not sure if failure is the right word for it, but our bees did not survive the winter. it seems, in leaving them the entirety of the honey they stored (which is what they feed on through the winter), we also inadvertently left them too much real estate to maintain. the hive population dwindles through late fall and winter as the queen takes a break from laying. water got into our hive, because the bees could not do the upkeep on such a space. they also likely had trouble keeping themselves and the queen warm--even when doing their best, they were heating a condo, instead of a hut.
in hindsight, this could have been combated by inspecting the hive in mid autumn and combining frames full of capped honey down from three boxes into one. our hands-off approach, which had seemed to be working well since the springtime, led us down the wrong road here. it's not a mistake that we'll make again. these are the kind of lessons that stick.
the only upside to the sad state of the bees was the honey harvest. unexpected, for sure. conditions definitely not optimal--honey flows well at about 90 degrees. our house, at its warmest point that day, was 61. midday, with kids playing outside (and thus, the back door open) it was 55.
we set the frames (heavy with honey) directly in front of the fire to warm. jeremy headed to the local urban farming store (biofuel oasis) and rented their honey extractor--a big, electric behemoth of a machine that spins the honey right out of the frames and into the bottom of a big tank, where it flows out and into the vessel of the harvester's choosing.
honeycomb after uncapping--a few tries with a heated knife and we resorted to a rough uncapping with a regular dinner fork.
makeshift straining of the honey--running it through a reusable produce bag into a large pot, in order to rid the honey of wax from uncapping, bits of honeycomb, dead bees, etc.
of course, had the room been 20 degrees warmer, the whole process might have been a bit smoother--literally. in the end, after a whole lot of sticky, sticky, sticky mess--i can truly not impart how messy the project actually was--we ended up with three and a half gallons of honey. not a bad haul. we ended up opting to stop trying to strain the honey--the cold room just didn't allow for the honey to be viscous enough to flow through the fine mesh of the produce bags. instead, we heated the honey slightly on the stove. this made it easier to pour into jars, and it also sent the wax and other bits floating to the top where we could skim them off with a spoon--a much easier, though slightly less perfect process.
cleanup required not one, not two, not three but FIVE wipe downs of every surface in our kitchen, including the floors, plus a proper mopping. later that night, fully exhausted, i read about people doing an outdoor honey harvest in the summer, after dark, when the bees are tucked away for the night.
sign me up for this, please.
next time. i am missing those darn bees already, and looking forward to spring when we can install another package or two, and give it another go-round. it's funny. of course the bees aren't pets--nothing close to it, but they do give a lovely presence to the yard and we came to think of them as our own. they are hard workers, tireless really, and i am sorry we couldn't have done a bit better by them.