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.