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.
Mimosa trees are in full bloom in Carolina, signaling the arrival of summer along with strong, heady honey and temps in the 90s.
In the mountains wild blackberries can be found everywhere, ripening up from roadside brambles. This was taken in Boomer, NC.
The advent of summer also signals diminishing food sources. I take heart when I see empty fields on city lots allowed to flower with natural weeds. This was a lot near a Target and Lowe's shopping center.
Beautiful, ain't it, these city weeds and grasses?
I took a peek into this hive and noticed a bad beekeeper error that the bees had made right: I left two empty slots in the top chamber above. So the bees attached beautiful combs to the underside of the lid and began filling it with summer honey. Unfortunately, my 5-minute peek into this hive became a bit longer of an adventure.
This fresh comb was full of early summer honey, and a little drone brood. I removed the brood comb from the honey comb, and did a crush and strain on the two combs of honey and nectar. It wasn't fully ready to harvest, about 65% done between the two combs. But even though it's a little runny, I realized I had a few extra pounds of delicious runny honey I could gobble up in the next month or two, and share some with honey-loving friends as well. It's flavor is stronger and color darker than the honey I harvested this spring. I find that dark honey is great in coffee, not so great in tea, while spring honey is what I prefer in my tea but not in my coffee. I would never sell this but boy does it taste delicious. Nothing wrong with it, just won't keep for very long on the shelf like fully cured honey will, whose moisture content has been reduced to 18.6% or less.
Proof that I finally made right the situation I caused in the first place. I was out of foundation for the time being so I made a starter strip out of the wedge for this frame and put it in place. Now it'll be removable for future inspections. Live and learn.
They also propolized the stuffing out of the inner cover (and you can see where they attached the combs in line, cool huh?). For the life of me I can't figure out which side goes down on these plastic inner covers. This was the flat side. Prying them off the boxes are a MAJOR pain. Why am I using inner covers anyway?! I ditched this and simply put my homemade insulated cover made from political signs and polystyrene insulation on top. No more propolis messes to contend with when removing the lids.
I have a low tolerance for suspicious frames and I had a few from failed queen starts I needed to get out of commission. Anything that looks spotty and doesn't smell quite right gets pulled out of the mix and melted down ASAP.
The brood, cocoons and other debris are all strained out (yuck).
Wax and propolis is floating atop the water. I had an idea!
I added more boiling water in to raise the level of water + wax + propolis and then re-strained the liquid. My bees spend 2 to 3 weeks ignoring commercially waxed Plasticell frames. They smell WEIRD! But if you put their own bit of waxy goodness on top, the bees jump all over the foundation and waste no time drawing it out.
I only had a few combs I'd melted down. Instead of waiting to harvest the wax and then remelt it later, why not coat the foundations now? Propolis and some dirt mixes in with the wax while the water drips off the frame. Less wax is used to re-coat the frames. Knock off the excess, flip over and repeat on the other side. Would this work? Only one way to find out. I got an additional 6 or 7 deep frames coated.
When the wax was used up and nothing but water was left hardly anything extra coated the frames except some propolis and little bits of extra wax. Still the sheets smelled MUCH BETTER than when I got them originally, and the commercial wax was still afixed to the Plasticell.
I was delighted to find honey bees all over the sheets an hour after I left them out to dry. They loved it!! Success, and now I know I can save time in harvesting wax and coating more Plasticell at the same time.
I also harvested the Duragilt plastic sheet from those old comb foundations and they were automatically re-waxed as I melted the old wax off. I strained everything out then dunked them back in the wax water. Everyone says that you can't re-use the sheets. Well, I aim to find out. This could be more trouble than its worth, but I love to experiment.
Another sign of summer is honey bees bearding on their hive fronts. When you see this it means several things: you have a GREAT queen making lots of bees, they need more space and they need improved ventilation. I added a shallow super above for them to draw (it was un-extra-waxed Plasticell, so they ignored it for a few weeks but have begun to draw it out), along with an extra ventilation shim. Staying cool on the front porch and in the shade is the name of the game in summertime here in beautiful Carolina.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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