The activity at the hives was amazing to behold. There was little doubt that these were two healthy bee colonies and the fall nectar was flowing.
It was upon viewing this busy scene that my anxiety level suddenly picked up. I was about to disrupt these perfectly happy bees on this perfectly beautiful afternoon. And I was going to take some of that honey they were working so tirelessly to create. And I had never done it before. I had read a great deal about it but I had also learned how different real life can be from what you read in the books.
"Get in there." I told myself.
I set the fume boards out in the sun to heat them and I lit the smoker. I opened Galway hoping to find capped honey in the top super. If the honey was ready, the plan was to use a fume board to drive the bees out of the super and then pull the entire super for harvesting.
I pulled the first frame and took a look. It was about 70% capped. Not good enough. I set it on the frame rest and pulled a second frame. It was fully capped. I made an instant decision. I wasn't going to pull entire supers. I was going to pull frames and I was starting with this one.
I gave the frame a shake downward toward the hive entrance to clear some of the bees. Then I reached for the bee brush and gently brushed the remaining bees from the frame. Once clear, I walked it over to the tractor and set it in one of the hive bodies in the loader. I then covered it with a towel.
The die had been cast. I was into it now and my anxiety went up. As I checked the remaining frames in the top super I was disappointed to find that they were not quite sufficiently capped to harvest. A frame doesn't have to be 100% capped but it should be at least 80% capped; otherwise, the honey might have too high a water content and would be more susceptible to granulation, or worse, fermentation.
I replaced the first frame and then pulled the top super and set it aside while I examined the 5th story. The first frame of the fifth story was fully capped. I shook and brushed the bees from it and deposited the frame in the towel draped hive body in the front end loader. The second frame was also fully capped and I repeated the process. The third frame was also fully capped. As I finished clearing it of bees and depositing it with the others in the loader I took a look around to assess the overall situation in the apiary.
Bees were out of the frames and all over the outside of the top super that I had set aside. And as I peered into the hive I could see clumps of bees covering oozing honey from honeycomb built on top of the top bars of the 4th story. That comb was probably attached to the sides or the bottoms of the frames that I had removed from the 5th story and as I pulled the frames it tore the comb and released the honey.
I thought about removing the entire fifth story and smoking the bees down into the 4th and clearing the top bars of the oozing comb. But where would I put the 5th story? The bees were all over the outside of the 6th story so not on top of that.
As I considered my options a thought came to mind: "No hive visit should be over twenty minutes." It occurred to me that in all my slow and deliberate work that the clock had run out on my visit. My anxiety kicked up a notch. I still had to get the hive back together.
I decided to stop at just 4 frames. I replaced the frames I pulled with new frames and foundation so the bees wouldn't be building burr comb all over the place. I set them in gently so that the bees on the 4th story top bars didn't get crushed. I then smoked the bees down into the 5th story and smoked the bees back in to the 6th story that lay beside the hive. I put the 6th story back in place; shook the bees off of the inner cover and put it back in place and finally placed the telescoping cover back on the hive.
I then took a number of long, slow, deep breaths. I commented to Maureen that my lack of experience caused me some heightened anxiety. She responded that it really looked like I knew what I was doing. Maybe it was a combination of inexperience and being tired that caused me to feel anxious. Whatever the reason, I was happy to have order restored. I thought about going in Clare and checking for a couple more frames but I looked inside the smoker to check the fuel and it was about gone. Truth be told, I was glad the smoker was about out.
By the way, the bees were well behaved throughout my visit. They did not seem overly defensive as I had read they can get as the days get shorter and their honey stores grow. I worked without gloves, wearing a veil as my only protective gear and was never stung.
We took the 4 frames back to the house and immediately began the extraction process. I'll fill you in on the details of that much less stressful process in my next post.