Saturday, July 21, 2012

Capping Honey

That is a picture of a full frame of capped honey, what every beekeeper hopes for toward the end of the summer. Last summer the bees never got around to capping much of anything and we ended up with a scant half gallon of honey only after storing a few frames of uncapped honey in a closet with a dehumidifier for over a week.

I am going to try and make this as simple as possible. Bees spend the spring and summer foraging, collecting pollen, nectar and water. They use their tongues (called proboscis) like a straw to suck nectar out of flowers and store it in their stomachs. They carry the packs of pollen on their legs. Upon returning to their hive they deposit the pollen into hexagonal cells, called comb build by the bees from wax. The nectar is stored temporarily in their stomach and gets mixed with enzymes to become honey. The bees will regurgitate the honey and pack it into the comb,  repeating the process until the combs are full. As mother nature would have it the bees know they need to prepare for long term storage of the honey to make it through the winter. To do this, they fan the honey with their wings to evaporate the water and thicken the honey. It is a huge endeavor as nectar is about 80% water and honey is about 10-15% water. So they fan and fan until the honey is ripe and reduced to the right percent of water. When this is done the bees cap the honeycomb with another layer of wax. When the frame is covered with white wax cappings the beekeeper knows the honey is ripe and reduced. A prudent beekeeper will actually check the moisture level of honey with an instrument called a refractometer. If the honey is too moist and harvested too soon it will cause the honey to ferment. Unless your making mead you don't want that nor do the recipients of your honey.

Seeing a frame of capped honey is simply a work of wonder and art. It takes my breath away. Seeing boxes full of capped frames is pure joy.

That is what we found today when we went to check on the bees, frame after frame of capped honey! Colleen and I headed down in the pouring rain, hoping beyond hope that we might get a break in the rain to check the supers. We sat in the car waiting for a break, went for coffee, stopped for a bite to eat, and finally we got a small window of opportunity, about 20 minutes to get in and get out. Four out of five hives have three supers each. The following is an accounting of the boxes, suffice to say we have tuns of capped frames.  The first supers of all four are completely packed with capped honey and we have entire brood box full of capped honey. I am not sure how we are going to get that box out of the bee yard, it must weigh 100 bounds. The second supers are completely combed out and mostly packed with lots of capping, with is more that what was going on 10 days ago. There isn't much going on in the third supers but we also added brood boxes to two hives which the bees need to comb out first. It was good to see that all of the brood in the supers of Royal Ruckus is hatched out and the queen excluder has kept the queen at bay. The bees have moved up into the new brood box and started to comb it out. Same story in Drone Den. We poked our head into Mr. Abbott and I should have thrown a frame of honey into that hive. I could see bees head first into some bone dry comb. There isn't much of a change in Crazy Comb, no additional comb in the second super and not much activity. The Turquoise Bee is capping in the second super but not drawing much in the third. Hopefully the rain will give a boost to the nectar flow and the bees will just carry on.

I am starting to think about our harvesting strategy. We have never had this much honey before so it needs to be calculated and thoughtful. I am hoping we can actually start to pull off supers as soon as next week and store them in our "bee room" until we are ready to harvest. It would be nice to do it slowly and not get overwhelmed with a day long project.

1 comment:

GF Gidget said...

Amazing how well it is going this year!