Saturday, 18 March 2017

An unexpected harvest

Last month we set up a hive on our country block. At the time we weren't sure of the forage supply so we gave the bees some sugar syrup, just in case. Five days after installing the hive I had a quick peek under the lid. It didn't look like the bees had been feeding on the sugar. Two and a half weeks after installing the hive I did a more thorough inspection. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Once I'd opened the hive I could see that the bees were not feeding on the syrup.  So we took that away. Looking into the hive it seemed clear that they were finding some sort of nectar flow - the hive was full of honey.  In fact there was very little room left for the queen to lay. Yikes!

Ideal size box containing the sugar syrup

Nobody was interested!

I had spare boxes on hand but no frames (another beekeeping lesson learnt - when tending more remote hives be prepared for abundance!).  The hive was in danger of becoming honey bound and I didn't want the hive to swarm if they ran out of room.  Fortunately we did have a supply of clean 2 litre icecream containers in the shed. 

Here's what we did to make some room in the hive:
  • Removed a full frame of honey and took this back to the shed.
  • Found 4 clean 2 litre icecream containers with lids
  • Cut the comb out of the frame and put this into the icecream containers. I cut a quarter of the comb out of the frame at a time, which fitted nicely into a 2 litre icecream container.  
  • Left an inch of comb along the top of the frame to act as a guide for the bees to build on.
  • Put the frame back in the hive.

We hoped the bees would get to work building comb on this empty frame and give the queen some more room to lay.  We planned to come back in a few days with frames to add a 2nd box to the hive.

So what happened?

Well, we came back 4 days later to find that the bees had almost completely filled the frame with fresh comb.  Go girls!  

To give the bees plenty of room we added a second box with fresh frames. We don't wire our frames - instead we use a thin strip of wax in the top of the frame as a guide and let the bees build their own comb. Yes, they consume honey in order to make the comb but we figure it's better to let them build the comb that they want rather than use frames with full foundation.

To make room in the brood box we moved 2 frames of honey up into the second box and put 2 fresh frames with wax starter strips into the brood box.  Based on how quickly the bees had filled out the frame we'd put in a few days prior, it seems likely that they should be able to build out the 2 empty frames.  The presence of the honey in the 2nd box will hopefully draw the bees up there too.  Just how much comb they build in the top box doesn't really matter - we just wanted to make sure there was room in the brood box for the queen to lay. 

Here's how we processed the comb once we got it home:

One of our 4 containers of comb

Using a potato masher to mash the comb

Fully mashed comb on right

Mashed comb is spooned into the double strainer sitting over the honey bucket

Honey is left to drain from mashed comb into honey bucket. Because the lid of the honey bucket doesn't clip on when the strainer is in place we use a plastic bag secured by a rubber band to cover the lot.


Here's the harvest from our single frame of honey. Well over 2 kg of honey:

Honey harvest from single frame - large jars on left each hold 500 gms of honey

We hadn't planned to harvest from this hive this season, thinking that it might struggle to amass stores. Our suburban hive is certainly not making much honey. Just goes to show that as a beekeeper you need to be prepared for multiple outcomes, especially when you are tending hives in more remote areas.   Now that the country hive has plenty of room we can leave it to do its thing and check back on it in a few weeks.

If you keep bees, how are your hives going?


  1. Go girls indeed.

  2. Here's hoping that they continue to find plenty of nectar sources :)