Sing me the song of bees

Our journey with the bees has been a slightly rocky one. Last year, when we first got our bees, we had two hives in the back orchard, and one up toward the front of the property. The front hive was not doing as well as the other two, and I realize that it spent most of the day in the shade: not a good thing for bees. It had also gone queenless at some point, probably because the queen decided it was too damn gloomy there and took off with half her workers. So we relocated the hive to the orchard, and as we moved the other two further west from their original spots, I found one of the hives had absconded. In May, we received three more packages, one of which again was struggling. However, the original two were doing fine (swarms notwithstanding), and a good frame from the strongest hive has helped this weakest one along nicely.

The strongest hive – the one that originally was at the front of the property, as it happens – has swarmed twice this season, in March and again in May. That isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare, and I decided to go into the hive and see what was going on in there. With my sister’s help, we smoked the bees and took a look around inside. Neither of us could spot the queen, but there was a nice brood pattern, pollen stored, and honey. Lots of honey. So much, in fact, that we found two full frames of it – but they weren’t doing anything in the super I’d put on top of the hive bodies, for some reason. I decided that perhaps part of the issue was that they were honey bound: that is, they’d stored so much honey in the area where they live, the queen couldn’t lay, and couldn’t get past the honey barrier to do anything in the super (which is fine; I don’t really want her laying in the super anyway, as it will make honey extraction a pain). So we took two frames of honey out and replaced them with fresh, undrawn frames.

Honey frames June 2013

We stuck them in an empty hive body and placed the whole thing over a chafing dish. I’d not been expecting any honey this early in the season, so we have none of the things we’ll eventually need for full scale honey extractions. One of those things is an uncapping tub, which allows you to hold the frame above a tub on a nail-like surface and scrape the caps off the cells. We improvised.

Uncapping a frame June 2013

Another thing we don’t have – yet – is an extractor. After uncapping into the chafing dish…

First honey June 2013

…we set the frames back in the hive body and set the hive body back on top of the chafing dish to let the honey drip out. Gravity is our friend here.

First honey June 2013

We had used a sheet pan to hold the frame we weren’t working on each time, and wound up with a bit of honey there. Of course my mom and sister had to taste it – not me, though, as honey is too acidic for my damaged mouth.

First honey June 2013

There were a couple of bees hanging on to the edges of the frames when we brought them in. Guess who didn’t see one when grasping one of the frames to move it out of the way.

Bee sting June 2013

Another sting to add to my collection, this time on the pad at the base of my pinky finger. Unlike the ones I’d had in my ankle and shin, not too much swelling, and it only hurt for the instant of the sting itself. It mostly itched throughout the night and into the next day. Meanwhile, back at the frames, the honey was drawing down nicely into the dish.

First honey June 2013

Today, we had this.

First honey June 2013

Of course, amongst the honey is wax, pollen, probably a few bee parts here and there and so on. That’s what strainers are for.

Honey strainer June 2013

This is a coarse strainer. We also have fine and micro, but decided to start with this. The contents in the dish get poured in…

Straining the honey June 2013

… and the honey flows through to the bowl beneath it.

Straining the honey June 2013

Straining the honey June 2013

Eventually all that’s left in the strainer is the wax (and assorted bits of things).

Beeswax June 2013

Now, we wait for the honey to settle and for the bubbles to work their way up to the top.  We’ll then take a look at it and see if we want to strain it again, or just bottle it for use: Lazy Dogs Ranch honey.


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