Preparing for the honey harvest

I want that honey!

Today was  an exciting day as we got the hives ready for harvest.

Today’s tasks:  to put bee escapes on the honey  boxes and  put entrance reducers on the front entrance to the hives.  The goals:

The beekeepers, with junior bee-guy just observing today

(1) to get the bees to exit the honey box without getting back in, and

(2) to try to prevent robbing by minimizing the size of the hive opening.

We were also able to look in the honey boxes and assess how much honey we will collect.  As an added perk, we collected some burr comb and had our first taste of this season’s honey.  The plan is to harvest this coming Saturday.  I can justifiably say “we” now because I have my own beesuit and can do more than just watch, even though today I mostly just watched.  Our junior beekeeper did not suit up today, as he had already changed to go play with friends.  He stood in my usual observer’s spot and picked the bark off his walking stick.

John and I recently read a good beekeeping book, Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper, by Bill Turnbill.  In it, Bill shares many things he learned from mistakes, such as not closing up every little flap on his beesuit and, as a result, getting stung by a bee inside his veil.  I thought of him as I very carefully zipped my suit closed.  I thought of him again as John and I assessed “what we learned today.”

We learned:

  • Burr comb

    When you prep the hive for harvest, go prepared to deal with burr comb.  We had nothing with us to put it in.  John didn’t want to plop it on the ground because the scent of all that honey might instigate robbing.  Plus, we wanted to taste the honey.  So, I had to run back up to the house to get a container with lid.  Meanwhile the hive was open with the scent of honey wafting around the bee yard.

  • He’s smokin’! But he forgot to bring the entrance reducers.

    Also, if you plan to put entrance reducers on, you should actually bring them with you.  This time John ran back to the house while I stood in the bee yard with a plastic container full of beeswax and live bees.  As bees made their way to the top, I would shoo them off and away.  Many, though, were trapped in layers of dripping wax.  I could almost hear them calling to their comrades: ” I’m trapped!  Help!  Get the jaws of life and get me out of here!”  Others, alas, were doomed, drowned at the  bottom of the container in a puddle of honey.  I was so fascinated watching them that I didn’t even take pictures.

  • Nailing the bee escapes in place

    It would be a good idea to have extra honey  box lids with the bee escapes already attached.  John thought the bee escapes would just fit over the exit but they had to be nailed tight.  It was awkward trying to hammer a tiny nail with a hive tool while wearing gloves, so John took off  a glove to hold the nail while banging on the honey box with his hive tool.  I can’t think of a better way to get someone angry with me than banging on their house before stealing their stuff.  He did not get stung, though.

    Bees entering and exiting the honey box.

With the bee escape in place, bees can exit the honey box but must re-enter the hive through the front entrance. This should make it easier for us to take the honey–there won’t be so many bees in the honey box.

  • We learned that Hive D is lazy.  Even with the addition of a honey box to get them moving, the honey box was quite clean.
  • The orange stuff is propolis.

    Hive A makes the most propolis.  Propolis is like bee caulk.  They use it to seal the hive.  They did a fine job filling their honey box, after a slow start which necessitated requeening the hive.

  • Hive C did a great job filling their honey.  They are a new hive, like Hive D,  but they are producing better.
  • One of many full frames

    Hive B, going gangbusters since the first sign of spring, has filled the better part of two honey boxes.  Way to go, Hive B.

  • So, on a positive note, we learned that we have four honey boxes pretty much full of honey.  Woo hoo!  This looks to be our biggest harvest yet.
  • Straining the burr comb for a pre-harvest snack. Yes, the dead bees are in there. That’s why we’re straining it!

    The honey is a beautiful golden color with hints of tulip poplar and other florals.  Not as strong in flavor as our wonderfully pungent first harvest, it has more presence than our last harvest, which was light and delicate.

    Preview of this year’s honey!

Saturday, weather permitting, is harvest day.  It’s time to order more jars.

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