We found early in our work with bees that something to hold the top bars and honeycombs, like a support stand, would be a good addition. Your fingers could be free . . . For our first year, we had tried this wobbly bent wire contraption.
We needed a work table so we could have a place to put our stuff without laying it on the ground. To the work table, we added this crooked metal upright (a dog groomer’s bar) with a clamp and a scale for weighing individual honey combs.
The White hive’s bar #308 weighed in at 6 ½ pounds in the middle of July!
This scale weighs honey and bar together. Subtract the standard weight of the top bar and you get a good approximation of the weight of honey on each bar. Cool, huh?
We didn’t completely abandon the coat hanger. It still suspends individual bars for weighing.
But you can see here how sturdy wood-built arms with nubbin fingers yield more stable and reliable support.
So, we engineered support stands for holding the bars and honeycombs.
The stands easily rotate from front to back.
Our hands are kept free to use a magnifying glass to inspect the bees or to hook a bar of heavy comb to the scale and weigh it.
The new stands hold the top bars as we write details in the Bee Yard Log Book, take close up pictures, or handle a dozen other other chores.
There’s another substance besides honey and wax in bee hives. It’s called “Propolis”, super-sticky brown stuff that the bees manufacture and use to seal the edges of the hive or any other holes that they think should not be there. Some swear it has ancient medicinal properties. It was used as an antiseptic during the civil war. It’s impermeable to water and impossible to scrape off.
We tried everything to clean up propolis.
We did discover what will completely clean the propolis off your bee gloves?
No, the expensive foreign stuff we drink isn’t strong enough. We tried that, too. Get the cheap stuff (98¢ a quart at Wal-Mart). You need 91% isopropyl alcohol. Don’t drink it even though it is 182 proof. It is poison. But it works quickly and easily. Some stains may require a little bleach. But the gunky stuff will be gone!!
We also manufactured another way
to get honey out of crushed comb.
This was not an original idea. Crush the comb with honey still in it. Put the mixture in a cheese cloth bag and hang it overnight above a glass or aluminum pan.
Or, put the cheese cloth bag into a large old can. Then press the bag inside the can using an antique bottle capper with a wood dowel as a plunger against a 4” round divot.
This idea is a Blue Frog Honey Acres original.
And, how do you render the wax?
Build a wood box. Give it a double-paned glass lid. Paint it black for use as a solar wax melter.
Load the whole comb inside into a glass or aluminum pan.
Leave the whole thing outside to sit in the sun for half an afternoon.
Re-heat the residue in a pan of water.
The wax will float. Lift the sheet of wax out of the water. Float it in another pan. Warm it well again to remove leftover impurities. Cool it. Lift out the cleaned wax sheet, ready for further use.
That’s the good stuff – the best stuff – across the top of the comb,
honey cured to 18% water and capped by the bees.
King Tut knew that only honey cured and capped by bees can keep fresh for 3,000 years. His tomb preserved still edible honey.
However, the other stuff below is worker brood. Don’t harvest that comb!
We don’t want those brood cells, leftover cocoons, pollen and ‘frass’ mixed in with what we select to harvest.
So, how do you separate the honey from the honeycomb?
Yeah, we tried the obvious – crush the honey out of the combs using an antique, museum quality clothes wringer.
Couldn’t get the rollers close enough together to force the blob of comb to sqeeze through. It just mucked up the roller surface.
I thought we should just cut up blocks of fresh honeycomb and eat it raw, like when we were kids.
Then Susan thought of spinning the lumps of comb inside a kitchen collender - a salad spinner.
Spinning So-o-o-o Fast!
That worked quite well.
Until somebody insisted we go back to that comb honey idea!
Comb honey ... Not extracted ...
Just like King Tut tasted.
Cut straight from the bees' own cupboard.
Maybe he just wanted some more of that delicious goodness to eat !
This is newer comb. Young bees have already emerged from it, as you can see.
The nectar in this newer comb is NOT cured.
Some capped and uncapped honey in cells can be seen across the top of this comb. Many orange – brown colored brood cells in rows beneath and down the middle. Lots of dark empty cells lie towards the side and bottom. Many generations of bees have already hatched from the dark, empty area. That’s why they’re empty now. That’s why it’s dark -- old leftovers from cocoons of previous occupants. Bees re-use these wax cells again and again and again. They grow darker and more fibrous -- tougher with each generation. This honey is what we must leave to the bees. It’s on comb that they use for propagation and for hive survival.
This is not honey either.
It is multi-colored, stored pollen -- a bitter but essential source of protein for our apis friends.
Too much pollen spoils the taste of pure honey.
The substance that is glistening is raw nectar.
This comb is loaded exclusively with honey.
[ Notice lack of pollen and the absence of brood. ] We can take this honey to consume immediately (within a few hours or days). Or we can wait patiently until the bees have capped all the cells. That means that the bees have determined that this honey has been dried and cured down to the proper level of humidity. Bees cap with wax honey cells that are less than 18% water.
Susan examines a sample of our honey using a ‘refractometer’. It’s the tool that people who know what they’re doing use to measure accurately the level of water remaining in a sample of honey.
We had to learn the hard way.
Even the bees sometimes abandon certain old combs. Beginners, we didn’t know that.
We didn’t know why.
We found some old comb with very little space used for honey. We wanted to rotate out the old comb. So we proudly cut the comb out the honey areas in order to salvage the honey. We planned to freeze the comb and re-cycle it back to the bees in the next Spring.
But the cells with the honey in it were different than any we had encountered before.
It wouldn’t crush like newly laid honeycomb.
It wouldn’t sieve like newly laid honeycomb.
I whopped it and bopped it
and called it many names.
But we took it through
all the steps we knew of at the time.
It was tough stuff.
We planned to make gifts of our bounty to so many friends and family. But the caps on several of the jars started to expand. We opened them and smelled . . . fermented honey.
No not mead!! Uncured honey gone bad. Dark honey with any number of other hive products in it, gone bad. A little quick but belated research in a few books about how to correctly select and prepare honey for market showed us where we went wrong.
Everywhere! We had not carefully restricted our harvest only to cured honey capped by the bees. We had collected anything liquid that presented in a comb – good-looking or bad! It all tasted good – at first. But it was not all pure honey fit for human consumption. Adulterated as it was, we could not even give it back to the bees for re-processing!
So Blue Frog Honey Acres barely evaded getting a bad rap !!
See you on the other side of winter.
Our bees get to keep all that they have produced and stored away for themselves
Wiser and smarter. See ‘ya next year.
It's our brand name. The lyrics are paraphrased from Peter, Paul, and Mary:
" I'm in love with a big blue frog,
A big blue frog loves me.
It's not as bad as it appears,
He's got rhythm and a Harvard degree.
The neighbors are against it
and it's clear to me
And it's prob'ly clear to you ...
They think value on their property
will go right down,
If the family next door is blue. "
When we started on this adventure, some neighbors in nearby Plymouth Township were petitioning to exclude beekeepers from their area.
We figured it might be moving to Harleysville so we needed to rally a movement. Thus, the name of our bee-herding business was crafted for the neighbors around here – Blue Frog Honey Acres . . . Who knows?
HiveTool™ is a collection of readily available, off-the-shelf hardware and free, open source software that continuously monitors a beehive. Computerized hive monitors provide real time and historic data and graphs of weight, internal and ambient temperature, humidity and light levels which give the beekeeper a noninvasive view into the hive
Hand-built from aluminum struts and hand-drilled cross-pieces, this scale sits under the hive supporting all its changing weight.
A special interface board built by Chris Chesick at Center for Honeybee Research (http://www.hivetool.org)
in Asheville, NC, connects 7 sensors
to a Raspberry Pi v3 micro-computer.
Hivetool's unix debian based software controls the whole operation.
Powered by a 25 watt solar panel thru a charge controller, a 12 volt 85 amh deep cycle battery, into a 12v->5v dc down converter,
the computer's wifi transmitter sends continuous data flows via extended wifi into our home network and out to an international corps of beehive data recorders (http://www.hivetool.net).
Two units of the system sit under hives at opposite ends of the apiary - Yellow Hive & Black Hive. We get data from 2 different micro-environments to compare.
Output measures of each hive's changing sunlight level, weight, inside & ambient temperature, inside & ambient humidity can be monitored, graphed, or printed and shared at any time.
A beehive's busy front porch in summer.