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First-season honey harvest

A colony of bees can be perfectly reasonable all summer, but with fall comes a decrease in temperature and an increase in bee hostility. My husband Ron and I experienced a little display of this (and reasonably so) when we went to dismantle their home and steal some of the food that they had worked very hard to preserve.

There are many different ideas on how to remove bees from their honey frames. The books recommend knocking the bees off with one or two brisk shakes of the frame. We tried this, but shaking the frames only seemed to remove a few of the approximately 200 bees that were on each one.

The book also says that you can brush the bees away from their frames with a soft bristled “bee brush,” but warned that brushing the bees can upset them. The book was correct. However, this was the most effective way we found to remove the bees, and after a few minutes of coaxing and brushing, they started to head back into their hive.

At the house, we began to process the honey. First, we removed the beeswax cappings from the comb. In the hive, the bees fan their wings over the honey in the comb until the moisture level is just right (around 13 to 15 per cent), then they cover the comb with a wax cap to preserve the honey inside. Once the cappings are removed, the honey is ready to be spun out of the frames using centrifugal (spinning) force.

We were excited to test our Rubbermaid centrifuge. A brand new stainless steel two-frame centrifuge costs $425. However, a brand new Rubbermaid garbage can, some threaded rod and a little creativity (Ron’s, not mine), costs $40. It worked like a charm and we can extract 20 pounds of honey in less than 20 minutes.

After spinning the honey from the frames, we filtered it to remove the bits of wax capping that had fallen into the centrifuge. A fine kitchen strainer or cheesecloth works, but we used a honey storage tank with filters that fit inside. The honey tank also has a “honey gate” on it, which is a valve that makes putting the honey into containers a very easy job.

We removed honey from the hive three times this year. The first time we were just very curious to see what our honey tasted like, so we harvested an early batch on July 31 and got 20 pounds of crystal-clear canola honey from only four frames.

The second honey harvest was intended to be the final one. September 12 seemed like a good time to assume that the nectar flow was over and it was time to harvest what the bees had produced. There had been a few frosty nights, and we were fairly certain that the flowers were finished for the season. We extracted another 20 pounds. After this harvest we returned the frames to the bees so that they could clean up the bits of honey that were left behind as part of their fall feeding program.

On October 9 we visited the hive with the intention of removing the cleaned-up honey super and to get the bees ready to be wrapped for winter. Removing the super we discovered… you guessed it… another 20 pounds of honey. It had been a warm September and early October, so there had still been thistle and clover flowers available for the bees. Because this thistle honey hadn’t been in the hive for very long, it has high moisture content and therefore is very runny.

In our first year as beekeepers, we were able to harvest over 60 pounds of honey from our bees! This does not include the frames of honey that the bees have in their brood box, stored as their winter feed source.

It has been an exciting first honey season. We are doing a lot of research and reading everything we can find on how to successfully winter our bees. Live bees in spring, healthy and ready to go foraging for nectar as soon as the first dandelions poke their heads out of the grass will mean more honey for us in the fall of 2013.

We hope that Mother Nature will take it easy on our little colony of bees as they settle in to their newly insulated and wrapped hive to eat and rest in the frosty months ahead. †

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