Beekeeping 101 was about products of the hive, fall management, and pests and diseases.
Honey is what most people think of when they think about honey bees. Most people, however, do not know just how much work it takes to get the honey off the hive and into bottles. Honey should be removed from the hives before a mite treatment is put on. Honey is often harvest in July, August, or September. Honey should be harvested on a sunny day when most of the foragers are out. Most beekeepers will suit up completely when harvesting honey because the bees are often more aggressive. A beekeeper can use a fume board and fumigant, leaf blower, or a bee brush to remove bees from honey frames. At most, a colony should be lightly smoked. Heavily smoking the colony could cause the honey to taste or smell like smoke. All the hives’ in the apiary covers should be removed so that the bees focus on protecting their hive and not on robbing out other hives. Only fully to mostly capped honey frames should be harvested. This helps ensure that the honey’s moisture content is as close to 18% as possible. Harvested frames should be placed in an empty super that is on top of a outer cover with an outer cover over it. The two main ways to extract honey is the crush and strain method and the extraction method. The crush and strain method is simply scraping the honey comb off the frame and crushing it over a strainer. The honey goes through the strainer and the beeswax stays above the strainer. This method is cheap, but the drawn out frames are lost. The extraction method is cutting the cappings off the frame with a hot knife or a bread knife before putting the frames in the extractor. Once all the honey is removed from the frames, the frames can be put back on the hives and the bees will clean the frames up. Honey can be bottled as soon as it is extracted. Our blog post Bottling and Labeling Honey explains how we bottled and labeled our honey last year.
Comb honey is honey that is left in the comb. No extractor is needed for comb honey. The bees must build comb honey on foundationless frames. The comb honey is cut out of the frame using a special cutter. Comb honey should be extracted when the cappings are white. Yellow cappings are too hard. There is a high demand for comb honey and it sells quickly as long as a good market can be found.
Beeswax is a versatile product of the hive. Beeswax can be used to make candles, a variety of creams, and lip balms. Beeswax must be cleaned before being used for any product. A solar melter could be used to clean the wax. There are a variety of styles of solar melters. Bethany plans on making one for 4-H and we will blog about it after she has made it. We use a slow cooker with water in it to clean our wax. Here is the link to our blog post about purifying wax. A similar method to the slow cooker method can be used with a pot and a muslin bag.
Propolis can be harvested from a hive using a propolis trap. Propolis traps can be bought from some of the commercial beekeeping companies.
Pollen can also be harvested from a hive using a trap. Pollen traps are pretty easy to find and most commercial beekeeping companies sell them. A beekeeper must be careful not to leave a pollen trap on a hive to long as it can deprive the hive of pollen.
After honey is harvested, a beekeeper will begin fall work. A beekeeper should treat his colonies for varroa mites as soon as the supers are removed from the hive. Treating for varroa mites allows the bees to be as healthy as possible going into winter. Colonies should be treated with antibiotics only if they need it. Antibiotics are used to treat for AFB, EFB, and other bacterial diseases. Hives should be given plenty of time to build up for winter. Hives should weigh at least one hundred and ten pounds going into winter. Entrance reducers and mouse guards should be put on hives when the temperature starts getting cool overnight.
There are many pests and diseases that can be found within a colony. Most pests and diseases are just results of a stressed hive not being able to fight against them. All colonies have varroa mites. Varroa mites must be treated for. Colonies should be treated for varroa mites at least in the fall and in either the winter or the spring. Varroa mites will cause little damage to a hive as long as they are kept at a small number. American Foulbrood (AFB) is the worst disease a hive can get. AFB is so bad because there is no way to treat for it once a colony has it. Antibiotics can be used, but often work more as a preventative for AFB than a treatment. If a colony has AFB, at least the frames and the non-queen bees should be destroyed. European Foulbrood (EFB) is a much less destructive disease. EFB can be treated with antibiotics and nothing has to be destroyed if a colony has EFB. Small hive beetles and wax moths can take over weak hives. They both can also destroy stored wax frames if the frames were not stored properly. Tracheal mites can be a threat to a colony, but are barely talked about due to varroa mites. Tracheal mites weaken the bee they are feeding on. If a colony is heavily infected, a large amount of bees may have a shortened life span. Nosema is often found in stressed colonies. Nosema can be treated for and the colony can easily recover from it. Wasps, ants, and flies may try to rob out a colony. If the colony is strong enough, they can easily fight off these invaders. Mice occasionally find a winter home in hives. A mouse guard will prevent any mice from getting in the hive. Toads and skunks occasionally eat honey bees.
A beekeeper should assess their colonies health every time they check their colonies. If they see something that does not look right, they should research it, call out a state inspector if need be, and take the proper actions against it. Sometimes there is nothing a beekeeper can do about their bees.