We are in our second year of beekeeping and what a year it has been. Similar to gardening, the season started off with us full of hope about the potential bounty of honey we would enjoy come fall. As any gardener knows however, things rarely go as planned when you are dealing with the forces of nature.
Earlier this spring, the boys successfully installed two packages of bees into the hives and we waited to see how the new bees would do. It was not long before we figured out that one of the hives was failing. The queen had not survived for some reason and no new brood was present. I installed a new queen to try to help them get established, but she also turned out to be an ineffective queen, mostly laying drones (the worthless males) instead of worker bees (the industrious females).
Our last desperate attempt to save the hive was to get rid of that queen and place a frame with eggs from the functioning hive in the failing one in the hopes that the bees would make a new queen. Unfortunately, the bees were unsuccessful and the hive was a total loss.
With one hive left, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. As the summer progressed, it was clear that the remaining hive was not doing as well as the bees did last year. Periods of cool weather and bouts of rain slowed their progress significantly.
We finally got around to harvesting our honey for the year just recently.
Jesse removed the frames from the honey supers one by one.
He would then give the frame a good shake to remove most of the bees.
Our oldest would then brush off the remaining bees and place them in a cooler to keep the bees away.
After getting all the honey frames out of the hive, we moved the operation indoors to start the extraction process.
The first step was to shave off the wax cappings with the hot extracting knife.
Using a special tool, any missed cappings are scratched away to get the honey out.
The uncapped frames are then placed into the extractor for spinning.
We had the windows wide open because it was an absolutely gorgeous fall day. At some point during the extraction process we noticed bees starting to congregate on the kitchen window screens, trying to gain access to their stolen honey.
These creatures are amazing and found their way up to the house, where the honey thieves were hiding out.
I finally shut the kitchen windows to get the bees to go away. We continued our honey extracting and then heard a strange sound coming from the screen porch. The door to the screen porch off the living room was open and the bees had moved from the front of the house around the side, where they could still smell that honey.
I have to admit that having all these bees around the house was a little creepy. So we shut that door too and continued with our honey extraction.
Last year I felt a little guilty about taking the honey from the bees after they had worked so hard all summer (silly, I know). We had enjoyed visiting the hive throughout the summer and taking pictures. The bees were gentle and nobody got stung, besides our dog.
I don’t feel one bit guilty this summer. The bees were cranky and aggressive right from the start. Jesse was stung several times just standing in the field near the hive. We rarely went out to just observe anyone working the hive without a beekeeping suit. When we would actually work the hive, they would get extremely agitated and sometimes it was a little unnerving.
Not only were the bees not as lovely and gentle as last year’s bees, they were also far less productive. Of course the weather is somewhat to blame, but I believe their poor disposition was also part of the problem. It is hard to be productive when you are angry and aggressive all the time!
Last year we harvested about 55 pounds of honey. This year yielded only about 25 pounds! Less than half!
After all that work, a very disappointing honey harvest, indeed.
Although feeling a little discouraged, we plan to give it another try next year. We don’t plan on going to great efforts to help the bees make it through the winter either. Their disposition is not worth the effort. We are hoping we have better luck next year with both the disposition and productivity of the bees.
Until then, we will ration out this year’s honey and dream about the possibilities of next season.
2 responses to “A Disappointing Honey Harvest”
Was the 2011 harvest any better? Are the bees better behaved this year? I am saving up for a farm of my own, and intend to have bees. 🙂
Yes, the 2011 honey harvest was much better. We actually were successful in wintering the bees too, but lost part of them when they swarmed. We didn’t add extra brood boxes soon enough. Every year we learn something new about keeping bees. They are such amazing creatures, you will love having them some day.
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