Friday, July 30, 2010


I would like to thank John and his family for doing all the work extracting out first honey harvest!!!  I was stuck downtown with the wife for a seven-hour long four-hour mediation.  I much rather would have been getting honey, darn it.

Anyway, because the Italians had 90%+ of their honey super filled a week and a half ago, we decided to do an impromptu harvest.  John says it was an extremely sticky affair and Kirsten felt like she was sticking to herself a couple hours later as we were enjoying a beer.  Their middle son, Aiden, pulled out a frame all by his lonesome and did not get stung.  The fun thing about this experience is that he was the least interested of the kids when we brought the bees home that first day back in April.  Now he'll actually talk about something besides video games!  I know John is quite happy about seeing Aiden turn his interests around - makes for a good sense of fatherly pride.

Since we used a foundationless frame, John and the kids pulled the frames and then just lopped the comb off onto metal trays.  The bees were readily removed using a trick we learned in a beekeeping class presented by the Denver Urban Gardens at the Delaney Farm in Aurora last Saturday: instead of using the bee brush (which is effective but really ticks the girls off), he used a handful of weeds.  For some reason, this method doesn't anger the bees nearly as much.  I'm guessing that they don't get rolled off like they do with the brush, but more just dislodged or pushed off.  During the process, John reports that the bees remained pretty calm.  Admittedly, between the two of us we have only received three stings from them, so we know that they are easy to work with.  Still, they didn't even get riled up much, so we'll have to focus on this hive and split them so we can attempt to have more hives with hopefully the same temperment and production levels.

John used a pot with a collander for the extraction.  He set the combs in and used a potato masher to squeeze the honey out.  He was able to collect just over three 32-ounce-sized jars of honey plus four Mason jars with large chunks of comb honey and then still save a fram of comb for the everyone to devour.  I'm estimating that we got about 10 pounds of honey out of this harvest.  In remembering what different books have siad about how much honey a beekeeper should expect out of a super, this seems low (about half, actually), but this is this hives first harvest and we need to develop a more efficient method.  The potato masher looked like a really messy way of putting the squeeze on.

Filtering quickly became our next issue.  The next morning, John tried running the honey through cheesecloth.  I won't repeat what he said about that mess, but his solution will now be to let the honey settle and scrape the wax off the top.  I tried a nylon bag with similar results (even though I suspect the overall holes were larger than John's cheesecloth).  I was also unhappy with the amount of wax that filtered out.  Yesterday I tried a different approach.  I found a wide mouth Rubbermaid container used for storing spaghetti and then stole (with permission) a pair of knee high panty hose from Joy (her only request was that they had holes in the toes).  I knotted off the toe hole so I would actually get some filtering done and then placed one over the mouth of the container.  This worked really well as there was plenty of knee high to slide over the container to keep it secure, while still having a large "reservoir" to hold the honey as it drained through into the container.  I then warmed up the glass jars holding the honey in a large pot of water, bringing the honey to a temperature less than a warm bath but with a nice runny consistency.  John doesn't want to use heat at all to preserve the enzymes in the raw honey.  My though is that the hive is roughly 90-95 degrees, so as long as the temp is under that, I shouldn't lose the enzymes.  Also, I am personally less concerned about the enzymes than I am having a waxy film in my cup o' tea.  The honey filtered through the nylons marvelously and got rid of at least 99% of the wax and particulates.  I'm calling the process "warm filtering." [ Bees do keep their hive cool by fanning their wings, so the honey may be a bit cooler then 90-95 degrees , also certain enzymes can be damaged or destroyed at temperatures of around 100 degrees , so in erring on the side of caution I am still against warming it even slightly. In regards to the wax, it has, after several days risen to the top leaving clear golden honey at the bottom. (  it looks like a jar of lager ). I am thinking of filling a wide jar right to the brim, and with some method of slight displacement, skimming  the wax off . By the way , what does 'toe jam' honey taste like ?  ;-)   ~  John ] 

Most importantly, the honey tastes great!  Unfiltered or filtered, it has a mild taste much like clover honey, rich creamy texture, and is sweet without being cloying.  We can't really call it wildflower honey since most of the nectar collected by the girls comes from surrounding flower gardens.  So I'm thinking that we'll call it Suburban Blend.

Whilst I got over to the Rodgers' too late to participate in the harvest, we decided to check the Carniolans and the Sicilians.  The Sicilians were in Hyde-mode and really didn't want us to be in there (note: do not mess with aggressive bees at sundown when they are all home).  John got stung once almost immediately after opening the hive.  I'll be honest about something here, that makes me kinda happy!  I'm tired of being the one who takes it from these ladies almost all time.  Our score is 17 to 2 right now.  He's finally starting to catch up!  Either way, the mobsters didn't want us in the hive.  They were attacking the hive tool so ferociously that I decided to leave them be and put 'em back to bed.

I'm heartened somewhat by the Carns!  The queen is laying tons of eggs and the hive is much more spirited than it has been.  They've knocked off a half jar of sugar water in two weeks, more than they have done in a month, and they were actually a bit fiesty in dealing with us, buzzing John's face.  I had to get really brave to actually find eggs: I took off my veil so I could see them in the too dim light of the near dusk conditions.  That's when I saw how many eggs the queen had been laying.  That's also when a bee flew inside my shirt.  It got out, but another got in.  And she couldn't find her way out.  So, as unpanicky as possible, I put the frame back in and stepped away, unbuttoning my shirt carefully so she could escape.  Most guys would say it was awesome to have a lady in such intimate contact with your chest, not so true in this case!

Anyway, there is a possibility that the Carns will survive.  They have about 6 weeks or so, depending on the weather in September, to rebuild.  They have a queen that is super-productive.  And they have us nurturing them along.  Hopefully that will all be enough.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rained out

Yesterday we saw the most rain so far this summer.  The bees saw it coming, too.  As we were lighting the smoker and getting ready, John noticed something interesting with them and said I needed to see it.  I left him with the smoker and went over to the hives.  It was raining bees.  Hundreds of bees cascaded out of the sky, most heading to the 1st Italians.  That hive had hundreds of bees hanging out on the side and front, waiting to go in.  I saw lots of activity outside the Sicilians' hive as well.  Somewhat sadly, the Carniolan hive just had a few workers coming in and out of theirs.

For the inspection, we opened up the Sicilians first.  Considering the impending storm I would have expected them to be really quick to get cross on us, but they decided to be Hyde instead of Jekyll.  Never can tell with those girls!  Anyway, they had maybe a quarter of the super worked over with comb and were starting to fill it with nectar, so that's exciting!  As it started to rain, we buttoned them up.

I figured we had a few minutes to take a look at the Italians before the rain really let go.  I haven't had such a hard time opening a hive cover yet.  They had that puppy glued on tight with propolis.  Once I popped that off I started on the inner cover.  If I thought the outer was fun...sheesh!  We got some great shots of the orange propolis tearing apart between the cover and the super.  Once I got it off, we couldn't have been more happy!  Their super was at least 90% full of comb and almost all of it had capped honey. 

We got them covered back up just in time for it to really start coming down and evacuated into the house. John and I hung out in the front of the house enjoying a cup o' joe and chatting.  We figure we need at least one more super to take advantage of the Italians' production, but both of us don't really have the cash to fork out on one (and we'd probably need another when the Sicilians catch up and that'll be soon).  So we came up with a messier, but cost-free plan.  While I've put out a note to a bee club emailing list for cheap supers, our current idea is to do something I did to "harvest" honey from a sample of comb that we got right before I got rid of the Carniolans' drone laying worker. 

What I did with that was put the comb in a glass jar and did sort of a double boiler trick with it, melting the whole thing.  Then I removed the jar and strained the honey through a small strainer I found in the kitchen (don't let my wife know) into another container and let it cool.  The wax drifted to the top and hardened.  I popped the cap of wax off and, voila, Raw & Unfiltered Honey!  So that's our plan with a couple of frames from the Italians this Saturday.  I need to find a cheap pot to do this because the wax doesn't come off easily (that's why we need to keep the strainer thing between us and not tell Joy).  Still, even if there's wax all over the pot, whoopie do!  Did you know that one of the ingredients in Gummy Bears is beeswax? 

Last note: On Saturday we're going to crack open the Carns to see how they are doing.  I want to do this to see if all we're doing is nursing them along through the fall so that they'll freeze over the winter or if they actually have a chance.  Really, the only way I think they'll make it is if we can find a swarm to build them up.  However, if they have a lot of fresh workers, there is a small chance they'll make it.  Here's for hopin'!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just a musing

Getting into beekeeping has been a life altering experience for me.  I've been taking a close look at how I live and how Americans generally live, what we consume, and how we don't really get it.  I promise I'm not turning into a crazy, pretentious eco-hippy, but rather my philosophy is becoming more adamantly conservative, but not in the right wing sense.

I've been a fiscal, social, and governmental conservative for a long time: don't waste it, don't waste people (but don't tolerate crime), and keep the government out of things.  About eight years ago I became a religious conservative (before that I was an agnostic conservative, but I just didn't really know).  To a degree I've always been an environmental conservative: I love nature, convinced my family to wash and re-use Ziploc bags when I was 13 or so, buy cars that get good gas mileage (saves me cash, too!), avoid wasting water, etc., etc.

Lately, that conservative core has been convinced that we're spiraling out of control in this world.  As Dave Ramsey (the guru of getting out of debt using common sense) likes to point out: we spend money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't know.  And it seems that the biggest export of the U.S. is that philosophy.  We waste so much, pollute so much, have a really twisted idea on how to get our food, and have a governmental system that lines the pockets of the wrong people with lots of cash to get it all done.

When all is said and done, I don't have any solution to this problem other than what Ghandi said once: Be the change you want to see in the world. 

Kinda crazy that a little bee would show me this.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A tale of two hives

  I opened the Sicilain hive and observed that there were not that many bees up in the honey super, and had done absolutely nothing to the frames. Yet when I opened the Italians, I was presently surprised to see it full of bees. I was even more pleased to notice that the Italian bees are well on their way to filling theirs. I would estimate it is roughly a third to a half full with honeycomb. I think we might even be able to stack another super on in a week or two. So with a quick conference call with Bob it was mutually decided to peel the now propolis encrusted queen excluder off the Sicilian hive.

 I am quickly learning that hives are complex and unpredictable and that there seems to be no real hard and fast rules to beekeeping, in a sense Bob and I were both right and wrong about the excluders.

 Sadly the Carniolans have become a footnote in the report. They have gone through a little more of their sugar water and I didn't care to inspect them, there is even less coming and going from the entrance.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Skipping an inspection

With a hectic schedule and darkening skies, we decided to call off our hive inspection this week. However, I felt it was worthy of a blog update. This is because even though there really wasn't any pressing reason to see what was going on inside the hives, it is worth pointing out that many advocates of natural beekeeping believe the less intrusions into the hive, the less the bees are disrupted from doing what they do best, i.e., collecting honey. It certainly makes sense when you stop to think about it. We figured that the Carniolan numbers are so low now we are sure that the almost full jar or sugar syrup we saw last inspection couldn't have been depleted in one week. The Italians hadn't built on to the frames of the honey super in the last inspection, so it was doubtful that in one week they had built it up and filled it with honey. The same goes for the Sicilians, too. Besides, both hives look really busy. Yup, we can wait another week.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A quick update

John took a peek into the supers yesterday as he had seen massive activity outside the 1st Italians the day before, triggering some concern about the hive kicking off a swarm due to overcrowding.  If there was an overcrowding issue, then we figured we needed to add more supers to give them some room.  I must admit some "bummerness" that neither Italians had done much in the supers, but were both working the frames in them.  While I am getting great pleasure out of wrangling 130,000 or so of head of bees, I am in it for the honey and would love to have a bumper crop this year. 

One thing to note, it appears that the perpendicular excluder issue was a good idea - or at least not a bad idea.  We placed the excluders on Monday and they were already starting to work the frames by Thursday.  The worker bees seem to be undeterred by the screens, so we just have to wait and see if we find eggs to see if the queen avoids the area or not.

A bit silly to think so and over-optimistic, but I can dream, right?