Unexpected Sweetness

In all my reading about what to expect as a first-year beekeeper, I’ve heard over and over again to not expect a harvest from your hive because your bees are going to be focused on building up their numbers, drawing out their comb, and packing away honey to survive the winter. When friends asked when I’d have honey, I’d reply that I’d hopefully harvest in the second year but that my first year goal was simply to not kill my bees. Not killing my bees remains the primary focus and goal of the year, but I can also now hope for a modest harvest of honey too.

To survive the winter, bees need a minimum of 60 pounds of honey, and 80-90 pounds would be preferable in case winter lingers on too long. Although I could keep my bees alive in late winter with sugar syrup, honey is preferable for happy and healthy bees. According to Honey Bee Suite, a full deep frame holds about eight pounds of honey and a medium frame holds about six pounds. I would estimate that my top super, which is a medium box with ten frames, is about 75% full of honey. For those of you who are not math whiz kids, that’s an estimated 45 pounds of honey. Yay! (Remember: I’m not a math whiz kid over here at approximation, so all these estimates are very ish-ish estimates.)

A mostly full medium frame of honey
A mostly full medium frame of honey

Before I can harvest the supers, however, I need to get a better idea of how much honey my bees have stashed away in their hive body, which is in two deep 10-frame boxes. I believe that the two exterior frames on each side of the box are filled with honey (four frames per two deep boxes = eight frames = 64 pounds of honey). I need to verify that estimate before I could harvest any honey from the supers. If that number is inaccurate, I could inadvertently remove too much honey from my hive during the harvest and then potentially lose my bees because I’d been too greedy. Additionally, from what I have read, it seems bees will store honey in the supers above the hive and then do some housekeeping/rearranging in preparation for winter by moving the honey into the main hive body. Thus, harvesting all the honey in the supers without accounting for the honey in the hive body could be a very deadly mistake.

I have a little time to wait yet before I can really begin making arrangements to rent/borrow the extracting equipment. Because we weren’t expecting a honey harvest, I left the queen excluder off the bee hive, so the queen felt compelled to scope out the super where she laid a few eggs in the comb. Our main job today was to make sure the queen wasn’t in the super and to put the queen excluder on between the hive body and the super. This way, the queen can’t lay any more eggs in the super because she’s confined to the main body. Luckily for us, as we we were performing this task, we saw some bees chewing off the wax cappings from their cells to emerge as newly minted bees. It was charming to see our new baby bees and a bit of a relief to know we didn’t have long to wait for the rest of the brood to emerge. Once the brood finishes “hatching” in the super, we’ll be able to harvest the honey—so long as my bees continue to stash away enough of their own in the hive body.

Emerging bees: two on the left, one center, and a few where you can see the cappings beginning to be eaten away
Emerging bees: two on the left, one center, and a few where you can see the cappings beginning to be eaten away

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