Early spring when temperatures reach the 40's, we tilt the lid of the hives to check health of the bees and their honey supply. We often supplement their food with bars of sugar and pollen packets. If a hive did not survive the winter, we open the hive, inspect it and clean it out in preparation for introducing new bees, as shown.
Shaking the bees, refers to introducing the new bees into our hive. (video on news page) The bees arrive in this cricket type box, with the queen in a small separate container with a few attendant bees and sealed with candy. After opening this box, we literally shake the bees into the hive, place the queen container between two frames then replace the cover to the hive. We feed them sugar water from a quart jar. After a few days we check the hive to make certain the queen has escaped into the hive, if not we release her.
In spring it is vital for the bees to have supplements of sugar water prior to the bloom. Joel is in the bee yard every few days topping off the sugar water and checking each hive's activity looking for drawing of new wax comb, fresh pollen, and most important the presence of eggs indicating the queen is busy preparing for the coming honey flow.
Our son, Jeff, helps to set up the extractor, prior to the honey flow, making certain all parts are secure and thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the upcoming season. We are grateful that Jeff will come up from Lansing and help. His strength and sense of humor are valuable assets to helping us in the bee yard.
Our daughter, Becky, is holding a capped frame from the hive, filled with honey. An average shallow frame filled with honey often weighs as much as three pounds. Therefore, our 10-frame boxes (beekeepers refer to them as supers) can hold up to 30 to 35 pounds of honey.
Joel purchases pre-cut pieces of wood, to build our frames and supers. We construct each one of the 40 frames which are needed for an average hive. That totals 1000 frames needed for a bee yard of 25 hives. A very fine wire is laced through the center of the frame to hold a foundation of beeswax. This 1/16 inch thick sheet of wax is a starting point from which the bees will build out the honeycomb, fill with honey, and cap with wax. Their perfection is amazing as you can see from this nearly perfect frame.
Prior to placing frames in the extractor each frame must be decapped to allow for the honey to flow. Using a decapping knife, Joel manually removes the capping. This wax is favored for candle making due to its light color, and the fresh texture.
Our radial extractor is electric and holds 20 frames. Each frame is placed securely in a pocket (they look similar to spokes on a wheel), slightly above the bottom of the extractor. A motor on top of the unit spins the interior basket holding the frames. Through centrifugal force the honey flows out of each cell, hits the outside of the extractor, and flows down to the slightly cone shaped bottom of the extractor. The honey is collected from the extractor through a port at the bottom with a large ball valve.
As the honey is extracted it will include particles of honeycomb which we screen out for a pure natural raw honey. The honey is poured through two different size screens to filter out the particles. This is the only process the honey goes through prior to bottling. The extractor sits on a stand designed and built by our son-in-law, AJ. This places the extractor at a functional height for working, and the large casters work well for mobility of relocating and cleaning of the unit. We appreciate AJ's support, especially his technical knowledge!!
Joel is now using the smallest gauge screen, placed atop this five-gallon bucket, for the final screening process before bottling. Note the clarity of our honey!! The predominate flowers in our bees foraging area are star thistle, cherry blossoms, and native wildflowers of Northern Michigan.
As the summer turns to fall we leave a healthy supply of honey with the bees and once again introduce sugar water to help build stores for winter. Here is our daughter, Becky, as she is refilling the quart jars ensuring that our bees are totally prepared for the long winter. Coming up from Grand Rapids, we are pleased that Becky enjoys working side by side with dad in the bee yard. We feel so fortunate that our children have such an enthusiastic interest in our business!!
Each beekeeper has their own ideas on how best to keep their bees alive throughout the often harsh Michigan winters. We use a variety of techniques which include wrapping the hives in tar-paper. In addition we use methods to ensure that moisture, deadly to the welfare of the bees, can escape. As the bees devote their winter to caring for their queen, all we can do is wait until the weather breaks, to make certain our bees are ready for another summer of production. Here Becky and Susan have snowshoed in to make certain that the hives are intact.