Honey Harvest 2018

Honey Harvest 2018

We can’t get a vehicle up the mountain to our bee yard (and even getting a wheelbarrow up there would be tricky, if we had a wheelbarrow) so the honey harvest was more complicated this year. It took longer, but it actually went more smoothly than it did last time, since we knew fractionally more than we did before and we’d concocted a reasonably good plan in advance.

Our plan mostly worked. Some of it worked. The part where we fired up the smoker and headed up the mountain to figure out whatever we found worked really well.

Our hope had been that the escape boards we put on the hives (one-way doors that let the bees out of the honey supers, but not back in) would behave as advertised and we wouldn’t have any bees to contend with when we pulled the honey supers off. It was a good thought, and SOME bees had left the honey supers, but there were still plenty remaining in the frames.

We had thought that might happen.

So we pulled frames filled with capped honey out of the hives one at a time. We shook most — okay, some — of the bees off and carried those frames down to the house and stacked them on a bench not far from the front door. Honey is heavy, and so we used empty supers as holders and carried the frames down five or six at a time with an excited, humming entourage following us quite closely on every trip.

That was step one.

Down at the house, we brushed each frame gently free of bees and carried one or two at a time quickly inside, where we stacked them in supers in our study. That was step two.

We did our best to shut the door quickly behind us each time and keep our bees from following us in, and we were mostly successful. (Although we did capture and turn out-of-doors three or four very quick and sneaky girls at the end of the whole process.)

Then we went up and got more frames from the hives, carried them down to the bench, and repeated the process until we had retrieved all the honey we planned to harvest.

In total we took fifty frames of capped honey, which weighs about 200 pounds. That’s why we had to work just a few frames at a time. And while it was hot, sweaty business climbing up and down the mountain multiple times with sweet-scented weights in our arms, it was also pretty peaceful. Mostly peaceful. Toward the end we had crowds at the hives and the house, with a steady stream of bewildered bees in between.

There’s probably an easier way to do all this, but we couldn’t think of one.

One thing we didn’t consider in advance was how much honey would be dripping everywhere, and how much of it we would be tracking in and out of the house. At the end of the process we carried all the honey-smeared equipment (the long bench, a big knife we used to separate frames that had been honeycombed together, plastic sheeting, empty super boxes, etc.) out and set them next to the seep, which is our bees’ favorite pub, and the next morning there was not a drop of honey left anywhere. Bees do great work.

We had to clean our floors, boots, and clothes without their help. We did an adequate job.

Our next step is to extract the honey from the comb. We have a brand new electric extractor which spins four frames at a time. We have a couple of giant plastic bins and a hot knife for decapping, six big five-gallon food-grade buckets for the raw honey, and a stainless steel double strainer that fits on top of our honey bucket. So the honey should come out of the comb, into the extractor, through the double strainer, and into the bucket. We have lids for the buckets and can store them until we get to the bottling (jarring?) stage.

And since we saw how efficiently they did it before, we plan to let the bees clean all the equipment for us after extraction day and bottling/jarring day, too.

When I went to the farm supply to buy our cases of jars this week, the owners said they would sell the honey for us at the store, so this year we plan to start recouping some of our costs for this complicated, expensive, satisfying and marvelously delicious hobby.

I doubt we’ll be shipping this year (come visit and get some!) but we’ll let you know when it will be available for sale directly from us, or from Miller Farm Supply in Zionville.

Honey extraction update and photos coming soon!

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