There's a truism acknowledged among Beekeepers: you'll never have better honey than what you get on your first harvest. No other honey will ever taste as good. We are forced to acknowledge we are one more set of cliched beekeepers who are ridiculously proud of our first harvest.
This year, our hives have been crazy. We got two nucs with over-wintered queens and they have been running full steam ahead when we really just thought they might go for a short jog. So to speak.
These bees have forced us to quickly up our game, beekeeping-wise. We joke that we graduated Beekeeping 101 with our hive last year and all of a sudden, with these hives we feel like we have been thrown into the Beekeeping Senior Seminar. The new queens built up their colonies so fast, we had Hive One spit out two swarms in rapid succession. We had to climb trees and cut off tree limbs in order to capture the swarms, more out of fear for our neighbors than out of any desire to grow our operation. Wanting two mellow hives, we now find ourselves with four hives full of over-achievers. We've rapidly learned about checkerboarding resources, swapping out brood frames, splitting hives, requeening, finding and marking new queens... it has at times felt like a second job, which can be overwhelming when we thought this was at most a shared hobby.
But a honey harvest! That makes it all seem worth it, no labor too strenuous, ill-timed, or complicated when you are getting some liquid gold, nectar of the gods. All joking aside, our honey is gooooood.
These prolific queens gifted us with seven 100% capped frames full of honey. With Bob's daughter Claire here on a visit, we decided to learn how to harvest, extract, process, and bottle our honey. Using an escape board he installed the night before, Bob was able to harvest the seven frames without resorting to shaking the bees off or using a leaf blower. We try to be compassionate humane beekeepers. Easy peasy.
With a two-frame manual extractor we borrowed from the Fairfax Beekeeper Club, we set about pulling the honey out of the frames. Claire revealed a deft hand at scraping off the capping wax, pulling the wax off in long strips that looked like snakeskin. We set these aside to be rendered. Her deft hand meant that we could return the frames to the bees with the comb still intact, reducing their loss a bit and facilitating their build up for our next harvest.
Claire and Bob took turns manually cranking the extractor. At first, the results were not too impressive, barely a cup splattered along the sides. But subsequent frames started filling the extractor with our liquid gold and soon we were having to open the faucet on the bucket periodically to process the honey through the sieve below, filtering out bits of wax and hive debris. .All told, we harvested over 20lbs of honey.
Claire and I then began filling sterilized jars with the honey, fixing the farm's label to the jars. Honey is sticky and it got everywhere (I had some in my hair), which results in some loss. In the end, we processed and bottled 240 ounces of organic, pure, raw honey. Not bad for our first attempt and for what will be the smaller of our two harvests this year.
We felt like King Midas as we looked upon our bottled gold- how rich we are.
I have a new-found respect for the bees and the level of effort involved in foraging for pollen, putting up the nectar, treating it until it reaches the right degree of humidity (no more than 17% if you are interested--- and ponder for a moment how a tiny insect is able to gauge humidity levels. Amazing.), and capping it for winter. And then this awful white-gloved hand reaches in and steals the fruits of your labor.
Bees, we are sorry. But also not sorry. Because your honey is delicious.
"Life is a flower of which love is honey" Victor Hugo