I went into the hives on Friday to do a "sugar shake" and came back with 10 frames of honey.
So, the sugar shake. I have been working since the inception of these hives to keep out any pesticides. I realize that may cause me some trouble, but I just hate pesticides. One of the problems the bees face at the end of the season is that the queen is slowing down making new bees (because there is no more nectar for them), but that mites continue to reproduce. Mites are a pest that lives on the bees and reproduce in the bees brood chambers. If the mite population gets too large it can overwhelm the bees and cause them to decline.
In place of pesticides one "natural" treatment is to shake powdered sugar over the bees. This does two things - the powder on the bees' bodies makes it tougher for the mites to hold on to them and they fall off the bees; it also causes the bees to groom themselves which also dislodges the mites. Once the mites fall off, they drop to the bottom of the hives, and since my hives have screened bottom boards, they drop to the ground, and they do not have the ability to climb back up again.
I broke down all of the hives and deposited the powdered sugar, with a sifter, on top of the boxes with bee brood in them. The bees looked hilarious all covered with white powdered sugar, especially flying around - they looked like ghost bees. I am supposed to do this three weeks in a row and I already know I will miss next week due to travel - oh well, it is something.
When I went into hive #4 and started going down to get to the brood chambers I found 2 and a half boxes of honey on top. I thought this was too much to leave, so I went ahead and took a box of honey off. I then made a mistake that will go into my "learnings" memory bank. I set the box out in front of the hive, on end, hoping the bees would just naturally return to the hive (I had read this somewhere). After a length of time I went back to see how they were doing, well it didn't look like they had moved off of the box at all, so I started smoking it, and I smoked and I smoked which moved a bunch of the bees off. I then removed the frames and put them all in a cooler to extract later.
On Saturday I got the coolers to begin the extraction process. However, when I opened the coolers there was a strong smell of smoke. The excess smoke I had used, had permeated the wooden frames. Fearing that I had ruined the honey also, I extracted these frames separately from any other honey I had collected. As we tasted the honey we are not sure if I did actually ruin the honey, but we will still probably keep it separate just to make sure. Anyway, no more smoking to move the bees off of a honey super!
Finally, after removing the box of honey from hive #4 all of my hives now have the same configuration which will make an interesting experiment for seeing how they do over the winter. All of them(three hives - 1, 3 & 4) are four boxes high, the bottom two are brood chambers, the next is a full box of honey and the top box is a partial box of honey. This feels right going into the winter, but we'll see. I do plan on feeding the buggers starting in a couple of weeks to make sure they always have enough food source.