June – It’s Sticky around here

Two weeks ago the hives were getting full of honey. We had 15 frames that were ready to extract, so Saturday morning we set up all the equipment and got to work. By the end of the day, we had 45 pounds of honey. That’s a lot of honey.  But wait, there’s more…

This Saturday we did it again. We got another 60 pounds of honey. That’s 105 pounds so far this year. But wait, there’s even more…

The Linden trees are blooming and they are covered with honey bees. We’ll probably be extracting more honey in another week or two. So far, the honey we have extracted is VERY light – a white clover honey from all the clover flowers growing in the yard. It will be interesting to see if the Linden honey is as light, and how the flavor differs. But you know what they say… don’t count your honey until you have it in your jars (or something like that), so I don’t want to predict what the outcome might be.

Linden tree blossoms also make a very nice tea, so just in case we don’t get Linden honey, I picked some of the blossoms from a low hanging branch (along with the bract leaves attached to the blossom), dried them in the dehydrator and ground them up into tea. Some chilly night this fall, I’ll have a cup of Linden blossom tea – hopefully with a spoonful of Linden honey to go with it.

A gorgeous frame fresh out of the hive and packed with honey.
Once the wax coating is cut off the top, the frames go into the centrifuge extractor.
The wax we cut off the top gets saved and we will melt it down – maybe we’ll make candles one day.
Our very light honey!
The Linden flowers and leaves for tea.
Into the dehydrator they go to get dried out to make tea.

May – Swarm Frenzy

We have three bee hives. One survived the winter, the other two needed new bees this spring. The one that survived the winter is strong and busy – too busy. They raised a new queen and split. Half of the hive took off looking for a new home. They got as far as a tree about 40 feet from the hive – and 40 feet in the air. So we watched and we waited – for days. They just hung there.

Finally we decided to attempt the impossible. Chris attached a bucket sprayed with sugar water to a really long pole, I grabbed a rake – and we both “suited up” with gloves, a bee veil and in my case – just about all the clothes I own. The first problem was getting to the tree. It’s up a steep hill, overgrown with berry brambles and wild roses (the only thing those wild roses grow is thorns!). Then we had to fight through vines that were climbing the tree. Once we were on the “up-side” of the tree, Chris could reach the swarm with the bucket. But just holding the bucket in place next to the swarm apparently wasn’t enticing enough. I reached up with the rake, snagged some vines and started pulling – hard enough to make the branch shake and the bees to fall into the bucket – except for the ones that didn’t fall into the bucket. Those took flight, and seemed to most enjoy the flight path around my face. Worse yet – there was no easy escape. For as difficult as it was to fight the hill, the brambles and the vines to get in there – it was even harder to get back out with bees flying around your face – yikes!  Oh, and did I mention while doing all of that I was also trying to film it on my phone. I’d share it with you, but most of what you would see is the ground as I was trying to run away – and the audio (I definitely shouldn’t share that).

In the long run – we had success! We captured about 3/4th of the swarm, poured the bees into a small hive, put the lid on – and sighed a big relief. We weren’t really looking to add a fourth bee hive, so this one will stay in the small hive and hopefully live over the winter. That way, if we have a hive that doesn’t survive ’till next spring – we will have replacement bees ready to move into a full-sized bee hive. Here’s hoping!

Our bees – just hanging out – way up in a tree.
A five-gallon bucket full of bees – need I say more?
“Pouring” them into the hive.
We hope they make this their home and don’t take off on any more adventures!

September – A Sweet Surprise

We’ve had bees for three years now. The first year – we got nothing, the second year – we got next to nothing (6 pounds of honey), the third year – we thought we got nothing. The beekeepers association said that if you don’t have honey by the end of July – you aren’t getting any, so pack up your hopes and dreams and wait another year. But… our bees are just late bloomers. They waited until mid August and in the span of about two weeks brought home nearly 70 pounds of dark, sweet honey.

We had used the extracting equipment last year – hardly worth the effort, but I guess it was a good “dry run” to process the amazing 6 pounds of honey. This year, we at least had a process in place and set to work early in the morning. Several hours later – we have CASES of the stuff. In fact, I need to go buy more honey jars! I guess that’s a good problem to have.

We had three shallow supers of frames to extract.
And they were packed to the corners with honey.
I got stung by a yellow jacket earlier in the week so I was taking NO chances. I don’t mind helping but those few bees that came in with the frames of honey weren’t going to get to me!
Straining the honey from the extractor to a bucket. We ended up with a full five gallon bucket plus a little more!
Honey Jars
The “fruits” of Chris’s persistence. He took classes, kept doing everything he was supposed to do – and here we are – with nearly six CASES of honey.

July – Honey as precious as Gold

Beekeeping is an investment.

We started with two hives.  They died after the first winter.  We ordered more bees and started over.  The bees arrived late and we missed most of the spring honey flow.  One hive had six frames of capped honey, and given the investment we’ve made, and the fact that we’ve waited two years – we decided to extract so we could get SOME honey.

Chris took one honey super off the top of our 1st hive.  He used our leaf blower to blow any bees that were in the super (and between the frames) back towards the hive.  We set up our “extracting station.”  First we set up the uncapping bin.  We balanced a frame on the pin, used the uncapping knife and the capping scraper and took the top layer of wax off the frames.

The frames then went into our four frame electric extractor.  This contraption is a centrifuge.  The frames go in, opposite each other to keep it balanced.  It’s important to start the extractor slow, and then gradually increase the speed.  The honey flies out of the comb, hits the inside wall of the extractor tank and slides down to the bottom of the tank where it is drained off through a spigot.  It’s all very ingenious.

We did some serious scraping with a rubber spatula to make sure we got every last golden drop before putting the extractor outside for the bees to clean it out.  That is the ultimate in recycling.  They take their own honey back to the hive and put it back into a frame – nothing goes to waste!  When they were finished cleaning it out, we did use hot soapy water – because honey is – sticky!

Are six frames worth the effort and dirty-ing up the equipment?  Six pounds later (8 – 12 oz. jars) – we had our precious gold-colored honey.  But is it really as precious as gold?  If you add up all of the expenses – the bee hives, the bees, the extracting equipment, the jars and the labels and divide it by six measly pounds – it’s a LOT per pound.  But a pound of gold currently costs $17,927.  I guess our honey isn’t that precious after all.

Setting up our extraction equipment.
Turning on the extractor.
The honey trickles into the strainer.
Bottling every last drop.
Is our honey as precious as gold?

April – The Men in White Suits

We all know that when the men in white suits come for you – you must be crazy.  But this crazy man was wearing a white suit – and installing three pounds of bees and a queen in each of two hives.  CRAZY, I say.

The fact that the bees arrived on April 1st gives yet another dimension to the craziness/foolishness of this endeavor.  And yet, here they are.

Perched on the hillside – far from the house, facing south/southeast with some trees and shrubs to protect the back of the hives from wind, we think they are in the perfect place.  Now they just need to get busy and pollinate my garden, fruit trees, blueberries, raspberries and the like – and a little honey would be nice too.

A bit nerve-wracking for a first time beekeeper.
Opening the package of three pounds of bees.
Making room in the hive for the queen cage.
Shaking the bees into the hive.
Giving them some sugar water to get them started.
Whew. Glad that’s over.

March — Apparently to BEE

Against my better judgment, the bees are ordered; they’ll arrive April 1.  But we can’t have the bees arriving without a place to put them.  Chris leveled out our chosen spot – far enough away from the house, but close enough to keep an eye on them, and adjacent to our blueberries, raspberries and soon to be fruit orchard – just to make sure they get the right idea about what they are expected to pollinate.

Chris learned about a local place, an Amish farm with a woodworking shop, where they make – of all things – beekeeping equipment.  Not only do they make it, but they will build it AND paint it.  Having built more than my fair share of bee hives in the past, this sounded like a fine option.  So, we drove out to Forest Hill Beekeeping Supplies in… of all places… Paradise, PA and loaded the truck.  Yes, that darn truck does come in handy sometimes.

The hives are in place, the extra supers (hive boxes) are stacked in the garage – and I’m tempted to go walk barefoot (even though there is now snow on the ground) – just because I can!  Before the bees get here.

Our local bee equipment store.
Loaded in the truck.
Getting ready for the hives.
The base of the hives are in place.
Seems like a sturdy enough spot.
Ready for April 1.
And far enough away from the house to keep me happy.



February — To Bee or Not to Bee

That is definitely a question that I would answer – not to bee.  But Chris has a bee in his bonnet, and thinks this will be a good idea.  I do love that our farm produces “things” – vegetables, eggs, and maybe – honey.    I don’t love the idea of getting stung.

I’m not unfamiliar with the idea.  My family used to keep bees.  I can build bee equipment, and I know how to extract honey.  It’s the stuff in between – actually tending to the bees – that I have no idea about, nor do I want to.  So Chris is now attends the Chester County Beekeepers Association and he is also enrolled in a beekeeping class to get an overview of the ins and outs of a hive.

He came home with a collection of beekeeping catalogs and a Beekeeping for Dummies book.  I’ll leave it at that…

Coffee Table reading on the farm lately.
Stay tuned…