In Celebration of Honey

Uncapped honey.

Woohoo! Not only did we (not as narrowly as we had feared) escape a Romney presidency this week, we also are up to our eyeballs in honey.

Well, not quite our eyeballs. I took a break from my grad school preparation madness last weekend so that we could finally extract this year’s honey harvest. We borrowed the guild’s hand-cranked extractor and spent a sticky evening uncapping frames and running them through.

I am pleased to report that, although we do not use plastic foundation in our frames, we only seriously busted two frames. (We had heard that putting foundationless frames or those with wax foundation through an extractor often leads to the wax detaching from the wood frame.)

The end result is 53.25 lbs. of mind-blowingly delicious honey. As a seasoned veteran of two years (ha!), I would say that this year’s honey harvest is tastier than last year’s. Kelly doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but I swear that the honey we harvested last fall had a faint cat pee aftertaste. I don’t know what nectar causes this, but I’ve tasted it in other very local honeys as well.

For the most part, we extracted all the honey into one food-grade bucket, but we decided to hand-extract the honey from one of our host hives. This hive is located in the hills outside town. It produced a darker honey, and you can really taste the dry chaparral plants that grow in that area. We have a beekeeping acquaintance who had her honey tested to see what types of nectar it was made from. I would be fascinated to do this at some point with our honey.

Here are some highlights from the big event.

With jars and uncapping tub at the ready, we set out.

The guild’s extractor hopped around on its plywood base and squeaked loudly, but it did the job.

Kelly begins the uncapping process. Instead of using a heated knife, we used uncapping combs to remove the wax caps.

With the uncapped frames in the extractor, we are ready to crank.

We drained the extractor into a food-grade bucket topped with a filter. We use the most coarse filter, and find it helpful for getting chunks of wax out of the honey.

For the frame of “special” mountain honey, I used a spoon to scoop honey and wax off the wax foundation and into our homemade extractor from last year. The top bucket has holes drilled in it so that the honey (and a fair bit of wax) drains into the bottom bucket.

Here is the whole getup unassembled after washing. You can see the inner basket where the frames rested during extraction.

5 Responses to In Celebration of Honey

  1. I’m not sure where the biggest congratulations belong, the election results or your honey! As far as the rest of the world is concerned it’s Obama’s re-election so on everyone’s behalf thanks but I can imagine all that honey is a joy to you too. The extractor is similar to the one I use so I know what you went through but you don’t mention sticky honey on the floor, kitchen work surfaces, fingers and hair which is how I ended up last year so well done if you avoided a mess. Your honey looks beautiful and I’ll be interested to learn what plants the bees have been foraging from. What little we extracted this year is completely different to last which was creamy and extremely sweet whereas this year it’s clear and almost bitter until it hits the back of the throat. Next job will be candles from your collected wax, something I made last week ~ good luck!

    • Jackie, I think you’re assessment of congratulatory priorities is right on the money. We had a proposition on the ballot in California to require labeling of GMO foods. Sadly, it failed to pass after Monsanto and other corporations poured tens of millions of dollars into misleading opposition ads. BUT, I have to say that election day was still sweet for me, and it helped restore some very small measure of confidence in Americans. I was not at all convinced that we would reelect Obama. Phew.

      Blame it on my stress-tattered brain cells that I failed to mention the sticky mess we made during extraction. And the subsequent ant trail under the back door! Where do you think the almost bitterness in your honey this year comes from? The ivy? I wish I could taste it.The subtle (and not so subtle) variations in honey flavors continue to astonish and delight me. Kelly and I each have our own personal stashes of honey collected from friends, and from different areas we’ve visited. Yum!

  2. Thankfully in the UK there was a tidal wave of mistrust about GM crops and its inclusion in our foods so its been banned by our supermarkets and food producers are smart enough to know they’d be dealing with a backlash if they tried to sneak it past us without labelling because the power of the consumer still manages to hold influence here…. just! Very little is grown because demonstrators get into the fields and trash it so it has to go on behind security fencing or in glasshouses under the heading of scientific testing but obviously even such precautions won’t protect the environment for too long. I’m amazed at lobbying that goes on by your food industry to enable it to pour rubbish into US citizens and completely understand why you’d want to grow your own.

    It sounds like your sticky experience extracting honey was similar to mine although I managed without the ants! We didn’t remove supers from our hives until quite late this year because the weather had been awful up until that point and we knew there was Himalayan balsam, ivy and late crops of oilseed rape which you may know as canola in the vicinity. The balsam is generally sweet and scented so going on the bright yellow colour of pollen brought in, ivy was probably the culprit. That might mean it will quickly crystalise although with so little extracted I can’t see it lasting long enough! I’ll have to see if I can build up my own stash to cover me during such sparse times. I’m still lacking the experience to know quite where my bees have been as the surrounding area is so diverse with 3 sides farmland, 1 side uncultivated common land and a village less than a mile away that contains many gardens with a variety of flowers and fruit trees. Did you read about the beekeepers living close to an M&Ms factory in France experiencing blue honey because the manufacturer had been dumping blue dyed materials outside and the bees were naturally attracted to the sweetness of the M&Ms? The beekeepers were furious because they couldn’t sell their honey!

    • I wish more Americans were up in arms about GMOs. It’s so frustrating to feel like corporations can get away with just about anything here.

      What a lovely sounding spot to keep your bees. Do you live there with them, or are you in the village or further afield? We struggled this year getting used to keeping bees away from home, given the travel time and sporadic opportunities for observation. It’s sure different than watching them out the kitchen window, which we also do and thoroughly enjoy.

      I hadn’t read about the French bees, though I did hear about bees in Brooklyn, New York, that got into red syrup from a maraschino cherry factory and produced bright red “honey”. Ugh. Here’s a link to that story: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/nyregion/30bigcity.html.

  3. Sarah, I live in a 150 year old miner’s cottage at the end of a track away from the village with just 3 other neighbours. The area is designated a place of outstanding natural beauty which gives planners the power to stop most new builds so the moorlands are left to a few sheep, ponies and cattle to wander on. The farmland around us has been here forever so wouldn’t be developed anyway. My bees live at the bottom of my 150′ garden close to the henhouse so when I let the chooks out in the morning I check the hives at the same time and yes, stand and chat to them as they fly in and out. I took early retirement a couple of years ago so on the whole can now be home as much as I wish and it also means I can keep a motherly eye on my neighbour’s bees and hens too since they do work long hours and are often away at weekends. Of course it’s usually such times their bees decide to swarm!! The article about the bees finding the maraschino cherries is fascinating and very similar to the M&M bees in France. Just shows how tempting and addictive these man made treats are even for a bee.

    Love the photos. I’ve a Rhode Rock that jumps up and pecks me on the thigh if I don’t give her the occasional corn treat but she’s not found her way on to my back yet but Squeak a 9 year old Belgian D’Anver often flies on to my shoulder. Also have a Mille Fleur banty called Daisy who sits on my knee summertime and sips out of my cup of tea!

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