We harvested honey last week. I am amazed at how much we got – just about 100 lbs. The goldenrod season was really good this year, and half of the honey was produced in the two weeks before we extracted it. HALF. Those bees are very busy!
Getting the honey supers off the hive on extraction day was not as easy as I had hoped it would be. Jeff and I had put a triangle escape board under four full supers and I had planned to give the bees two days to evacuate. My beekeeper friend Erika was going to come over and help me lift the supers off the hive the day of the planned extraction. The supers were heavy this year because I used 9 frames in each box instead of 10, so the bees drew deeper comb and packed more honey into each cell. I needed help lifting the supers that were up higher than my shoulders.
A little while before Erika was scheduled to arrive, I was outside and glanced over at the hive. I expected to see bees flying in and out of the front entrance and not much else. What I saw instead horrified me – hundreds of bees going in and out of the top cover. Without ever witnessing it before, I knew right away that these bees were robbers, coming from another hive to steal this honey. They had easy access because my bees had vacated the upper supers and weren’t there to defend their honey supply. The robbers were getting in because I had used an inner cover that came with the beekeeping equipment I was given years ago, but had never put to use. It didn’t fit right, apparently, and left a few cracks where robber bees could slide in.
I didn’t have time to wait for Erika. Robbers can devastate a hive very quickly. I suited up, lit the smoker, and started taking the heavy supers off the top. I was worried and really mad, and my adrenaline gave me the strength to lift the boxes with no problem. Robber bees were coming from all over by now and a few thousand swarmed around me, trying to get to the honey. They were eating so fast, and it was disappearing as I watched.
At that point, I had an open hive and all these robbers around. Working quickly, I put an outer cover on the ground, upside down, and an empty super on it. A triangle escape board went on top of that, upside down so that any bees in the empty super could go out but couldn’t get in. I put a full super box on the ground next to the empty box and frame by frame, cleared the robber bees off and put each frame in the empty box. I kept going with more boxes stacked under the triangle board.
I cleared the robber bees off each frame by smoking them heavily. I used only pine shavings in the smoker, so they burned fast but produced heavy, thick warm smoke. The bees hated the smoke. I had to work fast because they were determined to get as much honey as they could and they did their best to fly into the empty super each time I slid back the triangle board and added a new frame.
Erika arrived, and we continued the work of smoking the bees off each frame and adding the frame to the super under the triangle board. When they were all done, we realized there was no way we could bring the honey supers into the house for extraction as long as the robber bees were still flying all around us. I would have to let the supers sit out, protected by the triangle board, until dark when the bees stopped flying.
I did get the supers in that night and started extracting honey the next day. The robber bees came back the next day, and stayed for the week until they all died. They took up residence in our garage, where they flew around and sometimes clustered on the windows. I felt badly about the mass die-off but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. They came from another hive, had no queen with them, and they didn’t go back home on their own. I couldn’t save them.
I took no photos of the robbing situation because I was working too fast to stop and document it. It was certainly one of the more memorable beekeeping experiences I have had and I learned a lot in the process. One thing I wondered about was the effect of all the heavy smoke on the honey harvest. Would my honey taste smoky? All of it that I bottled tastes like sweet honey, and the small amount that sat in the wax cappings overnight after I extracted did take on a flavor that I am assuming is from the smoke on the cappings. That honey has a delicious earthy, savory taste and I can’t wait to use it. I’m not selling or sharing that small batch of honey – it’s too good to let go!
I’ll be selling the honey this fall, so look for a link on this blog soon.