First the Harvest, then the Floor

Author: Meera, October 24, 2016

My kitchen floor was littered with bits of wax and bee glue yesterday. It took me over an hour on my knees to scrub and clean it after I had uncapped thirty frames of honey I’d taken from my hives.

 

bucket of honey with strainer supporting all the wax spun off during extraction

A bucket of honey with strainer supporting wax spun off during honey extraction

 

 

 

 

In the process of scraping each frame and then unsealing all the capped cells on the front and back of each frame, drops of wax and propolis, or bee glue (created by the bees from bee saliva, wax, and exudate from botanical sources) fell to the floor. I tracked it from the counter, sink, and extractor on the soles of my shoes.

 

 

Even before I put my honey buckets under the extractor spigot, I tape fine mesh strainers over the buckets to catch wax and other debris.

 

 

Springtime honey appears golden whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what's flowering)

Three frames containing honey, but the sweet stuff is locked inside a honeycomb of cells sealed with wax by the bees

 

 

 

 

Once all the frames are processed and the buckets are sealed, I put the wax I’ve removed from the frames into a mesh bag to drain the honey (usually a much smaller quantity of honey is recovered from this process).

 

 

When the honey has been removed from the mesh bag, I place that wax on a cookie sheet and set it in the garden for the bees to clean.  After the bees have cleaned all the wax (by eating any drops of honey left), I save the wax to melt into bars for candles or soap-making.

 

 

I drain two frames at a time in a five-gallon bucket

A frame with wax cap cells opened and ready to put into the extractor

 

Back in in the kitchen, the extractor, it must be washed inside and out. Once cleaned and moved to the patio, I must start removing the wax and propolis from the floor. For that, I use an old thin, metal spatula to scrape the tile free of wax.

 

 

A soap and water scrub follows. Then I rinse and dry the floor with rags before moving the honey extractor back into the kitchen.

 

 

 

Honey from a bottling bucket is drained into sterile jars

Honey from a bottling bucket is drained into sterile jars

 

 

I won’t take honey again until next year. But now the honey must be bottled–that means I must sterilize bottles and prepare labels. Keeping honeybees is really only this labor intensive during and after the honey harvest. But the harvest is well worth all the work.

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 *          *          *

Enjoy reading about farming topics? Check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE  (both in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing).

 

These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. For more info, click on the links under the pictures.

 

The books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

NEWLY RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.

 

 

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Harvesting Honey–A Labor of Love

Author: Meera, October 16, 2016

Sitting in the middle of my kitchen is a three-story hive box with thirty frames of honey that needs to be extracted, filtered, and poured into jars.

 

My apiary is small–just two hives. Taking the honey is quite a labor-intensive activity. But it brings its own kind of joy. As pollinator populations decrease, keeping bees is a small thing I can do for all of us . . .  for our planet.

 

 

This electric honey extractor holds four frames; honey is spun out through centrifugal force

This electric honey extractor holds four frames; honey is spun out through centrifugal force and drains through the spigot

 

 

The stainless steel honey extractor, washed and scrubbed, has been pushed over by the oven to make a little space in my already-small kitchen.

 

Today, I washed the countertops, my stove, and even the sink with hot soapy water and bleach. Then after a thorough wipe-down, I stretched sheets of aluminum foil over the countertop. The extraction process started with four frames.

 

It’s a simple process. I set the four frames of honey on the foil-covered counter. Using a hot knife, I open the capped cells on both sides of the frames and put them in the honey extractor. Beneath the machine’s spigot, I’ve already positioned a five-gallon bucket with strainer attached. I start the machine on a slow speed and open the spigot.

 

Each of the five gallon and two-gallon buckets were previously washed and covered with strainers. These are held in place with heavy duty duct tape wrapped around the mouths. Switching out a full bucket for an empty one is easy when the buckets are prepped for use before the extraction starts.

 

Springtime honey appears golden whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what's flowering)

Springtime honey appears golden in the frames whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what’s flowering, but often star thistle and eucalyptus, in my area)

 

 

I expect a yield of  about thirty-five gallons this time. I lost one hive . . . more on that later, but, in all, it looks to be a good honey harvest for our family and friends.

 

As soon as I extract all the honey, I’ll start bottling it and affixing labels. It’s a process that will take several days to complete.

 

The frame I'm holding contains a queen house, honey, and brood

The frame I’m holding contains a queen house and baby bee food

 

 

Tasting, smelling, and seeing all this golden, delicious honey that the bees created warms my heart. When we take care of them, they take care of us. And we always leave plenty of honey in the hives for the bees to eat throughout the winter.

 

*          *          *

 

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my Henny Penny Farmette cozy mysteries series from Kensington Publishing.

 

These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, and sayings as well as a charming cozy mystery.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

JUST RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.

 

My books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lemon Oil for Luring Honeybee Swarms

Author: Meera, April 15, 2016

 

Call it my sixth sense at work, but after my bees acted aggressive (which they usually are not) as I cleaned the water fountain, I prepared the swarm catcher and put it in the apricot tree nearest my office window. Mid-morning on Wednesday, I got my first swarm of 2016.

 

 

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

 

 

Lemon oil is often the ingredient that lures the honeybees to a swarm catcher. I mix the lemon oil mixed with water and spray the swarm catcher with a pump sprayer. It usually works better to capture the bees in the swarm catcher than having them coalesce en masse on an inconvenient limb in a tree, say, fourteen feet up.

 

 

 

You can use lemon oil as a salve or in the oil form–apply the salve onto the swarm catcher around the opening for the bees or use the oil in a small plastic vial that gets inserted into a swarm catcher orifice.

 

 

Bear in mind that not all lemon oils are equal. Some are more “lemony scented” than others. Lemon oil is cold pressed from the peel and contains 3 to 10 percent citral (considered the most powerful of components that contribute to the lemon scent). Lemon myrtle contains 95 percent citral and, if it’s the scent you want, lemon myrtle is superior to all others.

 

 

So, when I realized my bees were swarming, I suited up and prepared a hive box with ten frames, eight with wax from previous honey harvests (where I left the wax intact) and two that I had in the kitchen where I was draining honey from them. It would provide an immediate source of food for the bees in their new home.

 

 

Today, I visited my favorite shop for all things honeybees and stocked up on a couple more hive boxes, just in case of another swarm, although the bees are quiet and non-aggressive again.

 

 

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The Bees Won’t Wait

Author: Meera, March 1, 2016

With so many flowers in bloom now, it’s time to add supers to the hives.

 

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are queen houses; a queen lays the eggs that become bee babies.

 

 

 

I can hear the buzzing from my patio, about twenty to thirty feet from the hives. My bees want to make honey, raise babies, and swarm . . . I know it.

 

My neighbor and I are opening hives tomorrow, but I worked out in the apiary today getting extensions (known as supers) ready. These have shorter frames and the bees use them to build wax cells and store honey.

 

I’ve got two active hives and extras. And I have several supers, complete with the shorter frames ready to go.

 

There are about ten frames I can use in a super that are being housed in the outdoor freezer. It’s where I put frames to kill anything that could live over on them that I don’t want in a hive, like a wax moth. The cold kills.

 

I also cleaned the bee glue off another hive box with larger frames in the event the bees decide to swarm sooner rather than later. The bees won’t wait. They’ll need a new house ready when they swarm or they’ll fly away and find one elsewhere.

 

 

 

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To Feed or Not to Feed the Bees?

Author: Meera, September 15, 2015

Mid-September is a time when beekeepers check their hives and consider the prudence of harvesting more honey or leaving it as well as whether or not to feed the bees. Honeybees, like many living creatures on our planet, need food and water to survive.

 

 

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

 

 

My wise beekeeper neighbor tells me that the hive needs to have sixty pounds of honey to make it through winter. He’s feeding his bees now a mixture of sugar and water.

 

 

 

black plastic feeder unit inserts fit directly into a hive like frames

Division board feeders are black plastic feeder units that fit directly into a hive like frames

 

 

The sugar-water inserts are black plastic holders that get inserted right into the hive in place of a frame. They are rigid enough to hold the sugar-water but pliant enough to swell outward, so conventional wooden frames of honey and wax help them stay in place. The downside is that bees can drown in these feeders. And if the beekeeper lets them go empty, the enterprising bees will just build comb and honey inside them.

 

 

There are several kinds of feeders–all with benefits and also drawbacks. For more information on feeders, see: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/

 

 

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

 

 

Last year, I didn’t take honey in the fall. I wanted to ensure the bees had what they needed to survive after they’d been through yet another summer of drought. There aren’t a lot of pollen-rich flowers to be found now. However, star-thistle still dots dry hillsides of Contra Costa County (where I live) and particular eucalyptus species that the bees like are blooming now.

 

 

I’m hopeful that this will be the last year of drought for a while. Weather forecasters say we have a strong El Nino that’s formed and will likely bring rain during our rainy season (November through April). That will be good news for the bees and those of us who love to plant flowers in our gardens to attract pollinators. But until the wet stuff starts coming down and new pollen sources are abundant, we beekeepers need to keep a close watch on our industrious little honeybees.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pulling Honey–A Bee-eautiful Sight to See

Author: Meera, July 28, 2015

Nothing compares to the reward of pulling honey from a hive when you are a beekeeper. Over the last two days, this is what I’ve done with the help of my world-class beekeeper neighbor who knows more about keeping honeybees than anyone I’ve ever met.

 

 

 

Honey bucket with strainer taped on and bits of wax in the honey on top

Pictured is a Henny Penny Farmette honey bucket with strainer taped on and bits of wax in the honey on top

 

 

His wife helped me scrape off the bee glue from each frame and then open the capped cells (a must) before draining the honey. We then used their machine that can spin twenty frames at a time. It has an electric motor and a control to increase or decrease the speed. Use slow speed to begin and then when the frames grow lighter, you increase the speed.

 

 

In all, I spun four hive boxes full (ten frames each), except for one box that had fewer because we left two frames behind in the apiary. They still had babies in them.

 

 

Honey streaming from the spigot of the electric power-driven centrifugal force spinner

Honey streaming from the spigot of the electric power-driven centrifugal force spinner

 

 

 

We taped fine-mesh filters over the tops of several five-gallon buckets. To spin the honey out of the first eighteen frames took many hours, from noon to about ten o’clock at night.  We left the machine spigot open all night to allow the draining to continue into the bucket. The filters caught bits of wax and even the occasional dead bee, ensuring the honey would be perfectly clean and ready to bottle.

 

 

I drained honey from the ten frames in each of my hive boxes–two of my hive boxes held the large frames and two held smaller frames. In all, we spun and drained enough honey to fill three five-gallon buckets and about one-fourth of a two and one-half gallon bucket.

 

 

Honey drains from the plastic container

Honey drains from the plastic container holding the wax we uncapped from the cells

 

 

 

Not a bad yield for a fairly young hive and during summer in a drought year when pollen-laden flowers are not be as plentiful. It’s a bee-eautiful sight to see!

 

 

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Ants in the Freezer . . . Seriously?

Author: Meera, July 23, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing. I found ants, a big pile of them, in the bottom of the freezer side of my double-door  fridge. I thought it was a mound of spilled coffee grounds. But that made no sense. Why would ants venture into the freezer in the first place. Crazy as it seems, I have an idea.

 

 

A knife is used to uncap wax cells to allow honey to flow from the frame

A single honey frame with wax and honey . . . right out of the hive box

 

 

A few weeks ago, my beekeeper neighbor told me about a little trick to sterilize frames before putting them into the hives. He said after I have drained a frame of honey, I should hang it outside in a tree near the hives for the bees to clean (they will eat the honey but leave the wax).

 

Then, I should put the frame of wax in a freezer so that any tiny pest like the larva of a wax moth or mites or ants will be killed.

 

 

After 24 hours, I can remove the frame from the freezer and store it until I’m ready to put it into a hive box. When I harvest honey, I can easily replace a honey-filled frame with an empty frame that has been sterilized in the freezer and already has beeswax. It’s less work for the honeybees to use that frame for brood or honey. Sounds good, right?

 

 

Well . . . I wrapped two frames with aluminum foil before putting them in the freezer. But I got lazy and just inserted one frame into the freezer without first wrapping it. It seemed very clean–just white wax left by the bees after they had devoured all the honey.

 

 

The unwrapped frame I put in my kitchen freezer must have leaked a drop or two of honey that I didn’t see. It drew those ants. Serves me right.

 

 

Now I have a designated freezer to be used only for honeybee frame sterilization. It will stand outside on my patio. I’m pretty sure the ants won’t be visiting my kitchen again. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

 

 

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What to Do When Ants Invade the Honey Bucket

Author: Meera, July 6, 2015

My five-gallon honey bucket with the spigot makes it easy for me to fill up a jar of honey for friends or family. For easy access, I keep it on a round table in the kitchen.

 

 

A single frame produced eight 16-ounce jars of honey

A single frame produces eight 16-ounce jars of honey

 

 

 

Yesterday morning, I went to refill our own empty jar and noticed ants on the exterior of the bucket. It has a lid on it, but not too tight-fitting, so I held my breath and pulled off the lid.

 

 

Removing the lid, I found the ants had infiltrated it and hundreds floated in the honey. Imagine my dismay.

 

 

I consulted with my beekeeper neighbor about what to do with the now-unusable honey. Much to my surprise, he said save it. He told me to put it in the freezer (the one specifically used to freeze frames and therefore kill any pests we can’t see on the wax before returning those frames to the hives). So the bucket with the ants went into the freezer I keep on the patio.

 

 

My neighbor says the ants will die. The bees can then eat that honey when there isn’t enough pollen around, for example, during the winter. It’s a win-win . . . except for the ants.

 

 

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A False Swarm . . . Sort Of

Author: Meera, June 23, 2015

When I heard my neighbors banging on a pan with a wooden spoon, I sprang into action. It is what we do when a honeybee hive swarms.

 

 

Healthy bees on a frame

Healthy bees on frames

 

 

As it turned out, my bees had swooped from the hive with their queen into the front yard, past the plum tree and were circling above the blood orange. My neighbors, who were in their courtyard, saw it and began the banging to confuse the bees so they would alight close to their home.

 

 

I ran out and, with direction from my beekeeper neighbor, placed the hive near the orange tree. I’d already placed eight frames with wax and my neighbor brought over two with honey on the comb. All seemed to go as planned. We shook the tree and the bees dropped into the prepared hive.

 

 

My neighbor went home, and I went back to my computer and the novel I’m writing. Thirty minutes later, the bees were swarming again. I ran out and banged on the pan. They settled down. All seemed well, except for ants that had been in the orange tree and now were in the hive box.

 

 

Frames of honey, fresh from the hives

Frames of honey before the wax caps are opened and the honey is drained or spun out

 

 

Around nine o’clock at night, I sprayed the outside of the hive with Windex and wiped it with paper towels. I repeated the procedure around the perimeter of the box, replaced the lid, and carried the hive box back to the apiary believing all would be well. It wasn’t.

 

 

This morning, I ran out and suited up in my beekeeper’s outfit and gloves, opened the new hive box, and looked in. To my dismay, all the bees were gone.

 

 

My neighbor later told me over coffee that the bees had likely returned to their old hive as small swarms sometimes do.  So . . .  I suppose I may be repeating this whole scenario at some point in the days ahead. My neighbor reminded me that the weather has been strange, and the weather affects the bees’ behavior.

 

 

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I opened my hives this past Sunday with the help of my world-class beekeeper neighbor. We checked on the the condition of eggs, the number of new queens, the growth of baby bees, the presence of mites (none detected), and the amount of honey (lots).

 

 

The male bees (the drones) over the last weeks have been engaged in some crazy flight patterns in front of the hive as the mating of the queen takes place. The old queen has done her egg laying and the hives have lots of babies with nurse maids and other worker bees. From the hives comes the clearly audible sound of humming and the fragrant scent of honey.

 

 

The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are elminated

The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are eliminated

 

 

The drones are not now needed and the workers in the colony are doing away with them. I found a stack of drones at the front door of the hive this morning. Strange sight to see, indeed. But no more so than the many queen houses (formed from honeycomb by the worker bees). These houses are where the new queens are nourished; each contains royal jelly.

 

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are the houses where the baby queens will be cared for by the workers. The houses contain royal jelly for the feeding of the new queens

 

 

My neighbor told me to wait three more weeks to take honey, but since I didn’t take any honey during the fall/winter and there were huge stores of it in my hives and coupled with the fact that there’s a plethora of flowers now to provide pollen for the bees, we decided it would be okay to remove some frames. So, I took six frames (weighing roughly ten pounds each) from the hives.

 

 

The honey I harvested has a pale lemony color–significant for the wildflowers and almond and fruit tree blossoms from which the bees collected the pollen to make that honey. In the fall, the honey is darker and earthier tasting, thanks to pollen from the star thistle and eucalyptus blooms.

 

 

When we had finished with my hives and walked back to my neighbor’s house, we spotted a swarm overhead. We grabbed the pots and wooden spoons and started banging. The bees took refuge in the tall pepper tree and that’s where my neighbor rescued them. In all, it was quite a spectacular Sunday!

 

 

 

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