This is my third year as a beekeeper. Every year I learn a bit more, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of it. Our two hives appear to be doing very well this year. Hive Rosalind (named after Queen Rosalind) was started in April 2013, and Hive Rosemary was started in April 2014. The early spring we had this year allowed the bees to get an early start on foraging. There has been a lot of activity inside and outside the hives for the last few months, and there is a good amount of honey being stored for the winter. We have only harvested a small amount of honey the last two years since I wanted to be sure to leave enough in the hives for the bees to survive the winter. I just don’t see the point in harvesting all of the honey from a hive, only to have to feed the bees refined sugar over the winter. After monitoring the hives for a couple of years, I am getting a better understanding of their cycle of storing honey in the spring and summer and relying on it as a food source to get them through fall and winter.
I’m also getting a better sense of how their population cycle varies throughout the year. Last spring I underestimated how quickly Hive Rosalind was increasing in size. Although I split that hive into two hives, thus creating Hive Rosemary in mid-April in an effort to prevent it from swarming, it ended up swarming a month later. Due to our early start to spring this year, I was keeping a close eye on Hive Rosalind in an attempt to prevent a swarm this year. The bee population increases in early spring to provide more foragers to bring in pollen and honey to the hive. I added another box to the hive in mid-March this year, which serves two purposes. It gives them more space to store honey in the top of the hive, and this frees up space in the lower part of the hive for the queen to lay her eggs. If there is not enough space in the upper part of the hive for the bees to store honey, they will start storing it in the lower hive which means there is not enough space for the queen to lay eggs. When this happens in the hive it becomes “honeybound” and can bring about the decision to swarm. I think this is what happened to Hive Rosalind last year, so this year I added another box a month earlier than last year, and fingers crossed, it does not look like the hive is going to swarm this year. They are busily putting away honey, and I decided there was enough for us to harvest a bit more than we have the last two years.
Last week we removed three frames of honey from Hive Rosalind. The frames are covered with bees when they are removed from the hive, and we use a large feather to brush them off the frame back into the hive. Although it seems like the bees would get mad and refuse to leave their honey, this method works quite well, and it has always gone very smoothly for us. After we remove the bees from the frame, we put it in a cooler to keep the frame free of bees until we are finished collecting all the frames, and then we take them into the house. We use the crush and strain method of separating the honey from the comb, which is just like it sounds. We scrape the honey and comb from the frame, crush the comb to release the honey, and strain it through a fine mesh strainer. Our harvest yielded 7 pounds of honey which came out to almost 6 pints of honey. It was very exciting to finally be harvesting an appreciable amount of honey. Beekeeping is not an inexpensive hobby by the time you add up the costs of the hive, bees, and equipment, and it’s a bit like chicken-keeping in that way. Just like the saying that the first dozen eggs from your backyard chickens costs $500 dollars (or more in our case if you build a poultry palace!) there is probably an equivalent saying that the first jar of honey from your beehive costs $500, but in any case it is well worth it, both for the beekeeping experience itself as well as for the delicious honey.