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.
Here is a video showing opening one of our bee hives. You can see honey and capped pollen. The bees have moved higher in the frames than we expected, which may indicate queen issues. The bees seem to be healthy.
We expected more capped honey than is shown. That may mean the nectar didn’t flow as early as last year. By this time in 2016 we took 10 pounds of honey out of this hive. This year so far – none.
It’s been unseasonably warm the past few days at FrogPondAcres, and our bee hives are active gathering pollen, and hopefully creating new bees.
Bee hives need room to grow. Queen bees move upwards in a hive, so as the lower part of the hive gets filled with pollen stores or brood, the queen moves up to the next ‘super’ and starts laying more eggs. So, the upper supers must have room for her to lay.
Supers are filled with frames. Frames are made out of wood, and are reusable.
Comb is then put into the frame. Comb is a cell-like structure that gives the bees a stable platform to lay and hatch eggs, and store pollen and honey. It is made out of beeswax or plastic.
Comb is then put into the frame. The small wires on the comb are held into each frame by a piece of wood and a couple small nails. Wires in the frame are embedded into the comb for more stability.
And after preparing several frames, they are put into an empty super and added to the hive.
The bees made it through our latest cold spell. We had 5º weather a few days ago, and were below freezing for several days. Since it warmed up to 68º they were out foraging for food.
Bees form a cluster and surround the queen, keeping her warm and the hive at around 90º inside by shivering their wing muscles. This takes a lot of energy and they use the stored honey to keep going in the winter.
We will also put out some commercial pollen for them to eat while it is warm for a couple days. Purchased pollen comes in long patties and looks a lot like taffy candy.