Show me the honey!

By | July 28, 2013

Around this time of year, beekeepers are assessing their honey stocks. All going well, through spring and summer the bees will have collected enough honey to feed on over winter, and the beekeeper can harvest the surplus.

Wax capped honey forms the upper crescent shape, below is nectar still being ripened

Wax capped honey forms the upper crescent shape, below is nectar still being ripened

Bees need to convert nectar into honey, chemically converting the sugars with enzymes, and dehydrating to contain less than 20% water. When the honey is ready, the bees cap the honey with wax, and honey can store indefinitely in this state.

You can see the split between honey and nectar in this frame, with honey in the upper crescent shape, liquid nectar being ripened below. If the frame was full with capped honey, it would weigh around 1.5 kgs.

Unfortunately, the frame here is the fullest one I have. To be able to harvest honey from the hive, I’d be expecting 20 full frames – 10 for the bees for winter, and the surplus 10 for me.

Beautifully golden nectar being ripened

Beautifully golden nectar being ripened. Some of the colour is pollen in the nectar cells – so eating local honey can help with hayfever

Instead I’ve only got around 8 frames of still ripening nectar. I’ll need to supplement these stores with a sugar solution, to give the bees enough food for winter, and unfortunately there’ll be no honey for the beekeeper this year.

I did mention ..”all going well..”, so why the disappointing dearth?

In May, I had some difficulty replacing my queen bee. This caused a delay in population growth, right when the population should be increasing rapidly. No queen = no eggs = no new bees = no population growth = a reduced foraging workforce. Essentially, it meant I didn’t have enough bees to get out and collect enough nectar. You’d expect around 60,000 bees in the height of summer, and I probably only had half to three quarters of that.

Spring was also unusually long, and cold this year. During this time, bees wouldn’t have been foraging as they only fly when its warm and dry. The cold weather also meant the trees bloomed much later, and it seems in most cases, for a shorter period of time. Smaller numbers of bees, foraging on smaller numbers of flowers means, well you do the maths.

While I’m disappointed there’s not much to share for the years effort honey-wise, its been my first full season of beekeeping, and been extremely fulfilling. I’ve learnt a lot, and enjoyed every minute of it. Hopefully, the bees have helped pollinate the local environment. Yesterday, I sat my British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) Basic exam, a kind of drivers license for beekeeping. I’m yet to hear my results – pass or fall, I know I’ll continue beekeeping for many a year to come.

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