We try to start harvesting the honey at the beginning of September. Estimating the best starting time can be difficult. If we start too early, we risk a too high water content in the honey, which may lead to fermentation. But if we start too late, we may risk cold weather before we are finished, which in turn may disadvantage the bees in that they will not be able to take in the sugar water and process it before they have to form their winter cluster. But when the bees have sealed the honey frames with wax, the time is usually right.
The supers are taken in first. That leaves a bit more time for the last brood to hatch before the brood boxes are emptied of honey. In the left-most part of the head image you can see how we harvest. The hive box to the left has been put on top of a new box prepared with drawn wax frames (that is frames that have been used, and are emptied of honey). One by one the frames are taken out, the bees shaken off and the frames placed in the white empty box to the right. The bees end up on the frames of the box underneath - where they become very busy dealing with the honey residues. When all the frames have been transferred, the top box is taken away.
With my few bee hives, the harvesting would be just a two days' job. But I'm also involved with my partner's approx 180 hives, so once started, we have nearly a two month job before us - he is out collecting in the apiaries whilst I'm working in the 'honey room' extracting the honey from the frames.
Depending on the distance to the apiary and the weather (we cannot collect the honey if it is raining) some 8 to 15 boxes can be taken in during a day. And when all the supers have been harvested and we get down to the brood boxes, we also have to put a feeder, a container for sugar water, on top of each hive. The bees get around 15 kilos of sugar diluted in water per hive, in two feeds, which they condense, put into the empty cells and seal, just as if it was honey.
The hive boxes with the frames full of honey are first brought into a room at about 30 centigrade and ventilated in order to let any excessive humidity evaporate. Then I move them into the work room. I have to decap the frames, that is remove the surface wax, then transfer them into a machine that has two plates full of pins on either side. These pins are pressed in and out of the honey cells a number of times, so that the honey becomes smooth and soft in order to come out of the cells easily in the next process, which is the centrifugation. The centrifuge takes 6 frames at a time and automatically spins them both ways, at three different speeds. Within one hour I can load it up three - four times. Each hive box takes ten frames, and I can do about 15 -17 boxes a day. So now you can figure out my working hours!
The honey runs out of the centrifuge into a filtering system and is finally filled into 20 litre transport buckets. We have a honey association co-operative where the members can deliver their honey. This saves us having to market the honey ourselves, and we are certain to be able to sell all the honey apart from what we need for our own use, plus a bit for private sale. Honey produced in Norway usually crystallizes and gets solid. That is mainly due to the plants, especially heather, that the nectar comes from, but also the general temperatures. Therefore the honey has to be stirred. Stirring makes the crystals smaller, which in turn makes the honey smoother. Solid honey from Norway if taken to e.g. the Mediterranean becomes nearly runny again.
Once we have delivered the honey by the end of October, we have the last tidying up and cleaning of equipment remaining. Before closing down the hives for the winter we have to remove the (hopefully) empty feeders and also treat the hives against varroa mites. This means giving them a spray of oxalic acid between the frames. By this time the temperatures usually have come down to a level when the bees want to go into the winter cluster, which marks the end of the season.