Sweet As Honey
Harvesting honey is – I hope – going to become one of our spring rituals. We just harvested out first honey: four medium frames, two people working two hours give 8 pints of honey (4 liters) or 12 pounds.
We are about to start our 3rd year with the bees. Last spring, at the beginning of year two, we could have/should have had a harvest. We did not – for a number of reasons. Not the least of it was that we had a heat wave just as Keith put in new wax frames – which pretty much melted the wax frames which dripped all over the box, blocking access to the new areas of the hive. There was no room for the bees to expand; so the colony – a strong one in need of more room – swarmed before we realized what happened.When bees swarm they load themselves with honey so they can start a new home with some food. Our harvest-to-be was depleted. We left the remaining honey to the remaining bees.
Going into winter we had two colonies. Coming out of winter we only had one. We knew one queen was weak, and she did not make it in this cold winter. And so no queen, no eggs, no replacement workers, no replacement queen With that knowledge and no obvious signs of diseases, Keith gave most of the frames of honey of that hive to the remaining hive and saved four for us to extract. Finally! Long awaited honey….
And so last Friday on a beautiful balmy day, we extracted honey. Which proved surprisingly easy.
Remove the frames from the super (the box). The bees have capped the honey in the cells with wax.
Use a cap scratcher tool (sort of like a fork with lots of needle-like prongs) to pierce the caps of the honey cells so the honey can flow. Do it over a bowl to catch the wax caps which are sticky with honey. (Later I press those hard to extract some more honey from them.)
Put the frame in the honey extractor. We have a small extractor that can take two frames at a time.
Spin the extractor (it’s like a giant salad spinner). The force of the spin throws the honey against the walls of the extractor where it runs down to the bottom. Turn the frames so the other side face the wall. Spin more. Repeat with the other frames.
After all the honey has been extracted, sit the the extractor in the sun for a couple of hours (careful to seal all openings because of insects and bees intent on robbing). The gentle heat from the sun liquefies the honey enough to pour easily.
Set a big bowl under the extractor tap, and let the honey flow. Pour the honey through a sieve to remove debris and wax particles, and into jars. Let sit 24 to 48 hours: the tiny wax debris will all float on top where they are easy to remove with a spoon.
It’s our honey. It’s the best honey.
We hope to have a normal harvest in June – that could be 20 or 30 quarts… In which case, we’ll probably start to make mead again.
What to do with honey? On toast of course. As an accent with goat or ricotta cheese, to sweeten lemonade or yogurt, in smoothie, to add depth to salad dressing… But I am looking to feature honey as a main ingredients, and so I’ll need to search for older recipes, pre-sugar recipes. Things like honey cake and “pain d’épice” (a French type of ginger-bread with honey) as well as honey custard. Meanwhile I am trying to make honey ice-cream as it only requires small quantities of honey (for mead, we’ll need at least 5 pounds for a batch). The first ice-cream iteration – while good – did not elicit a “whoa”: too rich (!? sic!), too uniform in taste. Needs something else. Needs tweaking.
Meanwhile, if you have any suggestion for using honey as a main ingredient, thanks for sending them my way!