Back in November of 2012 when we were thinking of adding beekeeping to our menu of Grow Appalachia offerings for participants, we got really lucky when Dave showed up at our exploratory meeting. Dave managed dozens of hives in Pocahontas County about 20 years ago but got out of the business because bears were such a problem.
Now he is getting back into it with the support of Grow Appalachia, but I can’t imagine doing this bee project without his support. From that first meeting, he has been there to help me order hive parts for everyone, talk us through hive assembly, bee installation, and now, finally, getting some honey out of the hive!
Seven Grow Appalachia participants are keeping bees this year, and, due to a stellar queen in my hive, I am the first one to harvest some honey. Such luck! I read up on the process in “Beekeeping for Dummies,” a title that seems more and more appropriate, you will soon agree, as I bumble through my first season with bees. However, things don’t always play out so neatly as they do in books.
I keep my bees across the road next to a garden Dave is working and he came by to help one morning when I was opening up the hive. He said that it would be fine to take some honey as they had drawn out so much comb. In all of the excitement of keeping bees, I had almost forgotten that I could also get honey from them and was surprised that the time for a harvest was already upon us. I had not counted on getting honey the first season.
That day I took off the top super (that’s what each of the stacked up boxes is called). This is the one I was going to take the honey from. It was full to the gills with bees and honey. It was really heavy. At this moment, I was glad that Dave had recommended we all get 8 frame supers because they are easier to lift than the 10 frame ones.
Then I put a new super with new frames and foundation wax where the full one had been. On top of that I put a lid with a “bee escape,” and replaced the bee and honey-heavy super. The idea is that the bees above the escape will fly down in to the new, empty super and not be able to get back up through the escape to the honey. In a day or two, all the bees should be off of the frames that have the honey you want to take.
That didn’t happen.
When I went back, the top frames were still crawling with bees. I called Dave. The book didn’t have a plan B (no pun intended), but Dave did. Check out this one minute video of his method:
Taking the honey with Dave
Dave shook the bees off each frame onto a bed sheet on the grass. Then he put the sheet up to the hive entrance where the bees flowed like a reverse waterfall up into the hive.
I had read that it is good to extract honey in a warm, sunny place so that it flows quickly. My front yard was warm and sunny. Perfect! I set up shop with an extractor a friend had recently given me. It rattled and bumped and spun as I experimented with various placements of the frames within. As I cranked the handle, basswood honey splattered against the inside walls and a glorious honey-scented wind tornado-ed out the top. The smell was intoxicating, enchanting, alluring…alluring all the bees in the neighborhood to form a giant bee cloud over my head—a halo, if you will.
I quickly put the lid on, brushed off as many bees as I could from the extractor and myself and took the operation inside to my kitchen. I had run out of time and needed to go meet some people at the nursing home garden. When I returned, the sun shone brightly into my kitchen and I resumed cranking the frames around and around the extracting barrel.
It got a little tiring and I got kind of warm. I opened the kitchen door.
A nice breeze and sunlight streamed in. I cranked. I gradually grew aware of an increasing din around my head. The bee cloud had also streamed in the back door. The buzzing almost drowned out the shrieks (of delight) from my children as our kitchen filled with honey bees.
“Mama, our house sounds like a music box!”
After a panicked consultation with my husband, we lined the inside of his Shop-Vac with some soft towels and vacuumed up almost all of the bees. Most recovered from this indignity and flew off when we opened the vac outside.
I am happy to report that the rest of the extraction was uneventful and quite rewarding.
We got about a gallon of delicious light colored basswood honey! I only took 6 out of the 8 frames because I didn’t want to be too greedy this first year and I had honestly had enough excitement for the day. I gave the frames with emptied wax and 2 full frames back to the beehive that evening and delivered a jar of honey to my mentor Dave.
I now feel better equipped to help our participants harvest their honey. I have learned a few more things not to do. And I have Dave’s number on speed dial.