Last weekend we had our VERY FIRST HONEY HARVEST. Seeing & tasting the results of my girls’ labors was a joy in itself. My youngest daughter, Rachel was home for the weekend and I pressed her into ‘service’ even though she had never been anywhere near my bee hives!
Checking out the Hives
Even before we started removing frames for honey extraction, I had Rachel check out my feral hive to get her in a good ‘frame’ of mind! Remember, this hive was decimated back in March by pesticides. The good news is that they seem to be doing quite well now – lots of brood, lots of nectar and some capped honey. Rachel was not sure that she exactly enjoyed being so close to the bees, but she did admit that it was a very interesting experience. Of course, putting her in a good vented bee suit helped – no one got stung!
How Bees Make Honey
To produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited. A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey per year. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.http://www.goldenblossomhoney.com/education_bees.php
Honeybees suck up nectar and put it into their “Honey Stomach”. Here it’s mixed with enzymes & water and regurgitated back at the hive. In the hive, nectar is dehydrated from 70-80% water to around about 20%. The workers then cap the cells with wax to store their honey. You can find out more about Honey from the National Honey Board and the Texas Beekeepers Association.
Pay attention to the Weather!
One very important thing we have learned about beekeeping is the importance of paying attention to the weather!
Doesn’t matter what you’ve planned – if the weather is ‘wrong’ plans will change!
- Don’t mess with Honeybees when it’s really hot, they’ll get MAD with you! Might mean an early start before it gets too hot.
- Don’t mess with Honeybees when it’s stormy or the weather is changing, they’ll get MAD with you!
If you hadn’t notice, it’s pretty hot outside right now, so we planned to start our Honey Harvest early in the day. But not too early – it’s a good idea to wait until most of the workers have left to go foraging.
We also pay attention to any chatter from our local Bee Club and one item I’d noticed was a report that there was a lot of nectar in hives rather than capped honey. This is because there had been several weeks of high humidity in the area. High humidity makes it harder for the bees to dehydrate nectar into honey. So, even before going into our hives we knew to look out for uncapped nectar rather than capped honey. Like a good scout, we try to be prepared!
I had two hives we were preparing to Harvest Honey from: the Italians and this years new hive with a TX Queen. In both hives we found an awful lot of nectar that had not been capped because of the high humidity. We only took one frame of honey from each hive, which was a little disappointing but understandable. Both hives had brood with honey surrounding that brood – good news for the girls!
Because the harvested frames have no foundation, we could just cut the comb off & into a clean bucket after brushing the bees off the frame.
To get the honey out of the comb we use a Crush & Strain method. I use a potato masher to break up the comb which was then run through a double sieve to strain the honey. Because this is Natural, Raw Honey, straining is the only thing I did to produce my final product. We had nearly 6lb honey from just those two frames.
Stuart and I debated going back into the hives this past weekend to see if there were any more frames that had been capped & decided not to do so. With triple digit temperatures in the area we know that nectar sources are going to dry up very quickly. Our bees need their nectar/honey for food & their own honey is so much better for them that the sugar syrup we would otherwise have to give them for food.
Honey Harvest Clean-up
This whole process was less sticky that I was afraid it would be – a blessing indeed. But for clean up we let the bees do the job for us. I’ve told you how good bees are at recycling in previous blogs – amazing creatures. The bucket that was used to crush the honeycomb was simply put out into the garden (away from the hives) and by the following evening was squeaky clean.
The wax was still sticky with honey after crushing and straining & this was put out on a tray for the girls to reclaim the dribbles of honey and clean the wax.
Stuart and I feel that we had a successful Honey Harvest & there is definitely a feeling of joy at tasting Honey from OUR HIVES! A little more would have been nice but lack of capped honey, despite lots of nectar made that decision for us. We are in this adventure for the bees, not the honey & so are quite content leaving plenty of food in the hive for our girls! That’s it until next year! Anything they produce in the fall will be left in their hives for winter food – inspired by the beekeeper in the movie Honeyland. Half for us, Half for them!