22 December, 2008

honey, baby

this weekend's adventure: i helped a bee-keeper to extract and bottle this year's honey crop.
my friends lillian and michael live rather far out there in the country (okay, it is only twenty minutes from where i live, but those back-country roads are long and wind-y. it was a beautiful drive, actually -- all of the trees and fields were covered over in ice; the roads, thankfully, were not.) their property is adjacent to a field, and across that field is where michael keeps the bees. he's been doing this for four years now --- it's quite a cool hobby, no? anyways, although he did all the bee wrangling weeks (months?) ago, this weekend was the first chance that michael got to take care of the honey harvest. i am very glad the lil gave me a call and invited me to be a part of the experience.
the honey harvest was time-consuming, but remarkably simple (as in, uncomplicated). nature is so cool.
here's how it works:
these are the supers, where the bees stored the honey:

you pull these frames out and find the honeycomb:

the honeycomb is fascinating -- the bees build this stuff! the frames have an existing honeycomb pattern as the foundation, upon which the bees build. they then fill them up with the honey and then -- get this -- they put a little wax cap on the filled-up honeycomb -- creating a honey storage container. amazing.
the patterns and texture of these are beautiful -- i could definitely find some inspiration here. (hmmmmm........)
(i'm pretty sure charley harper did a bee/honeycomb illustration... i'll have to look it up in my big book.)

then you use a hot (electric) knife to cut those caps off of the honeycomb, thus exposing the honey. (i didn't get any good photos of this stage.)

you then put the frames into a centrifuge-like machine that spins around and around and whips the honey out of the combs:

see? the honey was whipped out:

after the frames are all emptied, the honey goes into a bucket that is lined with cheesecloth-like material, and then it is strained. (this gets all of the residual wax and bees knees out of the honey.)

then we put it into jars!
SO cool!

my challenge now is to make a little label for the honey jars... a challenge, indeed, as i am NO graphic designer -- but i think i can come up with something.

thank you, lillian and michael for inviting me to be a part of honey harvest '08! i'll be there this summer to check out the bees and make sure michael is working them to make more honey.

oh -- here's the last step -- which i couldn't stick around for -- separating the wax:

this is the wax that we cut off the tops of the combs -- the little wax caps. it looks like a lot, but by the time the honey is all separated out, it really doesnt amount to much. michael has been saving the wax from the last three years, maybe next year there will be enough to combine them all and make a few candles. (my little pioneer-girl heart leaps...)


Leila said...

Wow! I am jealous -- that looks like it would have been a TON of fun. And I can't wait to see if they do get to make candles.

Anonymous said...

So nice that you posted this. My father used to raise honey bees when I was little I would help him do the exact same thing in our basement. The hot knife was my favorite. He would cut an extra layer off and let me chew on hot honey and wax. The basement still smells of a gigantic honey spill... brings back so many memories.

Brook said...

THis is so so so so so so COOL!!! This is making me so jealous !!! You are living the life of " The secret life of bees"

Skylark Studio said...

are these berks bees?! you inspired me to blog about my bees ... thanks, I needed a jolt to get back into it!