Last fall we harvested our first frames of honey! It was a very exciting moment for us, cut short by a rapid moving storm that came up on us so fast that we hardly had time to get the roof back on the super boxes before the downpour was on us. We were sent running for the house with only four honey frames in tow. But I can’t believe the honey that we got from just four full frames!
It was our second year bee keeping. The year we set up our hives in early spring and let the bees keep all the honey that they produced. We hoped that this extra boost of honey would help them become a strong hive. It seemed to have worked! We also supplemented their honey stores with sugar water in the beginning and a homemade bee candy that we put out for them in the later part of this past spring. (You can read more about our bee candy recipe in my Grit Post, Feeding The Bees.) This extra food supply after winter but before the flowers bloomed, was a nice source of energy for the bees that got them through that last hard stretch.
This year, the bees have been super active. I see them everywhere. The flowers have been prolific with all the rain and the early spring weather and the pollinators are taking advantage of this abundance.
This increase in bee sightings and activity prompted us to check the hives and we were pleasantly surprised!
We choose a cooler day, got our bee equipment together and headed out on the walking paths that I mow regularly through the tall grasses back to the hive.
When we opened the hive we found that a colony of ants was taking advantage of the remaining candy that we put out for the bees last spring.
But below this layer, the frames were capped and full of beautiful honey.
In the time it took us to walk out to the hive, open the box and remove only 4 frames, a storm moved in on us and we quickly sealed up the hive and carried our small but heavy harvest back to the house, shielding the frames from the rain as best we could.
We don’t have an extractor to remove the honey from the comb. So we were forced to improvise.
At first, we really wanted to preserve the wax comb that the bees had built so we could return the frames to the bees with the comb still in tact. This would save the bees the extra work of having to re-create this wax comb. We tried cutting just the caped section of the honey and attempted to suspend the frames horizontally so the honey could drain out. This didn’t really work that great. The honey pretty much stayed in place, in a sort of vacuum inside the cells. I now understand why the centrifugal force is required in an extractor to whip the honey out.
We decided that scraping the frames of wax and honey and letting it strain through a strainer was our best option, and that maybe because we were working with only 4 frames, that it wouldn’t be too much of a strain on the bees to build that comb back up. In our northern climate and shortened warm season, it is more difficult for bees to make wax. At this point in our bee keeping experience we’re sort of “babying” our bees, especially considering the devastating threats they face nationwide. Anything we can do to eliminate stress on our colony is something we try first.
So much to our chagrin, we scraped the frames…wax, honey and all and let it strain through a strainer into a bowl.
We suspended the strainer clamped in one of my camera tripods and taped with packing tape for good measure.
Once it was all strained, we poured it into jars.
This is what we were left with! 3 1/4 quarts! or 13 cups.
Plus the honey that filled this bread pan in my experiment to separate the wax from the remaining honey.
I melted the honey and wax in a pot and poured it into the bread pan. As it cooled, the wax solidified on the surface and the honey stayed below. We can now use this wax to seal and protect my husband’s blacksmith items or to make candles and homemade beauty products like deodorant and lotions.
After seeing how much honey we got from just 4 frames, I’m tempted to leave the rest for the bees as our first goal right now is to establish a healthy hive so they can produce for us years to come.
These are the finished scraped frames ready to be returned to the hive. The bees will clean these hives of any out of place honey and rebuild the comb using the plastic “comb sheets” that you see here in the frame as a guide. The plastic sheets have a pressed hexagon pattern similar to what bees naturally build.