Monday, October 1, 2012

Honey Harvest 2012!! 09-16-2012

I wasn't sure this day was going to come (at least not this year) but we did have a honey harvest this year!!  Green Hive produced enough of a surplus that I felt comfortable stealing it from the bees.  The reason bees make honey is so they have something to eat during the long cold Winter months.  This gives them the energy they need to flex their wing muscles and generate enough heat to keep warm.  Bees do not hibernate, rather they huddle together to keep warm waiting for the first sources of food to emerge in the Spring.  Typically their first sources of food are Dandelions for nectar and Maple and Willow trees for pollen.  So don't kill those Dandelions in your yard!!  =)

Here is what is typically involved in getting the honey:
Solid Honey

Step One: Remove The Bees
Hey bees!  Look at those flowers over there! <<steals honey before they notice>>  Since my ninja
suit is at the cleaners, I decided to try a different method.  First I removed a honey frame and checked to make sure it was 80-90% capped. 
That's a good one!
Nectar becomes honey only after the bees have reduced the moisture content of the nectar to below 18%.  Then they seal the cell with a thin wax cap to
prevent the honey from absorbing any additional moisture.  If you take uncapped honey, you run the risk of elevating the moisture level in the honey to the point where it can actually ferment.  Not good eats!  Next I held a solid grip on the frame and then jerked it quickly downward.  This dislodged most of the bees clinging to the frame.  I then followed up with the bee brush to remove the remaining bees.  Lastly, I brought the frame to an empty hive body, placed it inside and then covered it with a bed sheet to prevent the bees from going back onto the honey frames (which they really want to do). 
Not ready yet
 With my friend Keith helping, we quickly got into a rhythm.  He would pry apart the frames.  I would pick them up, shake and brush the bees off them and hand the frame off.  Keith would walk the frame over to the empty box and cover it up.  Rinse and repeat 10 times!  As you can see, this is a bit labor intensive because you have to touch each frame in the box.  Since I had only one box, it was no big deal.  If you had 10 boxes.......

Here are a few other methods I have read about:
Fume Board - You put a special felt lined board soaked in "bee repellent" on top of your hive.  The smell drives the bees down into the hive and out of the honey supers.  Wait five minutes and remove the now empty honey super.  Seems like this would work well but I didn't want to risk having the chemicals in my hive (even briefly). 

Escape Board - This is a special box that has a one-way wire mesh maze built into it.  When the bees navigate their way out, they cannot find their way back in.  You put this underneath your honey super and after a few days there are no more bees in the honey super.  I might buy some of these and give them a try next year. 

Bees shaken off the frames onto this box
Leaf Blower - Just like it sounds.  You take the honey super off the hive, set it on it's side and then blast it with the leaf blower expelling the bees from the box.  Seems like this would really piss the bees off and maybe injure a number of them as well.  Not to mention, I don't think I have a long enough extension cord to reach my hives!

Step Two: Uncap the honey frames
I bought a special "cold knife" made to cut the wax cappings off.  It is a long serrated blade that you lay onto the frame and saw back and forth removing the caps.  They also make a "hot knife" which is the same blade but with a heating element in it.  It melts and cuts at the same time and also costs $100.  Did I mention I'm cheap??  The cold knife worked fine but as the knife became more and more sticky with honey and wax, it became more tedious since you needed to clean the knife every few minutes.  Again, with only one box of frames it wasn't that big of a deal but if I have a few more boxes to do next year, I may have to spring for the hot knife. By the way, there is no way short of a biohazard suit that you can do this job without being covered in honey!!  It is hard not to get a taste of honey when your hands are covered in it!

Cutting the caps

One side done

Step Three: Extract the honey
If you spin the frames fast enough, the honey flies right out of them.  My friend Keith is a world renowned master tinkerer, so he decided to try his hands at building an extractor.  With some slight sizing adjustments, it worked perfectly!  Using a hand drill, we spun each set of frames for a few minutes, flipped them over spun them again and they were done.  I'm still very impressed at how nicely and easily it worked.  AND I didn't have to pay $300-$400+ for a commercial extractor!
Spin!  Spin!
Step Four: Bottle the honey
With all the honey removed from the frames, we poured the honey through a 600 micron filter that sits on the top of the bottling bucket.  The bucket has a special honey gate built into the bottom so that it is easy to start and stop the honey flow as you fill the bottles.  We let the honey filter and settle over night and began bottling the next day.  I controlled the honey gate and my wife told me when to start and stop.  We had our 12 oz jars processed lickety split.
Into the filter
Step Five: Labeling and packaging
My wife and I worked on designing a label and I think it turned out very well.  She really likes the name of the blog so we decided to call the honey "Martin's BEEginnings".  I also wanted some text on the label about how to reliquefy honey if it crystalizes and some text about not feeding honey to infants under one year of age.  Finally, we put the net weight, year and a scripture on the label.  Proverbs 16:24 - Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.  To finish off the jars, I bought some labels from Dadant that you put on the lid.  They say "How do you know if it is real honey if you don't know the beekeeper?".  No Chinese funny honey here folks!  My wife added her finishing touch with a ribbon and a little bee charm.  Ain't they purty?!?!

Followup and Winter Prep:
After the extraction was complete, I placed the "wet" frames back on the hive for the bees to clean up.  They eagerly licked up any residual honey that was not extracted and moved it back into their hive.  Since I only extracted 9 out of the 10 frames in the box (the last one was only partially capped) I had to decide what to do with frame #10.  Green Hive has another super almost filled with honey, so I'm not too worried about them.  So, I checked White Hive and I was horrified to see that the honey super I placed there had not been touched.  The bees have drawn no wax and stored no honey in it!  In a Northern climate it is recommended to have two deep boxes PLUS a super of honey to make it through the Winter.  These bees have no super and I have no idea how much is stored up in the deep boxes.  So, I took the unextracted frame from Green Hive and swapped it with an empty frame in White Hive.  Hopefully they will take the honey.  If they haven't removed it within a week or so, I think I will place it above the inner cover and maybe scratch open the cells.  This should provoke the bees to remove the honey.  At this point in the year I don't think they have a chance of filling the empty honey super so I think I will just remove that empty box and hope they can survive with the stores they currently have.

As a final bit of Winter prep, I placed mouse guards on the hives.  When it gets cold mice like to move into the heated apartment in the yard called a beehive.  The mouse guard is a strip of metal that has holes large enough for the bees to get through, but a mouse can't get through or chew through.
Mouse Guard
As always, thanks for reading and questions are always welcome!