We started the 2017 honey harvest this weekend. I was really hoping to have more to write about with the bees over the summer. I probably would have if we were a little more hands on with our beekeeping. We weren’t. We checked the hive about every other week and from talking with others, they were checking theirs if not daily at least weekly. I could make excuses like we work in town full time, have young children, farm animals, a garden, grain fields, hay fields and the farmers market. Yes, we are busy but it really doesn’t take that much more time to light a fire in the smoker and take a walk across the field.
Most trips to the hive when the kids were awake were uneventful. They would all line up on the edge of the field and watch from a distance. There was one hive check after it had rained that we came back to the kids playing in mud puddles, one dressed, one in their underwear and one… well she’s our free spirit but she was wearing a flour sack dish towel for a cape. All were a happy, muddy mess and the bees had survived the storm. Little happenings like this are probably the best reason we didn’t make it out weekly.
Even without our frequent checks the bees did their job, pollinating the crops and making some of the best honey.
With the baby due pretty soon and the garden yet to harvest we figured we’d best get going on honey harvesting while there was time. I set up a table in the yard and got our fume board concoction mixed up. Rather than purchasing the stinky stuff that is used on the fume boards to move the bees out of the boxes I mixed up my own. It was a combination of rubbing alcohol, tea tree essential oil and almond extract. Mike had the smoker going and the trailer hooked up to the four-wheeler and we were off to the hive.
The bees were busy. There are still a fair amount flowers; between our squash, zinnias and weeds they aren’t starving yet. A few puffs of smoke and we laid the homemade fume board on the top of the hive and replaced the lid. We were going to wait about five minutes or so to let the bees move down into a lower box. It was a pretty rushed five minutes (two minutes would be more accurate I would guess). It worked ok though.
The top box was empty so that was an easy one. They had just begun to start building some wax in it. The next boxes were full. Mike said they were heavy and I will take his word for it. The fume board was set aside due to unrealized lack of patience or maybe excitement or the million bees that were angrily swarming around us. I have a bee brush to dust the bees off the comb and frames, I also have a sneaking suspicion that one of the kids borrowed it. Mike cut a piece of pine bough for me to use instead.
It took a little time but between Mike, the branch and I we were able to clear most of the remaining bees from the frames and boxes we had loaded into the trailer. We reassembled the rest of the hive and hoped that everyone would head home instead of follow us. The ones that were at the house with us I’m pretty sure hitched a ride.
As we removed the frames from the boxes the remaining bees were removed via shop vac. We were all set up and had the comb cut off the first few frames when I could have sworn that I felt a rain drop. Then another and another. At that point I could have just swore in general. It has already rained on our second cutting of hay, so much so that it will need to be burned in the field. I was not about to lose our honey to rain too! We quickly moved the whole operation to the front porch just in time to watch the down pour begin.
“The one tiny spot of rain in the whole county.” Mike said as he checked the weather radar.
(sigh) “I want a summer kitchen for Christmas.” Was my reply.
By that time my dad had arrived to check out the operation. In keeping with most of my projects it was low budget and make-shift. Once I found the proper pastry tools for the job the three of us made quick work of it. Side note: I have helped mud walls among other home projects with cake tools. Always use the proper tool for the job or use what you have that works just as well, if not better!
Most of the comb was capped and looking lovely. The bit that wasn’t capped was put into a separate bucket for immediate use. The bees cap the comb when the honey is ready. If the comb is uncapped the water content isn’t right yet and will cause the honey to ferment rather than have the unlimited shelf life that it would normally have.
Mike had fashioned a bucket with a spigot at the bottom that the comb and honey went into. From there it drained into a second bucket through a fine strainer. The draining and straining were done in the house because once the rain stopped the wasps came out to play.
The empty frames were placed back in the boxes and brought back to the hive. The bees didn’t even notice us when we opened the hive to replace frames. They were busy trying to repair what was amiss from our last visit. Bees are quite hygienic and with any luck will clean up the empty boxes for us.
The bench knife, cake scraper, and bucket method was slow, effective and when we are on a budget it worked quite well. The straining took a good twenty-four hours for the honey to seep through the broken comb and fine mesh. The way the hive looked we will have to repeat the process in a couple weeks once the rest has been capped.
I’m going to write this season down as successful.