Sunday, July 29, 2012

I'm in love with a bug...

...or more precisely,  a couple of hundred thousand bugs! Gordon gave me a hand with my beehives today. I put on some bee escapes so I can extract some honey this week. It was stinking hot in our bee suits, but we had the sense not to shower until AFTER we did the inspections.


There is no bee suit on earth that is flattering to the female figure! I do, however, LOVE my new Paul Kelly Bee Belt. LOVE it. I don't lose my hive tool anymore; it attaches to the belt with a magnet and is always right where i Need it. And yes, I need to paint that hive box two down. As per usual, things got ahead of me this season and I needed to slap on another super before I had time to paint it! I'll sort it out soon. Some people never paint their boxes. I'm branching out into some new colours. This year it's lime green!

And here's my trusty helper...


Gordon always wears gloves because he's more comfortable that way. He also reacts to bee stings much more than I do.  Two years ago he got stung on the lip and channelled Angelina Jolie for a week.  He gets a lot of swelling with his stings, although he is not allergic. I hardly react at all.

Beekeepers all have different opinions on gloves. I can't stand them, because I feel that they inhibit the dexterity of my fingers and I'm more likely to squish a bee (which makes the other bees angry!) But then, I don't blow up like a balloon when I'm stung. I do always remove my rings before going in the hive, in case something happens and I get stung on the hand. I wouldn't want to have to have my wedding ring cut off a swollen finger!

I sucked Gordon into beekeeping because I need someone to help me with the heavy lifting. A full shallow honey box can weigh 30 lbs or more. I can lift 30 lbs, but lifting it to the level of a booming four- or five-box hive is more difficult for me. Plus I've had a lot of back problems this year, so I'm trying to take better care of my lower spine. With the two of us, lifting boxes is no problem.

I use shallow boxes for honey as they are lighter. Some people use mediums. If you look at the hives in the above photo, you can see that the bottom two boxes (deeps) are quite a bit taller than the shallows. The queen stays down in those two boxes laying eggs, and that's where the brood develops and hatches. They also keep some pollen and nectar down there, but that's strictly for the bees to consume. They need food too, so I don't steal all their honey!

Not everyone uses queen excluders. I didn't last year, but I get tired of removing brood from my honey frames before extracting. The excluder is just a sort of screen that the worker bees can fit through, but the queen can't. So she can't go up and lay eggs in the honey super. As a result, you just get nice honey up there.

Some people call queen excluders "honey excluders", and I think it's true that you probably get less honey than you would without them (the bees don't particularly like them) but for me, I'm happier not having brood to deal with in my shallows. There are ways to keep the brood out without a queen excluder, but I find it easier just to use them!

Some of my beekeeping friends (and most commercial beekeepers) use deep boxes for honey, but when they are full, they can weight 90 - 100 lbs, and that's just too much for me to lift, even with Gordon's help. I don't like to lift over 40 - 45 lbs and even then I'm very careful.

When I took the cover off today, some of the bees had built burr comb under the lid. This is just extra honeycomb they like to fit into odd spaces. The stuff in the picture below was being filled with honey. I scraped off some and we chewed the wax and enjoyed the wonderful honey inside. YUM! I did take the bees off first. :)


This comb is very white because it's very new and clean. The bees have just made it in the last little while. As honeycomb is used it becomes darker, first taking on that yellowy-brown shade we think of when we hear the words "beeswax", then finally turning almost black with the detritus of hive life. When comb gets too old, a beekeeper removes those frames and melts them down to render the wax. 

It's good to get rid of old dark comb regularly. As the junk builds up, the cells become smaller, which eventually means you raise smaller bees, because the eggs have less space to develop in the cells. It's smart to ditch old, dark comb and get rid of all the residues and crap in there. Much healthier for the bees!

I love this next photo...


Worker bees around the table! The comb broke open when I took off the top, so they are all busy drinking back the exposed honey. They store it in their "honey stomachs" and regurgitate it into cells in another part of the hive. Someone called a honey stomach a "nectar backpack" and I really like that description. It's the place where they store nectar and honey while they move it from place to place.


There's a lot going on in this photo. I especially like the two girls on the lower right chatting to each other.



I have a lot of affection for my honeybees and I want them to do well. I love to sit by the hive and watch their comings and goings on a sunny day. Honeybees really are not aggressive unless you are threatening them or their hive directly, and even then, they tolerate an awful lot (unlike wasps and hornets!) I get stung very rarely at the hive. I've been stung more in the garden, doing things like accidentally stepping on a honeybee.

And this always makes me smile...


...a frame full of honey! They have almost finished capping the cells, which means they have dried the honey to more or less the correct moisture percentage. 17-18% is usually what we aim for. If honey has too much moisture in it, it can ferment! Usually capped honey is at the correct stage, but not always. This year I bought myself a good refractometer so I can accurately check the moisture level of my honey.

THis has been a great summer for bees around here and my local fellow beekeepers are getting great harvests. I'm going to have possibly 300 lbs of honey by the end of the summer. We'll see!

Be kind to bees and they'll be kind to you. :)


33 comments:

  1. Great pictures and you look lovely but handling bees can't be easy. Great work.

    Hugs
    Elna

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    1. Thank you Elna! I really enjoy being with the bees. :)

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  2. I loved this post, Nat! One of my favourites so far.

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    1. Oh thanks Steve! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. BETTER than Wild Kingdom! Natalie, I have learned so much from your blog...ALL about the birds and the bees, heh heh.
    What do you do with all your honey?

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    1. I used to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom all the time as a kid! One of my fav shows.

      I sell most of our honey. I keep some for us, give some to special people, and sell the rest. I haven't been able to meet the demand for it but I should have a decent amount to sell this year!

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  4. Very informative, Natalie. I love that you care so much for them. They certainly pay you back. Wish I was closer to buy some of that nectar of the Gods. Deb

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    1. Well when I finally do meet you, I will be sure to bring a jar of honey!

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  5. wait a minute... if your honey ferments... does that mean you have free mead????

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    1. WOuldn't that be nice? Probably more like honey paint-stripper!

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  6. I'm also wondering what you do with the honey. Would you do a post on the next stage? It's really interesting to learn about bee-keeping, especially with your charming perspective on it!

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    1. We sell most of the honey. I will definitely do a post on extracting! Stay tuned. :) Glad you enjoy learning about it. I do love my girls and want to show other people what great creatures honeybees are.

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  7. Do you give bee Courses? This is just like a course on bees. I have never had anything to do with bees other than eat honey so this is all very interesting.
    Now the suit? Looks like you're ready to go in space!

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    1. I don't but when I lived in Nova Scotia, I volunteered at the Natural History Museum and taught little kids about the observation hive in the museum. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot!

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  8. 300 lbs of honey? that's a lot of honey!!!
    How do you scrap it off without killing or angering any bees?

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    1. I will do a post! I put a "bee escape" under the honey box I want to empty and leave it for at least three days. The bees go down through the hole into a sort of maze, and can't find their way out up again. After three days, the box willl be pretty much empty of bees, and you can gently brush off any stragglers on the frames inside.

      I have one friend who just extracted 1,600 lbs of honey, and another did 450 lbs!

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  9. I love bees and it is so great to learn about them! They are amazing and I would love to sit by the bee hive and watch them come and go, listen to their buzz, ...

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    1. It's actually very relaxing watching them come and go.

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  10. As soon as I regain enough self & alimentary-tract control and my new, stronger medication kicks in and I stop screaming and clawing at the my body with my fingernails and writing "aaaarggghh! the insects are coming! the insects are coming!" on the walls in my own blood I'm going to comment on your lovely post.

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    1. I see you haven't recovered yet! :)

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  11. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this post. Bees are gorgeous. My Dad was a great fan of bees and passed his love and respect for them onto me.
    Jane x
    PS We need a fundraiser to pay for Owl Woods meds.

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    1. I'm glad you loved it! :) I am always so happy to find other people who care about bees as much as I do!

      And yes, perhaps a telethon for Owl Woods! ;)

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  12. Great post! I love hearing all about your bees and the work they do. (as well as yours!). Save me a jar!

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  13. "There is no bee suit on earth that is flattering to the female figure"

    Perhaps not, but Gordon looks disturbingly fetching in his one...

    Fascinating stuff about bees, as ever

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    1. It's oh-so-manly on a man!!

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  14. What kind of bee escape did you use, the Porter of the three way. We didn't do bee escapes this year. We did the shake and brush method. The bees were much more calm. They didn't get upset until we broke some honey comb, but still their reaction wasn't extreme.

    I'm with Gordon; I have to wear gloves especially after the bad reaction(hives)I had to the last sting. I do wish, though, I could go gloveless.

    Great post!

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    1. Aack, sorry I didn't answer this!! The Quebec or three-way escape.

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  15. 300 POUNDS!? My heart skipped a beat. I consume 1 pound per week so that would last me almost 6 years. Honeybees are fascinating. Great post Natalie!

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  16. Knatolee, I would like to get one of Paul Kely's bee belts but not aware of how I can get in touch with him...are you able to help?
    Thanks

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  17. Knatolee, I would like to get one of Paul Kely's bee belts but not aware of how I can get in touch with him...are you able to help?
    Thanks

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    1. Hi Tom! Go here and Paul Kelly's contact info is at the bottom of the page. Just email him and ask for a belt. He's very good about replying. :)

      http://www.uoguelph.ca/honeybee/about.shtml

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Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!