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.

harvesting-honey-003

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.)

harvesting-honey-010

Put the frame in the honey extractor. We have a small extractor that can take two frames at a time.

harvesting-honey-013

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.


harvesting-honey-024

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.

harvesting-honey-033

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!

11 comments

  1. Keith says:

    I’m getting jaded w all this good ice cream – I mean it was good, but not whoa. My suggestion is to add sliced strawberries (hey, should be at peak when the honey comes in). Also, while Sylvie did an excellent job describing my bee-travails, I’m a novice and “good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement.”

  2. marielou says:

    tout cela a l’air appetissant.On peut utiliser le miel pour beaucoup de choses. felicitation

  3. Mike says:

    Congratulations on your first batch of honey, it has a very nice color to it. Patience has certainly paid off for you.

  4. How exciting, Sylvie! Great tutorial and a beautiful final product. Honey mustard grilled chicken, lavender- infused honey…mmmm!

  5. jp says:

    joli miel
    suggestion : tartines au petit déjeuner

  6. Seth says:

    Congrats on the honey, it sure looks good!

    I tried an experiment this winter in my greenhouse and I was wondering if anyone else has had any luck doing this.

    When it started getting cold, I dug up my hot pepper plants, potted them and put them in my greenhouse. Most of them died, but today I was pulling pots out and I have 5 that are getting leaves, and 2 that are already blooming…I was shocked! I didn’t think it would work.
    I can’t wait to see how they produce, I may have the earliest hot peppers in the area!

  7. Sylvie, you are to be commended. Producing honey is difficult at best. It’s been a challenge for me as of late as the hive did not survive the winter. But it’s spring and I shall try again, especially inspired by this post.
    Thanks! TC

  8. Trout Caviar says:

    Now you’ve gone and made me want beehives, Sylvie! Letting the bees make your sweet stuff seems much more sensible than the maple syrup nonsense. Pain d’epice really eats up the honey, as you note. I put a little honey into several of my breads, rarely more than half a cup to a batch. There are Provencal nougats that use a lot of it, aren’t there? But that’s not a main course. I’ll keep pondering the question.

    Nice post, very fun to see.

    Brett

  9. Seth says:

    Adding a little honey to oven roasted root vegetables, especially carrots, makes them simply divine! Gives them a slight glaze too!

  10. sylvie says:

    Thanks for all for the comments & suggestions. I am late acknowledging them and thanking you – the last 3 weeks have been quite busy, hence the blog silence.

    Mike: Thank you. We are looking forward to the “real” harvest in June.

    Deirdre: nice suggestions, all. Thank you.

    jp: sometimes simpler is much better, isn’t it?

    seth: never be afraid of experimenting in the garden! Yes, there will failures, but the successes are thrilling. I also have had success starting pepper seeds in August/September and overwintering the small plants in the green house.

    Tom: I can certainly commiserate that harvesting honey is not so easy. Last year should have been our first harvest, and we had nothing. This first mini-harvest was only possible because one of our hives died this winter.

    Trout Caviar: “letting the bees” is true, however… there is a bit of work in setting up and running a hive – and associated expenses going with that! But at harvest time, how sweet it is indeed! and yes calissons and nougat use honey – thanks for the reminder. Don’t think I want to go there though, but tanks for reminding me about pain d’epice (which is not the same as our American ginger bread) – that is something I am going to make.

    seth: yes! glazes! – but one has to be careful about cooking temperature. Honey burns at a lower temperature than other sweets

  11. […] I despise cloying-sweet granola, I prepare mine using only some of our own honey. If I were in maple country, I’d use maple syrup.  I don’t add dry fruit either […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>