It was a lovely day today and so I opened a hive for the first time this year, my top bar hive located at ‘Ourganics’ permacultural holding at Litton Cheney.  Unfortunately, when I got there, I realised that I had mislaid my tool belt containing, among other things, my hive tool.  Fortunately, I had in my pocket my Swiss Army hive tool.

I haven’t used a smoker for over a year now, but the hive smokes as you’ll see in this picture for which it posed:



I took one puff of the cheroot myself, which I blew into the entrance, then gave the rest to the hive.  I also gave him a single waft of liquid smoke from the sprayer you see on his roof.  That was just before the picture was taken, which is why there are no bees to be seen. They had been flying strongly, bringing in loads of pollen.

The purpose of the visit, apart from the joy of playing with bees was to take a harvest of honey and, maybe, a bit of propolis.  I didn’t feed the bees last Autumn, but neither did I rob them as I like my bees to winter on their own stores, only harvesting what has been proven to be surplus to their own needs and ensuring that what I harvest is not composed partially of recycled Tate & Lyle’s sugar.

I worked from the rear of the hive and the first few bars were devoid of stores, then came some that weren’t worth harvesting, but then came 5 bars that did have sufficient stores to make it worth while.  The method is to take the bar round to the front of the hive, brush the bees off with a goose quill, then lower the comb into a supermarket carrier bag, cutting it from the bar with the knife, leaving a ‘footprint’ of comb to guide the bees in re-building on the right lines.

Then I was among brood.  8 bars had brood. One looked a bit patchy so I applied the back of my hand gently to move the bees away to give me a better look and I saw bees emerging from the cells, the patchiness having evidently been caused by recent births. Other bars had closely packed brood with few gaps and there was plenty of drone brood.  I didn’t see very much unsealed brood and no eggs, but I wasn’t looking very hard once I have acsertained that they seemed healthy.  I moved a couple of bars of honeycomb to the front of the hive so as to give the queen fresh, unused, comb in which to lay.

Putting it back together, I used the knife blade to obtain some propolis from between bars, and this is currently wrapped in paper, lost among the debris in the back of my car. Due to the lack of a hive tool, I wasn’t able to apply the usual leverage to get all the bars back in place easily and it took about 3 attempts to squeeze them all in, but I got there in the end.  The bees were perfectly docile and well-behaved during the examination and I was unstung.

Some of the comb was suitable for cutting and I now have 8 pieces cut, boxed and labelled ready for sale.  The remainder was put into a plastic container, well bashed with a spatula, and put into my warming cabinet with the business end of a digital thermometer inserted.  I have just read the temperature as 102 degrees fahrenheit, so I think I shall turn it off now as I don’t want it to rise to 120 degrees and ‘kill’ the enzymes that make raw honey a ‘living’ product rather than the flavoured sugar sold as honey in the supermarkets.



About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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3 Responses to IT’S HARVEST TIME!

  1. Nick Holmes says:

    At what temp do you think it will damage the living nature of it? How do you deal with honey like rape seed once it is crystallised?

  2. Nick: 120 degrees Fahrenheit is the killing point at which the enzymes (anything that ends in ..ase) are inactivated and so renders the honey as inert as Golden Syrup.
    Years ago I built a honey warming cabinet of a double skin of plywood with a layer of insulation between. It is 18″ square so, if desired, I can sit supers on top. The heat is provided by a soil warming cable zig zagged at the bottom of the box, controlled by a dial on a box by the plug. There is a metal grid (from a cooker) and some cork tiles to create an airspace above the cables and avoid ‘spot heating’.
    I insert the sensor of a digital thermometer into the honey so I can read from the outside what the actual temperature of the honey is. It cost a lot at the time, about £50, but has paid for itself many times since.
    When warming crystallised honey in supers intended for extraction centrifugally it is as well to remember that the comb is weakened at around 95 F, brood nest temperature, so if it gets that warm, let it cool again to, say, 75 degrees before putting it in the extractor and winding the handle.

    • Nick Holmes says:

      Yes I found out the hard way about the structural integrity of warm wax – oops !

      I made a warmer myself – a cabinet from freecycle, lined with polystyrene, heated with light bulbs, circulated with a fan and controlled with a thermostat – oh and draft excluding round the doors. Cost about the same as yours i think, all tild. Does the trick nicely. If you are warming jars and open the doors you get a lovely golden honey filtered light. I even managed to get my settling tank in there the other day – I had to stand the cabinet on its side and ruined the lining inside moving the tank – 65lbs of honey is very heavy when you are trying to push it inti a slot horizontally where it only just fits. Warm honey is so much easier ti jar.

      I was worried about my temperatures because I had to use a fair bit of heat to conquer the rape seed honey I was trying to tame. I just did my maths and it’s good news 118.4F… phew…

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