Summary: If you want the bees to pull honey down from a honey super into the brood chamber in a timely manner, scrape the honey first.
We left one medium super full of open and capped honey on each of our hives about two weeks ago so they’d have enough honey for winter storage (and so we wouldn’t have to feed them sugar syrup). Beekeeping is one manipulative trick after another — and the trick with leaving the bees honey is to get them to pull the honey down into the brood chamber. One method is to place a queen excluder above the brood chamber, then an inner cover and then the honey super above that. The honey super is interpreted by the bees’ brains as being apart from the hive, so, in theoretical land, they’ll tear into the honey and move it down into the actual hive, the brood chamber, before winter sets in. When we did this last year on October 23rd, we made sure to scrape open the capped honey first so the bees could dig in right away. We used this do dad called a capping scratcher (or you could just grab a kitchen fork):
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.