This past spring, a co-worker and I decided to set up bee hives on the roof of the wood shop. He’d kept bees for a few years in the past, and had some equipment already. We spent four or five afternoons cleaning, repairing, and painting the hive supers (boxes) and frames before we had a good set-up to work with. All of the frames needed to be cleaned, reassembled, fitted with new foundation sheets and re-wired. Once the hives were ready, the bees were shipped up from Kentucky- one queen and three pounds of bees per box.
In these photos we’re adding the queen and the bees to the hives. When the bees are shipped, the queen is separated in that small box, which is placed in between two frames in the hive. The queen’s box has a sugar cube stopper on one end. Worker bees eat away at the stopper over a period of a few days to release the queen. By that time, all the bees have acclimated to each other and they should accept her as their queen.
The hives don’t require much care throughout the summer. In the early spring before many plants are flowering, we regularly filled the feeders (jars outside the front of the hive) with a sugar/water mix to supplement the available natural food supply. Every few weeks we would open the covers and check to see how things were progressing. As the frames filled with honey comb and brood cells, we added additional supers. For some reason, the hive on the right was much more productive than the hive on the left. There could have been a big die-off of bees early in the season, or perhaps the left hive was infected by mites, we’ll have to do some investigation into that.
This week we removed some frames for honey collection. Because this is the first year for these bees, we only harvested nine frames of honey, leaving plenty behind to sustain the bees through the winter. In these pictures you can see the full, capped frames coming out and being replaced with empty frames. We took only frames that were full with honey (not brood cells) and capped with wax, signifying that the bees have finished working on that frame. There were some areas of lighter honey produced in the spring and early summer, and some sections where the honey was a darker amber color, characteristic of fall honey. The flavor of the fall honey is different than the small sample we collected in the spring. The type of nectar available to the bees influences the flavor of the honey.
This awesome contraption is a honey extractor. It came from an old farmer in upstate New York. He can’t use it anymore for commercial operations because it has welded seams and is not FDA approved. But it’s perfect for our purposes. Once the honeycomb is uncapped by slicing off the surface with a hot electric knife, two frames at a time are dropped into baskets inside the barrel of the extractor. Crank the handle to spin everything around inside as centrifugal force draws the honey out of the comb. It takes a few minutes of spinning on each side to get the honey out. Then the tap at the bottom of the extractor is opened an the honey is filtered through a two-part sieve. We harvested a total of nine frames from which we collected about three gallons of delicious honey. Thanks bees!