealt with the Warre hives.  I  chose Warre hives because they are smaller (much easier to handle when full of honey and bees), aesthetically pleasing with their tall  narrow proportions and peaked roofs, and they allow the bees to build their comb more like they would in the wild. The more common Langstroth hives are filled with precision frames that the bees must build upon in a manner to make it easier for the beekeepers.  The Warre hives just have a set of bars across the top of each box that the bees build upon in the way they prefer, but they are not so convenient for the beekeepers to handle or extract.
It is pretty much impossible to remove a layer from the Warre hive without a bit of damage to the the comb - you can see the shiny liquid honey seeping out of the breaks.  This comb was beautifully constructed.
The problem with my second Warre hive was that I had a total brain drain when I assembled the hive way back early last summer when I added boxes for honey. I am still not sure  how this happened, but I inserted a box with no top bars into the stack. Besides giving the bees a structure to build upon, the bars limit how tall they can build the comb - they have to reserve a bee-height space between each layer so they have room to move and work.  Without the bars, my bees built a 2-story layer of comb, and the only way to dismantle it was to break it.  The comb was constructed in lovely,  straight layers even at the bottom.
The Warre hive on the left was my problem hive, and will only be able to have two boxes to get through the winter, while the other Warre hive  has an extra box of honey-filled comb to help them get through the winter.  There is also a chance that I lost the queen if she was in the third box.  If I am lucky and the queen is still in the short hive, I might use it as an experiment. I am thinking  about moving it into the high tunnel late this fall where it won't be so cold.  I will also have to feed this hive because I took so much of the honey reserves.

Despite my laissez-faire beekeeping style, I was quite pleased with the honey haul.  Tom estimates we  will have  upwards of 90 pounds of honey.  Stay tuned for the  Honey extraction story, coming soon!
Thank you to Cadence, who took all the photos--it was so nice to not have my camera not be all sticky at the end of a bee session! 


Marcia said...

That is a lot of honey. You are brave. I considered having bees and even attended the classes years ago but since have chickened out. I'll watch others from afar.

Susan said...

Marcia, Honey bees are so gentle. In three summers of beekeeping I have only gotten two stings, and that was our fault because we accidentally DROPPED a box, jarring the bees, killing a bunch of them and making them rightfully mad. I do wear protective gear, but feel pretty safe around them.

katiegirl said...

Wow, 90 lbs of honey. Approximately how many gallons is that? And I chuckled at your "lazy Susan" comment. ;-)

HB said...

Thanks for an interesting post, Susan. I'm curious. Why did you decide to pull out the box without top bars so late in the season? How did you know it was full of honey? Where in the stack was it, the bottom? Sorry, this is my first season with a Warre and I have a ton to learn.