Bit O’ Honey
Our first year bee hive is thriving, and today we inspected the hive to see how much honey the bees have stored for winter. A general rule of thumb for our area is that a hive needs about 50 pounds of honey to feed itself over the winter. Based on our inspection we determined that our hive has put away about 50 pounds of honey, so we decided that we would leave almost all the honey for the bees and only harvest a little bit for ourselves. We could harvest more honey, all of it if we wanted, but then we would need to monitor the hive over the winter to see how their honey stores were holding out, and we would need to feed them a simple syrup solution until the start of the flowering season next spring. We decided to leave plenty of honey to help the bees survive the winter, and next spring if there is surplus honey in the hive we can harvest it then.
I was a bit nervous about conducting the hive inspection today since I’ve read that a hive will get more aggressive at the end of summer since they are protective of their honey stores at this time of year when all sorts of critters, including wasps and yellowjackets try to rob beehives of their honey. In the spring and summer, hive inspections are conducted during mid-day when many of the bees are out foraging, so there’s less disturbance to the hive and there are less bees on the frames during the inspection. At the end of the season at honey harvest time, it’s best to conduct the inspection either early or late in the day to reduce the potential that robbers that are flying about discover your open hive full of honey. So this morning when almost all the bees were still at home in their hive, we donned our bee veils and gloves, lit the smoker, and set about inspecting the hive.
As has been the case with past hive inspections, all of the hive boxes and all of the frames in the boxes were stuck to each other with propolis. The inspection was slow going, and I worked carefully prying apart the frames one by one and calling out to Sean how much honey was in each frame so he could write it down in the beehive inspection notebook for future reference. The bees behaved themselves very well throughout the entire one hour inspection. Then it came time to brush the bees off the two frames that we were going to take into the house to harvest.
There are several ways to remove bees from the frames before harvest, including methods as invasive as a modified leaf blower and putting boards coated with chemicals inside the hive, but the method that causes the least disruption and has the least potential to injure the bees is to shake or brush them off the frames. I bought a bee brush for this purpose, but I received a piece of advice from a fellow beekeeper which was that if you brush the bees off the frame with a turkey feather they don’t get as agitated as if you brush them with the plastic bristled brush, and they don’t get caught in the brush bristles. I don’t happen to have any turkey feathers lying around, nor do I know exactly what they look like, but I do have a great blue heron feather and I figured it would be close enough. The moment was finally upon us for what I thought was sure to be the most challenging part of the inspection and harvest, and I began to brush the bees off the frame with the feather, and you know what? It worked! After brushing the bees off the two frames, we put them into a cooler and brought them into the house.
Sean made a honey strainer out of two 5-gallon buckets and a mesh paint strainer. Although this setup is much larger than we need for this year, we figured we’d give it a test run this year and hopefully we’ll use it to its full potential next year. I cut the honey comb from the frame with a sharp knife, scraped the frame with a spatula and left it to drain overnight in the strainer. By morning we had a little jar of our very own 5R Farm honey as well as a bit of honey comb, and it is the best honey I’ve ever tasted!