Harvest Time

In all my years, I have never dealt with a feister, more ornery bunch of bees than I wrangled with this Saturday. It wasn’t just the stinging, which there was a lot of (the suit is good but not perfect protection), it was that they just refused to go where I wanted them to go.

The nectar flow has pretty much ceased for the season, so it was time to pull off the honey supers and set the bees up for their winter quiet time. We had a bit of an Indian summer this past weekend, highs in the 70’s, which is unusual for late Seattle September, so I took advantage, clad my armor and headed out to the yard. The trick of this stage of the adventure is to separate the honey from the bees. That means taking the top boxes (supers) off the hive and clearing the bees off them so that I can bring them elsewhere to extract the honey, while not bringing the bees elsewhere to sting me in the car while I drive to elsewhere.

I started with the Sunny Hive, and quickly started wrestling with a bad news good news story: the hives were so heavy with honey, it was back breaking pulling them apart. I asked Michelle to pull down our bathroom scale so I could see exactly how heavy each was: the heaviest came in around 60 lbs!

IMG_7517 IMG_7549 IMG_7576

I hauled the honey supers across the yard to my deck, and then poked around a bit in the lower two boxes (brood chambers, these I’ll leave for the bees to overwinter in). I was a bit worried to find that there was virtually no honey in either of these boxes. Lots of brood (bee larvae) and lots of pollen (which they store near their larvae to feed them), but almost no honey whatsoever (see below left). This is not a good thing, I don’t think, because it means that if I took all the honey and harvested it, they’d have nothing to eat all winter.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I also saw the same old problem with the remaining plastic frames I have (below right). They take to it grudgingly, at best. See how they’ve avoided working out whole sections?

IMG_7526 IMG_7527

I spent some time going through the brood chambers, frame by frame, looking for drone cells (distinguished by their larger, bullet-shaped profile) because I’d read that one way to fight varroa infestation is to kill off the drone cells, which are better home for the mites’ eggs. Surprisingly (to me), I found hardly any at all, just a few at the bottom the upper chamber. I’m supposing that I got to them too late?

IMG_7573Next, I set up about separating the bees from the comb. My strategy, which has worked in past years, is to establish a “clean area”. I remove frame individually, brush the bees off, then carry the beeless frames over to a separate part of the yard, where I reconstruct the now empty supers.

Maybe I did something different this year, I’m not quite sure, but it didn’t work so well. Despite my best efforts, they kept following me over, so that my “clean room” was not clean, but, instead, bee infested. I did manage to come up with a significant number of half-filled frames that had enough honey that the bees would enjoy enjoy it overwinter, but it wasn’t worth my time trying to harvest. Many of these half-filled frames weren’t capped, which means their moisture content would be too high to harvest, anyway, so I left a honey super, partly filled with honey, on each hive.

Shady Hive had a better outlook for the brood chambers, with a significant amount of brood, pollen and honey in the brood chambers. (That’s solid brood on the left and solid honey on the right).

IMG_7586 IMG_7583 IMG_7581

On the downside, as I was partly through working Shady Hive, a bee managed to worm her way inside my suit, up under my shirt, where she proceeded to do the expected. Howling, swatting, swearing and slapping ensued (me, not her).

Eventually, I landed on a system where I set up a bee-free(ish) area in my driveway, brought only bee-less frames to it, and quickly covered it as I deposited each, so minimize the number of bees that were left on the frames. I also found that if I left them covered for a while, the bees that had managed to sneak in rose to the top and few away the moment I removed the cover, so I was able to clear them out over time.

All in all, it looks like it will be a good harvest. Five full supers of honey. Mike Doleshell has agreed to extract for me again this year, so I’m arranging with Alyssa to ferry the supers up to his place.

A few final pieces of note:

  • Mike was absolutely right about using fewer frames with a separator. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, having nine frames with more space between them definitely led to more honey than 10 frames with less space. They simply build deeper cells, rather than wasting space on separation space between frames and foundation.
  • I am somewhat stymied on how to handle the mite issue. I’m going to need some advice on how to treat without chemicals. I’m going to try to pick up some screened bottom boards and try the powdered sugar technique, but I’m afraid I’m coming in too little, too late. I don’t want to lose my hives again this winter.
  • Apparently, yellowjackets aren’t the only enemies of bees. Check out this little scene from near the hive. Welcome to my parlor, indeed!

Welcome to my parlor
  • My latest art experiment failed. Apparently, the bees simply won’t build out new comb late in the season, and I didn’t put in my lights until late July. Oh well, I put this frame back in to Hive 1 and we’ll see if they take to it next Spring.


Just One Word. Are You Listening? Plastics!

Danny came by late last week just as I was about to crack open the hives, so I pressed him into service as assistant beekeeper. The morning’s work involved adding some new frames to the hives, to give them some room to expand. Last time I was in, I had combined my dying Hive 2 with a new hive, so they already had two boxes going, but were a few frames short, and Hive 1 was entirely new with just one box going.

You start a hive off with just one box of frames, but as the queen lays eggs and they hatch, the hive population will increase and they need more room. A worker takes about 21 days to hatch (a drone takes 24 days but a queen only 16 days), and I hived these colonies at the beginning of April, so now’s a good time to start making some room.

Danny was a champ as the photo should clearly illustrate. That’s just a normal-sized bee close-up in front of his face, not an enormous monster alien zombie bee. The blur obscuring the comb in the bottom left of the picture is bee poop on my lens. This is the kind of stuff that we rugged nature photographers have to deal with.

I didn’t feel like making the drive up to Beez Neez, so I tried ordering my frames through Betterbee. Without quite realizing it, I ordered Pierco plastic frames. Normally, when you buy a frame, it’s a piece of wood with a thin layer of beeswax hung by thin wires in the middle of it. The bees build up wax cells on top of this foundation and fill it with their honey and eggs and pollen and other bee-like goodnesses. Plastic frames are the same deal, except with plastic instead of wax.

Well, not quite the same thing. As I read on the slip of paper at the bottom of the shipping container after installing the new frames, when installing plastic frames, I’m supposed to:


No, I’m not shouting at you, I’m quoting the instruction sheet. It’s in all caps. Bee equipment manufacturers have apparently not heard of the shift key.


Actually, you need the shift key to make a colon on a keyboard, otherwise you just get a semi-colon. So they probably heard of the shift key. Maybe their caps lock is broken.


There’s some additional (mixed case) info on the other side that goes roughly: “New Pierco Frames / Foundations can be inter-spersed with drawn comb. For best results run 10 Frames / Foundations in your standard 9 frame super. Insert three new Pierco Frames / Foundations in the 3, 5, & 7 positions, (you can go as many as 5 and 5).”

It goes on, but the gist of it is that I didn’t do what I was supposed to (for the umpeenth time). So, new plan: crack open the hives later this week and see what’s going on. If all is not well, spray with sugar water and intersperse the 3, 5, and 7th with the 9th 5 and 5 and. Wait, how’d it go again?

Maybe I better just stick to the all caps section.