Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Redistribution of Honey

Yesterday, I suited up and went out to harvest myself some honey.  We have four hives.  One is established, and had 2 extra honey supers, one is just kicking butt and has one extra super, one has just the right amount, and the new swarm doesn't even have a full set of frames.  So, having read (and absorbed) one whole beekeeping book so far, I had a plan.  The two extra supers would be removed from the established hive (called Drones Club), and I would give one of them to the newest hive.  I read about that, see, and my friend Damian confirmed it.  The other set of frames would be taken as rent payment.

I found that one of the extra supers wasn't quite full, so I took 5 frames for us, smoked and brushed most of the bees off, and put them on the porch.  The next super down was REALLY HEAVY, and very full of bees.  I set that on a wagon, smoked it a bunch, and wheeled it a distance from the hive, hoping the bees would evacuated back to the safety of their condo.

Then, I went to check on the other bees.  The thriving hive had barely started filling that extra super, so I left it, wondering if I should remove it so that it will be easier to keep their hive warm as temps cool.  And then I decided I should find the queen of the new hive, which is something I heard beekeepers do regularly.  After all that book learnin', I felt like a dope because I searched every frame without finding her.  As a matter of fact, I have yet to locate a queen in any of our hives.

After that, I had to start making dinner and being a responsible parent, so I left off beekeeping for the night.

This morning, I covered my kitchen in newspaper, because last year, I covered it in honey instead, and our feet made shlupping sounds when we walked for at least a month.  I heated a pot of water to keep my capping knife in and set up three big bowls for separating honey and wax.
Bowl of mostly wax, bowl of mostly honey, naked frames, etc.
Last year, it took me three days to process the honey - though there were more frames because a hive was invaded by yellow jackets and the bees disappeared.  I had honey in my hair, on my face, and covering anything I had touched.  It was on every knob, button, handle, the phone, the toilet...  This year, I managed to remove all of the honey, preserving the frames, in just a few hours.  And I stayed clean!  Most of this is just experience, having everything assembled ahead of time so I don't have to rifle through cupboards with a dripping honey frame in my hand.

One nifty tip I learned from that book is the bees will do a lot of the clean up for me.  I put the empty frames back into the hive and set my honey and wax covered dishes outside, and the bees raced over to gorge themselves.
Bees washing up my dishes
When I went back a couple of hours later, everything was clean!
This bowl was covered in honey just a bit earlier.

Once the wax and honey are removed from the frames, the next step is to separate them from each other.  Some people use cheesecloth, and they probably do a better job, but I used a fine sieve, and found it to be satisfactory.  I don't mind some fine wax particles in my honey.
While I was doing all of this, the bees could smell the honey through my screen door.  They came in droves, buzzing loudly, saying, "Hey you big, doughy human!  Give us back our honey!"  Feeling guilty, I shut the door so that I couldn't hear them.  It's not stealing anyway.  It's redistribution.

Meanwhile, I had the front door open, and the smarter bees found their way around the house and started coming in before I realized what was happening.  They seriously wanted their honey back.  It took some time just to carefully remove each bee and put them back outside, and I'm still finding them here and there.  They were completely peaceful, though.  No stings.
By the end of the day, I had over a gallon and a half of delicious raw honey. Not bad.

Side note: That Damian friend I referred to earlier has a beekeeping/honey business in Portland, OR that is quickly becoming famous.  Watch for him on Bizarre Foods.  The brand is Bee Local Honey, and he keeps hives throughout Portland.  Each neighborhood has its own flavor - a great concept.

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