Friday, October 26, 2018

(Oct 1) Harvesting Some Fruits of Our Labor (well, their labor actually!)

Thought I had posted this earlier this fall. Sorry for the confusion!

Just a follow-up to our beekeeping efforts. We harvested honey off of one of our hives this summer. Looks like we'll net about 30 pounds from one hive. At $12/pound, not a bad haul. We've got another large hive to harvest after we're done with this one. We're working on getting the other hives up to this production. They should be ready to start harvesting next Spring. Our goal will be to get up to about 6 productive hives by the end of next year.

We're really excited that they're doing so well. I was nervous about taking a natural approach (no pesticides, no medicine, no chemicals of any kind) to raising bees. I have 4 hives that are from wild stock, at least they were from swarms that we caught. They may have started out as domestic bees but I don't have any way of knowing. So far, they've been survivors. They're a bit more aggressively defensive than domestic hives that I've been around but I've also found that smoking them and then giving them about 5 minutes to settle down makes a big difference. We'll see next Spring how they compare to the have we have that was from purchased queen stock.

Original wild swarm that we caught. Look at all of that beautiful virgin comb! :)

We're so happy to be members of a local beekeeper's organization (Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association). They have been instrumental in educating us along the way. Lots of people willing to share knowledge and time to help you along. They're on the Dallas side of the Metroplex. There's also a group in Fort Worth, Metro Beekeepers Association, that I've heard lots of good about. The 2 groups are joining up this Fall to host the 1st DFW Area Beekeepers Conference. This should be a great show and we look forward to going.

Here's a breakdown of how the harvest went:

Amount of pure raw honey we harvested: 30 lbs

Amount of bee's wax we harvested: 2 lbs

Time to harvest and process: 6 hrs

Lessons learned:

1. Work the bees in mid-morning, after the foragers have left the hive in search of food but before it gets too hot!

2. Have a plan for securing the frames of honey and getting them to the processing area. Think the process through from which hives you'll process to how you'll secure the frames without bees. They will follow the frames of honey if you don't secure it. How to transport them if you have to drive? Hint, wax and honey tend to melt in a hot trunk! Be sure it's all in a leakproof container. What are you going to store the honey in after extraction? What are you going to do with it afterward? Bottle it? Keep it for personal consumption? Make Mead? Have some 5-gallon food-grade containers available to store the honey in until you're ready to bottle/distribute. Have several available in case you want to keep the honey from different hives separate.

3. Honey makes a sticky mess! Best to plan on it getting on everything that you deal with. Harvest in an area that's easy to clean up but closed off to bees that might smell it in the wind as you're working it. The other option is to do the actual processing at night while the bees are tucked in bed. Cooler then also if you don't have the option of an air-conditioned space. Texas Bee Supply in Blue Mound (north of McKinney), besides having tons of beekeeping and extraction equipment for sale, also has equipment for rent and a facility (air-conditioned!) to process in. Pretty reasonable rate at $15/hr. The Beekeeper's club that we belong to, Trinity Valley Beekeepers, has equipment to use that's free to members. A family membership is $20/yr - a bargain!

4. Plan ahead. If you're going to just extract honey, use frames with plastic foundation. They'll hold up to the process better and you can drop them right back into the hives for the bees to start re-filling. Use foundationless frames (the bees draw out their own comb from scratch) if you plan on cutting it out, foundation, honey and all. Knowing what and how you'll harvest in advance will make the process go a lot smoother when you're ready.

5. Keep logs and notes on everything that you do. Which hive(s) you harvest from. How much you harvested. What time of year. Grade the honey on flavor and color.

Three one pound jars from our 1st harvest. Can't wail 'til next summer to see what we get!

Here's a photo of some of the honey we harvested. We sold out in 3 days and actually couldn't fill all of the orders we got. We felt so bad, we sold it all and didn't end up keeping any for our own use! Had to buy some honey this year. There's some irony there!!