bees, farm, honey, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Beekeeping Blues

Well, we lost another hive. It’s a situation I’m becoming all too familiar with. After increasing to eight hives two years ago, we’re now down to three. We lost several hives last winter, one this summer, and one last week. I’m learning a  good hive can fail fast.

The pitiful remains of a tiny cluster of bees that froze to death

We had a  drought this summer, and that was  rough on the bees. No rain equals no nectar equals no honey. Despite feeding sugar syrup, the bees never seemed to build up a large population. I’m sure varroa mites probably played a part. So far, I’ve taken the “head in the sand” approach to varroa, hoping that the tiny mites weren’t there or that our bees, which we caught from swarms, were somehow more resistant than normal bees. But, in my gut,  I know varroa is there and playing a part. We had a booming hive last spring that collapsed this summer. That’s a classic varroa sign. And to make matters worst, we not only lost all the bees, but we also lost their comb because wax moths (another pest) destroyed it. A lot of people have had success with the treatment-free approach for varroa, but obviously I’m not doing something right. This year I’m going to monitor mite levels and treat if need be with essentials oils, like thymol, and natural acids, like oxalic acid.

Overall, I just need to do a better job taking care of the bees, from feeding them (sugar and pollen) in times of dearth, to monitoring mite levels, and checking for queen productivity. Natalie is helping me now; she has her own bee suit. Having a second pair of hands while checking hives has made things a lot easier. If the three remaining hives make it, I’m going to try my hand at grafting and raising queens to increase our number of hives again.

It’s disappointing to lose another hive, but hopefully we can learn from it and become better beekeepers. I know it’s no fun to keep losing bees.

bees, honey, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

oh honey, honey…

We spent a hot, happy July 4th doing something entirely new and different.

This year we extracted honey from two of our three bee hives. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect…beyond getting sticky…but it ended up being a lot of fun.

honey frames

Stephen began the morning suited up in his bee suit and retrieved two hive supers from hives Barney One and Barney Two. Being terrified of the “Barnies,” I faithfully stayed inside and ate a bowl of cereal and watched an episode of Leave it to Beaver.

We set up our honey extracting operation on the  back porch, using a honey extractor from our local agricultural extension office. As Stephen brought in the honey frames, I would cut the wax cappings off of the honey comb.

once the cappings have been removed

Two frames at a time are loaded into the extractor, which is turned until all of the honey has been pulled from each side of the honey comb. Extracted honey then pools into the bottom of the extractor where it is allowed to drain into a bucket strainer system.

Frame in the extractor before being turned

Stephen turning the extractor and honey draining into the bucket

Wax cappings are left to drain over cheesecloth for the afternoon. Once they are sufficiently drained we will run the extra honey through the bucket strainer and the cappings will  be rendered into refined bees wax.

Once the honey has been strained of any impurities (extra  pollen, dead bees, and honeycomb) it is ready to be bottled. Stephen attributes the dark color of our honey to the local yellow poplar trees, clover, and sour wood trees that his bees have been frequenting.

As far as taste goes, its good. The honey has a mildly floral scent and a pleasant sweetness. Its not overpowering or sickly – its just nice. And this assessment is coming from someone that doesn’t really like honey all that much.

We spent from nine in the morning until nearly midnight to complete the entire process – but it was time well spent, once again carrying on a Pleasant Hill bee keeping tradition. We did a lot of hard work, had a lot of good fun, and ended the day with a final product that we can be proud of.