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Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Big Day!

Now...I know what most of you are thinking...I have had the baby!  Well...I hate to disappoint you but the baby has not seen fit to make an entrance into this world yet.

NO!  The big day for us was harvesting our first full season of honey.  We only have the one hive with a single super collecting honey for us.  However, we were so excited to get out there this morning with the help of Marie and Larry.

The plan was to get out to the hive early in the day to beat the heat, but I don't think that is possible in Texas in August.  So, it was hot but it made it easier to harvest.

We started by gathering all of our equipment and setting up the extractor in our garage.  Larry was kind enough to bring his hand cranked extractor to the house.  It only holds two frames, but with only ten frames it was just right for the job.  He has created his own stand that lifts the extractor up high enough to be more efficient.  It will also be helpful when we begin cranking the spinner.  He even set up a template around the base that allowed the extractor fit right into the base.  This also helped decrease the chances of tipping the extractor when the spinner was cranked.  A simple but useful form that made the job easier.

Then we headed out to the hive to collect our top medium-sized super.  We had to smoke the hive and spritz the front opening with makes the bees think there is a fire or rain.  Then we were able to get into the hive with little effort.  The super was removed quickly and an almond spray was administered to a piece of cardboard to place over the super.  Apparently, bees do not like the smell of almond so they fly away.  This allowed us to take our super away from the hive without a lot of bees following us.  We loaded the super into a wheelbarrow because it was so heavy with honey!  And then headed back to the garage.

When we arrived at the garage and opened the super, we were surprised to see so many bees still remaining in the super.  I guess we did not leave the almond sprayed cardboard on long enough.  We learned something for next time...slow and steady is better.
Beetle trap

Beetles and their larva
We also discovered that we have a beetle problem.  This is common problem but we did not have a lot of these guys in the past.  So now we know we need to treat for beetles soon before they take over our hive.  This type of beetle has only been in the United States for a short period of time.  They entered into Florida from Africa sometime in the mid-1990's and have since quickly taken over hives across the nation.  They especially like weak hives that they can take over easily.  They lay their eggs in the comb and can ruin a hive.  The fact that they exist and have spread so quickly tells us that it is not a matter of IF you have this problem but WHEN it will happen.  Treatment should take place as soon as possible to avoid losing your hive.  So, next week will be calling our bee supply dealer for some beetle traps.  Supposedly it is just a matter of filling these traps with used cooking oil and placing inside the hive to remove the beetles.  I hope this works because we have a very strong hive and would hate to start over!

So, once we were reminded of the importance of ridding our hive of beetles, we were able to get started with our extracting.  We removed the bees that remained in the super and pulled our first frame.  It was FULL of honey!  Marie showed us how to remove the cap off the honey with a serrated knife and a scraper.  Both of these methods are needed to ensure the caps are completely removed.  This allows us to reap as much of the honey as possible.  The boys really enjoyed uncapping the comb and took turns throughout the process.  One thing I learned was the comb is capped on both sides so needs to be removed on both sides to extract all the honey.  It took a bit of time to do this.

We uncapped two frames at a time to place in the extractor.  We did this uncapping process over a five gallon bucket to catch any honey that flowed out.  Then we cranked the machine up to spin the honey out of the frames.  It did not take much from these eager boys to get the extractor going!  We then flipped the frames to extract the other sides.  Sometimes we would need to scrape comb that had not been uncapped the first time.

The first time we opened the spout at the bottom of the extractor the honey flow was so fast we almost lost the flow onto the floor instead of into the bucket.  We had set up an additional five gallon bucket with a net to catch the honey and other particles that would flow out from the comb.  The net would collect the waste, which often included  beeswax and bees that had flown into the extractor to recapture the honey.

The main bucket that was collecting our honey was reworked by Larry to have a spigot at the bottom.  This was nice as we can not bring the entire bucket into our house and remove honey as needed.  He was so kind, refusing to take money to pay for the supplies.

The nets were then pulled up and honey was allowed to drip out.  The main bucket collected about 2 gallons of honey and the cap bucket collected an additional half gallon.  That is not bad for a single super hive.  We were pleased.  We never planned to sell our honey so is was just the right amount for us to enjoy over the next year.  We might even be able to share a  little with friends and family.

We finished up by cleaning all our tools and placing the 'empty' frames out at the hive to allow the bees to clean off the excess honey we could not extract.  This should take about 12 hours.  Then we will place the empty frames in the freezer to avoid the spread of beetles and moths.  Once thee frames are rid of any possibility of insect damage we can place them in a dark area inside a plastic bag through the off season.  We will place this super along with the frames back on the hive next spring.  We might even be able to split our hive at this time.

This process was slow going for us amateurs.  We were outside in the heat for about 3 hours.  Larry was really feeling the heat and watched the boys in action.  It was good for the boys to have this opportunity to work with Marie who is so patient.  So with the combination of Larry's expertise and Marie's patience (along with lots of bottled water!), we survived our first real honey harvest.  We cannot thank our beekeeping friends enough for their hard work.  I would have never have been able to do this with the boys without their help.

Our faithful beekeeper cat was also around for the adventure!  He just could not stay away from the honey harvest.  He was good and did not get in the way.  He did not even get honey on his coat.  I really need to write a children's story about our beekeeper cat!

Another fun adventure that was made possible from our 4H adventures.  I am always so amazed at how many doors that have been opened to our family through the 4H programs.

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