Last Tuesday, Anthony and I decided it was time to take the honey supers off of our hives. Where we live, the second week of August is the time when most beekeepers are harvesting their honey. We weren't expecting much in the way of honey this year. Many times first year bees only make enough honey to sustain them through the winter. One of our hives produced a nice amount of honey - we got about 3 supers full from them and a full super usually provides about 20 pounds of honey. Do you remember this diagram of a hive?
The honey super is the box that you put on top of the deeps. We have two deeps for each hive - usually their brood (eggs) is in the bottom box and their honey is in the top box. Our second hive didn't really produce much of anything. I noticed a few weeks before we pulled the supers off that it seemed like that hive had a much smaller population and was not producing. Our mentor Rick told us that it looked like it had requeened itself. This means the bees got rid of the existing queen and replaced her with a new one, and that usually happens because she is not doing her job well enough. So because of that, they didn't have a queen that was laying enough or for a long enough time to match the hive next to it that had been going strong all season. Rick seems to think that the requeened hive will do really well next year. Queens do their best in their first few years of life.
This is a queen cell, a new queen will emerge from this (image from hudsonvillehoney.com)
So, back to the harvest. To remove the supers, we applied a fume board - basically a lid that has a super stinky smell coming off of it (think STRONG blue cheese). When that board is on, for just about 30 seconds, it drives the bees further down into the hive, removing them completely from the super. Anthony and Rick did that for each one until all of the bees were out of all of the supers. Once we loaded the supers up in Rick's truck, he took them to his honey house to dry them out overnight. His honey house is about 90 degrees and has a dehumidifier in it to ensure the honey is dry enough. Honey needs to have a water content of about 18% to be jarred. A good indicator that the honey is ready and has the proper water content is when the bees cap the honeycomb. When they cap it off, it prevents moisture from being absorbed. A refractometer can tell you exactly what the moisture content is.
The white on this frame is wax - this shows what it looks like capped
Once we were back at the honey house, we started by uncapping the wax on all of the frames. This is a somewhat delicate and labor intensive process. We will be using these frames again next year, and since the comb is already built out, the bees will be able to concentrate on filling the comb, instead of starting from scratch and building up comb. So we want to keep the comb intact and untouched as much as possible.
First, we sliced the cappings off with a knife. We saved all of the cappings to try making something with the beeswax
This capping comb takes off the smaller bits and pieces of wax. Look at all of that delicious honey!
Rick generously offered to help us and also let us use his extractor. Extractors are pretty pricy - around $1300 and up. Before we dove in to that purchase, we wanted to have some experience under our belt. Once the frames are all uncapped, they are placed in the extractor and the honey is spun out. Here's a video of the entire experience.
We filled a 5 gallon bucket with honey. And got lots of wax to experiment with.
My favorite part of the whole harvest process was when Rick told Anthony to take a piece of the wax and try it. He told him to chew it like gum and taste the honey. Anthony tried it and was shocked. He actually said "WOW, I think I'm going to like honey now!" He even made me give him a blind taste test when we got home with some honey that we had in our cupboard and of course declared ours superior.
This was such a GREAT experience. We are so fortunate that our bees survived and are healthy and gave us such an incredible gift. We also can't thank Rick enough for all of his help. Anthony and I still have so much to learn, but now that we've got half of a season under our belts, we are ready for more!