Sunday, July 22, 2012

One of the craziest things I have ever done.

We harvested our honey!

End of story!

Sometimes I know that you wish I was a woman of few words, but your wish will not come true today.  The whole experience was more than I could have imagined.  There were times over the last few months that I was sure we would not harvest honey at all this year.  Our spring rains came at the wrong time, and while we had wildflowers out there, they died back quickly.  After spending countless hours inspecting my hives, checking my queens, supplementing them with sugar syrup, and tracking their progress, I really felt like there wouldn't be enough to share.  When I say "share", I mean for them to share with me.

There was a lot of work involved in getting these hives going.  They started out small and had to build up their population.  Then they were faced with the task of building their comb on the frames in the Supers.

F.Y.I. - It takes a bee more energy to make wax then it does for them to make honey.

Once this was well underway, we experienced a huge population boom, and they began the process of making honey.  Due to the lack of rain, the honey flow was very short this season.  I kept watch over them, and was really surprised to watch them go to work.  In Texas, we harvest our honey in July.  Not a great time for the beekeeper, but there is a flower that starts blooming the end of July that will make your honey bitter.  For this reason, you have to get over your need for air conditioning and just get too it.

I am lucky enough to know a great couple that live nearby that are also beekeepers.  Knowing that I am a newbie to the trade, they invited me to come and watch their harvest of honey.  I met up with them, and they were harvesting five Supers this year.  We went to the bee yard, and began the process of removing the boxes from the hives.  It took about 45 minutes to an hour to remove the five boxes, and they were heavy.  Once inside they began the daunting task of cutting the caps off of the frames, then putting them in the extractor.  It sounds easy enough, but it is wax, and there is honey, and you get sticky.  Everything gets sticky.  This is not so bad considering that you also get to sample the honey.  It is time consuming though.  Once they had uncapped twenty frames, and had the extractor loaded, they began spinning the honey out.  This is about the time that I had to leave.

I am very grateful for the experience.  It gave me a heads up on what to expect the following week when I would be harvesting my own honey.  It also made me feel like we wouldn't be harvesting very much at all.  The difference between their frames and mine, made me feel certain that it would be more of a learning experience than anything else. 

As part of my class on bee keeping, I was able to harvest my honey in my instructor's honey house.  It is an hour and half drive from my place.  The logistics of making all this happen became interesting.  For one, it is hot outside and you don't really want your supers sitting in the sun.  It would be an awful waste if the caps melted and your honey drained out before you even got there.  I had scheduled my harvest for 11:00 am, and the night before, we began trying to plan out our schedule for the next morning.  For me, it is easiest to start at the appointed time and move backwards.

11:00  Honey Harvest

9:30  Meet my favorite Sister-in-law because I am dragging her with me.

9:00  Leave the house.

8:00  Jump in the shower

7:30  Pull the Supers from the hives

6:30  Feed the horses, the chickens, and clean the barn.

6:00  Get up, feed the dogs and let them out.

5:30  Alarm goes off because I know that I will hit snooze several times.

After discussing the schedule with my Full-timer, we took a deep breath and went to bed.  Everything started as planned, and I was making progress on the schedule.  It all went wrong when we got to the hives.  In my previous harvesting experience, we pulled five boxes in less than and hour.  I had allotted a half an hour to pull two boxes.  This did not go as planned. 

The process of removing the boxes starts with removing the lids on the hives.  Spraying a fume board with an herbal spray, then placing it on top of the hive.  Then you wait.  The smell, which wasn't terrible by-the-way, drives the bees from the box you are harvesting, into the boxes below.  In theory, you then remove the top box, replace the lids, and you are done.

This is not what happened.

I made all my mistakes with the first box.  Only finding this out after actually reading the instructions on the bottle.  For starters, you spray the fume board heavier on the outside because the bees tend to congregate on the outer sides of the box.  Also, you should leave the board on the hive for about five minutes.  Five minutes is an eternity when you are anxious to get things going and get on the road.  After spending a lot of time with a bee brush, brushing the remaining bees off the frames, the first box was done.  Then after reading the instructions, the second box went much faster.  This was the craziest part of the experience.  It was a little more than chaotic, and bees were everywhere.  After taking way too much time to accomplish this task, we made it back to the house and realized we had about 25 minutes to shower and get out of here.

After the mad rush to shower and dress, we were on the road.  I met my Sister, and we began the long haul over there.  We were a few minutes late, but that seemed to work out okay in the end.  There are no pictures of the initial craziness because no one had free hands to do that.  The following pictures are of the harvest.

This is a heated knife that cuts the caps off of the comb so that the honey can be spun out of the frames.

This is my partner in crime for the day.  I put her right to work.  Sometimes the knife can't reach or misses some of the capping and you have to use a scraper.

Once the frames are uncapped, they are placed in a twenty frame extractor.  Once loaded, we turn it on and out spins the honey. 

This is Blake...I have no idea what we were talking about.

The above process is tedious and messy.  The wax is sticky and it gets on everything.  I bet I washed my hands about fifty times while we were there.  We did also sample honey from the caps, chewing on the wax, and completely enjoying every drop. 

Then the moment of truth.

The honey was run through two filters to remove the wax capping that was spun out in the process, and that is it.  I may be a little partial due to all the blood, sweat, and tears that I have put into this project, but this honey is awesome.  It is very light in color, silky smooth, and very sweet.

After all the work, and the tasting, we got out of there and went and had some lunch.  Real food with out sugar.

Thanks, Sis, for the help, the company on the trip, and for being my photographer.  You're the best.


  1. Blake has on a Tech shirt! Good guy! You look like my sister! Interesting blog.

  2. Did you see that the First Lady has her own bee hive at the White House and that the staff uses that honey to make the White House beer in the micro brewery. New side business, local honey beer at Crossroads Farms.

  3. Not to impart political views here, but I try to avoid the first lady and the white house garden blah, blah, blah. I think it is great they have an organic garden and bees, but the government still subsidizes corn and soy and every other bad thing in our food.

    On a side note, we did a moisture content test on our honey when we harvested. We were at about 16.5% moisture, which is great. Any thing over 20% and your honey will ferment. At this point you would be making Mead. It is my understanding that if that were to happen there are steps you can take to correct it, but it is a process.