A plot change, Rain
October 17, 2013
I'm about half way through the harvest and the plot thickened yesterday evening.
Up until yesterday we were having record heat, with day after day in the 90s. This is ideal for pulling honey, most of the fielders are out working during the day so the population in the hive is lower, the heat and sun vaporizes the Bee Go and the bees move down out of the supers quickly. When I had more bees I might run five fume boards at a time and I would be pulling supers off and loading them in the truck about as fast as I could work. Now two fume boards are usually enough.
The warm days mean that the honey arrives at the Honey House warmer, in the high 80s or even low 90s. It may cool to the low 80s by the time I run it, but that's warm enough to get the job done without any supplemental heat.
The viscosity of honey changes considerably with the change in temperature, at high temperatures it runs like water, at lower temperatures it becomes stiff and immobile. I produce unheated honey so I work in a narrow temperature range. If the honey temperature is in the 80s I can run, the combs extract pretty cleanly and the honey is fluid enough that it filters readily. If the honey temperature drops into the 70s the world goes into slow motion.
This is why it's important in my operation to get the tall colonies knocked down first, while it's still good and warm. As long as the days and nights stay warm the bees will be distributed throughout a stack of hive bodies and honey supers that is higher than my head, and they help to keep it warm. If the days and nights start to cool though the bees will move downward at night, toward the queen and brood in the lower stories (the hive bodies). This leaves the top honey supers high up there in the night air, relatively unoccupied, cooling.
The plot change was rain, a cool spell had been predicted and toward mid-day yesterday I could see out the west window the dark clouds building over the mountains. By late afternoon it had started to rain, off and on and lightly at first, but the tempo increased toward dusk. I went over to the Honey House after dinner to pump and filter the last the day's run and it was raining softly and steadily when I left for home.
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I closed the chickens and pigeons in before I came in, I was dog tired and wanted to be done with the outside stuff for the night, take my boots off and relax a bit. I was no sooner in the house when it really dumped, heavy rain with lots of thunder and lightning and I was glad I didn't have to go outside again. We got about 1.4-inches overnight and it is still raining lightly today.
This may alter the harvest plans significantly. Had the warm weather continued I could have sailed through the last of the extracting and been done in another week or 10 days. Highs in the 70s are predicted for the next several days and that will mean some changes. The incoming honey supers will be cool and will need to go on the stack warmer overnight to bring the temperature up a few degrees. The stack warmer blows warm air up one stack of supers and down another next to it. It can handle about a dozen supers at a time and while it is low technology it is a lifesaver at times like this when a few degrees can make all the difference. Larger commercial outfits would have a hot room where they can bring in several days worth of supers and hold them at 98 degrees. A hot room would be nice, but the stack warmer fills that need in my small operation.
A second concession to the weather is to drain the lines and what little residual honey is in the bottling tank and get all of the honey into the buffer tank, which is water jacketed and heated. (The buffer tank receives the honey coming out of the extractor and warms it slightly so when it is pumped up to the storage tank and filtered the filtering can proceed at a reasonable rate.)
The reason everything goes into the buffer tank is because when honey isn't heated it will granulate (turn solid) fairly quickly, and if it does it is like having your pipes freeze. Commercial outfits and honey packers may heat the honey up to 140-160 degrees, which postpones the granulation, but running at the temperatures I do means that the granulation is just a step or two behind me. The answer is to keep it slightly warmed and moving. I have the system plumbed so that at times like these I can go over to the Honey House periodically and run honey through the honey pump and right back into the buffer tank, this keeps the honey pump free and warm and recirculates the honey in the buffer tank. There isn't a lot of honey involved since most of it has already been bottled, just a few pounds, but that few pounds is more than enough to seize up the whole system if I don't pay attention. More than once it has snowed during the harvest and this consolidation and recirculating can keep me on hold for a few days if necessary.
The bears are back in the news, sadly. Within the past few days two have been shot because they came to town dumpster diving after a first offense. I've commented in the past on the bear situation, I think it is gross mismanagement on our part to let the bear population overrun the habitat to such a degree that they have to forage in town and wind up dead. One of the ones killed, euthanized they like to call it, was 590 pounds, a huge bear by black bear standards.
As I finish this column we are in our second day of rain, 1.75-inches so far, the day is grey and overcast with no sign of clearing, so I'll go over to the Honey House and set things up for some time out of production. While it may be an aggravation for the honey harvest, we need the moisture and it may bring on a flush of late bloom so the bees can bulk up at the end like the bears. ❖