With the goldenrod just blooming, it was time to go back into the honey bees for the first time since closing them up for the long, hot summer months.
I went for my biggest hive, which gave me 150 pounds of surplus honey and on which I left one medium and two shallows of honey to get them through. They had the equivalent of one medium and one full shallow of food left. I drove down, cleaning up excess burr comb along the way, remembering a bright idea I had that ended up causing more burr comb for my first re-entry, leaving an Imry shim atop a queen excluder mid-hive.
The bottom brood chamber was mostly empty, it seemed. No brood. But knowing bees shut down for the summer and the queen begins to relay once food starts coming back into the hive, I went through a few random deep frames, and then saw where most of the action was, three out from the end. The frame before it greeted me with the first pockets of fall bee bread, packed in from the new goldenrod flow. There she was, one of my beautiful black amber queens I fought to keep from swarming, successfully, who repaid me with so much delicious honey. She had just begun to lay once again, and I was delighted to not only see her, but this frame of larvae and eggs surrounded by lots of royal jelly. My bees were doing well.
I limited my time to just this one hive. One of my new goals is to rediscover the joyful aspects of beekeeping. It's so easy to let the chores, responsibility and worry pile up but when you do you lose the joy of it all. I repaid these wonderful honey bees with some much needed house cleaning, downsizing and a couple of oxalic acid glycerin sheets in-between the brood chambers.
I checked off a card-size inspection form I'd made but never used, putting down my joyful first note for fall atop that screened inner cover.
Pollen is starting to come in at a rapid pace, and with a bank holiday of President's Day, I pulled the first frames of the new year. It was a good thing, because my nuc's had lots to show me. First off, they'd strengthened over the winter from when I last left them.
New wax is a beautiful sight to behold, especially in February. It means that the bees are doing fantastic, and could use some more room. When I see new wax, I know that the queen is laying, because young bees make new wax. And they also make wax when they need extra places to store food and lay eggs.
This nuc queen laid in every cell she had. So I doubled her room and gifted the colony some frames of drawn comb. It was great to see no Varroa mites in these cells. My winter oxalic treatment apparently has done the bees well.
And voila, the first frame of brood for 2018. It's a glorious sight to see a pretty rock solid brood pattern this early in the season, and the queens raring to go. There was no sign of drone cells on this President's Day, so I've got a small window to prep for swarm season. But that's only a couple weeks away. Hello, 2018!
This summer has proven to be a bountiful one. The honey flow is still on, though in its waning days. This honey bee drinks from a sunflower that's part of a fallow bed planted with flowers and peas in our garden. After they've had their fill, we'll turn this bed over, top it with black plastic for a couple weeks, and then top with newspaper and fresh soil in prep for fall plantings. Currently the flowers are topping 6 feet in height!
In addition to the sunflowers, this tree is in full bloom here in Charlotte. I have no idea what it's called, and I suspect it's some sort of an invasive species. However, the honey bees enjoy its blossoms. I snapped this shot just outside our favorite Vietnamese restaurant here on the east side.
Honey harvest part one kicked off June. Here you can see that my one honey hive grew taller than myself. My big brother Tim took this shot on honey harvest day, just after I returned the wet frames to the hive for cleanup. On the bottom board is queen excluder, which wonderfully kept the queen been inside this hive, even though it did cast off what apparently was an over-crowding swarm. She's still in there laying away, thanks to the excluder on the bottom board. I also put an excluder on when the flow was in full force and they'd already drawn out a box of comb filled with nectar. I ran out of shallow boxes, and needing more deep drawn comb I eventually bottom supered this hive with a deep. They drew out the Plasticell foundation in a month, and come the first of June it was full of nectar but not honey. So whatever additional honey is in there will come off soon this hot month of July. Shown in this photo, in addition to a happy beekeeper, is the excluder on the bottom board followed by a deep, medium and shallow brood chamber, another queen excluder then the remaining deep of honey. On top of that deep you can see a white vinyl inner cover, then I put an empty super above that, then the supers containing the wet, extracted honey frames. My friend and mentor George taught me the inner cover PLUS an empty super trick. The inner cover and empty super convinces the honey bees to transfer any remaining droplets of honey on those wet frames down to the hive proper below, and discourages them from storing any additional nectar in those wet frames. Therefore you end up with dry, cleaned combs ready for storage and a boost to next years honey harvest.
My mentee this year, Heather Hayes, came over and I lost no time in putting her to work harvesting honey. She discovered the proper way to use an uncapping fork, and how efficient it can be.
My big brother Tim, who got me into bees many years ago as a youngster, also helped with the harvest. This year I made things easier on all of us: I rented our bee club's motorized extractor. WHY in the world I waited seven years to rent the club extractor for just a few dollars, well, I guess it's just because I'm hard-headed and a slow learner. All I know is, I'm never looking back after that wonderful, motorized extraction experience. No more hand-cranking. We also dispensed with the hot knife, and just used a serrated cold knife. It worked AMAZINGLY, and not a touch of heat was applied to my honey as it was released. I think this will yield an even more amazingly delicious harvest. When I sell raw wildflower honey, I want it pure, clean and untouched by heat. We also tried used a roller device. I called it the pokey roller. It was easy to open the cells, but we soon found out that the frames did NOT extract easily. It took MUCH longer to spin the honey out of the pokey roller frames, so we switched back to the cold knife and uncappings fork, and soon we were off to the extraction races.
A little trick I learned last year and repeated this year: once the harvest was complete, I crushed by hand all of the honey cappings to speed up the draining process. In the summer heat, it only took a couple days for all of the honey to drip out of the crushed cappings wax.
This year my focus has been on producing and selling nucleus colonies. Brood patterns are still super tight, and I haven't even begun to treat yet. They remain tight and solid on my nucs with new queens that came online in May and June. But it is only a matter of time, so soon all of my hives will be treated with natural Thymol gel to help rid them of Varroa Destructor mites, which explode in the summer months. Fortunatelly I've surpassed my initial forecast and have been blessed. I still AM selling nuc's, so if you're interested make sure you reserve yours today. Soon I will be sold out and turning my focus to down-sizing for fall and winter in prep for next spring. A beekeeper's life is always spent 4 to 6 months in advance ... at least for the smart ones. I wasn't so smart at the beginning of this year, and spent March, April and May chasing bees all over my backyard. But what fun lessons I learned while capturing those swarms. Still, more lessons learned.
Another round of new queens have successfully come online. This one ended up going to my friend and mentee Chris, who found himself with a hot, pissy hive on his hands. I visited him to kick off July, dispatching the queen and selling him this beauty. I managed to do the morning deed with only one sting in the process. Still I commended Chris for doing what is required of all good beekeepers: maintaining sweet and gentle honey bees, and not allowing defensive genetics to rule the apiary.
I've been enjoying the sweet amazing aromas of magnolias this summer. Here is a beautiful blossom in the morning sun as dew evaporates off its gorgeous white petals.
We've been blessed by summer rains this year. Not too much and from what I can tell not too little, but always in the guise of a storm. Tiger lilies are even more beautiful and breathtaking after summer showers, welcoming the promise of a new day in the sun.
Bees for Sale
Get the very best in Charlotte's local nucleus colonies for sale, with a personal touch, by clicking HERE.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
Subscribe by email