Posts Tagged With: honey bees

Sticky Sweet & Oh So Good

Last week I posted about harvesting honey from our top-bar beehive for the first time.  Today, I have someone with more experience than me here to share with you about harvesting honey from a Langstroth hive. 

I’m happy to introduce you to Christine Faith, a backyard farmer in Colorado Springs.  Christine and her husband Ben raise fruit, vegetables, bees, chickens, ducks, and fish on their small urban farm. In addition, Christine has a new blog, Right to Thrive (www.righttothrive.org) where she hopes to educate others about backyard farming along the front range.

Sticky Sweet and Oh So Good

Fall is the time to harvest many things, but my personal favorite is honey. Fragrant, sticky, golden honey. Nothing is better than honey on fresh bread, to sweeten hot tea, or drizzled over fruit. I love to eat honey, and by luck or by design I am a backyard bee keeper in Colorado Springs.

In the City of Colorado Springs residents are allowed one honey bee hive per household, providing there are no restrictions that say otherwise (think HOA rules or exceptions for apartment buildings). I keep bees in a traditional Langstroth hive body, and practice natural bee keeping methods.

I provide the bees with supplemental food in the summer months when the nectar flow is low (reconstituted organic evaporated cane juice), and feed them pollen patties once a year in the early spring to help ensure they have enough protein in the hive to start ramping-up their numbers for spring.

I don’t use pesticides, antibiotics, or any other chemicals on the bees or anywhere else on the property. What our bees find down the road on someone else’s property though is anybody’s guess, which is why honey can never be labeled as organic. Even without the organic stamp I am big fan of honey, especially honey produced on our little backyard farm by our very special little partners.

I have been asked if removing honey in the fall hurts the bee’s chances of surviving the winter. When the harvest comes around the hive will have one or two honey supers on top of the main hive body. Honey supers are smaller hive bodies, with smaller frames than the “deep” supers where the bees live throughout all of the seasons. The honey supers go on in the spring and the bees start packing away honey.

The bees store honey in the top honey supers, as well as the bottom deep supers. The bottom supers can hold as much as 60 lbs. of honey per super, and in Colorado you always run two deeps through the winter. That means the bees should have 60 – 120 lbs. of honey for the winter, depending on the fullness of each deep super. More than enough honey is left in the hive for the bees to eat during the winter.

The actual removal of honey from a particular frame involves three steps. The first step is to remove the frame from the hive body you are working in. The second step is to use an uncapping knife to cut away the caps that keep the honey safely locked into the comb. The uncapping knife that we use is electric and gets hot, which helps to cut though the wax caps. The bees pack honey on both sides of the frame, so both sides need to be uncapped.

The third step is to place the frame into a honey extractor and to spin the extractor. The extractor is a centrifuge that spins in both directions (see picture below). You spin the honey extractor one way to remove honey on one side of the frame, and then you reverse direction to remove honey from the other side of the frame.

The honey extractor can hold several frames at once; honey is extracted from multiple frames at the same time. Once the frame has been spun out completely it is placed back in the honey super and left near the hive for the bees to clean-out and recapture any bits of honey they would like to store in the deep supers. When the bees have finished cleaning the honey super frames the supers are wrapped and stored for the following spring.

This year we harvested 35 lbs. of honey from our backyard hive. For reference, a standard quart mason jar will hold three pounds of honey, so we harvested nearly 12 quart jars. Considering that in the spring our hive swarmed, twice, we were quite pleased with this amount. The most to expect from a Langstroth style hive in a single season is 60lbs., and conditions must be near perfect to achieve this amount of honey.

We have been keeping bees for three years now, and this is the first full harvest we have pulled. As you learn from keeping bees, the production of honey and other hive products (pollen, propolis, wax, and royal jelly) are at times secondary to the additional benefits the bees bring.

Bees perform the critical role of garden and orchard pollination; this activity allows fruits and vegetables to “set fruit.” Bees also invite you to sit and watch them. Sitting near the hive and watching the bees come and go has a calming effect, much like watching fish in a fish tank. A dear friend of mine once stated that there is no way she could ever have a hive as she is certain she would never get anything done. Whenever she comes for a visit we take a walk back to the hive where we will both stand and stare, transfixed at the tiny little airport that houses thousands of little bee planes. They are completely fascinating.

Generally folks have a fear of stinging insects. While I have been stung by my bees (twice in three years), in both cases it was my fault and not the fault of the bee. My hive is gentle and calm. They allow me to check in on them without donning a bee veil or other protective gear. I am able to remove the top lid, and remove and inspect individual frames bare-handed; it seems that the bees could care less.

Considering the enormous contributions that bees make to a landscape, the gifts they bring to bear in the hive, and the marvel of glimpsing into their world, I can think of no reason to not keep honey bees (barring of course an allergy to bees). These unparalleled little workers will bring productivity to your garden, goodies to your pantry, and enjoyment to your life. I can’t imagine not having them as part of the farm. If one day you decide to get a hive of your own I think you’ll find honey bees every bit as amazing as I do.

All photographs on this page Copyright 2012 B. Jack . All Rights Reserved.

Thanks, Christine for the awesome overview and photos!  Make sure to check out what else Christine is doing at righttothrive.org

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Categories: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

First Harvest

A note before reading this: we are total beginners at beekeeping.  We got into this like everything else we do around here; we jumped in with both feet and are learning as we go.  We have a mentor-friend who knows more about bees than us (he caught this swarm for us), but he keeps a Langstroth hive, which is different from keeping top bar hives.  So our method is based on what we’ve read about.  Smart people would take a class or something.

A few weeks ago, we decided to open up the beehive and check on the ladies before the winter really kicked in here.  We were happy to see that they had built comb throughout the entire hive and, by the looks of things, will have plenty of honey to get them through the winter.

I really didn’t have much time to devote to the bees this summer, so we were unsurprised (but disappointed) to learn that they built all that comb diagonally across the bars.  With top bar hives, the idea is that the bees will build straight comb, one on each bar, and you will be able to pull up one bar at a time.  When I checked them this spring, we saw the cross-combing then, but it was minor and I just didn’t have time to get in there and correct it.

Removing the Comb from the Hive

The first couple of bars we lifted broke some combs, which is not unusual.  After you get the first bar out, typically you can use a top-bar-hive-tool to cut along the sides of the hive, and hopefully not break any more comb.  However, with cross-comb, all the bars get joined together by the beeswax, making it much harder not to break comb.

I decided to go ahead and harvest the honey from the first bars I pulled.  I was really excited to see how full the hive was.

In the picture below, I am holding two bars together and there are five or six separate combs diagonally across the bar.  The cross combing is no longer minor, and we will have a lot of work ahead of us this summer to get the bees back on the straight and narrow, so to speak.  Lesson learned.

To harvest honey comb from a top bar hive, you have to cut the comb off.  This honey is going into a food-grade bucket lined with a mesh bag, both of which we bought at our local apiary supply store for this purpose.

Side Note:  Notice the holes in my jeans?  Yeah, well the bees did too.  Smart people would not wear holey jeans to harvest honey.  Smart people (Rick) may have even told me this before I did it.  But I didn’t listen.  Normally our bees are fairly mellow.  Yeah, not so much when you are stealing their stash.  Also – like a dumb-dumb, I didn’t think about the bucket being knee-height.  I only got about eight stings thanks to Rick shouting at me to run away.  Apparently even the most docile bees (which ours aren’t to begin with) will get pissed with you rob them.  Another lesson learned.

Because of the holey jeans, I ran into the front yard, hands over knees, where Rick helped brush away any persistent bees.  Then I changed my pants in the garage and decided that was enough honey to take for the day.  I went back in whole jeans to close the hive back up and retrieve my bucket.  So this first harvest was a small one.

Removing the Honey from the Comb

A few bees followed the bucket of honey everywhere until I hid it in the garage.  Once the bees were finally off to other things, I took the bucket in the house.

Once inside, I took the comb out of the bucket and put it into a bowl.  Unlike traditional bee keeping, you can’t use an extractor to remove honey from comb built on a top bar.  I used a kitchen knife to chop up the honey comb as much as possible so the honey could pour out.

Then I put it all back in the mesh bag, back in the bucket.  I left it in a warm place to drain for a couple of hours.

Here is what the chopped comb looked like before and after the straining:

The next morning (to give the bees time to simmer down from the robbery), I took the empty comb, bowl and bag outside to the bee hive for the bees to pick over and reclaim any left-over honey.  They were all over that.  Sort of a peace-offering, in my opinion.

I left the empty beeswax overnight and retrieved it early in the morning before the bees were out.  The bees had pretty much completely cleaned it.  I rinsed the wax and plan to melt it into a candle or something crafty later.

Finally, I put the honey into clean jars.  I used half-pints, hoping to make gifts of a few.

Each jar ended up holding about half a pound of honey.  I ended up completely filling six jars, and nearly filling a seventh.  So, for two broken bars of comb, I harvested nearly 3.5 pounds of honey.

Can I just say that I am really excited for the flow next spring?  I’m anticipating a full harvest (and a do-over on the cross-comb thing).

Oh – and the honey tastes delicious!

Categories: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part III

I’m excited to show off the last three stops we were able to get on during last month’s Denver Botanic Garden’s Urban Homestead Tour.  These three homesteads were in the heart of the city.

Toni and Dennis Kuper shared their wonderful coop with visitors.  Two years ago, Toni asked for chickens for Mother’s Day, and Dennis built the coop for her.   It is adorable and efficient.

I love how they designed it to store their chicken care supplies right inside.  It is adjacent to their dog run under a stand of shady trees in their beautiful back yard.  They have an annual chicken party for friends and coworkers in their yard.

The Kuper’s yard is mostly shaded, but they have a lovely garden carved out in the only sunshine near the garage.  I especially love the four-bin compost operation.

Our next stop took us into the Park Hill area, where we got to check out Michael Murphy’s coop and gardens.  The first thing we saw was squash and cukes inter-planted with flowers in his front yard.

The side and back yard held lovely raised beds with some great whimsy.  I love the brightly painted stakes and bird houses.

Murph made his coop primarily of recycled/re-purposed materials, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

There are two dogloos inside the chicken run.  But I just can’t describe what I thought when Murph showed us how he set them up for the neighbor kids to gather eggs.  See for yourself…

The igloos are on giant lazy-susans, and inside each dogloo is two coolers/nest boxes.

The hens both lay and roost in the coolers.  The system is warm in the winter and easy to keep clean.

The coolers just slide out for egg collection or cleaning.

I love the engineering behind this coop and how much fun it is.

The last stop I wanted to share was literally packed full of growing things.  The Blackett’s were the only homesteaders on the tour with a yard smaller than ours.

Driving up, you can see they had food growing in the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street.  A lot of people refuse to plant here, but I love that they have turned it into a garden.

We walked down the side yard where the Blackett’s keep their chickens and compost bin.

The little red coop is built from scrap wood, left over from a previous project.

The side yard gives way to an entire back yard garden.  I mean, the entire yard.  There was no grass anywhere – just a path between all the food growing.

Diane was on the back porch, generously giving out samples of honey from her top bar beehive.  The hive was at the very back of their lot, next to the garage, under the grape-vine.

I was very inspired by Diane’s garden.  Rick and I had been feeling a little jealous about all the space that many of the homesteaders had.  But Diane was growing more food than we were, in less space.  It was very encouraging.

Diane blogs about her garden, bees, chickens and homesteading at City Garden Bliss.  She has many more beautiful photos of her garden and covers topics like spinning, knitting, gleaning, and sewing as well as gardening, bee, and chicken keeping.

Thank you for letting me share the stops we went to at this year’s urban homestead tour.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I can’t wait until next year!  This was so fun for our whole family.

Make sure to check out the photos of the other stops in Part I and Part II.

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Bee Birthday and Easy Mason Jar Drink Lids (with Tutorial)

This weekend we celebrated C’s first birthday.  I ordered cupcakes from a wonderful, local, all- organic bakery that makes a to-die-for flavor called “Bee-titude.”  It’s a lavender cupcake with honey-lemon butter cream frosting, and it was the inspiration for C’s party theme: honey bee.  The party colors were yellow and lavender, and it turns out that this was a really fun theme to put together.

I also made a few discoveries for decorating this party that eased the green-guilt that sometimes comes along with me decorating.  I found spools of colored tulle at the craft store that I can easily roll up and reuse for another occasion instead of the crêpe paper streamers I usually use.  And I bought two yards of inexpensive broadcloth for the table-cloth that would match the party theme.

I used various glass plates and jars to decorate and filled a vase with lavender and chamomile flowers.

I have a gorgeous bee skep-shaped drink dispenser that my mom bought me for Christmas last year and I filled it with honey-lavender lemonade.  I was surprised that the lavender flowers turned the lemonade pink!

And I used my canning jars as glasses.  Pints for the adults with ribbons and tags to write names on, and half-pints with lids for the kids.  And here was my eureka moment.  Ball jelly jars are durable and their lids don’t leak.  And I used a HOLE-PUNCH to make them into drink lids.

Here’s how:

First I traced old jar lids onto patterned paper and then cut out the circles.

I used double-sided tape to stick the paper to the top of the lid.

Then I used a regular old hole-punch to punch holes in the tops of the lids.  This was surprisingly easy.  I did it with one hand and minimal effort.  The punch still worked great on about twenty paper tags after punching six lids.

I used a cheapy plastic straws with about an inch cut off the end to make the kids’ tumblers complete.

Not a single jar got broken between six, three- to seven-year-olds.  They even took them outside.  I wrote each kiddo’s name on the top of their jar, so there were no mix-ups.  It was really easy and completely free, since I had all these supplies lying around the house.  Henry even helped cut out the circles.

I plan to just swap out the paper circles and straws for the next party.

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Honey Harvest, Not Yet

Last week, our friend came over to mentor me with harvesting honey from our top bar hive.  I mentioned before that I suspected that it was full, and I was hoping to do this.

Chris showed me how to use the hive tool to get individual bars out of the hive.  I opened it up to check on how our bees were doing in there.

There was good news…

Lots of comb, filled with honey!

This comb is full of honey, but it is not yet capped, so it can’t be harvested.  Capped honey will stay fresh for a very long time, but uncapped honey is not ready to harvest yet and will go bad if not eaten right away.

But there was also some not so good news; quite a few (lots maybe) of the comb was built across more than one bar.  This is called cross comb and it makes it really difficult to harvest honey.  Chris suspected that it might be because our the sizing of our top bars was off.  You can see in the below picture that I’m actually holding two bars because of this.

It was a bit hot when we were checking all of this out, and some of the comb fell off because of heat made the wax soft.  Combined with that and the cross comb problem, we decided not to harvest anything just yet.

We are coming up with a solution to correcting the cross combing problem, and we wanted to give the bees another couple of weeks to get all that lovely honey capped.

Still, it was exciting to get into the hive and see everything.  We’ll try to document everything as we go along with the bees.

Categories: Beekeeping, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

The Buzz on Bearding

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might have noticed Rick posting that our bees were swarming.  However, I am happy to report, the bees weren’t swarming after all.  They were bearding.

Honey bees regulate the temperature of their hive pretty well.  In the winter they use their wings and bodies to keep the hive warm and in the summer they keep it cool by fanning their wings.  If it is really hot, they cool the hive by fanning their wings to create air currents that evaporate water droplets.  And if it’s just burning up, the adult bees go outside to cool themselves and get the hive temp to drop so the brood (the baby bees) don’t end up honey roasted.

Bearding happens when the bee hive is either too full or too hot, or sometimes both.  It is typical bee behavior in the last summer.  But I know for a fact that our hive is full, and this weekend was pretty hot, so the bees spent a few evenings on the outside of the hive cooling down.

Here they are at 8:00 pm last night.  See them all around the entrance:

And here is the hive at 8:00ish this morning.

Last night I took a video.  Video is not my forte, but I thought it was really cool.  Bear with the shakiness of the camera.  I just got back from a three day road trip to help my sister move and C didn’t sleep the entire trip, so neither did I.  In other words, look past the crappy film job.  ;)

Again, we are bee amateurs…  very much beginners.  But I wanted to share as we learn too.  I’m excited that on Wednesday, a friend is coming to help me harvest honey.  It will be our first time; I hope to get lots of pictures of that process!  And I actually think the bees will be happy to have a little more wiggle room in the hive.

In the mean time, here is some good info about bee bearding and bee swarming.

Categories: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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