Sweet, sticky sunshine on a frigid afternoon!
Careful planning and organizing were key to a successful January Harvest. It was time to extract the last of Summer’s bounty from the frames removed last Fall.
I wish for “scratch and sniff” or “smell-o-vision” or some way to convey to you the magical scent of fresh honey. It is so subtle, like honeysuckle blooms, but builds to a crescendo when you lean in to it, such as the heady dew of blooming Jasmine.
My day was somewhat thwarted by Alice. We struck off early for the dump and grocery run. I made a detour to pick up cheese and a dark, crusty loaf of rye at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm. The farm was busy with barely a legal parking space left, meaning please don’t park so the tractors can’t get through or in a pasture. I was thinking of the thinly sliced bread, spread with the creamy cheese and topped with a slice of black forest ham all the way to the grocery store.
There wasn’t a lot on my list and I parked near the entrance so Alice would be entertained watching the shoppers as I nipped in for a few items. Merrily wheeling my cart back out to the car I stopped in my tracks. Alice’s bulging head was gazing out the window at me with half a loaf of dark rye in her maw. No sign of the cheese or the cellophane it was wrapped in.
I was livid and mildly concerned for her health. “If it wasn’t illegal, I would put you out of the side of the road right here! You have no idea what a bad dog you are!”
She harrumphed into the seat next to me and gazed straight forward like disrespectful teenager. I drove back to the farm where I ran into my old friend Benjamin, the cheese maker. When I told him my tale of woe, he reached into the case and handed me two new packages of cheese. I managed to slice around the chewed parts of the bread when I got home, and come up with enough for one sandwich.
But the real project of the day was to replenish my dwindling honey supply. I prevailed upon Wilson to help me drag the hive bodies from the garage into the mud room to begin warming them. Earlier in the week I picked up the extraction equipment from Jodi on my trip to the unemployment office.
The equipment consists of various tools and such:
The extractor is a large steel tank with a crank and baskets to hold the frames full of honey. Centrifugal force created by cranking and spinning the frames releases the honey from the comb.
Before it goes into the tank, each side of the frame is “uncapped.” For this messy job you need a couple of items and a whole lot of patience.
- A hot knife
- A sharp rake
- A place to balance the frame
- Something to receive the wax cappings and contain the sticky mess
- A system of fine mesh sieves to strain the cappings from the honey
- A food-grade bucket with a drain for holding the extracted and filtered honey.
For some reason I had thought we had two deep hive bodies of 10 frames each. When I began digging in and taking them apart, I discovered a medium body and a deep. Both contained 10 frames but the medium body frames, while drawn out with comb, had spots of honey most of which were not full and capped. I cleaned the propolis (bee glue) from around the edges and sealed the medium body in a garbage bag to protect it from the wax moths. It will provide a nice snack for the ladies in one of the hives when winter recedes and the days begin to warm.
The deep hive body was laden with capped frames. I chose one frame to leave for the hive for spring. One frame was drawn out with comb but contained no honey. That left 8 frames bulging with richness. Certainly not the 50 pounds of honey I expected but enough to restock my pantry and share a few jars. Once the frames were extracted, I replaced them in the hive body and those too will provide lots of nutrition when the bees clean them out.
Hanni, B., and the “Cousins” came bounding up the steps just as I had the whole operation planned out; perfect timing with a whole lot of dog energy and Husky hair. The more hands the easier the work when it comes to extraction. Veggie snacks and hot tea are also handy. While waiting for the interminably slow drain of the honey through the sieves, a hand or two of UNO cards is always appreciated to pass the time.
I always forget what a slow, slow process honey is. You can’t rush it, it moves at its own pace and to force it any faster is to lose some in your haste. Your fingers will get sticky, you will lick them, suck on the waxy cappings and slow yourself to revel in its golden flow. Much like Tom Sawyer’s fence, we all passed off tasks when they became slightly tedious.
Uncapping requires a fine touch to move the hot knife just fast enough to peel the tops off the comb without digging too deep and wasting the liquid trapped beneath.
Spinning the extractor takes a balanced and steady crank or the whole thing wobbles around like a drunken robot across the kitchen floor.
No matter how much one scrapes and stirs, it will only go through the sieves at its own sweet pace.
Once the bucket is full and the sieves have given up all the liquid they can pass, clean-up and settling occurs. The honey has to sit for 24 hours or so while the air bubbles rise and burst. Normally, clean-up of the equipment is a b(r)eeze with the help of the bees. Last summer I merely set it out by the hives and the workers cleaned and removed all traces of honey and comb. This time of year it is up to me to figure out what to do with all the sticky mess. Hot water works well. The uncapping knife and scraper came clean with minimal amount of stress. The uncapping tank and the extracted posed a larger problem. If I owned them, I would cover them in the deep freeze of the garage and let them wait for warmer days. Since they are borrowed, I need to figure out how to return them in the same pristine condition I received them.