Monday, September 16, 2013

Honey

 
Last weekend was really special for us. 
 
On Saturday, our beekeeping mentor, Mr. M., invited us out so Mr. Bee could help him pull apart and inspect his hives and ready the capped honey frames for harvest.  After Mr. Bee saw exactly what to look for, we went right over to our hives to see what - if - we could harvest.
 

We did not take any honey from the North Hive.  Though we're not confident they'll make it through the winter, we're going to let them try. The South Hive gave us almost 6 frames of honey to harvest. That's not a lot, but we were thrilled.  I told Mr. Bee while he was pulling the frames, "I'm not going to lie...I'll be disappointed if we don't get to take any honey this year." We didn't feel disappointed at all.

Mr. Bee and a frame we harvested, heavy with honey.
The night we took the frames out, the temps were still in the upper 70's after a day of summer heat, and we noticed the bees lined right up to cool the hive.  Below, you can see how they position themselves and flap their wings to help the air circulate. Imagine what all those bees can do together!

Our first harvest was a reward to us.


 
On Sunday, we helped Mr. M harvest his more than six gallons of honey, and he helped us immensely by allowing us to use his equipment to harvest our one gallon.
 
Here is the set-up for honey extraction:
 

First, the frame's comb needs to be un-capped.  An electric knife heats up to cut the waxy cap right off of each cell, making the honey available.  The wax drops into a handy tub which allows leftover honey to drip down out of a spout for collection. The wax is kept, too, since beeswax is very handy.  I'll have to make another post about that later. The remaining caps are taken off with a pick-like comb.


Mr. Bee tries his hand at uncapping and picking.
Next, frames are loaded into a honey extractor and spun around until all the honey has flown out against the side of the barrel and down towards the spout.  The remaining honeycomb is left on the frame and will be returned to the bees.  They will still be busy for weeks in order to stock up for the winter, so this already formed comb will give them an edge.  The "girls" can also get every tiny drop of honey off of the comb, so none will be wasted.

 
The honey drips down the sides of the honey extractor, out of a valve, through two filters and into a clean bucket. I've already been asked several times what is filtered out of the honey in this step; pollen, wax chunks, and... bee parts. True story.

This particular photo is Mr. M's honey, slightly lighter than ours.
Here is our first honey:
 
 
For a comparison, I put our honey in between some others (below).  The dark honey on the left is called buckwheat honey.  It tastes like molasses.  Not a hint of molasses, though - like actual molasses. On the right is Mr. M's honey from this year.  It is a beautiful clear yellow and tastes sweet.  Our harvest is a light-medium color and is "wildflower honey'.  It is certainly sweet but has a great flavor, too.
 

Empty jars.  These are all the extra jars that we did not fill up with honey this year.  We wish that we could give everyone a big sample, but we just didn't get enough this year.  We shared some with our parents and with Mr. T., on whose property we had the hives.  We are so grateful for that. 
 
Looking at this box of ready-to-fill jars did make me wish we had more.  It also made me wonder, what will next year's harvest taste like?


 
 
 
If you're following the blog, please stick around.  Though we've harvested, we're already brainstorming for next season and I still have ideas of fun facts and photos to share with you. 
 
Thank you for sharing this first season with us.  It's been a lot of work and has brought us a lot of satisfaction, and we are looking forward to what is ahead.