Thursday, December 16, 2010

Extracting the Honey

I know this is way late...sorry 'bout that!  Back in October, I borrowed some extracting equipment from my wife's coworker who is also a beekeeper nearby.  "Extracting equipment" this time around meant the actual extractor which is a rount steel tank which in this case fits two bee frames at a time.  There was also an uncapping tote, electric uncapping knife as well as a plastic pail with a spout at the bottom to collect the honey.  The picture below is pretty accurate except I didn't have legs on the tank...though that would have been nice!

The first step to extracting honey is to scrape the cappings off the frames.  You do this using the knife.  You can see me doing this in the pictures below.  The cappings fall off into the uncapping tank where you can collect/filter more honey and use the honeybee wax for other projects if desired.  The last picture in the series shows the frame fully uncapped (on one side anyway) and you can see the honey just dripping right out of it.  Once you do this to one side, you do the other.

As this was a 2-frame extractor that I was using, I'd do the above to two frames at a time placing each into the extractor.  The next step is to actually spin the frames for quite some time until the honey has been flung onto the sides of the extractor tank which then settles at the bottom.
I could only do this a couple times until the level of the honey rose to the point where it hindered the spinning...which brings us to the next step.  I'd lift the extractor onto a couple sawhorses and place the plastic bottling pail underneath.  I then placed a couple filters that were also loaned to me on top of the bottling pail.  Then I opened the spout at the bottom of the extractor tank and let loose the honey.  It was a pretty slow process as it takes quite a while for the honey to filter through and into the bottling tank.  Imagine filtering molasses through a very fine sifter/strainer. 

Here are a couple pictures of what the frames look like after extraction.
All told I got about 40 pounds of honey from the 16 frames...not bad for a first year, I suppose...especially considering that I didn't think I was going to get any as late as September.

The next pictures show the bees on warmer day in October when I placed the extracted frames back on the hives for the bees to clean up. I think they were appreciative.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I went into my hives the evening of Thursday, Sept. 24 with the expectation of doing the following:
  1. Remove honey super from queenless hive with expecation that all frames would be full and capped
  2. Remove upper brood box from queenless hive with expectation that some frames would be full and capped
  3. At this point all bees in queenless hive would be in lower brood box.
  4. Remove two honey supers from 2nd hive with expectation that all frames would be full and capped
  5. Remove both brood boxes from 2nd hive and install regular bottom board to prepare for winter
  6. Place both brood boxes back with "nest" in bottom box.
  7. Place layer of newspaper over top brood box; make small slits in paper
  8. Place brood box from queenless hive on top of newspaper; combining the hives
So it was going to be a busy evening for sure.  In Step 1, I removed the honey super and was surprised that not all the frames were capped yet.  Bummer.  I then removed the top brood box (Step 2) and began inspecting the lower box.  I had just seen Dr. Kunkle and he implored me to be very sure that the queenless hive was in fact queenless.  I looked at a couple of the frames and was very surprised to find larve, eggs, and capped brood!  "This hive isn't queenless!"  This of course means all my plans that I had been working out in my head for the last several days if not weeks were all kaput!  "Shnikeys!"

The fact that this hive was not queenless meant that I would not be combining the hives as I had previously thought and not only would I have to leave honey for THIS hive but I would also have to make sure there is plenty of honey in the other one as well.  I had been hoping that in combining the hives, I would also be combining the honey stores...

Anyhow, it was great news that this hive was able to raise their own queen.  My earlier hunt for the queen must have been does take time for the queen to become mated and to bulk up in preparation for laying hundreds and then thousands of eggs DAILY.

I went and installed the regular bottom board on this no longer queenless hive and put all the boxes back in place.  I then went ahead and checked the other hive.  The upper honey super was full of capped honey frames.  I shook and knocked and brushed the bees off the frames back into the hive and placed the frames into an empty hive box...placing a board over the top to keep bees out.  In the lower honey super, I was able to pull 6 more fully capped frames...the other 4 were not yet fully capped.  I left those and put in 6 empty frames.

Since it was getting cooler, I closed up the hive.  At a later date, I'll have to go back in and install the regular bottom board to keep the cold out some.  Over the weekend, I also put a hive top feeder on this hive to help them fill those empty frames and to make sure they have plenty of honey for winter.  I'll do the same for the "no longer queenless" hive.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lots of Honey!

I went into the hives Monday afternoon...Sept. 13 just to see at what stage the frames were in capped vs uncapped honey.  I estimated that about 75% of the frame surface throughout the left hive were capped so hopefully they will be done capping by the weekend.  The frames being capped is important because it signals that the honey within is "cured" and is at the correct moisture content.  Too much moisture causes the honey to ferment.  You want as much of the honey to be capped as possible before extracting it.

I also checked the queenless hive on the right.  It appeared that they too were filling their frames in both the hive super as well as at least one of the hive bodies with honey.  Since there is no queen to lay eggs, they are putting honey in the frames that normally would be used for brood.  After extracting the honey from this hive, I will attempt to combine these bees with the other hive.  You do so by placing their box on top of the other hive with newspaper separating them.  By the time the bees eat their way through the newspaper, the bees from both hives should have the same odor and will be accepting of each other.  That is the plan anyway.

I wonder how much newspaper should be used...a few sheets, or the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Got Honey?

I do!  I inspected the "good" hive yesterday...first time in a couple weeks.  Previously, there was not much honey anywhere in the hive...only a little here and there.  I was worried I would have to feed them heavily and that there would certainly be no honey "harvest".  Now one of the honey boxes is packed full of honey though it appears they are just now beginning to cap it.  Once it is all capped, I will be able to take that box off and it will be ready for extraction.  The other honey super is not full but the comb is all drawn out and they do appear to be starting to fill it...  I put in a queen excluder to keep her out of these two honey supers...there was no evidence that she ever ventured into either so that is good.  Hopefully all will go well and I'll have honey.

I did not check the other hive but did provide them medicated syrup.  They should pack this away in frames...which I will then use in the other hive for the winter.  Later I will try combining the two hives...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Still Queenless...bummer.

I went into the hive Tuesday, August 31 to see if a new queen had emerged and begun doing her thing...unfortunately, it a queen did survive, she is not laying.  I suspect that perhaps what emerged from the queen cells were regular workers or perhaps their was no surviving queen after they duked it out amongst themselves.  I suppose there is a slim chance that there is a queen but that she just has not yet matured to the point where she is laying...but I know that is a very slim chance.

The good news from this inspection is that there are still plenty of workers left for not having a queen for several weeks.  And they seem to be collecting honey and are doing a number on the pollen patties I left for them.

I looked real quick in the other hive and they too seem to be collecting honey now rather than consuming it all themselves.  Maybe I will get a jar or two out of them yet!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Birth of a Queen?

So it has been a couple of weeks since I suspect that my one hive has swarmed...and nearly as long since I first noticed supercedure cells.  The need for supercedure (replacing an ill, ineffecient or in this case missing queen) came about becuase I destroyed all the swarm cells before realizing that the old queen had already left the hive.  My theory (or perhaps it is just hope) is that the worker bees immediately began creating supercedure cells and transferred a very young egg to this special cell.

Anyhow, I went back into this hive this evening and took it apart right down to the bottom level.  You can see that there are still quite a few bees which is a good sign...there were even worker bees still emerging from their cells that the old queen had laid before taking off.

I removed the regular bottom board to increase ventilation which will hopefully keep them from wanting to swarm again anytime soon.  I then went through all of the brood box frames to see if I could find any evidence of a laying worker - a common ailment in queenless hives.  I did not find any evidence thankfully!  Hopefully this means they are waiting patiently for a queen to be born.  I finally found a supercedure cell on a was fully closed so hopefully that means there is a queen developing inside and will hatch soon.  Here is a photo:

In the second/top brood box, I found even better news:
That is definitely a supercedure cell and it appears to be hatching.  I am not entirely sure if it was a queen that emerged or not as I did not keep it out long enough - wasn't sure if I'd cause it too much stress or if the bees would accept her with so much commotion.

Later on I did see another supercedure cell burst open before my very eyes and found a couple others with their bottom caps already missing.  I am really curious as to what will happen now that there appears to be multiple virgin queens within this hive.  From researching online, it sounds like they will either fight it out amongst themselves or the workers will eventually accept only one and will either drive off, starve or kill the rest.  In either case, it takes 3 days or so for the virgin queens to develop enough to take their one flight away from the hive...during which they'll mate with a whole swarm of drones from neighboring hives, collect enough sperm to last 5 years of laying 1000 eggs each day and then return to the hive to begin laying. 

This will all hopefully take place this next week while I am away on vacation.  I'll be checking the hive again real close when we get back from Michigan.  Hopefully I will find eggs and this hive will be back on track!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Strong Hive

I went in this evening with my jacket and veil and gloves to check out the stronger of the two hives.  I really wanted to check and make sure they were not preparing to swarm.  The last couple of times I've checked this hive, I've been stung...which is why I am going in with protection this time.

The hive does seem to be going quite well.  All of the frames in the two brood boxes have lots of activity.  One thing I did accomplish on the 7th was to remove the queen excluder to encourage the bees to begin drawing out comb in the honey super.  A quick glance in at the frames show that this strategy appears to have worked.  They are drawing out the comb nicely and I can even see a small amount of honey being collected.  The picture below shows all the activity atop the honey super.

In this inspection I took the entire hive apart to get at the bottom-most bottom board.  I had this in place to hold the varroa mite counting board...but I think it is hindering ventilation which can induce the bees to swarming.  I removed this board and quickly placed the bottom box back into place.  The bees really did not like that this box was moved!  I am really glad I wore the veil and gloves!  Below is a picture of the hive without its brood boxes...not really a hive anymore.  But it shows the slatted rack (which is supposed to help improve ventilation and gives the bees the feeling of more room to reduce the desire to swarm).  Beneath the slatted rack is the screened bottom board which is used for mite control.  Mites fall off the bees and through the screen where they can't climb back onto bees.  Then under this is the regular bottom board...which is what I removed.  So now the mites will fall through the screen and into the grass below.

Here are a couple pictures showing the number of bees in this hive...most of the frames were as full as this...

Here is what the hive looked like in between each frame check...I had to use a lot of smoke to clear them enough to take out the next frame...

To top off this wonderful inspection, guess what I found???
I did not have time to go into the other hive...I will give it a couple more days and will check to see if the supercedure cells appear to be working.