Last Sunday, my dad and I inspected the hives to check the honey production. It was a hot, sunny afternoon and the bees were happy and paying no attention to us.
The super we’ve been watching has filled up slowly over the past several weeks. Here’s a frame from a couple of weeks ago.
I was a little concerned that with all the rain we’ve had, although great for the gardens, washes off pollen from flowers. Also, flowers and veggies that should’ve have been blooming had not started yet. So if pollen is not available for pollinating flowers, and nectar is not available either, what’s a bee to do?? In other words, I didn’t know what to expect.
This is what we saw last Sunday.
This frame is full of honey on both sides. Nine of the ten frames were full. The tenth frame was half full and we decided to leave it alone based on the fact that we weren’t sure what to do. We did decide though it was time to have our very first honey harvest.
We harvested on Thursday which was predicted to be very hot. We decided to get started around ten o’clock. I lit the smoker, we donned our gear and took the necessary equipment to the hive.
One thing I did not have was a fume board. A fume board is used to drive the bees off the honey super. When we looked at the super last Sunday, there were very little bees in it. This was not the case on Thursday. Maybe (probably) it was the time of day but bees were everywhere and they Did. Not. Like. Me. taking their honey. I got my first sting(s) that day and mentally put a fume board on my list of necessary equipment to have.
A full super (I used a medium-sized super) weighs about 50 pounds full of honey. Too heavy and bulky for me to lift. And since there were so many bees in the super anyway, we decided to remove the frames one at a time and put them in an ice chest to transport them.
My dad built a canning kitchen inside his barn a couple of years ago. This turned out to be the best place to do the honey harvest. We had all the equipment set up and ready to go.
He has a friend that gave us a honey extractor. This is by far the best invention ever.
It only holds 2 frames at a time. If we had more hives it would be nice to have one that held 10 frames but this one was fine for our nine frames. It is a hand cranked model with a honey gate at the bottom.
Before extracting the honey, though, you have to uncapped the frames. Before bees cap (or seal) the honey they fan the honey to change the moisture content. Too much moisture, the honey will ferment. Believe it or not, bees know when the correct moisture has been reached. Studies have shown that the moisture content of capped honey is a consistent 17%. Another reason to be amazed at this creature.
This was our setup for uncapping.
A plastic tub I found in the storage closet cleaned thoroughly. A piece of wire mesh placed in the tub to catch the cappings, and a stick to go across the tub to hold the frame. Cappings hold honey as well so the wire mesh helps separate cappings from honey.
The same friends that gave us the extractor also gave us a heated uncapping knife.
We stood the frame on its end and, starting at the top, slid the knife down the frame. For the areas the knife didn’t cut, a uncapping tool was used. The uncapping tool has several separate, metal projections that when scrapped across a frame will open the caps.
The uncapping tool would work fine is you didn’t have the knife, but I can tell you the knife is nice. Very quick but expensive to buy and I am so very grateful to the friends that gave it to us.
When that was completed, we placed two frames in the extractor and began to crank.
We cranked a total of ten minutes to remove all honey from the frames. Five minutes for one side and then we took them out flipped them to the other side and five more minutes. After twenty or so minutes of this, my assistant (a retired electrician and also my dad) began thinking of ways to power this baby up.
And believe me we discussed this at length.
After four frames, we could feel and see honey pooling in the bottom of the extractor. We set up a bucket (also equipped with a honey gate) under the extractor and opened up the gate.
We repeated with the remaining frames.
After the honey is strained into the bucket, you can either bottle it right away or let it sit overnight. When it sits overnight, air bubbles move to the top and can be skimmed off. Air bubbles do not affect the taste or quality of the honey, it is just a cosmetic issue. I decided to let mine sit because 1) I had no jars ready and 2) because I was tired. They say people get into bees because of the honey and they get out of the bees because of the honey. It takes time and it was a days work for me and my dad to do only nine frames.
But I forgot about all the hard work when I tasted it.
Oh my. The honey is very dark so it’s probably not all from the clover in the fields. It has a bold flavor so I can’t say what it’s from. Bees have a 3-mile radius from the hive and I don’t know of any particular crops around this radius. My neighbor told me his Linden tree was full of bees when it was blooming so maybe a variety of tree blooms? I don’t know. I do know that I have 45 pounds of pure raw honey sitting in my kitchen.
In the bee classes I took 2 years ago, we were told that one bee makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. 45 pounds of honey equals 2882 teaspoons. That’s a lot of bees working very hard to give us this sweet treat.
Really makes me appreciate them even more.
Now excuse me while I go find a biscuit….