Tag Archives: Beekeeping

Honey Harvest, finally!

honeyfromlucinda

My family and friends have been very patient with me in my eccentricities. When I first brought up my interest in beekeeping, they were cautiously encouraging, not sure their required level of participation. As I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the art of apiculture, they have become more encouraging and enthusiastic, and I suspect this is because they saw “sweet things” on the horizon.

I got my first beehive 3 years ago, on July 1st. I knew I’d have to wait at least until the second year before I’d get any honey from her. But she had a rough first year. Not only because of my inexperience, but also because of the problems with her location. She was in the shade, she was bought late in the year, she didn’t have a lot of natural food. It was rather rubbish for her really. So I was just happy she survived her first Winter.

Finally on her third Summer, I opened up the top super to have a peak and found it was wall-to-wall honey! Well, the box weighs at least 55 lbs, I cannot lift it, especially with my protruding tummy. (Go Baby!) So my Honey helped me and got suited up and lifted the super for me, and found the next super down was also 10 frames of beautifully capped honey. Yeepee!

This is my first official extraction. Last year I tried to extract 6-8 frames but I made the mistake of leaving them where the bees could find them, hoping they would clear off. What? Abandon their honey? Never! Yeah, they took it all back and all I was left with were such chewed up empty frames.

There is a story about a beekeeper, he took his honey supers off his hives, took them to his basement. He spent all day extracting the honey from the frames, and went upstairs in the evening to take a break and watch a film. Meanwhile his well-meaning wife came home and went to the basement. She found it very stuffy and humid. Unknowingly, she opened a window to air out the basement. That night, the bees found all the honey that had been stolen from them and stole it back! All of the beekeeper’s hard work was for naught. He woke up in the morning to find not a drop of honey left in his basement. So the story goes…

Well folks, I’ve seen it happen and was much disappointed last year too.

Anyway, this year, I was more careful. It’s amazing how fast we learn when our sweets are stolen!

extractor

This fancy cylinder is an extractor. You can put two frames in and then you spin the basket inside and using centrifugal force, it flings the honey to the sides of the cylinder and drips out the bottom spigot.

insideextractor

cappedhoney

The honey is capped with wax, and that’s how we know it’s done. Honey has a “water activity of 0.6.” This basically means that there is not enough moisture in honey to allow fermentation. So honey cannot go bad. If we take honey that is not capped from the hive, it may not be evaporated enough. Thus you could have honey that ferments in the jar. You may notice that if you have honey in a jar for a really long time, it crystalizes. This is not your honey going bad, it just needs to be microwaved. Or you can stick the jar in hot water and the honey will melt again and become liquid. Most micro-organisms cannot grow in honey if you extract it when it’s capped. The “cappings” -wax- on honey is also pure white and makes excellent candles.

Anyway, you have to uncap the honey prior to extracting it.

uncappingbucket

It’s a sticky process. It’s best to have a bucket to do this in.

uncappinghoney

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uncappedhoney

Then you put it into the extractor, spin it, then you let it drain into a container with a filter. We used a cheese cloth as a filter to get out unwanted beeswax, bee legs, pollen etc.

drippinghoney

preppingbucket

honeyinbucket

This picture shows really clearly how the honey is sometimes different colours depending on the flowers that the bees take from. We found that we had some really light honey and quite dark honey in this extraction.

The next time is either to pasturize it (heating it up) or you can bottle it straight from here.

We have yet to pick up our jars so in the bucket it stays for now.

And now you have learned more than you ever wanted to know about the process of honey extraction. Of course on a commercial scale, it’s a little different but the principles are the same.

In other news, we’ve been planting our Winter garden here this weekend. Peas, beans, cabbage, kale, and leeks among other things. We’re getting ready to harvest our garlic. The curly scapes are straightening up, letting us know they are just about ready to be plucked from the Earth. Since planting them in October, it seems like a wait well worth it.

I just have to mention this, I L-o-v-e gardening in a dress!

dress

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And sunhats….

sunhat

Go on, call me a “Fashionista.” I can take it…..

Swarm in July ain’t worth a Fly

swarm

The saying goes:

“A Swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A Swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A Swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.”

Well, guess what month it is? It ain’t worth a fly! That’s what month! And we are having swarms upon swarms. In fact, Marc just called me less than 2 minutes ago and said “Guess what?” and I said “NO!”

-Yup, another swarm! I’m running out of equipment! I picked up $1800 worth of used equipment in the Spring and I’m down to my second to last bottom board, and my last outer cover. Just to clarify,

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You have a bottom board, a super (at least one, perhaps several) with 10 frames each, then an inner cover and an outer cover.

Alright, so the bees and I are going to have a little pep talk. Bees, it’s time to settle into your homes and enjoy. You have plenty of room, you have food. You are happy, I promise! With all this swarming, you are going to make your keeper go out of business buying sugar, off her rocker trying to assemble new equipment until well after her bedtime! Besides that, you’re going to break the bank buying all this equipment to house you!

The reason they say that a Swarm in July ain’t worth a fly is because the hive has to have enough food and enough bees to get them through the Winter. You need -they say- 100 lbs of honey in the hive so that the bees survive the Winter. Now that’s a lot of honey. Anything in excess of that is mine as the Greedy Beekeeper!

To be honest, we had such a mild Winter last Winter, and our weather is not as extreme that I am not as worried about a swarm’s survival here as I would be in oh, say, Saskatchewan. I mean, heck, my bees were flying all through January and February last year which is a bit ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, we have been trying very hard this year to grow cabbages. We planted the seedlings when it says on the package (March 1st), we tried to provide them with a warm environment and lots of water and they are seriously 1 inch tall. Perhaps it wasn’t warm enough.

But then we have this cabbage bit of root that we pulled off our old cabbages from last year’s garden. It was forgotten about in a bucket of weeds all Winter. It had no love, no nurturing, I did not once sing over this cabbage to encourage growth.

And we were told it won’t make a cabbage ball this year, they do not form “fruit” two years in a row. But it was sprouting leaves so I stuck ‘er in the ground and thought we could collect seeds off of it or something.

cabbage

This is the cabbage that could not be. The unlikely cabbage, the inadvertent cabbage. The miracle cabbage. I think it’ll make a fine cole-slaw, don’t you?

Alright bees, wave good bye to the dear readers!

scenting

 

… now if you’d just behave, I’m sure we’d all get along beautifully… this means no more stinging me in the back of the head….

A Swarm – Caught!

So I get this call yesterday morning from my Mother-In-law who is generously hosting a hive a bees at her place. We just put the hive there a month ago from a nuc -which is four frames of bees in a box with a laying Queen, and workers. She said these ominous words “What does a swarm look like?”

We hopped in our mini truck for a peek ourselves. Whenever someone says to me “Oh I saw the bees really swarming the other day?” I say cautiously, “like there was a lot of traffic in front of the hive? Or a big whirling cloud in the air of bees that is loud enough you have to shout to be heard?” Yeah there’s a difference for me between happy busy bees and a Swarm!

After grabbing our bee suits, an extra hive, a cardboard box and my bee brush, we headed to investigate this “Swarm.”

groundswarm

In this picture, it’s a little hard to see from the patchy light, but that shadow in the grass are bees. A great clump of bees on the side of a hill. At least this time they were not 75 ft up the tree! We went in to have lunch. (Being pregnant, the need for food overrules the need to catch a swarm of bees… I know, what’s that for dedication!)

In the meantime, the bees decided they didn’t like ground-clumping and they began whirling in the air and making for a very very high tree branch. We watched in dismay! Not again, another one… Lost! There was still a residue of bees clumping on the ground. I slipped on my suit and went to investigate.

Now just for some background info on swarms. The bees, with the old queen, leave the hive to the younger bees and the new Queen. They fly up in the air in great swirls, then settle in a clump, with the Queen at the centre of the clump, and then scout bees go off looking for a new home. This searching can last for up to a week. Then when the find a new home, they all take off flying in a big swirl to their chosen location. Because the bees clump around the Queen for the most part, you usually do not see her when dealing with the swarm. But wherever the Queen goes, they go. Plus, picture this, we are talking thousands of bees in the air, clumping wherever they choose and basically flying about, being difficult to identify.

Imagine my surprise when I’m looking at a few bees still clumped on the grass and realize I am nose to nose with the Swarm Queen herself! I cupped my hand around her, careful not to squish her (as it would be the end of the swarm for sure) and I try to lure her into a cardboard box. She takes of flying. Of course. So now we’ve had two chances to catch the swarm. 1. when it was on the ground and we chose lunch instead. 2. when I had the Queen in my sticky little hands and in my caution not to squish her, I let her slip between my fingers, literally.

So we have a bait hive set up and I start trying to brush bees into the bait hive, with no luck. And to my great amazement, I find the Queen for the second time. Miracles upon Miracles! I am prepared this time and catch her in a small tupperware container smeared with honey. I give her a snack and then dump her into the bait hive.

Then I begin scooping up whatever bees I can grab and dumping them into the bait hive, hoping that they will reliquish themselves to their new home gracefully!

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I place a cardboard box on the ground, rather forgotten and the bees magically start pouring themselves into the cardboard box. It has the Queen’s scent from our first attempt at imprisoning her.

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As you can see from the photo above, the bees are marching into the box, flying into the bait hive, as co-operative as a communist country!

Yes, Bees understand “For the Greater Good!”

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After dumping the contents of the cardboard box onto the top of the bait hive, the bees funnelled in like the top hole was made of quick-sand. It was remarkable. And the whole time, the sound of thousands of bees around us was incredible.

I said to Gail, after the bees were settling into their new home and tidying up the drawn frames (literally, spitting out the junk they didn’t want out the front entrance. –Better housekeepers than me!) “Where do you want your second hive?”

Gail dubbed the hive after the illustrious women, Marilyn Munroe, because of the Queen’s willingness and aptitude for knowing exactly what was best for her!

As Miss Munroe once said:

“I am not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.”

Marilyn, you are indeed wonderful! Welcome to the apiary!

As July Begins

If all of you have been on the edge of your seats for the last week wondering what happened to my elusive swarm, wonder no longer. Or keep wondering… They are gone. They have flown from their very high perch and found another home. And it is not the home we designated for them. I suppose they wanted to make their own realty choice and did not appreciate our promise of coziness and ample food. If someone promised you milk and honey (sans the milk) wouldn’t you take them up on the offer? I suppose it was just too good to be true. So Gertrudabelle is carrying on, hatching and mating a new queen, Gerty the Second, and the bees are concentrating their power on the blackberries which are in full bloom.

The blueberry watch is on now. We have 500 blueberry plants that Marc tends faithfully, weeding, scything, fertilizing. And they have a great set on them this year. They are hanging in luscious green clumps right now so we keep checking the weather, hoping for some heat to turn them blue. Rather ironic when you think about it that blueberries turn blue because of heat. I turn blue because of cold. Or because I’ve eaten too many blueberries! These are our big farm crop for the Farmer’s Market.

Speaking of Farmer’s Market, I was asked to give a beekeeping workshop this Saturday so off I trotted. I was fortunate enough to snag an observation 1-frame case from someone getting out of beekeeping, and I put a frame from Cleo Hive and took them for show-and-tell at the Market. I think the talk went well and I was encouraged to have people asking really intelligent questions. The children there even seemed quite informed about the honeybee’s life cycle. Except one well-meaning child asked me if I had bees in the case, or wasps. Marc and I giggled about it afterwards, the thought of farming wasps was quite amusing. It ranks up there with farming mosquitos. I think perhaps if I were to be a super-hero villain, I would choose something so insidious.

I had my first ultrasound on Wednesday to see how “Womb-eo” is progressing. Thankfully, he/she has two arms, two legs and a head. And apparently the technician could see the cerebellum (how you would know in a squirming blob of a tiny sea monkey, I have no idea.) and the kidneys, bladder and spine. It was good to see that the squirt was very active and fiesty. Perhaps 5 months squished in utero will calm that down so that the baby will be nothing but a cooing joy when he/she emerges… Well, we can all cling to our delusions!

And I did want to share with you my successes. Since being pregnant, my baking and cooking skills have completely disintegrated. I have burned more things than ever in my life! And I completely blame the cocktail of hormones coursing through my veins, but a couple of the burning incidences have reduced me to tears and hopelessness. But last night, I had a first ever success!

I attempted yorkshire pudding in muffin cups. I have done this before and they have ended up the consistency of hockey pucks, with the potential of seriously cracking drywall. Well, behold these puffy beauties!

yorkshire

I hope your Canada Day was splendid!

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Is it a gigantic Swarm of BEES?

bee_swarm

I walk home at lunch because I just can’t get enough of my husband, my kittens and I get to eat leftovers for lunch instead of grocery store concoctions. Well, I was walking back to work, and I heard this roaring buzz. I ran back up to the house, breathless as my tummy is growing, and asked Marc to come help me spot a suspected swarm.

And there it was, 75 ft up a tree, the size of a beach ball. *sigh* It was a primary swarm and after checking all the hives, the only hive that could spare that many bees without emptying the hive completely would be good ol’ Gertrudabelle, my oldest hive. She’s 5 supers (boxes) high and was the most productive, my biggest promise of honey supplies. She’ll still be a source of honey, but not as much as I was hoping. Unless we can catch these bees.

My very helpful co workers suggested phoning the fire department for the longest ladder on island. Yeah, not even the most esteemed fire fighters¬†have a ladder that would have to reach 100 ft. And then you’ve got 30 lbs of bees to haul down a ladder. What misadventure that would be! So instead we went to plan B (or Bee, if you prefer. ha ha)

We made a nice little home for them. A hive box, with honey smeared around the entrance and inside. A bedsheet spread out beneath it with sugar syrup, and a welcome home mat at the front door. Think it’ll work?

And I phoned the neighbours to ask them to check their eaves periodically in the next few days just in case they decide on a different home.

I’ve dealt with swarms quite a few times before but they were never mine, this is the first swarm I’ve personally had and keeping bees for 3 years, it’s surprising that it took this long.

In other news, the strawberries are ripe and selling like hot cakes at the Farmer’s Market. (Not ours, we are the blueberry people…) So my pregnant belly is really enjoying these red explosions of flavour. And, yesterday I ate the first ripe-ish blueberry! *key the ominous music*

Blueberries would usually be greeted with nothing but thrilled excitement, and yes they still are, but they are also greeted with loads of long days picking. When you have 500 bushes to rake through, it means rising at 6am and picking well into the evening. Good thing blueberry bushes are not the prickly type! And selling at the market is ever-so fun!

Hope the emergence of Summer is finding you well, swarm-free, and floating in your favourite berries!