Monday, July 13, 2009

Sun Day.

Woke up early to make two batches of Ginger Ale and get the deck ready for the extraction. (thankfully - the ginger ale was in plastic bottles and in a tub in the shed. One of them built up too much pressure and popped today.) Around 9am I added a small amount of Bee Quick to a cotton pad on the inner cover to encourage the bees to leave the top two supers. It works on the bees the way a stink bomb works on us - doesn't hurt us, but makes us leave the room. They did NOT like this. As I opened up the cover and set it down on the inner cover, the tone of the hive shifted quickly. I closed the outer cover and left them alone.

Juliette and M were here at about 11. We took a bit of time to discuss game plan, roles, ideas, etc. Over and over was heard - it's a learning experience. We'll find out as we go. Keep the conversation open and go from there. The weather was clear, sunny, and warm. Perfect for the bees.

First, Juliette wanted to see all the equipment. We moved it from the shed to the yard, got set up, and decided that we would work through one super and then check back in / take a break. We lit the smoker (only to use in the event of a sting, we didn't want the bees to start ripping open the capped honey) and then set to work. Endless amounts of gratitude to Juliette - she took all of the amazing photos from the extraction work.

The super would be moved off the hive and onto an old bottom board sitting on the table.

The frames would be pulled out using the frame grips one at a time, brushed with whatever herb we had (marjoram, oregano, and lavendar were used) to remove the bees, and then moved to the uncapping tank.

I've read books saying the honey on a frame should be 75 to 90% capped (covered with a thin piece of wax) before extracting, otherwise it is not mature and you run the risk of fermentation.

I do believe we do not need to worry about fermentation. This photo still blows me away.

Once in the uncapping tank, the comb would be uncapped with the electric knife, and then moved to the extractor for a spin.

That tiny screw on the bar over the tank? Totally a beekeeper invention. It's worth its weight in gold. It doesn't pierce the frames, but it does act as an extra hand to hold the frame steady while uncapping.

Because we had 8 frames, the comb was built out and allowed for an easy uncapping while leaving the frames with intact comb for the bees.

After a spin, the now empty frames would be moved to a spare super to let the girls rob the honey back, which cleans the frames and gives them a treat (not to mention a distraction!)

As the extractor filled, the honey would pour into a bucket with a sieve on it.

The books were clear that wax and pollen would need to be filtered out - but they hadn't mentioned bees. :-/ It was troubling to see the number of bees that flew into a sea of honey, drunk on the smell. We rescued as many as we could. As evening approached, I walked these soaked girls (and drones!) over to the hive so their sisters could clean them up and bring them back into the shelter of the hive.

The honey flowed and flowed. We worked through the first super and stopped for a break. Having lunch was as important as cooling down - those bee suits do get warm after awhile. We were all really enthusiastic with the work done so far. We headed back out after lunch to do the second super.

It went fantastically well (big improvement - keeping the super being worked on covered with a towel. The bees could still get in and out through the bottom, but it reduced the extra numbers) and we finished the work quickly.

We were left with a good amount of wax in the uncapping tank along with honey. The bottom of the top half of the tank had a metal grate covered in a mesh bag which filtered the honey to the lower tank.

Having finished collection from the extractor, we moved the five gallon bucket to under the uncapping tank to collect the honey from there. Seeing honey pour from a tap like water from the sink is an experience. We all silently watched, mesmerized by the patterns formed by the air bubbles.

Before the honey had finished pouring, the level of the honey reached the top of the five gallon bucket.

If google searches are to be believed, 3/4 cups of honey makes a pound of honey. That would convert five gallons of honey to be equal to sixty pounds of honey.


Before the night was over we took more honey from the uncapping tank and added it to the Elderberry wine. There's still some out there now, we just aren't sure where we're going to put it at the moment. I was delighted with this - combining two creations - honey and wine. It's not enough honey in the wine to qualify as mead, but we do hope it will add a new depth of flavor. We're pretty sure we've collected closer to seven gallons.

The especially startling thing? We could easily harvest two more supers very soon. We're going to need a bigger bucket.

Per the advice of many books, we're allowing the honey to settle before bottling. We are planning to make mead. I'm flattered by the number of people that have offered to barter or purchase the honey. My Mom has already paid forward, showing up last night with twenty four canning jars. Labels are being discussed. I'm still in a bit of shock that we have any honey, let alone this degree of honey. I keep thinking about the strong pull for people to have local honey, and it hits me that this honey came from about ten feet from my front door.

Clean up has been the more interesting part. The bees are doing their part to pick up the spills, but a lot was spilled. They have claimed the hose and side of the lemon tree, making grabbing the hose and pulling a slightly more delicate task.

I keep thinking we've moved most of the woodchips from the garden into the house and on the deck. Sweeping and vacuuming have helped, along with washing my shoes and adding a bit of water to the deck before sweeping. Ants are a concern, as are racoons and skunks.

The bees are tending to the frames and cleaning them more today. They have abandoned the bottom board (just off to the right in the photo, on the table) which had a good amount of honey spilled on it. I thought this was curious, but took advantage of this to spray off some of the honey and ants on it.

The extractor was rinsed outside, then brought into the bathtub for a better hot water rinse. The things you share your tub with...

The Elderberry wine was inoculated with Pasteur Red yeast tonight. A celebration of the Sun Mercury conjunction tonight, the honey from the hive, and the plentiful trees along the creek.

Finally... some thoughts on the hive. It's traditional to name beehives female names in honor of the Queens and Workers that give forth the golden gift. When we were driving up to Woodland back in April, I saw the West Berkeley Gateway. It brought to mind the Muses. "Since we are unlikely to have more than nine hives," I mentioned to M as he drove. "What do you think of naming the hives after the Muses?" He was silent for a minute or two. I teased that I'd found a way to make him speechless. He was for it. We talked about what Muse, and the ultimate experiment - would people that ate the honey from a hive take on part of the inspiration from that Muse? Would this be an experiment we would be comfortable experiencing ourselves? We decided on Urania for the hive in San Mateo, and Juliette selected Terpsichore for the hive in Boulder Creek.

As our talk has moved from set up and diseases and supers to honey and bottling and labels, I've realized there's a few things I'd like on the bottle. I want one of the symbols of Urania, either the globe or the crown of seven stars. And my mischievious side would like a small yellow serious looking caution label on the bottle that states: WARNING. Consumption may cause star gazing.

Which leads me to this -- I am delighted to read the following quotes:

Aristotle: "Honey falls from the air. Principally at the rising of the stars and when the rainbow rests upon the earth."

Pliny the Elder saw bees as merely carriers of the food he called the "sweat of the heavens" and "the saliva of the stars."

Virgil said that the bees "partake of an Essence Divine and drink Heaven's well-springs."

(Thanks to Keeping Bees and Making Honey. For more info on the history of bees, Andy Gough has a wonderful collection of stories and images on his Arcadia site.)


  1. Wonderful Post. What a beautiful journal of an unforgettable day. :)

  2. Congratulations on your successful harvest! Isn't it such a wonderful experience?!?! I was looking back at our photos of last week and it brought a tear to my eye. I am so utterly grateful for the bounty from the bees! Love the link to the gingerale..going to check that out. Best of luck with you mead. So nice to meet you and looking forward to following your blog! Thanks for stopping by the "Burbs"....

  3. Thank you Beegirl! :) It is a wonderful experience - it's mind bending. Even looking at fifty four jars lined up, full of honey, I didn't quite believe it. Thinking about the amount of work it takes to make honey, and then here is so much of it... just hard to wrap the mind around it, yet there it is! :)

    I'm loving the Burbs blog! Lovely to meet you!