The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.
A maple tree flower in St. John’s, NL (June 09, 2015.)
I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but trust me, if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular. Although I’m extremely pleased to have finally found a place where I can keep my bees in peace and be around them every day, I don’t think my bees will ever thrive as well as they did when I kept them in my backyard in St. John’s.
The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)
I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method, which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.
Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket (bucket #1) into a bucket with holes (bucket #2), then straining into a bottom bucket (bucket#3). (Oct. 07, 2014.)
I recommend this method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through
the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.
P.S. (July 25/15): I also posted a video called Cutting and Bottling Honey that’s been viewed 645,113 times as of today. Which reminds me, perhaps I should monetize my YouTube videos.)
Considering that I don’t have time to post much of anything these days, I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.
For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be silly. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.
I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:
1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.
2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.
I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife.
Here’s an example of why I go out of my way not to mix honey from different hives.
The lighter honey on the left was taken from one hive, and it tastes heathery. The darker honey on the right was taken from another hive, and it has a more earthy flavour. Both were harvested on the same day. The two hives are about 2 metres apart (7 feet), but the bees from each hive favoured different nectar sources, which resulted in slightly different honey from each hive. The favouring of specific pollen and nectar sources is called floral fidelity. The bees find an abundant nectar source and they stick with it instead of wasting time jumping from one type of flower to another. That’s why you’ll often see a flowering tree loaded down with honey bees while at the same time not a single bee goes anywhere near your beautiful Forget-Me-Nots. The results of floral fidelity are lost in most large beekeeping operations that have to blend all their honeys together. Not me.
I posted some photos a couple days ago of what is probably the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen in any of my hives. Here’s the video:
(Thanks to Jonathan Adams for getting behind the camera.)
It’s not the most instructive video, but I’ve relaxed my criteria for posting photos and videos on Mud Songs. If I think it could spark the imagination of anyone curious about honey bees or beekeeping, that’s good enough for me. If I can instruct at the same time, well, that’s a bonus. The 1:50 mark in the video, for instance, shows how the bees begin to build comb by festooning. My explanation in the video isn’t the most articulate. I’m so used to beekeeping alone in silence, I felt awkward talking. Festooning is not a well-defined phenomena anyway, so my bumbling explanation kind of fits.
Now here are a few things this situation has me wondering about…
The bees in one of my hives are making the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen.
I usually put 10 frames in a honey super, but I had to knock that down to 8 frames just to make room for the ridiculously thick honey comb these bees are building.
Here’s what happened in one of my hives this year when I installed a honey super without a queen excluder:
The queen laid eggs throughout most of the honey frames. A full shallow super full of comb honey ruined.
Here’s a cell phone video of me pouring some honey that I extracted using my home made honey extractor.
The sound and video quality isn’t the best and it’s not smoothly edited. It’s also a little repetitive, but it demonstrates a cheap and simple method of filtering honey and you’ll hear me blather on a bit about the difference between blended honey and single-colony honey. Anyone who appreciates single malt scotch over blended scotch will know what I mean. And if you want a better view of my flawed-but-functional extractor in action, check out my DIY Honey Extractor video from last year.
Summary: Late season Goldenrod honey is more pungent and almost sickly sweet compared to early season honey.
We began stealing honey from our bees, a little bit at a time, beginning in July. Almost half the honey was in comb form, all natural and beautiful. The rest was extracted liquid honey in jar form, not exactly natural or nearly as pretty, but it’ll do you. The last batch of honey was extracted today — the jar on the left in the photo. Compare it to the jar on the right that was extracted a month ago.
Judging from its golden appearance and its flavour (almost sickly sweet and pungent), I think the honey extracted today is mostly Goldenrod honey. The honey we extracted a month ago is darker and the flavour is rich and earthy. Although it doesn’t qualify as a dark honey, I think much of the nectar for that honey may have been collected from Black Huckleberries that seem plentiful out in the country where the bees are now.
I didn’t have time to observe the bees this year, so I’m just guessing. It’s fun to wonder, though. Every batch of honey this year was different.
We harvested two medium supers of honey from two hives last year. The weather last summer was the pits. This year we harvested about four medium supers of honey from maybe four hives. This summer’s weather was incredible. We could have had truck loads of honey, but we didn’t because three colonies swarmed on us, two queens failed on us… and so on. T’was a difficult year. A year that made me realize what I like about beekeeping and what kind of beekeeper I want to be. Here’s a hint: I like bees, not beekeeping. For instance, I like seeing this kind of thing when I pull out a frame (click the image to a larger view):
That’s a partially drawn frame of honey comb I saw while harvesting the last bit of honey from our hives today. I only took about five medium frames in all. Most of the honey, like the capped honey in this frame, was left behind for the bees.
For each of our seven hives, I moved the honey super above the inner cover (with a queen excluder underneath), so the bees will move the remaining honey down into the brood chamber. That way they should have enough honey to get through the winter and I won’t have to feed them syrup before winter kicks in.