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.
Well, it looks like I’m going to get some honey this year after all, at least from one of my hives. I was led to believe that foundationless hives in the cold wet climate of St. John’s, Newfoundland — with its short, sometimes non-existent summers — wouldn’t produce extra honey for humans during the first year because much of the bees’ resources are funnelled into raising drones and then back-filling the drone comb before they have a chance to make extra honey in a honey super. So far that’s turned out to be true. I migrated all the foundationless frames into a single hive, Hive #2, and that hive hasn’t done much with its honey super. However, Hive #1, the hive that I transferred all the conventional frames in to, has filled its first honey super. Check out the video and I’ll tell you more about it later:
I inspected Hive #1 today and was glad to see that the honey super is starting to fill up with honey. Nine frames spread out in a ten frame super, alternating plastic with foundationless frames. I didn’t take any photos or videos. My main concern was to make sure the queen wasn’t honey bound. I found three frames in the middle of the top box that looked like this…
…worker brood in the middle surrounded by pollen and honey, only this time everything looked dirtier and darker because the comb isn’t fresh like it was when the photo was taken last year. Still, it’s more or less what I wanted to see. Honey and pollen, new worker brood and enough space for the queen to continue laying.
The foundationless frames in the top box of Hive #1 were migrated to Hive #2 a while back, so it’s a mostly conventional hive now with perhaps three or four foundationless frames left over in the bottom brood box. The minimized number of foundationless frames — which perhaps knocks back drone production — might have something to do with the honey super filling with honey now. (Pure speculation.) The bees in Hive #2, a hive that is about 80% foundationless, show no signs of building in their honey super yet. So go figure. Okay then, let’s move on to even more boringer details. Continue reading →