This story has three parts. Read Part 1 here. Stay tuned for Part 3 later.
The hive is basically a stack of wooden boxes. Within each box a series of frames rest vertically. Each frame is about an inch thick and has built-in cells. The cells are where the bees place the nectar they’ve taken from flowers while foraging. As the water evaporates from the nectar, it becomes thicker, turning into honey. When the bees cap the full cells with wax, the frames are ready for us to harvest. (The bees flying in and out of the rooftop hive use an entrance in the side of the bottom-most box, so we’re able to remove frames from the top without stopping the work of the hive.)
After we hand-pumped smoke into the hive to confuse the guard bees so they wouldn’t send out a stress hormone that would alert the rest of the hive to attack us, we started checking the frames to see how full they were. I was very happy to see they almost all seemed to be full with beautiful, amber-colored honey. These are some happy bees!
Nathan and Andy had brought a portable extractor, which is basically a large stainless steel drum with a centrifuge crank. (That was fun to bring up to the roof, let me tell you!) The plan was that, after I removed full frames from the hive and replaced them with empty frames for the bees to fill, our volunteers would run them over to the extractor, on the other side of the roof, where Nathan and Andy would supervise the honey extraction efforts.
We had placed the extractor on the other side of the roof because the hive’s scout bees are always looking for new nectar sources. If they had come across the extractor, where we were busily spinning the honey out of the manmade honeycombs, they would have thought they had come across the mother lode. After we had been extracting honey for a while, they did find the barrel and began to investigate in higher numbers. That’s when we erected a small tent around the extractor to protect the honey and, more importantly, the human workers. (We didn’t start out with the tent up because it’s hot and cramped.)