Good afternoon bees! How are the summer holidays treating you? With August in full swing, we decided it was time for another update from Pa Harper – especially as we heard he has some VERY EXCITING news. (For you newBEEs, Pa H is Co-Founder Joe’s beekeeper dad and every now and then we get an update on his beekeeping antics!)
As you might have guessed from the photo – Pa H recently collected his first batch of 2017 honey (hurrrrah!). It seems all that hard work has paid off! We couldn’t wait to hear more about how exactly you collect honey …and nab some for ourselves! Oh, and how did the bees deal with this honey invasion – are they upset!?
Afternoon Pa H, so how are your bees doing?
Really well thanks – this year, it seems like I’ve got a really strong colony. In fact, just a few weeks ago I collected some honey off the hive!
Well actually, I think about 20-30 pounds of it! I didn’t want to take too much (*that sounds like a lot to us!!), just in case the weather turns bad. Honey is the bees’ food source, so they might need this if we have a wet/cold August. I took about a third of the honey, making sure to only take the honey that was sealed.
What do you mean by ‘sealed’ honey?
Ah, sealed honey is when the honeycomb is capped with wax. When you open the hive and look at the honeycomb, a lot of it won’t be capped with wax. Those that aren’t capped still have high moisture content, which means the bees are still working on it. Only once the moisture gets below a certain level (about 22% water content or below), do the bees seal the cells with wax so the honey can be stored.
Ah cool, that makes sense! And how exactly do you remove the wax from the sealed honeycomb?
The night before collection, I arrange the honeycomb frames inside the hive, putting the ones I want at the top of the hive and all those that aren’t ready at the bottom. I then insert a ‘one way door’ between my desired frames and those below. This allows the bees to leave the top frames, but prevents them from getting back in again. After 24 hours, I can easily remove the top frames because there’s no bees left inside them. I don’t want to take bees into my kitchen!
Definitely not! And so what about getting the actual honey out? We’re BUZZING to know how it’s done!
Ah okay, well I’ll go through it step by step…
- First, you’ve got to remove the wax using a sharp knife.
- Then you put the frames into a ‘honey extractor’ (it’s like a large plastic bucket) which spins around.
- Once they’re inside, you turn the handle and the honey spins out of the honeycomb and into the extractor! Oh and there’s a tap at the bottom… You’ve got to make sure this is shut beforehand, otherwise you’ve got honey all over the floor and a VERY sticky mess!).
- You then pour the honey into another food grade bucket, this time with a very fine filter inside, to collect any unwanted bits from the beehive.
- After filtering, I jar it straightaway! It’s important to use sterile jars and lids to prevent any bacteria from getting in. Although my jars were brand new, I rinsed them with boiling water and heat them in the oven just to be sure.
Better safe than sorry! And how many jars did you get from your first collection?
I like to use little jars, so I’d estimate between 30-40 jars by the time I was finished. Don’t worry – I’ve saved you a few!
Ah thanks Ron! And what about the bees themselves? Are they upset you’ve taken their honey?
Hahhaha, no – we always leave them with enough, although I’m sure they’re scratching their heads thinking “I’m sure there was more yesterday!”. However, I recently noticed my queen bee hasn’t been laying as many eggs as normal. According to my fellow beekeepers this can happen to an older queen and can mean it’s time to ‘re-queen’ the colony.
Re-queening? That sounds a bit daunting?!
It’s actually quite common. Although queen bees live to about 5 years old, their productivity drops after a few years. I’ve taken advice from fellow beekeepers and collected a spare queen from my local association apiary (an apiary is a collection of beehives). She’s currently sitting in a box with a small cluster of bees looking after her. I’m waiting for her to mate with a drone bee – and then I’ll introduce her to one of my hives…!
How exciting! What a hive-hanger to end on… Next time we’ll have to find out how Pa H’s new queenie is getting along. Fingers crossed she’s welcomed into the hive!… As always, we love hearing about how you are all getting on with your bees or honey antics. Feel free to share and email firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on our socials @justbeedrinks to let us know!
Until next week,
Blogger Bee x