Tag Archives: honey

Bee Addition and Subtraction

It’s been a long time since my last update.  Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

For a while, I planned on a new blog post about once a week.  But as it often does, life kept getting in the way.  So, for the next handful of updates, I’ll try to recall all of the special details from past geek-off-grid-iness situations.

Months ago, I got a message from a friend in town who had honeybees in his porch ceiling.  And he needed them gone.

Sweet!  It just so happens that I want honeybees, so this seemed like a win-win-win situation.  I already had most of what I needed: extra hive bodies and the proper equipment need to peek your face into a bee colony.   I bought a couple other things (a queen cage and some lemongrass oil), gathered all of my stuff, and planned on making a day of it.

Sure enough, when I rolled up, there were tons of bees going in and out of the porch ceiling.  Keith said that they were pretty calm and they only sting Jehovah’s Witnesses in the six or seven years that he’d known they were there.  Add me to the list, though, because while I was invading their space (before I had my veil on), one got caught in my hair.  After it panicked for a a minute or so between the forest on my head (i.e., it was nowhere near my bald spot), I thought I’d try to help it get unstuck.  It wasn’t a fan of that, and died in order to let me know.

keith-porch

I forgot to get many pictures, but you can kind of see the hole that they were using as an entrance in the corner.  So I removed the soffit, hoping to see a glorious amount of honeycomb, considering they’d been there for so long.  Here’s what I saw instead:

keith-porch2

Yup.  Nothing.

Apparently that was only the gate to their courtyard.  I walked through his house, putting my ear to the ground (literally) and walls, and determined that the glorious honey was somewhere in the floor joists between two bedrooms.  This was above my pay grade, so I packed up and left.  Sad day.  Sting and no honey.  (Which would have been a much better backup band name for The Police)

Since that produced no extra bees for me, I decided to go with phase two: splitting one of my healthy hives.

It’s not rocket science…  Nature does this all the time, and as a colony grows a beekeeper must make sure to give them ample space to continue to store honey.  If they outgrow their house, a new queen is reared and the old queen takes about half of the bees with her to find a new home.  Or – the ’emergency’ situation is that nurse bees start rearing a new queen if the old one dies, disappears, is sick or just not laying eggs like she should.  Splitting a hive is pretty much just forcing a bunch of nurse bees to make a new queen because they’re cut off from the old one.

I’ve watched YouTube, folks.  I’m an expert.

I took five frames out of my strongest hive – three frames of larvae, one frame of honey, and one empty frame so they could have room to grow – and put them into one of my original Nuc boxes.

healthy-nuc

There are a lot of different methods online – but it seemed like the general consensus was that the existing queen simply needed to stay with the old hive.  Of all of the bees that came over to the new hive, a bunch of them would go back to the old hive (just because when they leave the Nuc, they’d fly back based on their memory) and the nurse bees would stick around and make a new queen.

split-hive

Easy peasy, right?

Well, I came back maybe a week later, and the Nuc was pretty low on honey.  I still had a lot of wax from when I extracted my first harvest of honey, and it was probably actually a 1:1 ratio of honey to wax.  I had planned on heating the honey wax to separate them, possibly to make candles or something (and of course eat the honey) – but instead I decided to give it to the honey-hungry Nuc.  Over the next few days, I left this honeywax at the top of their hive, as well as at the entrance.

If I haven’t said it before, bees do not waste honey.

wax-dust

Each time I gave them a clump of sticky-sweet-waxy goodness, I returned to find that they’d sucked every ounce of honey out of it and turned it into dust.  The above picture has just a little bit of honey left (the darker spot by the bee).

Here’s a short video of them incredibly focused on the task at hand:

Anyhow, it was all for naught.  I realized at one point that it was a losing battle, because no queen cells were starting to form.  And as the hive grew weaker (no new bees to take over as the older ones died off), wax moths and other jerks started taking over.  It was a complete loss.

At least the chickens took advantage of the situation, though…

So I tried again!  Exact same method, but this time I noticed three or four in-progress queen cells when I transferred the frames over to the new Nuc.

And the same thing happened.

jerks

But, even worse: apparently, in all the commotion in transferring frames, the healthy hive’s queen was lost.  I should have thought of that when I took literally all of the potential queen cells out, but I didn’t.  So, when I went back to check the Nuc two weeks later, a once bustling hive was now almost completely empty.

empty-hive

I wish I had good news to end on, but I don’t.  I completely dismantled the hive (it had wax moths and other critters as well, so I didn’t want to combine it with my other still healthy hive) and left it out for the chickens.

dismantled-hive

Perhaps the tiniest bit of silver lining is that the other hive found the now exposed honey, and stored it for themselves.  But, they’re not nearly as productive as the hive that I lost, so I’m not even sure they’ve gathered enough to make it through the coming winter.  Hopefully I’ll have good news later!

stealing-honey

honeyjar

Harvesting Honey the Old Fashioned Way

I have honey!

Over the winter, there really isn’t much you can do with honeybees.  Except for poking your head in during very warm days to make sure they have enough honey stored to get them through the season.  I tried to stay out as much as possible, realizing that they know a lot more than I do about keeping themselves alive.

However, spring has arrived!

As such, soon after it looked like we were in for consistent warm weather, I poked my head in with a much different intention: robbing them of their honey!  I didn’t want to take too much – but dang it, I’ve been at this for a year and have spent a lot of money, so I want some honey!!  Sunny, runny, bunny, funny, money, honey.  (Sorry – the line before last rhymed and I couldn’t stop myself.)

honey-frames

They’re doing great, and I saw some frames packed with brood (larvae/eggs), so it looks to me like they’re healthy.  I only took one frame from each, and those frames weren’t 100% capped and ready but they weren’t too far from it.  (Don’t worry – there was plenty of honey left in the hive.  I’ll take more after everything’s in bloom, though)  I didn’t even get stung, even though I was brushing them off of the frames pretty aggressively.

honey-stand

After I got the frames, I realized I had no idea what to do with them.  Most legit beekeepers have access to an extractor and other fancy tools to help them efficiently remove the honey.  However, I don’t know if I’d consider myself a legit beekeeper yet, and since those things cost money I figure I’d try to have a go without them.  (I’m really excited about the Honey Flow system, but that’s a lot of money, too…  One of my frames costs $1, and a frame from the Honey Flow costs about $80.  Basically, I don’t want to spend a bunch more money until I know I can pay myself back with honey.  I’m rhyming honey with money a lot in this post.)

My first idea wasn’t a very good one.

honey-first-try

I basically just stood them up like a teepee over a pan and used a spoon to scoop the honey out.  It wasn’t very quick, and I got a lot of spoons dirty because I tended to stick them in my mouth.  Don’t worry – I’m no double dipper.  If a spoon went in my mouth, it didn’t go back in the honeycomb.  I promise.

honey-scooped

I got pretty impatient, because I felt like I wasn’t getting very far even though I was scraping a lot of wax off.  So, I simply looked at a few websites on how to harvest honey without an extractor and got some much better ideas.

honeycomb

I just scraped everything off the frame into a colander.  I didn’t want to use a strainer, because when you filter honey you actually lose some of the benefits.  Unfiltered raw honey has pollen in it, and this is the pollen from my own back yard so it can help with my specific allergies, since I’d be ingesting the same pollen that my sinuses have a problem sorting through.  When you filter, those chunks of pollen can get thrown out.  (I should have taken a picture of some of the pollen, but I didn’t think about it.  I will next time.  Unless I forget again.  (You can see the pollen on the next picture, but it looks more like dirt.)

honey-mangled

The picture above is after I scraped from one frame all the comb that contained honey into the colander.  There’s still a lot of pollen, but I don’t think I missed any honey from that one.  I’ll get the wax later.

honey-drip

After that, I crushed the comb, forcing a bunch of honey, pollen, and some small chunks of wax into the bowl below.  I ate more wax in that day or two of extracting honey than the rest of my life combined.  Not that I’ve eaten a lot of wax in my life, nor that I just munched on wax all day – I just figure the little bits and pieces added up, since I was sucking the honey off of them.

honeycomb-dry

I poured the honey out into a mason jar, then crushed more comb, then poured, etc.  Finally, I just let it set for a long time dripping down, and the comb was fairly dry.  I’m planning on melting the wax in a cloth in the sun, which would let any trapped honey run out, but it’ll take a while.  On top of that, I had an ant problem when I left the whole setup out overnight.  (Well, technically my wife had an ant problem…  I just came home to an unhappy wife who dealt with an ant problem.)  So – if I set it out somewhere to melt and separate, I’ll need to make sure our six legged friends don’t have access.

To clean up, I left the frames on top of the hives, because bees will suck absolutely any remaining honey off of it.  I read somewhere that it can take bees collectively flying up to 40 million miles to make a pound of honey, so it would make sense that they would spend the time to get even the slightest amount of honey close by.  Sure enough, I left the frames overnight, and they were bone dry the next day, with bees still checking it out.

The honey has a very interesting taste, with a little bit of a kick to it, because all (actual) honey is flavored by the pollen and nectar that the bees gather from.  For a while I tried to analyze it to figure out what plant I wast tasting, but then I realized I was basically not seeing the forest from the trees.  Honey!  I have honey from my back yard!  I’ll figure out plant-flavors later!

I ended up getting three pints of honey, and I have been eating more honey than ever!  My friend Chris gave me some bread that his family baked, and I pretty much ate that with a 1:1 ratio of honey to bread.  My intention was to sell honey, but at the rate I’m using it, I might have to hoard it all…  I’ve been putting it in coffee, and I figure if I can replace all my sugar intake with honey, then I’ll be healthier.  Right?

Right?