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Honey Harvests

Beekeeping is about 98% fulfilling and 2%… well… not-so-much.

2% are those 100 degree days when it’s your ONLY day off and you have to inspect or harvest because it may be another week or a month until you have another chance. Soak a bandana for your neck & have all your tools ready before suiting up. Have plenty of drinking water nearby and like most things in life, once you get started and you find that because you’re amongst your beloved honey bees, it’s really not so bad.

Tim & I have developed a system that works well for us. He usually pulls the frames and brushes off most of the bees. I take the frame and finish clearing the bees and then put the frames into an empty super and cover it with a cloth. The empty super is on the back of the truck so the height is comfortable for me. Once that super is full, I can push it back & start filling another, stacking the boxes as needed. We do all this methodically until we’ve gone through each hive. Once we’ve closed the hives back up, we can drive the truck to the extracting room where they can sit until we are ready to extract.

TIP: Always check your partner’s back for any stowaway bees before entering the house!

TOOLS: The tools we use for extracting are pretty simple… maybe even primitive. 1. A large tote with a thin board attached and across the top edge with a screw facing up driven through the center of it. The screw is for resting a honey frame on while removing the wax capping. 2. A very long thin knife for skimming off the wax. An uncapping scratcher, (this can be a fork). 3. Empty bee boxes (with an inverted lid underneath to catch drips), to put the extracted frames back into.4. The extractor; ours is a hand crank, two-frame extractor that our generous kids gave to us for Christmas. Prior to that, we borrowed our local club extractor and prior to that was a home-made bucket extractor that required an electric drill to spin. 5. Lots of clean lint-free dish cloths, and washing water. 5. Rubber gloves. 6. A strainer. 7. Empty food grade buckets with lids. 8. A refractometer to measure the moisture content in the honey. You want it to read below 18% so there’s no potential for fermentation.

Once the honey has been extracted from the super frames, we take those frames away from any high foot-traffic areas and leave them for the bees to clean. They will clean every drop of honey from the frames as well as from the extractor or anything else that may have gotten sticky honey on. This makes the bees very happy for a few days.

We usually strain the majority of wax chunks and debris before letting the honey rest and settle before we bottle it. We call it lightly filtered as it may still have bee debris, wax and pollen. It’s certainly All-Natural and that is what our customers expect.

Last, but not least (for now), I save a sample bottle each time we extract and through the years have a collection of all the varieties that our Beeautiful Friends Hill Apiary Honey Bees have produced! The bottles are SO pretty!

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What is a Honey Bee Swarm?

A honey bee swarm is both a noun and a verb.

A swarm of honey bees is a large group or mass, clumped together outside of a hive.

When honey bees swarm, they are moving from one location to another.

So when a queen decides that it’s time to split her colony into two separate colonies because she either wants to expand her lineage or possibly because the hive is becoming just too crowded, she will communicate her intent to her workers. Naturally, some of the workers secrete a rich substance called royal jelly to place into several cells. This royal jelly is a highly nutritious cream and they know when and how to produce the perfect amount to insure that a select amount of eggs needed, will hatch into healthy larvae and pupae worthy of becoming the colony’s new queen. Once these queen cells are developing and capped, arrangements have already begun for a swarm journey.

Usually about 3 days before the new queen is due to hatch, the queen and about half of the honey bees will begin “humming” and gathering out in front of the existing hive. They will begin flying in large circles. Eventually flying up and away from the hive, they are swarming. Usually they will land fairly close, in a tree or on a fence post or on whatever object they choose. This spot just becomes their resting place. While the queen and most of the bees are resting, she stays deep within the mass of honey bees to keep warm and protected. A handful of scout bees will venture out to look for a potential new hive location and then fly back to the swarm to communicate where that location is. Once a consensus is made that the new hive location will become the new home the resting period will end and the swarm will move to the new location and they will begin building their new colony.

Please do not harm these swarms.

There are plenty of Beekeepers who will safely remove honey bee swarms from your property. Most states and counties have Beekeepers nearby who can be contacted through local organizations, please do your best to contact someone that will relocate them to a safe location. Honey bees are some of the most prolific pollinators on earth. We depend immensely on all pollinators for the foods we eat and they deserve protection and care.

For swarms in the Quincy, Illinois and surrounding areas you may call:

Friends Hill Apiary at 217/257+2704 or 217/257+5061

Buzz Blog, Hive Products

Spun Honey

So, this year we are excited to be adding Spun Honey to our product list!

Our Spun Honey is creamy and spreadable and has all of the same wonderful qualities of our liquid raw honey. It is just so perfect for spreading on warm biscuits fresh from the oven or right on top of a fresh slice of peach or an apple. You’ll find yourself reaching for it to spread over your favorite cracker, on toast or bagels. Spun Honey is considered a staple in our kitchen and we hope it will be in yours as well.

Delicious Spun Honey
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A Cut-Out in the QBTC Building Downtown Quincy, IL.

This was a two day job in a very small room on the 5th floor. We agreed to do this job on a Saturday when no one would be in the building. Little did we know just how many bees and how much time this job was going to take. I was less than giddy but my husband was all business and confident. We are the Friends Hill Apiary duo, so of course I put my big-girl suite on and went in with a crooked smile on my face!

Once I realized we had to use the less than appealing, caged freight elevator, I was even less inclined. (Did I mention that I am claustrophobic?) The back halls were pitch black and we had to use our cell-phone lights to find our way down the hall before we could turn on any lights. Reminding thoughts that my husband is allergic to honeybee stings wasn’t helpful and I needed to remain calm if I were to need my emergency wit. #–I–can–do–this!

Thankfully there were truck dollies for us to use and although with all of our equipment, we still had to make multiple trips. Once outside the small office room door, we began our final plan of action. We covered the floor and any items left in the room with large painter’s cloths and tarps. With the scaffold set up, we organized our tools in the order we would use them, unrolled garbage bags and donned our gloves. We’ve done this so many times that we have learned to have more equipment than we think we’ll need, because once we get started, it’s not something we can just stop in the middle of to go get tools. Tips: If you have an extra staple gun and your favorite has a tendency to jam… take the other one too. Duct tape, duct tape, duct tape… I can’t stress that enough! The hose on our Home-made Bee-Vac cracked and the high pitched whistle would have been unbearable without the duct tape. Rubber bands… it’s SO hard to find good ones. We use them to stretch over empty deep frames so that we have a way to attach the honeycomb that we’ll will be removing from the cut-out colony.

So Tim began by cutting away and removing the drywall. I gathered, broke-down and crammed all the waste into the giant trash bags. We were in a very small space with no need for unwanted clutter. We knew there were a lot of bees, but honestly we were a bit surprised by their strength. The comb was beautiful and fortunately, the bees were fairly calm. (At least in the beginning).

Next came time for our Homemade Bee Vac. It’s always helpful once you get some of the bees out of the way and somewhere “safe”. This particular hive seemed to be never-ending. We took turns vacuuming for somewhere near 4 hours the first day and still had a lot more to get. Even though we watch for the queen, it’s nearly impossible to actually be certain if we’ve captured her within the masses of some of the cut-outs we’ve seen as well as in swarms. A lot of times we can’t be certain until we witness their demeanor once settled back home. Other times, we can tell almost instantly.

Once a large portion of the honeybees are removed, we began removing some of the honeycomb layers. Cutting into all that precious honeycomb always makes us feel guilty. It’s comparable to tearing up an artist’s valuable sculpture. We are only trying to give them a better home in the end, so no real harm is ever done.

We cut the honeycomb in sizes that fits in between the top & bottom bars of the deep frames. Did you know: Honey bees build the hexagonal cells at an upward angle so the nectar doesn’t drip out and that is why we are careful which direction we attach the chunks with the rubber bands into the frames. We then place these frames back into a deep hive box for them to re-use. This gives them a place to start in their new home once we get them settled in. Fully ‘Drawn Wax Honeycomb’ is a precious commodity for Beekeepers. (More on that later.) Eventually they will build onto that honeycomb and fill up the frames just as they would from a blank foundation and we will find the rubber bands pulled outside of the hive.

Not all of the honeycomb can be saved this way, but none of it will ever go to waste. It will be used for melting down and painting onto foundation that occasionally, for various reasons, the bees won’t use. Or it can be used for coating garden tools or water proofing things or for many other needs around home.

From the cut-out, there was at least 60 lbs. of honey in that colony. Some got fed back to them, and some got set out for a free-for-all, or open feeding. You do NOT want to use honey for personal consumption from a structure that has man-made materials like insulation and chemically treated materials and the like!

Day #2 was much easier, as we already had most of the “hard” work done. There was still quite a cluster of bees that had built back up in one area and we suspected the queen may still be in that cluster. We vacuumed it up and decided we did what we could for this colony and are thankful that the building manager was so graciously adamant about “Saving the Bees”! There was no way for us to completely seal the area where the bees were using as an entrance from the outside of the brick building. So the plan was to get what remaining bees that we could and just finish the clean-up. With the manager’s permission, we used an all-purpose sealer in obvious holes in hopes to detour any of the stragglers from re-entering the building. We cleaned and swept then loaded up all of our equipment and headed home with the last little ball of bees and released them into their readily awaiting and welcoming hive.

Beekeeping, Honeybees, Seasons

Valentines Day 2020

We’re hoping this is the last bitter cold week that we have to worry about how our bees are surviving through. We’ve had so many warm days and the bees were able to get out and about and then it turns back around and dips down below 0 degrees. Are they moving closer to the honey stores and are they able to get back into a warm cluster?

Bitter Cold February 2020
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It is here that we will share what we can when we can. There are so many friends & families that have taken an interest in our beekeeping endeavors since we began and it has been so much fun for us to share with all of them many parts of our journey. Most people seem to enjoy our beekeeping experiences from the far-away sideline, but there have been a few along the way that have taken up a serious enough interest to take the flight and join the Beekeeper’s addiction. We hope that you will BUZZ around our site and visit often.

Thanks for visiting and we hope you will visit again soon!

Buzz Blog

Beautiful Beloved Beeswax

Beeswax is a highly desirable natural substance that can only be produced by honey bees. It is the young honeybees that are between the age of 12-20 days old who are able to make it. It takes approximately 8-1/2 pounds of honey to create just 1 pound of beeswax. Young honey bees have 8 mirroring glands on either side of their abdomens from which the beeswax is secreted in sheets. The honey bees remove those sheets of wax and work them into a pliable medium which is then used for building Queen cells, brood rearing cells as well as food storage cells. The nurse bees also cover the developing brood with beeswax to finish their metamorphosis. Honey also gets a wax capping once all of the water content is evaporated from the nectar and it becomes “honey”. The wax capping protects the honey from pathogens and fermentation. Repairs around the hive are also made with beeswax.

Beeswax shrinks approximately 9.6% as it changes from liquid to solid.

Wax Bloom is a term that is often questioned. It is a whitish coating that appears on solid blocks of beeswax and candles. It is not harmful and will not retard the performance of a candle or other products. Bloom is thought to be caused by molecules rearranging causing the “bloom” to come to the surface. Sometimes it will increase over time and makes a product look frosted. Candle consumers often find the bloom desirable during the winter holidays especially, as it adds to the frosty-like season. Wax bloom can be removed easily by gently rubbing with a soft cloth, warming slightly with a blow dryer or spritzing with a little rubbing alcohol.

Beeswax Candles : Hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, clean burning, lead free, naturally scented, virtually dripless, long burn time, removes harmful airborne particles from the air….

Remove all labels before lighting. Always use a proper holder for candles before burning. Never leave a burning candle un-attended. Keep out of reach of children and pets. Keep away from flammable materials. Burn in draft-free areas. Extinguish before leaving the room. Not recommended for inside hurricane-style or other high-wall glass.

For Cosmetics and personal care products, beeswax is a very much a desired ingredient. It has been told that somewhere near 2000 years ago a Greek Physician, Galen was the first to use Beeswax in a cleansing cold cream. It is preferred in skin care product because it doesn’t go rancid, nor does it irritate most skin types. It adds protection and as a humectant, it seals in moisture and yet still allows skin to breathe. It’s been used for reducing inflammation and as an emollient. It has been said to carry antiviral & antibacterial properties and with all of that, it smells wonderful too!


Small Group Demos

Teaching a Child to NOT step on a Caterpillar

is as Valuable to the Child as it is to the Caterpillar

Bradley Miller

If you have small groups of kids, young adults or clubs & organizations, we would love to share our knowledge!

Some of the events that we’ve happily shared Pollinator Knowledge are:

  • Earth Day at JWCC
  • Community Outreach at JWCC
  • Caden’s Carnival
  • QMG Kids Activities
  • Private Groups
  • Farmer’s Markets