Monday, August 2, 2010
I harvested my first real honey this week. I looked on line to find out how to remove the honey from the comb and it seemed quite straightforward. Once you have the comb out of the hive, crush it to open the cells, place it in a quart mason jar, put a mesh screen over the opening, and tip the jar over another. Duct tape them together and place in the sun. As the honey warms, it will leak into the other jar. I can do that, I thought, and headed for the hive, dressed in heavy white shirt and pants (from Goodwill), my lovely beekeeper’s hat, and sneakers. No bees stinging my feet!
Opening the hive was straightforward enough. I have very calm bees and I’ve done this before, just to check on progress. The first bar was full of honey—my goal. I slowly lifted the bar out of the hive, no sudden moves, stay calm for the bees, breath deep, watch what you are doing….slowly, slowly…and, slowly, slowly, the comb pulled away from the bar and sank into the hive. Bees went wild. I stepped away from the hive for a moment to think. Now what? The harvest was sitting in the hive, leaking out all over and the bees were not as calm. I tiptoed over to survey the damage. There was no mention of THIS in that honey removal posting…. Bees were all over the comb. Bees were mad.
Well, I thought, I think I’ll need some more space to work in… and I think I’ll try the smoker, as well. Smoking the bees is not a one person job—someone has to puff the gadget constantly to keep the smoke going—and Mark is still not keen on standing too close to the hive, so I usually don’t even bother with it. If I smoked them, and had a platter to catch the comb, I could haul the next bar out and make some space to rescue the first… I gathered equipment for the second assault. The bees were suspicious, but distracted by the leaking honey as I returned. Slowly, slowly, I pulled the second comb out and moved it towards the platter, watching it slowly pull away from the bar. The comb hit the ground. Bees flew up everywhere, looking for a place to land. Not up my pants leg I thought , and retreated rapidly to the corner. But now there was honey on the ground. Armed with platter and hive tool, I scooted back in under the bee flyway, pushed the comb—and some weeds—onto the platter, and headed out of range.
It was easy to crush the comb and arrange it in two jars; I didn’t even have to duct tape them together, just set a narrow mouthed jar into a wide-mouthed one. The mixture of honey, comb, bees, and weeds drained peacefully on our new picnic table for several hours, producing almost two quarts of honey (the rest was in the way backyard, being rescued by bees). I slipped in and put the lid back on the hive, ignoring the other comb. Three days later, I was back, beekeeper’s hat, big bowl, and long heavy gloves, to lift the first comb out of the hive. It went remarkably smoothly; the comb just pulled out of the hive, still covered with bees, and landed in the big bowl I’d set right on top of the bars this time.
I have two and a half quarts of honey from two combs. If I had not lost some to the weeds, I would probably have another quart. There was some bee death involved—how do you encourage the bees to leave the comb before it hits the platter?—and the processing got a bit sticky with bees falling into the bowl during the draining process, so I clearly have some more research to do. However, the honey is light and minty and quite lovely. And I was only stung once.