Finally, after tending the bees for two summers, we harvested some honey! It was so much fun, and so much more tasty than other food harvests. Not that a mess of kale or garlic doesn't give me thrills too, but getting jars of sweet honey was exciting in a much sweeter way.
I imagine that my prehistoric ancestors had a big day when they found a hive and could score so many calories, so robbing our hive must touch on some nerve in my crocodile brain that really enjoys stealing honey from bees. Or maybe I just have an excitable sweet tooth.
One of the best parts of working with bees is the cool equipment. The smoker is a bit challenging to figure out how to light, but once Jamie gets it going I feel like a real bee keeper. I'm not convinced the smoker does anything other than create an authentic ambiance, but at least it gives me an illusion of defence when opening a box filled with sixty thousand stingers.
We got the bees two years ago, and normally by this time of the year, we have been more involved with the bees; meaning we opened the hive more frequently and tried to inspect for disease, tried to find the queen, and do all the things that I read that we were supposed to do. Since I really don't know what I'm looking for, haven't been able to find the queen anyway, and have been so busy with other projects this summer, the bees have been unmolested and I think they appreciate it. There was more honey in the hive this time than ever before.
Our goal was to see how they were doing and to add another box full of frames if they looked like they needed some room to expand. Boy, am I glad we didn't wait any longer! Every frame was loaded up with honey and almost all of it had wax caps, which means the bees had deemed it finished and ready for eating.
Last summer we noticed that black ants were living in the top of the hive. The ants didn't seem to be near the bees and I was beginning to think that the ants weren't honey eaters but were just using the hive as a rain proof nest.
The ants are still there, but when we accidentally smeared some honey on the outside of the hive they gobbled it up, so they do eat it if they can, but hopefully the bees defend the honey in the main body of the hive. I'm not sure what to do about the ants. They seem to bother us more than they bother the bees. They crawl up our arms when we are working on the hive, and get stuck in the honey. They bite too, so you can't just let them crawl on you with out brushing them off. I'm always nervous I'm going to drop a frame loaded down with bees anyway, so the last thing I need to be doing is brushing off ants while I'm trying to concentrate.
Since there were so many honey laden frames we robbed the hive of one from near the edge of the box and replaced it with a blank.
Jamie and I tried to gently brush the bees from the frame. Our bees are very calm and gentle, and I was the only one of us that suffered a sting because I didn't realize one had landed on my shirt and I unintentionally squished her with my arm. When we first got the bees I would completely cover my body, hands, and face. The full body gear does make me feel safe, but it is also extremely hot and restricts mobility, especially the gloves. So, over time, I stopped wearing the protective gear, except the hat and veil, because I thought that unless I was stung on the face or throat, any other sting wouldn't be of great concern. But this sting on the arm swelled so much that I looked like I had Popeye's forearm. It was red and hot for several days which doesn't seem to be a normal response to a single sting, at least based on other peoples reactions to stings and to my past reactions. I may at least wear long sleeves from now on, just so I don't have to go around for a week with horrid red swellings. We do know to tuck our shirts in, since dad got a sting on his belly when one climbed up his shirt.
We sort of made up our honey harvest technique as we went, and we don't have any of the nifty gear that beekeepers use. We started with cutting the wax and honey from the frame and collecting it in a pot. It would be nice to be able to return the wax cells, minus honey, to the bees so thy don't have to spend any energy rebuilding the wax, and can get straight to work filling the cells with honey. But, since we don't have one of those fancy frame spinners we just cut it all off, wax and all.
I wanted lots of pictures of our first honey gathering, but it would have been nice, for once, to have showered and not be wearing yesterdays work clothes before I was photographed. Leigh listed all the blog posts that I have made where we were obviously focused on the task at hand and obviously not focused on clean clothes or, in my case, had even thought of a hair brush. She said "we blog nasty", and we do! I'm going to tell myself that it adds "grit" to the story, not that I just always look gritty.
Leigh squished the wax over a strainer basket with her hands to collect the honey in a crock. This is not a job where anyone minds getting their hands dirty. By the time we were finished everyone had "tasted" the honey so many times we wished there was such a thing as a salty snack tree that was ready to harvest too. The strainer got out any squished bees or squirmy ants. We laughed about how this was truly live food since it was still wiggling.
Jamie pointed out that the swirls in the honey looked like images of the galaxy. I feel like we captured the universe in a pot of bee spit.
As the honey was poured through a filter into the jars we must have taken a dozen photos because it was just so beautiful. The photos don't do it justice. It was sparkly like liquid gold.
Mom put the ball of wax in a jar, and put the jar in some boiling water to get it to melt. We have plans to use the wax to make something, but don't know what.
We put all the honey coated dishes out by the hive so the bees could clean it up. I hope we didn't just feed the ants.