Wednesday, June 5, 2013 high can you go?

The Whitehouse beehive, illustrating
                                                        a traditional Langstroth American hive
               with 5 supers.

It becomes a bit of a friendly competition each summer between neighboring beekeepers to see how high they can go with supers on their hives.  That is, how many boxes can they add to a hive to make it taller and collect more honey.  Afterall, this is the sweet tangible reward for your efforts and the stings and the money expended on equipment and tools! The harvested honey makes it all worthwhile.

In a season with a good nectar flow, such as what we have experienced thus far, some beekeepers have been known to add as many as 10 supers or more.  (Recall that a super is the box of frames. In my case, my supers are all the same smaller size -a medium- with 8 frames, as I have an English garden hive.  Folks with the traditional Langstroth American 10 framed hives have bigger supers called either mediums or deeps.  The deeps -larger supers but still with 10 frames- are what are used for honey collection.  My supers are more like a medium super -but with 8 frames; there is also a smaller brood super for 8 frame hives.)

When a medium or deep honey super is full of honey, it is VERY heavy! This is a bit hard on a weak back when lifting; thus, my preference for the medium supers of the 8 frame English garden hive variety.

Extraction of the honey is usually after the nectar flow is over.  So, that means end of June or beginning of July for many of us in my area.  You could do it earlier, but you are going to get your honey house or kitchen or clothes and everything else all sticky and messy, so why not do it all at one time, and just make a day of it!  So, I wait until the nectar flow is over, and I do it all at once; this is usually in early July.  Once you collect the honey, you can store it until you are ready to bottle it.

There is also a second nectar flow in the fall of goldenrod and asters in my area; it occurs around the end of September and into October until a first frost; but, I've never harvested this honey, which is much darker in color and much more pungent in taste. 

The spring nectar flow is very good this year.  There will be lots of honey.  But, it's not ready just yet.  I have already added two medium honey supers to my hive, and my co-beekeeper has added one to his.  One of mine is already full, and took less than a week to get that way!  The locusts are no longer blooming, but now the wild blackberry vines are fragrantly surrounding my home and environs.  The creek bed behind the hives is loaded with these vines and their blossoms!  Clover flowers also abound around my hives.  Both red and white clover varieties.  Unfortunately, Privet, which makes less well-tasting honey is also in bloom.  But, so far, (and I've been watching) only the bumble bees and wasps seem interested in those flowers.  My girls are still going to the blackberry flowers.  (I had considered giving the Privet a haircut to remove all of its blossoms, and I will if I see my girls headed there!) But, there are plenty of other wild flowers for the honeybees to visit, and they are doing just that.

It's that time of year.  People want honey.  They see bees flying and they think "honey".  They sneeze from pollen allergies, and they think, "I need honey!"  At church, at the nail salon, at the beauty parlor, in the grocery store, at work, at home - a knock on my door ,...everyone wants to know: "when will your honey be ready?!"  And, like every other small time beekeeper, I have to say, be patient, it's coming.  I'm sold out of my stock from last year.  Besides you want fresh honey!
I used to be a part of a farmers market that was held every Saturday and Sunday in my small town.  This was timed about the same time that the buy local trend was coming into vogue.  I would set up my table and umbrella and sell my honey and wares (soaps and candles) to passersby.  I met very interesting people from all over the nation who were traveling on the C&O canal trail near where I set up my stand.  They all had stories of a friend or a grandfather who had kept bees or a story about encourntering a bee or sting, and they seemed to buy out of nostalgia as much as anything else.  And getting to know the other vendors and bartering with them for their wares in exchange for mine was great!  That was a lot of fun, but also a heavy commitment to give up every weekend.  I gained enough of a clientele, that now people tend to call me or ask me for my honey.  (I do still attend an annual German Christmas market in nearby Lovettsville, VA each December and sell my honey and wares there.  That is also a two day event, and it is well attended and very fun and festive.)

Why should your customers buy honey from you, a local honey vendor?
It tastes far better and there are significant health benefits.  Honey you buy in the grocery store is tossed in a vat with other varieties-mostly clover-from all over the nation and sometimes the world.  This dilutes the taste.  The local honey vendor has honey grown in his or her backyard or orchard.  It has a distinct (much better) unique flavor.  It also contains grains of pollen from local trees and flowers to which you may be allergic.  By eating this honey over time, you develop an immunity to these local pollen allergies. I have one customer that buys my honey just for this reason!  It helps his allergies!

Now is a good time to say, "Never feed an infant or toddler honey!"  Be sure to tell your mothers who buy your honey or mark your bottles with this information.

"Why?,"  you ask.  Well, as the bees walk around on the ground from clover plant to clover plant or other wild flower, they may pick up Clostridium botulinum spores, the bacterium responsible for Botulism, from the ground on their feet (tarsi).  If they then fly into the hive and walk over the comb-stored honey, the spores may be deposited here.  When you extract your honey, there is no way to separate out the C. botulinum spores from the resulting honey.  Fortunately, children beyond about age 2 and adults have mature digestive systems whose enzymes can easily break down these spores and rid them naturally with other wastes and no ill effects.  However, babies and toddlers do not have a well-developed digestive tract and cannot.  Babies and toddlers who eat honey can develop infant botulism, which can result in a rare but fatal paralysis.  In the U.S. about 600 cases of infant botulism in this manner are reported annually.

Keep in mind that once you, the  beekeeper, takes honey off of a hive, the colony as a whole is going to suffer an immediate and severe set back and is now more prone to illness, disease, parasites and a weakened state in general.  So, you will want to eventually balance the amount of honey you are going to steal with the health of the overall hive and queen.  Also, remember that your hive will need at least 60 lbs of honey to make it through the winter in our area. So, don't be a glutton!  Save some for your girls.  You will also be feeding them sugar water again, starting in August, to help them regain some of the honey stores you've taken, and you will add a pinch of cream of tartar to that sugar water to facilitate the transition from nectar to honey; but it's just not the same as the real stuff!  (By the way, NEVER extract honey that is made from sugar water!)

So now that the nectar flow is full blown and you are adding supers to your hive, also begin to  inventory your extraction needs, including bottles.  More on this in a later post.

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