Monday, October 19, 2009

A Sweet Thing!

Few experiences I've had equal that of pulling new honeycomb from a perfectly calm beehive, feeling the amazing weight of slabs of honey and seeing them emerge into the light for the first time ever.

I've done this a few times in my life, but only a few, and just yesterday for the first time with unframed comb. It was a lovely day, gentle temperatures, a little sun, plenty of shade, a few flowers still out for the bees to browse on. In keeping with the unframed comb, the come-as-come-may pace of the day, and the wistful awareness of fading warm weather, my honey-taking was incidental and gentle. I worked slowly and took only a very small fraction of what was in the hives. Of perhaps 80 lbs or so of comb, I only took about 12 lbs and left the rest to the bees with wishes of an easy winter and strong start next spring.

My real objective for the hives yesterday was in fact not to take honey, but to fit the hives with new roofs and quilt boxes, replacing the temporary plywood tops I'd had on since April. I use the Warre system for my hives: simple, no frames, excellent construction, moisture/heat management, etc....all of cedar! I have no notion of what the bees feel about these truly cadillac hives I've built for them, but the boxes certainly look sharp and elicit frequent compliments from non-bee garden visitors.

When I pulled the temporary roofs off, I saw quickly that the bees had been very happy and productive all summer. The hives were packed full with honey, completely full, three stories high. That made me so happy in turn that I determined on the spot to sample a little from one of the hives.

The bees were remarkably calm and seemed not at all to bother about my presence nor even about my hands (gloved!) in their hive carefully removing comb. I cut the comb from the box with a kitchen knife where needed and gingerly hoisted it out using a BBQ fork and a big spatula as aids. I used my bee brush to carefully remove the hangers-on. What a treat!

After a quick go-round to provision neighbors with samples, I took the rest inside to the kitchen (which still looks like a sort of Noah's Ark for vegetables owing to harvest season) where I continued to pull lone bees off of the comb and walk them back to the hive to rejoin their sisters.

The honey is delicious. In the comb you can see different honey of varying hues owing to the different nectar flows the bees harvest from across the growing season. There are sparsely scattered cells of pollen mixed in. Their construction skills are beyond compare, exercised completely in the dark to produce weirdly wild and yet uniform structures in flowing patterns built of fragrant and antiseptic materials.

It's all a miracle.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bees Suffering the Beekeeper

My bees have by all signs had a pretty good first season. They've clearly multiplied (greatly!) and are now happily ensconced in a wildflower lined corner of the garden. I made the decision not to take any honey this year so that they'd have better stores for the winter. I keep waiting for them to post little Thank You notes on my office door or something, but so far...nothing.

This weekend I'll be attempting to redress some early foibles in my hive construction. To get them in early in the season, I put them in their hives with temporary roofs rather than the considerably more pimped out ones I've now constructed: real Warre quilt boxes with cedar shaving moisture buffers and lovely gabled roofs. So, I have to pull the old plywood temp roofs and put the new systems on.

This will be interesting because the bees have hung comb from the old temp roofs. I'll be gently separating the comb from the roof, pulling the plywood, and replacing it with the cool new versions. I'm expecting a lot of buzzing and protestation, but it'll mean much better digs (warmer and drier) for the hives this winter.

But, bottom line: this weekend's intervention will be the result of bad beekeeper planning. My bees do indeed suffer me as a beekeeper, but hopefully not too much! I'll throw in some more wildflowers next spring to make things right.