Sunday, 21 August 2011

Using bees to clean up the supers

Spinning the honeycomb in the extractor gets out most of the honey but there is still a film of honey over the inside of each cell.  To clean this up we need a cleaner which is small enough to get right inside each cell and recover the honey.  What does the beekeeper have available that can get inside honeycomb cells ... oh yes ... bees!

The bees can take the 'empty' supers and clean out every scrap of honey.  They then take it back to their hive and store it for thier own use in the winter.  So the beekeeper ends up with nice clean dry supers to store, and the bees get some more honey to keep them going through the winter.

This needs doing as soon as possible after extraction has finished, or at least it does in my house.  The extracted 'wet' supers give off a lovely smell of honey.  The trouble is, every bee in the area seems to smell it, and by this stage in the beekeeping year there are not many flowers around, so the thought of being able to help themselves to some honey is too tempting for the bees.  The supers become a 'bee magnet' and, if they are still in the house, there are progressively more and more bees in the house as well.  This causes marital strife so I need to get the supers out of the house quickly!

The wet, sticky supers go back into the car and then back to the apiary at Hanbury Hall.  The plan is to give each hive a couple of supers at the top of the hive.  They can then all work on 'their' supers and not end up in a massive fight with all the other hives of bees over a central pile of supers.  Once bees have learnt that honey can be found nearby, they start trying to rob the stores of thier neighbours and it all gets a bit frantic.

Every Hive gets a couple of wet supers to clean
Unlike normal supers, the wet supers to clean are put on top of the hive, with a board between the hive 'proper' and the supers to be cleaned.  There is a hole in the board, which allows the bees to get into the wet supers, but hopefully the board acts as a separator between the hive and the supers.  This should encourage the bees to 'take the honey home' down into the hive, rather than just tidying up the supers and re-storing the honey in each wet super.

The plan is to do this quickly so that the bees don't notice the pile of waiting supers to be put back on.  However the job took about 20 minutes, and by the end, the bees had found the pile of supers!

Bees robbing some extracted 'wet' supers
You can see how many bees had found the stack of supers in only 20 minutes.  This was the last super to go back on, containing the frames that had broken in the extraction process (the centrifugal extractor puts a lot of strain on the frames and honeycomb and some always break).

Still, I have left the bees for a week or so to clear the supers and will be going back soon to take the 'dry' cleaned supers off to store them at home for the winter.