September 21, 2008

busy bees

About a year ago, my nephew was looking at photos of his mother when she was growing up. He was curious, but somewhat disenchanted that the photos revealed a childhood that centered around farming in full swing. He saw pictures of cows, pigs, turkeys and hay fields being mowed. He wanted to know why he couldn't have been alive to be part of the farming he was now painfully aware of. Since this was coming from the kid who describes himself as part boy, part animal and spends hours teaching himself about a plethora of creatures and their habitats, my mother decided beekeeping would be an easy way to introduce some farming to the next generation of our family's kids. In addition to feeding Kyle's appetite for animal information we found that bees are actually in jeapordy these days. We did some research about a fairly new phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. It seems that the small scale, hobbyist beekeeper is becoming scarce and the commercial operation is causing the bees to be overworked and exposed to pesticides and other environmental factors that are killing them. There are lots of things you can do to help save the bee population that doesn't include actually raising them. After all, your food supply depends on it.
The kids enjoyed their first summer of being apiarists and the rest of us have enjoyed dabbling in an activity that was one of my grandfather's favorites.

Kyle and Grampa Mark donned the beekeeping "costume" and went to retrieve the top section of the hive which contains frames of honeycomb the bees have been working on since June. Kyle had to brush some bees off of the box because they don't want to let go of their honey. Once they are brushed off, Grampa leaves with the honey and Kyle must replace the top of the hive. Everyone is watching from a distance because there is a possibility of getting stung.
There goes Grampa Mark, making a clean get away with the stolen honey. Two boxes are left. One houses the actual living quarters of the bees and the other is honey that must be left for the bees to eat during the winter. The frames of the honeycomb we stole from the bees needs to sit inside overnight so it will warm up. This will make the extraction easier. The first part of the process is complete.

On Day two we must extract the honey in a closed environment because if the bees smell their honey they will come looking for it. So my garage is turned into the honey factory.
The honey comb has to be "uncapped" first by trimming the comb with a knife before the frame can be placed in the extractor. We have borrowed a hand cranked extractor, because my grandfather gave all of his bee keeping equipment, including an electric extractor, to a friend of his when he thought we were done with bees.The kids all got a chance to turn the handle and provide the force needed to pull the honey out of the comb. Kyle wanted to know how it turned into honey from the furry looking pollen that you can see all over the bees legs.

The empty honeycomb cells.

The spout is opened after all of the frames are emptied in the vat. Out the golden honey begins to pour. Everyone is surprised at how light the honey is. The color of the honey depends on the flowers and plants that the nectar has been gathered from. My father recalls darker honey that was harvested at a time when the fields were planted with buckwheat.

We were able to harvest 176 ounces of honey. Not bad for the first partial season out of retirement. The bees missed collecting nectar from the first blossoms of spring, so next year we anticipate having twice the amount of honey. The bees will be busy pollinating our garden too and hopefully through exercising responsible beekeeping habits our bees will be happy and healthy in the Washburn Meadows Apiary.....Here's to the resurrection of a family tradition!


renee said...

very cool.

sheri said...

WHERE'S MY JAR OF HONEY!!! Just because I wasn't there to harvest it myself, doesn't mean I don't get a jar. I'll expect my jar at Thanksgiving...if not sooner:-)

corin said...

I have a couple people in mind for gifts of honey...not to worry!

NatureGirl said...

This is a great post! I grew up terrified of bees (very bad encounters when very young), and only now in my middle years to I find myself not only tolerant of bees, but often seeking them out as they go about their business in my gardens. While many of us have seen bee hives, and have also bought fresh honey at farmers' markets, this was the first time I have seen the process from hive to jar! Almost makes me think about getting a few bees of my own...

Linda T said...

Really enjoyed this post - what a beautiful blog you have. Your pictures are so lovely and the blog itself is so varied. Thanks for inviting me! Linda T