We aren't getting any honey from our bees this year. That's typical, because it is their first year in the hive and they have been busy building up their own stores.
However, through a wierdly random chain of acquaintances I was asked to help a gentleman harvest some honey from one of his hives. He has some physical limitations that prevent him from doing it himself. I was happy to get the chance to help and get a little more experience, so it was definitely win-win.
Mr. Kirby, the gentleman with the honeybees, was kind enough to take a photo or two for y'all. They are somewhat 'general', but still, you get to see the process some.
I'm taking one shallow super (that's the short box up on top) off this hive. First, I'm puffing a little smoke here and there to make the bees believe there might be a fire. In case of fire, they would have to relocate, so they get busy filling their tummies with honey. While they are doing this, they are not stinging me.
Mr. Kirby's bees are really docile, but I still wore my sweatshirt...my 2 pairs of gloves, my bee veil, all that. I didn't put sweats over my jeans - I just tucked my pantlegs into my socks. I'm sure I looked ridiculous in his eyes. He mentioned that when he's tending (not harvesting, just checking things) he doesn't wear any gear. More power to him - I'm a big chicken who apparently doesn't care how silly she looks, as long as the bees can't sting her.
I confess, I had a terrible time getting this super loose. Honeybees make this stuff called propolis and they use it to fill and seal gaps and seams. It's a little like caulk, and a little like super glue. These bees had made and used a lot of propolis, so it took me quite a while to get the box loose from the rest of the hive. I ended up using a big flat screwdriver and two 'wonder bar' crowbars to get it off.
It took longer than I would have imagined it could ever take, but eventually, I got the box loose! That's when I realized that it wasn't coming up because the frames below were cemented to the frames in the box! Once we figured that out I managed to get them pried loose. I removed each frame (there were nine rectangular frames inside the super (box), each full of capped honey) and used a soft, new paintbrush to gently brush the bees off the frame and back into the hive. We don't want any hitch-hikers, especially since we live far away, and they would not find their way home.
As each frame was brushed off, I put it into an empty super that was sitting in the trunk of my car. I covered it with a quilt each time too, to keep stray bees from 'finding' it.
Once all the frames were bee free, we put the super next to the hive so the strays can find their way home. They will also clean off any remaining honey and store it back in the hive.
I'll be taking the frames to my house where I'll cap, extract, filter and bottle. More on that tomorrow.
Before I go, I have to show you something really, really cool.
It's a tree stump with a hive in it. Rather than tear it apart and try to get the bees into a standard, commercial (harvestable) hive, Mr. Kirby just had it moved to his property, lock, stock and barrel, so the bees can do their thing. He told me he really just wants to help the bees, but he had a neat idea too. He's thinking of putting some holes in the top and putting a shallow super up there. Then the bees could get in and add honey that could be harvested, but they wouldn't be disturbed in their natural home.
Check this out:
It's the knot that's in the upper left of the first picture. See the guard bees around the edges, watching me while I'm taking the photo? They're making sure I'm not planning any funny business.
"Nothing to see here, Ma'am - best move along..."
And move along we did. It was getting late, I was tired and hot from wearing all those clothes so long, and the Kirbys had to get to church. So we headed out with our trunk full of honey. Once we get it bottled we'll be bringing some of it back (The Kirbys were very generous, and asked us to please keep most of the honey, as they didn't really need more than a jar or two.) and returning their equipment.
Stay tuned for Part 2!