The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Guest Spot: The First Honey Harvest by Robert Altham (part one)

Robert Altham is in his first year of beekeeping and successfully collected over thirty pounds of honey from his bees. He has kindly written this article for us, describing the experience and the process. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to view his own blog.

The First Honey Harvest

honey frames loaded with honeycomb in a beehive

Robert’s bees produced a great harvest of honeycomb

I am a complete beginner at bee keeping.

I bought a hive on Ebay in May. I collected it from Lowestoft and drove back with the have and a full colony of bees in the back of my car.

My hive comprised of the brood chamber where the queen lays her eggs and one super. The super is where most of the honey gets stored. Every 10 days or so through the summer I opened up the hive and inspected the brood chamber and the super to see what was going on.

By July it seemed clear that there was not a great deal of extra room for more honey to be stored. The whole hive seemed to be getting very crowded with worker bees. I asked around for advice. I felt sure that if I got anything seriously wrong I would either be stung to bits or kill the colony.

Luckily our local GP is an experienced beekeeper and offered to help. The best idea was to add an extra super, doubling the available storage space. So, I trawled through the mail order beekeeping catalogues and got seriously confused. There are so many things to choose from and it is very easy to order the wrong items. In the end I rang the number and asked.

I found that everyone was an expert at the other end of the line. And particularly helpful too, and I got the order correct first time. They also confirmed that I was doing the right thing, exactly.

The parcel arrived the next day and I built the new super with glue and thin nails. The wood is pre cut and everything fits perfectly. I built the new frames too. These fit inside the super and hold a wax sheet called foundation. It is from this that the honey comb is drawn out and built by the bees.

When everything was built, I nipped out to the hive (all kitted up with smoker, leather gloves, honeybee hat and veil etc) and placed the new super on top of the old one. The bees can just walk straight through from one to the other.

After 4 weeks and a few inspections, it seemed clear that the bees were hardly using the new super at all. I decided to take the matter in hand and persuade the bees that I needed more honey, so I swapped the supers over, putting the new one next to the brood chamber and the old one on top.

By the end of August the bees were making very good progress building comb in the new super and beginning to fill it with honey too. the old super was largely capped off. i.e the cells that were full of
mature honey had been capped with air tight wax by the bees. All the new honey was going into the new super.

Towards the end of September I was ready to harvest the honey. (I think I may do it a little earlier next year, or make a number of smaller raids on the honey supply.) I put in the Porter bee escapes, these are one way doors. The bees can get out into the brood chamber (or the lower super) but they cannot get back.

48 hours later I went to investigate. Perfect. The super was completely empty. I lifted it off and took it back to the barn. Carting full supers about is hard work. It weighed about 18Kg and had bees chasing after it trying to stop their hive being robbed. You have to keep the smell of the honey sealed in, so wrap it in cling film or put it in a large sealable poly bag.

The GP told me that he had one lying in his honey extraction room and left the door open when he went for lunch. On his return there were 2000 worker bees in the room robbing the honey and taking it back to the hive! He could not do anything until night fall, and lost a surprising amount of honey.

(part two tomorrow)

Robert Altham’s own blog is at

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