Sunday 18th. We have finally come full circle! After 16 months of caring for bees, we finally have some honey to show for all that effort! Before you get too impressed though, let me tell you how it went. What a fiasco! Hopefully no experienced beekeepers are reading this!
It started well. Norman and I got all the extraction equipment set up in the garage, tarp down on the floor, extractor moved onto it, a table next to the tarp with the plastic tub and electric knife set up. Now I was ready to get the honey. One downside was that it was grey and drizzly that day. Bees don't like grey and drizzly. But this was the only day Norman could help. So we pushed on.
I piled all my hive tools and smoker into the cart and went down to the bees. I was going to try the bee repellent spray on the fume board. When I got down there, I sprayed the board, and then realized I should have waited a bit because then I had to light the smoker, smoke Hive 2, remove the outer lid, and then remove the inner lid. By the time I was done with all that the fume board had been sitting up against the hay bales for a few minutes. Maybe that's why it didn't exactly work the first time.
Notice in the above picture how it fits snuggly over the super without overlapping the edges, so that the repellent is kept in. (The outer lid I removed is bigger and when it is on it slips down over the edges.) Then while waiting for the repellent fumes to take effect I went and added sugar syrup to Hives 3 and 5.
Then I went back to Hive 2, lifted the fume board and had a look. Hmmm. Well, they were clearly agitated, but there were still plenty of bees in there. Don't tell me this wasn't going to work!
Maybe I hadn't sprayed enough of it on the felt pad. I took the board off and put more repellent on. Also, I sprayed some of the repellent onto a paper towel and added that to the smoker, setting light to it too (as suggested on the bottle), and gave a few puffs into the super before lowering the board again. That worked! When I opened it up again, most of the bees had now moved down. However, there were also a few rather dead looking bees that looked like they had been petrified by the fumes! I wasn't expecting that. So, when they say "non-toxic" on the label, to whom are they referring?
Now there were two options: I could either lift off the super as a whole, or lift out frames individually from the super. The latter option I vetoed because the last few times I lifted out frames from that hive, it ripped open some of the wax cells and honey dripped all over the place. Plus, it would take longer. So I decided to just remove the entire super. This would have been a good idea if I had been strong enough to lift it off at that angle! I had to go back inside and get a step stool, but I still couldn't lift it. In the end I got Norman to help. He was able to lift it off, but then where to put it? My book said make sure you have a plastic bin to put it in and shut the lid immediately. I thought I had had a large enough plastic bin to put it in but it turns out it was too small. The super would not fit!! Why did I not figure that out ahead of time?
From here, read on about how NOT to remove honey supers. The idea is to remove the honey as fast as possible so the bees don't start a "robbing melee" (as my book calls it). But I had to leave the first super just sitting there in the cart while I worked at removing the second one, which meant putting the fume board on again, and lighting the smoker again, etc, etc, and of course nothing goes as planned and the supers take forever to come off, and so on and so forth. So by the time I had the second one off and both supers in the cart, there was a huge cloud of bees and wasps hovering over the supers in the cart and me, and also Norman who had come to give me a hand. There was still the sugar syrup feeder to fill once the supers were off, and the lid to replace so that other bees and the huge number of wasps didn't start a robbing melee there too. So by the time we got the cart back to the garage with the two supers in it, we were followed by quite a large number of bees and wasps flying around the cart.
Now we had to try to get the cart and supers into the garage without bringing in all those bees and wasps.... and while Norman and I debated on the best method, more bees arrived. "Agh! And now they've gone and got all their friends!" Norman complained. If we didn't move soon, the entire 4 hives of bees would be here any minute.
I told Norman to go in through the front door, go to the garage and open the garage door when I said "Now", whereupon I shoved a super under the door and he then closed it. Then we did it again with the second super. I was going to do the same with the cart, but there were so many bees and wasps buzzing around it I gave up and just abandoned it.
I went into the house by the front door and round to the garage from inside. I opened the door to the garage to an amazing sight. Despite our efforts, hundreds of bees had still made it in with the supers and were buzzing around in a mad cloud around the garage! The noise was incredible! While we stood there wondering what to do next, Norman observed, "Look at that, they seem to be going towards the light". So we turned on the overhead light and up they all whooshed to ceiling. We looked up at the ceiling to see the light bulb and surrounding area covered with a thick layer of bees, all buzzing loudly. What an appalling sight!
"Well, if we are going to do this, let's get started!" said Norman with determination, yelling over the roar of the bees.
Now I have to say, that was one of the funniest things I have seen! There was Norman, who used to take off running at the hint of even one bee or wasp buzzing around outdoors, all intent on getting the extracting done now, while not 6 feet above his head a huge cloud of bees buzzed furiously! Well, if he was planning on extracting honey under those conditions, he could do it alone. No thank you, I told him. He was nuts!
The only thing to do, I told him, was to bring all the honey in to the house, then open up the garage doors and window, and wait until dusk. I know what you are thinking - you are thinking that we were now going to end up bringing all the bees into the house too. That would really be fun! But we did in fact manage to do it without bringing in a single bee by doing what I should have done in the first place. We moved all the honey-filled frames from the two supers into the big plastic bin (they did fit if you took them out of the boxes). To do this I shooed off the last few bees of each frame, one at a time, and when I yelled "Now!", Norman quickly opened the lid and slammed it shut. Then when they were all in the plastic tub, we moved the tub into the house, making sure there were no bees anywhere on the tub. Then we opened up the garage doors and waited until dusk.
Several hours later at dusk, the bees were indeed all gone. Phew! We moved the plastic bin with the honey-filled frames back to the garage and opened it up in a bee-free environment, yay! Then, one by one, we scraped the wax cappings off each frame into a large container for such things, and placed the frames in the extractor. It is a 6 frame extractor, so when 6 frames were loaded in, we closed the lid and started spinning the crank. We had bought one of those cappings knives that you plug in and that heats up, making it easier to push it through the wax. You are suppose to slice off the top layer of wax like cutting bread, but I found it required quite a bit of strength. When I did it it kept slipping instead of cutting from top to bottom in one go.
This is where a new problem emerged, though. You are supposed to screw the legs of the extractor to the floor so that when you spin it, it doesn't start wobbling up and down and tipping over (it's a centrifuge). Clearly we didn't want to screw it into our garage floor since we would no longer be able to park the cars there. Adam had showed us at his demo over the summer that you can screw it onto a wooden frame. But that takes forethought and planning, which apparently we don't seem to have. So the only solution was to take it off the legs, put it directly on the ground, and for the family to bear down really hard on the top while one person cranked the handle. Desta and Alex loved that part, though only Norman's spinning really got it going fast enough for the honey to come out of the cells.
It was quite exciting when the honey began to pour out of the little tap at the bottom of the extractor into our 5 gallon bucket! We had to lift it back up on to the legs for this part.
And of course, this all took a while. Norman and I missed dinner, the girls got to bed really late, and the last frame was finally scraped free by about 10:10 pm. But by the time all the honey had filtered into the bucket, and the honey from the cappings wax had been added, we had about 40 lbs of honey!
And I have to say, now I understand why honey is so expensive. In fact, after what we've gone through, I think $50 for 8 oz would be about right! ;-)