2018 has given us an extraordinary summer in the UK. Since May there has hardly been any rain and temperatures have regularly been 25C plus. Rain dilutes nectar and the UK is not as hot as other countries … so I assume this has been a good honey production year for all UK beekeepers.
It’s been my best season – doubled my previous personal best and this time with only two production hives. I record My Yields here.
My two production colonies produced 13 frames of cut comb honey. Typically a super frame holds 3lb of honey and I would say I had overall 80% completion of the frames – hence I produced 31lb of honey which made 84 cartons of beautiful cut comb.
… 15.5lb per production hive … this is almost getting respectable.
How are you all doing?
And Stores For The Bees
The hive bodies are also full of honey … and I doubt I will need to feed the bees this year.
I decided to stop producing liquid honey a couple of years ago as I was not enjoying the extraction process. It was time-consuming, blooming messy and I had to recruit my parents to help (meaning as well as spending hours scraping honey off the extractor, lifting surprisingly heavy boxes and labelling far too many jars, I also had to be polite and make small talk throughout!).
Last year I was seduced by the idea of sections. Easy, efficient, and no need to exploit the kindness of others in order to harvest the honey.
I tried Ross Rounds but based on my experience and further research (thanks to BBKA forum) discovered that, due to our short beekeeping season in the UK, the bees do not have enough time and are not that keen on sections. Fussy blighters.
I then decided to pursue cut comb which is meant to be the easiest way to make comb honey in the UK. I was also rather keen on producing that gorgeous honeycomb that I love so much (and retails for so much more than a jar of honey if packaged in a quaint box with string round it).
And so my dreams began…
I was hoping for 200 cartons of cut comb with minimum effort. I caught all my swarms and combined them into stronger colonies. I made some artificial swarms in early May that were largely successful. The hives all had at least 1 super all with thin foundation … 10 supers in total.
And today was the day of truth.
27 cartons of cut comb honey (plus 4 dodgy cartons for my porridge). The taste is the same as previous years: highly scented and aromatic with a floral flavour – thanks to all the flowers which surround the apiary, in the allotment, gardens, hedges, woods and fields. I am delighted with my haul.
And all this from about 6 frames of honey. Imagine if all 100 frames had delivered! I will continue to pursue cut comb next year.
How has everyone else done this year?
Video Of Me Cutting Honey Comb
What Is Success When It Comes To A Honey Crop?
Is it quality and taste? Is it quantity?
For me – a novice – as you can probably tell from the video above, I’m very happy and excited with my 27 cartons. 27 is enough to show it off, enjoy with friends and give away some as a gifts. But I would have been over the moon if I had made 100 cartons. 100 cartons would mean a surplus. I could set up a shop at the bottom of the garden for the day. Perhaps next year …
As I peered into the first super I was delighted to see the 4 frames below.
Ross Rounds (Honey Sections) – Assembly & Harvesting
Firstly – I hope your beekeeping season is going well. I’ve got some healthy hives at present and the nectar flow is definitely on, as is the swarmy season.
Section Honey Comb
I am very excited. I mentioned earlier this year I had bought three racks of Ross Rounds sections to make comb honey (link to this post at bottom of page). The boxes have sat unopened at the back of the garage but have very much been at the front of my mind. I had little niggles about whether I would be able to assemble the racks and would it work, will they make honey?
I managed to get a couple of hours to myself on the late May Bank Holiday Monday to crack on with it and banish some of the worry.
It took me about 60 minutes to read the literature, open the box, have a play, go on youtube and then finish the job. I took my own video, further down. It’s really easy. It takes about 20 mins to assemble a rack and if all goes well I’ll be popping out sections over the next few months rather than putting aside a day for extraction.
I’m smiling now … will I be smiling in August?
The idea is that the bees come into the sections which contain a thin foundation, lay down honey and cap it. Then you take off the rack pop out the sections, put in a round container that neatly fits the section and hey presto … gourmet honey. The best. The Holy Grail of honey. The bees knees. That’s the idea. The next few months will reveal the truth.
Having assembled the sections and with a flush of newness and excitement, I am now starting to think that honey sections is definitely the way for me. I say this because my free time is so limited with work, 2 young kids and the regular admin and jobs that need doing. At my current stage in life I would actually prefer to make no honey than spend a day extracting. Hence, sections. Either (A) I get nothing; or (B) I get gourmet honey. Either way, I save myself a day of extraction. If I don’t get anything for a couple of years, hopefully I’ll find myself with more time and go back to spinning the honey.
Ross Rounds Assembly
Here is a 2 minute video of me assembling Ross Rounds. It’s very home made with the little man making an appearance (so to speak) and the mother-in-law not realising I am in the process of making serious beekeeping videos!
Ross Rounds Assembly – My Top Tips
Don’t panic (like me when faced with anything vaguely practical) – it’s quite easy and fast. A lot faster than assembling a super
Place the white plastic rings in the brown plastic section racks. The smooth bit goes on top and the shaped bit is the side you push in. You need to line this up as you push it in. If you’re still not getting them in because the ridges do not quite line up (I had this problem in year 1 and year 2, hopefully I’ll remember in year 3), then try rotating the white ring 90 degrees. You’ll get it
There is a piece of wood and 3 springs to push the racks close together. I basically squeezed the spring in between this piece of wood and the side of the wooden rack (I’ll take a photo soon and add to this post)
You are good to go
Ross Rounds – On The Hive
You want to avoid oil seed rape nectar in the honey sections as it granulates very hard and it will be inedible. Hence, my plan:
Place a regular super with frames on each hive that needs one during oil seed rape season, i.e. approx. mid-April to end May
After oil seed rape nectar flow, put honey sections on top of brood box and then if the super contains any nectar, place that on top of the honey section rack, otherwise remove that super. (The idea is that the nectar from the oil seed rape can be used to draw out the wax in the honey sections and when blended with other nectars, will not set too hard)
Let the bees draw out the frames and lay down the nectar
When capped – remove, take home, pop out sections and if there is time left in the honey season, assemble sections again and add to hive. Any uncapped sections can either be jiggled around whilst on the hive, or put back on for finishing off when you have popped out the other sections
At end of season, I plan to dissemble racks and start with fresh foundation in the following year
Ross Rounds – Harvesting
I haven’t done this yet, but as soon as I have, I’ll update this blog. Basically:
Split the two halves of the plastic frames
Push out the sections, cutting off spare foundation between the round sections
Put the 32 sections into 32 containers
Freeze it to kill off any possible wax moth spores
Take out of freezer 24 hours later, or when you want
The sections are 1lb each (454g). You could put in two layers of thin foundation per plastic rack and then create two 1/2lb sections (227g). But I figure this will increase the ratio of wax to honey a bit too much and also, create more work.
Dad and I have just extracted the Bristol 2014 honey harvest from the Redland allotments. This honey is now available in the Wild Oats health food shop (has best before date of 12 Sep 2016 if you want to make sure it came from the September honey harvest).
Darren had another good beekeeping year. He has not had to use any chemicals to kill varroa and he has not fed his bees at any point. This is as close to natural beekeeping as it gets! He also produces very fat frames of honey (see photo below).
The honey we produce is raw honey. I.e. not heat treated and only roughly filtered, keeping all the nutrients and not destroying the naturally-occuring enzymes.
The taste is quite different to last year. I would describe it as having a buttery aroma and initial taste with a minty after-taste. It has a light, golden colour. Enjoy!
More info on Darren, this honey and where to find it: Bristol Honey
I approach the honey harvest with a mix of excitement, after all, this is what it’s all about; but also dread, as I find the extraction a bit of a drag plus it was too nice a day to be inside.
Having spoken to a few beekeepers, I decided to take off the honey on the 3rd August in order to allow the bees more time to bring forage into their hives for the winter and to allow me to use Apiguard earlier without the risks of the bees starving.
I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of guy (rather than half-empty) but I surpassed myself this time.
In mid-July I had 11 supers in operation and was sure I had about 150lb of honey and was on track to produce 200lb from my 4 hives. I was even managing to get my wife excited about my honey production with grand plans of getting our toddler to set up a small shop at the end of the garden with neighbours queuing down the road to buy my local wares.
However … when I removed 4 supers on 3rd August it seemed I had about 80lb of honey. (I think the bees had been eating their stores).
And then … when I jarred it the reality was I had 35lb (70 x 1/2lb jars) and that’s after literally scraping the barrel.
I thought I was going to have 300 jars for sale to raise money for a couple of new hives and still have enough to give to patient and greedy friends who listen to my bee stories. The reality is I’ll have 30 jars for friends and 40 for sale (which will only buy part of a hive).
Still, ever the optimist, I’m seeing this result as a 350% improvement on last year and not bad considering I had one colony in April. And of course, the really important bit, is that the honey tastes fantastic (I got the ultimate endorsement when a beekeepers wife told her husband that she preferred my honey to his and he agreed!)
I have created a new page detailing my honey yields and comparing with the UK and South West averages.
Since I was 3 years old I’ve been on eye drops, nose sprays, anti-histamine and I tried a homeopathic remedy for a time too. I might like to pretend to be Bear Grylls when I’m with the bees, but the reality is I’m a sensitive soul and I’m allergic to blooming pollen. Literally.
Peak allergy time for me was April to July. My hay fever has been getting better over the last 10 years but this year was the first time I didn’t need anything from the start of June till the end of the season. And last year, my local honey came from the June and July nectar flow!
Conclusion (again – based on my completely non-scientific sample of 1) – exposure to the June and July pollen through the rest of the year has increased my tolerance and helped to reduce my allergies. Now if only I can prove to my wife that I’m allergic to hops …
Related Page: I Love Honey (key facts about bees and honey and top 5 reasons to buy local honey)
As I increasingly smell the aromatic honey in my hives, I’ve realised a lot of this blog goes into the detail of honey production, but of course, what this hobby (passion? obsession? possible cause of divorce?) is actually about is taste.
Honey is about satisfying those 10,000 taste buds of ours (only 5,000 if you’re older). It’s about dipping a spoon into a pot of honey, pulling it out, watching it ooze over our toast and biting in. It’s about that unique, sweetness enveloping our senses. It’s the reason why, for centuries, man has tackled the beehive (without our modern protection) and raided the bees larder.
Describing The Taste Of Honey
When I began beekeeping all I knew was that I liked honey on my porridge and that I’d like a “free” supply even more. These days, I’m really interested in the different tastes of honey – floral, aromatic, delicate, spicey, malty, tangy, peppery, smokey, buttery, hints of vanilla, blackberry front notes, fruity back notes, toffee aftertaste, a touch of mint … the list goes on and as I taste the different honeys I come across I increasingly appreciate the differences.
I’m still on a mission to sample more varieties from different regions across the country and around the world and would love any recommendations you have. From the Talking With Bees perspective I’m very happy with the honey I have been producing which is highly scented and aromatic with a floral flavour, and I’m hopeful that friends and customers comments about it being the best honey they’ve tasted stands up to scrutiny. Undoubtedly this is due primarily to all those lovely flowers which surround the apiary, in the allotment, gardens, hedges, woods and fields – photos of which you can see here.
Honey Extraction Service – Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire, Glos
I provide a honey extraction service for beekeepers with hives in Bristol, Bath & Gloucestershire.
I come to bespoke arrangements with beekeepers to extract their honey from supers. I can pay you per full super or can provide you with a proportion of the extracted honey. Payment or share varies depending on if I collect or you drop-off and pick-up.
Please read my page on the TWB Network for more information.
As most of you will know, last year there was a lot of beekeeping effort on my part – involving approx. 2 swarms, Queen Less colonies, high varroa and several panic attacks. And there was not a lot in return – 4 jars of honey, 2 of which were unripe and the other 2 scraped out of the comb. Read: The joys and guilt of harvesting my first honey for how my first harvest panned out.
This year however, I have actually PRODUCED! Or rather my bees have.
Yes – one of my hives has produced a surplus of honey – about 13lb which has filled 25 jars. It might not be enough to sell to shops, but it does mean that I have enough to give to friends (very discerning ones) for Christmas. Not bad for three frames of bees with a Queen that I put in their new home on the 9th June!
I consider the success a joint effort. Yes the bees have worked hard (to produce this quantity the bees have flown about 700,000 miles – that’s the equivalent of almost two trips from the Earth to the Moon and back and visited about 26,000,000 flowers) and I, of course, have done the vital task of peering at them occasionally (a.k.a. “inspecting”).
If you find these numbers mind blowing, check out my new page on Honey Facts.
The process of extraction was fun, if time consuming and sticky. Here’s my STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO EXTRACTION…
1 – FIND A LOCATION – And by this, I mean find somewhere other than your own home to do the extraction. In my case, it was my parent’s house. This was agreed with simply bribery and promises of a year long supply of honey.
2 – GET HELP – In my case, my Mum and Dad. Basically they couldn’t resist getting involved.
3 – DO NOT GIVE TOO MANY INSTRUCTIONS TO YOUR HELPER (and definitely do not “ssshhhh” her when she is trying to give advice) – Or your mum might decide she can, in fact, ‘resist’ the urge to help you.
4 – MARVEL AT THE CAPPED HONEY FRAMES – It’s true! The evidence! These bees really do make honey.
5 – CUT THE CAPS – Uncapping the honey is like undressing a gorgeous woman. Only a little bit less intimidating and even more fiddly.
It’s fascinating to cut off the wax cappings and watch the honey ooze out and reflect on the process that has resulted in this golden liquid, before putting it in the extractor (which I borrowed from a fellow beekeeper) and spinning it.
It’s surprising to see that the comb is empty after just 1 minute of spinning. You think that you haven’t got much in the bottom of the tank but before you know it you need to empty it into a plastic tub. And 14 frames later you might have filled that 30lb tub.
6 – STOP FOR TEA – It’s a long process. I optimistically started at 7.30pm thinking I’d be back in time for a bit of News at 10, but came staggering back home at 2am.
It’s a sad day when your late nights no longer involve snakebite, clubbing and kebabs, but tea, biscuits and your parents … Mind you, both have the same sticky floor effect.
7 – TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR JARS – Yes! Finally a use for my labels! I am inordinately proud of my jars. Have a read of my labelling advice page to find out what you legally need to put on there, and how to go about producing them.
8 – TIDY UP – Or promise to. I had to come back the next day. My Dad and I (I know, it’s shameful) both had a go at mopping up the honey but the floor remained sticky three washes in.
I’ve subsequently spent some time researching the best ways to clean up honey and it seems it’s … hot water and hard scrubbing. Exactly what you do not want to hear.
9 – REMEMBER TO KEEP THE WAX CAPPINGS – I put the wet frames and cappings back on the hive and amazingly they were dry within a few days.
This video shows how dry they were:
In brief – the Queens are now marked (unbelievable I know), the varroa counts are low, the colonies are healthy and currently have Apiguard on top.
All the notes on the number of frames of bees, amount of brood and stores, feeding and treatments are detailed in my hive records. These include photos and videos.
An important day in the honeybee calendar just happened without much of a plan and definitely without a fanfare of trumpets. One minute I was unpacking boxes due to the house move, then I got distracted and thought I would check the bees (which are now 30m round the corner). I decided to remove a couple of frames of honey from the supers as a small reward but as I got them in the house without too many bees following me I thought, “what the heck”, and went back for the whole super. I just shook the bees off into the hive. No smoke was used. No clearer boards. No stings were received. It was easier than I had expected. Too easy …
My spontaneous reasoning for harvesting the honey went something along the lines that due to the high varroa count in my hives I needed to treat with Apiguard as soon as possible and I did not want to taint the honey in the one super I had with the thymol in the Apiguard. Both hives now have an Apiguard treatment and I’ll update you on the impact in a future post.
Having placed a super on the kitchen table I then had to be deal with it there and then. The only part that was remotely planned was that I had a borrowed extractor to hand.
There were four frames that looked extractable. They contained 20% capped honey, and 50% unripe/uncapped honey (i.e. it was very liquid with a high water content and the bees had not yet flapped their wings enough to completely turn it into ripe honey).
I uncapped the capped cells with a serrated knife and placed the four frames in the extractor and turned the wheel. This extracted the unripe honey. As I got increasingly desperate to extract the ripe honey I first tried a hairdryer to soften it up (this had no effect) and then I used a knife and scraped it into a jar.
I must admit this this lustful frenzy of “harvesting” felt more like robbing. Was I really stealing the bees winter lifeline for the sake of some sweet porridge in the morning and my beekeeper ego?
I reminded myself that though humans are the reason for the decline in honeybees (destruction of habitat, importing the varroa) if it was not for novice beekeepers, like myself, there would be no chance for the blighters at all.
And so I kept scraping …
Warming honey for extraction with no success
Two jars of unripe honey (liquid) and one jar of honey scraped from the comb (this honey seems to be a mix of wax, pollen and honey and is quite granulated). They all taste delicious and are sitting in the fridge to preserve them the best I can (unripe honey ferments).
My wife has so far not participated in the honey tasting sessions as (A) she does not like honey and (B) she prefers to buy food from supermarkets. I am working on both of these elements. We picked some blackberries and made a pie last year! And now that we are living in the countryside, she is getting more exposure to allotment food, bees, spiders and nature.
Unfortunately, the honey I have is definitely not of the quality (or quantity) to demonstrate my thanks to the friends who had lent the extractor or to the various neighbours who had experienced at close quarters the swarm in May. Hopefully, next year will be more productive.
When I started beekeeping my “business plan” was modelled on having hives with an average of three supers producing 120 jars of honey. I have since learnt that honey production is highly correlated to the weather and that to produce honey I am going to have to be a better beekeeper: manage swarming better and aim to have hives bursting with bees for the two nectar flows of April and July. I am also keen to get my other colony into a large 14×12 brood box as soon as possible as this will allow them to store enough honey to last them the winter without me being tempted to take their supers.
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