Finally, this ‘ol homesteader can breath a sigh of relief! Dare I say… something went as planned? And considering the fact that nothing ever goes as planned, I'm counting this a big success. Huge. Gigantic. An incredibly large success.
A delicious success, too.
In fact, if it was up to me, I'd bathe in this success… as I'm sure Kings and Queens of the past have undoubtedly done. Fill up a tub with success, slip out of your work clothes, and slip right into heaven. And, ya know, success.
Sorry – just allow me to bask in the sunshine for a moment, streams of angel-kissed rays hitting my smiling face. Because these moments are fleeting, no doubt. So while I can enjoy it, I will.
Sorry again – you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? Really, all that I've explained is that there's a naked, hairy, old King in a bathtub of… something.
Let's start from the top, shall we?
Last week, we suited up and finally opened up our two beehives that were started last Spring. We've been keeping a close eye on the bees throughout the cold and windy winter, gently rapping the box with our knuckle to see if we could stimulate buzzing inside. Were they alive? Did they have enough food? Had they been infected by any sort of mite? Did mice get in and steal all their winter stores?
On warm days, we'd run down to the hives to see a few bees trickle in and out of the opening. A good sign.
When things really started to warm up more consistently, we'd really notice a steady stream of bees coming out of the hive to have a “cleansing flight” – that is, where the bees fly out of the hive for a few minutes to, ya know, poop and stuff.
Bees are extremely hygienic insects and prefer not to poop where they eat. Maybe they could teach Sally, or my children, a lesson about that.
We opened up the hives to find that the winter stores of honey we'd left them with were in great standing! Not only did they have enough food to get through the winter, but they still had lots of extra! I was able to breath a deep sign of relief at that site! Oh happy day, little bees!
My beekeeping mentor told me last spring that as a first year beekeeper, it was essential to focus on one goal: get the bees to survive their first winter. Because we stayed focused on this goal, we decided to not harvest any of the extra frames that we pulled from their hives last fall. We kept the ‘extra' frames in large storage tubs so that if the bee's honey supply ran low through the late winter or early spring, we could easily slip a few of the full frames into their hives and not have to feed them sugar water.
Patiently, I've been sitting all winter… staring at those tubs full of honey… wanting so badly to harvest it, but wanting more to ensure my bees would survive to fly another year.
But after confirming the bees had enough honey to make it through spring, and knowing how much is in bloom right now around our valley, we finally decided it was time.
Lawd, have mercy! Let's harvest some honey! Here's a quick breakdown of how we did it. This is by no means the only way – every beekeeper has their own method that works for them. This is ours.
How To Harvest Honey
1. Get The Equipment.
First, we acquired a centrifuge honey extractor. It's a fairly simple device: the frames of honey are inserted into the mechanism inside and with the turn of a handle, are spun incredibly fast. The honey is spun from its comb and drips down the size of the extractor, to be bottled through a valve at the bottom. Pretty straightforward. What I like about this method is that it leaves the comb intact. If we harvest the comb for wax (which would no doubt serve a great purpose in my homemade beeswax candles!) it would make the bees have to rebuild that comb before they could once again fill it with honey. Because I'm primarily raising bees for the honey, I decided to leave the comb intake so that all of their energy can go into making more honey. Again, each keeper does this differently, but this was our choice.
I bought our extractor for a great price on Amazon and am really happy with the quality of it.
2. Cap The Honey Comb.
When you're ready to harvest the honey, using a warm knife to carefully and gently uncap the honey. This is done by sliding the blade of the knife across the comb, scraping off the bit of wax that caps the honey (I save this for beeswax uses later on). Once the honey is uncapped on both sides of the frame, it can go into the extractor.
3. Spin, Baby, Spin.
Spin the handle on the extractor. Work it, baby. You can stop, pull out the frame, check your progress on how much honey is still left in the comb, and then keep on going.
4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Once the frame is completely empty on one size, turn the frames and repeat the process on the other size.
5. Filter and Bottle The Honey.
After the honey is extractor, one most simply run the honey through a small, mesh strainer (like this one) – it helps to catch any chunks of wax or dead bees that have fallen into the honey, and pour it right into a bottle or jug.
SEEEEEE!!!!! Isn't this amazing?!?!
We've been waiting for this moment for over a year. From a dream to reality, it was slow going. But how rewarding! This is incredibly raw, incredibly local, and incredibly wonderful. By the way – did I mention it (literally) will NEVER SPOIL?
I've heard it say that honey is even more complex than wines, hinting at extremely intense micro-local flavors. A honey that is produced on our farm will taste differently than honey grown a mile down the road. It's unique to our farm… to our vegetation… to our seasons… to our plants.
That, my friends, is worth celebrating. The Elliott Homestead is now a honey producing farm. And over my dead body, you're welcome to try some.
For other great meal ideas, no matter what your dietary restrictions, check out the meal planning service I use: Real Plans.
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