Most of all one discovers that the soil does not stay the same, but like anything alive, is always changing and telling its own story. - C. Williams
Thursday, October 22, 2015
First Raw Honey Harvest on Mission Rd Homestead - Trials, Errors and Successes
Oh boy, did we learn a lot this year! I've promised to always tell you our homesteading mistakes as well as our successes, and this post is no exception. The first mistake we made was waiting until the end of Sept when it was starting to get cold in the evenings to harvest the honey. This would have been a much faster process had we harvested honey when it was in the 90s at the beginning of Sept. We were so blessed to have been able to borrow this large spinner from a friend. My hat goes off to beekeepers of the past who didn't have this handy device to extract the honey with. As you can see by the picture above and below, the second mistake we made was not getting far enough away from the bee hives. As quickly as Michael tried to extract the honey, the bees were trying to get it back to their hives. He set up his honey extracting station almost on the other side of the property, which was not enough space!
Michael managed to get the spinner full and spun it, but there were lots and lots of bees down in the honey, most of whom were alive (amazingly) even after going through the spinner. We filtered bees out of our honey (saving many) for three days once we finally cleared out the shed enough to put the spinner in it where we could keep it away from the rest of the bees. We had to wait until nightfall and the bees were back in their hive (with the exception of the hundreds of bees stuck in the spinner) before we could move the spinner into the shed. When Michael was trying to process the honey outside, he made the mistake of leaving 5 frames sitting out open next to the hive while he was hoping to soon put them in the spinner. Wrong thing to do as the bees from both hives stripped those frames clean of honey within a matter of a few hours and put them back in their brood boxes. They are efficient little creatures for sure! We lost probably about a gallon of honey from those frames alone.
Josiah and Michael and I took turns for the next three evenings, straining honey and saving honey bees. It was chilly, so we had to keep a heat lamp on the bottom of the spinner to help the honey flow. It seemed like it took forever! We managed to save a lot of bees trapped in the spinner. We would strain them out and take them back to the hive, even the ones we thought might be dead. We put them at the hive entrance and the other bees would clean them up and bring them back into the hive if they were alive or kick the dead carcasses out. Some of the bees we thought for sure were dead, were revived. It was fascinating to watch.
Look how thick that honey is! Took forever to filter even with a heat lamp on it. We used a fine mesh strainer set in a jar funnel.
So here was the basic process we used once we got the honey frames and the spinner away from the bees. We took the honey super frames into the kitchen and using a knife warmed in hot water, we cut the caps off. We will definitely use an electric hot knife next year. We got a lot of broken comb and honey that we had to strain separately.
We then took the opened honey frames out to the spinner, now located in the shed. Here is a shot of the frames in the spinner after spinning it for 15 minutes. Look at all that delicious honey in the bottom!
Josiah is checking to make sure all the honey is out of the frames.
In the meantime, there was a lot of honey left in the caps because we tore some of the comb as we tried to cut the caps off. It is an imperfect process when not using an electric hot knife, for sure. Took Josiah and I some trial and error to come up with a plan to strain the honey from all those caps. We put the caps in a clean muslin baby swaddle blanket, tied it off as close to the caps as possible and then tied the loose ends of the muslin to a large bbq brush, propping it up on the edges of my large 4 gallon stock pot. To keep the bag from hitting the bottom of the pot, I added a veggie steamer. It actually worked very well and allowed the honey to flow better from the bottom of the bag.
We placed another clean muslin baby blanket over the top of everything, securing it with a large rubber band so as to keep the bees out, then we placed it outside to warm in the sun on the deck. We kept the caps hanging like this for two days. We ended up with almost a gallon of honey from the caps and broken comb, so definitely worth the effort. Again, this would have been much easier had it been warmer out!
It took us a good week to process all this raw honey, which we know we can do much faster next time. We got about 7 gallons from the 40 frames we spun. Not bad at all! We will keep 2 gallons for ourselves and let the kids sell the rest to family and friends. After tithing, they will use the money to reinvest into either more hives or an animal they can raise to sell. We also have experimented with melting down and straining beeswax, which is another adventure of its own. Will post on that later. What I love is that nothing goes to waste when beekeeping. Everything can be used.
Looking forward to next year's bee adventures on Mission Road Homestead!