Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this Saturday Selection by squeezing in an update on my bees. But really, nothing’s grabbed my fancy this week except for the huge pot of honey I’ve extracted from my own beehive. Yum!
A Little Background
As you may remember, my bees were behaving very badly before I left for vacation in April. Well, it wasn’t really their fault, it was those other nasty bees in the neighborhood. My bees were being robbed making them very aggressive and impossible to work with. I solved the robbing problem just in time before heading off to the UK (which you can learn all about on my Fiona’s Journeys blog – hint hint).
Now, bees are tiny things and really the stings don’t hurt that bad (more annoying than painful), but thousands of angry bees darting at your head, your chest, your arms, etc. is very scary. My bees had stopped this rude behavior by the time I returned in May, but I was still nervous about delving into the hive to see how they were doing. Luckily, the weather turned crappy so I had an excuse to delay an inspection for a while.
When the weather did improve, I sucked it up, put on the bee jacket and went out to take a look. Things were so different I had to look around to make sure I was actually in the right garden. The bees were calm, mellow, oblivious to my bumbling around messing up their home. It was a completely different hive from the one I left in April. I looked around, cleaned some things up and let them go about their day.
Rent is Due
I give my bees a place to live and provide them with lots of pesticide-free flowers to snack from, so they owe me some honey now and then. I also needed to get in the hive and remove some old comb. Old comb gets dark from the pupae casings that are left behind once the baby bees hatch. Leaving this comb for too long can encourage disease so it’s best to weed it out on occasion.
So back into the bee jacket and back out to the hive (this is about two weeks since the last inspection). I took (stole) six bars of comb – two were old comb that needed out, two were a couple combs that were a jumbled mess (sometimes bees forget their architecture lessons), and two were about half full of honey.
Outsmarting the Bees
I’m too new at this whole thing to understand how to get the bees off the comb I want to steal from them. I only took two combs last year and those two were fairly bee free. The combs I took out this week were covered in bees. I tried what the books recommend – knocking the bar against the inside of the hive (this just pisses them off and doesn’t get many bees off) or using a bee brush to gently swipe them off (ditto on the results).
Getting the bees to go away ended up being a long, patient process of leaving the combs in an open box and waiting for most of the bees to go home (I didn’t want to leave the comb out too long because that encourages robbing – I don’t want that again!), then coming back and doing a combination of knocking, brushing, and running very quickly away with my honey comb. Bees were everywhere – flying around my head, crawling up my leg (yes, I wear shorts when playing with my bees), buzzing much too close to my hands (hand stings are the worst), but never being very aggressive and never once stinging me. Bees are amazingly tolerant creatures, that’s all I can say.
Show Me The Honey
Once I got my combs emptied of bees and inside the house, I cut off any comb that didn’t contain honey, just to save space in my honey pot. Now, my honey extracting equipment is about as UN-specialized as you can get. It consists of a serrated bread knife, a ladle, cheesecloth, a big stainless steel pot (aka “the honey pot”) with a deep insert you can use to cook and strain pasta, and a plastic garbage bag. And yes, all this stuff is actually from my kitchen.
The insert gets lined with several layers of cheesecloth and then the fun begins. Using the serrated knife, I cut the honey-filled comb off the bar and let it drop into the insert (which is set inside the pot, obviously). The little bit of wax that remains on the bar gives the bees a guide when they build new comb – the little bit of honey that remains on the bar ends up in my belly.
After all the bars have been de-combed, I get to work out some frustrations using the ladle. See, to get the honey to flow out of the comb and into the bottom of the pot, you need to mash it up really good to break it free of the wax. So, mash mash mash. So therapeutic! And a good workout to burn off some of the honey I’d already eaten.
And Then The Waiting Game
When you’re just relying on gravity, extracting honey takes time. A couple days at least. Once I’ve mashed up the comb, I put a lid on the pot and then seal the pot up in a plastic garbage bag. This not only keeps bugs and moisture out of my liquid gold, but also makes a nice solar oven so i can put the pot out in the sun to get the honey flowing faster.
Because the weather decided to cool down and the sun went away the day after I got the honey pot together, the honey is still dripping and I haven’t been able to get it into jars (a very messy chore). Still, using my handy dandy math skills, I’ve calculated there should be at least 35 ounces of raw honey waiting for me. All natural and all mine!
And the Saturday Selection Bit
My honey really is tasty. If you haven’t tasted raw, freshly extracted honey, you’re missing out. It is nothing like the bland, flavorless clover honey you find on store shelves. Depending on what flowers the bees have visited, the honey takes on a different flavor and color. So far, mine tends to be a very dark amber and has the complex flavor of a wildflower honey. Sorry, I can’t send you any, but check around your neighborhood or farmer’s market, you may be able to find some raw honey to sample (and then you’ll want your own hive!)