Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bees, Bees, Bees...Honey!

Not long after we returned to Australia, we acquired a bee hive. As long time mead makers, it was logical that we would eventually try our hand at bee keeping and with a garden full of fruits and vegetables, it seemed a great addition to the back yard.

For many months the bees existed peacefully in our back yard and they required very little attention other than occasional monitoring to ensure that they had enough honey reserves to get them through winter.

Then one day not long ago, we noticed a swarm had collected on a branch near the hive.

If your hive swarms, you need to act quickly to get them back or you lose a queen and thousands of valuable bees. Fortunately, Brian had just acquired an additional hive so that he could do some rearranging in anticipation of harvesting our first batch of honey. He suited up, placed the new hive near the swarm and managed to lure them into it! Since the new hive was meant to be added to our existing hives, it didn't have a roof and Brian had to fashion a temporary base and roof for the time being.

The swarm moved right in and seemed happy enough!

When it came time to harvest the honey from the original box, Brian removed the frames and we were fascinated to be able to explore the parts of the hive. Below, the peanut shaped cells that are specially constructed to house the queen.

Brian spends some time 'rescuing' bees that hadn't yet hatched.

We were fortunate to be able to borrow most of the necessary equipment from my colleague, Barry. Below, Brian breaks open the capped sections of the honey comb before the frames can be placed into the extractor.

Riker and Ari were interested in the process for a short while and liked to poke their fingers into the comb to savor a bit of sweet gooeyness.

Once two frames are in the extractor, Riker has a go at turning the handle.

You start out spinning the frames slowly and then increase the speed to spin out the honey which collects on the sides and bottom of the extractor.

One of two fairly large buckets of honey with the bits of wax strained out.

Such an fascinating process! We're total novices at this so I'm sure we've made some mistakes along the way. But with a yield of about 19 pounds (8.5 kg) of honey in our first harvest, we must be doing something right!

We've saved a few jars of honey for eating and with the rest we're making a small 25 liter batch of low alcohol (8%) mead called a hydromel.

Proper meads can take a year to develop but by using an ale yeast, we're experimenting with speeding up that process to only a few weeks.

Should be an interesting experiment and a fitting way to wrap up the first year of another interesting experiment!


  1. I'm so glad you shared this, Jen! I'm always talking to homesteaders about putting hives on their property, and now I can refer them to your post for all the informative details!

    Oh, and don't use any cooking pots for beeswax that you may also want to cook food in... The beeswax doesn't come out (according to my NZ friends).

  2. Thanks Lauren. If nothing else, it goes to show that you don't have to be an expert or have lot of expensive gear to keep bees!

  3. Anonymous6:44 PM

    Nice pictures. I am living on honey donations from friends Shane & Wendy, and now I have a wonderful Mead donation from you guys! Great trade, Baz