Posts Tagged ‘uncapping’

First honey crop of 2011


Honey for sale

With the hives filling very rapidly this year and the bees getting ready to swarm it seemed logical to give the bees back some space and take off the first honey crop of the year. Each of my three main hives had two supers full of ‘capped’ frames with the honey ready to extract.

Capped honey in a frame

The bees cap the honey comb once the water content of the honey has been reduced to less than 19% and there is no risk of it being able to ferment. Due to the size of the colonies I only remove one super from each hive at a time to retain the bees space inside the hive, rather than taking two in one go and condensing the bees down into a smaller space during the very hot weather which may then encorage them to swarm earlier than normal.

Clearer board on a hive

I attended the apiary on the Friday evening and placed clearer boards with porter bee escapes in the hive under the honey super containing the frames to be extracted. The bee escapes are really bee turnstiles, as in they let the bees out of the honey super to be removed but not back in again. You have to be careful that you leave no bee space into the super to be removed as once the bees are out it is very easy for robbing to take place and all your honey crop can disappear in a day!

Returning on a very warm Sunday morning I wasn’t sure how well the clearing would have worked as last year it wasn’t that successful but this year it seemed to have worked far better, maybe this was due to the hives being taller with more hive space beneath and the clearer boards being in place for longer or maybe it was just due to the unseasonal heat. The full supers were swiftly removed and the few lingering bees guarding the frames of honey were gently encouraged to return to the hive. There is little more off putting then a few bees flying around your head whilst you try to extract the stolen honey!

Using the uncapping fork

With bees and honey separated it was time to spin out the honey. The wax capping that seal the honey in the comb are removed using an ‘uncapping fork’ and the frames are then placed in a centrifugal device that allows you to gently spin out the honey, then reverse the frames and repeat this process until the combs are virtually empty.

There will always be traces of honey left in the comb and a little ‘set’ honey and this will be fed back to the bees who will clean it from the ‘wet comb’ and take the honey back down deeper into the hive. Once the frames are cleaned and dry they will be removed and stored until required again.

Once the honey has been removed from the comb it is allowed to pass through a coarse filter and then a very fine filter to remove some of the wax particles, pollen and anything else that may have made its way into the honey. This seems to be the longest part of the extraction process with the honey slowly dripping through the filters.

Fine filtering

Following the extraction and filtering it is allowed to settle for at least 24 hours, this is allow any air bubbles introduced whilst spinning it out of the frames to rise to the surface. There is nothing wrong with these appearing in the honey but cosmetically it it better to lose them. The honey is then literally passed through quality control (tasted for sweetness!) and ‘poured off’ through the honey tap into the sterilised jars and labelled up ready for sale.

Quality control

The cappings contain a fair amount of honey and these are separated from the wax in warm water – this will now form the sugary syrup that will be the base for making this year’s honey mead – and probably form the subject of my next blog entry!

Labelling jars

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How much should local honey cost?


comb honey

Having spent two weeks down in North Devon and then Cornwall and looking at the prices of local Exmoor honey and the honey from Quince’s Bee Farm at South Moulton  I have been pondering what to charge for my own honey this year?

Obvioulsy I cannot incorporate my set-up costs of buying the hives and bees, the other apiary hardware needed during the beekeeping season, honey strainers, buckets and settling tanks or even the time and petrol costs of visiting the hives every 7 – 10 days between the beginning of April up until early August.

I did feel that it was fair, however, to cover the cost of the jars at 45p each (from Thornes), the sugar needed to make the syrup to feed back to the bees (approx 15k g per hive so £45 for three hives) and the Apilife Var treatment to help to remove the Varroa Destructor parasite from the hive before the bees settle down for the winter. There is also the possibility that the weather is not favourable next year and the bees do not collect enough honey to extract a crop (the last 5 years have been poor in the UK) but they will still require feeding sugar syrup, candy and treating for Varroa mite. Beekeeping is not for profiteering!

The price of imported honey has driven down the consumers expectations of cost but the reality is that the supermarkets are selling over processed, highly filtered honey (and sometimes modified with other additional ingredients) at rock bottom prices but this lacks the texture and flavour of real honey.

There is also much to be said for the use of local honey to help with hay fever with the honey containing nectar from the very plants that cause the allergies to start with as well as having many other beneficial health properties.

Bee populations are also in decline throughout much of the world, having had several bad years with fewer colonies surving the winter, and with additional environmental strains taking its toll the price of honey is invariably increasing. Additionally the poor sugar cane crops abroad have pushed up the price of sugar so another  knock-on effect is the increased cost of feeding the bees gallons of sugar syrup once the honey has been removed.

So what is a fair price? You will never get paid for your labour as a beekeeper, or paid to be the one to brave thousands of angry bees or take the stings in order to extract a honey crop – these are done out of the simple enjoyment of looking into a super society and trying to understand what is going on inside the bees world, and attempting to interpret what you see in order to try and pre-empt their next move, or needs, and prevent them from just leaving town, after all they are not prisonors in the hive.

Honey for saleSpa Valley Honey

The real crime is that the bees just about survive each year, but they are not rewarded for all their effort – millions of flowers are visited and a riduculous number of miles flown to do it – thousands upon thousands of bees were born and died to bring in every jar and yet beekeepers slap each other on the back on the success of their honey crop and forget to mention the real workers!

I guess a jar of honey is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it – every jar has a unique taste – tied to one specific area (you can’t make Kent honey in China!!!!). There is a very limited supply and even this is not predictable as it is so weather dependant, as well as being affected by insect disease, insecticide and pesticide use and various other environmental influences.

My last thought of the day is that it would be very sad if one day I had to try and describe the taste of honey to my grandchildren as the bees were longer here, and honey was no longer a reality, so it is very important to keep supporting the few of us that want to help the bees survive – ultimately it is an investment in your own future!

Honey extraction and the honey crop 2010


Having had a few weeks off  ‘bee duty’ during the first few weeks of August I returned home from my holiday ready to see if any honey was left in the supers and decide how much to take off and how much to leave for the bees. The rough rule of thumb is that the bees will need 40lb of honey left in the hive in order that the colony to survives through the winter.

Following the inspection I was happy to see that the wet weather in August hadn’t led the bees to eat all their honey supplies and I would be able to extract some honey this year, even if mainly only from one of the three hives. I placed a clearer board with the porter bee escapes attached under two full supers, leaving a third super underneath the clearer board to give the bees space to escape into without causing over crowding in the brood chamber.

I returned 24 hours later hoping that the supers would be clear of bees but unfortunately there were still plenty of bees hanging around the honey – possibly because the bad weather hadn’t enticed them out or to move around the hive that much. I had an empty super with me so I removed the first honey super and carried it about 8 metres way from the other hives and brushed each frame clear of bees with a soft bee brush, placing the now clear frame in the empty super and covering it over with a towel to prevent the recently ejected bees from returning to their honey. This went surpisingly smoothly, again possibly due to the wet and windy weather the bees very quickly flew back to their hives. I was able to remove 18 full frames from one hive and 3 from another, the swarm collected earllier in the year have plenty of honey below the queen excluder but nothing above so they will not supply me with any honey this year.

This is a relatively low yeild, with the average UK hive supplying about 50lbs of honey per year but the bees have drawn out all new comb in the hives this year, around 90 frames in total, and this in itself uses up a huge amount of honey in energy and wax production.

The honey extractors are the single most expensive piece of any beekeepers equipment, and as yet I do not own one, I am however lucky enough to have friend who does so I took the supers of honey, still warm from the hive, for uncapping and extraction at her house.

The extraction process is quite straight forward, the wax cappings that seal the honey into the comb are removed using an uncapping fork or uncapping knife and then the frames are placed in a centrifrugal device, either in a radial or tangial pattern, and the honey is literally spun out, hitting the sides of the extractor and then draining down into a honey holding area near the base.

The honey is then run through a coarse strainer, followed by a fine strainer before being held in a settling or ripening, tank for 24 hours to allow any air bubbles that were introduced during the spinning cycle to escape. The extracted honey is then run off into jars, bottles or buckets.

The 21 frames extracted this year yeilded about 41lbs of honey so not bad for a first crop!

The beekeepers timetable


This is a really useful beekeeping chart, giving the weeks of the year across the top and bottom and an indication of the brood and adult bee population increasing then declining as the season progresses, the main forage plants (based on Devon, UK) and the jobs that the beekeeper should be carrying out at that particular time, including hive treatments.

I have seen this attempted in many beekeeping books but none seem to have captured it quite as well on a single sheet as G.R. Davies – so many thanks!

A Beekeeping  Timetable

It is also available from the following link as a pdf file that can be saved or printed – have a look and let me know what you think.

A Beekeeping Timetable

Apiary inspection and adding more honey supers


We have now reached that time of year where the swarming risk is hopefully over and the adult bee population is reaching its peak for the year, with about 80,000 bees per hive, so there is a lot of activity going on both in and around the hive. The beekeeper can hopefully relax a little and now also get some idea if there will be any ‘honey surplus’ to take as a crop this year.

Many reports have said that this year has been the best for honey production in about the last 5 years, with the long cold winter helping to reduce parasite numbers in the hive and the warm spring and hot dry summer allowing plenty of time for the bees to get out and forage and bring back the nectar and pollen. On an average year a normal hive will produce around 50lbs of honey but some beekeepers are reporting crops three times this size for 2010.

As this is the first year with my own bees they have all been given new wax foundation, sheets of bees wax that has been ‘stamped’ with the hexagonal comb pattern to encourage the bees to draw the wax out more rapidly. The bees use up around 4lb of honey for every sheet of wax that they draw out and there are eleven frames in the brood area (where the queen is allowed to lay eggs) in both the deep and shallow boxes, and then a further ten frames in each of the honey supers above. A quick calculation indicates that my bees have drawn out over 90 frames of new foundation this year of which 22 were deep brood frames so this means that they have probably used up over 360lbs of honey in energy just to produce the comb already. Following the honey extraction the ‘wet’ comb is then returned to the hives and the bees are allowed to clean it up of any remaining honey and then it is carefully stored away for the winter to prevent damage. Next year my bees will have a massive headstart at the beginning of the year as they will not need to start from scratch with drawing out the comb but will have this years returned to them. The comb then needs renewing every few year to prevent disease and spread of parasites.

At my last visit to my hives on July 20th I checked the honey supplies that the bees have stored, both in the brood boxes and in the honey supers. The honey in the brood boxes will be left to help sustain the colony over winter but some of the honey from the supers above will be extracted for my use, gifts to friends  or for sale. The three hives, all standing shoulder to shoulder, have varying amounts of honey in them but my ‘daughter colony’ from the splilt swarm has already drawn the comb and filled and capped two full supers above the ‘brood and a half’ and the third super was added during the visit, the hive is now beginning to resemble a high-rise block next to its neighbours.

Since my last inspection visit I have managed to get down to the apiary on a couple of occassions without hive duties to carry out – a rare oppurtunity for me  as normally I get a short ‘time window’ to travel to the hives, smoke and inspect the bees, make any changes and then get home again. It really is a pleasure just to have some time to sit back and watch the bees arriving and leaving the hive,  laden with different colour pollen, and others simply there guarding the hive so its amazing to see the level of activity around the hive entrance at this time of year and knowing that every returning traveller is helping secure the future of the colony as well as adding to the honey crop!

Apiary visit and checking for Varroa destructor in my hives


Its amazing how fast seven days go but with a busy weekend ahead it was neccessary to check the bees earlier today just to see how they were getting on since the last visit. The hives are really beginning to build up well with strong colonies in them all and good brood patterns on the comb and they are bringing in good amounts of nectar and making honey now so they should have enough stores for over wintering and maybe even a little for me to take out and enjoy! With this in mind I made a flying visit to Thornes in Windsor to pick up some 40 kg honey tanks to allow the settling, or ripening, of the honey after it has been extracted from the frames and strained as it will need to sit for at least 24 hours to allow any air bubbles to rise t the surface of the honey before it is poured into the jars.

The third hive that had the swarm put in it back in June had an extra shallow brood supper added last week – this was made up of all new undrawn wax foundation and again the bees have amazed me with how fast they can draw out the wax comb when there is a nectar flow on – about half of these frames have been drawn out on both sides in the week and partially filled with honey already – I had a taste of some of the honey filled brace comb today – it’s an amazing experience to taste totally fresh, unfiltered, strained or unheated honey straight fom the hive, the aromas fill your mouth and go to the back of your nose and you realise why honey is refered to as the  ‘food of the gods’.

Now that the colonies are hopefully past swarming, the queens are laying well, the brood has expanded and there are many adult worker bees in the hive bringing in the honey my mind has turned to looking again at the health of the colonies. The weekly visits are always looking for irregularities in the brood as this can indicate a number of viral, fungal or parasitic problems within the hive of which there are very many, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diseases_of_the_honey_bee

I have varroa mesh floors on all the hives and this is meant to reduce the mite count by 40% but as yet I have yet to see any mites in the hive, on the bees or on the floor board during mite checks. I decided to use the uncapping fork to lift some drone brood from the comb today as these are likley to be the host areas for varroa mites and gives you an indication of the amount of mite present in the hive. The only problem with my newly queened hives is that there is a lot of worker brood but not much drone brood at present at the moment. I checked the hive that had the most drone brood but after several ‘excavations’ I had only found one mite – I am hoping that this is a good sign and that the strong colony is dealing with the mites but it does also show that they are present, whereas prior to this I had not seen any evidence of their presence in the hive.