This year I was able to harvest (13) 5 oz jars of honey from my hive. This was from the same hive that went on sharp decline in June when I lost my queen (she disappeared) and I had to re-queen for the hive to survive. I had bought a new queen to try to save the hive and the remaining bees in the hive had her lay an egg in a queen cell they built and then raised their own queen and killed the queen I bought. Oh cruel world! But they knew better, as the queen they raised has been an unbelievable egg layer and brought the hive back from the brink of disaster. (see story here)
Which brings me to my harvest. The hive with her leading, came back from 2 bars with barely any bees on them to 17 bars loaded with brood and honey-and all since June which is phenomenal! The rule for beekeepers is to always leave enough honey for the bees to get through winter and then we harvest the rest. In our cold climate in Santa Fe, my teacher, Les Crowder says we should leave 12 bars of brood and honey for them to get through winter but I left 14 bars this year in case we have a long winter, harvesting 3 bars of honey only. If they don’t use it all, I can take the honey after the flowers come in spring (assuming the flowers do come).
This is last year’s honey in 2012. It was lighter than this year’s honey.
This year’s color was very different from last year. Last year we didn’t get a lot of flowers because of the drought and I had to feed them some sugar-water to the end of August to subsidize them and the honey I harvested was very light in color because we only got mainly chamisa flowers in the fall. This year I fed them a little in spring but stopped once the rains came and we had many different flowers all summer than the previous year which resulted in an amber colored honey with slightly stronger taste than last year on my property.
2013-Here is my honey on the left, Sara’s honey in the middle and Bob’s honey on the right
It’s interesting because my friend Sara had light-colored honey this year while another friend, Bob had darker honey-even darker than mine so where you live, even in Santa Fe, can affect what your honey will be like. We like to trade so we can taste each others honey to see how they differ.
It is now almost January but I must share something that is very exciting for a first year beekeeper. I was able to harvest 12 jars of honey last fall from 3.5 bars of honeycomb before I put the bees to bed for winter last October. I still left them 14 bars full of honey and brood to survive the winter which should be more than enough food for them. This was my first year with Italian honeybees. I put them in an empty topbar hive (there is one more established topbar hive with Russian honeybees on the property that I didn’t take any honey from this year). The Italian girls did spectacular, producing many bars of honey for the first year in a rather dismal year for flowers and nectar. Molto Bene! I started them from a 4 lb package of bees I received last April and I did subsidize their food for a bit while they established their hive to give them a good start and I think it helped them kick ass later. That plus having my huge veggie garden for them to visit and I grew many flowers that they like such as borage, zinnias and waves of sunflowers. I also have developed ‘bee gardens’ in other parts of the property with drought tolerant plants that bees like for nectar. My new motto is ‘to only plant new perennials that the honeybees like’.
The bees are located on the back half of the property so after walking out to their hives, I opened it up and cut off the bars of comb loaded with honey, (you must leave the combs with brood in the hive for the bees). Then I put the combs into a 5 gallon bucket, put the lid on (the bees will try to get it) and took the combs up to the house. I crushed up the combs with a potato masher and strained the honey about a day and a half through a kitchen colander into a big bowl to get as much of the honey as possible. Then I re-strained the honey with some fine muslin to take out any impurities. Afterwards I poured the honey into the jars which you can see above. The beautiful jars are Bormioli Rocco Quattro Stagioni (wow-that’s quite a mouthful!) and can be bought from Amazon here. How appropriate! Italian jars for Italian bee honey! My good friend Mernie turned me on to them.
My bee teacher, Les Crowder from For the Love of Bees, a bee master whom I studied with this year told us in class that we could take the leftover comb wax which is still sticky with some honey (that won’t drain out) and put it outside and the bees will take any leftover honey from it. So I put the sticky wax on a cookie sheet and left it outside by the bees water source. (If you are new to topbar beekeeping and live in New Mexico, I highly recommend Les Crowder as you will learn so much from him and gain lots of confidence in handling bees.)
Within one hour they started visiting it.
By 2 hours I could barely see the wax-there were so many bees on it.
Within 2 days they had cleaned up the wax so thoroughly that it was no longer sticky and they were no longer interested in it as they had taken all the remaining honey from it.
I put the cleaned wax in a plastic baggie until I decide what to do with it (the bees won’t reuse the wax). Since these combs were new this year, the wax is a beautiful whitish-golden color. Older combs turn brown or black as they get older.