Hivelights: Faltering Flow
This summer has shown us extreme hot, dry conditions and as a result there is a growing concern that the honey flow may come to an end much earlier than usual.
The lack of pollen may cause the bees to shut things down prematurely and trigger the production of winter bees as a result.
Winter bees are important and help determine if the colony will survive the winter. The main difference in a winter bee is the presence of stored fats and proteins in their blood and fat bodies.
The other important substance found is high concentrations of vitellogenin. This glyco-protein is used in brood food production and in the regulation of foraging. It also increases their lifespan allowing them to live six months (or even longer), rather than the six weeks of summer bees.
As the nectar flow winds up, foraging decreases, brood production begins to shutdown and the number of long-lived workers increases.
We don’t want this to happen yet! In Manitoba, the length of our winter is relatively close to the limits of the typical lifespan of the winter bees, so an early shutdown would risk their ability to make it through to spring.
Our Prairie Sweetheart bees live in the city near the Assiniboine Forest, Leo Mol Garden and The Leaf – Canada’s Diversity Gardens, so they seem to still be hauling in the goods at this point.
That said, I have a close eye on things and am ready to try and slow early shutdown in the hives by feeding pollen substitute and light sugar water if necessary.
Let’s all cross our fingers as hard as we can. Let’s go flow, don’t stop now!
PS. If your area is getting sprayed, please remove any standing water. If you are a beekeeper, take precautions if possible – click here for recommendations from the provincial apiarist.
Beeyard Basics: Honey Harvest
Harvesting honey is very rewarding, but like anything with beekeeping, it takes time and hard work.
First step is to make sure honey is ripe and ready for extraction. Once again, the bees are the experts here and it’s wise to follow their lead.
When the forager bee transfers the nectar to the house bee, she adds enzymes to break it down, forming a simple syrup. The enzymes also reduce the water content in the nectar. She fills the cells and the bees fan the honey over time until the moisture content reaches exactly 17.8%, then they cap it with beeswax, which indicates that it’s ready to extract.
When there are supers (honey boxes) full of perfectly capped frames, you know you’re ready for a harvest. The problem now is that each frame is covered by thousands of bees. There are many methods to get the bees off including, but not limited to: fume boards, bee blowers, shake and run, natural removal and conical escape boards.
I’ve tried the shake and run (not relaxing), natural removal (cool to watch…until bee robbers come and start a frenzy) and conical escape boards, which I like best and have stuck with for a few years now.
Basically, you place the escape board below the honey supers you wish to remove, adding an extra box underneath so they have space to move down. The little cones face downward and when the bees go through, it’s like the reverse of hotel California, they can check out, but can’t get back up.
Three days after you place the escapes on the hive, you can remove the supers that should now have next to no bees on the frames. Don’t forget to leave enough honey for them and enough space so they can bring in more.
I make sure to record how many frames I take from each hive and how many lbs are collected. This way I know how much each hive produces and the overall average per hive in my apiary. I take this into consideration when choosing which queen to use as the mother for my queen rearing, along with her good temperament, overwintering success and hygiene.
Once you get the supers inside, the lovely smell of warm honey and beeswax starts to waft through the room! Time to get your refractometer out and test the moisture content. You have to test several frames as the moisture might be different in the various boxes and in the capped versus uncapped cells. Moisture level should measure around 18%, if it’s higher, you need to dry the honey or run the risk of fermentation over time.
Drying honey is best done in a small room with a dehumidifier and fans. There are many ways to do this efficiently, so research and set up a drying room, this way you’re not tempted to skip this stage. Keep measuring until your average test is close to the 18% goal.
Now you are ready to get that honey out of the cells and into pails! As with anything related to beekeeping, choices are plenty on how you can do this, but I’m just going to share what I do!
The first part of the process is the worst for me, cleaning and sterilizing everything. It’s tedious hard work that isn’t my thing, but needs to get done.
When it’s all ready, it’s time for the longest, stickiest and best part. I like to put on my favourite music, sing along and fully enjoy the amazing smells that surround me. I use an uncapping fork to carefully remove the caps, preserving the fresh beeswax to later render and the honeycomb for the bees to reuse and refill.
My late mentor Ted taught me to be very particular about scraping each frame clean before uncapping, saving the propolis for later to make into a healing tincture or lotion. He was also meticulous about removing the caps, starting at the bottom, moving left to right, working your way up the frame to least damage the cells. The fresh beeswax cappings are collected and saved to clean and render later as well.
Finally, into the extractor it goes! I feel very lucky to have an 18-frame extractor with a motor, so I don’t have to manually spin the frames! Once spun out, I open the honey gate and the liquid gold flows through the stainless steal strainer. This strained honey then gets poured through a cheese cloth to make sure it’s extra clean for honey sales.
At this stage, it’s ready to jar or cream and flavour, but that’s for another discussion!
And that’s how the fresh, natural, small-batch honey gets from the bees’ hive to your table!
Buzzworthy: Craft Honey Collection
Straight from our hives to your table — you can now enjoy our small batch blends of Craft Honey made with Prairie Sweetheart’s premium natural honey mixed with mouth-watering flavours.
Tea, fresh baked buns, stuffy heads and sore throats
Morning toast, oats, baked bree, apple slices
Scones, granola, yogurt, ice cream
Hot & Spicy
Cheeses, meats, veggies, bagels
Grilled burgers, cornbread, potatoes, pork chops
English muffins, tea biscuits, cereal, nuts
Combing Soon: New Nucs & Knowledge Program
Have you been thinking about becoming a hobbyist beekeeper but don’t know where to start?
Join the Nucs & Knowledge program to learn how to responsibly raise and manage healthy colonies in your own backyard.
These comprehensive workshop sessions provide the resources and knowledge, combined with hands-on experience, to give you a strong start in your beekeeping journey.
- Four 2-hour workshop sessions
- Four 4-hour field days
- Two 2022 Nucs (program also available with no nucs included)
The Fall 2021 program is a pilot year and will reflect a discount. If you are interested in registering, please send an email to email@example.com.
Sweet Beesus: Recipes Dripping with Goodness
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat (regular or pastry) flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tbsp. Prairie Sweetheart Honey
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 banana, mashed
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp. melted butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Zesty Orange Honey Butter
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp. orange zest
- 2 tbsp. Prairie Sweetheart Honey
Preheat oven to 425F.
In a large bowl, whisk both flours, salt and baking powder. Add honey, buttermilk, mashed banana, egg, melted butter and vanilla extract to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray and pour heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until puffed and slightly golden.
Remove the pancake bites from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them from the pan. Repeat to create all 30 bites (depending on the size of the pan).
For the zesty orange honey butter, combine softened unsalted butter, orange zest and honey either by hand using a spoon or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn the machine on medium speed and mix until creamy and well combined. Transfer to a serving dish.
Recipe courtesy of National Honey Board
Video: The Bees Know
I have fallen in love with bees. Over the years, a true relationship has developed and they continue to inspire me more and more each season.
The lessons that we, as humans, can learn from bees are never ending. They are equals in the hive. No judgement. No comparing. No opinions of each other based on colour or looks. Every bee does its job to the best of its ability and always for the good of the whole hive.
They work together seamlessly. They are resourceful, efficient and humble. It seems that they always have a plan, but can change it on a dime based on what’s happening around them.
Bees have figured it out. They know how to work together as a community to get things done. Let’s follow their lead!
I’m excited to continue learning how to best manage my apiary and keep my mind open to the life lessons they seem to show me during every hive check.
A big thank you to Dwight @i1creative for producing this awesome video. Enjoy!