Floods & Honey

www.andrewpotterphoto.com

We’ve got HONEY! And a record-breaking flood – my, my, all very exciting stuff for one week’s time.

We extracted 8 frames of honey (well, 9 to be exact, but one of the frames we had an accident with so it turned into cut-comb honey) to address the honey-boundness of my hives and give more room for the queens to do their jobs, hopefully. It took pretty much all day from inspecting each hive thoroughly and deciding which frames to take, to uncapping and then extracting, to cleaning the rented extractor and returning it to SEMBA. Extracting honey, not my idea of a good time and certainly one of my least favorite beekeeping activities, but it really had to be done…now we have honey!

With a 17.5 water content, the honey is a nice light color but still within the acceptable range so that bacteria won’t grow. I bottled about 40 of these half-pound jars and stickered them all with what is turning out to be a very common label for local honey. Anyone who wants some local honey, let me know!

As for the flood, the bees, and the chickens, AND us for that matter, we are all ok. It ¬†has been a really scary and stressful 24 hours from trying to race home in rush-hour traffic to beat the weather, to getting gridlocked, to finally entering my neighborhood and then¬†flooding the car a mere several blocks from my house, to then walking the rest of the way in my absolute most favorite cutest shoes ever in nearly waist-deep water to get home. *SIGH* but, luckily the hives were high enough that they weren’t touched by the flooding; and while the chicken coop is pretty muddy, it will dry out over time. Only my poor basement and my husband’s car remain as question marks, so I should be, and am, very thankful for all the things I still have.

Flood

 

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Dead Bees Equals First Honey Extraction

This is going to be a longer post. To recap, I discovered all of my bees passed away a little over a week ago. Here are some photos we took that day, including finally finding the Queen after all this time!

In some of the photos you can see the bees’ tongues sticking out or the bees’ tail-ends poking out of cells suggesting starvation, while on the other hand the cluster appeared to be frozen together. Please note, the cluster was much larger before I pulled the frame out, but once I disrupted it they nearly all fell to the bottom of the hive.

Be sure to click on each photo in order to see more detail.

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So after this unfortunate discovery, it was time to extract all the leftover honey from the hive. I rented a honey extractor from Roger Sutherland and went to work learning how to do the process. We have some embarrassing videos of the whole thing, but it’s worth documenting for my own record keeping.The videos were taken with iPhone and are low-res and a glitch seems to occur when making them full screen.

When turning the crank on the extractor, it slipped quite a bit causing some trouble for getting it up to a decent speed to make centrifugal force result. It was a challenge to get through all my frames because of that, but I can’t complain too much since the equipment rental was only $15.00.

This next video shows how the honey is poured and bottled.

We ended up removing the cheese cloth between the funnel and the colander because it slowed the process down and was a bit unnecessary.

After all the bottling was completed, we ended up with 4 and a half quart-sized mason jars. We actually would have ended up with a total of 5 but because I wasn’t so good at my first time, much honey was wasted on the floor – oopsies! Here’s a couple photos of the end product. Roger Sutherland measured the moisture content of a sample we brought when returning the extractor equipment – 18.5, which was right on the cusp of the 18.6 limit but yet still within range – YAY!

Friends and family, we have samples for you!

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter
www.andrewpotterphoto.com

My 1st hive is dead

As some of you local Michiganders will know, today was an unusually warm day for mid-January with it getting up to 60 degrees. I half expected to see a few honey bees making short flights to relieve themselves, but no such activity was present. I was dying to take a peek under my hive cover just for peace of mind.

At first, when I lifted the cover off, I just thought they were all gone. Peering down through the top of my second box, I didn’t see any movement, nor any bee. I thought maybe they had swarmed a while ago and I just never noticed. So I took the top box off and looked down through the top of my bottom box. Then I saw it. The mass cluster of honey bees in the middle of the hive…all dead. I will post some pictures in a few days.

Many had their tongues sticking out. Many were face-down inside of empty honey cells. I took half the hive a part inspecting it for any reason to why they had all died. There was plenty of honey all throughout the hive, but most of the honey where the cluster had been was all gone. I’m inclined to believe that they starved even when inches away from them was food to live off of. Or they may have froze on one of those especially bitter cold days we had not too long ago. I’m really not sure. In speaking with Roger Sutherland of SEMBA (South Eastern Michigan’s Bee Association), he said that he imagined many beekeepers this year will unfortunately be in the same position as me and reminded me of all the trouble we had in the spring with the frost that killed all our fruit trees and then the drought that came after, that there was very little nectar for the bees to collect this year in Michigan.

It’s a big bummer, but when life deals you lemons…
So, I have all this honey in a dead hive. Hmmm. Even though the reason for me getting into beekeeping was not specifically for the honey, I’m all about making the best of this experience. I’m going to extract some honey at the end of next week. This is my first time extracting honey, so it should be quite the learning experience. Going on SEMBA’s website to look for resources for honey extraction, the club offers a three-day rental for a four-frame manual extractor, stand, uncapping knife, and basket at $15. Should be all I need to get the honey out. I will need to figure out how many jars to buy for about 10-12 frames of honey.

The dilemma I’m contemplating now is I’m not entirely sure if I should extract all of the honey or if I should leave some for my second try with bees this spring. Any of my bee mentors out there know the answer to this?

Bee Update

It’s been quite a while since my last post, and only because I didn’t want to post about how worried I am about my bees, but today was a great day so I wanted to catch you all up on what’s been going on.

The last few weeks of monitoring the second box that I added back in June and not seeing much progress has been a little worrisome. Autumn is right around the corner and the temperature has already dropped a bit so that it’s pretty cool in the evenings. The last time I took a look in the hive was two weeks ago and there had been no progress on the pulling of the frames. They really had their work cut out for them in order to build all the comb on nearly all the frames in the second box, and then to start storing honey and capping their honey in all of those frames…I was getting pretty doubtful that they would be able to do it in time for winter, which would mean not enough food for them to survive.

Today we had Andrew’s parents over and showed them the hive. When we opened it up there was capped honey in the first two frames and looking down upon the other frames it looked like the little ladies had done a good job of pulling wax for their new comb on the rest. I’m very pleased with the progress, and it seems like my feeding them has helped significantly. I plan on continuing the simple syrup mix that I’ve been giving to them nearly everyday/every other day until my next inspection on Labor Day weekend. I really want to avoid feeding them for such long periods of time, but as I’m still learning about the impact of the drought we had here and what autumn blooms will bring for the nectar flow, I think I will keeping going for the next 10 days to see what they do.

I’ll be taking a bee class in mid-September to learn more about bee-friendly plants – can’t wait!!!

Michigan’s 1st Annual Honey Festival

This past weekend was the first annual Michigan Honey Festival. I went with a good friend of mine and had so much fun. My husband lent me his D200, the one camera he felt completely fine parting with as it’s his oldest digital camera – haha! It was fun acting like a photojournalist for the day.

There were many activities throughout the day. Rich Wieske, who heads up Green Toe Gardens apiary, was there performing as the bearded man. There was craftmaking for the kids, cooking demonstrations and mead-making demos (Ken Schram) for the adults, live hive walk-throughs for everyone, as well as lots of vendors selling beekeeping equipment, honey (of course), lotions, chap sticks, and bee-friendly plants.

Here are the photos from the Honey Festival.

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Adding a Super

We added a super to the hive today. The bees were ready for the new addition. Besides getting bees in the first place, I’m considering this my next big milestone.

Went with another deep box, let’s call that “daisy” box (which is the same size as what we will now call our first box – “sunflower” box) so that we could put a couple frames from sunflower into daisy. There are a lot of conflicting views out there on whether to move frames up or not, and so we just decided to go for it. (When it comes to beekeeping, it seems there is a lot of personal trial and error.)

Now, since we were going for it, moving a couple frames up that is, my preference was to take two frames (one from each far side of sunflower) and move them up into daisy. However, my husband seemed to think it was a better idea to take two frames from stage-right since the bees hadn’t begun any comb on the other sides’ last frame. Also, he thought that would be a good thing because they would have the same pattern sitting next to each other up in the middle of daisy. We’ll see how it goes!

While we were at it, we switched our entrance reducer to the wider setting. It took quite a bit of prying with the hive tool to get that little block of wood unstuck from the super. With all the stuff we were doing to the hive, I kind of half-expected the bees to get a little annoyed with us. At first with the switching of the entrance, it seemed like there was a little confusion for them and one did buzz my hat, but all went back to normal once we got the reducer back in place. As for their behavior when we added the daisy super, they didn’t seem curious, annoyed, or anything. Another successful interaction, still never been stung!

I also scraped off the comb that I had noticed on my birthday which they had spilling over onto the tops of the sunflower bars. I just want to keep the tops clean as I’ve noticed it sticking to my top covers as well. This time there was no honey in those little pieces, but I was pleased to see they had been hard at work to cap the frames of honey they had produced recently. Although I won’t be able to give some of my co-workers a little taste until a few months from now, I know it’s a good sign that the bees are capping their reserves. How exciting!

On a side note, earlier this morning, before all of this fun activity, I went out to the hive to watch them come and go and there were a handful of dead drones just outside the entrance again. I even observed one returning to the hive and he got quite the buzz by a couple workers as he went in through the entrance. I also found one alive in the grass near the hive and so I picked him up to look at him (keep in mind that drones don’t have stingers) as it appeared he was having a hard time in the grass – he had just repeatedly been crawling up a blade of grass and falling off again and again. As I held him in my hand and looked at him I could tell there were some white scratches on one of his eyes. Other than that it didn’t appear to be anything the matter with him, although it seemed like his balance was off. He peed a little in my hand too – bee pee! Actually, bees don’t pee because they need to conserve water, so the waste he eliminated onto my hand must have been uric acid. I placed him back in the grass to let nature take its course with him.

HONEY!

I don’t know if you can tell from this photo, but the hive has been very active the past two weeks around mid-afternoon. If you look to the left of the hive in the grassy area, you can see many bees hovering in the air waiting to go into the entrance of the hive.

Here’s another photo a little bit more close-up and personal.

Yesterday we had some friends over and showed them the hive. It was the first time I’d opened up in 10 days since the wax worms were on my bottom board. When I took the top cover off I could already tell that much work had been accomplished. Through the hole on my inside cover they were building comb on top of the frames and connecting it to the bottom of the inside cover. Using my hive tool, I slid between the comb and the inside cover to free it up so I could take the cover off and show everyone. As I did this, the cover came free very easily (must have been because of the 93 degree heat) and upon removing it I immediately noticed that my population had increased – not sure by how much but it seemed like a lot.

I pulled out two frames from the end, nothing but lonesome bees on the last one doing not much at all; however, the second to last frame they were already pulling comb on both sides – wow, that was fast! I thought “pulling” took a long time on plastic cell frames? Not only that, but between the third and fourth frames from that end as I pulled them lightly a gap, I could see uncapped honey (lots of it!)just kind of oozing between those frames. Also, the comb that they had formed on top of the frames and connected to my inside cover had uncapped honey in it.

So much to celebrate!!! With my hive tool, I scraped off a piece of comb from the tops of the bars and was able to give my friends a little taste – it was absolutely delicious!!!!! I don’t know if I’m the best person to describe taste with my lack of sense of smell, but it was delicately sweet, just lovely. I have some Michigan honey in my pantry from the local grocery store that is supposed to be pure and not have had any treatments, but that stuff compared with my honey…there’s no comparison. The store bought honey is like tasting pure sugar. My honey also seems to be pleasantly fragrant (although I can’t smell it, I can kind of feel the smell) and the texture so smooth. Yay! I can’t believe that I got to taste my bees’ honey already. One of the best birthday presents I could ever have wished for. GREAT day!