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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

First Honey Harvest!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

First Honey Harvest!

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give bees a chance
This has been a phenomenal year for the bees in our area: moderate temperatures, adequate rainfall (which cannot be said for most of the country), and a good nectar flow as a result. We'd already heard from other beekeepers saying that they were pulling massive amounts of honey off of their hives, but this is our first harvest, so we didn't know what to expect.

In the spring, we'd added a medium honey super onto the hive for collecting honey. The way it works is that the bottom boxes on the beehive are used for both storing honey and raising young bees (brood), but the honey is for the bees, for their winter food source. To collect honey for harvesting, you first add a queen excluder to the top of the hive; the wires are wide enough to allow the workers to pass through, but the queen--being slightly larger than the workers--cannot fit and so stays in the bottom of the hive. This prevents you from getting brood mixed in with your honey. Then you add a box (super) on top of the queen excluder that the bees fill up with honeycomb and honey.

There are a few different ways to harvest honey. Since we were only pulling off one super with eight frames, it wasn't worth it for us to rent the centrifuge from the Carroll County Beekeepers Society, so we harvested using a fume board and the crushed-comb method. The fume board is a cloth pad that you spray down with volatile essential oils; they smelled lovely to me, but the bees don't like them. You place the fume board on top of the honey super, and within five minutes, the bees have moved away from it and into the bottom of the hive, leaving the honey super empty. A frame is normally liberally covered in bees:

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However, once the fume board did its thing, we had about ten bees left in the entire honey super.

I think Bobby and I were both a little nervous about the first harvest. For obvious reasons, bees don't appreciate having their honey taken. However, it was a perfect day for "going in the bees"; it was cool and dry (hot, wet weather pisses them off and makes the beekeeper uncomfortable too). Although I usually only wear, at most, a veil in the bees, I did the full suit, everything but the gloves. (I'm honestly more nervous about dropping a frame full of bees than I am getting stung on the hand. I've been stung on the hand before; it hurts, but it heals.) Bobby and I planned our approach ahead of time; we opened the hive and got the fume board in place, then went in the house to wait. The bees were fine; no one pinged us or even seemed to care that we were there.

Next, we went out to remove the honey super. Our first year behind us, we have decided to take a hands-off approach to the bees as much as possible, since going into the hive seriously disrupts them and requires them to repair the damage we cause. So we hadn't been in ... well, in a while. As a result, the honey super was very "propped up": Bees produce a sticky, dark golden substance called propolis that they use to seal up the hive. Every crack and crevice gets "propped up." We had to pry apart the honey super and the queen excluder. This was the hardest part, and not only because of all the propolis.

I was prying up the honey super with the hive tool while Bobby tried to lift it free. "What's the matter?" I asked. "It looks like it's mostly come free."

"It's not the propolis," he said. "It's heavy."

When we took the beekeeping course, we were advised not to use large supers--called "deeps"--for honey because, when filled, they become so heavy that they're almost impossible to lift. We use mediums as a result. My husband is no weakling, and he had trouble lifting the medium! Finally, we got it free of the hive; he carried it around the side of the house while I put the hive back together. The bees were still calm and seemingly oblivious to what we were doing. I got the cover back on in no time.

When bees store honey, they first draw out the comb, then fill it with honey; when it's full and ready for long-term storage, they cover the comb with a wax cap. That's what you look for when you go into your honey supers: the pale yellow wax caps that tell you that you have a frame full of finished honey.

We took the honey super into the house after removing a few stray bees. Here was the first frame that we pulled out.

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It was nothing but capped honey. We loosened all of the frames (the bees prop those too), and every last inch was full of capped honey.

Here's the super, minus that first frame:

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You can see the honey spilling out onto the tops of the frames. Bobby and I both took a taste--what an amazing experience! It was wonderful!

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When you use the centrifuge, you use a hot knife to cut the caps off of the honey but save the comb itself and put it back into the hive for the bees to reuse. The crushed-comb method that we used, unfortunately, you have to destroy the comb, so the bees have to start over in building it. However, for us, this is not all bad, as we wanted to keep bees not only for the honey but the wax, which we will make into candles. With a kitchen knife, you cut the comb out from the frames. Here is a cross-section of comb, full of honey:

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Next, you use a pestle to mash up the comb.

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(I'm pulling out the little wire bits that hold the wax foundation in place on the frame.)

That mess of honey and wax gets dumped into a bucket lined with a fine mesh bag. The honey runs through the mesh and into the bucket, where Bobby uses a spigot to fill jars.

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Filled honey jars, just waiting on lids.

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Processing honey is messy! It gets everywhere. I'm sure the dogs loved licking the floor when we were done. The front of my shorts were soaked through to the skin with honey.

When we'd processed all eight frames, we figure we ended up with about 25 pounds of honey. We ended up with enough honey to last us for the year, enough wax to make about 75 votive candles, and spare honey for mead and gifts for friends and family.

Once finished, we tossed the empty, honey-coated frames and equipment in front of the hive; the bees will clean it up and re-store the remnants of the honey. Tomorrow, Bobby will replace the wax foundations in the frames, and we will put the honey super back on so that they can start working on their winter stores. We generally get another nectar flow in the fall; we'll also start feeding them again to get their stores up for the winter.

Here is the final harvest (minus the two jars that Bobby just did from the last of the honey to drain off):

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It's a beautiful time of the year, full of life and abundance. Here is the honey along with the veggies and eggs that are also part of our seasonal harvest.

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And the beautiful, clear golden color of the honey.

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This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

http://dawn-felagund.dreamwidth.org/300323.html
  • That is so cool I can hardly stand it!!!!! :D
  • How wonderful! The honey looks wonderful and delicious! I can only imagine how...sticky...that work was, but it looks like you'll be enjoying honey and beeswax for awhile :). And it seems the method used to make the bees leave you alone while you steal their honey isn't too invasive or troublesome to them. Nice work!
    • I don't like having dirty/sticky hands and had to wash up multiple times during the process. However, work around our little homestead frequently involves getting dirty with much worse than honey! :D (Yay, compost time!)

      I was very pleased with how well the fume board worked. Bobby researched it quite extensively beforehand; we had only been taught the centrifuge method in beekeeping class, but that was really not appropriate for such a small harvest. We'll definitely be using this method again.
  • Honey and Bees

    Simply AWESOME!!!
    • Re: Honey and Bees

      I can't remember if you can have honey? If you can, our paths must cross soon so we can give you a jar! :)

      It was really fun, even if messy!
      • Re: Honey and Bees

        Honey? Yes, I can, I just have to watch how much at any given time. I actually keep 'honey sticks' in the house and with me when I'm headed out for a day in case the sugar sneaks up on me and crashes. Doesn't happen often and I can generally tell when it's dropping so the sticks work really well.

        I'd LOVE to have a small jar of your honey but I'd keep the majority for yourselves and special folks. I like the fact that it never goes bad and if it crystallizes you can just warm it up and it will go back to a liquid state. Great antiseptic, too!

        Messy is generally fun and the result in this case is well worth the mess, as you already mentioned. YUM!

        Oh my - I just remembered I have a recipe for Russian Honey Bread - VERY rich, heavy and tasty!!! It's more like cake than bread, really. Sort of a dense pound cake type thing. I'll make a copy and you can try it if you like.
  • (no subject) - olorime001
    • It was! There is nothing quite like eating honeycomb right out of a beehive. I felt like a bear! :D

      Edit to reply to your edit: We didn't keep the propolis this time but trust me when I say it's abundant for the taking if we ever need it! :D

      The honey is very, very sweet. It's just plain ol' "wildflower honey" (a fancy way of saying that it consists of whatever is growing in the yard and garden and surrounds), so it's light-colored and not particularly strong-tasting. It's much better than store-bought; Bobby gave a jar to his TA at school, who couldn't believe we didn't do something special to it because it tasted so good! :)

      Ideally, we will harvest it at least once per year, but it depends on the weather and the nectar flow, since it's also important to leave enough honey on the hive to get the bees through the winter.

      Edited at 2012-07-31 02:15 am (UTC)
      • (no subject) - olorime001
        • We're lucky to live in a good area for agriculture: a decent growing season, cold but not insanely cold winters, and summers that are hot but not usually ridiculously so. (At least here in Manchester! Baltimore is quite a different story. :) This year has been very, very good weather-wise.

          We're getting much better at producing most of our own food. We've worked hard to build our soil, so yields are improving, and we're learning how to deal with pests better. It's been a challenge, but a very rewarding one! :)
  • That is so exciting! As you know, I love bees! And getting your "own" honey--what could be better!
  • Aaaah, oooh. If I weren't so afraid of stinging insects (pictures are okay, but real ones, nope!) this would make me want to have bees! And the harvest picture is just amazing! :D

    I'm writing a fic with an apiarist character in, could I email you some questions? Only if you have time. :)
    • Yeah, the stinging part isn't fun, although to be fair to the bees, every time I've gotten stung, it's been totally my fault! :)

      Please do email me any questions you have. :)
  • Wow! That is so very cool. I have seen honey like that before (in another lifetime) around where I grew up. We always knew a few people who had honey. A great aunt of mine used to give us the combs, unprocessed not in jars yet. Amazing. I had no idea you would get so much from your hives.

    I love your bee icon. Here is another I made for you, in case you need an extra! honey bee

    Edited at 2012-07-31 03:47 am (UTC)
    • Thank you for the icon! :D

      We did two jars of comb honey, stuffing them with a big chunk of comb and then pouring the honey on top. That's really trendy right now; apparently, apiaries can't keep it on the shelves!
      • It makes it look all home-packed and artsy-crafty. We used to get big combs of honey in a pan (kind of like in your picture) from friends and family. I liked to chew on a piece of the comb when I was little like Alex until there was no more flavor left.
        • I love chewing wax. Those little wax "soda bottle" candies, I could do without the liquid inside and just gnaw on the wax! :D
  • WOW! I am super impressed with you!
  • Amazing!It looks delicious!
  • Oh, wow! That 's fascinating. And the honey looks so delicious!

    There's a honey store about twenty minutes from my house. They have a small hive in back with glass plates so you can see the bees doing their bee things. :-) I like to go in sometimes and just watch them.
    • I love observation hives like that. They're really fun. :) Of course, it's really fun to go into a hive and watch the bees that way, but a little higher risk of getting stung. ;)

      The honey is wonderful! We're probably biased, but my husband and I agree that it's the best we've ever had.
  • Great harvest! So many jars. Congratulations to both the bees and the beekeepers.

    We always go to the State Fair every year and one of the things we do is go through the Bees and Honey judging. I'll be thinking about you as I go this year.

    And you must also have chickens? I had no idea. What a wonderful life you and Bobby have chosen for yourselves.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • Thanks for the congrats! :) The bees thank you too. ;)

      Bobby's talked about entering our honey in the State Fair; not sure if he's still considering it. It's a good way to get free feedback at least! :)

      We do keep chickens; we have nine hens of various types. We're very dedicated to becoming as self-sufficient as possible, for a variety of reasons. We find it suits us and makes us happy.
      • I encourage you to think about putting your honey into the State Fair. You can learn a lot from the judges about what they look for and what constitutes blue ribbon quality as well as tips and tricks. Of course, I am a State Fair addict, so I may not be looking at this completely unbiased - LOL.

        - Erulisse (one L)
  • Oh wow, your first honey! Awesome! (Here I am still pining for my bees. Damned hornets. ;_;)

    It was particularly interesting to read about the method you used to get the bees out of the super - the use of volatile oils for honey harvesting is forbidden in Germany, so I wouldn't have considered that option, but it sounds really easy and safe (and definitely like something our beloved Noldor might be working with, in case I ever finish that Celegorm-and-the-bees fic :D!). And kudos to you for doing all that work "by hand"... I was lazy and borrowed a centrifuge last year! (Granted, I might not have done it if there had been a fee. This year, I actually have my own centrifuge which I got from an acquaintance of the M-I-L who stopped bee-keeping due to old age... but no honey to harvest! *weeps again*)

    Anyway, congratulations! It's so wonderful and satisfying to see the results of the bees' work... and so fascinating to see how the taste and texture of the harvested honey change as it matures!
    • Hornets killed your bees?! 8^O I'd never heard of that, but it sounds awful! I'm so sorry. :(

      I think the centrifuge is free for CC Beekeepers Association members, but it's huge (big enough that we would have had trouble transporting it in our car) and just really wasn't well suited for the small amount we were harvesting. Any idea why using the essential oils is illegal in Germany? It seems to be the method of choice for home beekeepers here.

      It will be interesting to observe how the honey evolves! :) A new first to look forward to! Right now, it's thin, smooth, and very sweet--truly ambrosial!
      • Yeah, a hornet queen got into the hive while I had an (empty) drone frame in there, which apparently offered her enough space to build her nest there... and then my bees ended up as hornet food. Two weeks later I check the drone frame and voilà! No bees. ;_;

        Illegal is too hard a word, maybe -- but you're technically not allowed to sell your honey if you harvested it with the fume board method, and if someone happened to take probes and find traces of essential oils, you'd be fined. German/ European food law: You're only allowed to sell as honey what came out of bees, with no additives of any sort. (That is, none beyond a certain limit, which is generally reached already with the smoke from your smoker and the organic acids used to keep the varroa mites in check.) As some part of the evaporating oils would be incorporated by the wax and honey, you'd effectively risk the "purity" of your honey. So we're using wooden contraptions called Bienenflucht ("bee escape") instead. (Except for old beekeepers, I assume. :P)

        The honey I harvested last year was initially thin, smooth and sweet also (and tasted slightly of artificial thyme because the old beekeeper I'd gotten them from treated his bees very liberally with essential oils), but over the course of the next half year it grew more solid-ish, the thyme taste wore off and the extreme sweetness of its early stages took a back seat to more forest-y flavours. I really loved it then! I hadn't expected the honey to evolve THAT much, tbh.
        By now we've used up our store, though. I'm surprised enough it lasted as long as it did - it wasn't that big a harvest and of course we had to give away honey to various friends and family members on the side!
  • Thank you for this! My daughter keeps bees at her farm in Blacksburg, VA, but is not good about posting pictures *sigh*. Now I have a good understanding of how it all comes together.
    • You're very welcome! :) I'm glad it was illuminating! My husband and I have a lot of friends and family who are very interested in how this is done, so whenever we do something new with the bees, we try to take lots of pictures, and I make a post like this.

      Your daughter keeps bees too! That's awesome.
  • Mmmmmmmmm. That looks mighty tasty.

    Have you figured out how to spin honey? To do whatever it is that is done to honey to make it really thick and a little grainy and spreadable? I adore spun honey, and there's this one place in Wisconsin that does the best spun honey I've ever had. Every time I'm up in Madison during Farmer's Market season, I get a big jar for myself and one for Little Sister Pony.
    • I've actually never even heard of or seen spun honey! But that sounds interesting, so now I'm going to look into it. We have enough to play around with, so this is as good a time as any to try it.
  • Congratulations! I'm more a marmelade kind of gal, but the whole process of making honey is *very interesting*!
  • Oh how cool is that! I love the pics and the explanations!

    And you've done VERY well for yourselves; honey is EXPENSIVE in the stores and not half so good!

    When you put the honey up in the jars, do you process the jars? (I mean in a boiling water bath, like jelly or tomatoes?)
    • I'm glad you liked the post! :D

      Locally produced honey around here goes for about $8-11 per pound, so at 25 pounds ... yeah, we'd be spending a lot to get that same amount! :) Plus the wax, which we will use to make candles and lip balm.

      You don't have to process honey; it just gets sealed up. Honey has natural antibiotic and antifungal properties--it was used to dress wounds back in the day, a use that is seeing a comeback in some circles--so it kinda takes care of itself. :) Honey has been found sealed in jars in the Egyptian Pyramids, thousands of years old and still good! It's really an amazing product.
  • That looks DELICIOUS! If only I were closer, I'd come and mooch some. ;)
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