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Gather, Extract, Bottle

Sunday, July 12, 2015


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You know that saying about something is attracted to something like bees are attracted to honey?  Unless you’ve actually extracted honey, you couldn’t possibly know just how attracted to honey they really are.

Bees smell honey. Then they go tell their friends where to find the honey…and they tell their friends…and they tell their friends…and within minutes the driveway, the garage, the pool, the entire front yard is enveloped in bees, like something out of a horror movie.  Then the hubster is unhappy because he can’t in the pool because it’s surrounded by bees, and I need to get the bees out of the garage…and don’t let them in the house cause the cats will chase them and get stung…then I’m pulling out the hose to squirt the bees away and wash the honey smell off the floor, the driveway, anything and everything’s that’s come in contact with the honey.  Not to mention, I kick into rescue mode and start fishing the little buggers out of the pool.  All of this is hypothetical by the way :o) Next year we’ll sneak everything out of the garage and into the workshop around midnight when the bees are sleeping.

The hardest part of extracting honey is not letting the bees know you’re doing it.  Stealth is key.  I learned my lesson last year, escaping with uncovered boxes down to the garage and leaving them outside for even a few minutes and attracting hoards of bees that hovered outside the garage door all day.

Based on that experience, I improved my process this year.  In fact, I was quite pleased with myself and how I managed to bypass the drama that we experienced last year.  At least until the hubster opened the garage door the next day while the honey boxes and some leftover honey were sitting on the garage floor.  Not to mention, they smelled the remnants from the day before.  Bees are smart!  But getting back to extraction day, I actually came up with a good process.  Not a perfect process, but a good one.

Step 1.  Prepare

Think smart.  Preparation is key.  Get the tools and brush ready, get the fume board ready, get a wheelbarrow ready, get top covers ready, have the smoker going, get the gear on, and have a completely enclosed facility ready to house the honey.

Step 2.  Fuming the Bees, One Box at a Time

  • Put a top cover top side down in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Lightly smoke around the top edges of the hive and at the entrance to let them know you’re coming in.  But not too much.  You don’t want to smoke in the honey.
  • Spray the fume board 3 times with the almond scented fuming spray, and place the board on top of the hive.
  • Wait  5 – 10 minutes for the bees to clear out.

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Step 3.  Remove the box

  • Most of the bees should bee out of the top box by now, so remove the top box and place it within the top cover that’s in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Immediately place another top cover securely on top of the honey box so that it is completely closed on the top and on the bottom.

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Step 4. Fume again and escape (bee stealthy) with the honey

  • Spray the fume board one or two more times, then place on top of the next box to bee removed.
  • While the fume board empties the next box, quickly run your honey super down to the garage or where ever you’re extracting.
  • Life the lid and brush off as many bees as possible – what’s left will go into the garage with you along with the honey box.
  • Close the door behind you!!!

Step 5.  Repeat steps 2-4

If successful, then you’ll have all honey supers safely in the garage, with a small amount of bee activity outside the door, and a small amount of bee activity inside the garage.

It’s gonna happen, some bees will bee caught up with the honey boxes.  Don’t open the garage door to let them out. TRUST ME on this.

We extracted over 100 lbs of honey this past weekend.  That’s from about 5 boxes.  Amazing bees!

Overall Apiary Status

So how have the girls been doing up to this point?  Well, other than finding bee activity in my swarm traps and discovering (after purchasing a new hive, new beekeeping britches, and setting up a new hive location) that they were not swarms but robber bees, we haven’t had much drama.  They’ve endured much rain, and much heat and humidity this summer.  I’ve left them alone, and they’ve been thriving (that should tell you something right there).  And so has the garden.  We have cucumbers coming out our ying yangs, and tomatoes are coming up fast.

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Plans for Using the Honey

So what to do with all that honey?  We’ll sell some of it, give some away as gifts, make alcoholic honey beverages, cook with it, make creamed honey for Christmas presents, I’ll use it in soaps and potions.  So many things we can do with honey.  So you can expect lots of tutorial posts in the coming months.  :o)

In the meantime, I’ve placed supers back on all the hives, and even added a third box to my little yellow hive, which is still taking syrup and is growing like crazy.  Let’s hope the big hives fill out and cap some unfinished frames and build out the rest of the supers before winter.  Trying to follow that 90% rule – only extract frames that are 90% capped.  We can use some late summer honey for overwintering the bees, and maybe they can spare a bit more for us.  We shall see!

 

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Cleaning Old Frames

April 14, 2015

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After last weekend’s cleaning spree, I collected quite a few frames filled with old dark comb. Comb gets darker and darker the more it’s used. Many beekeepers will replace brood frames year after year because it’s believed to be unhealthy for the bees to raise their young in old comb. For me, cleaning old frames is threefold:

  • It’s healthier for the bees,
  • It saves me money by allowing me to reuse old frames, and
  • I can harvest and process the wax for balms and soaps and lotions, etc.

I collect old frames as I have the opportunity, like during spring cleaning after boxes have been rotated and the old brood comb works its way to the top of the hive, or at the end of the season when the girls are condensed down and extra boxes and frames are collected and stored for winter.

Note:  You might want to keep a few old brood frames around for making swarm traps.

Setting Up Shop

Spring temperatures are perfect for cleaning frames. It’s still cool outside, but too cold or too hot, so the wax is soft enough to cut through, but solid enough that it comes out in chunks.

I set up a table outside, collect my tools and a big plastic bin, then I start harvesting the wax and picking the frames. It’s not the most thrilling job, but carve out a few hours, pick a nice spring day, turn on some music, and it becomes one of those relaxing, zen-like tasks that’s over before you know it.

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Tools for Picking and Scraping

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I have several favorite tools for this project:

  • Hive tool – great for scraping wax and propylis off the surface of the frames.

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  • Set of stainless steel picks – from the tool section at Home Depot. Great for picking wax out of the narrow crevices.
  • Paint can opener – the hubster filed the opener end into a V shape that fits right down into the grooves at the bottom of the frame. It’s slightly curved shape helps to lift the wax right out without splitting the wood.

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  • Palette knife – the palette knife is super thin, but still strong, so it fits down through the gully across the top. Use it to push the wax through, then run it across the inside surfaces to cut the wax out and scrape the gully clean without cutting into the wood.

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Another Tip for Easier Cleaning

Soaking frames in a long, narrow plastic bin (like the one shown in the photo above) that’s partially filled with clean warm water can also soften and loosen wax, making it easier to cut through the debris and clean out the crevices.  Immerse up to 4 frames in water at a time, and work on one while the others soak.

This step also helps clean sticky honey and propylus from the frames – it’s a pre-soak before the final soaking step.

Final Soaking Phase

Scraping and picking will remove most of the wax and propylus, but the frames will still bee sticky and waxy. So my final cleaning step is to soak them for 30 minutes in a hot water bleach solution.

Fill an old bucket or large plastic bin with hot water and a ½ cup of pure unscented bleach. Immerse the frames and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  I soak half, then flip them around and soak the other half.  Give them a thorough rinse, then stand back and admire your clean, disinfected frames. The bleach solution will sterilize the frames and will eliminate any pests or wax moths.

Add fresh wax foundation back into the hives so the girls can build them out and reuse them for another year or two.

Next step…processing the wax…