Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hive Update, Fall 2014. Bees This Time.

I have hives.
Alright, lets see if we can get at least two posts in this year.
I wish I had the time and focus to fit all the experiments I tried on my bees in the last two years here, but I'll just have to go with a synopsis:
I split my 2012 hive in 2013, after it made it successfully through its first winter.  I did it too early, though, basing timing more on my recollections of the previous Spring than what I was seeing in the hive.  It took both hives the whole season to get in good position to survive winter, and even then I fed one of them a gallon of sugar water.
This Spring, 2014, both hives had survived a brutal winter.  I waited till I saw swarm cells (queen cells indicating overcrowding and the hive's readiness to swarm) and moved the frames with swarm cells from both colonies to a new split.  The split didn't take. Did the hives end up swarming?  Who knows.  They're placed at a distance from my everyday routine so I wouldn't have seen them.
I put on honey supers, then added more as they filled, ending up with one super on one hive and three on the other.  The hive with one only filled it 1/3 or less.  The one with three put away a full 2 1/2 supers, so that was good.  The full tally was around 68 lb of honey and twelve ~4 oz pieces of cut comb. The cut comb was an experiment on its own, but I remembered it so fondly from youth that I thought it would be worth a go.  (The cut comb story will be a later post.)
The honey harvest was good experience, though harrowing at moments.  The basic idea is to take the honey supers off, clear all the bees from them, and put them somewhere the bees can't get into them until you extract the honey from the frames.  As you can imagine, the time consuming part is getting the bees out.  Last time, back in 2012, I had two supers.  I went through them at the hives, frame by frame, sweeping the bees off with a feather and putting them in another box with a lid.  Didn't take too long.
This time I had four supers, and one of two colonies that seemed a titch aggressive.  Mom was interested in helping, and brother Chris wanted to see the process (the harvest photos are thanks to him).  My plan this time was to take the honey off a super at a time, carry it about 20' away from the colony, then go through frame by frame.  I thought some distance would be good, since the bee activity would only increase at the site of the hives.  So I'd take out a frame, carry it closer to the hives, shake most of the bees off, hand the frame to Mom who would sweep the remaining bees off with the feather, then she'd give it to Chris who would put it in the bee-free box and lid it.  It would have taken soooo much longer to do it myself, and time turned out to be of the essence.
Trading off
We did the one-super hive first, then moved on to the three-super hive.  Of the latter, the first one and a half supers went great, then Mom said "It seems like there are a lot of bees at the hives."
I wish we'd gotten a video of it.  Thousands of bees in the air above the hives, like a hurricane.  I waded in to put the lid on the hive that still had a super on it, just in case the bees were trying to rob it out, then we finished processing the second to last super.  By the time we were done, all those bees had settled on the outside of the hive, covering it nearly completely.  And we still had to pull a super off.  I figured if I waited, the bees would just
The photographer taking a peek
become more irate at having lost their stocks, so I waded in again, smoking everywhere, and got the last super.  No trouble, just some added anxiety.  We cleaned out that super much further from the hive area.
We hauled the supers full of honey back to the shed on a Flexible Flyer my Aunt Jean gave us, and brought the two experimental comb honey frames inside to deal with.
One had very little of anything on it, so we spooned off the comb and ate it right there - Mom, Chris, Margo, Alten, Isaac and I.  Then we cut up the full frame with dental floss, let it sit for a day or so to drip the extra honey off, then stuck it in the freezer for a day.  That kills eggs of anything that might hatch out, namely wax moth larvae.  Sounds gross, I know, but that's the way things are.  I am told that wax moths inhabit virtually every hive in existence, and a healthy colony of bees keeps them in check.  But after you remove the honeycomb from the bees, nothing stops them.  Except the freezer.
And boy, is that comb honey tasty!
Daddy scrapes cappings off, boys eat honey off of every surface
We took the four supers over the next day to our friend Steve's, where he has an extractor and a larger number of supers of his own.  Half a day of extracting later, it was all finished and bucketed!
So for three years of beekeeping I have two years of honey to show for it, and no dead colonies.  Not too shabby!