Our beekeeping journey started 5 months ago when a nice fellow from the Beekeepers Society of SA delivered a nucleus hive of bees to our brand new hive box. It was a swarm he had collected some months ago and had had sitting in his backyard.
After a lot of hand wringing about the possible impact on neighbours and the risks of being around bees, it has been quite a pleasant experience having a hive in our backyard. Besides the “flight path” area immediately next to the hive, we have been able to co-exist with the bees quite happily.
The main differences we have noticed have been big increases in pollination rates for our vegetable crops, a large number of bees drinking at our front yard frog pond and a heady aroma of honey emanating from our hive into our backyard.
We have taken a fairly low impact approach to beekeeping: minimising the number of hive inspections and attempting to provide them with an environment in which they should thrive. Our main interventions have been on very hot days, when we have placed car windscreen reflective material over the hive to reduce internal temperatures, and have placed polystyrene boxes between the hive and an adjacent corrugated iron fence to minimise radiant heat.
The time finally came to do our first honey extraction. It’s something we were slightly reticent about, given the potential for becoming embroiled in a sticky buzzy mess. After watching a lot of YouTube videos on honey extraction, and with extraction equipment very kindly lent to us by our friends Di and Joel, we finally bit the bullet this weekend.
We were right: it was a sticky buzzy mess! There’s a lot of technique doing this right but our approach to new things is generally to just get into it and learn by doing. The things we’d do differently next time are:
- Extract on a warmer day. Honey is much more viscous at lower temperatures, and a lot of the extraction process involves honey flowing from one vessel to another, so warmer temperatures make things much easier. Next time we’ll aim for a day between 30 and 35C.
- Always use smoke when working the hive. I’ve struggled getting the smoker to work well, but had my best ever success yesterday when removing the frames from the hive. After extraction, when putting the “stickies” back into the hive, I took a shortcut and assumed it’d be a quick and easy process to open the lid, drop the frames back in and close up again. Wrong! The bees worked themselves into a frenzy and managed to sting me twice through my gloves and bee suit. A very sobering reminder that bees are wild creatures and need to be carefully managed, and that proper risk management needs to include a full bee suit and also an active smoker. Lesson learned.
We only extracted 4 frames, and we left the other frames in the hive. Our focus at this point is less on extracting the maximum amount of honey and more on allowing the hive to grow and thrive next spring/summer, so we are leaving a decent amount of honey to keep the bees going through winter. And it still feels weird to rob the bees of their hard earned food, so we’ve taken a middle path approach this time.
4 frames yielded about 4 litres (5.75kg) of honey, so we’re confident that one hive in the backyard will be amply sufficient for our own family honey needs. Our thoughts will invariably turn to whether or not we should consider getting more hives, either in our backyard or elsewhere, to increase our production of honey and other bee products. It’s a question that would regularly come to mind for most beekeepers.