I bottled my honey last night. I can’t quite express the thrill of my first harvest.
It took a couple days to let the crushed honey drip through the strainer. The weather was not nearly as warm as the ideal, but my oven’s bread proofing setting came to rescue again. This setting keeps the oven temperature at 100F. To help it along, I moved the straining honey into the oven and periodically turned the oven on for a while, then off. It worked out well.
So what was the final yield? The bees made me 5 quarts of honey. Honey is usually reported in weight, so that’s about 13 pounds, almost half the full capacity of a honey super. I just usedcanning jars because that’s what I had on hand. The final step is to make a pretty label for my jars. I still have to do that.
One more thing, a few people asked what the bees do now. As the weather gets colder, and the frost and cold ends this season’s life cycle for the plants, there isn’t anything new for them to eat. They have packed the hive with honey to sustain them. In addition, from now until Thanksgiving, I’ll feed them a thick sugar syrup, which they can convert to winter honey to fill in any empty spaces in the hive. When the weather gets too cold for them to leave the hive, they will cluster inside the hive, keeping it around 95F. It’s not hibernating, but it’s slower pace than summer. In the spring, they will start all over again.
I’ve been lax about sharing my beekeeping experiences this season. Honestly, they’ve been low-maintenance, and I abandoned weekly inspections during their aggressive period back in late May, so there wasn’t that much to talk about.
Well, now it’s time to reap the rewards of the season. My bees made and capped honey on 7 of the 10 frames in the honey super. Some frames had just spots of honey, others had honey on just one side, and a few were filled on both sides.
Last week, I “stole” the honey super. I was home alone, and it was a little terrifying. I was taking away the top box on the hive, the honey super, but I wanted (needed) it to be bee-free. I don’t have any pictures, but here’s what I did.
First, I got set up. I lined a recycling bin with a plastic garbage bag, covered it with a wet towel, and placed it about 20 feet from the hive. Then, I removed the honey super and placed it about 20 feet from the hive and 20 feet from the recycling box.
Here comes the exciting part. One at a time, I removed each frame from the honey super. There’s no way this could be simple, so, of course, the frame was covered with bees. I carried the frame over to the hive where I used my bee brush to gently brush the bees off the frame onto the hive entrance. The bees naturally want to protect the honey, so not all the bees came off nor were they happy to be brushed off. I walked backwards towards the recycling brush, continuing to brush bees off the frame. I quickly pulled back the towel and stowed the bee-free frame in the recycling bin. I repeated this for each frame that contained honey. Finally, I replaced the covers on the hive and brought the recycling bin into the basement, away from the bees, which would otherwise tend to try to reclaim their honey.
Many beekeepers will use a mechanical extractor to get the honey out for the frames. They will uncap the capped honey, and the extractor is a centrifuge that forces the honey from the comb when it spins. Because I had only 7 frames, I decided to use a low-tech extraction technique known as “crush and strain”.
This process is a sticky mess! First to get setup, I lined various surfaces with flattened paper bags, flattened cardboard boxes, and plastic bags. I lined a large roasting pan with a flexible cutting board, and I placed a strainer in a large pot.
To extract, using a metal spatula, one frame at a time, I scraped the honeycomb (the wax and the honey) into the roasting pan. Then, I crushed the comb with a potato masher to free the honey from the comb.
Finally, I scraped the crushed honeycomb into the strainer where the honey drips into the pot.
I ended up having to use two different pots because the first strainer filled with wax.
The honey is still dripping right now, so I’m not sure what my final yield will be, but there will be multiple jars. I was licking my fingers and can attest that my bees’ honey is delicious! I also have a lot of wax that I can melt and do something with: lip balm, candles, spoon oil, furniture polish, who knows?
Regardless of the final yield, I can’t tell you how satisfying this experience has been so far.