One of my favorite late Summer or early Fall activities is working with my bees. It is a time for the harvest of honey, the cleaning of the bee environment and getting the bees situated for the Winter survival process.
We generally harvest the honey in late August or Early September. I’m a hobbyist where bees are concerned. I have only five hives. I always joke that a hobbyist can handle around five hives; more than that and it turns into work – a job!
“Supers” – the boxes – come in two sizes. Deeper ones are placed on the bottom and are reserved for the bees. This is where the queen lays her eggs, young bees are hatched, some honey for their consumption is stored, and the hive lives. Individual beekeepers may reserve one or two supers for the care and living of the hive. The smaller suppers are placed on top of the “Brood” supers and are called “honey” supers. This is where the worker bees make and store honey. We think of is as excess, for harvesting!
Harvesting the honey from my five hives usually takes the better part of one day. We try to start early while the bees are less active. Each “super” (containing nine-ten frames) may weigh up to around 50 pounds of honey. That will provide about that many one-pound jars of honey. Each super is removed from the hive, the frames are removed and any bees that stayed on the comb are brushed (or blown) off, and the frames are placed in plastic totes for later honey extraction.
Then we ready the hives for the winter. We ensure the brood supers have adequate honey for the hive. The queen slows her egg laying activities to promote a smaller winter hive, and we plan not to open the hives again till Spring so they can seal it with propolis to keep out the Winter weather. I generally put out three mushroom extracts one more time (once in the Spring also) for the bees to drink to strengthen their immune systems against hive pathogens. Then I clear the bee yard of debris (some of which we may have produced in the harvesting – “robbing” – process) to give them a clean area also free of pests and pathogens.
I also inspect the area to note that any fencing I keep to block some of the Winter wind is in place and functional, and if the weathermen indicate it could be an unusually cold Winter, I may wrap the hives with roofing paper as added protection. Their propolis is very effective, so I have only used this technique once in the past decade!
Extracting the honey is also about a half day process. This takes some specialized equipment: heated knives for removing the caps from the honey cells, heated buds for collecting the wax (which also has craft and commercial value), producing centrifugal force to remove the honey from the frames’ comb, buckets to transport the honey and containers into which we can put the extracted honey. But in the end “how sweet it is”.
I am often asked “why don’t you leave the honey in the comb and sell it that way?” This could certainly be done, but it would destroy the frame structure and require the bees to completely remake the frames next year. Also, some frames which use a plastic foundation would also prevent this. The cost of the resultant process would also be about double what the same amount of honey would cost, besides the extra work for the bees. While we don’t do this because of the cost and lessened demand, we do melt and pour the wax for crafting interest in making certain cosmetics, lip balms, and salves.
Almost every homeowner could place a bee hive in the outer part of his property and raise his own “honey”. The work is minimal, the pollination of his foods and flowers is effective, and the honey is both nutritious and medicinal! The study of the bees is fascinating and important to our food supply. Honey – how sweet it truly is!