Fall in the Bee Yard
I am happy to report that our three beehives, Hive Rosalind, Hive Rosemary, and Hive Buttercup, all did well this year. We started our newest Hive, ruled by Queen Buttercup, this spring, and I spent most of my time in the bee yard this summer following its progress and making sure it got off to a successful start. I did quick inspections of Hive Buttercup about once a month, checking to see that the new queen was laying eggs and that the bees were putting away enough honey and pollen to get them through the winter. I’ve been feeding Hive Buttercup a simple syrup to boost their honey production a bit. Since this is a new hive, it’s population is smaller than our other hives so it doesn’t have as many worker bees to collect nectar for making honey. Feeding them a simple syrup allows them to put away more honey for the winter than they could if they had to depend solely on the nectar they collected. Feeding a new hive is the only time I feed my bees, the older hives are capable of storing enough honey to feed themselves through the winter, and I always leave a lot of honey in the hives over the winter to make sure that the bees have more than enough to get them through the winter.
Our two older beehives pretty much took care of themselves this year, so other than checking them a couple of times during the summer to make sure they had enough room in the hive for storing honey, I pretty much let them do what they will. There are a few important chores to do at the end of summer/beginning of fall to give the hives a better chance of surviving the winter. If there are unused boxes on the hive, it’s a good idea to consolidate the hive into fewer boxes over the winter so that the cluster of bees can keep themselves warm more easily, and there is less cold space in the hive. Over the summer, my hives are typically four boxes high – two deep hive boxes for the queen to lay eggs in, and two honey supers on top for the worker bees to store honey in. In the fall, I consolidate the two honey supers into one box, and if there is extra honey beyond what will fit in one super, then I harvest a few frames of honey. Since our winters are so wet here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s also important to take measures to keep the hive from getting too damp inside. I put a piece of burlap on top of the inner cover with pine shavings on top, so that as condensation occurs on the underside of the roof of the hive, it will fall down onto the shavings and burlap and be absorbed rather than dripping down onto the frames of the hive. Lastly, I also prop up the inner cover very slightly with a toothpick to give the moist air a way to escape from the hive. I am glad that I had time to get the hives winterized last week before this line of storms moved in, as we’ve already had about five inches of rain in the last several days.
I did harvest a bit of honey this summer, and I just got around to extracting it. It really amazes me what an efficient method of storing honey the hexagonal honey comb is. I removed three frames of honey from our strongest hive this year – this is Queen Rosemary’s hive, they are slightly more aggressive than the bees in the other two hives, but they are a strong hive, so there’s the tradeoff. I bought myself a new piece of equipment to make harvesting the honey easier this year. It’s called a bee escape, and it is a narrow frame with a maze on the bottom that you place in the hive below the honey super that you intend to harvest honey from. The way it works is that the bees can move down through the maze, or the bee escape, to access the box below, but they cannot figure out how to move up through the maze into the box above. So after you install the bee escape, within a couple of days, the box above the bee escape containing the frames that you intend to harvest should be mostly empty of bees.
I thought it would just take a couple of minutes to install the bee escape so I got a bit cavalier and did not bother lighting my smoker. The honey super that I intended to remove in order to install the bee escape was stuck very tightly to the hive box below it. After trying to pry the boxes apart for a minute or so, I noticed a few guard bees were getting agitated and were flying around me, then moments later one stung me on my thigh through my pants. I decided to go light my smoker and removed my gloves, which must be when a sneaky bee took the opportunity to climb up my sleeve into my jacket. I didn’t notice it at first, and I went about lighting my smoker, putting my gloves back on, and returned to the hive. I began trying to remove the stuck box again, and it wasn’t long before I noticed there was a bee in the hood of my jacket! I ran from the hive, frantically unzipping my jacket, and yelling for Sean to come help me. I’m sure it was quite a hilarious sight to behold! Sean removed the bee that was stuck in my hair, it didn’t sting me, but it did dislodge it’s stinger somewhere in the process and died as a result. Amazingly, this day was the first time in my 3-1/2 years of beekeeping that I’ve been stung while working the hives, and it was my own fault for not being prepared. I went on to harvest the honey the way I have in the past, by brushing the bees off the frames with a long stiff feather (I use a turkey feather), which works remarkably well, and despite hundreds of bees usually flying in the air I’ve never been stung doing it this way. Three frames of honey yielded us 8.75 pounds of honey, which is a bit more than 3 quarts. An amazing amount of honey to be stored in just three frames, all due to the incredibly efficient shape of the honeycomb.