Unto the Breach

This story has a happy ending. 40 kilograms worth of honey happiness to be exact (or roughly 40 kilos anyway). That’s all anyone really needs to know. But that’s not going to stop me from giving a bit more detail. I won’t give a blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute description of the last 4 1/2 days but I will outline our first honey-harvesting experience.

Chaos Reigns

It all began back on Sunday. Frank and I opened hive 1 to harvest its honey and found chaos reigned. We cut 6 frames away from the box and fled.

Hive 1 Cleared

On Monday it was, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. We donned our gear and finished getting the rest of the honey frames out of hive 1. This was a much simpler task than the prior’s day activities mainly because we knew what we were up against but also because we had temporarily installed a 2nd super in the hive which meant the bees had somewhere to go as we stole their honey.

Next, we bravely moved down to the brood box and did all kinds of beekeeping stuff and then… I almost jumped for joy, a brood frame lifted cleanly away. (I swear I could hear the tension drop off Frank’s shoulders.) The brood frames have foundations so they can be removed and examined without death and destruction! (Though after reading some of Coop Poop’s comments to my last post, maybe there is a better way to achieve this – but that’s next year’s project.)

5 minutes later, 1 brood frame was safely in the super, 1 fresh frame was in the brood box (giving the queen some space to lay if she was running out), the 2nd super was taken away and all honey was robbed from hive 1. Monday afternoon and evening were focussed on cutting away the messy comb, mashing and straining it and sieving the honey from the extractor.

Honeycomb cut from the frames

Hive 2 work begins

On Tuesday we faced the challenge of hive 2 with no small amount of fear because the first hive had caused so much trouble. The first task was to add foundation to the empty frames harvested from hive 1. Frank built a form to make this easier with Rosie’s help. The chickens generally leave the bees alone but Frank and tools are like a chook magnet.

By mid-day we were ready to tackle hive 2. Lots of activity ensued (more detail than interests even me) and then Alleluia! (cue angels and harps) this hive has foundation in both the brood and super. We removed 4 honey-laden (and I mean laden) frames and snuck in a super with some empties between the old super and the brood box. The afternoon was all about extracting the honey from those 4 frames.

No more room for honey stores in these frames

Below are photos of a frame before and after honey harvest.

We weighed these babies before and after extraction and determined we got a good 2.5 kilos of honey from each one. Frank helped his father with his bee hives as a child and swears he’s never seen a hive so packed with honey. A rule of thumb is to extract when 75% of the comb is capped. Try 99% for hive 2.

Everything was done under the watchful eye of our girls. They don’t seem too interested in honey but did gobble up any dropped bits of wax. I can’t imagine that would cause any tummy problems but I don’t think I’ll be feeding them wax treats on purpose.

The chickens inspecting our box which holds the honey-laden frames taken from our bee hives

Finishing the extraction

Wednesday (Happy Halloween) was spent finishing the exercise in hive 2. By this time we felt like pros compared to Sunday. It was a breeze.

Hive 1 now has 1 super containing a brood frame and 9 freshly built-out frames. Hive 2 has 2 supers; a mix of 1 brood frame, 9 extracted frames and 10 freshly built-out frames. Hive 2 has a huge head start on hive 1 because it has built-out frames (putting back extracted frames makes it easier for the bees because they don’t have to build out the comb before filling the cells with honey) and a 2nd super. Hive 2 has a lot more bees so we felt an extra super would come in handy there. Poor hive 1 had those messy frames which we had to cut up so there were no built-out ones to use.

Honey, honey and more honey

Which leaves us on Thursday with honey. Lots of honey. We estimate we extracted about 40 kilograms of honey from the 2 hives. We’re still straining from the broken comb of hive 1 plus we have some burr comb from the lid of hive 2 to address (keep as comb or mash and strain???)

Burr comb in the hive lid

Our bees have nothing to do but go, go, go. They have a bit of honey stored in their brood frames but we’ve taken it out of all of their honey frames. We feel comfortable doing this because it is high spring here and nectar is literally dripping from flowers. The foot path in front of our house is stained with nectar from the Jacaranda trees and the bees are buzzing overhead.

We’ll take a peek in the hives in a few days to make sure we don’t have a beetle problem and to check on those brood frames we moved up into the supers. But otherwise the bees get a nice long stretch of peace and quiet to go about their bee business and we get a nice long stretch to get back to a normal life.

Two hives are just the right number for our little garden. We get more honey than we can possibly use (and we don’t have that many friends) and 2 hives are enough to let us play with these amazing creatures. We have a lot more to learn but we’ve moved way up that learning curve in the past few days and enjoyed (most of) the process. All without a single sting. Let’s hear it for bargain-basement bee suits!


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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9 Responses to Unto the Breach

  1. chickenshitz says:

    What an amazing feat! Congrats!

  2. You r so brave to do this and what great results, so yummy!

  3. Gosh how interesting to hear all about bee keeping. 40kgs of honey! wow! I just know the next thing on your list is going to be making mead….

  4. spiceandmore says:

    We had to do an ’emergency’ honey extraction last week as I was worried one of our hives was running out of room. All 8 frames we took out of the top box were 100% sealed too – which I was surprised to see. Three of the wax foundations broke while we were extracting but I put them back in the hive so the bees could clean up the honey from them for me. Went to replace the frames today only to find that the bees had built out their own foundation on those three frames. It was hard to spot the ones that were missing foundation! It is such a strong hive at the moment which is a joy to see.
    We had one of our two hives swarm about three times last month (two we managed to catch) so now we are are 4 hive family (eek!). I have to do a proper inspection of the other three hives next week and probably another honey extraction. Busy, busy!

    • I hear bees will swarm if they run out of room to store honey which is why you’re supposed to harvest at 75% full. For one hive to swarm 3 times, something must be up. The old queen is the one to swarm so that means a couple of young queens swarmed as well. Very strange!

      I left a comment on your blog suggesting maybe you should try selling some of your spare hives on Gumtree. I know I looked online to buy hives rather than establishing my own.

      As for bees building their own foundation if you don’t give them one, yep – that’s what they do. There are 20-30 thousand of them and they are programmed to work. Just because you remove their comb don’t think they’ll put their feet up. They are collecting nectar and pollen and need somewhere to put it. I’d never leave a frame out of the hive for more than a day. They can build on the sides of the box, the bottom, the lid, anywhere. And, of course, they can decide the box is not a nice home and swarm. That sounds like the last thing you need!

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