Tag Archives: honey

Have Kids, Will…Extract Honey

After surviving a long, cold winter and a cold, wet spring, my beautiful honeybees shook off the chill and went straight to work collecting pollen and nectar, building new combs, raising baby bees, and creating that divine food of the gods: honey.  I was beyond ecstatic to find a super (the shallow box placed on top of a hive) full of capped honey.  It was early in the season for harvesting, but there they were: eight frames of golden deliciousness.

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The process of extracting honey isn’t difficult, but it is messy–in the best, possible way!  After successfully removing the super from the hive and making sure there weren’t too many stragglers hanging onto my stolen treasure, I drove from the organic farm where I’m now keeping my bees, back to my house, ten miles away.  I had borrowed/rented the extraction equipment from my local Beekeepers Association and set it up in my kitchen ahead of time.

Uncapping the honey is done first.  I used an electric uncapping knife, which gets hot enough to melt the top layer of wax which the bees create to seal the honey inside each cell of the honeycomb.  Holding the frame vertically over a container fitted with a wooden cross-bar, I carefully slid the hot knife downward, allowing the wax cappings to fall into the container.

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I then placed each frame into the extractor, which is a big, stainless steel drum with frame holders that look like metal paint straining pans.  Some extractors are spun manually, but the one I used was electric and very efficient.  The frames are spun around inside the extractor until the honey is flung onto the inside walls of the steel drum and drips down to the bottom, where a valve is opened for the honey to drain into another container.

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Once all the frames went through the extractor, I placed a nylon paint strainer around the valve and lifted the valve cover, straining all that wonderfully fresh honey into the bucket below.  The straining process keeps any dead bees, wax, or other debris out of the finished product.  That’s really all the processing required; no other filtering is needed, and under no circumstances should honey be heated or boiled.  Doing so would destroy all the beneficial antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties that make honey so miraculously good for us.

The result of this fun, sticky process was almost two gallons of pure, fresh, straight-from-the-organic-farm honey made by my very own little, Italian honeybees.  The honey was sweet, floral, and bright, delicious on yogurt, in tea, or right off the spoon.  No matter how many times I’ve been stung, or how hot it gets in my bee suit out in the afternoon sun, the reward of harvesting my own honey is something that has me totally hooked.  IMG_1975

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Have Kids, Will…Fall in Love

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On my recent Spring Break trip to Savannah, I fell madly in love with the Savannah Bee Company.  You can check them out at www.savannahbee.com.  Not only do they have an assortment of local Georgia honeys, they also bottle honey from other parts of the country, and allow you to try them all before making a purchase.  If your experience in tasting honey has been limited to the bottles of clover honey from the grocery store, I’d like to invite you to expand your honey palate.  Just like wine, honey has layers of flavors that are determined by the nectar source, the terroir, and the weather.  You’ll visually notice these differences when bottles from different regions are lined up next to each other and the colors vary from pale golden to very dark amber or brown.  Most people are pleasantly surprised to actually taste the differences.  It feels magical!

So, in addition to offering great varieties of honey, the Savannah Bee Company also makes (or has made under their label) some fabulous products like Royal Jelly Body Butter, lotions, lip balm and lip gloss, hair products, and very cool tee shirts–my favorite ones said, “She works hard for the honey” and “I got my mind on my honey and my honey on my mind”.  To say that I was like a kid in a candy store is an understatement.  I was able to totally nerd out, especially when Usher, one of the employees, gave me a tour of their on-site apiary.  I had my younger two boys with me, so it felt like a really fun Mr. Rogers field trip.  But that was only one of their locations!  We headed to their downtown store where I was able to sample (and buy, of course) some meads, melomels, and metheglins.  In case that sounds like jibberjabber, those are all alcoholic wine-like beverages made with fermented honey.

When the boys and I came home after a 13-hour car ride (hell), the first thing they wanted to do was cut into our block of comb honey.  I’m so glad they’re almost as enthusiastic about keeping bees as I am.  Ben even volunteered to be my beekeeping helper this year…but he also wanted to trade in our chickens and cat for a house in Georgia.

Have Kids, Will…Battle Bugs and Harvest Honey

Just when I thought I had a good handle on my beekeeping venture, which I only started this past spring, I found my hives completely infested with Small Hive Beetles.  These creepy little pests didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.  I had noticed some during one of my weekly/biweekly hive inspections this summer, and knew I had to do something about them.  But, looking back, I think I noticed them right before we were taking a trip to the Outer Banks.  Then, I didn’t order my beetle traps until we came home four days later.  The traps took another week to arrive.  Apparently, that is plenty of time for a handful of small hive beetles to conduct quite an orgy, multiply, and destroy the entire hive of a bee colony.  I’m sure those of you who are expert beekeepers are wagging your fingers at me and shaking your heads.  I know.

Looking for help, I called my mentor, an apiarist with the University of Maryland Agricultural Extension, and asked for his guidance.  I also called one of my neighbors, a tall, statuesque blond, who has two more years’ worth of experience than I. Lucky for me, they both agreed to come right away.  As Mike the Mentor pulled frame after frame out of my hive boxes and knocked off all the beetles, as well as the surviving bees, my neighbor and I steadily smashed, by hand, as many beetles as we could.  Picture the game Whack-a-Mole, but with two ladies crouched over a hive lid beating tiny beetles with metal tools.  It was gruesome and barbaric.  The worst part was accidentally smashing bees when the beetles hid beneath them just as our instruments of death were coming down.  Mike assured me those lost bees were a necessary casualty in order to get the beetle population under control and to save one of my two colonies.  It really didn’t make me feel any better.

After about 30 minutes of continuous smashing and crunching, I stood, sweaty and woozy, to help reassemble the one hive that still had a chance for survival.  There was still a queen present, brood, eggs, and capped honey, all of which equaled hope.  I regretted the destruction I had allowed to happen due to my neglect, the loss of bees due to the violent measures we had to take that day, and the amount of honey I had to give up in order to provide more food for the surviving bees. However, there was an upside to the whole debacle.

Since I now needed to provide frames of capped honey for only one colony, the frames that were remaining from the disassembled hive were mine for extracting.  There wasn’t much, but out of six frames that were only partially filled, I got about three pints of my own, delicious, fresh-from-the-hive honey…a sweet reward despite a stupid mistake!  That simple gratification is the driving force for me to continue, with extra diligence, to care for my remaining bees and look forward to purchasing a new colony next spring.  That, and the idea that our mistakes don’t always lead to total devastation.  Sometimes there is something sweet to be gained from making mistakes.

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