A Sweet Year

As beekeeping goes, it’s been a banner year for us and our resident stingin’ sisters.  The girls are in fine form and their queens are tough and strong, making good bee decisions and producing lots of bee babies for the next generations.  I haven’t taken many photos of the hives in the last few months and our last hive check was in October, but it looks like we’ll end 2018 on a good–if sticky–note.

We’ve extracted several gallons of the sweet stuff during 2018.

One of several groups of bottled honey for this year!

 

These photos were taken in the summer and demonstrate the strength of our hives.

The top part of the frame is capped honey, below are the cells where larvae are nurtured and bees are hard at work for the hive.

The metal contraption at the left of this photo, is a frame holder. When we remove a frame, we can hang it here while we poke around in the hive.  It can comfortably hold three frames.

 

Because the bees had completely filled the large brood boxes in both hives with honey and larvae, we added a shallower box, called a super, on top, and placed a queen excluder in between each top brood box and super.  The queen excluder is exactly what it sounds like:  a separation piece with mesh bars that are large enough for the workers to crawl through, but too narrow for the robust queen.  Workers can traipse through the excluder and into the super to make honeycomb and the queen can’t get through to lay eggs, so she rumbles around in the brood boxes doing her egg-laying thing.  The result is that in the super, there’s pure honeycomb, no larvae.

We added the super to ease overcrowding which could lead to swarming–a perfectly natural response to an overcrowded hive–but not one that a beekeeper wants to encourage.  We want to keep our bees and we want some of their honey.  That’s why we keep’em!

Those silly bees continued to build comb along the queen excluder.

We scraped off the comb-n-honey bits, kept some for ourselves, and left the rest for the bees to enjoy.

We observed this goofy comb-building during a couple of hive checks and then endured a head-slapping realization.  The bees built the wonky comb in the super because we, their keepers,  placed top bars, rather than full frames with wax foundation, in the supers.  Until our two Langstroth hives, Buzz and Woody, became honey producers (which happened this summer!), our honey extraction has been very low tech endeavor.  Our original hive (Scar) utilizes top bars with no foundation and the bees employ a free-form downward build as they make comb.  When we’ve taken honey from Scar, we cut the comb from the bar, then crush the comb and let the honey drip into a bowl.   I pour that honey through strainers and deposit into bottles.  All in all, it’s a relaxed process, albeit a bit hard on my wrist.

Langsthroth hives are best used with full frames and foundation, and are geared  for the keeper to extract honey efficiently, while limiting damage to the comb.  Our use of top bars in Buzz and Woody was a poor decision.  Of course the bees were going to build comb to their needs and not ours–we’re the silly ones, not the bees!  Bees couldn’t care less what shape the comb is. They’re just doing what honeybees do–build comb and make honey– while our choice of using the inappropriate-for-Langstroth hives top bar, which resulted in “messy” comb, was our lame and misguided attempt to delay the inevitable:  the purchase of a mechanical honey extractor which is how grown-up beekeepers extract honey.

Well, we’ve learned our lesson!

We assembled new frames for the supers for both hives, complete with foundation. The bees are now happy and productive, and gone are the wavy-gravy combs.

It’s humbling when you’re outsmarted by an insects.

So what’s next for the backyard beekeeping adventure?

Honey extractor with electric, heated comb knife,  and strainers.

A brand new, never-been-washed, manual two-framed honey extractor!  Don’t worry, we’ll wash it before we use it, but that won’t happen until sometime in late February.

When we last checked, both Buzz and Woody had completely filled each of the second brood boxes and their supers with honeycomb.  We’ve left all in the hive for winter so that the girls have plenty of the sweet stuff to slurp throughout the cold, wet days and nights.   In late winter, we’ll take some frames out before the queens ramp-up for spring egg-laying and fire-up the extractor. The use of the honey extractor advances us into a new level of beekeeping.

I’d say it’s been a good year for the honeybees and their keepers.

Here’s to sweetness for all!

 

30 thoughts on “A Sweet Year

  1. I was doing great until I got to this sentence: “The bees built the wonky comb in the super because we, their keepers, placed top bars, rather than full frames with wax foundation, in the supers.” I guess I don’t quite grasp the concepts of ‘top bars’ and ‘ full frames with wax foundation.’ It looked to me as though the frames in the first couple of photos would qualify as ‘full frames’ — but that could be a technical term I’m misinterpreting. I’ll go do a little search.

    Otherwise: congrats! That new extractor is slick — and I do get the concept of a heated comb knife! Very nice.

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      • Yes, I forgot about some of the older posts where I explain about the Warre hive. Beekeeping is so weird, the terminology and equipment is not what most folks are used to. Yes, I love the natural forms that the bees produce without frames. The comb is exquisite–so perfect, so amazing.

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      • You’re right, it’s confusing! In those first two photos, you’re looking at the top brood boxes, one of Woody and one of Buzz. Since the brood boxes became full by mid-summer, we added the narrow supers on top of both hives (at different points in time, actually). Instead of placing full frames with foundation, we thought we could just place the bar (‘top bar’) across the top of the box and let the bees build downward, like they had with our Warre hive. They revolted and instead of building on the bar, they focused their energies with building sort of in between the top of the brood box and the queen excluder, which sits between the brood box and super. Once we realized that they needed encouragement to move into the super, we realized we couldn’t be lazy and we needed to assemble the full frames with foundation, which, are inexpensive and easy to assemble. We’ve purchased most of our bee stuff from a company called Mann-Lake, https://www.mannlakeltd.com/ .

        Our reluctance to move forward with purchasing an extractor was our stumbling block. It’s simply that our process has been one way, and because of our two Langstroth hives, we’re moving in a different direction. The Langstroth hives are fabulous because they’re so easy to maintain, compared to the Warre hive. But, we must have an extractor for the frames of honey, there’s no way around it. We didn’t get our extractor through Mann-Lake, but through Amazon (boo!), but they carry some very affordable manual extractors and even with the girls producing, the amount of honey still relatively small potatoes–so to speak.

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    • Mostly we’ve kept friends and neighbors supplied with honey. We like honey, but don’t necessarily eat it all that much. I confess to keeping an eye out for sauce recipes and the like that require honey, though usually it’s just a tablespoon or so needed.

      I’m practicing hoarding, just like our bees: honeybees naturally hoard honey, just in case, and I’ve set aside a number of jars to keep, if there’s some glitch with the hives and we go a year without getting honey.

      I recall you mentioned that you don’t care much for honey and I also have never been a big fan, but I have to say that our bees produce the most delicious stuff, truly, it’s just remarkable. I’m a convert!

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    • Haha! It’s been a real learning curve and each year, the gals throw a curve ball of some sort (we can never predict!) and we’ve had to figure out some weirdness and develop a solution. They do keep us on our toes! The Austin area has quite a few beekeepers; you often hear about the folks with chickens, but I’ll bet there are significantly more beekeepers around. Also, there are several groups here who hold regular meetings. We attended the monthly meetings of the Austin Area Beekeepers Association, https://www.meetup.com/Austin-Urban-Beekeeping/, in the first two years of beekeeping (their meetings were very close by and it was convenient). There are also commercial courses one can take provided by Round Rock Honey https://roundrockhoney.com/beekeeping-classes , Two Hives Honey, https://www.twohiveshoney.com/ and BeeWeaver Apiaries (where we get our bees), https://www.beeweaver.com/ . I’m sure there are more, but those pop into my head. As well, there’s a Texas Master Beekeeping course and here in Austin, there’s an annual August tour of beeyards.

      It’s a cult! 🙂

      That said, the initial work is substantial and I’d say that the first year requires lots of commitment. It’s been a good empty-nest project for my husband and I to share. I’d also say that I can hardly imagine that I could ever have a garden without honeybees–they’re just so much a part of things now.

      Native bees are much easier to encourage, though. So, with your little ones (and I’m sure, all your spare time 🙂 ), that’s the route I’d encourge you to follow. But first, you’ll need to unpack from your move. 🙂

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      • I’ll continue to coax my generous children to leave the dandelions for the bees and leave the keeping up to others for awhile yet 😉
        I hear, from a certain little lady of mine, that we’re to have a duck someday, so she can have her very own pet. Perhaps honey will wait for an empty nest for me as well!

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  2. Pingback: A Sweet Year | My Gardener Says… – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  3. Ha! Outsmarted by insects. We had three hives removed this year. Two were in different parts of the same building. A fourth swarm arived where the second hive was removed, but then moved on. I can not help but wonder why that building is so popular with bees.

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      • Oh my! That poor old building is already in bad shape. I hate to argue with bees, but we need to take care of the building. So far, we can only try to seal it up so that they can not get in. It did not keep them out before.

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  4. Bees are such mysterious creatures, and live such interesting lives. I can see how it might seem humbling to be “outsmarted” by them, but I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Understanding differences in other species isn’t generally something we humans do well. And, we only generally try when there is something in it for us – like the sweet stuff. Congratulations on the new extractor – that’s a big step!

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    • I think that mystery is mostly that their biology is so complicated and it takes real study to understand their ways. As well, there are so many invasive things (critters, mostly) that impact them, it adds to their complexity. I think we *kind of* have the biology part down, but there is also an art to beekeeping and I think that takes years of experience.

      I’ll have some posts about using the extractor, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I envy you your official equipment, clean hives and very creative bees! However, can’t complain as we got a quantity of honey this year, so much that I was able to give some away as holiday gifts. So all good!

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