Spring has sprung early here in South London and unlike last season I am determined to have all my equipment ready before I need it. Saves all that rushing around at the last minute, something I did a lot of last season.
The wife has banned me from making frames on the dining room table after a few ….. erm …….. incidents that left small holes in the table. So banished to a garden bench I spent a rather pleasant morning making frames on my trusty workbench.
I do have some hives to make, preparation is one of the many beekeeping rituals that I love about this hobby.
When people discover you are a beekeeper they inevitably ask the question ‘do you have any honey?’ last year the answer was no. The expression on their faces was always one of disappointment and pity, a bit like telling someone you knew a Beatle and then later they find out it was Ringo
This year, however, I will look that person in the eye and proudly say “yes, yes I do” for this my friends is the year I harvest a crop of honey from my bees.
It’s all rather exciting.
My wife wasn’t so excited, she had visions of honey dripping from the walls and sticking to the carpets; so careful was the theme of the day. I’ve bought myself a four frame tangential extractor, filters, jars and a bucket to store my haul in.
An uncapping knife looked a messy business, which is why a heat gun seemed a good idea. It worked remarkable well. After switching the gun on you let it get hot enough then run it briskly over the frame. The cappings just dissolve away, it’s very clean and simple. A word of warning here; this method isn’t suitable for all frames. I kept a bread knife close by for the odd patches of wax that needed to be sliced off.
Extraction was a surprisingly magical experience. Spinning the frames in the opaque bucket which slowly becomes darker as the honey is thrown from the cells onto the wall of the extractor. If I had more than three or four hives I think a radial extractor would probably be more efficient as it doesn’t require you to turn the frames to extract from the other side; but this one was perfect for my 20 frames.
Pouring the honey into the settling tank was a beautiful sight as the amber honey flowed from the extractor through the filter that was catching the bee bits and wax – okay that wasn’t so beautiful. The following morning I filled up 30 jars which I’m sure won’t last long.
Gosh! I almost feel like a proper beekeeper.
This year I’ve grown my hive estate from one to two. Earlier in the season I completed a comb change, it went so well I was left with two 12×14 brood boxes bursting with bees. I keep my hives at my local association apiary and take advantage of the many experienced beekeepers that attend the regular apiary meetings by asking their advice on what options I should consider when managing my hives. Consensus between them is hardly ever reached but it’s always very encouraging to listen to various points of view over the lashings of tea and cake available as such meetings.
The conversation boiled down to two options. The first, to leave the hive alone and hope for a bumper crop of honey. The second was to use the artificial swarm technique to produce another hive. One of my goals this year has been to add more hives so it was a pretty simple decision. A few weeks later I had a new mated queen and a second hive. Unfortunately it seems to have picked up a minor chalk brood infection but I decided not to treat, mainly because I’ve read that good queens can deal with this problem and would rather treat less where possible.
Shortly after that the original hive superseded the queen so now I have two queens, one produced from an emergency cell and the other from a supersedure. The emergency queen is small and dark, it’s taken her a number of weeks to overcome chalk brood and the hive is still very small. The queen produced from the supersedure is large, honey coloured, laying like crazy and this week I’ve taken two full supers off that hive.
I was really very surprised to get such different queens from the same mother. I’m now concentrating on building them both up to overwinter. The weaker hive in particular I’m giving special love and attention by feeding it using the Hive Alive supplement – I’ll let you know how that works out.