honey bees

Harvesting our first honey

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Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive.
Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)

With the very warm weather in Sydney, our bees have been very busy laying down comb, and filling it with honey. So when I added some empty boxes to the bottom of the hive, I was very surprised to find the top box very heavy indeed (and therefore filled with honey).

With the able help of Sarah, a fellow beginner natural beekeeper, we went up onto the roof last week to harvest our first honey.

I had put a “clearing board” on the frame the day before, which is a sort of one-way gate for the bees. In theory, this should clear the top box of most bees, although it didn’t work all that well in this instance.

There’s no particular magic to harvesting honey: lift out a frame, check it’s full of honey, brush off the bees, and put it in a container. (Repeat as required.)

In the end, there were three frames of entirely capped honey, and the remaining frames were a mix of capped and uncapped honey. While we probably could’ve harvested all of it, we decided to leave the uncapped frames in the hive.

Our first frame of honey. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.
Our first frame of honey. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.

In WarrĂ© hives, frames aren’t wired. So to harvest the honey, you simply cut it out of the frames. (I then put the empty frames back into the hive, to fill the gaps in the top box.)

Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.
Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.

At a small scale, extracting the honey is pretty simple. Put the comb in a sieve that fits on top of a 20L plastic bucket.

Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.
Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.

Break up the honeycomb, and let the honey to drain out. A fine plastic filter sheet keeps the bits out of the honey (shown above). It only took about 24 hours for the vast bulk of the honey to drain out, with a small amount of mixing up throughout.

Pouring the honey into jars :-)
Pouring the honey into jars 🙂

Hornsby Beekeeping  (where I obtained the sieves, etc) kindly put a pouring tap (called a “gate”) into the storage bucket, which made it super-easy to pour the honey into jars, without spilling a drop.

The final haul - 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.
The final haul – 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.

These are the jars of honey we ended up with, complete with “Lewisham honey” labels. That’s a lot of honey for a small and very early honey harvest.

The final stats:

  • 3 frames harvested (out of 8 in the top box)
  • 6kg of comb and honey
  • 2.5 litres of lovely honey

That’s not a bad start, I think! Particularly with more harvesting expected soon (of the whole top box and probably the second box.)

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This is what bees do in a natural setting

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If you wanted to know what bees do in a natural setting, watch this video! It’s extraordinary to see how quickly bees fill up a vertical log with comb, just 11 weeks after the swarm initially arrives. Truly inspiring.

Gaiabees says this about the vertical log hive:

The vertical Log Hive allows us to observe the growth of comb and the downward gesture of the “Bien”. It “descends” from the aerial ocean towards the earth, leaning itself downwards, from within the space of “in-between”. The objective was to imitate feral nest conditions and observe the initial incarnation & growth. Further, the set up and log design provide feedback information for instinctual preferences of Honey Bees and future nest designs.

First check on our honey bees

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Opening the lid reveals a hive packed with bees
Opening the lid reveals a hive packed with bees

It’s been a week since the package of bees was introduced into the hive. Had the queen been successfully freed? Was the hive progressing as it should be?

After a week, I could wait no longer. With a warm morning, and the bees busy foraging, I opened up the hive.

The bees are already laying down comb.
The bees are already laying down comb.

In just a week, the bees have constructed clean white sheets of comb on all the frames. The longest of which is already almost to the bottom of the box.

No brood (new bees) as yet that I could see, but it’s early days. As a complete novice, it’s hard for me to know whether all is well, but I’m taking what I saw as a good sign 🙂

(PS. apologies for the restricted photo above. The comb is very soft at this early stage, and surprisingly heavy. So I had difficulty easing out the frame with one hand, while holding the camera with the other.)

As always, the bees were busy but unconcerned about my presence. There was no need to smoke the hive, and I wore my hood but not my gloves. Touch wood, still no bee stings!

A rooftop home for our honey bees

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(This is the 2nd in a series of posts about Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House.)

We’ve wanted a bee hive for some time now, but the challenge has been to find a home for it.

The nuns next door weren’t too keen on hosting a hive, even though there’s a monastic tradition going back a thousand years. But understandably they were a bit worried about visiting kids (etc) getting stung. Fair enough!

There isn’t really space in our backyard native garden for bees, particularly as P is not keen on flying insects of any type.

So having seen a River Cottage episode that featured bee hives on the roof of a London terrace house, my mental cogs started turning.

After the renovation of our house, we ended up with 99m2 of ‘flat’ roof (9 x 11m). By flat, we mean 5° slope, which is comfortable and safe to walk on.

The bee hives still needed a completely flat home, and a way of anchoring them down so they didn’t blow over in strong gusts.

So with a side of the roof partially shaded by trees, we set about creating a ‘sled’ for hives to sit on:

The 'sled' in place on the roof, providing a solid (and flat) base for the hives.
The ‘sled’ in place on the roof, providing a solid (and flat) base for the hives.

The two rails of the ‘sled’ are made of hardwood, treated with linseed oil for extra durability. A block of wood raises up the lower end of the sled to get the rails horizontal.

The sled is anchored to a metal rail, screwed into the roof.
The sled is anchored to a metal rail, screwed into the roof.

The wooden rails are anchored into a galvanised rail (a piece of ‘angle’ in building jargon) that is fixed into the roof. Note the nylon spacer between the metal rail and the corrugated roof. Extra-long roofing screws go through this, ensuring that the metal is held off the roof, and there’s nowhere for water or leaves to build up.

Detail of the top end of the sled, showing the wood, metal rail and nylon spacer.
Detail of the top end of the sled, showing the wood, metal rail and nylon spacer.

The whole arrangement was easy to build, and was all done in less than a few hours (including stuffing around time).

The sled is light but very solid. A few cross-bars were added after the photos above, for the hive to be strapped down to. (More on this later.)

There’s a good metre between the sled and any roof edge, making it a safe working area. The sled is extra-long to allow space to put boxes when the hive is opened, as well as giving future expansion space 🙂

The next post will give details on the Warré hive itself.

Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House

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Our new Warré hive, in place on the roof, just waiting for some bees!
Our new Warré hive, in place on the roof, just waiting for some bees!

Not long after we created our vege patch, we obtained a small hive of native stingless bees. These are cute little guys, flying around and pollinating our plants. The perfect set-and-forget way of increasing biodiversity.

But after a natural beekeeping course run by Tim Malfroy, I had a hankering for more. So I put down my name for a Warré hive, which would give us a home for European honey bees.

Last summer, however, we were renovating the house. We thought that bees and builders probably weren’t the ideal mix, so we held off.

When this summer rolled around, we were ready, but still had one big challenge: where to put the bees?

In the end, we decided to put the bees on the roof. We know, that’s a little odd, but bear with us.

There’s too much to cover in one post, so we’ll be doing a series of posts: