This weekend was a big one and it was all about the bees. On Saturday we took a hike out to a fabulous beekeeping supplies store (recommended to us by our neighbours who are pro beekeepers) where we basically bankrupted ourselves buying beekeeping and processing equipment. Luckily we didn’t have to trade in the children but we did come away with our very own honey extractor. Stephen also bought himself a proper bee jacket after being stung about 11 times a few days ago by Beta colony, or as we fondly call them, the psycho bees.
Chatting to the lady in the shop we discovered this has been a record year for hives going rogue. The heat and the drought seem to have sent them a bit mental, which reassured us that we weren’t catastrophic beekeepers after all. We returned home armed with protective equipment and excluder trays that would allow the bees to head out of the honey supers but not get back in, hopefully making Stephen’s job easier when he collected the supers. Indeed this was the case.
Yesterday Stephen collected the supers from the hives, these are the boxes filled with frames of honey. Alpha produced 2 and Beta just 1, we’d decided not to push them this summer as they were always weaker even before their queen starting producing insane bees that try to kill us. Even with all the normal bee precautions the Beta bees still followed Stephen up to the house so their frames had to be handed in one by one rather than bring the whole box in.
When we examined the frames we were bowled over with excitement. They were beautifully capped and teeming with honey, each one weighing in at a few pounds. The house was, and still is, fragranced with the mix of sweetness, smoke and beeswax that I’ve come to associate with bee work. Honey oozed out of the frames and we couldn’t resist drawing the little drops onto our fingers and into our mouths. That first taste of our own honey was like flowers and sunshine, sweet and soft like a warm breeze. Heavenly.
Once we began the process of uncapping the frames it quickly became apparent that this was going to be messy and that we would need A System. Luckily I am the Queen Bee (ha!) of processing so I got a process in place that worked really well. Two trays for the cappings and a large hot pan of water for the knife to go in to get the blade nice and hot. As the trays got full we swapped them and I popped all of the cappings into a sieve to strain out the honey. To date we have 5 jars from the cappings alone!
Our hand crank extractor holds three frames at a time and the frames need to be turned after a few minutes to stop them from ‘blowing out’ and creating a hole in the comb. Our goal was to preserve the comb so that the bees have a much easier job of just refilling them with honey during the fall months before they go into full hibernation during the cold months. There were a couple of mishaps but most of our frames are returning as ‘drawn comb’ allowing the bees to just get on with honey production.
We’d been told that it could take up to 20/25 minutes for each extraction but we found that a couple of minutes on each side (whizzed at a good speed) did the trick and the process moved along quickly. In no time at all we had enough in the extractor to open up the tap and begin sieving it into the food grade bucket we had bought just for this process. It too has a large tap that we’ll refill our jars from through the winter months. We’ve processed the honey as little as possible as we want to retain the essential enzymes and nutritional properties that raw honey possesses. Pasteurized honey does not possess the healing, anti microbial, anti viral and immune boosting properties that raw honey has. It has been heated and has water pushed through it that basically turns it from a nutritional power house to a liquid sugar.
Basically raw honey rules. As it poured out of the tap, fingers dipped in and headed quickly for mouths; the boys indulged in a little hand cranking but they were more interested in eating the end product than the work of extracting it! Indeed Huwyl has been eating quite a bit of honey comb this morning, like his grandpa he loves the honey and the wax. He’s also been fascinated with the comb structure, it’s fragility and its strength. When we were extracting Neirin pointed at the empty frames and said “The bees make the honey in there, then we take it out and then we eat it!” It’s good to know that he knows who made that honey and the work that went into getting it from the hives to the table.
I’m not sure when the thin layer of honey that currently covers everything in the kitchen will finally dissipate, but I know I won’t be sick of the taste of our own sweet, mellow, liquid sunshine anytime soon. Which is a good job really as we are currently estimating a haul of about 75 lbs of honey, with a bit extra still dripping out of the cappings into waiting bowls and jars.
What will we do with all that honey? Well there’s tea in honey, on yoghurt, in granola, to make bread, to bake with, to brew with, healing honeys, cough syrups, in soothing drinks, to dip fruit into, to dab onto sore spots and cuts, to render wax for candles and decorations and to just plain lick off the spoon. Will it be enough? I’ll tell you next year!