I have been fascinated with honeybees since I was in college. I owe that fascination to an amazing professor, Michael Burgett at Oregon State University, whom taught an introductory entomology course that I enrolled in my senior year. Had I taken that course earlier in my college days, I likely would have minored in entomology. Anyway …
For a while now, I have wanted to introduce the kids to the science of bee-keeping. I have even hinted to my husband that I would love a hive of our own; that bees would make me happier than diamonds. A girl can dream, right?
We recently discovered that a family we know here in Northern California are apiculturists. When I made this discovery, I was full of questions. It was thereby no surprise when they invited us out to help them to extract the honey from their hives.
The frames had been removed from the hives a few days prior and brought into the garage. This helped to provide a peaceful atmosphere in which to extract the honey for the bees gradually returned to the hive when the threat had moved on. The frame boxes were stored in the attic of the garage for it was very warm up there and the honey was thereby less viscous.
The frames were removed from the box, the wax caps (if any) were sliced off with a flat, knife-like tool which was heated with electricity, and the frames were set into a large kettle like device. We all took turns spinning the frames around … the honey would literally fly out of the hexagonal cells onto the wall of the extractor (presently muscle-powered but plans to motorize it spoken of). The honey then drips down the sides and through a hole in the bottom which then leads to a double filter to remove any wax or insect remnants that may be present. The honey is then funneled into jars for consumption.
This year, the family has 13 hives but sadly, the dry weather through the summer and an area grasshopper infestation in July caused the nectar source to be rather dismal. As a result, they pulled only 81 frames in 9 supers with honey which will yield about 230 pounds of honey. The previous year, they family had a small fraction of the hives they do now and yet had a similar yield.
When we had spun out 18 frames, we took turns donning the bee-keeper attire and visiting the hives. The female worker bees, the drones (males lacking stingers), and of course the queen were identified. We also had the opportunity to hold a drone in our bare hands much as we would have held a small frog. This was such a strange feeling!
Join me next week for The Science of Bee-Keeping: Bee Anatomy