honey

Cross-linked comb and a big honey harvest

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Honey bees making their own patterns...
Honey bees making their own patterns…

One of the boxes of honey I harvested over the weekend shows what happens when bees “don’t follow the rules”. This is how they draw comb in the wild, in a space-filling organic pattern.

Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake...
Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake…

This is fine for the bees, but a bit of a hassle when harvesting. The only way to get it out is in one big ‘cake’ of comb, which is then cut away in pieces. Which actually proved to be fairly straightforward in practice, thankfully.

Not a bad harvest for one weekend!
Not a bad harvest for one weekend!

In total, I harvested a box of honey from two of my hives, generating a big honey harvest. 15 litres in total, divided up into 3 x 3kg tubs, 3 x 1kg tubs, 15 jars and 3 squeeze bottles.

Considering my 9 litre harvest from last weekend has already been sold out, I don’t expect this harvest will last long either!

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Three busy beehives on our roof (a video)

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Three full-sized beehives on our roof
Three full-sized beehives on our roof

At the end of last season, I moved some of my hives around, and I’ve now got a full complement of three Warré hives on our roof.

All of them are at either four or five boxes high, which is generally considered (in Sydney) to be a full-sized hive. And while the on-and-off-again rain has been annoying for Sydneysiders, it’s been great for everyone’s gardens. The result has been plenty of flowering, and busy times for our hives.

I’ve made our first harvest of the season, a full-box of honey from my first hive, yielding 9 litres of honey. I don’t expect this to last more than a week, with a pile of back-orders from friends and the local cafes.

But pictures speak louder than words, and this brief video shows how busy our hives are:

A dessert of Dianella and mixed berries

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Dianella caerulea (blue flax-lilly) produces bright blue/purple berries.
Dianella caerulea (blue flax-lilly) produces bright blue/purple berries.

We’ve extensively planted Dianella Caerulea (Blue Flax-Lilly) throughout our native back garden, and in our verge gardens. It’s tough, drought hardy, and fast growing.

It also produces delicate blue flowers, which then grow into bright blue/purple berries.

These are a native bush food.
These are a native bush food, with an enjoyable flavour.

These are a native bush food, with a pleasant, if not overly strong flavour.

One afternoon's modest harvest of berries.
One afternoon’s modest harvest of berries.

I picked a good harvest of them one afternoon, supplemented by takings from our raspberry and blueberry plants.

Delicious berries with yoghurt and  honey from on own hives.
Mixed berries with yoghurt and honey from on own hives.

Together, they made a delicious dessert, when combined with greek yoghurt and our own honey.

A feast for both the eyes and mouth!

First honey harvest for the season

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10 frames from my main bee hive, bursting with honey
10 frames from my main bee hive, bursting with honey

In Sydney, honey bees never go completely dormant over winter. With not even frost where we live, they can keep foraging on the native plants that flower during winter.

With the two weeks of solid rain at the beginning of spring, absolutely everything is in flower at the moment. That makes for a very strong ‘honey flow’, and abundant early harvests.

Last week I was therefore able to take the first harvest from my main hive. On a very warm Saturday morning, I had the help of a bunch of other local natural beekeepers (organised via the Natural beekeeping in Australian and NZ mailing list.)

The whole top box (8 frames) were totally full of honey, some laid down over winter (dark in colour), and some fresh from recent flowerings (light in comparison). We also harvested two frames from the box below, making 10 frames in total!

The honey press, filled to the brim with honeycomb, ready for extraction.
The honey press, filled to the brim with honeycomb, ready for extraction.

Making use of the Sydney bee club‘s honey press, I was able to harvest 13.75 litres of honey. That’s a good start to the season!

Honey pouring out!
Honey pouring out!

That makes for plenty of jars, so give us a yell when you see us about and about, and we’ll sell you a jar or two 🙂

Many shades of honey

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Two jars of Lewisham honey, harvested a few months apart
Two jars of Lewisham honey, harvested a few months apart

The thing about urban honey is that the bees forage from a huge variety of trees and flowers, depending entirely on what people are growing in their gardens.

This makes every honey harvest a ‘hybrid’ affair, rather than being a ‘pure strain’ honey like manuka honey, or blackbox honey.

The photo above shows how varied the harvests can be. The honey on the left was harvest in December 2013, while the honey on the right was collected in March 2014. Just four months apart, and all from the one hive, but so different!

We like the surprise that comes with each harvest 🙂

Our Christmas honey haul

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Most of our latest honey harvest.
Most of our latest honey harvest.

This is what we harvested a few days before Christmas: a pile of jars, plus seven 1L tubs. (Actually, we’d already sold nine jars to friends before we could even arrange to take this photo.)

In total, we bottled 19.75L of honey. Clearly the bees have been very productive and happy 🙂

Yesterday’s heat and today’s honey harvest

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Our beehive hiding from the sun.
Our beehive hiding from the sun.

Hot weather

Honey bees work as an amazing ‘superorganism’ that maintains the hive as a single working entity. This includes keeping the inside temperature at a warm 35°C, regardless of the outside weather.

Which is fine, except when the outside temperature is at (or greater than) 35°C, at which point having 50,000 bees in a hive tends to make it overheat. In response, the bees “beard”, hanging on the outside of the hive to keep things cool.

Sydney is just at the beginning of a hot few weeks, including a 36°C day yesterday. So to give the hive some extra protection, I leaned up a plywood sheet for shade, as shown in the picture above.

Even so, when I got home at 8:30pm at night, the bees were bearding massively on the outside of the hive. Priscilla also rang me to say that birds were trying to have a drink at the bird bath, but were being driven away by the bees. Apparently it made for quite a sight!

Harvesting honey

Thankfully today was a cooler day, so I took the opportunity to open up the hive.

Lucky I did, as I ended up harvesting two full boxes of honey (16 frames in total). That’s a lot of honey!

With comb in all the other boxes, no wonder the bees were hot: the hive was full. I’ve now added two empty boxes, which should give them a bit more space, helping them to keep cool in the hot weather.

Now to drain out the honey and fill some jars. I think this will easily come to 20L of honey, or more  🙂