Friday, July 23, 2010

Sweet! I harvested my very first honey!

I knew the time had come to reap the rewards of my very first honey harvest. The bees in the big, yellow mother hive had filled a shallow super with honey over a month ago, but with my busy life and some laziness thrown in, I decided to just let it set. But after checking during a routine inspection, and seeing that my bees were filling up the frames in the brood box with honey too, I knew it was time to take it off. So with minimal smoke and a hearty shake method, I got the bees off every single frame in the shallow...and I have to admit they didn't give me a hard time like I thought they would. As many of you know, when you mess around with honey frames, you'll discover the real disposition of your bees. But I have to admit that mine were pretty cool during the process even though I was 'robbing' them as the old timers call it!  

Let me assure you now that my next purchase will be an extractor and bottling kit. But to get me through this first time, I decided to use the "crush and strain" method with goods I have around the house. Fun? Yes, but a mess. I was lucky to have a few things on hand like this Pyrex strainer to keep the comb from mixing in with the honey I scraped using a cappings scratcher. As you can tell, the honey poured through the screen and into a brand new and thoroughly cleaned five gallon bucket. After scraping as much honey off the frames as I could, I sat them aside so they could ooze what honey was left on them into the sink. And later on I'll put the frames back in the shallow super and near the hives so the bees can clean off what honey is left.

Check out this beautiful, liquid gold! After the honey leaked through the Pyrex strainer, it still had tiny bits of wax and comb in it. So I filtered it again through extra fine cloth to get all the small bits, and the finished product is what you're looking at now. The only reason it looked somewhat cloudy here is because of all the fine air bubbles in it. But before bottling it, I let it rest for a little bit to get the bubbles out while I washed and sterilized the jars and lids si I could bottle it.

It still had some bubbles in it, but as the night progressed on, it cleared up a lot. These are just a few jars from the one super I harvested. I had two full quart bottles and a bunch of the smaller bottles to give to the neighbors and friends. I plan to give the smaller, flatter, 4-ounce bottles to all the adjoining neighbors since they've been really good and adapted to my mini backyard apiary. I promised them that I would give them some of my very first crop, and I'm a man of my word. I hate to tell them, but I'm keeping the quart bottles though! I deserve a little reward. Right?

Isn't it beautiful? Here you can see that the amber color really shows through as the air bubbles settle to the top after bottling. And as you can see, the smaller bottles make it seem lighter colored while the quart jars make it appear darker. Speaking of bottling, maybe by the time I harvest my next batch, I'll have my own personalized labels. A friend of mine that works with me at the television station (he's a graphic artist) is designing a "Mark's Bees" logo for me to use on my website and on my honey too. That should really make it look sharp!

In case you can't tell, I'm pretty darn proud. And I admit it has been a long and winding road. The bees in the mother hive were on the brink of dying when they arrived last year, but with a lot of determination, they made it. Then they survived the harshest winter we've had in years and rebounded this spring. Now they're rewarding me for helping them through it all with the sweet product of their own toils. It really isn't necessary...I'm just having a blast being a beekeeper, but what the heck, I'll accept it with pride. And when I give some away and people thank me, I'll tell them, please don't thank me -- thank the bees! 

Happy harvesting!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How do bees keep cool? By blowing a breeze, baby!

It has been hot here for the last few weeks. And only getting sporatic rain doesn't help either. But then when you throw in a heaping dose of North Carolina humidity, you have the recipe for totally miserable weather. That's what we've had lately and a lot of it too. So I decided to go out and take some pictures of my girls keeping their cool...even if the rest of us couldn't. And I have to admit they were doing a pretty darn good job of it too.

As you can see, the orange hive had girls stationed across the front and fanning away. As their sisters brought in orange pollen, a row of fanners on the bottom and a few on top (you can see their bee butts) kept things cool. Same thing for the lemon yellow hive. The yellow hive is the mother hive which has two deeps full of bees, so there's lots more space to ventilate. But they fan to keep it cool in the day, and at night, many tend to cover the hive front and enjoy the night air. 

No exception to the rule, the girls in the lime green hive keep their cool too, but they tend to be a little more acrobatic than the other hives. This is the hive that's closest to the creek, so they fly out, make a sharp right and about 15 feet they can get all the cool water they want. And while all of the hives are in the full sun most of the day, in late afternoon, the ladies all get a reprieve and can take it easy since the hives fall in the shade of a row of trees. They deserve the rest after all that intense fanning all day!

So as you can see, and up close too, the bees know exactly what they're doing when it comes to keeping their cool in the harsh summer days. Nature provided honey bees with their very own air conditioning -- and believe me -- after opening my power bill this month -- theirs is much cheaper!

Stay cool my friends!      

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How hot is it? This HOT!

In case you haven't heard, the south has been hit with a tropical heatwave. Oh yeah, my friends, it is really hot here. How hot you ask? Well, when I left for work on Wednesday afternoon, the temperature at the house was 103 degrees. At my office in downtown Reidsville, it was 100. And at our regional office in Danville, Virginia (which is about 24 miles north) it was 102 degrees. And to think that just last week, a cool front moved through and the daytime highs only reached the low 80s for a few days. It never fails that with the weather being this extreme, people don't ask you how you're doing, they ask you if its hot enough for you.

I had a great question put to me today by a co-worker. He wanted to know how the honey bees survive in this type of weather. My answer to him was, very well, thank you!

To help illustrate how the bees stay cool in hot weather, I made these pictures on Wednesday night. Beekeepers know this is a common sight in summer months -- many times its called bearding. This is a night-time occurance. Why at night? Because the forager or worker bees are gone in the daytime, out working and searching for pollen and nectar. But at night, when the whole colony is back home, it gets hot and crowded in the hive. So, many of the bees will go outside to relax -- much like people do by sitting on their front porches at night. The really cool thing is to stand right in front of the hive and listen to the steady buzzing of the bees as they fan their wings. It sounds like a fan on low speed. The only thing missing is a big, cold glass of lemonade.

The yellow hive is the oldest of the three, and the lime and orange hives are this year's splits -- so they don't have quite the population as the mother hive. But as you can see, they're doing just fine, and the girls are working to keep their sisters (and queen) cool during these miserable, muggy nights. Good job, ladies! 

Until next time, bee cool!