Beemused: A Blog

We haz gotz hunny: harvesting the honey supers

30th September 2007

We haz gotz hunny: harvesting the honey supers

Ok, my apologies for the lolcat-speak.

Nonetheless, we do have honey! We successfully robbed the bees today. :)

We got one full super of capped honey, one super of dubiously ready honey, and most of another super of capped; with the latter, the girls were exceedingly pissed off as soon as we started smoking them, so we removed 8 frames and left the other 2, and the super and excluder, in place. (This was Mary. Liz was actually pretty mellow- she got pissed off and buzzed loudly, but wasn’t to the dive-bombing point. Susan was OK with us removing the super; it wasn’t like she’d spent much effort on doing anything in it! But Mary- the third hive we worked- was stroppy from the get-go. She may have noted that we were robbing the other ones, and so was quick to take offense.)

So. We still need to remove the other 2 frames and the super from Mary. We also need to check out the condition and levels of stores in the hive bodies of all 3 hives. Since the weather this week is supposed to be decent, I’m hoping we can do a hive a night- maybe starting with Mary on Tuesday.

Meanwhile: we plan on putting a frame or 2 a day of partially-ready honey outside, and let the girls rob them. They can use the stores, and if the honey isn’t capped, it’s not concentrated enough to keep for us, anyway. This will also empty some drawn comb cells of honey, and we’ll be able to use those frames to entice honey production next year.

Next year we’ll put the bee-o-paks on sooner, with a super with drawn comb above them, and we’ll use some of the excess beeswax we have to smear in the bee-o-pac cells; this ought to entice the girls into drawing comb and filling the bee-o-pacs. These are a pretty cool way to create and distribute comb honey… if we can get the girls to cooperate, of course!

Meanwhile, I’ve been browsing the Betterbee catalog. So much cool stuff! We need to make some decisions as to how many hives we want to run next year; if we want to have more, we may want to order bees… or we may just want to have enough equipment that we can split a hive or 2. Or some mix of these approaches… Also, we need to decide if an additional hive will be a top-bar or not; if so, we need to start building the equipment; if not, we need to have an ordering plan for conventional equipment. Betterbee has some 8-frame hives that look interesting, since full they’d be 20% lighter and thus easier for us to manage…

Also we need to make some decisions on whether we’re interested in extracted honey or not. If we want to do extracted, we need to plan for it, and plan on getting the necessary equipment. Now, Betterbee has an extractor that’s designed to work with top-bar hives (which are more fragile than ones built on plastic foundation), plus it’s a lot more compact than other extracting systems. I’m really tempted by this, for both reasons; I think it’d give us the option of doing extracted, without requiring as much preplanning. Plus- easier to store is good!

The most recent honey the girls have made is very dark and rich-looking. I think that’s the goldenrod they’ve been harvesting.

I did get some pictures today, between helping with the hives. I’ll try to get them, and previous pics, posted in the next few days.

On a personal note- I did enjoy working the bees today- until Mary started menacing me, anyway! I need a proper bee suit. (Unfortunately, no one seems to make bee suits for female-type persons; I am planning on getting a pullover-type jacket, and making or buying pull-on pants in white.) I can see that the longer I go between working with the girls, the more nervous I get about it. So this means that I need to do it more often, and not let the nervousness accumulate. I mean- Mary was definitely VERY pissed off today- it’s not like hearing the buzz of a pissed-off hive is subject to misinterpretation!- but still, she did dive-bomb Justin, and me to a lesser extent, but neither of us got stung. While they do make me nervous- objectively, they are all pretty mellow girls. I just need to work with them more.

While we tried to get all bees off the frames we robbed- a few did make it into the studio despite our efforts. Justin spent considerable effort coaxing them into his hands, then releasing them outside so they could return to their sisters. Awww. They really are cute little things. :)

-Amanda

24th September 2007

Happy Autumn!: Thoughts about harvesting honey

Despite the change of season (which appears to be more complicated than the dates imply; so far we’ve had summer, fall, and are heading back into summer for a few days again…), we have not removed the supers from the hives. Yet.

One issue is- what to do with the full and partially-full frames once we do! We don’t have extraction equipment, and are not planning on getting any this year- plus, the foundation we used is too fragile to stand up to centrifugal extraction, anyway. So I think we need to acquire a bin of some kind with a tight-fitting lid, and then cut the comb out of the frames and keep it in the bin, until we either package it up for people (or us!), or extract some of it the old-fashioned way (which means- break up the comb and put it in a strainer and let the honey drip out). We hope to do some of the extracting, because we really want to make a batch of very local mead!

Apparently our slowness in getting the supers off is not unknown among first-time beekeepers. That’s a bit of a comfort! A book we have says that lots of us are quite slow to do it- some even leaving the supers on for the winter. -Which we may yet do, if it looks like the girls will need the honey.

Meanwhile, we’re about to start feeding again. I’ll be making a 2:1 syrup (10 pounds of sugar, 5 of water), since that’s recommended in the fall, when the girls have less time to evaporate excess water. And we’re going to deviate from organic by not just the feeding, but by a precautionary addition of a medication that keeps them from getting diarrhea over the winter. It’s mixed into the syrup, and so will be available all winter. Yes, in general we want to be fairly organic- but we also want the bees to survive, so we’re going to be more conventional at least at first, until we feel more confident.

-Amanda

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16th September 2007

Heading toward Winter: winter bee-keeping preparations begin

Tomorrow we plan on robbing the bees. We’ve had excluders between the main hive and the honey supers for a bit now, and we need to remove the supers (with their honey), consolidate the hives, check them out (to the extent that we can), and probably start feeding them again to give them stores with which to go into the winter.

Also, there’s a bee-diarrhea disease that they are susceptible to in the winter, and we can put the preventative into the syrup we give them now.

(By the way- I am not totally committed to being 100% organic with the bees. I would prefer being as organic as possible- but I also want to give them the best possible chance of succesfully overwintering. I will probably head more toward 100% organic as my confidence grows.)

Justin washed off the solid bottoms that go into our fancy bottom boards today, and replaced them in the hives. (We got bottom boards that have a mesh bottom, with a solid insert that can be added or removed. It’s helpful both in controlling mites, and in keeping the hives cooler in the heat of summer.) The girls did not give him a hard time with this- thank goodness!

Justin got hive wrap for the girls. It’s an insulating wrap that we’ll put on the hives when it gets cold. Our winters are mostly mild- but lately we’ve usually had a week or so of really bitter weather, and I’m hoping the hive wrap will help them get through that.

We pulled the queen excluders out of 2 of our hives a week or so ago. They’ve got fascinating meanders of comb along them (we let the girls rob back the honey that was in them before we took them). Justin got some pictures- I’ll be posting those when I have a chance (probably with pictures of the next step, too!).

One thing we’re thinking about is our plans for next year. Do we want another hive? More than one more? I know that one couple who had decided that they didn’t want a hive in their yard this year are regretting that decision… but I don’t know if they’d make the same decision next year! Personally, I’d like to try a top-bar hive; it’s one where the bees themselves decide what sizes to make the cells, and where to do it, and I find the prospect of trusting them that much- and not being a control freak!- to be intriguing. That’s one I’d like to keep here, though, so we could keep an eye on it.

Also: next year we’re looking at swarming, re-queening, and all that stuff. Of our three hives- Mary is rockin’. She’s very productive, and pretty benign. Susan is benign, but substantially less productive than Mary and Liz- though she’s par for the course in the normal state of things; it’s just that the others have overachieved. Liz is productive but overly stroppy- one of the things that has made me nervous about doing much with the girls. So Liz and Susan are good candidates for re-queening, but we’re happy with Mary, so we might want to let her raise a new queen- except that we don’t exactly have a wide selection of genetic stock for the drones! Still- might be interesting.

Plus- if we wanted another hive or 2, we may want to buy a package and queen. Or maybe not; we need to contemplate the various options. But if we did- do we want more Italians? Russians? or ??? We also need to think about this in terms of re-queening. I’m rather thinking that we should move toward Russians- except that they’re stroppier than Italians, and I’m still nervous around the girls. Decisions, decisions!

-Amanda

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13th September 2007

Bees in a Bell Jar: A link

Here’s a nifty slideshow that shows bees building honeycomb in a bell jar placed over their hive. Found via BoingBoing.

-Amanda

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8th September 2007

A summary of the Colony Collapse Disorder news

This news item summarizes the current information about the CCD that is threatening bees all over.

–Justin

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3rd September 2007

Hive update: our bees reject bee-o-pacs this time around

The girls do not like nor approve of the Bee-o-pac stuff in their honey supers. They have adamantly refused to do anything with them at all, except cementing the bits down with propolis. Sigh. So- no bee-o-pac goodness this year that we can distribute far and wide. Alas.

We’ll try it again next year, but before we do, I’m going to smear beeswax in every damn compartment. Bees are very motivated by scent, and this might make them realize that the bee-o-pacs are places where they could build comb and store honey. Maybe. We can hope!

Beekeeping is largely about outwitting bees.

On the plus side- we have 2 very full honey supers, and one that’s partial. We’re thinking, though, that we’re going to remove all the supers in the next day or so, try to do a serious hive check in each hive, and then encourage the girls to store up honey- and/or syrup, depending on the results of the inspection- for the winter. To that end, Justin got dressed up in full beekeeper regalia, and installed bee escapes under the supers in all 3 hives. These are cleverly designed (outwitting bees!) boards that allow bees to leave the supers, but (theoretically) not re-enter them. Tomorrow or the day after we’ll pull off the supers, and try to examine the main hive bodies in a way we haven’t for a couple of months.

Justin’s been working the hives without smoking them, and that has really pissed off the girls. Today we used smoke, and they were much less stroppy. So smoke it is!

Mary and Elizabeth have very full honey supers, and the few frames we examined in the main hive body look good. However, we’re concerned that they may not have the stores they need for overwintering. Susan hasn’t done much in her super, so that’s even more reason to take it away and maybe start feeding her again to set her up for the winter.

I really wish we’d been able to attend our bee class’ session on prepping for the winter, but family crises prevented it. And unfortunately, though Dan had said initially that he’d do make-ups if anyone had to miss- this does not appear to be true… although he did say we could come during store hours and he’d try to cover at least some of the info. I’m rather disappointed in this, to be honest. The class wasn’t cheap…

Anyway, I think we can do OK by the girls even without that. At this point encouraging them to start saving for the winter seems important.

-Amanda

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