Saturday, October 22, 2011

Extracting we go...

Thanks to the generosity of the Sutton hives, I have honey to extract! I got out my new Maxant extractor that I bought this year, and gave it a good cleaning (didn't need it, but I wanted to get rid of any new residue).

I purchased also a stand for it, but I didn't have time to mount the stand on a solid wooden base (that'll be next year's project). So I just set it on the kitchen table like last time. Here's the setup:

First comes the uncapping of the frames. Like last time, I used a simple serrated bread knife. It seems to work, and I don't feel I need a heated knife. I use a rubbermaid container to catch all the cappings.

My youngest son Jacob was anxious to help - he held the extractor body as I spun it, because the frames were off balance a lot.

Liquid gold! I noticed that this time the honey was very dark.

There's always some honey which doesn't come out the spigot - I solved that problem!

Here are the cappings - I strain those to get the honey out and then let the bees clean up the rest.

So here's the take from the fall - around 25 pounds. Not bad! Enough to give as Christmas gifts as well as sell to recoup a little of my investment.

Notice the difference from the spring honey (on the left - very clear) and this fall honey (right - dark and thick). It all depends on the flowers the bees visit.

Here are the cappings set out for the bees to reclaim. I also made a video so you can see the activity. Especially in the fall (when there are no flowers) the bees are anxious to reclaim all of the honey the can!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sutton comes through!

Saturday (2 days ago) I performed the pre-winter maintenance on the hives in my backyard. Since I took today as a vacation day, I decided to do the same for the hives in Sutton. I hadn't been out there since (gasp!) the first week of August! It seems the frequency of my visits is about 2 months. But the bees don't seem to mind (almost as if they know what they need to do without my intervention, right Tom?).

I got there around 4:30PM, a little later than I would have liked, but still plenty of light. I pried up the top inner cover on the right hive, and this is what I saw:

You can see all that goopy stringy brown stuff - propolis. It's a type of "bee glue" they use for many things, but especially for filling in places that are narrow. These bees are italians from Georgia, and they (the italians) are known for how much they propolize everything.

When I lifted up the honey super to set it aside, I got a nice surprise - it was actually heavy. What's this? Maybe some honey? I was excited to look. But first I inspected the top brood chamber.

You can see by this picture that there were a good number of bees hanging out. This hive was doing well. They must like the location.

I pulled out a couple of frames from the brood chamber, and this is what I saw:

This is a frame *full* of honey. That's what I like to see! About half of the frames looked like this. These bees are well on their way to preparing for winter - filling the upper chamber with food. I won't have to feed this hive much.

I didn't go into the lower chamber - just took a peek by tilting up the upper brood chamber. Guess what? More bees :-)

Here's what things looked like when I finished my inspection. Messing around with a hive always brings up more bees:

Now I started looking at the honey super. This is what I saw!

Yay! Honey! I used my bee brush and started brushing off the bees (which for some reason they objected to) as I moved the frames to another super (covered with a towel to try to keep out the bees). Maybe one day I will purchase a fume board, but with the few number of hives I have (and the little amount of honey they produce) using a bee brush isn't bad. I wasn't expecting to have to deal with bees in the super, so it took me longer there (and was more work) than I was thinking.

Then I went to inspect the left hive. Again, a heavy honey super, and a good amount of bees on the top of the frames:

Like the other hive, this one put up a bunch of honey in the upper brood chamber. I didn't take a picture of it, but it was a little less than the other hive, but well on the way for winter. Again, for this hive I will not have to feed much.

This hive has a peculiar habit of building brace comb between the upper and lower brood chamber, in all different directions. I used to scrape it off, but they just put it back so I leave it alone now.

Before, there were drone brood in the brace comb. But now they filled it with honey. Here's what the top of the lower brood chamber looks like - the clumps of bees are along the brace comb, and you can see how it zig-zags around.

Again the bees surprised me and put up a bunch of honey in the honey super:

On both hives I put a 2" shim, then an empty medium super (to cover the syrup jars). I didn't have enough of the deep bodies, so I had to make do with these two parts (the medium super is not quite tall enough to cover these jars, so I needed the extra shim).

So the Sutton hives are also ready for winter.

I ended up with 18 frames (two 9-frame honey supers), and I'd estimate there were about 12 frames of capped honey ready for extraction (the other frames are either empty, or had mostly uncapped nectar). Wouldn't you know it? I just did a major cleaning and put-away of my extractor, thinking I wouldn't have to use it any more this season! My youngest son is excited about the prospect of doing more extraction - I'll probably do it this weekend.

Old Man Winter...

Well, not really - it's a while until Old Man Winter arrives. But it is time to start getting the bees ready for winter.

In the wild, bees have a certain behavior when the days get shorter and the temperature starts dropping. They start to adjust their nest and move down, and any last bit of honey gets put up above them. The kick out the drones to die (since their usefulness has ended with the end of the summer), and the queen starts slowing down on her laying. But this preparation doesn't always allow the bees to survive the winter (for example, if they don't have enough food).

With managed hives, since we do rob them of some of the excess honey, we also try to help them get ready for winter. For me it's a matter of making sure they have enough food, and they have places they can store it.

This last weekend was a bit of Indian Summer, with temperatures in the high 70's / low 80's. The bees were out in force with the good weather (my wife has some Shasta Daisies growing in the back yard, the bees [including mason bees] are all over it). I decided it was a good time to do some winter preparations.

I needed to do the following:
  • Take off the honey supers (since the bees haven't put anything up there)
  • Check the top box to make sure they have room
  • Put on an empty brood chamber above the inner cover, in preparation for adding jars of sugar syrup
I also dug out my storage bins in the garage that I use to put away some of the frames for the season. I got a surprise - I forgot that I had stuck in 3 full size frames which were pretty much full of sugar syrup "honey." They came from one of the Sutton hives which died last year. I put them there intending to put them on an active hive. Well, that will happen this weekend!

Brown Hive

I started with the brown hive. I started on the bottom box, and this was what I saw:

It's not a terribly large number of bees, but not too bad. I saw some bees bringing in pollen (probably from the daisies and something else which is bright orange). I marked them in the following picture:

There was also a good amount of pollen in the lower brood chamber:

Up top, the bees had collected some amount of nectar, but not enough for winter:

In the honey super I saw that the bees had some nectar stored, and about 1/3 of a frame of capped honey on two frames. These I will scrape open and set out for the bees to rob and put back into the hive.

Pink Hive

On the Pink Hive, I put the honey super (undrawn) on the brood chamber without a queen excluder. I didn't expect them to do anything with it, but it was worth a try. I was right - they didn't do anything with it.

But I did see the queen in this one:

Note that there isn't much brood - it looks like she's already cutting back on production.

Green Hive

The Green Hive got a pretty good makeover. You'll recall that this was a hive from a late summer nuc, so it hadn't really started going up into the top brood chamber (I added the top chamber a few weeks ago). I did see that they had started putting up some nectar there, so that's good.

I also had a Grey Nuc over at a friends house. It turns out that the queen in that nuc was really bad - she hardly had any brood production, even when it was in a nice environment away from other hives pestering it.

So I brought the gray nuc back, and let's say I left the queen there :-)

I decided to combine the bees from the grey nuc into the green hive to boost the number of bees. I did that.

Since the green hive had the least food, it got two of the frames of food from storage. Here is one of those frames:

So I have the hives ready for winter. I set out all of the supers a little way away from the hives so the bees can reclaim whatever nectar and honey is there.

Here are the three hives (the top box is an empty cover so I can easily add jars of syrup):

The empty box of the Grey Nuc is sitting off to the side so the bees that are left in there (there are always some) can go to their new home.

I'll mix up some 2:1 syrup to feed the bees at a later date.
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