Bee-giners bee-keeping

In the corner of the garden is a bee-hive, cool. In the shed is a box of bee-keeping equipment, in the pantry is a bucket of last year’s dark brown delicious honey.  The ultimate in being frugal, collecting your own honey!

How amazing would it be to get up close to a hive of approx 50,000 bees and carefully open it?  I remember seeing pictures of people covered in bees, smiling whilst the bees made a beard on their face…Me…in the Guinness Book of World Records?  No thanks…as a wuss I wore wellies, jeans, long sleeve top, boiler suit, beekeeping jacket with veil and bee keeping gloves in 30° heat.  I chose a hot cloudless day, no wind and tip-toed down the garden to the rear of the hive carrying a hive tool, frame grip and bee brush.

I blew a few puffs of smoke around the hive and lifted off the outer cover, placed the cover upside-down in the grass.  There were a few worker bees in the cover, by now the guard bees were wondering who the heck I was and were bouncing off my veil; protective  equipment which I was now extremely grateful of!  Next is an inner cover, to remove this you need the hive tool, which you can lever the cover open with.  It was pretty sticky  with honey, but it came off easily.

The next level is a ‘super’ a box containing frames which hang down, in this case, nine frames.  At this point there are so many bees and you need to carefully position the frame grip around a frame, avoiding the bees to lift it out; again it was sticky and needed loosening at both ends.  I was looking for at least 80% of the honeycomb in the frame to be capped for it to be sustainable.  The first frame had around 20% capped, which is apparently normal, the second and third frames around 90% capped. I moved the second frame to a container in the garden, heart pounding I headed back for the third frame, the guard bees kept pinging off the veil.. what was I doing?!  I placed the third frame into the container and went back to the hive again to put the inner and outer covers back on, I took some time to carefully do this, a chance to admire the energy, activity and organisation of the bees…amazing!

I used the feather to brush the remaining bees from the two frames and headed to the sanctuary of the shed.  The caps on the honeycomb are easily removed by running a un-capping fork along it (which looks just like an afro-comb).  The frames fit nicely into the centrifugal extractor, I closed the lid and turned the handle as fast as possible.  The extractor spun the frames at high speed to force the liquid honey out of the honeycomb and the liquid gold honey slid down the inside of the extrator.  I opened the lid and could see a puddle of honey collecting at the bottom, yay!  The extractor has a handy tap at the bottom, so the honey can escape easily…the moment of truth…

The honey came oozing out, the smell was incredible, a delight to the senses.  Chaos & I had to try some, we both stuck our fingers into the tap… I had sampled some of the last years batch, and knew that this honey is from the blossom of the cork oaks at the bottom of the garden but would the bees return to the same spot, or would the honey be different?

Taste test

Mmmmmmm! This really was special, a rich, dark honey, caramel with hints of molasses, strong and not too sweet, a real treat. We took our bowl of extracted honey to the kitchen, now just to sieve the honey into jars to remove any hard pieces of honeycomb.

Extracted frames & sieved honey

Bees have such a beneficial impact on the environment, it felt important to me to check the hive was free of mites, beetles, moths, fungus or signs of virus.  I had to ensure that the honey was plentiful and to only take a small amount of the spare honey, allowing the bees to  feed on the rest. Also to eat the honey as a treat, rather than an everyday commodity. This is balanced beekeeping, far removed from intensive management which is for maximum production.

First time bee-keeping, an amazing experience, a little scary but incredibly rewarding.