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.
I definitely love my new office. It doesn't get better than this. Springs magnificence is something to bee-hold, and I'm so glad to I get to truly enjoy it this year. The tulip poplar trees are in full bloom, and honey is trucking into the hives at a massive rate. This is the foremost food supply of our bees here in the Piedmont of the Old North State. Aren't they beautiful? I am lucky that my neighborhood is surrounded by an amazing grove of these awesome trees with flowers the size of your fist supplying a huge supply of delicious nectar to my honey bees.
With an amazing nectar flow comes an amazing swarm season. Many swarm cells were taken from my big honey producing hive this year. Fortunately for me, the hive returned from its initial swarm while I was away from "the office", some 35 feet up a tree, back to its hive. I found the queen, corralled her for a bit, made several new starts off these gorgeous queen cells, knocked down the rest, gifted them a super of drawn comb that she can lay in, did a little bit of checkerboarding, put a queen excluder on the bottom board in case they wanted to swarm out again to prevent the queen from leaving with them (so they'd return) and knocked down all remaining queen cells.
Such gorgeous queen cells are yielding amazing split opportunities, which means MORE NUC's! I am making and selling nucleus colonies this year, and loving the ride.
T's bes are drawing out foundation as fast as I put it in and filling it up with nectar from all the foliage that this spring is yielding.
I've been leaving all these purple tiny whatever flowers in my yard, which is taking over my grass. I mow it when I have to, but put my mower at a high setting so the bees can enjoy the nectar these tiny blooms have to offer.
We had a three-day period of major rainfall recently. Even during temperatures in the low- to mid-50's and rain all around, the honey bees made their way to the old watering hole at the birdbath turned bee bath whenever they could. Once trained on a water source, they come back no matter what.
I put up a couple of swarm traps, one in the tree that my honey hive originally swarmed to before returning to its hive. Immediately scout bees checked out the traps!
Here are a couple of scout bees checking out the trap I'd just installed. The best swarms are the ones that come to you. But they won't if you don't have your swarm traps up!
These magnificent flowers, not irises but I think something of a relative, not only brighten a rainy day but provide a gorgeous plate for my honey bees to enjoy some food.
Our blackberries and raspberries are also exploding, and my honey bees are having a ball pollinating those flowers as well. Yes, THIS is truly the best office I have ever had, praise the Lord!
If you would've told me in January that I'd have nucleus colonies and swarms coming out of my ears, as well as a bountiful honey harvest underway I may have been skeptical. This swarm was captured on Palm Sunday. It was hanging on a peach tree branch above my apiary. Another "God sign" and blessing. This came just days after I sold several nuc's to my friend George.
There it was, hanging just a few feet above. Capturing this swarm gave me a chance to try my handy-dandy telescoping swarm bucket that I built for about $22 all told. A rock solid investment. Worked like a charm!
The swarm bucket is awesome. I can now collect swarms easily that are 18 feet off the ground, or less. After spraying them with sugar water, I shook them into the bucket. Then, I dropped them into a nuc box with 3 frames removed. I was certain the queen was in there, and fanners told me that was the case.
I use an old bed sheet to help the bees quickly march up and into their new home. I took a couple of trips back to the tree with the swarm bucket and just dumped them onto the sheet. In they marched.
And then, once a baggy feeder I put atop the frames started leaking? Well, OUT they came en masse! I heard them swarming back out in a haste and knew I couldn't stop them. Lesson learned on the baggy feeder (I put too much syrup into the baggy, and since this little box had a solid bottom, they did not like that one whit. I know I like to sweeten the deal, but this is what overdoing it will get you.
So, this is what it looked like in just a few minutes: swarm #2 for the day, same group of bees on the same branch. I was REALLY breaking in my new swarm bucket! Swarming bees have their bee guts filled with honey before they take off for the initial flight, so my adding food immediately was an ill-fated move. Live and learn.
Not exactly knowing why they'd swarmed out again, this time I took further precautions. I installed the bees in a different location in my apiary annex (I'm expanding by nucs and swarms!) into a full size deep hive body. I gifted them a cross-combed, food-filled Duragilt frame from the freezer. I knew keeping it around for just this reason was a good idea.
Definitely got the queen (again) on this second capture. Look at all those bee butts in the air signaling she was inside.
I also took a page out of my friend George's book and did the "McAllister technique": I put a queen excluder atop the bottom board first, then the hive body on top of it. That way if the colony and queen decide to up and leave, she will be preventing from leaving and they'll all return back to into the hive, which is EXACTLY where I want to keep these beautiful bees.
This was my 10th swarm capture in my bee yard, and 11th overall. I only had 8 colonies coming out of winter so this was definitely a gift from God. I keep making bees, and selling them earning some extremely valuable income as I'm still looking for my next career move following a corporate layoff. And the good Lord above keeps giving them to me. I'll take each and every gift with a big smile on my face, and many thanks lifted up. This sure is a fun and rewarding way to go!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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