The bees and I have a complete understanding: they don’t want me in their hive; I don’t want to mess with their hives. I do so loathe harvesting honey. Sitting, encased in my bee suit, staring balefully off into space, waiting while my beloved partner (with the necessary muscles and nerves) fiddled about. He said, “You don’t look very happy.”
“I hate this.”
“I can tell.”
“Sweltering, while you fiddle.”
“No screaming or carrying on. You be calm.”
We’ll see I thought, we’ll just f-ing see.
It turns out I was able to do as advised, and maybe because of being advised ahead of time, though I don’t intend to admit that.
Many bee keepers go into their hives several times a year. They’re rather smug about it, but I think they’re mean. Do the bees want them in there? No! We go in once a year, unless to split a hive, which I guess (blast it!) we’ll have to do next year.
This year we had two hives that needed tended to. One was a very vigorous hive, and we harvested two supers of honey off of it. By commercial standards this is pitiful, but it’s good enough for us. We left over a super and a half of honey on the hive, which is more than enough to feed them over the winter. We found a lot of webby stuff smeared at the bottom of the hive, and scraped it off. As is typical, the bottom super was mostly empty and full of dark, nasty looking comb. Professional bee keepers re-use this, or did, but I put it under the oak tree for nature to deal with for a month or so before I scrape all of the frames clean.
The picture to the left is our harvest, the bottom super being empty. It’s set up so bees can leave, but not come back.
The other hive almost died this summer and then — unexpectedly — rallied. The queen must have died. Then, either a swarm took over the hive or the hive turned a young egg into a queen. I think it’s most likely the latter, since the population ramped-up rather slowly, and we didn’t see any swarms. I didn’t expect to take any honey off of this hive, and did not. The bottom super was removed to the oak tree. The bottom of the hive had a puddle of water since the stand had tilted, so we shimmed it up to stop that. Excess water in the hive is very stressful to the bees.
For both hives I scraped out the large twigs that propped up the lid to allow for moisture escape, and replaced with smaller ones since winter is coming. There were no hive beetles or wax moths in either hive. I did find one desiccated body that looked like a bumble bee, poor thing.
I was not stung once, and I am smug about that. I use redundant systems, that is, nylon sweat pants, long sleeve T-shirt and a full body bee suit. Last year at the Mother Earth News Fair I saw the bee suite of my dreams at the Mann Lake booth. No, really. Most bee suites are made of tightly weaved cotton so the bees can’t get their stingers through it. Once I got so hot in one of these, sweat running down into my eyes stinging so I could barely see, that it took half an hour in a cool shower for me to feel normal. I think I was close to serious overheating. And I thought, what if instead of blocking the stinger, one were to make a kind of overlapping mesh, thick enough so the singers could not reach. And then, lo! there it was! As soon as I got home I bought one for me and my husband and pitched our older death traps. At this years MEN Fair Mann Lake had a newer version. This is the link for it.
They didn’t look better at all. At the 2015 MEN Fair they were excusing the weight, which did not bother me at all. I suspect these new ones are lighter, perhaps sacrificing ventilation, but unless you can find 2015 Mann Lake bee suites on e-bay, it is likely the best you will be able to procure.
In the harvest picture above, you may have noted the “triangle board” on top. This is designed so that bees can find their way out, but not back in and it works wonderfully. Somehow the sharp angles, small entries, and a big hole over the supers in the center (where the bees are) where they can’t get in, totally flummoxes the bees. I hope by tomorrow morning most of the bees will be out.
Tomorrow I will update you on how I extract the honey. For today, there are some very angry bees outside, and I’m not going out there!