First-ever honey harvest

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Mon, Oct 1, 2012 - 12:29pm

File this in the "If I can do it, anybody can do it" column...

This weekend, I harvested honey for the first time from my first (and only) hive. 

It was amazing. And surprisingly quick and easy.

The hive (actually, only 4 frames of it) yielded over a gallon of rich, clear, delicious dark amber honey. Here are a few shots of some of the bounty:

It's been about a year since the idea to start a hive popped into my head. So, if you're thinking you might like to keep bees yourself, you could be enjoying your own locally-made honey by this time next year.

For those curious about the process, here are some helpful things to know:

  • The basic mechanics of beekeeping are really easy. Bees have been making honey for millions of years. Your role is basically to help keep things on track for them. Give them nice protected shelter, provide good foundations for building their honeycomb, keep predators away, manage pests, etc. All the real work is done by the bees themselves.
  • The time investment is front-loaded. To be a successful beekeeper, you need to do your homework. Keeping bees is like getting your drivers license. The actual practice of driving a car is pretty simple and straightforward 95% of the time. But there are a lot of corner cases that *could* occur, so you need to learn the rules of the road, figure out the basics of how a car works, and study your own car's drivers manual before you get your license. Beekeeping is a lot like that. You'll also need to procure and set up your hive, so plan on a few weeks/months to source everything and get it installed and in place. But after that, once you have your bees in the hive and they're successfully self-sustaining, you'll only need to check the hive for a few minutes every few weeks (provided everything is going OK).
  • Getting stung is pretty rare. As long as they don't perceive you as wantonly destroying their home, the bees will leave you alone for the most part. There are best practices you'll want to follow, for sure, to minimize bee aggression (use a smoker, wear polyester vs cotton, use a veil and gloves), but in general, the bees have better things to focus on then stinging you. With a little care, you can bring the incident rate of stings close to zero. I didn't get stung once while keeping my hive this year (and I only use a veil and gloves, not a full-body suit - which I don't think is needed if you only have a few hives).
  • Springtime is the time to start a hive. In most places, bees hunker down in the wintertime, conserving their energy. Hives do best when started after the last frosts, the first blossoms have opened, and there's a long stretch of warm weather ahead. So do your homework and procure your gear over the fall & winter. And figure out where you're going to get your bees from. Most counties have at least one bee guild. That's a great source for both education and buying a "bee package" (a box of 10,000 bees + a queen). Make it your goal to have everything in place and ready to go by the time your bees arrive.
  • Keeping bees is a win-win for everybody in your neighborhood. Most people are now aware of colony collapse disorder (CCD), so when you mention you're putting in a hive, most folks give you praise for doing your part to "help the bees". Once the hive is in place, those with gardens will likely notice their plants thriving more than normal, and the bees get the credit. Chances are, you'll have some spectators who will want to come watch you do your work on the hive (parents like to bring their kids). And once the honey is in, a stream of visitors will likely parade to your door for a taste.
  • Beekeeping is kind of addictive. There's a headiness to creating this world that thrives and produces based on your care and attention. You feel a bit like a benevolent diety running your own micro-universe. Don't let it get to your head too much - but it probably will.
  • Beekeeping can be done ANYWHERE. Many of you know I lived in the heart of Silicon Valley until quite recently. That's where this hive is: smack in the middle of high-Tech suburbia. The owner of the store I purchased my hive from in lives in San Francisco and has a network of rooftop hives in the city. All you really need is a decent water source within a few miles. So unless you live in the arctic or the Mojave, there's really nothing preventing you from keeping bees.
  • Local honey is a great social currency. Few things make people's faces light up the way they do when you give them a small jar of honey from your own bees. A little goes a long way if you're looking to swap honey for borrowing a neighbor's tool, or thanking a family for having you over for dinner.

I hope my experience gives inspiration and confidence to those currently deciding whether or not to keep bees. I guarantee you that if I can do it, you can, too.

After all, in the time since my bees arrived, I was heavily distracted with launching the new Peak Prosperity site, traveling with Chris, moving my family over 100 miles away -- and yet, my "girls" (the bees) quietly soldiered on; thriving and producing the wonderful honey above for me.

27 Comments

RJE's picture
RJE
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This is so cool Adam, it

This is so cool Adam, it really is.

Goooo Tigers

3 up 3 to go.

BOB

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Dogs_In_A_Pile
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Outstanding write-up Adam

Quote:

File this in the "If I can do it, anybody can do it" column..."

Okay.  Not only has it been filed, I am going to add to the sample set. 

New hypothesis:  "If Adam AND Dogs can do it, a blind, quadraplegic, three-toed sloth can do it."

I have a new Fall-Winter Project to get going on.  Fortunately we have a good friend who is a Master Apiarist with almost 70 years of experience with bees.  She's 87 and still tends 18, 6 frame hives.  In a good month she gets 40 gallons of honey.  In a bad month she gets 10.  I will be happy with one.

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earthwise
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What kind of hive?

Adam,

Beekeeping has been on my list for some time now. I bought plans for a Golden Mean Top Bar Hive from here a while back but just haven't gotten around to building it yet. Maybe your great results will put a foot in my @$$. Hopefully. 

What kind of hive are you using?

RJE's picture
RJE
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Adam and to my extended Family...

...I give you the Central Division Champions, My BELOVED TIGERS!!!! Dog, Jim H. YEAH BABY!!!! I'll be in at work, same time, 5:30 am at PP. I plan on a nice cold Stroh's, long neck of course and just one.

Goooo Tigers!!!

BOB

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
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Langstroth

earthwise -

I'm using a basic Langstroth hive.

From the little I know of top bar hives, they're even easier to manage because the design is so simple and there are many fewer parts.

But I'm not clear on how you get clean honey from them, though I know it's doable. But the comb doesn't fit easily into a conventional extractor and I don't know how you deal with removing larvae. In a Langstroth hive, you use an excluder (a simple mesh screen) to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey you plan to eat. There's no equivalent of that in a top bar hive that I'm aware of.

Of course, there are lots of good reasons to keep bees besides cultivating honey. If your focus is more on simply increasing the bee population in your local area, from what I know, top bar hives are great for that.

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Thanks for the inspiration

Adam,

Keeping honey bees has been on my "to do" list for a while. I bought some mason bees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mason_bee) about 10 years ago to increase pollination of my fruit trees. They've done the job very well and without any interference from me, but there is no honey.

I've made several batches of mead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mead) using honey collected by local apiarists. I find that I prefer the lighter meads, which means that the limited supply of honey goes a bit further. Honey takes on the characteristics of the flowers - clover is light and sweet while buckwheat is like molasses. My favorite was honey from poison oak. Try it if you get the chance.

Thanks for the inspiration and a new project,

Grover

RJE's picture
RJE
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Adam, I haven't been able to

Adam, I haven't been able to get your honey success out of my mind, and I have decided to prepare my garden area for a hive myself as all my winter preps are finished. I will place this posting with my desk top journal.

You know the bee population has taken such a hit in my area too so I did something I was taught and took all my grass clippings and instead of nead them into my garden I use the clippings around my pine trees in place of wood chips. I have two areas with a rather large population of bees, and many flowers and fruit trees for them to gorge themselves on. Not to mention the area surrounding us. Accident? I don't know but they sure like living in the ground level clippings, and I like it in this area because traffic is obviously light. No honey but then again we are trying to build the bees population as a matter of conscious, one bee at a time.

Adam, I'll take a small jar of your honey for a $50 dollar donation to Mish and his ALS cause. It would be an honor. If you have no honey left then I'll do it anyways. I would really just like a jar of THAT HONEY, your families honey, the ones making my sweet tooth drool for a couple of days now! I'd like to spread it over a ham I plan on cooking over the holidays. Let me know.

Goooo Tigers

Next up the hated Yankees (I don't hate anyone)...Bring them on!

Planned dinner for tonight and in celebration will be Kowalski dogs w/casting, no bean chili and finely diced onions, bettermade potato chips, hires root beer, Vernor's float made with Stroh's ice cream as dessert. All Detroit staples.

BOB 

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congrats Bob...

On our Tigers clinching 1st.  I love this honey thread too...  this is the kind of info. that makes this site so different, and personal, and relevant.  

ALS is horrible.. I watched my girlfriend's mother go through it many years ago..  I should get off my butt and support Mish as well. 

You made me hungry describing this;   Kowalski dogs w/casing, no bean chili and finely diced onions

Is this not a traditional, Detroit, Coney Island dog?  If so, you must give me your no bean chili recipe.  Thanks, Jim

RJE's picture
RJE
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It is Jim H. The dogs as you

It is Jim H. The dogs as you know are Detroit's best Kowalski's. Koeppel will do also. The chili recipe is very simple: Go to store and buy Hormel no-beans chili, add a few drops of hot sauce, a few drops worchestire sauce and a spoon full of HONEY!!!. Don't forget to steam the bun and I smother the top of my dog with (finely chopped) onions so deep that you can't see anything. I love scooping them up with my fingers or potatoe chips when I eat. That too is tradition handed down to me from my Grand Pa!!! Good stuff.

Jim and Dog, needless to say this IS a GREAT DAY! I am having some family over tomorrow, and they are bringing Saunders Hot Fudge, Creme puffs, and Saunders ice cream. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm 

I gave to Mish's cause because for me he is like family. It really is as simple as that. Jim H., I am sure you are very generous as most everyone here is so one cause or another we are helping people outside our extended family.That is SO cool. 

Goooo Tigers

BOB

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
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It's a deal

Bob,

You're on! That's a very generous offer; one I know Mish will be touched by.

I've just put a pint jar (the largest I have) aside for you. Just email or PM me where you'd like it shipped and I'll send it out asap.

thanks! 

(Oh, yeah...and Goooooo Tigers!)

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RJE wrote: The chili recipe

RJE wrote:

The chili recipe is very simple: Go to store and buy Hormel no-beans chili, add a few drops of hot sauce, a few drops worchestire sauce and a spoon full of HONEY!!!. Don't forget to steam the bun and I smother the top of my dog with (finely chopped) onions so deep that you can't see anything. I love scooping them up with my fingers or potatoe chips when I eat. That too is tradition handed down to me from my Grand Pa!!! Good stuff.

Blasphemy!  We're talking Detroit Tigers chili dogs not Yankees or Orioles dogs.  Chop up a Ghost pepper and put it in the pot of chili.  Now you're talking.  The Yankees and Orioles version would have cotton candy and marshmallows in them.  Much like the quality of their baseball

Note:  A Rangers Chili Dog may pose a challenge as they are from Texas and are quite proficient with hot peppers.

Now let's rally behind Migs for the Triple Crown.

PS - You had me at the Strohs/Vernors/Saunders milk shake.  Let's shout out to the Yoopers and have a couple of pasties maybe?

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Thanks to all for ALS donations and votes

Thanks Bob ... and everyone else who made donations to Les Turner ALS Foundation.

No matter how large or small, donations are appreciated.

Counting the Facebook campaign (which netted $20,000), total benefit to Les Turner is over $250,000

Mish

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Specifics on bee hive

Adam,

What fun to be doing something new like this!  Can you help me get started, too?

1.  What kind of hive do you use?  (Or what kind would you use today?)  (Do you have a link?)

2.  Any special tools?

3.  Where would you put the hive?  On a picnic table in the yard?  Hanging from a tree?  Probably not on the ground I would guess.....

4.  Is any special treatment needed during winter months in places that get below zero and have snow and ice?

5.  Do you feed them?  Or do they fend for themselves 100%?

6.  Do you have a favorite how-to book?

You made this look like fun.  I want to do it too.  I'd love specific pointers on how to get started.

sand_puppy

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grandefille
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honey harvest & queen excluders

Adam-

Welcome to a most addictive hobby! smiley

Most of the time, a queen excluder isn't needed to separate honey and brood areas.  Queens who have 2 deep or 3 medium boxes as brood area don't usually move up into honey supers to lay.  They especialy don't cross a box of honey to go higher to lay eggs.  The only time I've had problems with queens laying in honey supers was when I used a super for extra winter feed, the colony moved into it in early spring, and then she kept laying there.

As for honey harvest from top bar hives, even beeks with lots of hives use the "crush & strain" method.  That requires the bees to build more comb

Julie

RJE's picture
RJE
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Good deal Adam. I was

Good deal Adam. I was gone most of the day yesterday so I just read this.

I'll go to Mish's site after I read todays posting and donate by credit card. Actually I'll do it now.

A pint will be more than enough.

Gooooo Tigers

BOB

RJE's picture
RJE
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Done Adam. Have a great

Done Adam.

Have a great day.

Goooooo Tigers

BOB

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Spaceman Kermit
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Local honey

As a life long allergy sufferer, I can also attest to the power of honey.  I've recently decided I too would like to raise bees, but I never eat honey, so I decided I need to start eating more honey in order to justify having bees (as if what bees do for local crops isn't enough?).

Anyway, for the past 6 months or so I've been eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and raw local honey.  To my surprise, this is the first year I haven't suffered fall allergies, and I am positive it's because of the honey.

Doug's picture
Doug
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First harvest

I harvested honey from my hive for the first time.  I may have posted on another thread about establishing the hive a few months ago when I took advantage of a swarm that formed in a tree outside my house.  My basic set-up is a Lanstroth hive with one super.  I waited until today because we had a cold night last night and, relying on advice from a professional beekeeper, I understood the bees would be more somnolent and not so aggressive.  Well, that was true until I started to actually remove the super from the main hive.  Then I was swarmed, but got only one sting.  I have a head net that works well, but the clever little things found a small gap between my gloves and jacket.

A lot of bees were still in the super when it was removed, so taking each frame out involved brushing the bees off near the entrance hole for the hive box.  I initially tried scraping the combs into cheese cloth over a 5 gal. bucket near the hive.  That didn't work out so well so I decided to remove all the frames, brush the bees off and take the frames down to the barn to scrape the combs into the bucket.  That didn't work out so well either because yellow jackets from a particularly persistent nest in the barn discovered they love honey also.

So, finally I moved the bucket into the house near the woodstove hoping the heat would liquefy the honey enough that it would strain out of the combs more quickly.  Then, I brought one frame at a time into the house to scrape the combs  into the bucket.  It was a fairly long process, but is now done except for waiting for the honey to filter down.

One lesson for me was to put a colander over the bucket and the cheese cloth inside the colander.  The handles fit perfectly over the edges of the bucket.  Trying to just suspend cheese cloth inside the bucket didn't work out so well because the weight gets pretty heavy and tends to pull the cheese cloth out of the clips that hold it up in the bucket.

All said, the process is more laborious than I anticipated and I didn't count on the various obstacles.  I had to make a run to the hardware store to bet an appropriately sized and stiffness putty knife to do the scraping.  Also, I pretty much left a trail of sticky stuff everywhere I went and had to do an extra load of laundry.

If any of you can recommend a few efficiencies into my process, I'd greatly appreciate it.  Also, how many times in the course of a spring to fall season should one harvest honey?

Thanks,

Doug

Oh yeh, go Yanks. cheeky

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Arthur Robey
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Hot hives

I tried to buy some hives from a local manufacturer, but he was out of stock. It seems that Hives are a hot item.

10 min. to go before a webinar with Mish and Prof Steve Keen, poor blokes.

Doug's picture
Doug
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Update

I got a little over 1.5 gal. from 10 frames.  That's pretty satisfying.  A lot of little gifts for the holidays.

Doug

Adam Taggart's picture
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Nice!

That's great news, Doug. Congrats!

Doug's picture
Doug
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Thanks Adam

Would you mind writing a fairly detailed description of how you harvested your honey?  I'm pretty sure I did a lot of things wrong.  For one, I'm going to get a smoker before next spring.

Doug

PS, when I asked the beekeeper whether I should put the super back on the hive after harvesting the honey, he said I should just leave the supers and frames out near the hive and the bees would clean them up.  Sure enough, next day they were swarming over the frames "cleaning them up."  Of course, its autumn around here and they don't have much production time left.

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thatchmo
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Mites?

Your story got me kind of inspired, Adam, and so I spoke to a local keeper a few days ago.   When I told him I wanted to get a few hives, he looked kind of sad and shook his head, saying that in a few years, max, the varoa mites would be decimating the colonies here in Hawaii.  You guys have any problem with mites or CCD?  Aloha, Steve.

Doug's picture
Doug
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thatchmo wrote: Your story

thatchmo wrote:

Your story got me kind of inspired, Adam, and so I spoke to a local keeper a few days ago.   When I told him I wanted to get a few hives, he looked kind of sad and shook his head, saying that in a few years, max, the varoa mites would be decimating the colonies here in Hawaii.  You guys have any problem with mites or CCD?  Aloha, Steve.

I haven't yet, but I'm pretty new and only have one hive.  The beekeeper mentioned above seemed to think the CCD is pretty much a past problem.  I didn't know about the mites.

Doug

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
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No mite problem (yet)

Steve -

Happy to report no mite problems (yet).

From what I've heard, as a beekeeper you should expect to have mites - rather it's the degree of mite infestation that matters. 

When I bought my hive, it came with a board that helps you determine the concentration of mites in the hive. Initial tests have shown the current mite count to be low. If it spikes, I guess I'll start having to look into options for dealing with them. Fingers crossed I don't have to...

I wouldn't let fear of varroa mites keep me from keeping bees, though. In fact, I see the mite threat as all the more reason why bees need good caretakers.

Plus, with all of those flowering tropical plants, Hawaii must be as much of a paradise for bees as it is for us hairless apes.

Aloha,

A

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Beekeeping Hints

Sometimes beekeeping classes are offered so one should take that because there is a bunch to know on how to keep your bees producing.  I live in Maine so it gets quite cold and special attention has to be paid to the hive to keep the inside dry.  Bees also have to be  treated to keep mites from killing them.  A good book is "The Beekeepers Bible" by Stewart, Tabori, and Chang. 

There are usually county organizations on beekeeping.  Join these because they usually have equipment you can rent like honey extractors, frame builders, etc.

This is my first year and my bees have so far survived the winter, which is good because the temperature did go below zero.  The class, book, and county club helped me keep my bees alive.

Good luck to everyone in your beekeeping, I know I like it.

Joe

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kevinoman0221
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mites, small cells

I recently listened to an interview with a beekeeper on The Survival Podcast - the guy talked about small-cell beekeeping being better at combating mites. I found it very interesting.

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