Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sweet Distraction

Liquid sunshine. Dark, rich honey.

Honey extraction is not something one typically does in January.

Wax caps from honey cells have lots of honey still attached.
Will gently warm to separate honey from wax.
But what else do you do when you find that the hive is dead and you have several frames full of honey?

Yeah, I know, you could leave the honey intact to feed the new nucleus of bees you plan to get in the spring. And yes, we did leave honey in several frames just for that. However, how could we resist taking at least some of the honey for ourselves?

So, we extracted honey from eight frames from the hive box. We found no brood cells (those containing larvae) on the frames. We figure that something happened to the queen and when all of the brood had hatched and grown, the hive eventually died down, becoming too small to keep the hive warm when the temperatures fell.
Cutting caps from honey cells.

We will just start again. This hive had survived three years, so far. An improvement over the first. We’ll set one hive up near the house and the other in the spot where this hive had thrived for a while. We must become better beekeepers, though, at least more diligent ones, and check the hives more frequently – but not too frequently.

Anyway, we spent a cold, windy, snow-covered winter day cranking and spinning to extract the honey.

The extractor.
The first step was to warm the frames. With a temperature less than 80 degrees, you need to prewarm the frames. The honey this year also was thicker than usual, according to our beekeeping mentor (who loaned us the extractor), making the warming process even more critical. Cold honey flows as slowly as, well, cold honey.

My husband set the oil pan warmer for our tractor inside an empty hive box, then put the box full of honey-filled frames on top and let it sit overnight. In the morning, he set the whole array near the wood burning stove. The oil pan warmer probably was not sufficient heat on its own. We conducted the whole extraction process near the stove to keep everything warm.

After working with the first set of frames, my husband thought that the honey was not warm enough, so he set a small shop light in with the last four frames. That was too hot and result in some melted wax and honey dripping onto the light (I was alerted to the fact by sweet-smelling smoke). But it turned out fine, anyway.
Honey flow.

And then a little piece broke on the extractor. Yikes. Fortunately, we were at the end of the process. Unfortunately, now we have to find a welder to fix it, and inform our mentor of the mishap.

So it goes.

The clean-up process simply required hot water, but lots and lots of it. That didn’t take quite as long as the extraction process, but nearly so.

I am still finding sticky spots on things – doorknobs, the floor, my camera.

Yet, for all the trouble, we have more than two gallons of liquid sunshine – a sweet distraction on a cold winter day.

Inside the extractor. Spin, spin, spin. The honey the outside facing frames is flung out by centrifugal force.


The Harried Homemaker said...

Bees are on my list of critters to add to our homestead. I'm a bit intimidated, though, because every blog I read about it features some kind of bee catastrophe - swarming, dead queen, mites, etc.

Andrea said...

What a great way to spent a Winter's Day!!! Love your post its brought back wonderful memories spending afternoons with my dad extracting the honey,I always loved sucking the honey out of little pieces of comb.
Dad no longer keeps hives but my brother has kept the tradition going ..........I'd love too but am highly allergic after so many stings !! Do doubt you liquid gold will keep you warm over winter. Enjoy !

Sandra M. Siebert said...

Don't be intimidated,just do it. I felt rather intimidated, too, and was heartbroken when our first colony failed. But you learn what you can and do what you can and hope for the best. If a colony fails, you figure out why and try again. We're getting TWO nucleus colonies this spring.