Google+ Badge

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Post #51 Harvesting Honey

I don’t really remember which books or other resources I used to help me with my bee keeping in the 1980’s.  But I do recall giving some thought as to how I was going to harvest the honey the bees made.

Harvesting honey can be a messy job.  You pull a frame of comb out of the hive, and it can be filled with baby bees (brood), or it can be filled with honey.  If it is a brood comb, you leave it in the hive so the brood will develop fully and keep your hive going.  If it is filled with honey, and the honey has been capped, then you can either leave it for the bees, or you can steal it from the bees for yourself.

Once you steal the honeycomb, you have to figure out a way to get the honey out of the comb.  The ideal way to get your honey out of the comb is to use a honey extractor.  This involves using a special knife to cut off the caps, thus opening the comb.  You’ll need some kind of a tub to catch the caps you cut off and to collect the bit of honey that comes out with the wax caps.

You place the opened frame inside the extractor.  The extractor is usually a large bucket with a basket to hold the frame.  The basket is situated such that it has a central axis, around which the frames can be spun.  There may be room for two frames, four, six, and so on.  The idea is that the basket needs to be balanced, so that it doesn’t go crashing into the side of the bucket when spun.  Once you place your open frames in the extractor, you spin the basket, and the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force.

The bucket should have a spigot at the bottom so you can pour the honey out easily.  There will be a lot of debris mixed in with the honey, so you can’t just pour the honey directly into a bottle.  Instead, you pour the honey through one or two filters into another bucket.  Allow the air bubbles to rise to the top, and then pour your honey into bottles.

After all of this, you can put your “wet” comb back into the hive for reuse by your bees.  But you still have some wax that needs to be taken care of.  You have the cappings as well as any other comb that may have broken off during the extraction process. 

More equipment is needed for the wax.  A double boiler should help melt the wax without burning it, and more filters to get the debris out of the melted wax when you pour it into whatever containers you have at hand.

Whew!  That was a lot of equipment to buy.  I didn’t have the kind of free cash to make those purchases, nor did I have a place to store all of that equipment.  And, it all sounded like a lot of work to me. 

Aren’t bees supposed to be fun?

I came across something called a Solar Wax Melter in my readings.  Somewhere in there, my head re-imagined this term as Solar Wax Extractor.  I found a simple, inexpensive solution to honey harvesting.

A solar wax extractor was something I could build.  It was basically a box with a plexiglass lid!  I followed somebody’s plans and used plywood that was probably left over from some other project.  The box had legs on one end, to give it a slant.  I painted the box white on the inside, black on the outside to maximize the sun’s ability to heat my wax.

What I lacked was a tray to put the frames on, and another tray to catch the melted wax and honey.

I used my connection through my father-in-law to get the sheet metal trays built.  I just had to hope the friend who constructed these understood that a lead solder shouldn’t be used.  I never asked.

Now, I just needed a good filter to keep all of the debris from spoiling my honey.

Speaking of my honey, she was teaching at the local high school at the time.  This was back in the 80’s and 90’s, and teachers were expected to wear dresses and … pantyhose!

I found my filters!

I’d wait for Wife to get a run in a pair of hose (I didn’t cause any to happen, honest), and then claim the hose as mine. 

Yes, the hose were always laundered before use.

I could stick one frame of honeycomb in each leg, then set both frames in my Solar Wax Melter (“Extractor” in my mind).  Within a couple of hours, the wax had melted and drained into the receiving tray.  I’d lift out the tray of honey with fresh yellow wax on top. 

The empty frames would be returned to the bees so they could produce more comb and honey.

The hose made their way to the trash.

The honey made its way into bottles.

The wax made its way into some other container.  I never really did figure out what to do with the wax.

It was 25 years before I learned that this wasn’t the proper way to harvest honey.  We had turned raw honey into cooked honey.

I can say that the honey was still sweet and good.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Post #50 Installation of Royalty

The new queen had arrived, and I was anxious to get her installed before the bees flew away.  I put on my coveralls and boots, grabbed my bee gloves, veil, hive tool and smoker.  I drove the new queen out to meet her subjects.

From what I’d read, I had to kill the old queen first, or the new queen would be killed by the old queen.  I had seen black and white photos and drawings of queen bees, but the queen in the cage was the first live queen I had ever seen.  I didn’t really know the difference between the queen and worker bees, other than that the queen was larger than workers.  I also knew that drones were larger than workers, but not as large as a queen.

I lit my smoker, put on the veil and gloves, gathered all of my bee equipment, and carried the new queen out to middle of the field where the hive was.  I gently set the queen on a rock near the hive under the shade of a tree.  I took a good look at her.  She was cool, she was comfortable, her attendant was there to watch over her.

Then I turned my attention to the hive and the bees.  I smoked the bees, removed the cover and began the hunt for the old queen.  I still did not know much about bees or bee behavior.  I wasn’t sure if I had the old queen or not.  So, I pretty much went through the hive indiscriminately killing big bees.  I looked at each frame carefully.  If the bee was unfortunate enough to be overweight, it got squished.  If it was bigger than its neighbors, it was a dead bee.  I killed bee after bee.  Finally, I was satisfied that I had done all I could do to ensure a peaceable transfer of power from the old queen to the new. 

Peaceable?  After that slaughter of bees?  Well at least I had given the new queen every chance to take control of the hive.  The old queen must surely be dead.  I replaced all of the frames and got the hive back in order.

Then, I turned to the rock to pick up the new queen.  The new monarch and mother of the hive who would rule over the hive with a kind and gentle hand.  The queen who would labor day after day laying eggs and producing generation after generation of bees for the next two to three years.

New Queens have to be installed slowly.  They have to be introduced to the hive properly, or the bees will just see her as an intruder and kill her.

In order to help with the transition, the queen cage has a screen on the side, with the exit on the end.  The exit is blocked by a piece of candy.  It usually takes a day or two for the bees to eat through the candy and release the queen.  By that time, they are familiar with her smell.  They will bring her water and try to groom her through the cage.  They get to know her and accept her.  Maybe they take this time to swap stories and compare relatives (“You’re from Navasota?  I have relatives from there.  Do you know the Buckfast Family?  You are?  We’ll we’re practically cousins!”).
Everyone becomes comfortable with everyone else during the time of the great candy eating.  And what better way to break the ice than over a meal of sugar?  The queen can be released once the candy is gone, and she can get to work immediately. 

So, I’ve put the hive back together, and I turn to the rock, reaching down to pick up the queen. 

And … she’s covered with ants!

The ants were attracted to the candy and decided the queen and her worker would also make for a nutritious meal.

What I knew about hives at this time (which wasn’t enough) was that bees will leave a hive when there isn’t a queen in the hive.  I was desperate.  I had just murdered everyone in the hive that looked slightly queenish, and the queen I had intended to take over the hive had just been devoured by a tribe of wild ants!  Without a queen, I would surely lose all of my bees.

I quickly pulled out my cell phone to call Weaver …

Oh, wait.  We didn’t have a cell phone back then.

O.K.  I put the hive back together, gathered my beekeeping tools and walked back to my truck.  I drove home, cranked up the computer, went online …

Oh yea, no internet, either.

I drove home, picked up the phone and dialed (yes, a rotary dial) Weaver Apiaries.

After they stopped laughing, the Weavers promised to mail me another queen.

The second time, I was able to keep the queen safe.  And I didn’t slaughter as many innocent drones.
I still don’t know if the queen in that hive was my Weaver Buckfast queen or not.  I just know that we had bees.

Maybe now I was really a beekeeper.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Post # 49 Requeening

I carried the bees out to their new home well behind Sister-In-Law’s house.  Now, I needed to worry about the queen.  First, I wasn’t sure if I had captured her.  Second, I was pretty sure the bees would just fly away if they didn’t have a queen.

I had gone to the library (remember them?) and started reading about bees while waiting for my kit to arrive.

I learned that I should get a new queen after capturing a feral hive to make sure I had bees that behaved well.  I should decide if I wanted gentle bees (Yes!), bees that produced a lot of honey (Yes!), or bees that did both (Yes and yes!).

My Sears and Roebuck Beginning Beekeeper’s kit had come with a book on beekeeping and it had also come with a list of places where you could buy bees.  Buy bees?  How amazing that you could buy a bee!  It turns out that one of the places that sold bees and also sold queens was in Texas.

Weaver Apiaries was in Navasota and would be willing to sell me a new queen.  I called Weaver and visited with them.  According to Weaver’s the queen I wanted was the Buckfast Queen.  She was gentle, she produced gentle bees that don’t get riled up easily, and her offspring would produce lots of honey.

I was sold.  I gave them my credit card number over the phone and they said they would mail my queen to me right away.

She arrived in about two days.  The Post Office called the house early that morning and told me I had a bee waiting, would I please come and pick it up?

Wife went to the Post Office, and was let in the back door before they were open for regular business.  They handed her a large burlap sack.  The kind of sack that people use to run races in at parties.  The 50-pound potato sack variety.

And in the sack was a little wooden box.  The box was maybe 2” X 1”.  The queen and a worker bee were caged inside the box.

Wife brought the queen home.  I was excited.  I took part of the day off from work so I could install the new queen.