Duxbury Beekeeping Part 3 of 3.

The summer of 2012 buzzed along for the two Duxbury beekeepers followed in this three-part series. During the warm months, bees go about their business of gathering nectar and filling frames in the hives with golden honey and are left to their toil except for occasional check ups to make sure the colonies are healthy.

 

In early October, Sullivan and her seventh grade son Ben went to the O’Neil Farm to harvest the honey collected in the hive they have on site.  It was a glorious fall day and Laura expected to find many frames fat with honey. Laura and Ben carefully removed the bee-covered frames from the hive, brushed them off and loaded the frames into Laura’s SUV.

After collecting the honey frames from the hives, the Sullivans remove the honey, strain it and put it in jars.  Extracting honey from the frames is sticky and time consuming but provides a sweet reward after months of work for the bees and beekeepers. 

At the Capraro home, the whole family participates on honey extraction day.  In 2011, the bees didn’t produce enough honey to feed the hive during the winter, but by Labor Day 2012 the Capraros had 44 frames heavy with honey ready to extract.

The frames were stacked in plastic tubs in the kitchen and layers of newspaper were spread on the floor under and around the stainless steel extractor.  On one counter were foil trays and an electric knife used to scrape the wax cap off the honeycomb. Kerrie Capraro assisted her youngest son Reilly, age 6, in the precision cutting of the cap. The clumps of wax are placed in a foil tray. The wax will be used later to make candles and lip balm.

Once the cap is removed from both sides of the frame, the frame is placed in the cylindrical extractor. The Capraro’s extractor is a large capacity model and can hold four frames at a time.  Kerrie’s 12-year-old son Quinn forcefully turns the crank handle on the side of the extractor spinning the honey out of the comb and down the sides of the interior of the extractor. A spigot at the bottom is set over a large plastic bucket with a mesh screen to trap debris and keep the honey pure. Before the honey is bottled, it will pass through two more successively finer screens.

After many hours of cutting cap, scraping frames and extracting honey, the family is sticky and bone tired.  Before settling down to the hearty meal that has been stewing all day in a slow cooker, the Capraros must take care of the final task: getting the kitchen back in order. Clean up is not only done by the human members of the Capraro family.  “My girls” as Kerrie calls the bees, play an important role as well.  Once the scrapers, brushes and trays have been wiped off, Kerrie brings the wax capping and tools outside and places them near the hive. Even the layers of newspaper that have been dampened by drops of honey are brought outside. Within hours the bees have removed all traces of honey and carried the fruit of their hard labor back into the hive to provide food for the winter.

After the honey is thoroughly strained, it is put into glass jars. “We eat, store and share honey with friends. We sell a little as well,” said Capraro. The Capraros love honey and eat it daily.

2011 was a historically poor year for honey production in the Northeast and across the country, according to The American Bee Journal, so hopes were high for 2012. There were no problems with aggressive bees or bad weather, but for Laura Sullivan, the season wasn’t what she hoped for.

“My 2012 season was disappointing because I mismanaged it,” Sullivan said. “I could have taken off 100 pounds in August, but waited and lost out. [The bees] ate the honey. I ended up with only about 50 pounds.”

There is a delicate balance of when and how to take action to ensure a healthy hive and maximum production for the beekeeper. While it was a disappointing yield, the honey produced was beautiful, according to Sullivan.

Kerrie Capraro collected the honey frames weeks earlier than Sullivan and had a bountiful yield of 135 pounds of honey with plenty left for the bees.  Capraro said the 2012 season exceeded her expectations, especially since she had several swarms early on. Capraro harvested her honey in late August. Collecting the frames at this time, “gives the bees time to arrange the hive how they like it before the cold weather,” said Capraro.  The earlier harvest provided a heftier yield as well.

With the 2012 bee season behind them, the Sullivan and Capraro families look toward the 2013 cycle.  Thus far, winter has not been kind, as two of Sullivan’s three colonies have perished. “They were the two hives that swarmed last summer. I think they left the weak queen. She didn’t lay enough to attain a critical mass,” Sullivan said.

Likewise, Capraro lost two of her three colonies this winter, as well, and doesn’t know for sure why the bees perished. According to Capraro, there was plenty of food in the hive. One of the colonies that died swarmed several times during the summer but Capraro doesn’t know if that was a contributing factor. She muses that one possibility is parasitic mites.

“I don’t treat for mites because I don’t want to put chemical strips in my hives,” Capraro said. “All we have done by spraying over the last twenty years is make mites stronger.”

Capraro hopes her remaining hive survives but ordered packages of bees for all her hives just in case. Later this winter, Capraro will bring bee candy, a mixture of sugar and water, and pollen patties, to stimulate brood breeding, to the hive.

Raising bees is truly a labor of love, something Sullivan and Capraro possess in spades. Each season brings new challenges for beekeepers, but the passion for the art and science of raising bees and the reward of sweet honey keeps these two Duxbury beekeeping families buzzing along.