The 2018 beekeeping season is nearly upon us, and I have yet to finish writing about the remaining stage of our first beekeeping season. There have been a variety of circumstances preventing me from writing sooner, but today I’m finally ready to present you with our final stages! I’ve had to “interview” Tiffany again to refresh myself as to the details, but Bees: Part 4 is about our first honey collection and extraction process!
The day that Scott and Tiffany went to gather the honey, I forgot to go with them, so I don’t have any pictures from that part of the harvest process. And the few pictures I grabbed of those steps in between bringing the frames back to the house and the time of extraction? They are currently stuck on a broken computer. So the only pictures I have for today are of the extraction process, courtesy of Tiffany! (Thanks, Tiff!)
Since it’s been so long since the whole process, I had to send Tiffany a list of questions to ask about the end of the season, so below, you will read my questions followed by her answers. After that, I’ll share the pictures she took of the extraction process.
Danielle: Do you remember what date (or month) it was that you and Scott collected the honey from the supers?
Tiffany: I don’t remember the exact date but I want to say it was sometime in September. Actually, I just looked at the date that I took the pictures on (which, of course was the day I extracted the honey) and that was 9/19 so it was around mid-September that we took the supers off.
Danielle: How many hives did you collect honey from?
Tiffany: We collected from 3 hives (out of 4). One of my hives died early on.
Danielle: What was the status/condition of the hives when you collected the supers?
Tiffany: The hives that we collected from we’re doing great when we took the supers. I don’t exactly remember what Scott’s looked like but my hive with the foundationless frames was doing really well.
Danielle: Did you check on the hives after collection?
Tiffany: I, personally, did not have a chance to check on the hives after collecting the supers. Living in Wisconsin, it was starting to get too cold to open the hives around that time and then I had a baby at the end of October. We bought a house about a month before extraction so that major move was at the forefront of our minds and the bees, unfortunately, got put on the back burner.
Danielle: So what was the final status report on the hives?
Tiffany: Scott would be able to answer this one better because he did a casual outside check on them about mid November (he did not open the hives) and he said he’s about 95% sure all 3 hives died.
Danielle: What were the biggest failures of this first beekeeping season for you and Scott?
Tiffany: Well, we had a few failures in beekeeping this first season, but we (or at least I) learned a lot. Right off the bat, the first failure of mine was taking the wrong end out of the queen cage. I don’t think it caused much of a problem in 3 of the hives but I’m thinking that the one hive that died early on was unsuccessful due to this error. I think they either killed the queen or she flew off.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this next one a failure but I had A LOT on my mind last summer. My time was focused on looking at houses, researching home buying options, and taking first time home buyer and financial classes to ready us for home ownership. And, of course, I was pregnant all last summer so between nausea, which lead to discomfort, leading to a big, awkward belly, and even more discomfort, etc…it was hard to think about doing anything let alone leaving the couch!
Another issue that was hard for me personally was that the hives were not at my house. Obviously, I knew this might be a bit of an issue going into our first year as beekeepers, but it was more of a struggle than I had anticipated. Yes, we were coming over at least every other week but things came up or we were tired or the weather was inclement, etc….it was a struggle to stay on schedule with checking the hives.
And finally, the biggest reason that we have to start anew this year was the fact that we bought a house in
August, had a baby in October, then you guys had the road trip, then it started getting too cold to check on the hives, and finally, the snow came, then the holidays and we just were not able to give them a final check or winterize them at all. It was disappointing but we learned a lot from those failures.
Danielle: What were our biggest successes (or were there any)?
Tiffany: The biggest success that I had throughout our first year of beekeeping was learning from our many failures. We did get honey in the end but the bees lives were (potentially) taken for it so I’m not sure if that was much of a success. What I mean is, if we would’ve just kept the honey on the hives, the bees might still be alive today but there are many other factors that play into this as well: it has been a frigidly cold winter which started earlier than normal-had they been properly winterized, they may have survived. Another factor was that we never did a mite check, so that could have been a reason for their death. *Note* We still have a lot of learning to do about the whole winterization and winter hive checks.
Danielle: What will you/we be doing differently in the coming year?
Tiffany: Some differences I, personally, will have this year will be that I won’t be pregnant and we won’t be moving! Also, I’ll be bringing my two hives to my house, so I will have a lot more time to check them and give them more thought and attention.
Danielle: What are you doing to prepare for this years beekeeping?
Tiffany: In preparation for beekeeping this year, I will be moving my hives to my house and if I can get time for it, I want to plant some bee-friendly flowers to aid in honey production.
Danielle: Of course, a thorough hive inspection will be due when the weather is nice, and it won’t be much of a bee season without bees, so we have ordered 4 new packages. And I am going to be working on attempting to grow lavender, which wouldn’t so much be a benefit to the bees this year as it’s recommended that blooms are cut the first year before flowering to encourage growth. But if all goes well, lavender is supposed to be great for honey bees and would be a long-term gain for us.
Danielle: So just how much honey did you extract from the hives?
Tiffany: I extracted 6 lbs. of honey from 3 out of 4 hives, and I gave you and Scott nearly a frame worth of comb with honey intact from one of the foundationless supers.
I feel it’s important to stress that there is a lot we didn’t know before beginning our first beekeeping season. Scott and Tiffany tried to spend as much time learning as they could before beginning, but there is only so much learning you can do before you start anything for the first time, and even as the season drew to a close, they knew there was still so much that the did not know. We’d be happy to hear any constructive criticism or advice, but please remember that we all start somewhere!
Normally, a beekeeper might “check” their hives in winter by listening for some activity, or if the weather isn’t too bad, by popping the lid of the hive open for a few seconds for a quick peek. Since our bees had appeared to have left before winter fully set in, we hadn’t done more than to just walk past the hives. I did walk up to the hives and listen the other day and to look for signs that the hive was still there (dead males outside of the hive) or for some kind of invasion (mice or other potential enemies to the hive) and did not see anything.
Here are the pictures of the extraction process. The first step was to remove the supers from the hives, and then I brought the super to Tiffany’s house after we were sure that all bees had left the super. One by one, she removed the frames from the super, and broke the comb out of the frame. Keep in mind that there are many different ways to go about the honey extraction process. We used part drawn-comb frames and part foundationless because we’d like to be able to us the beeswax in the future.
A super of frames, partially filled with honey.
The capped comb is filled with the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted!
More capped comb. The uncapped cells were just not filled this year.
Even before removing the caps the honey was leaking out of some of the cells.
After removing the comb from the frames, she broke apart and crushed the comb to break apart all of the cells so that the honey could be more easily removed. Pictured below is NOT all of the honeycomb, but merely a batch that she was working on.
To extract the honey, Tiffany broke off the honeycomb from the frames and put it in a pan.
A close-up of the crushed comb.
Using a potato masher, she smashed the comb to break apart all of the cells.
Continuing to mash….
After mashing comes straining. The comb was put in a mesh bag and left to strain the honey out into a five gal. pail.
Using a fine mesh bag, she put the mashed honeycomb in the bag and tied it to the handle of a 5 gal. pail.
She let the comb sit in the bag until the honey stopped coming out.
As Tiffany said above, she was able to extract about 6 lbs. of honey from the frames. Not too bad for first-time beekeepers! With less distractions and different circumstances, we are hoping to have an even better beekeeping season in 2018! And I just have to throw in there that this was the BEST honey I have ever tasted. I have always thought of honey being a bit… bitter or spicy (?) but this didn’t have any of that bite to it. We split the share of honey between the two families, and so far, I’ve just been using a scoop here and there for things like tea to use ours. Ours crystallized since we keep our house cold, so unless I want to heat the whole jar (which I don’t) I can really only scoop/scrape the honey out for now.
And now it’s time for you to respond! Is this going to be your first beekeeping season? Second? For those of you much more experienced than we are, do you have any tips or pointers for our upcoming season? How many of you would just never keep bees because you’d be to scared?
P.S. If you want to catch all of the other posts on our first year of beekeeping, here they are: