Of Bugs, Blooms & Vittles: How sweet it is

By Chandra L. Mattingly

Beelieve it or not, the sweetest part of beekeeping for most backyard beekeepers isn't the honey harvest. It's seeing that their honeybees have survived another winter – especially when the winter was like this last one!

But folks who are interested in beekeeping as well as beginning beekeepers can get a good idea of what honey harvesting is like come Saturday, June 28. Jim Orem, a member of the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association, is offering his Milan area honey house and his help that day for his annual Spring Sling.

Newbees and SIBA members who have honey to extract may use his facilities that day, but must call or email him to set up a time: 812-571-0118 or email.

Even better, prospective beekeepers may come and discuss beekeeping and learn how to extract honey by helping. Even folks who just are interested in honeybees and honey are welcome to show up and learn through experience how it's done.

The process will begin at 10 a.m. with honey off my hives, but folks should call Jim ahead of time for directions and the best time to show up.

Once again, this strain of honeybees I care for has produced a heck of a lot of honey. In 2013, all three hives I had wintered over, and I took off about 300 lb. of honey that June. This last winter, thanks to divisions, I had four hives, all of which wintered well. At this point, it looks as if they've produced just as much and probably more than last spring.

So, for those wondering about how one “robs” the bees, here's the process. Two days ahead of time, Thursday, I'll go through the hives, set the honey supers to be taken above the hives' inner covers, and place a bee escape in the inner cover hole. By the following day most if not all the bees should have gone down into the brood boxes of the hive, where they have additional honey stored as well as pollen, and raise their young.

Because I'm not a weight lifter and value my back, I'll remove about half the frames from each full super, keeping them covered, and carry that much at a time to a shady spot in the yard. When I have all the honey supers off the hives and in the shade, I'll use a shop vacuum in reverse to blow any remaining honeybees off the honeycombs.

Then I'll put the bee-less honeycombs in a clean super, always keeping the boxes covered. When I have a full box, I'll load it into the back of our pickup truck.

When all the honey is on the truck, I'll drive a few blocks away, then open the lids to release any honeybees that might have slipped back inside the supers. At that point, those bees are glad to get out of the hot boxes and simply fly away, heading home.

After a couple of stops to repeat the process, if needed, I'll park the truck in a closed warehouse to await our Saturday morning trip to Jim's. There, we'll use a heated de-capping knife to remove the caps from the honeycombs, which are built within wooden frames. Then the frames will be put in an extractor and whirled to sling out the honey – hence the event's name – and drained into food-grade buckets.

(And this year I'll remember the lids for the honey containers so I don't have to send the spouse back home to get them!)

Finally, all the empty supers will be returned to the hives for the bees to clean out, or, if a nectar flow continues, to refill.

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