Monday, October 5, 2020

Timing the Fall Honey Harvest

This year's fall honey harvest has been a tricky one. A lot of beekeepers are reporting very low yields and the state is considering it a "failed crop." We have fared better (we think?) but it has not been without its challenges.

Concerned about our own availability and the weather forecast, we attempted to harvest the honey on the weekend of Sept. 26/27. You definitely don't want to be opening up the hives and hauling around honey in the rain! Especially in our apiary location, relative to our house, which requires carrying the heavy honey supers along our boardwalk, across a bridge and up two flights of wooden stairs-- all very slippery when wet. 

We had already hauled half our honey supers up to the house that weekend when we started to notice a pattern... noted that most of the honey was uncapped, even on full frames. Ideally, you only harvest capped honey as it is most likely to be at a safe moisture content (which we check with a refractometer) to prevent it from fermenting. Honey never spoils as long as it is harvested properly! 

In this case, we opted to consolidate the best-candidate frames and return them to the hives in hopes that they would cap them off if given another week. Frames with negligible honey, or at least not enough to realistically cap/harvest in a week's time, were put in another box and left out for the bees. They found it quickly and will take it back to the hives to help finish off the frames we returned and will leave us clean equipment ready for over-winter storage.
Fortunately for us, this past weekend (Oct. 3/4), proved to be a sunny, but not-too-hot, day to pull honey supers for fall honey harvest. 

We placed the "fume boards" on top of the hives in the late morning and then had lunch. They're basically black felt lined black lids. We spray a scent onto the felt and then leave them on the top of the hives. The black top heats the scented felt and the bees leave the honey supers and go deeper into the hives to get away from it so we can lift off the honey super without bringing along a lot of new friends. It works better on hotter days (but we work better on cooler ones-- the bee suits are very hot!)
We carry the boxes on a "stretcher" contraption I made that looks a lot like a sedan chair. This requires both of us to make each trip, but it's a lot easier than carrying a heavy honey super by yourself and a lot safer. Even when the boxes are completely empty the wood itself is pretty heavy and bulky.

Outside our house we have a work table that we use to transfer the honey frames into another box, clearing them of any straggler bees (who fly off back home) and making initial assessments of how much honey is present and what percentage is capped.
The early impression is solidly that our strategy of delaying an additional week has paid off. We have a LOT more capped honey than last week-- probably nearing 75%-- and while there's still some frames that we will likely give back to the bees to rob out, the majority looks good!

We won't extract the honey for at least a few days-- maybe not until next weekend-- simply because of our work schedules and the amount of time/labor involved in getting the honey into jars. So the final tally of this year's harvest won't be known for a while yet, but we definitely have SOMETHING to eat/sell and that's better than a lot of beekeepers have yielded this season, so we are thankful.

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