January and February are usually the months when beekeepers look forward with trepidation to harvesting their bees’ hard work. It is also when backs groan, knees ache, sweat pours and muscles pack in. A full box (super) of honey can weigh from 18 to 25kg.
Then add these fun facts into the equation: You get to harvest honey while dressed in a full body bee suit in the heat and you can’t scratch your nose. Moreover, no amount of preparation will save you from the inevitably sticky extraction process. Believe me no matter how hard I try, I end up covered with honey from head to toe and get it spread around a 5 metre radius.
To extract honey the supers positioned above the brood chambers need to be removed along with the bees within it. As you may well imagine the bees do not really enjoy relocating, nor the fact that their beekeeper is removing that which they worked so incredibly hard to create – sweet, delicious honey.
A stack of supers. When full of honey they could weigh 25kg each.
There are various ways to remove bees from supers. One method is to use a bee escape board positioned under the supers. The device permits the bees to leave the super but does not allow them to return. This method usually takes about 48 hours to clear the bees.
The second method is quicker as it involves shaking or brushing bees off each of the honey frames in the super, and then placing the frames in an airtight container. When using this method there will be a lot of irate bees flying about and you will have to work with care.
Most importantly, honey should not be collected for personal use after mid-February as bees need what remains of the season to collect honey for themselves during winter. In fact, during February and March bees need to start placing honey within the brood chamber where the eggs, larvae and pupae develop. It is fundamental to check this is happening and that there are at least three full frames of honey in the brood chamber by the end of March. If this is not the case, the bees will need feeding during winter or they will starve and perish.
Once you have harvested your precious golden honey, you will be left with copious amounts of sticky frames needing to be dealt with. If you want to learn a few tricks of the trade regarding harvesting and storing your sticky frames and great uses for leftover wax cappings, come and join us at Warkworth Primary School on the first Wednesday of every month. Doors open at 6.30pm.