Skip navigation

Tag Archives: beekeeping

Ken went into winter with four active hives and three survived. That was a very high percentage. Normally it’s less than 50% survival rate around here due to mites and disease and many other factors that are often unidentified. Since he expected to lose more, he put in an order for three new colonies. They have to be ordered before a beekeeper can determine how many survived. The new bees arrived over the weekend and moved into their new homes in the Methow. So now there are six! The old hives were already very active and the bees have been out gathering pollen and maybe even some nectar. I used my longest lens to get these photos but still I was too close and a bee got stuck in my hair and stung me on top of my head.

On Thursday I had to look at the calendar to remind me that it was only February 8! The temperature reached over fifty degrees, Fahrenheit! It was shirt sleeve weather when we should have been wearing down coats and heavy boots. Ken’s honeybees felt the warmth and flew out of the hives in great numbers, searching for something new to eat, fresh water, fresh air and goodness knows what else. The bees were everywhere and Luna didn’t like it. She had to go inside since she’s been stung more than once and goes out of her way to avoid any contact with the honeybees. Sky and I enjoyed the nice afternoon, poking around the yard, finding reminders of last summer, and she even posed for pictures.

The snow has been rapidly melting for the last ten days or so and where there was nearly three feet in late January, there is barely a foot now and none in the forecast. It’s colder today but with full sunshine, should be a nice day to be out and about.

Four of Ken’s six beehives burned in the fire last summer and the replacement bees arrived last month. Ken and I went over to Dave’s house where other local beekeepers were gathered to get bees to start new hives or replace colonies that didn’t survive the winter or succumbed to other things like mites, pesticides, fire, etc. I think there were over 120 boxes of bees delivered to start their new lives in the Methow and Okanogan valleys.

We quickly brought them home and Ken got to work moving them into their new bee boxes. After that he checked the two old hives and discovered that one of them had died in the last couple of weeks. It had been the weaker of the two but after surviving the fire and the winter, it was a great disappointment to lose them just when things should have been improving.

I am seriously getting behind on photo editing. I will probably never catch up. So tonight I am combining two days of honeybee images into one blog post. Ken is the beekeeper, not me. I just really enjoy watching the process as it unfolds and I have to tell you, beekeeping is FULL of drama. There is always some new question and the answer is invariably ‘Well we don’t really know. What do you think?’

Last Monday, Memorial Day, Ken had enough time to open up all five of his hives to see how they were doing. A friend said the honey flow is early this year so a person needs to be ready to add supers to the hives and to watch out for swarms. Of the five hives only one is kind of behind and that is the one that was a swarm late last summer so its stocks were low and it was lucky just to get through the winter. If it survives this winter, it should do well next year. Of the other four, three are going along alright, not yet needing a new super but one of them was nearly full so he moved around some of the frames and put the new super (another box for the bees to store honey) on it and was pleased but still concerned that the bees could swarm. He had one extra hive so he set that up just in case.

Two days later while I was in town, he was playing ball with the dogs. At one point Luna refused to retrieve the ball so he went to see why and sure enough, there was a swarm of bees right above the ball. Smart Luna. She’s been stung and has a healthy respect for bees. So he suited up again, cut the pine branch full of bees, put it into the empty hive and closed it up. The next day he had to go on a road trip so before he left he wanted to get the branch out of there and replace it with frames for the bees to use for building comb. Suited up again, he picked up the branch and brushed the bees into the box with frames. If all went as planned and if the new queen was in there, the bees would stick around start making brood and gathering honey. I checked yesterday and the bees are still in there! Now he has six hives.

Continuing on with the ‘abundance’ theme, Ken harvested his honey this past Labor Day weekend. After two seasons of beekeeping we were anxious to see what we would get. We knew it was not a lot but after last year when some other bees robbed all of our honey we felt like any that we could harvest would be a bonus.

Ken had ‘supers’ on top of the bee hives. These supers hold frames where the bees store honey after they have filled the main box and that is the honey that we get. The honey in the main box is for the bees – to get them through the long winter months. Ken took the super and all the frames that had honey in them over to Dave S’s house. Dave is a long-time Methow Valley beekeeper who has mentored many a new beekeeper and he said we could use his honey house and equipment to harvest our honey. The honey house is actually a greenhouse or hot house and it was HOT. This makes the honey flow easier and faster.

The first step is to cut wax caps off of the honey so it can get out. To do that you use a hot, electric knife. The caps fall into a screen and any honey there drips into a sink and then into a five gallon bucket. Buckets are important. The frames hang over that sink til they go into the extractor.

The extractor is an 80 year old machine that works very efficiently. Dave said he can still get parts for it and of course, there are no expensive electronic components to fail without notice. What a refreshing idea. I miss machinery like that. It spins the frames and using centrifugal force, pulls the honey out into the big barrel where it drips in to another bucket! It took all night for the honey to drain so Ken picked it up yesterday and we put it into jars. All told we got about 1 3/4 gallons. Not enough for a whole year for us but enough to get us started and have us looking forward to future years when, hopefully the hives will be stronger and make more honey.



%d bloggers like this: