When we pulled on our bee suits Sunday afternoon, we didn't have any intention of harvesting honey. We had noticed through the hive observation windows that one hive seemed significantly stronger than the other, so we thought we would transfer one top bar of honey comb and perhaps one top bar of brood comb from the strong hive to the weaker hive. This would help build up the weaker hive and moderate the stronger hive so it would be less tempted to swarm (permanently leave).
First we opened the weaker hive. We used our hive tool to gently release the top bars which are stuck in place with propolis, a fantastic glue that the bees make to secure their homes. Then we carefully removed top bars one at a time and inspected the combs and bees. We found yellow and orange pollen, plenty of honey, a moderate number of bees, and we even found the queen. Although we didn't see any brood (eggs or larvae), we decided to leave this hive alone and not harass them. We assume the brood comb is situated closer to the entrance where we did not remove the top bars. It was reassuring enough to find the queen.
The second hive was full of honey comb, so much that we decided it was time to take some for ourselves. We simply broke the dripping honey comb into a bowl, trying desperately to brush off bees before they got crushed in the process. (Note to self: buy a bee brush and another hive tool.) We took comb from three top bars and then quickly shut the hive because the bees were getting agitated. There is plenty of honey remaining for the bees.
We used an old fashioned enamel colander and potato masher to begin crushing the honey comb. We bottled eight cups of honey in canning jars, then transferred the crushed comb into another strainer to gain two more cups of honey.
The next day we noticed that the small bits of suspended comb had risen to the top of the jars where it could easily be spooned off and strained again for that last tablespoon or two of golden deliciousness.
Perhaps someday I'll learn to wash the comb wax and use it for candles, but today I'm very grateful for the work of the bees and the wonderful harvest they share. It's been only eleven months since we started keeping bees and we're thrilled with the results. We still have much to learn, but the bees will teach us.