It’s supposed to be winter in North Carolina. Not so much this year. Two years ago the temperature was 3º, today it is almost 70º.
The bees are gathering pollen from somewhere. You can see where this bee has completely stuffed her pollen sacks with yellow pollen. She will take it just inside the hive where other bees will removed the pollen from her and store it, and this bee will be on her way to gather more.
Our bees made it through the worst of the winter (so far!). We had the longest below-freezing period on record for North Carolina, with night-time temps down to -4º one evening. Would the bees survive? We can’t open the hives to check as that would let in cold air.
Bees do not hibernate in winter. Instead, when the temp inside the hive drops to between 54º and 57º they form a bee cluster, and vibrate their flight muscles to generate warmth. That cluster moves around the inside of the hive eating reserve honey stores for food energy. At the center of the cluster it stays a balmy 92º!
Yesterday, the cold spell broke and went up to almost 60º outside, and all four of the hives showed they survived and were out foraging for water and food. Great news!
We harvested about 70 pounds of honey from two hives in the past two weeks. One of the hives is three years old now, while the other is a two-year-old hive. Both seem to be doing well and producing lots of new brood. We won’t take any honey from the new hives this year.
This picture is honey flowing from the spinner (which spins the honey out of the cells) and then through a filter. The top of the filter is covered with a single cheesecloth layer to catch any bits of beeswax that might be in the honey. Then the honey goes through a fine and an ultrafine wire mesh filter. From there it is ready to eat!
This year’s honey is a much better batch than last year. They honey is darker in color and very flavorful. Taste and color all depend on what pollen was available to the bees when they were making honey.
We harvested honey over the weekend. One of the by-products of honey is all the other stuff in the honeycomb – wax, bee parts, pollen and so on. Beeswax is valuable for a lot of things but is not easy to render. In the past we slowly melted the leftovers on a stove in a pot of water. The wax separated and floated and everything else either dissolved in the water or sank to the bottom. However, that is a long process and must be watched carefully as the melted beeswax is highly volatile and can catch fire (think beeswax candles!)
So this time, we are trying something different – a solar wax melter. We lined a styrofoam cooler with aluminum foil. Then we took a plastic bowl, added about an inch of water, rubber-banded two thicknesses of paper towels over the bowl, and placed a pile of the honeycomb leftovers on top. Put a piece of clear glass over all of it, and placed it in the sun all day.
By suppertime the wax had melted through the paper towels and was in a perfect ring of solid beeswax floating on top of the water. The rest of the leftovers (called ‘slumgum’, and don’t ask where that name came from but that is the right name) remained on top. We’ll keep the slumgum as a firestarter.
Overall, it worked great!
These funny little bees live in the ground right in front of the firing line at our local range. They build their nests in the ground there each spring. By mid-summer they have disappeared. No aggression towards people at all. In fact, they are so used to the shooting that each time a muzzle blast hits them they just bounce an inch in the air and keep on about their business.
It’s too bad that not everyone is as friendly towards the marksmanship sports as are these bees.