Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stacks of Honey!

Look at those bricks of beautiful gold!  We harvested an entire small super of honey from the hive by the garden last Friday.  I'm so impressed with these bees.  They managed to fill an entire super of honey for us, and send out a new swarm in the same spring season.  

Before I got to the well established hive with the honey, I checked our captured swarm to see how they were doing.  The photo above shows all the yellowish brood cells that are capped with baby bees inside.  The white cells are capped over honey.  These bees are a growing family.  Almost all the frames in this one super has some honey and some brood.  They were so full, that dad had to go to the farm and garden store to buy a new super so we could add a second story to their home.  

Here's a close up of the brood cells that aren't capped yet.  See the white wormy looking things - I hesitate to call them maggots, since maggots are gross - in the bottom of the cells?  Little bee babies all curled up.  Okay, they look like maggots, but I was still excited to see them.    

I'm pretty sure that big bee on the top left is a drone.  The drones are the males, who don't do any work, but are just there to mate with new queens.  I think the drones don't have stingers, so they are okay to pick up and handle bare handed.  I could tell he was much larger than the other bees, but I wasn't quite confident enough to pick him up without my gloves.  Maybe next time.  

This is the hive that I took the honey from.  For some reason, we didn't fill the super with enough frames, so the two spaces on the right are just the wax and honey that the bees made, without the guidance of the frame.  It really goes to show how the supers and frames are set up to create the perfect width of honeycomb and gap between.  It's exactly how the bees do it if left to their own design.  

Because this super was completely full of capped over honey, I wanted to harvest it all, so when it came time to pull the combs that weren't hanging on frames, I just had to pull it out by the clump.  The problem with this is that there was honey oozing from the edges, and when I brushed the bees from the clumps, lots of bees got coated in honey and dozens of them drowned in it.  I can see how the frames are much better for the bee keeper and the bees.  I'm not sure if it's normal to kill that many bees when harvesting.  

I've read that a small super of honey can weigh up to forty pounds.  I believe it!  I held each frame over the hive as I pulled it from the super, and used a small brush to brush away the bees before I added the frame to my stack.  By the time I did seven frames, my arms were shaking.  My left arm and shoulder were sore for days after this job.  I had no idea I was such a wimp!

If I can remember correctly, this is our third year with honey bees.  I felt like this was the first time I opened the hive and didn't feel anxious.  I was actually calm enough while working with the frames and brushing away the bees, that I got into the groove and really enjoyed them.  I had bees buzzing on my veil, and thousands of bees coating the outside of the hive I was working in, which was inches from my legs and feet, and I didn't have that hurry-up feeling that I usually get when opening the hive.  The bees were cool, so I kept my cool.  It was cool.  

Mom used a knife to cut the comb from the frames. If we had an extractor, we could just cut off the caps, extract the honey from the comb, and give the empty comb back to the bees so they don't have to recreate it.  

Just like last time, we squished the honeycomb with our hands in a metal strainer basket, and collected the honey in a crock.  

This is the part that took so long. We had enough honey that we had to empty our crock and then squish some more.  

Everything was a sticky mess - the kitchen, the door knobs, the floor, our clothes.  We decided that the next time we would put the frames in a big plastic tub, so the frames didn't drip on everything while they were waiting their turn to be squished.  

We dipped the honey through another strainer before we poured it into jars.  It's so perfect!  It amazes me that there are boxes of honey out in the garden that we can just go out and collect.  

We put some of the honey comb in some of our wide mouthed jars, just because it looked so neat.  

I'm not sure how many jars of honey we ended up with since my nieces did the counting and their system seemed a little unreliable to me, but one of the numbers I heard was twenty-nine.  Wow.  That is something to grin about, for sure.    

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