Checking for Honey

Our first attempt at beekeeping seemed to be going well.  But last year when we moved from the Georgia Coast to the mountains in the North, the colony foundered and never recovered.  This spring we ordered 3 new colonies and they’ve looked healthy and vibrant all summer long. It’s time to check for a surplus of honey which I intend to rob.

The bottom two boxes are the “brood chambers”. This is where the queen lives and lays her eggs, and where workers store extra honey to feed the rest of the hive. We take nothing from these areas, it all belongs to them. Directly above the second brood chamber is a “queen excluder”.  It’s a thin wire grate through which the queen is unable to pass due to her large body size. Worker bees, however, can easily walk through and deposit honey in the boxes, or “honey supers” above. If the queen were able to access the honey supers, she’d lay eggs and there would be developing larvae mixed in with my honey. Not a good combination.  So will there be excess honey this time?  The only way to know is to open the hive and look.

First, the top cover of the honey super is removed to expose the frames which hold the comb. The dirt-looking substance on top is “propolis”, a glue bees make to seal holes and gaps inside the hive. All the frames in the above photo are glued at the ends with propolis and have to be pried apart with a metal tool. Then they can be individually lifted out for inspection.

In this particular super all but one frame is completely filled with honey and capped with wax, a nice return from such a young hive.  It should yield just over two gallons of local honey once we extract it.

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Bees On The Move

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If you pay attention to the news then you know that these are hard times for bees.  Colony collapse is more common than ever, and parasites have also been taking their toll on pollinators.   Moving our single hive hundreds of miles North in the back of a truck to a much cooler climate added to the risks they already face.  Two weeks ago on a cold afternoon I was sure the colony was lost when I looked inside the bottom opening and saw nothing but dead bees.  Very discouraging.  Days later when the temps shot up to the low 60’s the hive was humming with activity as the survivors spent the day carrying out their fallen comrades, some dragging, some flying off with the dead. They had indeed lived through the winter.

IMG_3358Yesterday we noticed that lots of bees were returning to the hive with their legs loaded with pollen. Not much is in bloom right now except a long row of flowering cherry trees in the lower pasture, so we went to check it out.  Twenty feet from the first tree you could hear the noise…an intimidating loud buzzing like someone just kicked over an active hive. Every tree was swarming with bees and they were flying from bloom to bloom, packing the yellow pollen onto their legs so they could bring it back to the colony. In a few days we’ll have to add a “super” to the top of the hive, a special box dedicated to honey production.  Let the honey season begin!

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A Good Day

Ever since I read an article about them in a local magazine seven years ago, I’ve been buying local raw honey from JM and Frieda Sikes.  Not only is their honey delicious but they are Richmond Hill originals, making their living here through the years by shrimping, crabbing, fishing,  and of course keeping bees. One would be wise to take some time to get to know the Sikes. They are full of knowledge and are just good people, the source of a lot of soul in Richmond Hill and Bryan County. So of course I said yes last month when they asked if they could move four (out of their 500 plus) hives out to our farm to give their bees a shot at whatever nectar is available in the area.IMG_2933  A few days later in the early morning light, JM and Frieda rolled in with their bees.  They wasted no time in putting up a platform on which the hives would sit.  10 minutes later all four hive bodies were in place and JM lifted the first hive off its base which allowed the bees to fly out and go to work.

IMG_2936                                                                                              After the first hive was in place the air became flooded with angry bees who were not at all happy about being driven around in the back of a truck. Unlike most beekeepers the Sikes wear only a head/face veil for sting protection…no body suit, no gloves.  Stings were clearly being handed out with no end in sight so the Sikes made their way to the wood-line to fill their smoker with dried leaves and pine straw.

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The smoke makes the bees re-focus their attention to the colony and it seemed to work pretty well.  A short time later everything was in place and all the bees were heading out to explore their new area in search of food.  The whole morning was a blast, watching these local legends do their work. IMG_2940

The next portion of their visit is what made my day and are, in my opinion, the makings for a rich life.  Instead of sitting on the tailgate of his truck to take a break,  JM sat on the platform between his hives (thousands of bees blasting all around him and a collective buzzing so loud it competed with our conversation) and told me how he got started in bee keeping…how his father and his grandfather kept bees, adventurous stories of shrimping and crabbing and all the “old-timey” ways of doing those things. I would have taken a picture of him sitting amongst the hives but sometimes you need to just put away the camera, sit back, and enjoy the moment.

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An Unexpected Addition

swarmThere’s a few things in nature that will really get your attention, and I mean instinctively grab you on a primal level and make you take notice. For instance: a bolt of lightning striking too close, going on a hike and hearing a rattlesnake shaking his tail because you almost stepped on him, and in my case recently, rounding the corner of the barn and coming face-to-face with a buzzing swarm of honey bees that set up residence under an old sink I’ve been saving.  I slowly backed away and called my friend and fellow farming enthusiast Mike, to come and help me out. He’s had hives for years and knows far more about bees than I do. He discovered that the bees had already started making comb, which he pulled off (along with the bees and hopefully their queen), placed them into a few containers, then transferred the whole stinging mass to an empty wooden hive about 100 yards away.IMG_2888

The sections of comb Mike pulled off were placed inside frames and held in place by rubber bands. In the coming weeks the bees would hopefully add to the the comb, eventually filling the frames with new bee larvae and honey.IMG_2903

Admittedly I know almost nothing about bees at this point, so Mike came back a week later to help me check on their progress and to make sure the queen had made the journey from the old sink to the new hive.  Success!  The queen was indeed present, busy laying eggs to grow the hive and the workers had visibly added to the combIMG_2906

Thanks again to Mike for helping and generously setting us up with a hive, smoker, bee veil, hive tools, and not to mention his time. IMG_2898

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