If there’s anything more satisfying to a beekeeper than seeing buckets of harvested honey, it is seeing that golden sweetness in jars. It’s a little bit arrogant on our part to take pride in a good harvest since the bees make the honey, but there’s enough work on the part of the beekeeper to justify it. Thousands of cranks of the honey-spinner and sixty-seven jars of honey later, we can rightly call it our harvest. And it’s a yummy one too.
Last weekend, we spent a calm morning in the bee yard. Our goal was three-fold. First, to collect four honey boxes. Second, to do so without making the bees really angry at us. And third, to get the honey back to the house without bringing along a horde of buzzing companions. That third goal was not insignificant!
John’s pre-harvest preparations were overall pretty helpful. The bee escapes that he put on the hives significantly reduced the number of bees in the honey boxes of Hives A and B. Hive C still had a honey box full of bees. John wonders if perhaps the bee escape got blocked with burr comb. And Hive D’s honey box was empty but they had not been doing anything up there anyway.
To clear out the honey box on Hive C and to clear away the cloud of Hive A bees who were looking for a fight, John used the fume board. The fume board is a hive lid that you squirt with a nasty smelling liquid. The bees can’t stand the smell and dive deep into the hive. Humans aren’t too crazy about the smell either, which explains why the bottle was shipped in a bazillion layers of plastic wrap. After a few minutes of fume board, the honey box is nicely empty of bees and John can easily remove the honey boxes and load them onto the tractor cart for transport to the house. The fume boards get stored in the cabin where we don’t have to smell them.
With the hives closed back up and the honey boxes covered with plastic to keep bees off, John brings the honey to the house. We take the honey inside immediately and, after a quick beer (hey, it was hot in those beesuits!), begin spinning the honey. Honey is dripping off the boxes and we want to get it contained before the ants find out that there is a party in the mudroom. The mudroom, by the way, is so clean you could almost lick the honey off the floor. (Almost being the operative word here.) Amazingly, considering the thousands and thousands of bees down at the hives, only four (that’s right, 4) bees make it into the house. They are unceremoniously but apologetically squashed. (For all you theology nerds, that means that we were sorry to kill them but we gave a good defense on why we had to–namely, self-defense.)
At the sink, John cuts the caps off the frames of honey. The wax is put in a colander to drain into a pot. I’ll deal with the wax later. The frames, now oozing honey, are placed into the honey spinner. The spinner is a big low-tech centrifuge made out of what looks like a plastic trash can. It works with good ol’ fashioned elbow grease. Round and round I spin the handle while inside the tank the honey spins out of the comb and drips to the bottom of the tank. Let’s just say that it is a good upper arm work-out. There are lovely stainless steel electric models that one could buy for hundreds of dollars, but until the spinning sets me up for another joint replacement or we get a lot more hives, the manual model will suffice.
One of our favorite moments in the harvest is when the honey starts pouring from the spinner into the storage bucket below. The deep golden sweetness oozes from the spininer, passes through a filter, and fills up the bucket. This year we had to buy a second bucket. All told, we collected about six gallons of honey.
After a few days, the air bubbles settle out of the honey, my arms recover, and my order of jars arrives. Now it is time to jar the honey. An evening is spent filling the jars, writing “Maywood Honey 2012” on sixty-seven self-adhesive labels, slapping them on the jars, and wiping the stickiness away. Stickiness, by the way, is everywhere–the jars, the counters, the floor all have a slight film of honey. And bits of propolis, which is what bees use instead of duct tape. Propolis on a counter can’t be wiped; it has to be scraped off. And then you have to figure out how to scrape it off the scraper.