I pulled four deep frames of honey from each of my hives this past summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound. I stored the frames in a cardboard nuc box and kept them in my house. Later in the fall I fed all but one of the frames back to the bees (see Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup). This morning I took a look at the remaining deep frame of honey stored in the nuc box and noticed it had mould growing on it.
I harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up my hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, I decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves me the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if I’m in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?
A deep frame of honey fed back to the bees. (Oct. 23, 2011.)
I began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that I didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then I switched to deep frames full of honey that I pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound. Continue reading →
March 2019 Introduction: This is a boring post that probably won’t have much appeal to a general reader, but it does go into some fine details that might be interesting for people who want to compare notes with another beekeeper (me). It’s eight years later and today I’m intrigued by the results I had with my bees at the time. I didn’t just leave my bees alone and let them sort out their troubles. I was always messing with my bees, probably more than I should have, but I have to admit that I created an excellent classroom for myself.
Here’s a short uneventful video I took of the hives today where I mistakenly refer to Hive #2 as Hive #1. (I need to paint numbers on the damn things.)
And now here’s a quick review of the 4 hives in my backyard as they stand today: Continue reading →
I extracted eight medium frames of honey this weekend. It came to about 8 litres after bottling. That’s somewhere around 25 pounds or 11kg, or 2 litres per frame. I extracted the honey with another beekeeper who got into beekeeping last summer the same time I did. He went before of me. Some of the following photos are of his honey — starting with this one:
Another beekeeper’s frame of honey made from Goldenrod harvested in Clarenville. Much different than my pale yellow combs of honey from St. John’s. (October 1st, 2011.)
The honey on his frames probably came from Goldenrod nectar. The appearance of the Goldenrod honey comb was different than my comb. The flavour of the honey was more earthy too. My honey probably came from Japanese Knotweed and other floral sources that aren’t as distinctive as Goldenrod. It’s all good honey, though. At any rate, step one was to put all the frames in a rack on the decapping table. Continue reading →
Someone asked me, “What do you mean by ‘capped’ honey?” My answer: Capped honey is like anything that has a cap on it, like a jar of jam, for instance. If the jar of jam didn’t have a cap on it, it would dry up, go mouldy, turn rancid, start to ferment, etc. Bees are like that with their honey. First they build comb consisting of thousands of hexagonal shaped cells — those are the jars. Each cell in turn is filled with nectar. The bees evaporate the nectar until its reduced to a thick sweet liquid that we call honey. When it’s just right, they seal up the cell with a layer of wax often referred to as a cap, just like the lid on a jar of jam. Here’s a photo showing a frame of honey with cells that are capped and not yet capped. (Is “uncapped” the same as “not yet capped”? Let’s just say it is.)
A frame of capped and open honey from Hive #2. (September 3, 2011.)
The open cells are uncapped. Most of the cells in middle of the frame are capped. Hence, capped honey, sometimes referred to as fully cured honey.
Here’s a narrated video of me harvesting five foundationless frames of honey. I cut out 28 small squares of honey comb from a little over 1 and a half frames. I crushed and strained the rest of it and bottled it the next day.
I meant to strain the crushed comb using the 3-bucket system that requires a paint strainer, but I put the paint strainer on the wrong bucket (the paint strainer goes on the bottom bucket), so I had to improvise a bit. That mistake cost me some honey, but it wasn’t too drastic. Continue reading →
I made my second batch (or maybe it’s my third batch) of cut comb yesterday. It’s the last of the foundationless honey comb for this year. My cut comb is messy and wouldn’t win any awards at the county fair — which is just the way I like it. That’s called keepin’ it real. My method of making cut comb is simple:
1) Cut the comb from the medium sized frame.
2) Chop the comb into 18 little gooeily delicious squares.
3) Put the little squares of cut honey comb into little plastic containers.
4) That’s it.
I also freeze the honey for 24 hours, but that’s something else. At any rate, it’s not the most exciting video, and it doesn’t hold a candle to my last video, Eating Raw Honey Comb, which, by the way, is the best darn tootin’ video I’ve ever posted, but here it is:
I also cut and strained a little over three frames of foundationless honey comb yesterday. I’ll post that video after I’ve bottled the honey.
I gave a friend some honey this past week, a jar of honey and a piece of cut honey comb. They took the jar but passed on the comb. I couldn’t believe it. I almost took back the jar of honey right then and there. Even now I wish I’d only given them a small jar. That’s right. I’ve become a honey snob. Sue me. I have no desire to give my honey to anyone who doesn’t appreciate it. You don’t like raw honey comb? You think it’s gross? No honey for you!
I had planned to describe the floral aromas and flavours of the honey in the video, but I became speechless as soon as I put the honey in my mouth.
Honey from Hive #2 on top and Hive #1 on bottom. (Sept. 10, 2011.)
The darker honey in the bottom of the jar is from Hive #1 and it has a pleasantly mild flavour. The lighter honey in the top of the jar is from Hive #2 and that honey is sweeter. Hive #2 happens to be the foundationless hive, though I don’t think that has anything to do with the extra sweetness of the honey. The honey will gradually clear as the bubbles rise to the top. Continue reading →
Note to self: Smoke the bees before stealing a few frames from the bottom honey super. The bees are protective of their honey this time of year (if not all the time).
The bees one of my hives are smoking hot these days, ploughing through their honey supers at an impressive rate. Instead of adding a third honey super to the hive (which the bees might not be able to fill), I decided to pull three frames of honey from the bottom honey super and replace them with empty frames.
Two of the frames are foundationless. I’ll crush and strain them like I did with my first frame of honey. The other one will have to be extracted. I’m not sure how I’ll managed that yet. At any rate, this is my last post for the next couple weeks. By the time I post anything new, I’ll have harvested and probably bottled all of my honey — possibly up to 30 frames of honey. I’ll record videos and take photos of it all. See you later.
September 6ht, 2011: The bees have become extremely defensive since I took the honey from the hive — without using smoke. Within minutes of going in the backyard, I’ve got two or three bees buzzing around my head. I’ve never seen them this bad before. I’m managing it for now, but my backyard may be too small this for four hives. When the bees get defensive, it’s not good at all. I think I may have seen my next door neighbour swatting at some bees in his backyard. I hope they weren’t bees, but it’s possible. This could be very bad. I have to remember for now on to use smoke when pulling honey so the the bees don’t associate my scent, or human scent, with danger. This isn’t a good day. See What makes bees aggressive? from Honey Bee Suite for more info.
March 2019 Postscript: Beekeeping can be a little tricky at times, but I’d say it’s trickier in an urban or suburban environment because of the lack of space. When the bees get grumpy, it’s hard to avoid them. If I kept bees in an urban environment again, I would take extra steps not to disturb the bees or my neighbours. If I had to do a major invasive hive inspection — for example, to check for swarm cells — I would plan to do it at a time when I know my neighbours aren’t in their backyards. Once bees get defensive, they can easily fly over a fence and start head-butting and chasing humans who happen to get in their line of fire. The bees need to be handled with more gentleness and with consideration of close neighbours in an urban environment. It doesn’t take much for things to get a little out of hand.
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.
March 2019 Introduction: This simple modification for a frame feeder is a stroke of genius. (Yes, I’m patting myself on the back for this one.) I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes standard with frame feeders some day because it works so well at preventing bee deaths and it’s easier than pouring syrup down a bee ladder that’s packed with bees.
I had to refill a frame feeder in one of my young 2-deep hives today and decided on the spot to record a demonstration video that could have been titled How To Refill a Frame Feeder, but isn’t. Here are some pics and then a video at the end. Here I am pouring in the syrup:
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:
It’s February 2019 as I revisit this post from 2011 — and I’ve deleted the whole thing except for two photos. The original title of this post was, “Still No Honey.”
This was my second summer of beekeeping and I wanted some payback for all the work I’d put into keeping my bees alive. I wanted some honey. I was midway through August and still saw no signs of my bees making honey. I always tell people that honey isn’t the reason I keep bees. It isn’t. But… if I wasn’t able to get a taste of honey at all, ever, I wouldn’t put nearly as much work into beekeeping as I do.
Let’s pause this thought for a minute and talk about keeping bees just for the sake of keeping bees. If that’s all I wanted to do, I’d do everything I normally do to build a colony up from a nuc so that it would survive its first winter. If the colony was weak, I’d give it sugar and pollen patties in late winter, early spring, to give it a boost, etc. — all the standard stuff most first year beekeepers have to do on the island of Newfoundland.
Fresh comb in Hive #1’s honey super. (August 12, 2011.)
But instead of concerning myself with harvesting honey, I’d add a third deep in the late spring and simply manage the hive as a 3-deep hive. An established healthy honey bee colony living in a 3-deep hive should be able to make enough honey for itself so that it doesn’t need syrup or sugar feeding to get through the winter. The space of 3 deeps should provide enough room for it to build up in the spring without much risk of swarming. Ideally, it would be a self-sustaining and self-regulating honey bee colony, producing enough honey to survive the winter on its own and having enough space to expand in the spring with little risk of swarming.
And by ideally I mean it’ll never work out that way. It would still require some heavy lifting by an attentive beekeeper to keep the bees alive from time to time. For instance, emergency feeding when necessary; splitting the hive or adding deeps if the population gets out of control. But overall, I imagine it would be easier to manage than a regular 2-deep Langstroth hive that’s being pushed to make as much honey as possible.
But back to wanting a honey harvest when the bees don’t want to make honey. It can’t be forced. Or it can be, but is that a good idea? In my experience, bees working off foundationless frames take longer to fill up a medium honey super. That makes sense. Even if the honey super frames are full of foundation, it might still take a while for the bees to build comb and then make surplus honey. The best situation is usually when the honey super already has drawn comb in it. The bees clean up the comb and then get to work making honey in no time. The smell of the empty comb stimulates them and signals to them that they have space upstairs to store some honey.
But even then, they still won’t do anything in the honey super until they’re ready. Like all of Mother Nature’s wonderful creations, honey bees have evolved to be extremely efficient. The bees won’t expand unless they have to. If they already have plenty of room to store honey, they’ll just stay where they are. But once the population expands and there’s not enough room for all the bees and not enough honey for them, then (generally speaking) they’ll move upstairs and go to work on the honey supers.
Most of my attempts at pushing the bees to make surplus honey when they weren’t ready for it didn’t turn out so well. Reducing the whole hive to a single deep, for instance, and giving them only honey supers up top can work. But it usually requires feeding the bees buckets of syrup afterwards so they have enough stores to survive the winter. So essentially I take all their honey and replace it with expensive sugar syrup that isn’t nearly as good for them. Commercial beekeepers do that all the time because otherwise they go broke, but as a backyard beekeeper, I just don’t feel the need to push my beekeeping to that level.
When I want my bees to make surplus honey, I add a honey super. Then I wait.
To answer the question, do I keep bees for the bees or for the honey? A bit of both, really.
Well, not really making a ventilator rim. I already made it and it looks like this:
My first ventilator rim. (August 2, 2011.)
Like the name implies, it provides ventilation for the hive. And as far as I know, it’s good to have on the hive any time of the year, though for the winter I might stick with my insulated inner hive covers. They worked out well this past winter. Continue reading →
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 →
It’s November 2018 as I take a second look at this post I wrote in 2010. It doesn’t make me cringe, but almost. I’m impressed by my enthusiasm and fascination for beekeeping, my attention to every little detail that I don’t understand. These days when I meet new beekeepers or people who want to get into beekeeping, I can usually tell what kind of beekeepers they’re going to grow up to be. Bad beekeepers don’t notice too much. Good beekeepers notice everything. You don’t have to tell them what to look out for because they’re already looking out for everything.
I got my first taste of honey from one of our hives this morning (5 minutes ago), and there is no doubt about it: It’s the best honey I’ve tasted in my life. This is what it looks like at the bottom of a Mason jar, a mouthful chunk of comb with honey in it.
I decided to inspect the hives this morning because it’s going to rain for the next few days and I knew I’d be too busy with my silly job next week to poke around with the bees. I wanted to look down at the frames to see how much comb has been drawn out, but I didn’t want to pull out the frames and disturb the bees too much.
Inner cover upside-down with broken comb attached in the middle. (July 30, 2010.)
I didn’t use a smoker on either of the hives because I don’t like the way smoke agitates the bees, even though it’s supposed to make the bees easier to handle. This is what I saw when I pulled off the inner cover from Hive #1. That’s broken attached to the middle. I didn’t plan on sampling any honey, but I knew I could scrape some off the top without bothering the bees too much.
Here you can see how thick the comb is on top of the frames — and it’s full of honey. I’m not sure if I should be concerned about this, if I should clean it up before it gets out of control — I don’t know. The last time I used the smoker on the bees, the whole hive lit up with a rumbling buzzing sound. Not using the smoker this time, they acted like I wasn’t even there.
Here’s a close-up of the broken comb. The bees were virtually silent during all this. Maybe they were wondering what happened to the roof and why there’s honey all over the place now. Most that were on the honey stayed on the honey, eating it up, I assume.
Bridge comb. (July 30, 2010.)
Many of the frames were connected together with comb. It’s going to be messy when I have to pull out the frames for a thorough inspection, which I have to do soon. I wonder, should I break up these connections now before it gets worse? It seems like it might be trouble.
And this is what I saw under the roof of Hive #2, a well-behaved and tidy little hive — and no honeycomb on top to sample. These bees haven’t drawn out as much comb as those in Hive #1, probably because I didn’t feed them anything for the first week. There are more bees in the hive now than there were two weeks ago, and more of the frames have been drawn out — in both hives. So the hives seem to be doing alright. I will have to give them a thorough inspection soon just so I can see exactly what’s going on — how much brood is being reared, if there are any swarm cells and so on. I’d like to find an experienced beekeeper to help me out with that, but if I have to I’ll keep doing what I’m doing: taking my best guess.
Anyway, the honey is delicious.
November 2018 postscript: That’s burr comb I had to scrape off because the inner cover was upside-down. The flat side of the inner cover is usually face down in the summer. It’s unlikely the honey I tasted from the burr comb was pure honey. It was most likely fake honey created from sugar syrup. Today I would not place empty frames between frames of brood so early in the life of a nuc colony. I would put the 4-5 frames of the nuc in the middle of the deep and probably let them build out to 7-8 frames before I’d start inserting empty frames.