Sunday, May 8, 2016

Honey: From Hive to Bottle

A couple weeks ago I was informed that my nephew wanted to know how my bees' honey gets collected and bottled. Since I neglected to post any pictures either here or on Facebook regarding extraction I guess it's past due. So here you go kiddo, this is how it happens.

Set up and ready to extract.
When the honey supers (the top boxes) got full last summer, A. and I took them off the hives and had to get the bees out so we could put the frames in the car and drive them home. Originally we had an electric leaf blower to try to blow the bees out of the boxes but it wasn't strong enough. Bees are persistent when it comes to their honey. We also tried almond extract on a homemade fume frame (a piece of felt attached to an eke sort of like a stretched canvas) but that didn't work either so instead we had to shake and brush the bees off frame by frame and sneak the frames away from the hives into a closed box as quickly as possible. It worked pretty well but was more messy and time consuming that we had anticipated. The main thing is that we got all the bees off of the honey frames.

After we loaded up all the honey supers and drove home I set up the extractor that I borrowed from my brother-in-law's father (Mr. Jensen) while A. went inside to boil some water to heat the uncapping knives (also borrowed from Mr. Jensen). It's a pretty neat old extractor with a cast iron gear and wooden handle that holds four frames. An extractor is a like the spin cycle on a washing machine. It's a large metal barrel with a spigot on the bottom and a rotating cage or drum inside. There are two main types of extractors. Radial extractors and tangential extractors. The difference is in how the frames are placed in the drum. With a radial extractor, the frames are held in the cage so that they look like spokes on a wagon wheel or bicycle wheel. In a tangential extractor the frames are placed so that one side of the frame faces to the inside and one side faces to the outside. The extractor that I'm using is a tangential extractor.

Once the extractor was set up and the water was hot, A. brought the big pot of hot water outside with the uncapping knives in it and we got down to the business of getting sticky.
Knives getting hot.
Cutting the caps off.
 Well...I did. A. took pictures and brought me the tools I didn't know I would need (also a very important job). To begin I took one frame at a time and rested it on it's short side over my uncapping bucket. Then I took one of the hot uncapping knives out of the pot, wiped off the water and slowly cut the cappings off of one side of the frame.
Then I turned the frame around and cut the cappings off of the other side. The cappings fell into the bucket to strain the honey out of later and the frame went into the extractor. After I did 3 more frames, I had a full extractor. I opened the spigot on the bottom of the extractor and turned the crank to make the cage spin around inside the barrel. As the cage spins faster and faster, the honey is flung out of the comb cells and onto the inside of the barrel where it drips down the inside and flows out of the spigot into a waiting clean bucket. Since I have a tangential extractor the honey only gets flung out of one side of the frames at a time so I have to stop after a few minutes and turn the frames around so that I can get the honey out of the other side. Then the empty frames are removed and the process starts over by uncapping more frames.
Frames waiting for a 4th frame for extracting.
Turning the crank.

After all the frames are uncapped and spun out, the inside of the barrel gets scraped out to get as much honey as possible and everything gets cleaned up. The honey in the buckets has to sit for a day or two so that all the "extra" stuff (bee legs, wax bits, etc) can float up to the surface of the bucket and get skimmed off before bottling.

When we're ready to bottle, the honey gets poured into a bucket with a spigot in the bottom and then I dispense the honey into bottles and A. tops them off (by weight) and caps them. I put the labels on and the bottles are ready to be sold or given away.

And that, dear nephew, is how my bees' honey gets from the hive into the bottles and eventually into your mouth. I hope you enjoy it.

Here's some more pictures from the whole process to check-out:
Honey coming out of the extractor and being minimally strained as it drips into the collection bucket.

Cutting off caps.
Sometimes the uncapping knife can't get all the caps so I use the uncapping fork to pull off the rest.

Some honey drips into the uncapping bucket with the wax caps. This all gets strained and separated later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

And so it begins again...

Happy Spring Everyone!
Spring is here! Pollen Coming in.

Recap: Our bees had a super year last year! After our inspection with Mr. Waller we extracted several frames of honey. The weather continued to be perfect and the bees had an incredible season. In early fall (August) we extracted our honey supers and ended up with about 100lbs of honey. We put the supers back on for the bees to clean out except they started filling them back up again. We pulled the supers off Labor Day weekend and extracted what they had filled up again. I sold most of the honey to my co-workers. We did a mite treatment and also discovered that the Queen in the Yellow Triangle hive was crap. What's a crap queen you ask? She didn't have a very good laying pattern and was laying a lot of drones. Laying drones in the fall is bad because at that time of year, they serve no purpose and are pretty much parasites to the colony. (Eating all the resources and not doing anything beneficial) Hindsight being 20/20 we probably should have killed the queen and combined the two hives together. But we didn't so we weren't really expecting the Yellow Triangle colony to make it through the winter anyway. We prepared for winter by moving the hives together to share warmth (giving the Yellow Triangle colony as many advantages as we could) and wrapped them in pink foam insulation. Each hive got a 16lb sugar board for emergency reserves and a moisture board to soak up any condensation created from the bee's respiration. The outer cover went on and that was it. We took advantage of some day-after-Thanksgiving sales and used the money we made from the honey to purchase more bee hives. I'm happy to announce that we're expanding the apiary to at least 4 hives this year.  Let's hope that this year ends up being as good as the last.

As I mentioned above we were pretty sure that the Yellow Triangle colony wasn't going to make it through the winter and even though it was a very mild winter by Wisconsin standards they were dead before New Year's Day. The normal life span of a honey bee is about 3-4 weeks but winter bees which hatch in late October to early November are more robust bees and live all through the winter until Spring when the queen starts laying worker bees again. As the regular worker bees die out in their normal life span the cluster gets smaller and smaller until only winter bees and the queen are left.Since the queen was a crappy layer there wasn't a large enough population of winter bees to sustain the colony and keep the cluster warm.

Stuffing a marshmallow in the hole.
Letting the bees walk-out.
Figuring that this would be the case and knowing we were going to expand the apiary(bee yard) anyway we purchased a new package of bees through the bee club. They arrived on Sunday so we spent the weekend messing around with bees and installing the new package. This year we're trying the walk-out method rather than the shake-out method. If you don't know what the shake-out method is go back and read either the "Beekeeping with Mr. Smith" or "It's official" posts from last year. The walk-out method is the same until you get to the "shake out all the bees" step. We still sprayed them down with sugar syrup, removed the feeding can and set-up the queen (we remembered the marshmallows this time), then dumped a handful of bees onto the queen but rather than continuing on to shaking out all the rest of the bees, we laid the package on it's side and put an empty hive body on the hive so the bees can walk out of the package. Sounds quite a bit nicer doesn't it? We'll see if it works in about 3 days.

Sugar boards.
The colony in the Blue Triangle hive made it through the winter just fine and are going gangbusters! They didn't even eat most of their sugar board. You can see the difference between the sugar boards. The bright white one is the board we pulled off of the Yellow Triangle hive and doesn't really have anything eaten off of it. The one with the big yellow area is what was left from the Blue Triangle hive. We'll save the unused one for next year after wrapping it in plastic to keep the moisture out and the other one we're breaking down to make sugar syrup out of. Before you go thinking that it looks gross, the yellow area is where the bees have been walking across the sugar to get down into the hive so it's discolored from the pollen they've been foraging.  The hive is so full of bees already that we're going to add a third brood box to give them more room and try to keep them from swarming.

After the third brood box goes on and we check on the new package in a few days we're pretty much done until the other bees we ordered get here, other than checking feed levels. More about the other bees we ordered after they arrive.
Painting the third brood box for the Blue Triangle hive.
What?! I had to get a brush strand off the box. Where else was I suppose to put it?

Until then, have wonderful days and hope for flowers!

UPDATE: We went into the new colony to check and see if the queen had been released and remove the package box. Success! The walk-out method worked great, the queen was released and the bees are already bringing in a bunch of pollen. Wohoo! We didn't do any kind of inspection today because it's still a little cold to be pulling out frames of brood but everything seems to be going well so far. Check below for some more images of the two days.

Success! Empty package box!
The queen has been released. (The bee inside is an exploring worker
Getting ready to remove the syrup can.

Taking the queen cage out of the package.

Dumping a handful of bees onto the queen.
All done! Put the lid back on.

The new colony has been eating the pollen patty.
The bees using the new bee watering hole,