Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sweet Success

Below, I will copy an email C sent out to family with the details of our honey harvest. Click on the picture below for a photo album that captures all of the excitement - and none of the stings! Enjoy:

Beekeeping Sweet Success Story #1

We harvested the first honey today! We took about 11 frames which contain about 5 pounds per frame of honey, so we’re probably at plus or minus 50-55 pounds. Not exactly sure what to do with it now…I used all of my pint sized canning jars making multiple batches of green tomato chutney!! Well, I suppose lack of canning supplies is just the curse of the suburban farmer. Vienna wants to set up a “honey stand” since her lemonade stand a few weeks ago pulled in over $20!!

The kids enjoyed helping out and tasting the freshest honey ever! Boy, were we all sticky!! Our friend Sandra and her son Croft stopped by to watch and help. Sandra was an excellent documentarian! Chris is working on (or perhaps you’ve already received) an online photo album of the day. The only picture missing is the one documenting the size of my right hand! I got stung (I believe that makes a career total of 7) on the hand between the thumb and pointer finger. I am now swollen from knuckles to elbow!!! The honey will only taste that much sweeter to me!

The process:

First step is to pull the honey supers (boxes) from the hives and encourage the bees to move elsewhere. We used the back end of a shop vac for this and found it to be a perfect kick in the old stinger. They just blow away. Then the bee-free frames are put into a plastic tub with a lid. Once all the frames are in the tub, we haul that to a bee-free location which we deemed to be the sunporch. We realized after the fact that this was a bit nasty toward the bees since, the hives being just outside the sunporch, they could see exactly what we were doing with all their fine craftsbeeship. Poor gals! The next step is to scrape the wax cappings off of the honeycomb and then place the whole frame into a big centrifugal spinner called the honey extractor. The extractor holds four frames at a time, so for a small harvest like ours it went pretty quickly. Next year the Vienna and Kezia will have to earn their honey! Once the honey is spun, it just settles down through a sieve and into a collection tank which has a big valve on it to pour it easily into jars. The wax cappings mixed with dribbles of honey are then put into a strainer to remove the excess honey for use. The wax can then be melted and used for candles, etc. These “dribbles” of honey ended up in our case to be about 3 pounds! For now the bulk of our harvest is still in the collection tank and we’ll figure out our bottling strategy later on.

After all was said and done, we had some first hand experience of how fast the honeybee can communicate. Chris brought the plastic tub that had stored the frames before the spin cycle outside to hose down. It had a relatively small amount of honey in it, so he figured he’d just wash it away. He wasn’t out the door more than 45 seconds before we had about 20 bees around…another minute and it was hundreds! It was pretty cool. So we decided to let the bees clean it up for us and at least re-coup some of their losses. After about an hour in the yard, most of the honey from the plastic tub was cleaned up and stored for the winter back in the hive.