Harvest Time

September 30, 2008

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!

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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?

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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).

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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.


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