Bob called me over this evening to look at three honey filled 'supers' that he had in his garage. They had come from some other hives that he had in Taunton and are going to be used to feed the hives here in Ashcott. A super sits above the queen excluder above the brood chamber in the hive and is where the honey is laid down in capped off cells with no grubs. It has been a really lean year for the bees and this honey will help sustain the colonies over the winter in the hope for a better season next year. You should only take honey when there is plenty of extra as if you deprive the hive then the colony can diminish in size and vigour and you could loose them over the winter. Hives can apparently contain anywhere between 20 and 100,000 bees ! Bob has extra supers on some of his hives so that the brood chamber and extra super provide a really solid foundation for the bees over the winter. Bees apparently live as house bees for 3 weeks building cells, gluing things with propolis, feeding grubs and the queen, guarding the door, fanning queen scent into the atmosphere to guide foragers and other tasks. When it's particularly cold the bees come out and fan their wings on the outside of the hive to generate heat before going back in and taking turns to share and benefit from the the warmth. Once the bees graduate at about 22 days they become foraging bees and set of to hunt for water, pollen and nectar from within about 2 miles of the hive. They do this for 3 weeks before, at less than 2 months old, unless squashed, eaten or poisoned, they die of exhaustion.
Each frame can hold up to about 4lbs of honey which you get out by cutting the top of the capped cells with a hot knife and then spinning the frames in a special device. In the picture beneath you can see capped cells in the midde. The frames within the super are an interesting mix of the man made, straight wooden frames and the insect made, organic, hexagonal organised chaos. There is a beautiful sweet smell rising off the frames as you hold them, surprisingly heavy and dripping with honey.
So much to learn.