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.
White clover is in full bloom. It makes me a bit guilty to cut the "grass". I always give the girls a chance to finish up their foraging before I do.
T's Bees had a happy time pollinating my long-ignored and still-shouldn't-be-there apple tree this year. And we may get a few apples out of it.
My uncapping tank allowed all those extra fat, juicy comb cappings that were cut off during honey extraction to drain. I went on vacation and came back to this pleasant surprise.
I weighed the results after the cappings tank honey was filtered. It ended up being 28 pounds more of honey! Apparently, the numbers on the tank correspond (roughly) to pounds of honey yielded from the cappings. Pretty cool, hunh?
A magnificent mystery tree in full bloom. What is this thing?
I call it the "Rasta Tree" because of it's blooms that look like dreadlocks.
When I returned home I also was welcomed by my spiffy new license plate, thanks to an effort spearheaded last year by the Watauga County Beekeepers (way to go!!!).
This was the view of my apiary when I left. Peaceful and serene with a peach tree weighing down with fruit overlooking the apiary.
When I returned I was also delighted to find the two now queen-right nuc's in my queen castle had really exploded. That was great. What wasn't great? This nuc was agitated and it took me no time to see why: water had collected in the bottom of the "castle" and not drained out. It rained the whole time we were away, and these nuc's were unhappy. I suddenly went into "Oh, SNAP!" mode, had to make two more insulated outer covers for nucs and transfer these girls into decent digs, complete with screened bottom boards. While doing so, I removed one seriously cross-combed brood frame that I'd been putting off (when I spotted the queen on another frame, I knew it was time to take it), and a couple of others in the adjacent nuc. Both seem much happier now.
This is my favorite new tool of the trade: a dampened rag looped onto my pants. No more constantly sticky fingers completely mucking up everything, including my mobile phone screen as I try to take photos.
"Wow-ee, look at all those bees pass by my kitchen window," I said to Yvonne a couple hours after finishing up, including situating those nucs. Remember those cross-combs of brood? I put them in the queen castle, lidded it and put it in the sun at the edge of my carport. Apparently all the bees in the apiary were quite interested!
Even after I removed the box the bees were determined that something of value had been there. They could smell it, so they started pooling on this corner. Weird. Fortunately, this didn't set off robbing in the apiary. I knew that by going back to the hives and while seeing the heavy traffic there was no fighting on the landing boards and the hives weren't in a defensive mode (meaning, stinging everything and one that comes near them).
I solved the situation temporary by moving the queen castle to a shady part of the carport and then putting a bed sheet atop it. Throughout the rest of the day I lifted a corner and fanned bees out from under it until no more remained. One thanked me with a sting on my middle finger (it's ALWAYS the middle finger).
Our tiger lilies are in bloom. I didn't think that honey bees liked them but sure enough I've spotted one furiously working a blossom. I think it's a nectar source for them.
More random pretty flowers from neighbors mailboxes. I just love these colors, especially in the morning dew.
And the magnolias are quite magnificent here in May. I so love their aromas from these giant puffs of marshmallow white the size of dinner plates, filling the town with more Carolina magic and beauty. I drink it in.
These mid-spring days are magical, filled with the amazing scent of Confederate jasmine. The tulip poplar flow is on and heavy now but recently something "changed" in the mix. I could tell by the smells in the apiary. I'm pretty sure it's the jasmine. Magical.
I was checking in on 5 new nuc's I was hoping contained newly mated queens. Only two were found, so a 40% success rate. I was hoping for more, but be thankful with what you have. I couldn't help but dwell on that 60% negative. But it was beautiful to see this girl moving about, another amber beauty (she's in the top center portion of the frame). It's a lot of moving pieces and parts around, timing and sheer luck. Oh, and I found this one on an end frame in the box. Everyone loves to say how rare it is to find queens on end frames. This was the third or fourth time this year.
When I opened up this little nuc, I was greeted with this, an excited worker bee surprised at my intrusion, exuding wax scales from two of the eight wax glands on the underside of her abdomen. Here you can tell the scales actually come off in a geometric form, pretty close to the hexagonal shape their comb takes. I confirmed another new queen has safely returned and online, laying wonderfully in another new nuc.
That's a good thing, because my favorite queen, the 2014 White Dot Queen? Missing! Not only missing, but no eggs found in her colony, which had exploded in just a month. Only capped brood was found and lots of nectar and pollen, so they're backfilling under the heavy flow and the queen has been absent for at least 10 days. Not good. But then my eyes caught this. Hard to see from the untrained eye, but you can see bees covering two queen cells. I parted them with a little breath of air.
This is a couple days later, but the view was the same: two queen cells that had emerged. So, either the colony had swarmed with my favorite old queen (unlikely since the number of bees has only grown) OR they superseded her and a new virgin queen is somewhere in the hive (OR, the beekeeper inadvertently killed her on his last inspection, but I swear I didn't). Another "failure". But something happened. And maybe the bees know best? She was two years old and has given me daughter queens and other colonies and honey as a result. So no, not a failure, just her time.
To make best use of time, I gifted them a frame of eggs and larvae, and two swarm cells underway from another hive. Wait, SWARM CELLS?!! Yep, my best honey production hive filling top to bottom with bees and honey, the first new queen of 2016, was getting ready to leave! She was TOO full and prepping to swarm. A couple of days later I successfully found that queen and artificially swarmed her and a contingent to another box, where I am keeping them confined for a few days. Another nuc has begun. So I removed one frame that had beginning swarm cells and gifted it to the White Dot Queen colony just to make sure they weren't queenless. It doesn't hurt to help the bees hedge their bets. If they don't want the swarm cells, they'll tear them down, but if they do they'll be much happier I gave it to them.
So back to the 2016 Queen-A group: they had just one other frame with beginning swarm cells on it, two, and some eggs left, so they should make yet another new queen. Things are going F-A-S-T here in the super heavy nectar flow. It's making my head spin!! One big boomer hive will stay, hopefully, and continue to put up honey while making a new queen, provided I free up space for a new queen to lay in once she's online.
I happily saw this beautiful site looking in on one of the new nuc starts I was attempting. See her? Look in the bottom right corner, hiding in the crease between the bottom bar and the fat honey comb above. There you'll see a gorgeous long light amber queen!
Here's a better view. You can also see the eggs she's begun laying in a gorgeous tight brood pattern. Another success! Two out of five isn't all that bad, I told myself.
But uh-oh, here's why I'm finding swarm cell preparations in my whopper hive with a two-month-old queen. They'd drawn out combs, filled it and distilled all that nectar into honey in just a month. It was mind-boggling. But it was also a problem. A honey-bound hive will swarm and that's a big no-no for a beekeeper who wants to keep as many of his awesome queens as possible.
To add to my previously perceived troubles, I found this in another nuc that was trying to make a queen, an emergency cell. Not sure what the story is there, other than they didn't like the new queen very well and instantly started prepping to supersede her. Always trust the bees is my motto. I gently set this back and will gift them some eggs when I check back after a long-awaited vacation.
Remember when I said perceived troubles? Well the mind's a funny thing. It and your eyes will play tricks on you. I checked back in on another nuc that had "failed". But I gave them another shot, gifting them some eggs and brood. Time passed, and I was happy to see this new queen running about. So a previous "failure" was actually a success! It was just a matter of time, and now makes me super excited to check back in on the remaining two colonies that I thought didn't make a new queen. So far, 3 new queens are online and laying happily, and possibly more. My success rate was now 60%. Time to stop letting the mind play tricks on me. Oh, and yes, this was an end-frame, too! Fifth time this year, and counting. A word to the wise, be gentle when you pull EVERY frame, including the end frame, because you just never know where she might be.
Having averted a swarm, it was time to take off honey from these hives to open up the brood nest as well as give them lots more empty comb to put even more honey in. A lot of extra work I hadn't counted on, but so bee it! You've got to act when they need you to, or slightly before if possible. The nectar flow is only halfway done and should last, Lord willin', another 6 weeks or so. Didn't I say things were moving fast? Sure are. Here's what a gorgeous super fat frame of honey looks like uncapped and ready to extract.
It was glorious to see the liquid gold running once more. This always makes a beekeeper happy, but his customers will be even more happy. They've been quite anxious to get a taste of this year's raw, local honey! I don't blame them. It's amazing.
I had a bright idea to speed up the filtering process. Tried it out and it worked. The honey is passed through a series of filters, but the weight of the honey bogs down the filters one atop the other, making for a LOOOOOONG draining process.
Here's the tip of the season: a wine cork cut in half. Once I separated the filters just a bit, the honey filtered and flowed into the harvest bucket pronto. I love me some low-tech solutions! And drinking the wine to get the corks also is a nice treat.
This year I had several goals. One was to start selling bees, which I successfully have. It's my favorite part of beekeeping, the raising of the bees. But I'm often told I can't do both, raise bees and harvest honey. So I had a modest honey goal of 75 pounds. In just my first harvest this year I took off 77 pounds, possibly more once the cappings tank finishes draining out. So goals achieved, and the season is still underway! Time to really look at successes for what they are, instead of constantly perceiving failures where there are truly only blessings. Enjoy the season. This is my favorite one so far.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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