first honey harvest

on thursday last week, our bee mentor said it was time for our first honey harvest. he came over (that's him on the right) and helped us take the honey-laden frames. only one of our bee families had produced anything, the other one seems to have a lazy queen and has not been doing their job (more about that in a separate post).

but our well-functioning bee family is doing very well. twelve frames, heavy with golden honey, were ready to be harvested. here, the sun shows just how full and beautiful the frames were.

husband constructed the box you can see. you need a box to transport the frames in. husband made one that fits six frames, as honey-filled frames are heavy and to carry more would be pretty hard on your back. he estimates that the boxes cost approximately 60DKK (about $12) apiece to make in materials - wood and hinges. the box has a bottom and a lid, as once you take the frames, you don't want the bees to find their way into them and try to come along to the harvest.

the bees indicate that they are finished with the frame by sealing it off, as you can see in the photo above. i found out the hard way that the bees are not at all pleased to have their hard work removed. i was merely the photographer and thought i was at a safe distance, but i got stung on my cheekbone. i can tell you it was VERY painful. the kind of pain that actually takes your breath away (tho' i didn't have an allergic reaction) and i actually had to lie down for awhile - it made me feel quite ill.

we transported our two boxes, which contained the twelve frames, to our bee mentor's house. he has a centrifuge for extracting the honey, so we did all of the work there. the sealing wax must be scraped off with a special tool. sabin loved that part.

each frame is spun in the centrifuge three times and the centrifuge holds four frames. the honey is spun in one direction, then the frames are turned and spun again. then you return it to the original position and spin one last time.

at this stage of the year, the frames are returned, wax intact, to the bees, so they can fill them again for the later harvest (some time in august). i didn't get photos of the empty frames, but they look a bit forlorn and messy, but the bees very quickly remedy that when you give them back to them.

the centrifuge has a tap at the bottom and you capture the honey in a clean white plastic bucket. it's then strained through a large mesh sieve to get the last bits of wax out of it. i somehow neglected to photograph that part as well.

i wanted some honeycomb along with the honey, so we cut the middle section from one of the frames. the bees will quickly build that back again (and hopefully won't lay any drone eggs there). i had to have some because i wanted to chew on a bit of wax, like when i was a kid.

we got 22 kilos - or 45 pounds of honey from our 12 frames. a pretty good harvest for the first time and for only one bee family. the honey has to stand for a couple of days before you put it into the containers. we got a big stainless steel stirrer that husband fits onto his drill and you stir it to aerate the honey, to help along the natural process, which i guess is a sort of fermentation (we're still learning). after two days of stirring and settling, we tapped the honey into the containers. we had friends visiting and the kids loved that part of the process. we filled 32 glass jars and 10 of the plastic ones with our first harvest.

we don't expect to sell any of it this round, but use it for our own consumption in tea and baking and in making cordials and preserves.  i expect to be experimenting in the kitchen very soon.

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further investment we made to get ready for the first harvest included purchase of a bee brush, for brushing them off the frames to put them into the box - 35DKK ($6.50), a special tool for lifting and separating the frames - 68DKK ($12.75), protective bee clothing for sabin -  200DKK ($37.50), 90 plastic containers with lids for the final honey product - 156DKK ($30) and 36 glass jars with lids - 96DKK ($18). the stainless steel stirring implement was 200DKK ($37.50).  we need several good buckets and the bucket with a tap on it (tho' our bee mentor gave us that one), so there will be some investment in that as well. eventually, we will get our own centrifuge, but at this stage and on the small scale we're working, we will use our bee mentor's equipment.  that raises our total investment thus far to 4610DKK ($864).


Reena said...

Amazing ... and what a great harvest your first time around. Loved your photos.

Anne said...

Congratulations! 45 pounds... wow!! How many harvests per year do you expect?

I love the idea of enjoying honey made from the flowers on my own land. We didn't have bees when I was growing up, but we had the next best thing: honey from a neighbor's bees down the street, close enough that the bees probably frequented our property. Maybe someday I'll have enough space that I can entertain thoughts of an apiary of my own. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy hearing about yours!

rayfamily said...

Fantastic! I will be showing this to B tonight! I sooooo want bees and oh all that honey! :)

celkalee said...

Wow, 45 pounds! My son helps a friend harvest and has a grand time. Your journey has been very interesting to watch. I am allergic so this will never be on my to-do list! Please remember that the "ill feeling" that you felt after being stung is an indication of potential allergy. Be careful, perhaps spring for covering? Thanks for sharing.