What a wet year this has been …. July was again dominated by low pressure fronts bringing in cloud and wet conditions for the first three weeks then it was unseasonably hot but this only lasted for a few days before the unsettled weather returned. The bees have been unable to fly on many days and even though many plants have been late to flower this year the bees just seem to be playing catch up all the time.
By the beginning of August last year I had three full honey supers on two of my hives and two on the other, full of delicious golden honey ready to extract but then the bees took advantage of the exceptionally warm and dry spring, this year I have about 1 1/2 supers to extract and even that has not been fully capped yet and it is still ‘loose’ so is unlikely to be reduced enough yet to prevent it fermenting in the jar – I have decided to leave it on for a bit longer to see if the current warm weather and late flowering brings a late crop or if the bees decides to take the honey down for winter stores, then that is also fine.
I started this beekeeping year with 3 strong colonies, I have lost queens, added new queens, lost swarms only to catch and rehouse them – at one point there were 5 hives on the go but now I am back down to four with one being queen-less and with so few bees (about 3 frames) that I am letting them go rather than merging them this late in the year and risk damage to a laying queen preparing for winter so I will enter winter once again with three very strong colonies and all with healthy fertile 2012 queens.
Having started this blog entry at the beginning of August I have waited until slightly better weather in mid-August before I decided to extract the honey. I attended the apiary on Saturday morning (the hottest day of the year so far) to shake the bees out of the honey supers as best as I could and place the clearer boards with bee escapes in over an eke (‘spacer’ box) above the hive. The idea of adding an empty eke or super under the clearer boards is that it allows a bit more space and prevents congestion as the bees leave the honey super through the bee escapes, which in turn do not allow them to return.
The theory is that in 24 hours your honey supers are clear of bees and ready for you to carry off unnoticed… of course the reality each year is that the the supers still have bees in them that need brushing and shaking off . I do this frame by frame, placing the clear frames of honey in a super over an upturned roof with a towel over the top to keep the bees out. This year there was an added complication of lots and lots of wasps in the apiary, as soon as I lifted the honey super off wasps were carrying the dead bees from the crown board off to feed their young, guess that’s nature and it saves them going to waste but angry wasps flying around your head is very off putting even to a beekeeper!
The honey frames are removed to a wasp and bee free space and uncapped, literally cut open, to allow the honey to flow out and then placed into a centrifugal extractor when they are spun at high speed to allow the honey to fly out, hit the sides and drain to the base of the drum.
Once the frames are all emptied into the base of the extractor the honey is run through a coarse, then finer filter, to remove any larger pieces of pollen and wax, these won’t effect the quality of the honey, indeed they add much to it’s aromatics, texture and beneficial qualities that have been removed from highly processed supermarket honey to give it a longer shelf life as runny honey.
As soon as the honey has been removed it is time to feed the bees with a heavy sugar syrup to make sure that the removal of the honey has not depleted their food stores so much that they would not survive the winter.
I always leave my bees in a ‘brood and a half’, over the winter months, effectively I leave an additional super on as this allows them to have a greater level stores in the hive to try and prevent them from starving and also gives the space for the queen to lay up a large brood early next year when they are fed a weaker syrup to give them a boost in the spring.
The bees also start their treatment to combat the Varroa Destructor, a parasitic mite that are present in virtually every UK hive these days.
Once the honey has been filtered it is allowed to sit in a settling tank for at least 24 hours so that any air bubbles introduced into the honey during the rapid spinning at extraction escape, again this is purely for aesthetics – it wont affect the quality of the honey but people seem to think it looks much nicer without them. Finally the honey is run off into freshly sterilised jars and the labels are attached ready for sale, or in the case of a lower crop like this year, ready for eating and making more mead!
There are many European rules and regulations relating to the labelling of foods, including honey, and these can be found at the ‘Foods Standards Agency’ website by clicking here, but if you don’t have time to read all 23 pages there is a quick summary at the bees-online webpage here.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog, feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.
I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.
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