(PICS to follow)
Are you ready for the honey now? Let's make a quick check to see whether you are. Make sure your colonies are completely free of disease. Are your hives full of bees? The Queens should have their hives full of brood, with enough room for their egg laying. Swarming intentions should be under control. What about honey production equipment? Make sure you have everything ready before the honey flow starts. If you live in a northern state the honey flow may start in June or July, in the southern states it may be a couple of months earlier. In the far west and in the sweet clover and alfalfa regions the main honey flow usually starts about the first of August. In California and Florida, the honey flow will come in March and April.
Producing Extracted Honey
As a beginner you'll find it a lot of fun to produce both extracted and comb honey. You'll also learn more about honey production than you would if you specialized. You can let your strongest colonies produce comb honey, your weaker colonies extracted honey-or chunk honey if you don't have extracting equipment. Of course large commercial apiaries generally specialize. They produce either all extracted honey or all comb honey. If you go into large scale beekeeping some day, that's what you'll want to do. Until the main honey flow starts, the job of the extracted-honey producer is the same as that of the comb-honey producer. But starting at the time of the honey flow their jobs differ. So to avoid confusion, let's discuss the jobs separately.
There are some limitations when using the small super. There is no plastic foundation made for that size super. And, during a heavy nectar flow, you will have to super your hives more frequently. Also, it takes the same amount of time to uncap a small super as it does a deep or medium super. And, you get a lot less honey from a small super for the same amount of work.
You'll find it best to use medium supers. They're not too heavy for Scouts to handle. For extracted honey, have at least two or three supers for each hive. You'll need a queen excluder to keep the queen from getting into the supers. You'll also need bee escapes, a pair of uncapping knives, containers for your finished product, an extractor that can take two or three frames, two tubs, honey filter for straining, a funnel, and hot water for heating your uncapping knives. You can, of course, buy complete extracting kits. If you have only two or three colonies, you'll probably produce chunk honey, square chunks cut out of frames with a hot knife. You don't need uncapping knives or extracting equipment. Use thin wax, not wired, foundation in supers. Once you have your equipment and hives ready for the honey now, your next job is adding supers for the honey harvest. Exactly when to put on that first super will depend upon your location. In general, add a super when the honey flow begins. A guide used by some beekeepers is this: If the frames look white along the top bars, put on the first super. The bees should be busy flying in and out of the hive entrance. In some areas the honey flow is large and starts suddenly. Beekeepers there put on supers before the frames get whitened. Find out what others in your area do. Put on one super at a time. If you have a few frames that are partly filled with honey, you might put them in the center of your first super. They’ll act as bait to draw your bees up. Once the bees are well started and the honey flow is strong, put on another super. This system is known as top supering. You can add more supers later, but don't put them on too fast. Make sure your bees need more room. If you add supers too fast, they may get only half filled. Your first super is usually ready to be removed for extracting once it is two-thirds or more capped over. (Capped over means that the honey is sealed into the cell with wax.) First take off all supers then put back the super that is next nearest full. Next put on a bee escape board flat side down, bee space up. The super that's ready for extracting now goes on top. The bees in this super will go down within about 48 hours. Then the super is ready for removal from the hive. Be sure covers are tight with no holes where robber bees can get in. Instead of using a bee escape, some keepers brush or shake the bees into the second super, or use a fume board which makes bees move out much quicker. The fume board is sprayed with a chemical like Fischer’s B Quick, and put onto the super to be harvested, bee leave in about 20 minutes.
Once the honey flow starts letting up, stop adding supers, let your bees fill the supers you have on the hive. Remove the honey as fast as it becomes ripe (Capped over).
You'll find that extracting is easier if you can go to work right after you take your frames from the hive. Having all your equipment in place and ready to use will make the work easier, too. For example, heat your uncapping knives ahead of time. First you uncap the comb.
Rest the frame on a crossbar over the tub that is to receive the honey and cappings. Next, use your knife to slice the cappings from the comb. Start at the bottom and move upward, sawing back and forth. As you uncap till the comb forward a little at the top and the cappings will drop neatly into the tub. Uncap both sides of the comb.
Turn the crank a few times slowly. Then reverse the frames (or direction of pockets if you have a reversible extractor) and turn the crank until the second side is clean of honey. Reverse the frames and extract the remaining honey. Lift out the frames and put them right into supers. When a super is filled with frames put it back on the hive if the honey flow is still on. Your bees may then refill the comb.
When you are done extracting a batch put the cappings into a large strainer and let them drain into the tub containing the liquid honey. Or if you have cappings baskets fill them with the cappings and hang them in the extractor. A few fast turns of the crank should extract the honey. The cappings can then be washed and melted. Cappings make a fine light wax.
An empty frame of drawn comb ready to go back in the hive.
Let the chunks drain overnight on a piece of hardware cloth placed over a shallow pan. Then wrap them for your family or for sale to neighbors. Chuck honey should be eaten as soon as possible, since the drainings tend to crystallize rather rapidly. Some beekeepers put chunk honey in jars.
Producing Comb Honey (advanced technique)
Beekeepers that live where they have an exceptionally good honey flow have the most success with comb honey. Sections have to be filled fast. This type of production is exacting and requires good hive
Management. As for special equipment you’ll need comb honey shallow supers, foundation, comb sections, queen excluders, bee escapes and containers for your honey. You do not need uncapping knives, a honey extractor, tubs, or other equipment used in extracted-honey production. If you're going to produce comb honey you'll need strong colonies. For best results, your comb-honey colonies should each occupy at least two full depth hive bodies. These colonies should be well protected from the wind. Unless you have a large apiary and ship comb honey by the case, wrap each section in cellophane wrappers. If you intend to sell your comb honey, you might put the sections in plastic boxes made just for this purpose.
Summer Hive Management
When the first blossoms come out and your bees seem to be flying in and out of the hives regularly, it’s time to put on your first super. You'll probably notice that the frames are whitened near the top. There are, of course, a number of ways to handle your supers once the main honey flow begins.
Which system you use will depend on where you live and the type of apiary you have. If you are a beginner, get advice from your counselor or local beekeepers. They can tell you exactly what to do.
The following plan--called the Miller Plan- is used by many beekeepers.
When the main honey now starts, the oldest brood, with the queen, is put in the lower brood nest. The rest of the brood, with enough bees to protect it, is set on a new bottom board at a new location. A queen excluder and two supers are put over the full brood nest. Because the bees are then crowded almost to the point of swarming, you'll find that they usually run into the supers and start work immediately. If they do not you can bait them up. You may have to control swarming preparations after the bees are confined to the one brood nest. Use methods described earlier. As long as the honey now is steady, new supers are put just above the queen excluder. The super most nearly completed is put on top of the new super. Other supers are arranged on top of this. Exactly how you arrange supers will depend on how much honey they contain. Remember, as long as the honey flow is steady the super in which the most work has been done is placed on top of the hive. Tactics are changed once the height of the honey flow is over. The newest super added is put on top of the hive-not directly over the queen excluder as is done when the honey now is steady. Thus, the bees will fill the older supers before they start on a new one. The supers are removed as fast as they are filled. What about the extra brood on the new bottom board? You can use it for several things. Some beekeepers use it to strengthen weaker colonies. Some let the brood emerge, then use the new queen to requeen the parent colony. Or you can let the new colony increase.
Cooks plan allowed for the increase of hives when needed and wanted, saved time, and reduced swarming. His plan was to create a new hive from six existing hives. By taking one frame of brood and bees from each of six hives he was not reducing the bee population by much and by replacing the removed comb with a new frame-- he provided more growing space for the hive that just gave up one comb of bees and brood. These 6 frames of bees and brood that was all capped were placed into a hive body with a new queen. In this fashion, one can build a new colony every day or so, if enough hives are available. This is a good swarm management technique. The beekeeper can revisit colonies to pull frames just about every week. Each hive is giving up just one frame of brood on each visit. The number of colonies that can be built up this way is staggering. It uses fertile mated queens rather than developing queens from queen cells as in the Miller method. Cook found that this method allowed the increase hives to build up very quickly and he counted on each them to produce a honey crop. Just imagine what you could do with 12 colonies of strong bees at the start of the bee season. 12 become 14 almost immediately. In one week 14 become 16 and in two weeks the 14 become 18. Once 18 hive are established, three new hives can be created each week until one has 24 hives and then four new hives can be established each week. In the meantime, the hives that already exist are strong and have good young queens. They will have large working forces to gather a nectar/honey crop. Knowing when to quit is the important thing. Beekeepers will usually build up the number of hives they own until they can no longer manage them properly
Taking Off Honey
If you don't pack your honey right away, put your supers in neat stacks in a warm, dry room. These supers should be fumigated immediately and every 5 or 6 days thereafter for wax-moth control.
You can get the honey-grading standards from the Internet.