Wednesday, July 1, 2015

About the Honey

So, about the honey.
I can't get over it.
Put bees and frames in a box, wait a few months and you are rewarded with liquid gold.
I didn't expect to be selling honey, but here I am. I'm gonna give you a little run-down on honeycomb in case you aren't familiar with it. I explained it a lot yesterday with honey pick-ups and private messages, so I thought a once and for all might be easier. 
These bad boys sold out in one day. I can't believe it.
 Below is what a full frame of honey looks like. Well, one side of it at least. With any beekeepers' luck, the back side looks exactly like this too. Don't worry, the frames with baby bees inside look completely different and a beekeeper can make no mistake about it. There are a lot of different types of frames that a beekeeper can choose to use in their set up. We are lucky enough to have a natural beekeeping mentor and he said if he was starting from scratch he would buy the small cell frames, and the smaller boxes, so that's what we did.

 The frames come with a beeswax sheet in the center of them. The cells are already "drawn" in wax to be a smaller size. This guides the bees on the size of the cells. The link above explains it more in-depth, but here is  a crash course. Small cell frames are getting bees back to the size that they were in nature, before beeekeepers decided that bigger bees would be better as far as production. Spoiler alert, they aren't. Read that article if you are really interested in why this matters. The bottom line is, bees are more productive and less prone to disease if they are smaller. Bees are constantly, constantly, reproducing. The average life span is 6 weeks for a worker bee, so they must constantly have brood to rear or the hive will not survive long. The bees will grow to be the size of the cell that their egg is laid into. If they need to make a new queen? They first build a queen cell that is extra, extra large, and then feed her extra food while in development. When she is full grown, she emerges from her cell. News flash, if there are any other "insurance" queens still in development when the first queen emerges, she will stab into those cells and kill developing queens so that her throne can't be overturned. Wild, right?

The reasoning behind shorter boxes, as opposed to the deep ones you are used to seeing is simple. With ten frames of loaded honey in one box, the shorter one is a LOT easier to carry than the one almost twice as deep. The short ones are almost too heavy for me to lift when they are full of honey and bees, I can't imagine lifting the deeper ones!
This is the most exciting thing for a beekeeper to find upon hive inspection, fully capped honey.
Once the bees have evaporated (by fanning their wings!!) the perfect amount of water from the honey, they will cap it with wax. This is a signal that the honey is done. 

The bees even signaled to us that their hive was full of honey by something called bearding. That looks exactly like it sounds, like the outside of the hive has a beard of bees. That told us it was time to check the hive and see if they have enough room to continue making honey. Thankfully it was time to harvest some, and add another box so that they can continue production. Lucky me. Lucky you.

We have not yet invested in a honey extractor, but we will be shortly, as it's becoming a necessity. Since we don't have an extractor and I needed to remove some extra honey, I had to remove the honeycomb off of the frame. This is a special treat. Most people I've talked to have never eaten honeycomb before. When they do, their minds are blown. Wait, what? Honey tastes like this?? That's right. 
Not honey from a store shelf that was bottled from a 50 gallon drum of mass produced honey from bees that were likely fed sugar water and had their hives treated with chemicals. Yes, those things are the norm in large-scale honey production. When you look at your bottle of honey and it says "made from pollen and nectar gathered in the northern United States", let me translate that for you. "We let them gather some pollen and nectar in addition to sugar water that we artificially fed them, and the honey is all blended together from our contracted beekeepers that are scattered all over the northern U.S., so we can't exactly pinpoint their location."

For real.
And that's if you're not unknowingly eating honey that has been shipped in from China and cut with high fructose corn syrup. 

If you're wondering why fresh, local honey is a big deal, you've probably never tasted it like this. I hadn't either until last year. Then, I was hooked. 

 Now to the easy part- the eating. Everyone asks me how to eat honeycomb. The wax is new for most people and it freaks them out. I grab a spoon, scoop out a piece of comb, chew it until all of the honey disappears, then spit out the ball of wax. As you chew it, it forms into a ball similar to gum. Some people just eat the wax too, but I don't. If I'm eating honeycomb on warm brie cheese, I'll go ahead and just eat small bits of wax because you can't taste it or tell that it's there when there is other food in the same bite. It is a delicacy of epic proportions. One of the reasons it's so special is because the bees then have to start over on that frame. They have to rebuild the comb, then remake the honey. With an extractor, the comb is left in tact because after uncapping the honey with a hot knife, it spins the frames and throws the honey out into the bucket. Then we will just be able to slide the frames back in the hive and they won't have to rebuild wax cells. I think that I will always harvest at least some honeycomb though. It's just too delicious. 

As I've said before, we aren't "in it" for the honey production. I had no idea that they would produce enough honey for us to sell. We are in it for the sake of contributing to pollination, and for the building of the bee population. What can a few backyard hives do in the grand scheme of the plight of the honeybee? Well, more than if we did nothing at all.

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