Friday, August 8, 2014

anniversary honey harvest

A quick look through my Italian hive last week, the one I repopulated with a package in the early spring, told me that it was time to harvest some of that hive's honey.  I had already done a thorough inspection of my two other hives, both of which I had decided needed a bit more time before harvesting from them, and had taken a quick peek inside this one.  

This Italian hive had three supers for honey on it and I looked quickly down below into the boxes and brood.  I was pleased with the amount of honey.  And nervous about how little brood I spotted.  I closed it back up and made a note to myself to look in on it in about a week and to start pulling together the materials we would need to harvest the honey.

This week, Jonathan headed over to The Honey Exchange to talk to the sage powers that bee over there.  Meghan Gaven was in the store that day and she and Jonathan discussed having them harvest the honey for us, since it was a relatively small batch to process, versus us doing it ourselves.  The two of them decided that it would make sense, and be more fun, if we did it here.  Jonathan rented the honey extractor that The Honey Exchange loans out for a ridiculously small fee to members of our county's Beekeeper's Association and he also purchased a few items that we would need to have on hand to use each time we harvest.

The next day I headed down the hill to the beeyard, filled with the advice from Meghan about how to do this and having stayed up late the night before rereading my notes and books on honey harvesting.  I have few pictures of this stage since Jonathan was inside tending to the kids, and I had my hands full, to say the least, but I will describe it.

I pulled out 11 frames of completely capped honey.  There were many more, but I had it in mind that I was a bit worried about this hive being low on brood and whether there might be a queen issue going on below, so I erred on the side of leaving more resources for them if they were in a bit of trouble down there.

I had some rather anxious and hilarious moments of trying to figure out how to remove the hundreds of bees from each frame and most importantly, how to keep them off once removed, because these ladies were determined to stay and return once brushed, thumped and one by one removed from each.  In the end, I was much better and faster at this than any tool and found a method that worked best for me.  It just took a bit of time to realize that beginning with brushing them off made they very, very mad -- something that became clear when so many ladies dive bombing my veil that I could not see anything.  I also had three of these bees inside my veil at one point.  No problem.  I just did my panicked dance across the yard while flinging off my veil and suppressing screams so as not to alarm the children, adjusted my fallen zipper, and returned. My most successful process was this:  a few good solid thumps of the frame against the top of the hive box plopped a large number of the bees back down into the hive off the frame.  Then I proceeded to make them very irritated by using my bee brush to brush the rest down into the hive and then I took my hive tool and removed the stragglers.

I was feeling the need to be very careful about removing each bee, because I knew Jonathan and the kids were going to be helping with the extracting.  And angry bees in the kitchen were going to make this process less fun.  Meghan had suggested a sealed bin for putting each frame in, which was a fabulous idea.  But it was slow work, and these frames full of honey are heavy.

After I had removed the frames and was standing in a large and buzzing and veil-thwacking cloud of bees, I took a look down below into the brood frames.  It wasn't good.  

There was almost no brood and no queen to be found.  I am not sure what happened to her.  I saw her green dotted beautiful self just two weeks prior.  But she was with us no longer.

There were what I think must have been nurse bees tending to this one rather sad and pathetic looking attempt at a new queen cell at the bottom of a frame.  I was very careful with it as I slid it back in, but I didn't have much hope for it.

I closed the hive back up, placed the supers of honey I had left back on top and wheeled my closed bin of honey frames up to the house.

I gave Jonathan the good news and the bad: that we were going to process a good batch of honey, and we needed to start calling around for a queen.  Jonathan quickly found one, from Karen, of New Moon Apiary, a queen that is a northern mix with Italian/Carniolan stock, wintered over here in Maine.  

I headed out to take Nicholas to his guitar lesson.  While I was out, Jonathan started harvesting.  He texted me:  Only one honeybee in the bin.  Nice work.

I quickly dropped Nicholas back at the house and turned my Subaru north, heading toward my queen-to-be.  And an hour and a half later I returned, with a small brown bag on the seat beside me holding a lovely new matriarch and her two attendants, full of excellent advice from Karen about how to start her off in her new colony.  I hopped out of my for public clothes and back into my beekeeping gear and headed right down to the hive and popped her in.

And headed back to the kitchen.  

Funny thing.  We had guests and throngs of children in the yard arriving in an hour.  And the beeyard was decidedly not calm.  And the kitchen was a bit sticky.  But good friends overlook such things and we had our time together.  And no one got stung.

By the time we were able to return to extracting, it was late.  And dark, as you will see in the pictures below.

But together, just the two of us, on our wedding anniversary no less, we extracted our first honey harvest.  Jonathan turned to me at one point, completely sticky and exhausted, while he hand cranked the extractor.  Never in a million years, when we got married, did I anticipate we would celebrate our anniversary like this.  We laughed.  And then, he added, And I am having so much fun!

Our set up:

Our new and terrifyingly sharp uncapping knife.

The cappings were collected, drained of what honey we could get out of them.  And then I froze that sticky wax to be combined with the wax from other harvests and then be used for other products such as candles and lotions.

Then it was extraction time.  Four frames fit into the hand cranked spinner at a time and we followed Meghan's advice about spinning them first on one side to remove half of that side's honey, then flipped them around and spun that side completely clean and then flipped again to the first side to remove the remaining half of that side.  This was easier on the frames and foundation which could have been pulled apart by the weight of the honey and the centripetal* force.

*Meghan and Jonathan discussed the great centripetal/centrifugal force distinction and Meghan concluded: "Many people have tried to convince me that there is an important distinction between them and I am just not sure I believe them."

The extracted honey draining from the extractor into our new straining bucket.

The frames below have had their cappings cut off, then spun to release the honey.  They were placed back on the hive the following morning for the bees to tidy up and then begin filling again.

In all, from that small processing, we extracted 37 pounds of honey.

We have it placed on a shelf in the kitchen like the art it is.

In the daylight the next morning?  It was even more beautiful.

As Jonathan said, nothing like we expected.  Yet I wouldn't have changed a thing.

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