Friday, July 8, 2011

Sweet Rewards

or, The Great Honey Harvest of 2011.

There's a good reason to do this job when it's warm outside-- the honey flows easier-- but it was HOT, especially in full regalia. That's me holding the frame, and Jan wielding the blower. We took the top off the hive, replaced it with a board that had fabric on one side on which we sprayed a little liquid that the bees hate the smell of so they get away from it. We thought it smelled pretty bad too. After a few minutes, the bees have moved mostly out of the super box we're going to be working with. The super is the box with the eight frames you see at my feet. I'm holding one of the frames and Jan is using the garden blower to shoo off the few remaining bees.

We loaded the super into a garden cart, covered it, and moved it into John's garage, aka Uncle Wally's Workshop. We set up shop in there because it's marginally air conditioned and well lit. We covered the floor and table with plastic. It's a sticky process, honey extracting. The big can you see is the extractor. It's essentially a giant centrifuge with a spigot at the bottom for the honey to flow into the double sieve and then into a five gallon bucket, also with a spigot.

One at a time we pull the frames out. We inspect them carefully. If the honey cells aren't capped, we can't use it. The bees put honey in each cell and leave them uncapped until it's aged properly, then they cap it with wax until they need it for food later in the season (or until we steal it from them).

We use an electric hot knife to slice the cap off to release the honey. We use a fork to pierce the cells the knife doesn't reach, then we put the frames, three at a time, into the extractor. I didn't get a good shot of that step. Once the three frames are installed, you shut the lid and crank and crank and crank, which spins the frames and causes the honey to come out. Then you flip the frames to get the other side and crank and crank some more. We got so much honey that we had to start filling our jars so we could keep filling the bucket!

We got about 10 gallons! This is the whole harvest before we split it up into our shares.

And then we made a toast to the bees and to each other.

We left the harvested frames, the frames that weren't capped, and the supers out for the bees to clean up. Nice, huh? We steal the honey then leave the mess for them to clean up! We'll put the frames back into the supers and put the supers back on the hives this weekend. They'll want to get busy making more honey (that we won't steal) so they can make it through the winter.

Definitely a once a year endeavor as far as I'm concerned, but so worth it. The honey is really tasty. Kind of a citrusy flavor, which is curious. Who knew that Arlington honey would be fruity?


Pam J. said...

I'm not going to say I'm jealous because jealousy is a really, really bad state of mind to be in. Envious? Is that more Buddha-like? Not much. Happy for you! That's what I'm looking for. I'm SO happy for you. And it sounds like you've got the perfect setup for honey-harvesting in Uncle Wally's Workshop. If I had kept my bees (sob) I would now be on the search for a place to harvest honey AND a person to help me. On the other hand, I probably would have tried to do it alone and it would have been a huge mess (and possibly a failure). Thanks for this very informative post -- it makes me remember why I wanted to be a beekeeper and it gives me hope that I WILL try again -- but next time I will find some place other than my skinny back yard to host the hive and I'll find a partner to help me.

Kathy said...

@Pam-- I'm very sorry for the loss of your bees. I'm also very lucky to have the bee partners. None of us would have been up for this by ourselves, that's for sure. Let me know if you're ever in this neck of the woods.

Pam J. said...

I will definitely let you know if I'm in your neck of the woods! Although like a lot of people who both live and work (or worked) on the northern side of DC, I barely know No. VA. And the same is often true, don't you think, for those of you who live on the southern side of the city. You would think that the little ole' Potomac was like the Atlantic Ocean.

Anne Cassidy said...

I had no idea how honey happened until I read your post. Congratulations on your sweet golden harvest. Well deserved!

Pam J. said...

Hey Kathy,
Since I couldn't find your email address I'm posting my address here for all the world to see (there's no privacy on the internet anyway so why not give out my address?)
Thanks again!
Pam Jones
1220 Brantford Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20904

Christopher Blinn said...

Aunt Kathy, this is awesome! I feel like I've just watched an episode of Mr. Roger's neighborhood at the trombone factory or something educational and interesting like that. Hyper local honey is the best. there's house a few blocks from us that harvests honey and sells it at our co-op. yum. you're a good bee shepherd, so to speak.