Clicking on any of the pictures will open them at full size in the browser window, which means you will have to use the 'back' button to return to the main pages, whereas clicking to the left or right of any picture will open them in a new window, if you fancy a closer look at any of the piccies we've posted! We've included a Google Earth satelite picture of our plots and this years planting plan at the bottom of the page, next to each other. If you choose the Earth view on the satelite image you can rotate the image until it is lined up with the planting plan, then use the arrows in the plan to scroll from Plot 2 to Plot 1.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yayyy! First Honey harvest of the year!

Well, delaying the bee inspections until Thursday was a good idea, not only because it meant all 4 of us could be there (and thus cut the time in half by tackling an apiary for each team of 2), but also because weather wise, wednesday was a washout (thundery and heavy showers every 10 to 30 mins) and thursday, although not ideal (windy and cool, but less rain), was a much nicer day!

Lee and Colin tackled Apiary 2, whilst Pat and I did Apiary 1, its amazing how different each colonies behaviour is, from playful to relaxed, from feisty to aggressive, you quite quickly get an appreciation of thier personality and temperament!

Pat and I started with Hive 1 (formerly known as the Lazy Queen, but now renicknamed 'Psycho' - as the bees stung Sarah 4 times recently, and this week got me once on my inner thigh, que sharp intake of breath!!Mind you, its rumoured that bee stings can be beneficial, a lot of folks claim they ease the pain of arthritis!) Hive 1 was fine, if a bit feisty, a few play cups, and we saw the queen, they are now on 7 frames and filling the super with stores, so much better than they were only a month ago! Hive 2 (nicknamed 'the Incredibles' as the queen is incredibly productive, has masses of bees and is filling supers like mad) was calmer than Hive 1 (no stings!), and there were 8 frames of capped honey, which we removed (gently brushing the bees off before transfering the super frames to a spare super) and put into Pat and Colins car as quickly as we could! On checking the nucleus in Apiary 1, it still has bees in it, along with some stores, so we left them alone as its far too soon for the queen to have emerged as yet!

Lee and Colin started with Hive 4 (now nicknamed the 'Hippy Hive' - as the bees are sooo calm and relaxed they are almost horizontal, they must be stoned on poppy pollen or something!) which is doing fine, a really nice colony, next they looked at Hive 5 (now nicknamed 'Headbangers' as the flying bees kept 'nutting' Lee and Colin!), again this hive is doing well, with some stores almost capped and almost all the frames drawn out! Hive 6 (Stingray) was calmer than the last few weeks, and has some super frames that are almost 90% capped (which is when we can take them) and Hive 3 (nicknamed 'Popodopolis' as the bees keep gumming everything up with propolis) was at about the same temperament and the same position with the supers as Hive 6. The nucleus in Apiary 2 ws also checked, we saw the queen, a beautiful dark coloured lady, and there were eggs present, but not yet capped, so we should be able to tell next week (if there are worker cells present) if she was properly mated and whether the colony should be viable, in which case it will be going to its new home very soon after!

So, we managed to remove 8 supers of capped honey, which should be about 19lb or so, but as we've been asked several timews now, 'Once you have a super of capped honey, how do you convert it into something that is ready to eat (and sell on)?'

Well, as it was our first honey harvest of the year, we decided we'd extract the honey that night, so i managed to take some piccies and will detail the process below for those that are interested!

Obviously the first thing you need is the super frames of capped honey, as you can see here, the bees 'cap' the honeycomb containing the honey stores with a thin capping of wax.

The next thing you need is a way of uncapping the honeycomb, there are many ways of doing it, but for the hobby apiarist the main ones are to either use an uncapping fork (like a steel afro comb that can be used to prise off the caps in small batches, easy to use but very time consuming) or an uncapping knife (either a basic one like we have or a heated one - a lot more expensive).

The next thing you need is a way to get the honey out of the frames once they are uncapped. Most folks use some sort of centrifuge (these can range from cheaper food grade plastic ones, through to 4 frame manual tangential ones - like ours - to radial and electric powered ones (much more expensive)). The one we have is a food grade stainless steel one, and comes with an integral fine mesh filter and a settling tank with a tap!

Looking in from the top the spinner is designed to take 4 super frames at a time for extraction!

So, once you've got the kit, then its time to start! First thing to do is to put down some protection (as it can be a very sticky and messy operation), then standing your frame on a tray (to catch the cappings and the dripping honey) you use the knife (which has been warmed by immersing in very hot water - makes it easier to cut the wax) to gently cut away the capping.

The closer to the cap you can cut, the less mess and the easier it will be for the bees to repair any damage to the super frame when we give it back to them (so they can refill it)!

Almost there now Lee! After each frame is uncapped (on both sides) it is placed into the extractor, ready for spinning!

We all had a frame or two each to uncap, Pat and I chose ours first (so we got the nice flat ones), leaving Lee and Colin to uncap the more awkward shaped super frames! Lol!

So, once 4 frames are uncapped, they go into the extractor........

......... where the honey begins to drip out and run down the sloping base to the holes through the bottom to drip into the seive!

Next you fit the clear plastic lid (you dont have to, but its a good idea if you dont want to have to wash the whole kitchen down!)

Then the extractor is spun up to high speeds, firstly 1 way, then in reverse, then again the one way, then again in reverse, this ensures as much honey as possible is spun clear to drip down through the filter and into the settling tank! Once 1 side of the frames has been spun, then the 4 frames are reversed and the extractor is spun up again in the same way, to remove the honey from the other side of the frames! Time consuming, but ultimately worth it!

Once the honey has been spun out of the frames they look like this, a little damaged from where they've been spun against the mesh of the extractor, but the bees will soon repair it in no time once we give it back to them!

The cappings that were removed are then also seived into the extractor, and after the honey has dripped down into the metal seive (below the centrifuge section) we remove the spinner and wash it, whilst also using a spatual to ensure all the honey within the extractor has passed down into the bottom part! (Then like big kids we fought over who could lick the spatula clean! Lol!)

The integral metal seive catches any dislodged wax and ensures that the honey is not filled with bits of wax and dead bee!

And below the filter...... liquid gold, pure, fresh organic free range honey from our own hives! Generally the honey is then left to 'settle', allowing any air bubbles caused by the spinning extraction process to rise to the top and disperce, but as it was our first harvest of the year we couldnt resist filling a jar each!

The tap on the settling tank allows you to easily bottle the extracted honey, we only did 2 jars yesterday, the rest we are planning on bottling on Sunday (after work) as by them it will have settled and become even clearer than it is now! At this point we shuld have an idea of how much honey we managed to harvest, our estimate is about 18 to 20lb, not a great deal, but as Lee has some of his colleagues queing up to buy it, then we need to get some bottled asap for selling to them!

And finally....... the finished product! Doesnt it look good! And it tastes even better, much nicer than anything you can get from a supermaret (you wouldnt believe the difference in taste), plus you are eating something produced locally and which can have health benefits (particularly for those who suffer with hayfever, its been documented that eating local honey - produced within 30 miles of where you live - can help with hayfever symptoms!). Personally though, I enjoy it for its taste, and the fact that in selling some of the honey on we are then able to reinvest that money in both looking after the bees and in the allotment itself!

Last piccy for today, I pulled into the drive tonight to watch this cheeky chap eating our cherries, he sat there as bold as brass wioth one in his mouth! Methinks the cherry harvest needs to come in NOW!

Hope you enjoyed the post, that it gave you another insight into the mysteries of beekeeping and perhaps answered some questions that you'd always wondered about! Thanks for reading!

We're ont he plto tomorrow night after work, so I'll try and get some update piccies to show you.... along wiht some more harvests of course! Hope your crops are growing well and your plots are looking good!


Steve said...

Well done Mrs D and fellow busy bee's.
There is always something special about eating your own produce, but your own honey must really make you buzz with pride.
Mr TK & Mrs GG

Mrs Dobby said...

Lol Steve, it certainly does! Mind you, with an outlay of almost £3K between the 4 of us, its gotta be some of the most expensive honey in the world! Lol!

Mark G said...

Looks amazing guys - I'm sure the outlay will be recouped over time and what an amazing sideline to be doing. Don't forget the wax is great for wood and leather ;0)

Steph said...

what a great post. it made for really interesting reading :) if you ever sell you honey online, put me down for a jar! it looks delicious.

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi and Thanks Mark, we know we will recoup our outlay..... eventually, but that wasnt the reason we started anyhows, but if it can become self funding, then that will be good for both us and the bees!

We've got plans to produce lip balm, furniture polish and candles from the wax, depending on how much we get, so its possible we'll have some other products to use and sell too!

Mrs Dobby said...

Hi Steph, glad you enjoyed the post! Dont worry, if we ever get enough to sell online, you'll definitely find out on the blog!

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