Well the honey extraction is finished, & we are very pleased with our bees. From our one hive we have got about 45 litres of honey, what an amazing process it is!

We were taught beekeeping over 20 years ago, by a dear friend & neighbour. At one time we had 14 hives & sold our honey locally. Eventually, as circumstances changed, we divided up the hives, bringing 4 here to Millstream.

About 3 years ago our hives died because of Varroa infestation. It was our fault as we had not realised the mites had got this far South, & had not taken precautions. Last Autumn a swarm moved into one of our empty supers & settled in for the Winter. This Spring, before the honey flow, we treated the small hive with Bavarol for 6 weeks, to keep the dreaded mites at bay. The hive has thrived over Summer, & as well as a super for brood, & one for Winter honey, it has produced 3 supers of capped honey. The bees are lovely & quiet, & do not chase us around the garden, as some have done!

Bees behave best when the weather is calm, so when we knew the forecast was settled, we got ready. The night before the planned raid, we put a beescape underneath the boxes we wanted to remove, (also putting an empty super underneath the beescape to give them some room.) This acts like a one way valve & clears most of the bees from upstairs.

In the morning, suitably togged up, & with our smoker burning pine needles, (the smell is so evocative now of working with the bees!) we started work. The trick with bees is to stay cool & calm, & focus on the job in hand. First thing, we puffed some smoke in their front door, & said ‘hello bees,’ this is the way we’ve always done it.  We had a couple of empty supers to put the frames in, & these we covered with a cloth to keep bees out. Working through the supers, a frame at a time, we brushed the bees off in front of the hive. we used to use goose feathers for this, but have run out now, so have a custom made brush. It’s not really as good as it glugs up with honey & then makes the bees sticky.

Once a frame is cleared of bees we pop it under the cloth, & carry on. In deference to Geoff’s advancing years!! we only put 6 or 7 frames in a super, before carrying them into the caravan. Here the floor is covered with newspaper, & we have a large tray, with a wooden stand in it, that is where we clean the frames & remove the cappings. Bees are very clever, they only cap honey after they have evaporated off just the right amount of water. So when you are extracting, you want to have at least 80% capped comb or the honey will ferment. We have a large & sharp capping knife, which looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, any cappings we can’t remove with the knife we scratch the surface of with a kitchen fork.

Some years ago we invested in a new extractor, which is brilliant. It takes four frames at a time, & turns very easily by hand. Before long honey is flowing out of the tap at the bottom. We’ve got 2 nylon honey strainers, that tie over the top of a bucket, so we can alternate them, letting the honey drip out.

That’s basically it, at the end of the day, the tray with all the cappings & wax from the strainers is tilted up to drain the last honey out. We had a little soft honey, saved from before, that we stirred through the buckets, to seed it with fine crystals, otherwise our honey goes like rock in a few months.

We’ve put the empty frames, back in their supers & back on the hive for the bees to clean up. Later on when the honey is out of the wax scraps, we’ll let them clean those up too, then melt the wax down into a block. There’s very little waste, & the bees tidy up well. The sticky newspaper will get buried on the compost heap, & we shall have plenty of honey to share, as well as for turning into useful things like Elecampagne Syrup for those winter coughs & colds. Thank you Bees.

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