It's been a hot and rainy summer here in North-East Florida, and for somebody who keeps their bees in a topbar hive that means it's been a long 'hands-off' couple of months for us. You are not supposed to open up your hive when it's raining or threatening to rain (the ladies do not take to kindly when you take off the roof of their home and things getting wet) and when it's too hot, the comb gets so soft it might break off and wreak havoc on your colony.
Since a small piece of comb had broken off during our last inspection at the end of July, we'd been extra careful not to pick a day when it was too hot. Or raining. Getting free time to align with those other two turned into a feat of epic proportions but finally, last week the stars aligned and we got some quality time with our girls!
Our girls had been keeping busy over the summer despite many days spent on the porch (bearding, because it was so hot and humid) and we found partial comb attached to almost all topbars. Then we spied something really interesting and called up Little Man who'd been doing homework. In his undies.
Little Man had gotten stung once this summer (he accidentally stepped on a bee in the grass) and while he's gotten over the sting quickly (and with no allergic reaction to talk of), we had been a bit worried how this would affect his relationship with our fuzzy bugs and his eagerness to work with them. Well, as you can see, nothing really changed. He just threw over his beekeeper's jacket and that was it. That's all. Undies and a beekeeper's jacket.
It's also a testament to the mellow temper of our bees.
And this crazy comb construction was what we'd wanted to show Little Man. Clearly they had taken decorating cues from the collapsed comb in July and added willy-nilly globs of comb at the bottom of the hive, underneath perfectly fine drawn comb suspended from the bar above this mess.
All of that had to come out or we'd maneuver ourselves into a tight corner before spring encouraging the ladies to keep on building crazy crosscomb until we could no longer open the hive without destroying comb and harming bees, worker and - worse - the queen in the process.
There. All cleaned up. This is a picture of a lovely brood comb (with capped brood at the bottom) and heavy with capped honey stores at the top.
We didn't harvest, really, our hive being a first year hive but we did keep the cut-off bits and bops of comb for ourselves. Some of them had capped honey (and a few small pieces of uncapped honey), and we eagerly carried it off.
Yes, we did. We crushed up a piece of comb and dipped croissants right into the honey puddle. HEAVEN!
Then we went to process the remaining comb. First we squooshed everything into a pot and mashed it up. It smelled deliciously of honey and bees wax, even if it didn't look pretty. Then all that was left to do was to strain the honey and wax 'soup' through a fine mesh and bottle it!
Lovely, isn't it? And it's so delicious! It tastes different than 'regular' honey from the store, fruity, almost citrus-y - it really makes you wonder which flowers they visited.
What's left after draining the honey is a sticky mess of crushed comb. Since it was still coated with a light layer of honey we returned it to our bees so they could lick it clean. No drop went to waste! The crushed comb is not pretty look at even if it smells great. While honey comb is a beautiful light color, older brood comb is dark with dust and leftover pieces of cocoon.
In order to clean the wax you need to render it, melting it and running it through a filter. Since the weather had turned iffy so that a solar wax melter wouldn't work, I decided to volunteer the crock pot. There, in a bit of water, I placed a glass bowl filled with some more water on which the wax would float, topping it off with a piece of cloth to use as a filter.
Yeaaaah, so not pretty, but it smells heavenly. The wax melts, seeps through the cloth and leaves dirt and other contaminants behind.
Golden wax floating on water. It's amazing to see how well the cloth filter actually works, and that the wax indeed melts right through it.
And at the end, we had a few small jars of honey, about a pound of glorious, sweet golden bees wax and a chunk of honey on the comb to show for this year's foray into beekeeping. There won't be anymore this year. What's left in the hive and whatever else the girls are bringing in right now is theirs alone to hopefully ensure their survival throughout the winter. It's been an amazing adventure so far, and it's already impossible to imagine life without our bees so stay tuned - there will be more posts about beekeeping here at our Little Old House.