The year I began dating my love, he and his mother began raising honeybees on the family farm. That first summer, a bear plundered the hives, stealing the honey and killing all the bees. The following year, my love built what we promptly dubbed "the Bee Palace" - a bear-proof hive enclosure consisting of chainlink fence, a latching door, and motion-sensor floodlights, surrounded by electric-shock wire, with enough space inside for up to four hives if we positioned them right. We got two more honeybee nucs (pronounced "nukes") and moved them into the Bee Palace, and they were content until winter, when they froze to death during a bitter cold snap. Last year, we tried again with two more, and one of his mom's friends joined in and set up a third one. Two of them died off early; the third made it *almost* to spring before another deep freeze swept through and killed them, too. My love and his mom decided that this summer would be their last try before giving up and renting out the Bee Palace to another prospective beekeeper.
Well, apparently the fourth time is the charm. The past three years, each group of bees had made enough honey to sustain themselves through the winter, but none extra, so we hadn't anticipated a honey harvest for us until each following year. We'd harvested all the honey from the dead hives every winter, but this year, the bees are absolutely flourishing, and for the very first time, we harvested FRESH HONEY IN MID-SUMMER.
And what a difference! The dead bee honey was certainly good, but this honey was light and golden, the comb was fresh and white - and there's still the rest of the summer and fall, so we may very well get a second harvest before winter (and more potential bee-freezing - let's hope our luck holds and they make it through!).
Harvesting is an involved process. There's a farm not far from us that has nearly two dozen hives and sells the honey, so they've mentored us and supplied the harvesting equipment. The hives are filled with wooden frames strung with wires, along which the bees begin to build the honeycomb. Once they fill each honeycomb cell with honey, they seal, or "cap," that cell with wax. In order to harvest the honey from the comb, the caps must be removed, which can be done either by slicing with a serrated knife, scraping with tools that look like many-tined forks (we've also used regular dinner forks), or puncturing with roller brushes covered with bristles. Then the frames are loaded into an extractor, which is manually operated with a hand-crank so the centrifugal force sucks the honey from the comb. The large metal drum of the extractor collects all the honey, which is drained out and then strained - again, by hand - to remove the debris before bottling. That's where we are in the process now - we just harvested last night. I'll show you the finished product once it's all bottled.
Every part of the comb is edible and contains nutrients - my love's mother likes to save whole chunks of the comb, with the honey still inside, and cut off pieces of it to spread on warm toast. My love takes a spoonful of the raw honey each morning to help with his allergies - by eating honey made from local bees who use the local pollen, the honey desensitizes him to it. I like the honey best when it crystalizes, and I can scoop it out of the jar and stir it into my tea.
Our garden is thriving, and when I work around the cucumber trellis, which is covered in yellow blossom, I can hear the whole thing buzzing with the dozens of bees there, feeding on the nectar. I love that sound. With the decline of the honeybee population reaching worrisome new levels, I love that in our little corner of the world, at least, the bees are happy.
Have a great weekend!