Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The ins and outs of bees

It's time. The honey supers must get harvested so that the bees have room to put their harvest. Make sense? Well, it would if you knew that wax is approximately ten times more "expensive" for bees to make than honey, and that they prefer to draw out storage cells in wax during the spring build-up. While they will in the summer, most of their happy energy is in foraging right now.

So, in a delicious bit of beekeeping irony, it's necessary to steal the honey so they can store the honey.

Plus, it's fun to see the early/late differences in honey's color, aroma, and flavor.

In preparation for this day, I went into the hives last week and placed a board with a bee escape, a one-way valve, under the full honey boxes, after placing some boxes without fully-drawn comb on the frames so they would still have some room above the brood nests. In one case, this made a terrific bee tower that I had to jury-rig a climbing platform next to it. Remember, the full boxes are at least 30 pounds, and the big one might be more!

But when I went out this morning to get the presumably unoccupied boxes off of the big hive (the little hive was emptier yesterday), many, many little bee faces were at the top. The thinking with the escapes is that the bees move down at night, and then can't get up again. This works, maybe, in climates where bees need to cluster at night? It does not work so well here.

And I have no chemical "go-away" smell to put on the hives. Almond extract on a pad works, but not very fast for me. Perhaps if it weren't organic, but imitation, they'd move away from it. I kind of wish I had a small blower, because that seems pretty benign, but escapes is what I was working with. I'm loath to do the shaking thing, where I pull each frame, shake it, and place it in a covered empty box. It's okay for small harvests, and I shook two of the little hive frames, but it's disruptive and tiring. I'm not in a screaming hurry, just want to get these frames harvested and back on the hives in a day or so.

This afternoon, I had An Idea. Since there were so many bees at the top, perhaps a top escape was called for. No time like the present:

The "valve" is two copper flaps on each end, arranged in a "V" shape, so the bees enter the wide end and push their way out, but can't get back in. Something about the smell of this box is keeping the top very interesting to the "outside" bees.

Here you can just see a bee struggling out, doing the back stroke. She's behind the shiny wing of the already-out bee. Later this afternoon, I'm going to peek again under that cover and see how well the one-wayness is working.

And it might just be my imagination, but the tomatoes look as though they've shot up a few inches after the heavy pruning. Might have been just what they wanted.

Preparing the kitchen as though it's a harvest night is probably another good idea. Even if the boxes don't fully clear, it will be ready for them tomorrow. And if they aren't clear by tomorrow, well, I'm going to shake them.


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'll be interested to see how your top escape works. I'm so far behind on harvesting honey, it's not funny. I have one hive that was quite honey-bound a couple of weeks ago, but our schedule was crazy, so all we could do was checkerboard, and add an extra box. We really need to get in there and free up some space though. Unfortunately, for lack of another method of harvesting at the moment, we may be doing the shake and stow method of frame collecting this weekend, and then borrowing an extractor!

Erin said...

Very cool post, and that's a lot of hives!

kitsapFG said...

I truly love reading your bee posts. I honestly doubt I will ever keep bees personally but I love to learn about the process. It makes me truly appreciate the goodness they produce all the more and I am constantly amazed at the marvel that is their society.

Stefaneener said...

CVS, wait until I post my "never again" post. I know what it's like to put off hive chores - they really sneak up on you.

Erin, good to see you.

kitsapFG, it's been a week where lots more bad beekeeping has been going on than good! I'm glad you're interested; bees are completely cool.

Kristin said...

It looks like you will have oodles of honey! My hives have a long way to go until harvest.


My method works pretty well. I've been using the mist setting on the nozzle of my hose to spray the bees. They all seem to go down off the top of the frames and partially clear out of the way. It calms them as well. Then a strong rap knocks off a bunch and a light brushing with the bee brush for the few remaining ones on the frame. I put them into a cooler and place the lid on top. I roll the cooler to wherever. (But once you use a cooler for this function, it must be devoted to it forever because it pretty much ruins it. But old coolers work great for temporary storage.)

Anonymous said...

my bean leaves are being plagued by squash beetles :(