How to make honey comb

When I was young, my mom bought honey comb for my brothers and I to try.  I remember, as you bit into the comb, the pockets of honey would burst open and it would be oh, so sweet.

Honey comb

I wanted to see if I could bring that memory to life, using my own hives.  However, I didn’t want to over do it, but just to make a few frames of comb for the family to enjoy and to share with friends.

The method I used, was to take a plastic foundation and cut it into 5 strips.  I placed each of these strips at the top of an empty frame.  I didn’t need to pin the strip into place, it fit snuggly into the grove at the top.  In fact, I had to use a hammer to set it into place.

I placed each frame between 2 already drawn out frames, which helps to give the bees a pattern to f0llow. The bees drew out each frame, filled the cells with nectar and when they had made honey, they capped the cells. In this picture, you can see the small strip of plastic cell at the top of the frame.

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The bees filled this frame with a mix of very light honey and a darker honey.

Using a small sharp knife, I cut each frame into 4 combs that fit nicely into my containers.

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I found this quite easy to do, however the bees don’t always build a nice straight comb, especially when there is a frame missing foundation.  I was lucky that they didn’t build crossways between the frames on either side of the honey comb frame.

I hope you find this inspirational and, perhaps during your next nectar flow, you will give this a try.

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.

Lisa

 

 

 

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Happy with hive 4

This last weekend I inspected Hive #4.  Hive #4 was created on June 5th, where I took 2 frames from hive 2….IMG_5407

and placed them in a Nuc box, with a frame of honey, a frame with pollen and a frame of drawn comb.

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I left this Nuc alone until June 19th, where during a quick inspection I found an open queen cell, no eggs, didn’t spot the queen, but the bees seemed calm. Calm, quiet bees are a sign of a queen right hive, therefore, I closed up the hive and decided I would check again at a later date.

It wasn’t until the end of July that I found  the queen, she was busy working on the frame below.

Hive 3 Frame of bees

In this next picture you can find her in the middle. She has a long black abdomen, short wings and a black thorax and what a beautiful queen she is.

Hive 3 Queen

Again, after seeing that the hive was calm and busy, I closed them back up to let them be.

During my recent inspection, I found many frames with a very nice laying pattern.

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I am very pleased with this hive. If they keep building like they have been, they will be ready for winter when it arrives.

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.

Lisa

Creamed Honey

Making creamed honey is simple and, oh, so delicious.

Creamed honey is not made by whipping honey, but by controlling the crystallization of it. When honey naturally crystallizes, it produces crystals, which when rolled across the tongue, feel rough and gritty. Creamed honey is made using smaller crystals and these smaller crystals roll nicely across the tongue, giving a smooth creamy feeling.

The easiest way to make creamed honey is to purchase an already made creamed honey, to use as a seed.

Over the weekend, I went to our local farmer’s market to scope out the different creamed honeys produced by my local beekeepers.

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I ended up purchasing from 2 different beekeepers and brought it home for the family to do a taste test, to identify a winner. We thought the one on the left was smoother, but only after you got through a top layer that was not as smooth. The sugar grains, in the one on the right, were not as smooth, but were consistent from top to bottom. Remember that you are looking for smoothness and not taste,  once you mix the “seed” into your honey, it will be your honey flavor that shines.  Since we couldn’t make a decision on which one we liked best, we made 2 batches, 1 from each.

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For the 1st batch, I measured out 4.5 pounds of honey and mixed in half the creamed honey, from the jar purchased from the farmers market. As you mix, be careful not to mix in any air.

Once thoroughly mixed, I then poured the mixture into jars. 4.5 pounds of honey, plus 4oz of creamed honey resulted in 7 half pint jars.

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All jars were then placed into the refrigerator in order to set. After 2 weeks we removed them and gave one a try.  My husband remarked that it was the best creamed honey that he’s ever had.  (What a wonderful husband I have.)

Next time I would like to make a flavored cream honey.  I’m thinking of lemon infused creamed honey. I have fond memories of drinking tea with honey and lemon juice when I was young.  Or perhaps cinnamon creamed honey, I love putting cinnamon sugar on my toast. This might be a good way of further transitioning from sugar to honey in my diet.

I would love to hear what flavor of creamed honey is your favorite.  Please leave me a comment.

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.

Lisa

Early Extraction

It’s been a while since I have posted, I took a new job in January and have been so busy from learning and doing that I have been exhausted in the evening. If I wasn’t having meetings with my global counterparts at night, I was sleeping by 7pm. My poor family was being to miss me.

This year I took a different approach to beekeeping. Last year I inspected my hives almost every weekend, with up to 12-14 hives it took a huge amount of time away from my flower gardens. This year I did not buy anymore hives, but worked only with the 2 that overwintered

The 2 overwintered hives

My philosophy for this year is:

  • Let the bees do their job – minimal inspections, get in, get out
  • Super early and super often – don’t let them get honey bound, which may be a signal to the hive to swarm
  • Build up colony to max – do minimal # of splits, if any
  • Give them plenty of space – don’t let them get overcrowded, we want no swarming

This philosophy seems to be working very well, by mid June I had 4 honey supers on each hive and by July 1st, all 80 frames either capped or in the process of being capped.

4 supers each

On July 3rd, I pulled off all fully capped frames, 48 in total, and extracted the honey from them.

Honey capped frame

My setup for extraction is quite simple:

  • A homemade extractor, which holds 7 frames
  • A homemade capping bucket, which holds wax cappings from ~50 frames
  • 5 gallon bucket with honey gate
  • 2 strainer system that sits on top of the 5 gallon bucket
  • Hot knife for uncapping frames
  • Bucket of water to rinse hands
  • Cardboard for the floor of my garage

The extraction took many, many hours for we had to do a modification to the extractor to keep the bottom of the frames from slipping out of the spinner and hitting the wall of the barrel. Once we fixed that, things went much faster and we were able to pull all of the honey from the cells and not just 50% or so.   During this extraction we extracted over 11 gallons, > 132 #s, of honey.

Here we have 6 gallons bottled in 1/2 gallon jars, 4 gallons in the 5 gallon bucket and, to date, there is over 1 gallon in the uncapping bucket.

Once extraction was complete, we put the supers back on the hives so the bees could continue to create more honey.

I leave my supers on until the goldenrod begins to bloom, and at that time I will pull all frames capped to do another extraction. For the uncapped frames, I will leave them on for the bees to continue to work. However, when we reach the end of the goldenrod flow, I will need to decide how much to leave them for winter and what to pull for the purpose of extracting a dark goldenrod honey.

I hope your honey making bees are doing as well as mine are this year. Comment below to let me know how things are going.

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.

Lisa

 

Overwinter Config

~ Wandering Creek Acres ~

Before you start your hive autopsies, you should first take some time to list how you prepared your hives in the fall for winter.  After each autopsy you can review that configuration and determine how you can make it better for the following year.

Here are my 8 hives that entered the new year alive.

Each was prepared for winter as follows:

Excel - winter config

As an experiment (ok, I’m an engineer and engineers love experiments), I overwintered 3 Nucs to see if I would have greater success in overwintering smaller colonies.

The five hives marked in red died before we reached April; 3/5ths of the 10-frame hives and 2/3rds of the Nucs. (60% and 67%, respectively). So not much of a difference.

Now that I have listed how each hive was winterized, I can easily review the autopsy results as I perform each autopsy and determine how I can improve on my overwintering plan for the coming winter.

As you can see from my overwintering plan for this last year, I do not wrap, how about you?  Do you find that wrapping helps your hives survive the winter?

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places!

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Spring Hive Autopsy

Before you begin an autopsy, you first need to determine what to look for. The things that I look for are:

  1. Size of the cluster when it died
  2. Evidence of moisture in the hive
  3. Evidence of Varroa mites
  4. Evidence of Varroa feces in the cells
  5. Evidence of Dysentery
  6. Evidence of deformed wing virus
  7. The amount of honey stores remaining
  8. Evidence of pests living in the hive

Q1: What is the size of the cluster when it died?

As winter continues, the colony within a hive naturally declines in size. The smaller the colony gets, the more difficult it gets for the colony to keep warm, sometimes reaching the point that it can no longer survive.

In the pictures below, the clusters are too small to survive a cold spell.

Q2: Is there evidence of moisture in the hive?

Moisture in the hive causes bees to become chilled during the winter and chilled bees die.  Moisture in the hive can be caused by 1) the bees themselves, they are living creatures that generate heat and this warm moist air in the hive hits the top and condenses, raining water upon the bees. 2) water pooling up at the bottom, keeping the hive damp, and 3) snow and rain entering the hives.

In these pictures you can see that water has pooled in the bottom tray, that there is snow in with the dead bees and that the wax cappings have started to mold. All evidence that there is moisture in the hive and probably was throughout the winter.

Q3: Is there evidence of Varroa mites?

Excessive amounts of Varroa mites on the bottom board means that your bees had excessive amounts of mites on them. This would have weaken the bees and throughout the winter they sicken and die.

The brown specs in the first picture are the varroa mites that have fallen off the bees.  In 2 of the pictures, I magnified the picture and then circled every varroa mite that I found.  The bottom picture is a close up of varroa, unfortunately a little blurry.

Q4: Is there evidence of Varroa feces in the cells

If you are unable to inspect the fallout of your hive, you can look within the empty cells to see if there is varroa feces lining the walls.  This will appear as white specs on the insides of the cells.

4 varroa feces

Q5: Is there evidence of dysentery?

Dysentery is a sign that the bees are sick. During the winter months bees hold all waste within their bodies, they do not defecate within the hive. On a warm day, when the bees are able to take flight, they will leave the hive to relieve themselves and then return before they become too chilled. When they have dysentery it is evident through brown streaks and spots on the hive and snow.

Dysentery is a sign of a virus passed on from the Varroa mite. This virus makes the bees weak and die.

Q6: Are the bee’s wings deformed?

Deformed wings are caused by a virus that is transmitted to the honeybee by the Varroa mite.

I do not have a picture of this since I’ve only seen this one time during my first year as a beekeeper. Here’s a few pictures of what healthy wings on bees look like:

Q7: How much honey remains?

A warmer than normal winter can cause bees to go through their honey stores quicker than the beekeeper plans.  Also, cold can cause the tight cluster to be unable to move to reach more honey stores.

During inspection of the honey stores, I also take note of where the final cluster was found in relation to these stores.  The 2 frames that are stacked on top of each other, were position in the hive in this way, one on top of the other.  As you can see the small cluster was just below a frame of honey, but there was a small gap between the bees and the honey. The bees did not realize there was honey above. The picture on the right and the bottom shows that the bees had made it to the top of the honey stores, even placing a sugar block above them didn’t help them survive.

Q8: Did pests take up residence and eat the honey and bees? 

Mice is the one pest that I worry about entering my hives in the fall and then living off of the bees and honey frames during the winter. I do not have pictures of this, since I’ve never had mice in my  hives.  I take care to add a mouse guard in the fall to keep them out.

Autopsy conclusion:

Once I have determined the answered for the questions above and take into account the state of the colony/hive when it entered winter, only then can I determine which of the following may have caused the demise of the hive:

  1. Starved bees….. lack of winter stores due to being too cold to move around OR too mild of a winter and the bees ran out of stores.
  2. Moisture in the hive.. may have caused the bees to die.
  3. Varroa mites… possibly sickening and weakening the bees.
  4. Pests….  eating the bees honey stores and causing a decline in bees.
  5. Fall colony too small to survive winter.

What’s Next:

Using this information I can create a plan for the fall, which will hopefully give my colonies a better chance of surviving this coming winter.

I hope this helps you with your hive autopsies. Over the next few weeks I will post the autopsies from 5 of my dead outs and finish with a post detailing my plan for winterizing my hives this coming fall.

Would love to hear how your bees did this winter… please share.

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places!

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Spring Inspection

Early in the year, when the weather permits, it is time to assess which hives survived winter.  For those that did not make it through the long winter, a hive autopsy should be performed to see what you can learn from what remains.

Last fall, I had ten colonies being prepared for winter, 7 in my Carniolan apiary (picture on left) and 3 in my Italian apiary (picture on the right).

Before we even reached December only eight remained. My Italians struggled all summer long, re-queening and one succumbing to laying workers. It was a struggle keeping them alive.  My Carniolan apiary was the opposite, I captured 2 swarms near them and was able to make 3 hives from one that was attempting to swarm.

However, by mid February, 3 more had perished, leaving us with 5.  We are now sitting at the end of March with only 3 hives remaining.  During each of the last 2 cold spells I have lost one additional hive.

Now is the time to perform autopsies on these hives, to see what I can learn from them, and determine what I could have done differently for next year.

Follow me on this journey and learn about hive autopsies and what signs to look for.

~ May all your wandering take you to may wonderful places!

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