Beekeepers dance on the edge of insanity. We are passionate about stinging insects wiser people shun. In pursuit of our fascination with honey bees, we don thick suits or heavy jeans, long sleeves, hats and gloves in 100 degree weather. Once dressed in this sweltering gear, we light a fire in our smokers and march out to disturb happily busy bees. I doubt a normal, clear-headed human would do this.
But backyard beekeepers are not clear headed, we are in love with the bees. We must be, because there’s not much money to be made as a small-scale beekeeper. After three years of owning bees and investing heavily in hives and bee equipment, I finally have honey to harvest. I don’t hope to make a profit from selling my honey or even recuperate my investments, but I’d like to make enough to support my potentially harmful and odd habit of keeping bees.
Every two weeks, I open the hive to monitor my bees’ progress and health. I dread theses bimonthly inspections.
Hours before entering the hive, I consider putting off my visit until next week or selling the hive. I tell myself I ought to spend more time engrossed in a normal, safer hobby like gardening and sewing.
All these doubts dissipate when I’m fully suited and gazing into the hive. I become completely absorbed in my work, fascinated by the insects’ intricate lives and odd behaviors. I am once again thrilled by the bees I tend.
This morning my dread was greater than usual, for today I planned to rob the bees of their precious honey. I dressed more carefully – tucking the legs of my jeans deep into my socks and fully stuffing my shirt under the maternity band that doubles as my belt. I even packed a small sting kit in my back pocket.
The modern beehive resembles a stacked filing cabinet. The large boxes, which are visible outside of the hive are called supers or hive bodies, and are filled with 9-10 frames that hang like files from the edge of the super. Larger supers are typically located at the bottom of the hive and hold the bee’s brood (eggs and larvae). The smaller supers on top are – hopefully- filled with honey.
Before I could harvest my honey, I had to clear the frames of bees. While there are many methods of clearing the bees – some expensive and some simple, I decided to combine two methods: the bee escape and the frame shake.
Yesterday, I inserted a board with a bee escape between the brood chambers and the honey supers yesterday. The bee escape is a one-way door, allowing bees out of the honey-filled supers but not in. When the temperatures falls at night, the bees leave their honey stores to seek companionship and warmth from their sisters. Once they leave the supers, they can’t return.
On warmer nights, like last night, not all the bees abandoned the upper supers. They lingered with the honey rather than join the clan, thus I had to find a more persuasive means of removing them.
I carefully lifted each frame from the super and then vigorously shook it over the hive. The flustered bees were flung into the air or into their hive, leaving me with a bee-free frame. I rapidly placed the frame under a plastic tarp to prevent other bees from clinging to my honey.
Miraculously no bee stung me during the 11-frame shake up.
I packed the honey-filled frames into my car and drove to another local beekeeper who has an extractor and other fancy honey-making tools.
There we used a hot knife to remove the wax cappings that cover the honey. The open frames were then placed in a large metal extractor. The extractor spins the frames rapidly, causing the honey to quickly flow out of the frames. A spout at the bottom of the extractor allowed us to neatly pour the honey into my waiting bucket.
Twenty-four pounds of golden, raw honey – ripe for the licking – streamed into my bucket. What a sweet ending to a fearsome day!