The Secret Life of Beekeepers (Part 2: The Honey Doers)

The raw emotion generated by their reunion surprised no one as it followed several long, cold months fraught with uncertainty and traumatic travel.

And, when Pat Del Ponte finally laid eyes on the beehives he’d sent to California for the winter, he could barely contain himself.

“When they said they were alive, I pretty near cried,” he said.

A gentleman bee farmer, Pat hosts several hives on his and his wife Ann’s property near High Cliff State Park, and he tends them with care. Prior to this year, though, the hives had not survived the harsh Wisconsin winters.

So, when Pat heard about a program through which beekeepers could send their hives to California, where the little buggers and their descendants could work off their room and board by pollinating almond trees, he jumped at the opportunity.

The arrangement worked beautifully for both keeper and bees, and the hives returned to Wisconsin sunkissed, amped up and full of fresh bees ready to produce honey.

I got to witness the harvesting of all that liquid gold and I found the whole process fascinating.

Pat and his beekeeping buddies Paul Kayser and Eric Toshner scooped up 321 pounds of honey with the kind of efficiency you might expect from two engineers and a high school science teacher but find astonishing anyway given the sticky nature of the task. 

Paul lifted heavy frames he’d pulled from the “supers”(the boxes stacked above each hive), and handed them off to Pat, who used a hot knife to slice the wax off each comb and then passed the frames to Eric, who manned the extractor.

They collected the honey in buckets, rough strained it, let it set for a few days, skimmed the wax off the top, strained it one more time and then bottled it up for distribution.

I got to taste the honey as it came right off the frames and I have to say those little snowbird bees made some tasty honey.

As for where all that honey goes, you’ll have to tune in on Friday, but here’s a hint: some of that California-seasoned honey provides the secret ingredient in one of Wisconsin’s favorite beverages.

These are honeycomb frames and, as you can see, the worker bees have been very busy…
…so, the worker beekeepers had to get busy as well. It’s a very slick operation.
Pat slides a warm knife over the comb to remove the beeswax that seals them.
These particular frames were really full. Sending the hives off to a warmer climate for the winter made them extra productive (something to consider when making your own winter plans.)
Once Pat scrapes off the wax, he hands the frames off to Eric, who slides them into the extractor and cranks away.
The honey gets pulled from the combs and collected in a sterile bucket.
You can see chunks of wax come through the extractor as well. That wax gets skimmed off the top and strained again before the honey gets poured into jars.
It all starts here, with the hives. The queen is located in the brood chamber at the bottom and the super chambers are placed on top. As those supers get full of honey, they have to be harvested or the Queen will think her hive is too full and send her drones out looking for a new place to build a hive. This swarming can be awkward for the neighbors, so it’s best to keep a close eye on the hives. Beekeepers only remove the supers when they harvest the honey. They leave the brood chamber alone and they leave enough honey in the food chamber to keep the bees fed through the dormant months.

3 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Beekeepers (Part 2: The Honey Doers)

  1. Wow. Good story. As a fairly new bee keeper i learned about the California program and shall have to look into that!! Here in Michigan we lose our hives every winter. The mites weaken them making it hard for the hive to survive. And I haven’t seen the style knife pictured being used to “cut” wax off. And to find one.

    1. I’ll ask them where they got the knife. Thanks for reading! I think there might be a similar bee transport program in Florida.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.