Monday, July 6, 2015

Harvesting Honey 101

beekeeper suits

One of the perks of being a beekeeper (in addition to having something to talk about at parties) is the honey. But let me tell you if you are thinking about getting a hive or two, the collecting is a lot of work. you'll sweat buckets and smell like honey and smoke when you are finished. That's why when a young adventurous friend, Katie, who writes a blog about living in Spain called Suitcase Lioness, volunteered her services as a bee intern I jumped at the chance. It takes a special kind of person to be willing to wear something that looks like some NASA astronauts went to clown school. Beekeepers are a quirky bunch.

 Read about that time I had a bee in my bonnet here.

This is a harvest of spring and early summer honey. Swarm season is officially over and I've got three first rate queens laying away. So how do we know when to harvest the honey? Here is what a frame looks like when I put the super (a box containing ten frames) on. The frames I use have a plastic foundation which the bees will cover with honey comb.

The first job the bees have to do is make honeycomb to put the honey or brood in. We call this drawing out. This is a frame in the honey super so I have placed a queen excluder between the brood chamber and this box. As soon as they get some comb built they start filling them with honey. Here's a post about identifying what's on the frames.

In the picture above you can see the wet honey in the cells and then on the right you can see some honey they have capped. This means that the bees know that the moisture level in each of those capped cells is perfect (around 18%). Once sealed the honey will basically last forever.

 Read about Catching My First Swarm!

I check the hives every couple of weeks waiting for almost all the frames to be full of honey. The super full of frames that weighs about five pounds when I put it on there with one hand will weigh a good thirty pounds when full of honey. Once I see 90% of the frames are capped I add the bee escape board. You can see the top of it in the pic below. It's got a sort of a maze on the other side and once the bees go back down into the brood boxes they can't find their way back into the honey super. Unless you leave it on more than a couple of days. Those girls will figure it out because they are on a mission to get back to work up there. Some beekeepers use fume boards to drive the bees out of the supers. I am never using any chemicals in these hives. I want to be able to assure people who buy my honey these hives are completely chemical free.

Once the bees are out of the super it's time to harvest! For a post covering an entire season with more pictures read Honey: Start to Finish

 In the picture above you can see how many bees were trying to figure out the maze when we opened the hive. And below how quickly they disperse to go about their business. We are looking at a frame that is about half capped.

Almost every frame was capped all the way to the edges so this was a great harvest. The intrepid Katie, got to take it to the honey kitchen and jar it up herself to serve to visiting friends this week. As a beekeeper this is my favorite way to enjoy honey, scraped right off the frame and into a jar. It leaves no doubt that you are getting 100% pure raw unfiltered honey.

And in Katie's case, bragging rights.

Special thanks to my son, Jared for offering to photograph our escapades!

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