How To Outrun Bees and Other Beginner Beekeeping Shenanigans
Our First Honey
We recently had a very special event here at the Homestead: our first honey harvest. For us beginner beekeeping folks, that’s a pretty exciting moment. It kind of makes the whole beekeeping thing a little more real and a little more useful!
Now, we had, of late, been feeling more confident in our beekeeping skills. After all, when fully outfitted in the latest of beekeeping attire and having successfully mastered the relighting of the smoker (so what if it went out 3 times?), one begins to feel like a “real beekeeper.”
Well, the obligatory black-netted veil not withstanding, we’re still very much beginners. Nothing quite brings that into light as does being surrounded by bees and having no idea what to do next.
Let me give a little background. We researched the honey harvest as we knew we had lots of questions ranging from “How much honey do the bees need to survive the winter?” to “How do we get the honey off of the frame?”
These were all very good things to research. As such, we began the day confident that we had a plan. We had our goals:
- Open each hive and inspect all frames (that’s 4 boxes for the good hive and 2 for the weak hive at 10 frames a box).
- Take a frame of honey and a frame of brood from the strong hive.
- Place the frames in the weak hive (a bit like a donation).
- Leave 100 pounds of honey in the strong hive for winter and extra for the weak hive.
It Goes Wrong
All suited up and merrily starting the smoker (keeps the bees calm), we had no idea we were about to be humbled. A lot.
- The big strong hive was practically glued shut. With wax. And, let me tell you, wax is strong. It’s stronger when there’s a 70 pound box of honey sitting on top of it. Prying that super off was no easy task.
- We’ve been lazy. Not in the sense that we’re investing in new lazyboy furniture or anything, but lazy in the sense that we hadn’t really opened up the hives that much. Well, that gave those busy little guys enough time to glue all the frames to the feeder and seriously thwart our ability to remove frames for inspection and for honey!
- The bees wouldn’t give up the honey. Of course, now that we think about it, one wouldn’t expect bees to part with their hard work.
Introduce: The Chevy Truck
There we were, all suited up, hot and tired after tugging, prying and coaxing all the hive boxes apart. And, we were holding frames of honey completely surrounded by bees (to be expected). Worse, hundred of bees continued to land and busily work on the frames we held in our hands.
- We can’t donate honey to the weak hive with “enemy” bees still on it.
- We can’t bring honey into our house to process it with any bees still on it.
So, we did what any unprepared beginner beekeeping folks would do: Clad in my white duds and netting, I climbed into the back of our Chevy with the honey frames, smoking the beegezus out of them as my husband drove us around.
Yes, we looked ridiculous. But, it worked.
I ran the bee-free frames into the house and called it a success.
What we should have done.
If we’d had the forethought to realize that the bees would stick right to the frames, we would have looked up what those experienced beekeepers do (ya know…the ones not driving around with bees in their trucks).
We sure were.
Well, here it is: smoke the bees out, brush them off (ha!) or use a leaf-blower (seriously). Next time, we’ll try the leaf-blower.
Salt on the wound.
We made the decision to leave one of the honey frames up near the hives and return when the bees were asleep (evening) to install it into the weak hive (think of it like a honey donation). Well, any experienced beekeeper (which I think I’ve made clear we are not) would tell you this was silly.
Ever heard of honey robbing?
It’s the amazing ability bees have to move 10 pounds of honey in a matter of hours.
When we returned to the hives that evening, the frame was devoid of honey. So, our weak hive got a frame of wax (at least they’ll have somewhere to put the honey if they ever make it) and a “good luck.”
In the end…
Despite the shenanigans, we had our first honey harvest. We also learned a lot. I’d call that an overall win.