Harvest Time, Part 1

A beautiful capped frame of honey is something to smile about!

After four years of beekeeping we are finally getting a descent honey crop! We have harvested 50+ pounds of honey from our hives this year.  In the northeast there are typically two main honey crops. The first flow is in the spring. Think dandelions, apple trees, everything that flowers early so it can later set fruit. The flow is fast and furious in the spring and the bees respond with fast and furious colony growth that can lead to swarming as colonies rapidly outgrow their space. That ‘spring’ flow lasts from May – June.  In July things start to slow down, while unlike some areas of the country we don’t have a true ‘dearth’ of nectar hives typically aren’t able to pack on the pounds in July. The good news is that means the bees also stop packing on the bees and (we hope!) stop swarming.  We have a second somewhat smaller flow in August- early September. This is when plants that reproduce by flowering send their offspring up into the world. Goldenrod and Aster are the two big sources. What grows as ‘weeds’ along the road is great food for the bees!  In Maine, winter is never far away and so our primary concern is to ensure the bees have enough honey to keep them alive through the cold months. This means leaving one whole box (‘super’) of honey with the hive in addition to the two large boxes they will pack full for themselves. If the hive makes it to spring we can still harvest the honey then but if they ate it in winter, well we are glad it was there for them! All this to say we need honey above and beyond what the bees can eat before we get our cut.

This spring our three existing hives made it through the winter, and as I discussed in an  earlier blog post our management plan involved splitting off the queen and some workers to force the colony to raise a new queen.  This had three goals: control swarming, decrease mite load, and increase honey production.  While we still need to work on the first part of the goal, the increased honey production seemed to work out well. Since the bees had no queen during the peak spring flow they had no baby bees to take care of and thus could devote all their effort to Honey. By the 4th of July each of the three main colonies had a full super of honey.

We went ahead and extracted this spring honey. Those of you who read carefully the above paragraph may be scratching your heads – if they need a full super of honey for winter, why take it away from them in early July?? Several reasons, first of all on a practical note we have a limited number of supers and a box that is already full of honey can’t be filled with more honey until we empty it! Secondly it is still quite early in the year. The bees will have the fall flow to collect honey for themselves. Furthermore, since the wax is all built in these supers, refilling them after we removed the honey should be faster for the bees. We have extracted two of the three already and found it to be an incredibly light colored honey. (Psyched for fair time!)

Here are some photos of the extracting process. We are definitely getting more efficient with all the equipment nicely lined up on a sanitized table. We’ve also learned the hard way to load the extractor evenly so it doesn’t spin like a washing machine with one towel in it!.

Basic line up – full super, uncapping knife in hot water, tub to catch cappings and drips and the extractor. 
 The extractor spout drains into a 5 gallon pail with honey gate and filter inside. The tarp keeps the sticky mess off the floor so we won’t get more critters in the shed later. 

Rob is really the expert uncapper – I don’t seem to have the delicate touch.  
You want to take off as little as possible and still enable the honey to be extracted. 

Here are the frames ready to be spun in the extractor. 

The sight of a line of honey pouring into the filter and 5 gallon pail – yum!
The first honey of the year, ready to be bottled for fair!