Tag Archives: Bees

Honey Harvest 2012

We are like the Olympics here Among the Hills (.com!).  With much pomp and circumstance, we harvested the honey so laboriously produced by my bees.  I use both my English and my French when I work the bees and I always win gold…liquid gold!  Emily’s Dad helped me harvest about half of the frames of honey and then I got the other half on Sunday morning.  Usually pulling the honey off of the hives is a hot, hard, stressful job.  Beesuits are made of heavy cotton and we usually seem to time the harvest for the hottest day in August.  The bees are rarely happy about having their stash removed and honey is heavy.  This year was a little different…it wasn’t hot.  Not very hot anyhow.  Honestly, it really is hot and hard work but this year was probably the best and easiest honey-pull I have ever done!

Close-up of a frame of capped honey
Close-up of a frame of capped honey
Light and dark honey still in the frame
Light and dark honey still in the frame


Some of the honey harvest, waiting to be extracted
Some of the honey harvest, waiting to be extracted
uncapping a frame of honey 
Click above for videos of how we remove the cappings from the honey.  

Sunday afternoon Emily’s grandparents helped Emily, Abigail and me extract 2/3 of the honey.  Extracting honey involves a good bit of work and it is quite sticky but the benefits are awesome!  This year’s honey tastes better than any honey I have ever harvested!

Helping with the honey harvest Helping with the honey harvest

I am not sure what nectar sources the bees found out at the property (I can call it a farm now…we did agriculture out there!), but besides the awesome taste, most of the honey is as black as coffee.  We actually got two different colors of honey but the dark sort of intrigues me.  It’s unlike any honey we have ever gotten!

My very dark honey harvest!
My very dark honey harvest!

Anyhow, we took a bunch of pics and a few videos of the extraction process.  It’s hard to get pics of that part of the process when we pull the honey from the hives.  As you might guess, my mind is focused on other things.  You will have to imagine that part.  Anyhow, aside from being exhausted, it is fantastic to spend time with family, working together.  For me, that is the real gold medal for me!

How not to catch swarms of bees

It has been a really busy swarm season for me this year.  I think the mild winter allowed a lot of bees to survive that otherwise would not have made it and many colonies started spring build-up earlier than normal.  I think that I love catching swarms more than any other part of keeping bees.  I like seeing them en masse out where they can be “checked out” and I love their temperament.  I love being the brave bee man who dazzles audiences and makes women swoon and men blush.

Swarm of bees after dark

Typically it is a pretty straight forward process and is actually pretty safe (for me…I know what I am doing.  Do not try this at home unless you know what you are doing…10,000 angry stinging insects in a typical swarm will not end well if you do it wrong).  Usually I survey the bees a few minutes before digging into the capture.  The only hairy part of catching a swarm is usually climbing into the tree with a box of some sort in which to capture the bees.

The night-swarm, happy in their new home

I have caught two swarms recently that have been interesting though.  A few weeks ago I had a message on my phone from a family who had a swarm of bees in a tree outside their home.  They had small kids and were nervous of the bees being in the playyard.  It was 8:30 pm or so when I discovered the message so I headed to their place a town west of where I live.  By the time I got to their place, it was 9:15 or so at night.  After driving, I wasn’t about to walk away from a nice swarm, dark or not.  The man of the house left a spotlight aimed up in the tree while I climbed into the tree.  I was able to scoop the bees into my box and climb back down in the dark.  Luckily, that went off without a hitch.  Catching a swarm after dark is not a good thing though.  Usually bees disturbed after dark assume the perturber is a bear or other critter which has bad witchery in mind.  Luckily, I did not smell like a bear I guess!

Big swarm of bees Big swarm of bees

Sunday, I was at our place in the country for a little bit to do some work and I needed to attend to the call of the water gods.  As I completed the…uh…task, I happened to turn my head to the right and not 18 inches from my face was a huge swarm of bees.  I was near the bee yard so I assumed the buzzing noise was from the bee yard, not from a swarm hanging right beside me.  It was pretty exciting to see the swarm pretty close to ground level but I was without a bee suit.  “What should I do?” I asked myself.  “Be a honey badger (some language)of course!”  So, without a suit, I proceeded to gently cut the inch thick branch from the tree and move the swarm to the hive box I happened to have sitting in the bee yard.  A number of bees fell on my sleve but I only got one sting…one sting from a bee anyhow.  Somehow in the process of moving the swarm, I skidded the handsaw across my hand which left a lovely opening in my skin.

Bees from the swarm on my arm Bees from the swarm on my arm

Well friends, I do love catching swarms but I cannot really suggest that anyone catch swarms after dark or without a bee suit.  In both cases it turned out fine, but unless you are a fool or a beekeeper who rocks like KISS (I will leave you to decide which case describes me), you should catch swarms in the usual and safe manner.  Sometimes I get swarm-drunk (Wasn’t KISS drunk a lot of the time?  hint, hint) and can’t help myself!



Some other swarms I have caught

Bees are Cool!

I know keeping honeybees isn’t for everyone but I remain fascinated by them.  This weekend, Isaac and I moved the last of the bee hives that were here in Charleston out to our place in the country.  It’s perfectly legal to keep bees in Charleston and WV has a very progressive apiary law that makes it safer for everyone involved.  Still, after my episode a few summers ago, I decided that I would no longer keep bees in the city.

Bees are cool!
Click for a cool video I made!

Anyhow, I opened the bee hives after the move and took a good look around.  I am always amazed that they can survive on the back of a trailer, bumping around up my dirt road and across the hayfield.  The bees did great though.  I took this video with my phone and was super amazed with the quality of what came out.  I hope you enjoy a look at the bees and see how cool they are, even if from across the internets!

More info about my bees and beekeeping

Splitting up and moving

It’s a little earlier than when I usually split bee colonies but this year, since we had little in the way of winter, the bees are really booming and desperately needed to be split.  Bees typically start to bring in increasing amounts of nectar which stimulates the queen to lay more eggs and eventually the brood nest becomes so full of bees that some of the bees leave.  That’s how a swarm is born.  For beekeepers,swarms are not exactly ideal.  I don’t always mind if my bees swarm so long as I can find the swarm and catch it.  Too often though, swarms happen when folks aren’t watching and then half a hive of bees is lost.

Beautiful capped brood
Beautiful capped brood

Anyhow, I usually make splits to hopefully prevent natural swarms.  To make a split, I simply take 3-6 frames of bees, eggs, honey and pollen from one hive and put them into a new hive box.  The bees (apparently) feel as if they have swarmed and with the newly opened space, they are free to go on about their business as a properly sized hive.  I usually make splits a few weeks from now but the hives at the house were bursting at the seams and had swarm cells.  Swarm cells are the hive’s preparation to make a new queen to replace the queen that leaves when the bees swarm.

Bees eating honey from burr comb in the hive
Bees eating honey from burr comb in the hive

I have had excellent luck preventing swarms by timing my splits just right so I expect that this season will see no swarms from my hives.  I have high hopes of getting calls from the city, however, to retrieve swarms from other people’s hives!

The bees were very docile as I split the colony
The bees were very docile as I split the colony
A bunch of bees on the hive lid
A bunch of bees on the hive lid

In addition to making splits this week, I also moved most of my remaining hives from the city out to our place in the country.  Moving bees is a wild prospect.  Emily and I woke up at dawn’s crack (actually, before dawn) to cover the hives in bedsheets to keep the bees  inside for the most part.  We laid down a sheet for each hive and then moved each hive onto the sheet.  I gathered the sheet around the hive boxes and duct taped them to the side of the hive boxes.  Emily then threw another sheet on the top and taped it down as well.  For the most part, that kept the bees inside the “netting” and allowed us to move them safely.

Looking down into the hive.  Notice the white pupa with purple eyes
Looking down into the hive. Notice the white pupa with purple eyes

We had to prepare the hives before dawn to make sure that all of the bees were inside the hives when we closed them up.  The hives are quickly gaining weight this time of year so lifting them is quite an adventure.  Emily was a great help and all hives arrived safe and sound!  Sometimes splitting up and moving can be a pretty good deal!

More info about my bees and beekeeping

Bees…on the flower setting

A little while ago I posted about my discovery of the flower setting on my camera.  I never knew I could take macro pictures without buying a lot of special equipment.  I think I have always liked close-ups better than landscapes as a general rule and now I can take mediocre pictures in both formats!

Ok, so before you go on, you have to promise me you will click on these pics and get the close-up view…this thumbnail view doesn’t do them justice!  Promise?  Ok then…

Activity at a few of the hives
Activity at a few of the hives
Close-up of honeybees
Two bees are kissing...

So I was home at lunch the other day and the bees that remain at the house (4 hives…only until April or so when I move them to the country) were super active.  I put some sugar water on them to feed them a little since there isn’t much blooming yet.  Maples should bloom any time now but they aren’t out yet.  Anyhow, sugar water always makes them very active (not in a bad way) and the bright sun made it even more so.

Close-up of honeybees
Loads of pollen!
Close-up of honeybees
Do you see the load of pollen?

As I watched, I noticed that there was a ton of pollen coming in from somewhere.  I saw bright yellows and greens and everything in between.  Bees flying with pollen are often pretty funny to watch.  They can be so packed down that they look like they are a wounded plane coming in after battle, just barely in the air but still making it.

Close-up of honeybees
Awesome yellow pollen!
Close-up of honeybees
Bees at the door

I sat down in their flight path and used my flower setting and took a bunch of close-up pics.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Bee poop and skeeters

One of these things does not belong…well, really neither thing belongs but bee poop in the middle of February is not too uncommon.  There are usually a few warmish days here and there where the bees can get out and flex their…guts.  It has been a super mild winter for us so the bees have actually had a pretty regular schedule for keeping…regular.  I guess it has been awhile though because on Wednesday when it was so sunny (and I was out of town for work), the bees covered my car in yellow poop.

Bee Poop! Bees at the hive entrance

Now I know you are wanting to ask so go ahead and ask – Warren, does bee poop stink?  For science, of course, I decided to do the sniff test.  I am (not so) pleased to report that I have an answer…bee poop does stink!  Now I didn’t take too many samples, but we may have to let other labs verify my results.  So, dear friends, you have just witnessed science in action!

The only good mosquito is a dead mosquito!

In other science news, mosquitoes do not belong.

Also, mosquitoes do not belong outside in February, but just last week as I returned from the great out of doors and a dirty rotten mosquito followed me in the house.  I know what she was after.  Mosquitoes don’t care a lick for me but they absolutely love Emily.  I really don’t mind mosquitoes themselves, but the was they make Emily whine and fuss is my problem.  I killed that dang whine-making mosquito in a preemptive strike.  I have no regrets.  It had to be done.

Since we are doing science here, folks, I want to take an opportunity to draw the correlation between bee poop and skeeters.  I checked around and 9 out of 10 living creatures agree – both bee poop and skeeters stink!  There you have it!  Science rules!

Stay tuned dear friends, in our next post, we will discuss the maths!

Can it bee?

We worked on the cabin last weekend but it wasn’t all work. Emily and I took a stroll around the place a little too. It was so nice out that we couldn’t resist. It was sort of like we were on a bus tour for retired folks (Emily does have a significant birthday coming up this summer), stopping at various places along our tour route.

Bees flying near the beehive

Anyhow, the first place we stopped was over at the bee yard. We are registered with the Department of Agriculture so we are honest to goodness farmers…bee farmers! Most Januaries, the bees remain inside the hives and cluster together (and sort of vibrate) to keep warm. Honeybees do not hibernate. They are cold-blooded of course, so they slow down if they get too cold, but if the hive is healthy, they remain relatively warm inside the hive and do just fine.

Bees flying near the beehive
The best color for a beehive? The color of cheap paint!

So, this January has been super warm as Januaries go so the bees were out when we visited the bee yard! Here is another interesting fact about bees…barring nosema (bee dysentery), bees will not poop inside the hive. So, winter can be a mighty long prospect if there are not nice days here and there. Nice days for a bee basically means above 43-45 degrees so they can leave the hive to…uh…catch up on some reading if you know what I mean.

Movie of bees flying near hive

Click above for a video of the bees flying. If that version won’t play on your machine, try this link

This year, the bees are feeling good! They can poop pretty regularly, they have a chance to break up their cluster now and then to move inside the hive for food, and they give me something to watch! So, my friends, please enjoy my January bees with me for a bit. They are always delightful and especially so in the wintertime!

Solar Powered Electric Fence

Part of moving the bees to our place in the country is so they can be out of town and away from people.  Of course, getting away from people means getting them closer to good old mother nature herself.  For anyone who has read Winnie the Pooh, you know that bears like honey when they get a rumbly in their tummies.

Bears don't read very well...

Not much will really stop a hungry bear, but the official recommendation is to enclose all “country bees” in an electric fence.  When a bear attacks a hive, the bees always come out in great number to ward off the attack.  Bear fur is typically too thick to present a problem.  The only sensitive place on a bear is apparently their nose/mouth area.  While my electric fence is a little more “juiced” than a bee sting, most folks agree that a bear has to learn about the fence with their mouth or nose.  I’ll talk more about that another time, but it makes sense that an electric fence properly set up should deter all the Poohs out there.

So, you may be wondering how solar power can deliver enough juice to make a bear even notice it was there.  It turns out that the people who make electric fence controllers make a version that runs on DC (i.e. deep cycle batteries, not house current which is AC).  The controller I bought is designed to power up to 25 miles of fence.  All told, I have maybe 1000 feet of wire strung on a few poles, so the charger will deliver a good shot when it fires.  I won’t bore you with the calculations about the capacity of the battery but it is roughly the size of a car battery just for perspective (a car’s starter battery would not work here though…this application needs a long continuous  draw on the battery rather than the quick hit when you start a car)

The battery, fence controller, and charge controller

The instructions show that the fence will run for 2 weeks on a fully charged battery of the proper specs but I do not want to have to worry about whether the battery is still charged if I don’t make it out there for a few weeks.  Instead, I bought a solar panel and a charge controller to keep the battery full.

See? It's pointed south

I pointed my solar panel south and angled it to the optimal angle to get direct sun.  Output wires from the panel go into the charge controller which regulates the power going into the battery.  The charge controller makes sure the power is the proper voltage and that the battery does not get over or under charged. The charge controller also has a “load” connection so I connected the fence controller to that connection and we’re off and running!  All of the charging/controlling/shocky-shocky stuff is inside a beehive surrounded by my other beehives as a sort of a theft deterrent.

Oh, by the way, without thinking I tried to use a regular household switch at the gate to turn the power on and off.  Of course, the fence controller pushes somewhere around 10,000 volts which didn’t even slow down for the switch rated for household current of 110 volts.  If you want a switch, make sure you get one rated properly…same with any wire you may need to use (I only used fencing wire which handles the charge nicely)

So, I hope some of that makes sense.  So far it is alive and well.  Let me know if you want more details…

Change of address

Etched in my back…er mind…is a picture of a bad interaction with the bees last year.  It was shortly after that episode that I decided that if I was to continue to have bees, they had to be away from people.  We bought property out in the country early this Spring and one of its main purposes was to be a bee yard.  After this weekend of labor, I am happy to report that the majority of the bees have been relocated to the new bee yard and seem to be doing quite well.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  As you might have guessed, it was anything but.  Of course, any test of one’s mettle always makes for a good story if nothing else.  To ease the move, I decided we would mostly enclose the bees with screen and other stuff the night before.  To enclose the bees the morning of the move would only stir them up and make the process miserable.  Each hive got the screen treatment except for a small access ares for the bees to come and go.  The plan was to screen that final access point, throw the bees in a truck and go.

My father-in-law and I started before sunrise to carry the bees from his back hillside to the truck.  So, we grabbed ahold of 150 or so pounds of bees+hive+honey and prepared to stumble down the hill, guided solely by the sweet glow of the…yeah, it was dark.  We tried to carry a heavy bunch of bees down a hillside in the dark.  FAIL.  Oh don’t get me wrong, gravity works and we got the bees down the hill and into the truck but it wasn’t fun.  Luckily, the first one took us so long that it was daylight before we got to the next ones and they all went pretty smoothly.


We finished the electric fence of doom a week or so ago so hopefully any bears, raccoons, or bee-lovin’ dinosaurs will find that my bees are not on the menu.  I still have 4 more hives to move but it was such a relief to get the first batch moved to their new address in the country!

Solar wax melter

In a comment yesterday, Ed mentioned reclaiming wax after the harvest is done.  For lots of people, honey is what they think of when they think of beekeeping.  There are tons of other things that beekeepers can harvest or use from the beehive though.  Wax is a big item on that list.  In one of yesterday’s pictures, you can see that wax capping that covers mature honey in the honeycomb.  When I extract the honey, I have to remove those cappings with a knife to allow the honey to be removed from the comb.  Some folks might be tempted to throw all of that wax away, but those wax cappings add up quickly.

When we process honey, we uncap the honeycomb on the frames, place it in the extractor, run the extracted honey through a kitchen strainer to remove cappings and pour it into a bottle.  That is the extent of our processing.  Besides making a more pleasant looking honey, we run it through the strainer to harvest the wax cappings in particular.  So, I collect the wax cappings from when I use the knife to uncap the comb as well as the little bits of cappings that come out in extraction and let them drain (as both are covered in/full of honey still).  The bees are given access afterwards and they complete the bulk of the clean-up for me.

After the bees have their time, the cappings get thrown into my solar wax melter.  It’s basically a black wooden box with a baking pan and a bread pan inside, covered by a sheet of plexiglas.  The box rests at an incline so it faces the sun properly.  The baking pan has 3-4 small holes drilled in one edge at the bottom of the incline, and the bread pan sits under those holes.  As the sun passes through the plexiglas,  it heats everything inside like crazy, just like any greenhouse would.

The honey begins to melt and runs down through the small holes into the bread pan.  Any bee parts or other detritus are too big to flow through the holes.  Honey sometimes flows with the wax but the melted wax floats on the honey very nicely.  After everything cools, the wax hardens and comes out very clean.  I pull the wax out, feed any honey to the bees and marvel at how awesome the wax looks.  And let me tell you, the smell is incredible!

So, once the honey is cleaned (and yes, truthfully, it sometimes takes a few runs), it can be used for anything where wax is needed.  Usually, people make candles but folks also use it in soap, for quilting and woodworking (as a lubricant) and for handlebar moustaches!  Honey is a major crop from the bees, but wax is also significant and just plain cool.  And what better wax to process honey than with the help of the same sun that allowed the bees to make it in the first place!