You are too good to be true. You have spent the summer building comb, foraging for pollen, nectar and water. You have buried your heads deep, nursed your brood, fanned your wings, tended to your queen, guarded your hive and now this:
Frame after frame of capped honey. For three years you have teased me. For three years I have waited for this, the opportunity to take a worthy crop and share it with my world. Finally I can have a proper Tibetan blessing for you and show you and all your glory off! Mother of Apis Melifera, tears of the Sun god Ra, your tears turned to bees now sweet for me.
Paula and I hit the road at 5:30 this morning, my time of day! We arrived at the bee yard, lit the smoker and set up to start pulling boxes of honey. We have never been faced with a job like this and it is overwhelming to think about how to prioritize, organize, manage and pull off. We made made one mistake, nothing that can't be recovered. One bee sting later we left with four full boxes of honey.
We are hobby beekeepers. We don't have the tools or the equipment commercial beekeepers have to get the job done. We have the two of us, a bee brush and and Tupperware containers. It isn't much but it is enough.
It isn't the best photo but you get the idea. Brushing bees causes a bee frenzy. Last summer I got no less than 15 stings, all above my neck the day we harvested and ended up with a three month cough. This year we made sure our veils were not draping our necks and I ended up with one single sting on my leg, from The Turquoise Bee of course. No big deal. We worked Crazy Comb first and took an entire brood box of honey. We should get about 3 1/2 to 4 gallons of honey from the box and we are not done. We don't need to leave any honey in this hive as we won't over winter these girls. Hopefully over the next few weeks they will cap the remaining frames in at least one super and if we can isolate our queen we may be able to harvest some of the frames from remaining the brood boxes.
I brushed and Paula worked the large Tupperware containers, moving the lid on and off trying to minimize the number of bees making their way into the Tupperware and minimize our casualties. I will be truthful, there were some losses, it can't be helped. The bees are stubborn and they burrow into the honey and . . . After Crazy Comb we took boxes from Royal Ruckus, Drone Den and The Turquoise Bee. All in all we ended up with four full boxes of frames, probably another 4 or 5 gallons I am guessing. The super frames are smaller than the brood frames and Royal Ruckus and Drone Den are smaller boxes with one less frame that our other boxes, so it is a little hard to estimate but I am guessing at this point we have a good 8 gallons sitting in the honey closet.
We moved our fuller supers to the top of each hive and put on bee escapes just below them, a device that allows bees to move down in a hive but not up. The idea is to get as many bees out of the top boxes so there are less bees to brush. When I got home and looked at the calendar I think it was a little premature for this maneuver so I am going to go back tomorrow and remove the bee escapes, giving the bees more time to finish capping the top boxes, maybe another two weeks.
By the middle of August we should be able to remove another three or four supers and think about our wintering strategy. Royal Ruckus and Drone Den should have enough honey in the brood boxes to cover them for the winter. The other hives, if we can isolate our queens into the bottom box and hatch out any remaining brood we could take more from the brood boxes. We could also save some frames from these hives for early spring feeding. Lots to consider!
Once we finished we carried the oh so heavy Tupperware containers half way to the car and brushed each frame again, making sure we didn't have live bees in the Tupperware containers. We loaded everything into the bee mobile. Since I'd been stung I had a swarm of bees pelting my helmet and veil and couldn't loose the bees. Finally Paula was able to get out of her bee suit and I got into the passenger seat of the car with my gear still on and we drove to our coffee shop before I was able to remove the suit. I celebrated with my first cup of regular coffee in over 6 months. I don't intend to make a habit of it, and even if I did, so what.
When we got home we made one final bee check before carrying the containers into the "honey house", essentially the back room of our condo that becomes transformed into a honey house for extracting at the end of every summer. We transferred the frames back into their boxes and stacked the boxes in the honey closet. Last year we stored our uncapped honey here for a full week while running a dehumidifier. No need for the dehumidifier this year, these frames are all ripe and capped. I will probably take some honey to Natures Nectar to measure the moisture content, just to be sure, but I am darn confident about this harvest.
You can see the joy in both of us. Giddy with delight. It took me awhile to clean up and get the drippings of honey out of the Tupperware containers. By the time I was done it was 10 am and I had four cups of warm honey. Tina promptly made some toast and honey while I threw the bee suits into the washing machine and poured a small jar of honey for Paula. I am taking the rest down to our land owner tomorrow when I go back to remove the bee escapes. It seems fitting that he should get some of the first harvest!
Oh Mother of Apis Melifera, tears of the Sun god Ra, your tears turned to bees, now sweet for me. I am grateful to you. To show my gratitude I plan to show you off and celebrate your crop. Mark your calendars Monday, September 3rd, details to follow. Since the Tibetan Monks were not able to come to the apiary for a Puja in June I am hoping they can join us for a traditional blessing before we extract. This is an opportunity to talk about how important bees are, the issues facing bees that could eventually cause the demise of our entire agricultural industry and see how we go from nothing to honey. No doubt we will put you to work. The frames need to uncapped and the extractor needs to be hand cranked. Bring your muscle and your family. Tina promises something on the grill and I promise a small taste of honey to take home. It will be the perfect way to close out the summer and celebrate the honey bee!