By: Mark Hoffman
I began beekeeping in the late 1980's because I loved to eat honey, and considering how much of it I ate, decided I might as well raise it myself. It has turned into my most interesting hobby, one which captures the curiosity of many guests. My 'BeeHappy Honey Co.' in the past maintained 9-12 hives, but in the 2020s I have dropped that to 5-6 hives.
Guia uses the honey as a replacement for sugar in cooking, consuming ~100 pounds per year. Honey production is very weather dependent and also dependent upon strength and health of the queens. Production can range from 400 pounds to 1000 pounds.
In Illinois, honey is produced primarily in the months of May-July. I extract honey in July - September. If you visit in one of those months and your timing is good, you may have a chance to witness (or help with) the extraction process. I do not heat or filter the honey, thus allowing it to maintain its health-benefitting enzymes.
I am always happy to answer any questions about beekeeping as well as show you the bee equipment (without the bees, of course) or sell you some honey. I have 5 lb., 2 lb., and 1 lb. jars for sale. It makes a great gift.
Beekeeping in the U.S. is no longer the simple hobby it was in the late 1980s. Accidental introduction of two species of Eurasian bee mites has taken a toll on bee populations, wiping out nearly all the wild honey bees. This requires beekeepers to treat the bees to eliminate the mites, otherwise hives will not survive. I have tried many approaches to treat for mites, attempting to avoid as much as possible using chemicals miticides. In 2020, I bought an oxalic acid vaporizer and have had remarkable success since.
Oxalic acid is present in the hive naturally in small amounts, but it was found that in larger concentrations, it would kill mites without harming bees. The vaporizer heats a small amount of powdered oxalic acid until it is a vapor. With the hive entrance blocked off, these vapors infuse the hive and eliminate the mites.
In 2022, my hives came through the winter so strong that one hive produced an unbelievable 400 lbs. of honey! I didn't know a hive could produce that much. Average production is usually more in the 50-70 lbs. range. Summer of 2022 was very dry, which also supported high honey production. That summer, my five hives produced nearly 1000 pounds.
Check out these links to learn more about bees, honey, and other bee products:
The Healing Power of Honey - amazing article on the healing power of honey!
In hot weather, strong hives will cluster outside the hive in late day or even overnight in order to keep cool. Bees maintain hive temperature by fanning their wings. The bees are raised in brood cells in the larger boxes (hive bodies) at the bottom of the hive, and the honey is stored in the smaller boxes (supers) above.
As the number of bees grow during early summer, more honey is produced. Space must be added to accommodate the number of bees. If the hive gets too full of bees and honey, the hive will raise a new queen and the old queen and about half the workers will leave to find a new home (swarm).
This super has 8 frames filled with honey ready for extraction. Bees lives are instinctually driven by space, movement, and smell. Proper spacing is needed between the frames, otherwise the bees will build burr comb in between the frames, which complicates extraction since it is nearly impossible to extract honey from the irregularly shaped burr comb.
Few tools are needed when working on the hive. The red hive tool is the most commonly used tool, and is necessary for prying open hive bodies and supers as well as to pry frames from inside the boxes, as all hive components get stuck to one another by the bees applying propolis.
Bees glue the frames to the supers and the supers to one another using propolis, shown here. In beekeeper lingo, this "bee glue", which is made largely from collected plant resins, is used to hold the hive together. The bees mix the resins with saliva and beeswax to create propolis. Propolis is comprised of over 300 substances, and because of this is used in health and beauty products. In hot weather, propolis is super sticky but becomes hard in cold weather
This is the comb in a super frame from which the stored honey has been extracted. The bees design the comb exactly the same in the brood area of the hive. Honey bees have been bred to be larger in order that they would produce more honey. The size of the bees is determined by the size of the individual compartments in the comb.
Using an electric hot knife to cut off the capping so the honey can be extracted. Honey initially placed in the comb has a high moisture content. Bees flap their wings to evaporate some of that moisture, which is necessary for the honey to store properly without spoiling. Once the honey is adequately dried, the bees cover the comb with "capping wax".
The capping wax is collected in this uncapping tray to allow all the remaining honey to drip out through holes in the tray to be collected in the lower tray for bottling. The drained cappings are later washed of all remaining honey, which is fed back to the bees. The next summer, I melt the cappings in my solar wax melter to produce beeswax blocks.
A block of beeswax after being melted in the solar wax melter. The wax is not clean enough in this state for usage in candles, so it would be necessary to heat it to melting point in water to wash out the impurities, then pour off the melted wax into a clean container or perhaps a mold.
Here we see the uncapping tray filled with capping wax and the extractor in the background.
After being uncapped, the honey frames are placed in the extractor for the honey to be spun out. My hand-spun extractor holds six frames.
You sometimes see individuals working with bees without protective clothing, but for me, the helmet and netting are essential. When perturbed, the first place the guard bees head is for the face. It takes some time to get accustomed to group of angry bees banging into the netting just a few inches from my face.
Newly extracted honey warming in the sunroom. Pieces of wax will float to the top to be spooned off, after which, the honey is ready to eat.