I expected to be part of a panel discussion at the recent NL Beekeepers AGM but instead found myself in the spot light listening to words come out of my mouth like I was having an out of body experience. I apparently spoke about moisture quilts and what was referred to afterwards as my “winter ventilation strategy.” Okay. I would describe myself as somnambulistic after a week of work that left my brain running on fumes by the time I showed up at eight-thirty in the bloody morning for the AGM. Then, to cap it off, what I thought was a panel discussion scheduled for the lunch hour got pushed to the end of the day, by which time I was fighting to keep my eyes open, going to the washroom every 20 minutes to splash cold water on my face. By the time I arrived at my moment shine, it was great. Just great. I wish I had it on tape. I had a good laugh talking about it afterwards when I got home. You gotta laugh.
At any rate, someone who was lucky enough to be graced by my presence at the AGM sent me an email this morning asking me if I really got 100 pounds of honey from one of my hives after I put an empty moisture quilt on it for ventilation. My answer was: “You better believe it!” I don’t even remember saying that during my presentation, but apparently I said it — and it’s true. I responded to his email to explain how it happened, how I lucked into it really, and then I copied and pasted my response to Facebook, and now I’m copying that Facebook post to ye ole Mud Songs blog because I’m reaching the end of another long day at work and I really don’t have the brain power to do anything other than copy and paste.
So here it is, the story of how I got 100 pounds of honey from a single honey bee colony, and in Logy Bay, Newfoundland, of all places:
By the way, I plan to write a post that covers all the topics that I expected to talk about during the panel discussion, in the form of a conversation between three beekeepers, just as I imagined the panel discussion would play out. It, too, will be great. Stay tuned.
I harvested two medium supers of honey from two hives last year. The weather last summer was the pits. This year I harvested about four medium supers of honey from maybe four hives. This summer’s weather was incredible. I could have had truck loads of honey, but three colonies swarmed on me, two queens failed 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:
That’s a partially drawn frame of honey comb I saw while harvesting the last bit of honey from my 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.
Foundationless honey comb. (Oct. 02, 2012.)
For each of my 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.
The beginnings of honey comb. (Oct. 02. 2012.)
April 2019 Postscript: As it turns out, the decision to give my bees only honey instead of topping up the hives with sugar syrup was a bad call. It resulted in one of my giant colonies starving to death over the winter. A death of a colony will happen to every backyard beekeeper sooner or later. I take it in stride when something bad happens these days, but the first one was the hardest. Thankfully, I’ve haven’t had a healthy colony die on me over the winter since.
There’s not much to see here, but here’s the deal: I recently added three mated queens to some of my hives and splits. Here’s a quick video of me checking to see if a queen was released from her cage. The video ends with me looking at some foundationless frames in a honey super.
Here’s a semi-short story about the requeening. Part 1: The candy plug in one of my queen cages was rock solid and the bees hadn’t eaten through it five days later when I checked on it, not even close. Part 2: I’ve been told that the attendant bees should be removed from the queen cage before the cage is installed. Supposedly in the commotion of being introduced, the attendant bees can get over excited and inadvertently sting or harm the queen. I’ve also been told not to worry about the attendant bees and just leave them in the cage with the queen. So that’s what I did and everything turned out fine.
I took a brief peek at one of my monster hives with honey supers on it yesterday and found several frames well on their way to being filled with honey. I know some experienced beekeepers discourage new beekeepers from going foundationless in their honey supers because the chances of the bees making a solid crop of comb honey aren’t great, but I can’t help myself. I love it when the bees build natural comb like this:
Some fresh comb in a honey super. (July 2, 2012.)
My honey supers have a combination of foundationless frames, frames of drawn comb from last year (with and without foundation), and frames with untouched foundation.
Fresh comb in a honey super. (July 2, 2012.)
Apparently the bees are attracted to the smell of drawn comb. That gets them to work in the honey supers more eagerly. I put foundationless frames between the frames of drawn comb because the bees are generally compelled to fill in empty space. My methods may not maximize honey production, but the maximizing approach can take the fun out of beekeeping. That’s not my game. And it’s hard to argue with results like this:
Our first batch of honey from a single frame. (Sept. 4, 2011.)
Nothing fancy about any of this. The honey still has plenty of little wax bits floating around, but I don’t care. I sterilized the small Mason jars and poured the honey in. No heating, no freezing, nothing.
September 8th, 2011: I made more exact measurements with my next four bottles. Each bottle holds approximately 250ml of honey, about half a pint. The weight measurements come to 340g, about 12oz, 3/4 of a pound of honey per bottle. I got 4.5 bottles from my second foundationless frame of honey, which is 3.4 pounds, a little over 1.5kg. With 27 more frames to go, if I’m lucky, I’ll get 40kg of honey from my hives this year, or about 90 pounds. I’m more than happy with that seeing how it’s about 90 pounds more than I expected to get this year.