Saturday, 24 March 2012

Home-made Honey Extracting Kit

You will need:
1) a preserving pan
2) a colander
3) four rubber bands
4) a knife
5) a hair dryer
6) the patience of a saint
Today, we went to check our out-apiary for the first time since the hives were put to bed last Autumn. Andy had made a couple of fleeting visits to put feed on the teeny tiny colony, the colony we were worried about surviving through Winter but other than that the hives have been undisturbed.
But it seems we needn't have worried, because when we arrived at 11.30, with the sun making it feel more like June than March, the bees were diving in and out of the teeny colony hive like crazy things, the Queen was all present and correct and there were both larvae and capped brood in evidence, so she had been a busy laying girl already.
Same for Queen Philibert's colony - slightly bigger, equally busy on the larvae and capped brood front. Many bees wearing enormous trousers of bright yellow and orange. Hurrah!!
But the large hive, supered-up by two, was quiet. Ominously quiet. No bees. No activity. No nothing.
And inside, a little balled huddle of bees, deceased and crumbling.
Sad. Very sad. There was no obvious sign of disease as we looked over the frames and dismantled the hive piece by piece. What had happened? Last August, the hive had been crammed to bursting.
'Of course,' I said, 'we never did see the Queen in this colony. Perhaps there never was a Queen. P'raps it died out because of that.'
We think that might be the case. We don't know for sure. But what we did find ourselves with were two supers of honey stores, so we took them home and they stayed in the car (on the hottest day of the year so far - not a clever thing) whilst we decided what to do with them given our lack of electrical extraction kittage.
Firstly we discarded the upcapped stores - there's enough tummy gurgling going on in this house without adding live yeast to the equation. And then Andy made the Home-made Honey Extracting Kit as outlined above using bits from the kitchen. Like a Boy Scout on a mission he was.
Quite quickly, the elastic bands that attached the colander to the preserving pan were abandoned; I don't know why because at this point I had retreated to the living room to read for a while because I wasn't sure I could cope with the whole sticky mess of the process.
The comb was thrown, wax 'n' all, into the colander and then mooshed about a bit to break it up. 'Mooshing' is a technical term for 'mushing and squishing with a wooden spoon'. Monks used to do it before electricity was invented. Trust me, they did.
The result 'moosh' was left to drip at its own pace. Several trips were made to the kitchen to assess the speed of drippage and when it wasn't deemed fast enough, I suggested the application of a hairdryer - honey + heat = drip, drippety, dribble x fast.
This, along with more gentle mooshing, seemed to do the trick.
'Only six more frames to go,' said Andy cheerfully.
So we might be done by, well, next Wednesday I suppose. And there will be another 8 or 10 jars of honey. And we've still got three hives which are making progress as expected. Because the top bar hive of Queen Olga is busy also. We don't know what is going on inside the top bar because we aren't quite brave enough to take off the lid and find out. Free form comb and all. Could be a jungle in there.
And we've got a spare hive for swarming emergencies, too. Providing Andy doesn't go too wild with the blow-torch during the scourging process.

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