Organic Gardening Beekeeping

In my quest for greater sustainability and control of my family's food production, in March of 2011 we added three bee hives, placing them in a fenced garden area near our home.
bees
The boxes were built by a local Amish man.

Right: My daughter Leah assembles the frames.


bees
My "Lil' Honey"
Granddaughter Lulie inspects the box which arrives in late March with 3 lbs. of worker bees plus a queen.
bees
   

The queen arrives with the bees separated in a small box. The box is removed and inserted in the hive.

Next the bees are dumped from their container into the hive.

The box with the queen has a wax plug in the end. It takes the bees 2-3 days to chew up the wax and release the queen. This gives them time to learn her smell and accept her before she is released into the general population of bees.

bees

In spite of a cool, wet spring, by May we were already seeing numerous frames capped over with honey and pollen.

It was also good to observe that the Queens were laying by the evidence of brood or bee larvae in many of the cells.

May is an important month, as temperatures warm and the time of year with the maximum number of wildflowers and other nectar producing plants. It is the most important month for honey production.

We planted white clover as a cover crop in the area we have surrounding the hives, a favorite of the bees.

bees

In mid-June the Sourwood honey flow begins and we added extra supers so the bees have plenty of room to store honey. This light honey with a slight tang is world renowned for its delicate flavor.

The three hives were each very different. One was super strong, with more bees and had already filled 3 supers (the wooden boxes and frames) with brood (bee larvae) and honey by the beginning of June.

The second was also doing good but the third appears weak. They had barely begun work on the frames in their third super.

 

bees outside

With the intense heat of summer, a hive may often have a cluster of bees on the outside to reduce the temperature inside the hive. I inserted some wood spacers between the top boxes to allow heat to escape.

This can also be a sign of overcrowding and the potential to swarm. Although I added extra supers to give the hive plenty of room, when I returned from a vacation the strong hive appeared weak and I suspect it swarmed during my absence.

It never recovered. The queen that remained did not lay enough eggs to re-establish the hive. Without enough bees to defend the colony, wax moths attacked the combs. Although it survived the winter, it did died later the next year.

 

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capping knife

extractor
 

In 2012, I purchased an extractor kit and harvested over 60 pounds of honey from the 2 remaining hives.

First, the wax caps sealing each cell of honey in the comb are removed using an electric, hot knife.

Next, two frames of uncapped honey are placed in the extractor and spun using a hand crank. Centrifugal force removes the honey from the comb, striking the sides of the tank and settling to the bottom.

The honey is drained through a valve in the bottom of the tank into a five gallon bucket passing through several micron screens, filtering out wax bits, bee parts and any other impurities.

The 5 gallon bucket is outfitted with its own valve for dispensing the honey into jars.



 
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