The end of July is my last harvest deadline. Its a personal thing. I'm happy to take the occasional comb from a hive during the flush of summer; it gives the bees space in a rapidly expanding colony and stops the queen from getting herself restrained in her egg laying by lack of available empty space (becoming honey bound). But the end of July is, for me, my personal limit as I want my bees to have their own honey available to them throughout the winter and spring months. The much maligned himalayan balsam is the botanical marker for me. As the first flowers of balsam light up the rougher areas of my garden I know that my harvest limit is upon me.
The summers for the last two years have been too poor for me to collect any honey so I had to brush off a significant build up of cobwebs from some of my honey straining system that has been hibernating outside the back door. Once the filter suspension system (a piece of wood with a row of tacks hammered into one end of it - it wedges between a roof beam and the top of a wall cupboard in the kitchen) is in place and a suitable clean filter stolen (one of my wife's best plain stockings) all is ready.
I choose a warm, windless day with no threat of rain. Then I take an old plastic bread bin (any large clean container with a well fitted lid will do - this bread box is handy as it will only take a maximum of two combs so I can't be too greedy). I choose the most active, and usually largest, colony and assemble all the necessary bee wrangling equipment next to the hive. For this task it is important to have a clean bee brush to hand - I use a large goose feather and I make sure I have at least two of them available. Please note - the bees will get stroppy when you do this raid. Dress appropriately!! I then start at the end of the colony furthest from the brood area and sort through the comb until I find the edge of the brood, keeping in mind those combs I come across with the most capped honey cells on them. Then, working back from the brood area, I take out those combs I've found with the most capped honey. Each chosen comb is carefuly removed, brushed clear of bees as best I can, and then folded into the bread box. Then I scrape off the wax from the top bar and put it back into the hive from the place it came from. If I'm removing two bars next to each other I make sure I slide a full comb in between them so there is less risk of cross combing. A second bar, if available and the bees have at least two or more others for themselves, gets removed, brushed and folded onto of the first in the bread box. You have to work fairly fast as bees will try to collect onto the comb you are removing to rescue their honey and you don't want to trap too many bees in the folds of comb - see later. Get a lid onto the box you are using as soon as you can. I always try to make sure I limit myself to two bars per raid as I would rather they had the honey they need to get through the bad times ahead. If necessary put in one or two extra bars as you think fit whilst you are there and the bees are already getting stressed.
Then close up the hive and move all equipment and your box of spoils well clear before removing gloves and veil. Note that even with the lid on your chosen treasure chest you may have bees crawling around under the edge of the box lid so be careful when picking it up - check first.
And thats it, raid over. You have the spoils captured securely in a bee tight box. But it is still unusable on your toast or in your smoothie so now what do you do? More to follow ….