a french garden

What colour is honey?

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There are those beekeepers who maintain that the bee keeping year ends at this time of the year; others believe that the year really starts after the honey harvest as one prepares the hives for the coming year, looking forward to the Spring collection.

Whatever the merit of the discussion, I feel that the work and the pleasure never ends.  Michel advised us to go ahead and collect our honey a few days before my granddaughter’s visit to France so that the bees calm down after we have stolen their reserve of honey.  Being our first harvest, I followed the advice of using an escape board on the two hives with supers. I placed them on the hives on a sunny evening and the bees were quite content to let me do it without using the smoker that I had prepared. The following morning at 7 am, Amelia and I temporarily closed all four hives by way of precaution, and opened Cornucopia which had two supers.  There were indeed very few bees left on the frames and we easily brushed them off and placed the frames of each super in a separate box closing the lid after each transfer.

Opening up Violette was even easier as she had only one super.  None of the bees seemed disturbed by us taking their honey and once again the smoker lay unused at the side.  In fact, it was only the few stray bees left in the supers and the early birds returning to the hive that were very concerned that their hive was closed.  Once we opened the hive doors all returned to normal.

la Violette

la Violette

Violette is Amelia’s special favourite hive; once she saw the queen, she was smitten!  I admit that her bees appear to be the most gentle of all our hives.

Queen Violet

Queen Violette

We took the three boxes with our frames to Michel’s house where he has a special room with all the equipment necessary.  There is little merit in going through every step for the extraction, as everybody who has already done so knows how rewarding and pleasurable an experience it is.

Honey Harvest Blog

Michel was particularly keen that we keep the honey from each of of our hives separate, including the un-centrifuged honey obtained from the cappings.  We kept the separated honey for a week in 10Kg containers before bottling them.  Being a complete novice I was pleasantly surprised to see that from three supers, we ended with four different colours of honey, the fourth being the un-centrifuged honey from cappings.

IMG_0054

The hard work was almost over.  Our next task, after letting the bees clean their frames, was to start treating them against varroa.  Based on the advice of our regional bee health service, we have started three course of “Apilife Var”, which is an essential oil from thyme and other plants.  It is most effective in temperatures of 20-25 degrees C, which was about the temperature when we started the treatment.  Unfortunately for a few days the temperature rose to around 34C in the shade.  At that temperature the fumes generated could affect the larvae and in addition the bees don’t appreciate the smell.  So we had quite a lot of bees sitting outside the hive, and that left them easy prey to the Asiatic hornets which constantly come and pick the bees one by one.  It is heart breaking to watch this.  Amelia and I stand guard several times a day catching the hornets with a child’s fishing net.  We can win the battle of the moment, but we are not winning the war.  At the end the bees appear to have resigned themselves to some casualty.

The flowering season is not over yet.  The garden is still full of flowers and the bees are quite busy.  The ivy has also just started to flower in the forests around our house.

Honey bees on the ivy flower

Honey bees on the ivy flower

I am glad to see that in the interval between the removal of the supers and two weeks that have passed, the bees have added a considerable amount of additional honey stock for their winter reserve.  The only annoying thing is that the hornets are also visiting the same ivy flowers.

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

I try hard to accept the battles of the bee life and Amelia and I try to protect our “girls” against the predators as well as the unusually hot days the best way we can.

Ruches et parasols

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30 thoughts on “What colour is honey?

  1. A super post. How interesting, and pleasing, that each hive produced a different colour.

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    • Thank you, Rachael. The colour as well as the flavour of the honey is obviously a function of the plants visited by the bees. The bees of course visit many different plants, but at each season there tends to be a predominance of certain plants. Our hive Violette produced honey from wild flowers and it is quite clear yellow with flowery perfume, whereas the first super of Cornucopia was filled at the time that the forests around us were full of flowering sweet chestnuts. Her honey is the dark stronger flavour variety.

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  2. A very interesting and helpful description of a process that is completely out of my experience. Thank you.

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    • Thank you, John. Until a year ago this was also way out of anything I had experienced. It is however quite fascinating and I spend long time just watching the bees..

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  3. Oh! You are just ahead of us. We’ll be harvesting in early October. It’s good to see your set up–we’re learning at every step.

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    • Thanks. It is our first year and every step is a joyful, learning process for us. I don’t think one ever becomes an expert. The funny thing is that even with our four hives, each seem to have different character. Even their behaviour and tactic in the face of adversity, such as with the hornets, is quite different.
      Lucky for us, they are all quite friendly towards us.

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  4. I love the last photo, you are both clearly very caring, I had not realised Asiatic Hornets attacked Bees, that must be very distressing for all concerned. I haven’t looked after bees, can you tell me what a super is?

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    • Thank you, Julie. The Asiatic hornet arrived in France only a few years ago and unfortunately they are moving north. They have not yet reached the UK, but the beekeepers there are developing strategies, because it is felt that it is only a matter of time before they reach the mainland UK. They are indeed a great menace for the bees as they catch them to feed their larvae. Honey bees on the other hand are completely vegetarian.
      A hive consists of several parts: The main body of the hive houses the queen who is normally the sole bee laying eggs. So all the bees in the colony – some 30-50,000 bees – are half sisters.
      The super is the part above the body of the hive in which we place the frames on which the bees first construct the honey comb and then fill with honey derived from the flower nectar. There are, of course, different designs of hives used in France, UK and the US.

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  5. I wonder if the bees foraging on the flowers of poisonous plants would have any affect on the honey. I’m assuming not since we’ve all eaten honey without incident.

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  6. I had to smile when I scrolled down to the last photo, with the various sun-protectors. You care so much about your bees and want to protect them as much as you can! Bless your hearts! Must tell you that watching the insects in our large bed of mint — they love the flowers — a Honeybee landed on my eyeglasses frame. They dangle around my neck on a cord. Filled with the good thoughts from your posts and photos, I was calm and didn’t get excited. She soon flew away and I was pleased with her visit.

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    • Thanks Charlotte. We and our bees need all the blessing and encouragement. Amelia and I also enjoy watching bees along the river on the wild mint as well on our cultivated varieties in the garden. It is so nice what you say about the bee approaching you. The bees are generally not aggressive, specially when they are foraging for nectar or pollen. Nevertheless caution is always advisable. You know they are like any animal (even our own children!). Some are gentle and kind, whereas others a bit naughty. I am so glad that you enjoyed the blog. Thanks.

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  7. Lovely post K….
    it is very interesting to see that the various hives must have been collecting from different sites….
    Your Ivy is out, I see… here, over 100 kilometres North they are just beginning to appear… but we’ve still loads of flowers… and bees… around.
    The “pumpkin patch” is being well served…

    Amelia will smile at this I think…
    I saw a “new” species of bumblebee on a courgette leaf…
    it was matt yellow from head to toe!!!
    Pollen of course… but so much!!??
    It was even stuck to the wings….
    something I’ve never seen before.

    Like Charlotte, I couldn’t but smile when I got to the last picture…
    it sums it up really.
    And the first picture shows the reward for your care and attention to your girls.
    At least yours is liquid… some friends here can only sell theirs as comb…
    it won’t centrifuge… doesn’t worry me, tho’… I’ll buy their comb…
    perfect on toast on a Sunday morning…
    ah! Toast’s ready… bye!

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    • Many thanks. I am sure that Amelia would wish to comment separately about your new bumble bee.
      It is very interesting for me also how honey comes in all variety of colour, and flavour depending on the mixture of plants the bees have visited. As I am sure you know here in France the first honey harvest in Spring is often from the rape seed in flower (Colza). The honey crystallizes very quickly and if it is left too long in the comb, it becomes impossible to extract. So it is harvested quickly even when the super is not quite filled. I am sure there are other variety of plants also that can produce very crystallized form of honey, difficult to extract.
      Well, they can leave all the honey in the combs for you and I, as I, too, love them! . .

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  8. How many kg of honey did you get from your hives? It sounds like you had a great harvest!

    I love your umbrella solution. It’s certainly cheerful looking 🙂 What do you call an “unusually hot” day? Here, when it’s over 35 we try to turn a sprinkler on our girls. When it tops 40 (which it does every year in this location) the bees can really suffer. Some hives in this area have melted on themselves which is so sad!

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    • Lovely to hear from you, Laura. Being our first year, as I explained, we only placed two super on one hive – Cornucopia – and one super on Violette. In total we produced nearly 33 Kg of honey. Violette is only a baby, but still she contributed over 4 Kg of honey. Not bad for the first year. Was it? It is far more than what we needed to give to friends and neighbours. We do not intend to sell any honey.
      I have heard about combs just melting in the heat. It is so sad, when that happens. We do our best and have placed them at the end of the land when they can get the morning sun, which they love, but are sheltered from the heat of the afternoon by the trees in the woodland.

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      • That’s a very good harvest. Okay, Violette needs to do better, but there’s always next year!

        Our first year we got 80kg per hive for 2 hives (160 kg is a LOT of honey) but that was a freak. The hives we bought were very old and each came with a super packed with honey. Nothing had been harvested for over a year. I’m thinking it’s reasonable to expect about 20 kg from a normal hive. Some produce nothing and struggle to survive, others produce double their cousins. I’m constantly amazed at the difference between hives that sit side-by-side and have queens from the same genetic pool.

        We didn’t start out with an intention to sell honey. But we soon found our hives were making way more honey than we and all our friends could consume. I was interested in trying mead to use some of the honey but my husband hates mead so that project never got going. In the end we walked to our local market and talked to a stall holder there and he was happy to set a few jars of our honey on his corner table each week. He thought it might be something that made more customers linger and therefore buy more of his organic vegetables. Now, of course, his customers get cranky if we don’t keep him fully stocked 🙂 Who needs an organic potato when there’s raw honey on offer?

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        • Thanks for the comment. I hope that your bees continue rewarding you with good supply of honey.
          I definitely have no intention of selling honey. But for next year – if all is well – we do need to think what to do with the honey.

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  9. Brilliant, fabulous honey colours. Which colour is your favourite?

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    • Thank you for the comment. Ever since childhood, I loved yellow as a colour and I am happy that our favourite queen, Violette, has produced such a clear, almost yellow honey! The smell of wild flowers is also great.

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  10. Interesting that each hive produces different coloured honey. I wonder why?

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    • Thanks for the comment. The colour of honey is dependent on the variety of flowers visited by the bees at different time and the nectar collected. In early Spring the bees here collect a lot of honey from rape seed flowering, and the honey is cream colour and crystallizes so quickly that if one delays in extracting it, it will become impossible to separate from the frames. Our dark honey in summer was from forest flowering trees, which here is mainly sweet chestnut with fairly strong flavour. Our light colour honey is from mixed garden and wild flowers.
      I find it fascinating. – Kourosh

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  11. I love everything about your bee post from the beautiful blue-painted hive, to your favourite queen Violette, to Michel’s lovely honey extraction room and your gorgeous first harvest. You’re a true beekeeper already debating the discussions – does the season start or end now? – but I like your view that the joy of keeping bees never ends. Thank you, I enjoyed this so much! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much, Emma, for such a lovely comment. We are truly lucky that our garden has the possibility of keeping bees, for I find their lives so fascinating. For me collecting honey is just a side show, that is why I do not wish selling honey, only sharing with friends and neighbours.
      I find it so amazing that each of our hives have different characters. For example when I spend several times a day fighting the asiatique hornet attack on them (today Amelia and I caught 23 hornets in front of the hives! The day before yesterday it was over 40!!!) I find that during the attack two of the hives rush out in great numbers and make a commotion. On the other hand Violette bees run inside and peep behind their metallic anti-hornet guards.Both tactics are equally effective only in as much that the hornets do hesitate. Sadly at the end both the bees and I with my butterfly net, can only win odd battles. I am not sure who wins the war?
      I am so glad that you do not have to worry for now about the asiatique hornet. Long may it continue.
      For now we both have to prepare “our girls” for the winter.
      Thanks once again – Kourosh

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  12. Hi, we also have wasps that prey on the hives. We use a wasp trap and find it captures a multitude, forty one day.
    Watch for the wasp and hornet queens in the spring. They are very large and it is helpful if you can kill them.
    Regards Janine

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    • The female hornets that hide and survive through winter make new colonies in Spring. You are absolutely right that everyone needs to be very vigilant to destroy their nest and capture the females at that time. The bee keepers here tell me that they have never seen it as bad as this year. – Kourosh

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