My Life of Crime

Okay, normally this week would be a trip through yet another wonderful library of the world, but I have to share with you some exciting news: I’ve decided to become a criminal.

  • My specialty: Larceny
  • My item of choice: Raw Honey
  • My victims: My honeybees

Yes, I’m proud to announce I have stolen my first bit of honey from my backyard hive . And they never knew what hit them (in other words, I didn’t get stung).

Patience..or lack thereof…

In a first-year hive, you’re not really supposed to take much from the worker girls to ensure they have enough honey to see themselves through winter, but by early August my hive was wall-to-wall comb meaning I had about 30 bars filled with comb. By early September, the comb was mostly filled with honey and pre-honey (aka nectar). By early October my patience and sugar tooth were both wearing thin.

A little about making honey…

When bees go off to visit plants, they help pollinate plants by spreading pollen around. As a reward, they get a little snack called nectar (bees also nibble on some pollen because it’s full of protein).

The nectar gets taken home and stored away on the comb. Then the non-foraging bees (the younger bees of the hive) set to work evaporating off a huge amount of liquid from the nectar. They do this by fanning their wings…a lot! Nectar contains about 80% water. Honey contains only 18%. Yeah, when they say “busy as a bee” they mean it!

Why do they need to go through all this? Because if there is too much water, the honey will ferment and then you’ve got a bunch of drunk workers staggering around the hive. Eventually, fermented honey will rot leaving the bees with nothing to eat (if they don’t die of alcohol poisoning first).

Once the nectar reaches the “just right” moisture level, the bees make a nice little wax cap over it. The cap creates a seal that keeps moisture from whizzing back into the honey. When you pull out a comb and see the cells covered in a nice white layer of wax, your honey is ready.

 

Which is why my patience was tested…

Early in the summer my bees had already made plenty of honey along the top edge of the comb, but they were also laying brood (baby bees) in the bottom part of the comb. I didn’t want to destroy any brood to get honey so I waited.

By late summer, most of the brood was out of the bars I was checking (I pretty much just check over the back half of the hive most of the time). There was still a nice line of capped honey across the top portion of the bars, but the bottom had only nectar.

So I waited hoping my patience would pay off by checking every couple weeks for one comb to be fully capped.

Checked in early September. Nope.

Checked in late September. Nope.

And then it was October…

Before my hive check this weekend, I pulled out my top bar beekeeping book. It said if you can press on the comb cells and the nectar doesn’t run, the honey is ready, it just hasn’t been capped.

With my finger ready for pressing, I dove into the hive. The bars were full of honey and nectar so I felt okay about the possibility of stealing one comb for myself. I mean, they owe me six months rent, after all. I pulled the very last bar out and pressed the cells. No runny nectar.

Since cheering and jumping around leads to angry bees which leads to stinging bees, I had to contain my excitement until i got the comb inside.

My comb - the other side had some capped honey.
The stolen comb – the other side had some capped honey.

What now?

Since this was my first go at thievery, I had no idea how to hide the evidence. But the only way to learn, is to jump right in there and give it a go (which is why I don’t hang glide or fly planes…not much room for experimentation there).

I set up a colander with some cheesecloth in it and then used a steak knife to cut away the comb. I expected some resistance, but the knife went through the comb like butter. I left about an inch of comb on the bar to give the girls a head start on building a new comb. Disappointing my husband who was licking the honey off the bar comb, I took the bar out to the hive and put it back in place.

Back inside, I mashed the comb in the colander with a ladle. Then, I realized I forgot to put the colander in a container to catch the honey that would come oozing out. Oops. I quickly dropped the colander into my Dutch oven, put on the lid and then sealed everything up with a plastic bin bag.

And then I waited. It was sunny out so I put the honey pot outside to take advantage of some solar energy to get the honey flowing more quickly. In the evening, I brought it in since I know the racoons in my neighborhood are smart enough to figure out how to get through a plastic sack.

About 24 hours later, I figured I’d tapped the comb for all it had. I gave the comb a few more smashes before moving the comb (and cheesecloth) to a tray. The tray is now outside so the bees can clean up the wax which I’ll hopefully use for candles or hand salve or some other clever concoction.

And into a couple little jelly jars, I scooped the honey. It’s only about 8 ounces, but it’s mine all mine! Thanks bees!

The comb…the after picture. Sorry, bees.

The bees have finally paid their rent!

The bees have finally paid their rent!

The clean up crew hard at work.

The clean up crew hard at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “My Life of Crime

  1. melissa says:

    I would love to keep bees some day. This was really interesting, as I know nothing about what to do with bees, the hives, comb, honey . . . You get the idea. :-). I look forward to learning more in future posts.

    • painterwrite says:

      Hi, thanks for reading! This was my first year and has really been a “let them do what they will” experience. It’s been quite interesting just watching them and having them in my yard. I just took another comb yesterday and will leave the rest of the honey for them to munch on this winter. Can’t wait to see what happens next year!

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